Archive for September 16th, 2010
Last week, elected leaders and political figures came together in a portrait of unprecedented unity to stop International Burn the Koran Day. The security of our nation is at risk, they warned ominously. Unfortunately, in what was indeed our nation’s hour of need, no one in the veritable Benetton ad of the political spectrum actually understood what it was we needed saving from.
Would terrorists have used the Koran burning to sign up new recruits? Most likely, yes– Would the Koran burning lead to violence? Probably. But . . . so what?
Koran-burning and mosque (ahem, community center) protests may provide fodder for recruiting and violence, but so do any number of other things we do on a daily basis and we are unlikely to rethink our foreign policy paradigm as a result. Nor should we. Like it or not, we will be living with terrorism for the foreseeable future. It will ebb and flow on any number of factors, the behavior of our wack-nuts least among them. The Defense Department, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and a whole slew of other departments will deal with it. That’s their job.
In the meantime, we citizens need to deal with the biggest threat to America. And contrary to popular opinion, the greatest threat to America is not what a terrorist is going to do to us, but rather what we are going to do to ourselves (either because of what they did to us in the past or what we think they might do to us in the future). In short, terrorists aren’t the biggest threat to America, we are.
Consider this: We are the world’s only superpower. We have 309 million citizens and control 3.79 million square miles of land. At $14.3 trillion, we have the world’s largest economy. We make up two-fifths of the world’s military spending. It is virtually impossible for our enemies to beat us physically. Even if by some unimaginable turn of events terrorists were able to destroy every building in the country, the citizens who remained would just move to West Texas, stick a flag in the sand while singing God Bless America at the top of their lungs and start to rebuild. We’re just like that, we Americans.
So since you can’t destroy the land that is America; in order to destroy us, you must kill the idea that is America – the principles that brought us together in the first place and that bind us now, even when we fall short of realizing them. Our worst enemies don’t want our body. They want our soul. Like the devil, the only way they can get it is if we give it to them. Unfortunately, politicians are racing to sign the dotted line.
Over the last six weeks, politicians of both parties have abused our most cherished ideals, first by publicly bullying Muslims for wanting to pray in an ‘insensitive’ location and then by attacking a preacher for burning a book he finds offensive. On the surface, our reaction to these acts seems reasonable. Why not move a few blocks North? Why not shut down the rants of a single preacher? Is preventing the ‘free exercise’ of religion and speech to a small number of Muslims and one crazy man really that consequential? Of course not. However, our collective willingness to betray our founding principles because someone’s feelings might get hurt or because people across the ocean may not like it is profoundly consequential. Even in our darkest days – days of injustice and hypocrisy- our founding principles have provided the architecture for our endurance. They are today, as they were at our founding, who we are.
When we speak of security it is essential that we understand what it is we seek to secure. If it is our values that bind us, then it is our values that we must protect above all else. Is an America where Muslims are bullied and their houses of worship banished really America? Is an America where the Secretary of Defense calls a private citizen to stop him from burning a book on private property still the land of the free?
Our nation can be ‘indivisible’ only if we remain committed to the idea that our differences – whatever they may be – are less important than our shared ideals. By forfeiting these principles – and so easily – we accomplish what no terrorist ever could.
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After seeing the same image on ads throughout my browser from Smile Train, I decided to quickly write the following email on September 9 assuming that they would not respond:
To my surprise, I got the following response the next day from Donor Relations Assistant Duncan Quirk (which he has graciously permitted me to share):
I followed up asking if Smile Train would be willing to share any of the market research. Mr. Quirk replied today informing me that they will not be able to share it as they place a large amount of time, effort and resources into collecting it and would prefer not to share their market testing publicly.
After posting this to my blog, people requested to know their procedures for obtaining permission for the photographs. I emailed Mr. Quirk again and he responded by saying:
So you and your readers know, Smile Train obtains written permission for use of patient photos to spread awareness about cleft and to raise additional funds for the hundreds of thousands of children who are still waiting to get the surgery they so desperately need.
While the marketing research of Smile Train could very well be right, I am concerned about the implications in the long term. Should the current campaign bring in revenue at the cost of associating poverty with ‘doom-laden’ imagery? If it is possible, it would be great to know more about such studies. The VSO released their findings based on the media’s portrayal of poverty recently called ‘The Live Aid Legacy’ (see a summary here). It shows how portrayals of poverty can have a significant affect on people. An example of one such finding is:
Stereotypes of deprivation and poverty, together with images of Western aid, can lead to an impression that people in the developing world are helpless victims. 74% of the British public believe that these countries “depend on the money and knowledge of the West to progress.
So, I ask, is it worth it? Do NGOs have the opportunity to operate both ethically and successfully? Or do some sacrifices need to be made? Should short term awareness and financial support take precedence over long term harm to education of poverty? And, at the root, is the image that Smile Train uses of the crying boy OK?
To me, it is quite simple. The image should not be used under any circumstances. However, I do not have to raise money for an organization and must recognize what that affords me in terms of this debate. There are two strong pulls going on in this discussion and how to weigh the dignity of an individual verses raising of funds, to me, should not even need a scale.
ShotgunShack – People are Not Props
Good Intentions Are Not Enough – The Live Aid Legacy (blog post)
VSO International – The Live Aid Legacy (report)
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Born out of the GOP’s politics of resentment and self-victimization, surly and ignorant teabaggers managed to cut off their collective noses to spite their face Tuesday. And their fuehrer, South Carolina secessionist and C Street cult member, Jim DeMint, says it’s worth losing a sure GOP pick-up in Delaware– with mainstream conservative Mike Castle– to send a message to the Republican Establishment that it has to move even further right, via the increasingly controversial Miss No Turning Japanese Allowed (above). As Fred Barnes reminded Weekly Standard readers yesterday, Castle “voted against ObamaCare and is a co-sponsor of repeal legislation. He voted against the stimulus.He’s for extending all the Bush tax cuts.”
And he’s exactly like John Boehner, leader of the House Republicans, in many other ways as well. Both are more corporatist than ideological and both are grateful to the corporate interests that have financed their long, long political careers. (Remember, Boehner, a freeloader who hasn’t really worked since he was a teenager, lives in the only gated community in Ohio’s 8th congressional district, more than symbolically separated from his own constituents.) Both of them were leaders in the passage of George Bush’s no-strings-attached Wall Street TARP bailout and both have been relentless backers of deregulating banks and relentless backers of the job-killing trade policies– from NAFTA and CAFTA, to the WTO/GATT that have wrecked America’s manufacturing base and shipped millions of middle class jobs overseas to low wage countries (killing, in the process, business’ consumer base as well, of course). Castle, in a deeply blue, more politically competitive environment, has had to handle the p.r. a little differently than Boehner. Basically, though, both have just wanted their constituents to go away and stop bothering them while they profited mightily in Boehnerland, a proverbial land of milk and honey for well-connected legislators with a loose set of ethical standards.
Today’s Dayton Daily News highlights Boehner’s fear and arrogance in an article about Justin Coussoule. Like the other media outlets in the district, the Daily News in not happy Boehner is ducking debates and behaving imperiously towards them and towards Ohio voters.
Back t Delaware lunatic fringe teabagger for a moment. I doubt O’Donnell has a real chance of winning in November, but I agree with those who think she’d be a better choice for the right than Castle– at least for a year… until her natural instincts as a crook kick into high gear. Someday she may be as good at crookedness as a John Boehner. Meanwhile, though, America is stuck with John Boehner either as an obstructionist Minority Leader or, worse, as Speaker of the House.
Notice Boehner’s tie above. That isn’t photoshopped. That’s what he was wearing the other day: a big fish eating a little fish. It’s his world. It’s an integral part of Boehnerland. He’s willing to block tax deductions for 97% of taxpayers if Democrats don’t allow tax breakers for the already fat and sassy 3% of wealthiest families. The small fish getting eaten by the big fish, the big fish who have been so good to John Boehner that he’d screw over the people who vote for him in Butler, Miami, Mercer, Darke, Montgomery and Preble counties. That’s the other side of Boehnerland.
Blue America and the Americans For America PAC know full well that there’s only one person who can stop John Boehner. It isn’t Barack Obama and it isn’t Nancy Pelosi. It’s not the DNC or the DCCC, although it would be nice if either or even both, would lend a hand; it’s Justin Coussoule, the progressive Democrat running for the Ohio seat Boehner has been disgracing for two decades. Below is the latest ad we made to hammer home to southwest Ohio voters that, for the first time ever, they actually have a viable alternative to more Boehnerland. If you feel the spirit, please help us keep our ads on TV in Ohio from now until November. You can do it here on the Blue America ActBlue page or by sending a check to Blue America PAC, PO Box 27201, Los Angeles, CA 90027.
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When we made our documentary “Tapped” there were countless stories of people blindsided by the arrival of bottled water conglomorates coming into into their town and mining their water resources. Who approved these deals? Why wasn’t the public allowed to weigh in on these decisions? I spoke with dozens of citizens who said given the opportunity to oppose the situation they would have fought tooth and nail to do so. Of course once a company obtains the permits to do something it’s an even harder battle to get them out.
That’s why the next couple of weeks are so important.
The Food and Drug Administration is just a pen stroke away from approving genetically engineered Salmon. Because the FDA doesn’t require genetically modified food to be labeled as such, you may never know if that piece of Salmon your eating comes from the high seas or from a petri dish.
There is still a window of opportunity before our right to choose is taken away from us. The FDA will start holding public hearings next week. When the FDA reviews a product for approval all it does is review studies conducted by the company that stands to benefit from the approval. The FDA doesn’t do any of its own testing. If that wasn’t disturbing enough already — because GE Salmon is being evaluated as an animal drug rather than a food product the review process doesn’t focus on the health effects of those of us that have to actually eat the salmon.
This is the chance for the people to let their voices be heard and tell the President Obama and the FDA that we do not want to be human guinea pigs. We just learned the hard way — through the largest egg recall in 20 years — that the FDA doesn’t have the proper resources to do its job. Let’s not open the flood gates for genetically engineered animals to enter our food stream.
Please share this video with everyone you know. The scariest part about this video is that it’s actually all true! There is still time for change – but our window of opportunity is closing.
Please join us in a national movement to take back our plates. It takes just minutes to let your voice be heard.
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Will all the grandparents present please raise their hand if they have a digital picture of their grandchild?
My recollections of my grandparents revolve around the harshness of their early years, their faith that if you had family memories and mementos of life and those of your children and your grandchildren, life was good. The important lessons of life always found their way back; to protect your family, provide for your family and leave this world in better condition than when you arrived. Their interaction with their grandchildren was confined to in-person interaction, expensive long-distance phone calls and written correspondence.
Let’s reflect on some key milestones with respect to the technological advances of the 20th century. Grandchildren born after 1950 never had a day without “computers”; while those born after 1980 never saw a man set foot on the moon, nor have they had a day without the existence of the personal computer or cellular mobile telephony; and those born after 1990 have never lived a day without the internet; with those born after 2000 having never had a day without social networks. All of which were and are evolutionary points of time on how memories were and are shared.
Is there a more important ingredient in our global societies and cultures than those provided by grandparents and their life’s lessons to their grandchildren? I don’t think so. Though I never met my father’s parents — they had passed a few years prior to my arrival on this planet — that doesn’t mean they weren’t influential. Their life lessons were shared indirectly through the recollections of my father, the eldest of 11, and annotated photos. Similarly, my mother’s father passed away during my early teens, while her mother reigned as the matriarch over her family of nine in truly noble style for 20+ years. She used to say she and Rose Kennedy had much in common; both were iron-backboned New Englanders with nine children, then she’d laugh and go back to washing the laundry. Her willingness to share family lore was always accentuated by the annotated photographs accompanied by the many tales, both true and tall, which put those photos in context.
In my family, memories were memorialized in journals, diaries, scrapbooks and photo albums, which were often pulled out and shared when visits occurred. Photos shared through the mail were often group family shots (and with size of my parents respective families panoramic photography was a requirement at family reunions) or the yearly school picture of the grandchildren, annotated of course: “Christopher, Grade 5.” If you could afford it, a moving-picture camera might find its way into your family’s hands, and a treasure trove of 8-millimeter reels containing our childhood antics would be collected. Visits were then accentuated by an hour of film and slides and perhaps that school photo handed to you on the way out the door.
This is how memories were shared with grandparents since the mid-19th through the 20th century. Now fast forward to 2010. Photos and videos are captured by the thousands. These photos and videos are then shared with grandparents through digital photo frames, compact disks, USB drives, email, online photo services and social networks. Annotation of photos has never been easier; no need to write on the back of the 3×5 glossy, we can caption the photo digitally. We can post it to a social network or online photo album with name, location and date all suitably memorialized through the placement of a tag or caption.
Nirvana; no longer do grandparents have to wait for the mail to arrive to see photos of the new infant grandchild, or Johnny in his first baseball uniform, or Sally in her ballet tutu, or Kathy’s first horseback ride, etc. These memories are now captured, annotated and posted within seconds of occurring.
It is here where I urge caution amidst the euphoria of vicariously enjoying the experiences of your grandchildren.
You see, grandparents prior to 2000 could be reasonably assured the only pictures of their grandchildren, which would be seen by those whom they couldn’t identify, were those that were taken by the school or at events covered by the local paper. Now, grandparents can and do receive daily photos and unfortunately, they are sharing the photos far and wide when they share these with their friends, both physical and virtual.
Take a moment and understand how these photos are being shared. When you take your grandchildren to the park, do you put a coat on them with their name and address printed on the back in six-inch type for all to read? Doubtful. But this is precisely what is happening thousands of times a day as photos of grandchildren are posted to the various social networks via online photo albums, or parent/grandparent blogs. When you post your grandchild’s photo and annotate or tag the photo with their name and location, take one more step and ask yourself: “Whom am I allowing to have access to this photo and information?” If the answer is, “I don’t know,” then take a moment and learn how to set privacy and access controls, a bit of self-education is in order — trust me, your grandchildren are worthy of the investment.
Am I advocating that the sharing of photos with friends and family should stop? Absolutely not. l am, however, advocating taking those few moments necessary to confine access to your grandchildren’s photos, names and locations to those whom you both know and trust. While you are at it, you may also wish to configure the presentation of the photos in such a manner that they are unable to be shared in an onward manner by one of those whom you have permitted to see the photo. Be circumspect at the content of the caption and tags. These are truly small, albeit practical steps, which will serve to keep your grandchildren safe.
Enjoy your time with your grandchildren and please do your part in keeping them safe online. My grandparents would expect nothing less.
The Census Bureau’s new poverty data, released today, delivers a shocking statistic: One in seven Americans lived in poverty in 2009.
This number reflects a record increase in poverty over the previous year. In 2009, 14.3% of Americans were poor, up from 13.2% in 2008. This translates into 43.6 million Americans living in poverty in 2009, up from 38.9 million in 2008. But these numbers, shocking as they are, likely do not reflect the true depth of the crisis we are in. Because the Census gathers its data based on household surveys, it does not capture many of those who are suffering the most: homeless Americans.
As the Census report notes, the economic recession had an impact on driving up the poverty numbers. As documented by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the recession has led to dramatic increases in homelessness in communities across the country. These include:
A 198% percent increase in shelter requests from 2008 to 2009 in Anchorage, Alaska.
A 32% increase in families in shelters in Springfield, Massachusetts from 2008 to January 2010.
A 40% increase in families seeking shelter in Nassau County, on New York’s Long Island.
A 110 % increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people in 2010 from 2009, in Thurston County, Washington.
Children bear much of this burden. A recent report documents a 41% increase in homeless school children nationally in the past two years alone. And in Winston Salem, North Carolina, the city reports that in 2009, of 485 people living on the streets, 61 children were homeless.
Despite this grim news, there are bright spots. Funds made available through the Recovery Act last year provided some relief to families and individuals on the brink of homelessness — to prevent them from falling over the edge. A new law enacted in 2009 provides protections to tenants in foreclosure — a critical safeguard against homelessness. And this past June, the Obama Administration released a comprehensive plan to end and prevent homelessness.
But while these are steps in the right direction, they are not enough–not by a long shot. This is why the Law Center and other advocates are raising the stakes by calling on the U.N.’s Human Rights Council to hold the United States accountable. This year, the U.S. is being reviewed for adherence to human rights standards. These include the right to an “adequate standard of living,” including adequate shelter.
Right now, more than one in seven of us are being denied this basic human right.
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The headlines about the recently completed U.S. Open tennis championship included that Rafael Nadal won, Roger Federer didn’t, and Kim Clijsters — a wife and mother — won on the women’s side. However, if these are the only headlines you’ve read, you’re missing out on the big story: An Indian and a Pakistani were doubles partners. Their countries are almost always at war, but these two men became friends, played tennis and even touched hands after their final match in a very emotional end to the championship.
Neither Aisam-ul-haq Querehi of Pakistan nor Rohan Boprana of India played tennis together to make a political statement. They became partners simply because they each needed a partner, and they didn’t care what country he was from, or what religion he belonged to. In fact, in 2002, Querehi’s partner, Amir Hadad was an Israeli.
Querehi has said, “Sports is above religion and politics,” but this year they couldn’t resist making a political statement. On the jackets they wore at Wimbledon, were the words, “Stop War, Start Tennis.”
That slogan may sound a bit simplistic and unrealistic. I mean, is it really possible for every soldier in the world to drop his or her rifle and pick up a tennis racket instead? Probably not. What the slogan really means is to pursue peaceful things instead of war. During the U.S. Open, some Vietnam vets asked if they could buy some of those “Stop War, Start Tennis” shirts. However, there weren’t any for sale.
As Querehi and Boprana continued to win their matches in the U.S. Open, larger and larger crowds of Indians and Pakistanis came to the tennis center in New York. In fact, towards the end of the tournament, these two players looked up in the stands and saw the Indian Ambassador to the U.N. sitting next to the Pakistani Ambassador to the U.N. There is no confirmation that these two men shared a box of popcorn, but maybe they’re taking this one step at a time.
There was a lot of excitement when Querehi and Boprana made it to the doubles championship against Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, the world champions. In a thrilling match, the Bryan brothers beat what is now nicknamed the Indo-Pak Express. However, the final point was not the end of all the on-court emotion.
When Querehi took the microphone on court, after thanking everyone, he said he wanted people to know that the common image of Muslims is not accurate. He added, “We do have terrorist groups. We do have extremists. But I feel like in every religion there are extremists. It doesn’t mean that the whole nation is terrorist or extremist. Pakistan is a very peace-loving country… and we want peace as much as you guys want it. May God love us all.”
At the post-match news conference, the Pakistani Ambassador gave the Bryan brothers ceremonial shawls to thank them for donating some of their prize money to Pakistani flood relief. They had done so with no particular fanfare.
To Querehi and Boprana, the most amazing thing was to have seen some Pakistanis cheering an Indian, and some Indians cheering a Pakistani. Some might also think it was amazing that some of the Americans in the crowd cheered a Hindu and a Muslim. And they cheered the Americans, too.
It was an exuberant moment in sports. Here, in the city where the towers fell and where there is so much Muslim-related controversy right now, New Yorkers gave all four men a standing ovation. I’m not so naive as to think that a tennis match changed everyone’s opinion of other religions and nationalities. Probably by the time they got home, most of the fans reverted to whatever their old feelings had been. Most of the fans, but maybe not all of them.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.
Cuntame is excited to announce the release of a FREE, innovative, original, provocative and powerful online Latino Music Series.
As an introductory gift to YOU and to whet your appetite, we are GIVING YOU our first Cuntame Latin music album ever – FOR FREE!
This is an exclusive compilation of 10 amazing tracks put together by our partners Nacional Records, the powerhouse Latin alternative record label home to socially and politically poignant bands such as Manu Chao and Aterciopelados as well as rising stars like Bomba Estereo and Mexican Institute of Sound.
This FREE compilation represents a survey of the most exciting Latino music today and a great opportunity to explore new Latin sounds in an incredible album you won’t be getting elsewhere but here! A one of a kind gift to you from your friends at Cuntame.
Each week, Cuntame’s Online Latino Music Series will feature a Latino artist, band or musician in one-on-one interviews and studio performances. We have lined up an incredible festival that will include contests, prizes and an innovative social network call for original music submissions as our way to promote one of the many rich and diverse aspects of Latino culture today.
So what are you waiting for? Head over to Cuntame NOW to get your free album and to find out more about our free Music Series – It won’t stay there forever!
We truly hope you enjoy it and while you’re there you might as well share it as a gift to your friends too!
Happy Latino Heritage Month
Axel Caballero and the rest of the Cuentame team.
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Rachel Maddow recently referred to Bill Clinton as the “perfect Republican president” and wondered whether Barack Obama would follow in his footsteps. I think this is to misjudge both Clinton and Obama. In neither do “Republican” or “perfect” apply. There is a better descriptive for Clinton and a deeper malaise concerning Obama.
Clinton came into office after the moderate presidency of George Bush Sr. He articulated modestly progressive goals and satisfied many of them. He was attacked ferociously by the Republicans and right wing media, not for being a Republican but because he was not. He endured the meteoric rise and fall of Newt Gingrich who shut down the Government for a short time. He maintained a consistent progressive message and governed wisely, leaving an enduring legacy of deficit reduction and the longest sustained period of economic growth in American history. U.S. power and prestige was stable and respected. The Monica Lewinsky scandal certainly marred his presidency, and he will go down with the onus of being impeached. But this was not a fatal blow to his presidency. Monica was a dalliance, and everyone knew that. His attempts at cover-up were what virtually every male would have done in similar circumstances. He endured his impeachment with what grace contrition could offer while continuing to lead the nation with competence and poise. He left the presidency and still remains widely respected and popular.
Obama, on the other hand, came into office after perhaps the most disastrous presidency in American history, during which American power and prestige were savaged by a foreign policy and the fomenting of war based on deliberate deception and cynical deceit. Thus when Obama began to articulate his message of the audacity of hope, people across America and if fact around the world began to anticipate a truly transformational presidency, for this was what history demanded after such a painful period of corruption and decay. Indeed, progressives and the Democratic Party believed this so fervently that we sidelined Hillary Clinton, who under any other circumstances would have been nominated and be president today. We bypassed experience and competence for the audacity of hope.
Not nominating Hillary was decision we may come to regret for what we believed so passionately about Obama has not come to pass. There has been no transformational presidency. Instead, Obama came in seeking to be a conciliator but without the gravitas to accomplish either conciliation or compromise. Moreover, he has not been able to govern with the experience and competence Hillary could offer because this is not in his background. The Republicans intuit this lack and have ferociously and successfully hammered him in the critical arena in which he has little experience or skill — Washington politics.
Obama was only the right choice if, in the spirit of FDR, transformation was his intent. Obama has thus become a president out of sync with his time, for what he was nominated and elected to accomplish, he has left uninitiated. If tough minded competence is what we wanted, Hillary was far and away the right choice. She would have beaten the Republicans at their game, just like Bill did.
From the very first bar, in fact from his very first decision to appoint Rahm Emmanuel as Chief of Staff, Obama has selected in-the-box ministers and advisers gripped by the constraints of conventional wisdom. Ironically, Hillary lost to him because she ran a conventional campaign. Obama is losing credibility and power because he is running a conventional presidency.
Obama’s demise is largely due to the power of Rahm Emmanuel, who has left his stamp on the Obama presidency more than the president has, convincing an intuitive statesman to become little more than a tactical politician. More fundamentally, Obama has surrounded himself with ministers and aides drawn from the Clinton presidency. While during the 1990s they were essentially progressive, under current circumstances they are largely outmoded because they are outdated. Twentieth century thinking still governs America in the twentyfirst. We are a nation out of sync with ourselves.
Nowhere is this more clear than in Obama’s choice of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers to develop and run his financial and economic policies. At the moment when America and Wall Street needed a transformation reminiscent of FDR’s New Deal, the president chose the very people who had participated in Wall Street’s collapse to determine his policies. The urgency of transformation has been reduced to business as usual. But the need for transformation has not thereby been eliminated. It is even more urgent, and the fact that it is not being transacted is a large reason for the anger, malaise and dysfunction that currently grips the country.
This is a critical mistake, from which the nation might not soon recover, if at all. The U.S. and the world needed and wanted transformation, not just to recover from George Bush but because a myriad of global issues, most critically climate change and the financial integrity of our economic institutions, demanded new thinking and new transpartisan politics. Instead the nation has been given little more than Bush lite. We have thus missed a golden opportunity for a renewal of the human spirit at perhaps the most critical juncture in recent history, an awareness of which was burning so brightly in the collective world consciousness that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of what he would do, such was the hope he ignited. But he is missing his moment, and thus America sinks deeper into a morass of political division and corruption while the world at large remains adrift without effective leadership.
In this sense, while Bill Clinton might not have been as progressive as Rachel Maddow and other progressives might have wished, he was right for his time and is passing into history with distinction and grace. Obama, however, while igniting a transformational vision, is forfeiting the precious window of opportunity he was given and has thus started his presidency as incipient tragedy.
Jim Garrison serves as president of State of the World Forum and Wisdom University. He is the author of America as Empire and other books on world affairs. He can be contacted at email@example.com
The White House has denied claims in a new book that Michelle Obama told French first lady Carla Bruni that her life in the White House was “hell”.
“Don't ask! It's hell. I can't stand it,” Mrs Obama was quoted as saying in a private conversation at the White House in March 2010.
“The first lady never said that,” Mrs Obama's spokeswoman Katie McCormick Lelyveld said on Thursday.
A French embassy spokesman also stated that the remarks “were never said.”
“Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy distances herself completely from the content of the book Carla and the Ambitious, which was not authorised and the authors alone are responsible for its contents,” embassy spokesman Emmanuel Lenain said on Thursday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs used his Twitter feed to refer reporters to Mr Lenain's statement.
The book also alleges that French president Nicolas Sarkozy would be satisfied being a one-term president.
The authors claim Ms Bruni suggested that Mr Sarkozy should give more thought to making money.
A friend quoted in the book says Mr Sarkozy and Ms Bruni have been “impressed and inspired” by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's ballooning wealth since he left office.
A US artist whose satirical cartoon inspired an internet campaign inviting people to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad has disappeared into hiding, her newspaper has said.
Molly Norris, who disavowed the movement that provoked outrage in the Islamic world, has moved and changed her name, the Seattle Weekly said.
She fled after FBI agents warned she was in danger, the newspaper wrote.
Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are forbidden in Islam.
The that Ms Norris was “moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity”.
“She likens the situation to cancer,” the paper wrote. “It might basically be nothing, it might be urgent and serious, it might go away and never return, or it might pop up again when she least expects it.”
Told by agents to keep an eye out when in public, the paper said Ms Norris responded: “Well, at least it'll keep me from being so self-involved.”
In her cartoon, Ms Norris satirically proposed 20 May as an “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”.
The idea inspired a separate Everybody Draw Muhammad Day group on Facebook which rapidly grew in popularity.
The page contained drawings and cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and characters from other religions, including Hinduism and Christianity.
It sparked outraged protests in Pakistan, where a court ordered Facebook to be blocked.
A treaty between Russia and the United States which would cut by a third the number of nuclear warheads each country can hold has been passed by an influential committee of the US Senate.
The Senate foreign relations committee adopted the treaty by a vote of 14-4.
US President Barack Obama has made ratification of the Start treaty one of his foreign policy priorities.
President Obama appealed to both Democrats and Republicans to support the Strategic Arms Reduction (Start) treaty.
“I encourage members on both sides of the aisle to give this agreement the fair hearing and bipartisan support that it deserves, and that has been given to past agreements of its kind,” he said.
Mr Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, signed the treaty in Prague in April.
It commits the former Cold War enemies to each reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 – 30% lower than the previous ceiling.
Senate Republicans worry that Moscow could use the deal to limit US plans for missile defence.
However, the Pentagon says these concerns are groundless.
Sometimes our political commentariat seems to go fashion-crazy. When a new trend gets popular it overwhelms everything in its path: logic, poltical divisions, even expert opinion. The latest vogue is deficit reduction, and our nation’s Anna Wintours tell us we simply have to have it. In Washington, screaming about being in the red is the new black.
Call it “austerity chic,” and it’s catching on fast. We’ve already written about an odd quartet of recent austerity-chic pieces from pundits that included Tom Friedman and Anne Applebaum. These pieces tell us why we should find this new style appealing: Self-denial is what makes a nation great.
We’ve seen this herd mentality before, of course, most notably in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The experts warned us what would happen, but our keyboard-clacking dedicated followers of fashion thought they knew better. Ever eager to issue the clarion call for sacrifice – on somebody else’s part – they issued their calls to arms. Their support played a pivotal role in building support for the invasion.
How’d that work out for you?
Once again, the experts tell us that the warning lights are flashing red and the fashionistas aren’t listening. That was made clear again this morning, when a conference call was held to announce that 300 economist and civic leaders have signed a statement saying that “there is a grave danger that the still-fragile economic recovery will be undercut by austerity economics.” The statement, released by the Institute For America’s Future*, adds: “A turn by major governments away from the promotion of growth and jobs and to premature focus on deficit reduction could slow growth and increase unemployment – and could push us back into recession.”
Contrast those sentences with the fetishized way Friedman approached reduced spending in his column. “The Greatest Generation’s leaders were never afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice,” he writes, whereas today’s Americans “had a values breakdown.” Here’s what Friedman’s missing: With 15 million people unemployed and 44 million in poverty, a lot of people are sacrificing right now. As for Applebaum, her orgiastic descriptions of “axe-wielding,” “slashing” British budget cuts have to be read to be believed (although I did provide a summary here, if you’re the type who shuts their eyes during slasher movies.)
Friedman and Applebaum aren’t the only dedicated followers of fashion to join the austerity trend, of course. As we noted in the Friedman/Applebaum piece, Megan McArdle high-fived another business writer for dismissing retirement as a “vacation” while adding that “decades-long” vacations are an indulgence we can no longer afford. And Fareed Zakaria has flirted with the Austerians more than once, although he leans more toward letting all the tax cuts expire. Zakaria’s followed at least two other trends recently – the notion that fear of Obama is hampering business investment and the idea that the Great Recession was really your fault – so this isn’t a great surprise. (I’m not as down on Zakaria as it might sound. He’s a smart guy and his TV show’s usually quite interesting. Maybe his “fashion sense” just gets in the way of his common sense.)
In the world of political fashion, Republicans set the trend and others follow. Austerity chic’s no exception. As with Iraq, it has just enough Democratic support to provide the “bipartisan” gloss needed to give it critical mass. The latest supporter is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who upped the rhetorical ante recently by declaring the deficit a “national security threat.” Erskine Bowles and Rep. Steny Hoyer are among the other prominent Democrats who have jumped on the bandwagon.
But if some Democrats are including are wearing a splash of this year’s color, right-wingers are painting their faces with it. John Boehner’s call for a 15% cut in domestic spending would plunge the nation back into a deep recession. The Tea Partiers’ calls for deep cuts in Social Security would immediately plunge 20 million seniors into poverty, followed shortly thereafter by a massive spike in unemployment as their purchasing power leaves the economy. And their cuts to Medicare and education would further crush our already-wounded economy. (For more information, see Adele Stan’s Five Ways the Tea Party Agenda Screws Tea Party Supporters.)
As Dean Baker pointed out on this morning’s call, government spending is not the cause of our current deficits. Two wars and a massive tax cut turned a surplus into a massive deficit. (I’d add a massive bank bailout with no reqruiements to limit profits or increase lending.) And, as Baker observed, greater unemployment always leads to greater deficits. Robert Reich, another participant in the call, observed that last quarter’s slowdown in the growth of the economy is a warning sign in an already-grave situation. Theresa Ghilarducci suggested that an increase in Social Security could help stimulate growth.
If “austerity” is this year’s “WMD,” that doesn’t mean that’s deficits aren’t a concern. They are, and so is the need to keep powerful weapons out of the wrong hands. It’s a matter of proportion and priority. The economists who signed today’s statement understand the need to reduce the deficit. But they also know that the economy needs to recover first, and that budget cuts – like military might – must be directed toward genuine threats.
Right now the 300 people who signed this statement are as outnumbered as the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae. Let’s hope they do as well. As for Applebaum and Friedman, is it churlish to point out that they were both cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq? I don’t think so. Then, as now, they embraced and promoted a Beltway trend without sufficient thought or foresight. And they’ve demonstrated a stubborn resistance to face reality in both cases. Applebaum greeted the bipartisan Baker report on Iraq with resentment. She continues to insist, against most experts’ opinions, that we won’t know whether the war went well for at least a decade. And now, unbowed by past errors, she’s trying to drum up support for an attack on Iran.
As for Friedman, he said “we need to give the war six more months” so many times that observers began describing these intervals as “Friedman units.” Friedman’s enthusiasm for that war led him to the most notorious moment of his career, when he told Charlie Rose that it didn’t matter which country we attacked. Any Muslim nation would do, he said, as long as Muslims everywhere saw “American boys and girls going door to door and saying … you don’t think we care? … You think this bubble fantasy, we’re just going to let it grow? Well, suck on this.”
That was fifteen Friedman units ago, and people change. Friedman’s done his mea culpa on the war, which is commendable, and his support for a government-backed “green revolution” is an excellent idea (one that contradicts his newfound austerity passion). Still, he’s about to do another major disservice to the American people. He may think it’s wise and even inspirational to frame spending cuts as a form of national sacrifice. But the wrong people will be sacrificed,especially in this political climate The economists who signed today’s statement understand better than Friedman does what will happen if austerity wins the day.
When asked what piece of fashion advice she would give, Catherine Deneuve suggested that women look in the mirror before going out and remove one piece of jewelry. Austerity-for-its-own sake is a bauble that makes its wearer look overdressed and leaves other people unclothed. We need to have the courage to invest in the future, rather than slashing spending out of political trendiness and a failure of nerve.
A lot of people are hurting right now. To let them languish would be Washington’s way of telling them to “suck on this.” But helping them would also help the economy recover and grow, which would benefit everybody. It would also send a message to them, and to the world, the this country still believes in its own future. It would be a signal of renewed confidence in the American Dream.
Sure, it will be hard work to turn things around, but it’s like the old folks used to say: Hard work never goes out of fashion.
*I am a fellow at the Campaign For America’s Future, the Institute’s sister organization.
(UPDATE: Yet another fashionista dresses himself in austerity chic as a journalist applauds.)
For more information on the statement, see here, here, and here.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Website: Eskow and Associates
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Breaking news in the Show Me state: Robin Carnahan has decided to go toe to toe with Fox News in a legal case with major political ramifications going forward. The ad, which you can see here, and which the Carnahan campaign has chosen to leave on the air in spite of Fox News legal threats, is of an interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace where Wallace destroys Blunt for his ties to Abramoff and Blunt’s own lobbyist girlfriend. Fox is using a law firm to go after the Carnahan campaign which has close ties to Blunt over the last several years, and is hilariously claiming that “The value of [Fox News] reporting is based in part upon the public’s faith in the accuracy and integrity of those reports”.
Robin Carnahan is taking on the beast here, bravely standing up to their legal threats, and should be supported by the progressive community in doing so. Show her some love for standing up to Fox News.
Cross-posted at my home blog, OpenLeft.com, where you can read all of my writing.
The economic crisis of 2008 has affected everybody. It hit Broadway particularly hard and it might have been inevitable that productions of less than stellar quality made it to the stages. Audiences shrunk, fewer and fewer Broadway regulars and tourists were willing to pay for tickets, and inflexible agreements with unions will have contributed as well to the downturn. Traditionally lavish Broadway shows shrunk both in set, orchestra, and more often than not in cast as well as cast quality. This, coupled with the phenomenon of the contraction of some pertinent sectors of loyal theater fans seems to shape Broadway’s present and future.
But Broadway’s experienced and at times shrewd producers do not resign themselves to this new state of affairs. They started to look into creative ways to attract new crowds. One of the most visible new approaches is the casting of Hollywood talent to star on New York’s stages. And so we have seen Denzel Washington in Fences, Jude Law in Hamlet, Scarlet Johansson, Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts in A View from the Bridge and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in A Little Night Music. No wonder that the Tony Awards this year resembled an Oscar ceremony, with many of the pertinent Broadway stars being absent.
To state this fact is not at all to argue that Hollywood stars should not display their talent to Broadway. Angela Lansbury in an unforgettable performance, as well as Catherine Zeta-Jones, who also won the Tony for her performance as Desiree, have proven to justify their excellence not only on the big and small screens but also in a challenging Stephen Sondheim musical. And indeed, the audience recognized excellence and flocked to the Walter Kerr Theater and filled it to the last seat night after night.
What is most striking about the recent perfected revival of A Little Night Music is what followed the end of Zeta-Jones/Lansbury engagement. In early June, after the Tony and much acclaim the producers decided to extend the running of the show and were looking for a powerful duo to replace the successful original team. Rumor has it that Bernadette Peters, even though considered to be a Sondheim ‘queen,’ was not inclined to take the offer. After all, a star of her caliber is used to open musicals of the highest standards, but not to replace an outgoing star. And Elaine Stritch’s participation was in doubt because of the challenges and physical requirements. But there was a happy end and both agreed to join.
Those who were lucky enough to get tickets and watch A Little Night Music starring the Peters-Stritch duo have witnessed what a mega powerful casting can accomplish. Peters was in her element as she did what comes to her almost naturally, as if she was born Desiree Amfeld. And Stritch certainly stole the show: She was nothing but phenomenal, forgetting some of the lines and all.
But it is not just the new cast that makes or breaks a show. There is something magical about this production that makes it stand out. I suspect that the secret is in its modesty, which would make much sense when speaking about an already complicated and profound Sondheim masterpiece. Trevor Nunn’s sensitive interpretation of the text combined with a keen understanding of the music is so powerful that a minimal set, a simple choreography and intimately staged scenes are the ingredients of the successful show. The combination with a carefully assembled cast leaves the audience mesmerized. Now/Later/Soon.
And so, what starts off as A Little Night Music ends up as nothing less than a Grand one. A rarity on Broadway in these tough times.
The slow recovery from the most severe economic downturn since the 1930s has certainly hit working people very hard. Will the accompanying state budget crises hit voters equally hard this election season?
Voting is a challenging process for millions of voters. The number, availability, and location of polling places all have significant effects on whether people are able to cast their ballots. A recent report by the New Organizing Institute found, for example, that:
An estimated 1.9 million voters did not cast a ballot in 2008 because they did not know where to go;
In 2008, 90,000 provisional ballots were not counted because they were cast in the wrong precinct;
A changed polling place alone results in a nearly 2% decrease in turnout for affected voters, costing hundreds of thousands of votes nationwide;
Young people and minorities report difficulties in finding where to vote at 2 and 3 times the average rate, respectively.
Cost-cutting by election officials could reduce access to the polls in a number of ways. For example, in Broward County, Florida, where in-person early voting is immensely popular, budget cuts forced the county to reduce the number of early voting sites for August’s primary election from 17 to 11, leaving large sections of the county without a convenient early voting site. This means in-person early voting, which can facilitate access to the polls by accommodating more people’s schedules and reducing lines on Election Day, was no longer a practical option for some of the county’s voters. Broward also eliminated Sunday voting, which has been particularly successful in the African-American community because it is encouraged as a community activity following church services.
In-person early voting in some form exists in as many as 32 states, and has become an increasingly popular method of voting. Election officials need to sustain these sites as well as they can, both in number of sites and hours of operation. They should resist partisan efforts to cut back this critical polling option. Turnout may be less during mid-term elections, but it should not be suppressed further by making voting less accessible.
Cost-cutting can also lead counties to consolidate precincts, impacting Election Day ballot casting. Where consolidations involve precincts that already share a polling place, the change may be an efficient way to save money while also reducing voter confusion. But when precinct cuts mean voters have to turn up to a new polling place on Election Day, like some of the recently approved consolidations in Columbiana County, Ohio, they save dollars but risk votes.
Transportation difficulties, locations that are less convenient to home or work locations, and lack of familiarity with new neighborhoods can all lead to voter confusion and practical difficulties in accessing the polls. What’s more, the physical location of voting sites clearly affects voter turnout. A 2005 study concluded that “small differences in distances from the polls can have a significant impact on voter turnout.”
Where reductions have been made or might still be made, it is important for election officials to carefully consider plans that treat the citizenry fairly by promoting equal access for everyone. Communities can impress upon their state and local election officials that cost-cutting measures that impact access to the polls are not acceptable. Where cuts are necessary, thoughtful public comment can help ensure that sites are distributed logically and fairly, based on population and geography.
It is also critical that voters be notified if their voting location has been changed or moved. They should also be given information on the range of voting options available in the state, from early voting to absentee balloting.
In these difficult times, state and local elections officials need to make sure economic challenges don’t have the added effect of disenfranchising voters in November.
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Its just a small article in the WSJ, but it says so much about the problems we face: “Cuomo Probes Cards’ School Ties” discusses how Andrew Cuomo, New York’s attorney general, candidate for governor, and a former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is investigating how credit card issuers are marketing their cards to students. It also mentions that he sent a letter to New York colleges urging them “to adopt policies that will help students limit the amount of debt they take on before graduating.”
What’s wrong with this picture? One can say that it’s a bit odd that a HUD Secretary during the debt-fueled housing bubble’s inflationary period is admonishing anyone about debt. Ditto an official of a state in terrible financial shape. Perhaps it’s a bit offensive that someone who picked as his father a New York governor doesn’t realize that for many students debt is a necessary evil, allowing them to obtain a higher education they otherwise would not.
All of this being said, what I find most troublesome is that a government official in his official capacity is seeking to influence individuals’ private behavior. We can all agree that for new graduates, all else being equal, less debt is preferable to more, and that no one should be induced by fraud or deceit to incur debt. It makes sense for Mr. Cuomo to address whether any of this debt results from dishonest marketing practices. Beyond that, however, what we see reflects what has gone wrong — and needs to be fixed — in our economy.
Mr. Cuomo is concerned not just with genuine dishonesty, but also with “conflicts of interest in the student lending industry” on account of contracts between card issuers and schools, as well as with total amounts of debt. Credit card debt is credit card debt whatever relationships may give rise to it, and there is nothing dishonest about a card issuer entering into a contract with a school, sports team or otherwise for joint marketing efforts, as long as such efforts do not involve misrepresentation .
It is up to individuals to manage their own financial affairs and up to parents to teach their children before they go off to college about responsible spending and borrowing. What we see here is a microcosm of our economy of the last decade. Too many individuals are knowingly engaging in irresponsible financial behavior and doing great harm to themselves, while too many parents disavow the obligation to properly school their children in such matters. When problems mount the government, which has made a mess of its own affairs, jumps into the middle, suggesting that peoples’ problems are the result of ‘them’ — greedy card issuers, mortgage brokers, investment banks — and proposing or imposing rules that will make life more difficult for responsible people and perhaps the entire economy. That is, these efforts to reign in the debt of young people may result in reduced credit availability for those who need it and responsibly use it.
Can anyone say ‘Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?’ The efforts of its champion, Prof. Elizabeth Warren, are likely to and may already be reducing credit availability, causing the recovery to stall.
For the sake of everyone, we need to have politicians who are honest about the role of government and individuals and emphasize the unpopular truths around individual responsibility, especially for younger people. The Andrew Cuomo’s of the world do us a huge disservice when they advocate governmental action to protect people from their own folly.
On Wednesday, Thomas Frey, executive director of the DaVinci Institute, serving also as the organization’s Senior Futurist, announced what may be the world’s most challenging competition, a contest that will involve sending a probe to the center of the earth.
The “Race to the Core” competition is being framed around an Olympic-style battle of the minds where individual countries will field teams to tackle the enormous problems associated with sending scientific probes 3,950 miles straight down to the center of the earth.
Yesterday, I met with Thomas at the DaVinci Institute offices in Louisville, CO and quizzed him on his plans.
Brett Greene: You have just made a very bold move in announcing a competition to send scientific probes to the center of the earth. Why have you chosen this as your goal, and why do you feel this is important?
Thomas Frey: I tend to look at it this way. The future is our greatest adversary. We are a very backward-looking society, and as such, we are continually blindsided by the future. Every time we experience an earthquake, volcano, or hurricane, we have very little understanding of why it happened or what may be done to prevent it.
Why do we think we have no other options other than to play the role of victims? The knowledge we will gain from sending probes into the center of the earth will give us an understanding of the inner mechanisms of the earth that is far beyond anything we can contemplate today.
Information from this effort will enable us to create tools to mitigate the casualties and damage caused by a variety of natural phenomenon.
BG: Why hasn’t anyone done this already? Can you give me some idea of the types of problems the teams will encounter?
TF: The biggest problem is that we don’t know what’s down there. Any type of boring device will likely encounter extreme temperatures, extreme materials, and extreme unknowns.
The probes will at times have to deal with intense pressures, molten rock, perhaps freezing temperatures, pools of water and other liquids, radiation, and maybe even undiscovered materials harder than anything we’ve ever seen on the surface. They may also discover highly valuable mineral deposits. I will venture to say that sending a probe to the center of the earth will be more difficult than putting a man on the moon or sending a spaceship to Mars.
In much the same way that the Hubble Space Telescope opened our eyes as to what all was happening in space, this competition will open our eyes about the inner workings of the earth. It will also challenge us. We are currently too obsessed with solving all of our backward looking problems.
BG: So why is solving problems a bad thing?
TF: Solving problems is fine, but it has gotten to the point of being a global obsession. We somehow have it in our heads that if we solve all of the problems, we can sit back and enjoy the easy life. But in reality we become lazy and complacent. And that’s when we get flooded with even bigger problems.
I like to think of the future as a human-like entity. It enables me to describe it with human characteristics. So think of it this way. The future hates complacency, so much so that it has built-in self-sabotaging mechanisms to continually hold our feet to the fire. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backwards. There is no middle ground.
People are at their best when they are challenged. If we don’t challenge ourselves, nature has a way of giving us challenges anyway. There is great value in our struggles and human nature has shown us that we only value the things we struggle to achieve. That’s why lottery winners have such a messed up life, because they haven’t achieved anything. But, going back to your question, we are currently out of balance between backward-looking problem-solving and forward-looking accomplishments.
Forward accomplishments help erase past problems. They solve problems in a different way.
We need more forward-looking accomplishments, so I’ve decided to propose a few of them, starting with this one.
BG: One of the key features in this competition is that you are only allowing countries to compete. Can you explain why you decided to take this approach?
TF: A few months ago I had a discussion with Dr. Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA about creating this competition. He liked the idea, but his first reaction was that it was far too difficult a task and no groups would have the resources to tackle something on this scale.
After thinking about this for a while, and discussing it with some of our advisors at the DaVinci Institute, I hit upon the idea of making it an Olympic-style country vs. country competition. There are several reasons why this makes sense.
First, the competition will require significant resources, so each country will have to make a serious commitment up front. This is a competition that will take many years to win, so they have to be in it for the long haul.
It becomes an issue of national pride to compete. Those willing to enter their best and brightest will be in the global spotlight. They will become national heroes, and in the event they win the competition, they will become some of the most notable people in all history. At the same time, there is a lot at stake. Not fielding a team means that no one will be talking about their country.
I should also mention that countries spend far too much time fighting with each other. Our greatest adversary is the future, not each other. That’s where we should be focusing our attention.
BG: Are countries going to view this as a chance to beat the Americans?
TF: Some may view it that way, but I actually think the Russians probably have the edge going into this with their 22-year effort drilling into the Kola Peninsula, near Finland, an effort that started in 1970.
The Kola borehole was by far the deepest hole ever dug, but they only managed to achieve a depth of 7.6 miles before they ran into a viscous semi-fluid sub layer with temperatures reaching 356 degrees Fahrenheit. The knowledge they gained from that experience will probably give them a competitive edge in some respects. But I’m guessing many of the recent advances in technology will more or less level the playing field.
BG: How much infrastructure does the DaVinci Institute currently have in place to manage a competition of this size and scope?
TF: The DaVinci Institute is a relatively small non-profit organization, and we currently do not have the staff or resources to manage this type of competition just yet. Step one was to announce the competition and start a global conversation, and we are doing that.
As countries begin to wrap their collective minds around whether to field a team or not, we will be creating the infrastructure and resources to manage it. Our offices happen to be located next to Boulder, Colorado, what famed author Richard Florida has dubbed the “brainiest city” in the U.S. and home to the University of Colorado, and several national laboratories such as NCAR (National Center of Atmospheric Research) and NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology). So there is plenty of talent in the area to draw from.
In addition, this is the type of project that will attract “aspiring stars,” so we may have the ability to field a dream team of highly talented individuals who are naturally drawn to it.
I should also mention that we don’t intend to “own” this competition. The competition will be “owned” by the participants. They will help establish the ground rules, and decide what to do in the event of complications along the way. Rest assured, there will be more than a few complications along the way.
BG: You mentioned in your write-up that you will be announcing seven more competition on this scale over the coming year. What is the significance of eight, and can you give us a clue as to what some of the other challenges will be?
TF: There is something magical about the number eight. First, it’s a three dimensional number. It gives you all four directions above and four directions below the horizon. When a three dimensional graph is created with the X, Y, and Z axis, it evenly divides the space into eight pieces.
Beyond that, eight is the first cubed prime number. It’s also one of the Fibonacci numbers (…3, 5, 8, 13…). In the future I will be talking more about a concept I’ve been working on called the Octagonist, an eight dimensional symbol for the engine that will help drive humanity into the future. But, I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
As to the other seven major challenges, you’ll just have to wait. I have them roughed out, but they still need work before I can discuss them in detail.
Readers can find out more about the Race to The Core competition on the Davinci Institute website.
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Longtime duo Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s latest doc follows master chefs on their quest for excellence. It’s surprisingly thrilling, and very sweet.It may not sound like your typical thriller: a labor of love documentary about 16 pastry chefs who have risen to the top of their field, invited to compete against themselves in an effort to prove worthy of excellence in the French tradition. Yet Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s latest doc, Kings of Pastry, is incredibly thrilling, with twists and turns and roller coasters of emotion that will have you on the edge of your seat. The Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (aka the MOF, to those of us who took German in high school) is a competition held every 3-4 years, designed to single out the best craftsmen—and they are usually men—in France, across a number of trades. Lasting a grueling three days, the pastry competition is one of the toughest: the resulting buffet tables are immaculate works of art, including painstakingly delicate sugar sculptures, delicate lollipops you’d never find in a Halloween basket, and the most intricate of cakes. Out of the 16 finalists, all could be named MOF at the end of the competition, awarded the red-white-and-blue collar that signifies excellence—but the slightest, most heartbreaking of mistakes always preclude that outcome. For their film, Hegedus and Pennebaker (The War Room, Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop) focus primarily on Jacquy Pfeiffer, a French-born chef who has taken root in Chicago, where he owns the simply named French Pastry School. When we first meet him, Pfeiffer has been preparing for the contest for months, progressing through a series of competitions to reach the finals: the three-day competition in Lyon. His days are now filled with dry runs—working out the intricacies of sugar and eggs and butter and flour that are the basis of his craft, and perfecting his art, which can be adversely affected by the smallest shifts in temperature, humidity, or touch. Over the next 84 minutes, Kings of Pastry follows him to France, offering for the first time a behind-the-scenes look at such a competition. We meet his fellow-chefs, who have similar stories of lifelong dedication and pursuit of dreams, and we hold our breath as sculptures are moved from the kitchen to the display tables. It’s not for the faint of heart.Last week, we visited with the filmmakers in their Upper West Side Offices, where we talked about permission-less filmmaking, chocolate bustiers, and the perfect lollipop.Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker Tribeca: How did you learn about the MOF?Chris Hegedus: Our friend Flora Lazar moved to Chicago, and she decided to take a class at the French Pastry School. She learned about Jacquy Pfeiffer going to compete in this epic contest in France, to get this red, white and blue collar that these awarded chefs wear. We wondered what this was all about, so we flew out to Chicago and met Jacquy, and it just sounded like this unbelievable, bizarre, grueling event that had such importance and prestige for trades in France. It seemed very different from the food channel competitions to us—it was really a lifelong, cultural, historic award. Tribeca: It’s also not a competition—everyone can win. D.A. Pennebaker: Right, it’s a club you get to join. The school is a very big operation. You see 40-50 people learning how to do something they never thought they’d learn in their lives. You wonder: Why would he go to a competition in France, when it takes him out of his place for six months or so, and costs so much? So you think, there’s more here than meets the eye.
Tribeca: Can you talk a bit about the process? How often did you film, and for how long? Chris Hegedus: Basically, we met Jacquy in July, and the contest was in October. We liked each other, and decided to go on this adventure together. It was August in France, and we tried to get a hold of the MOF organization, and everyone was on vacation. We couldn’t get any permissions, but we decided to go ahead anyway. We filmed several times that month, and then in September, Jacquy was going to Alsace, so we had to make the decision to go without funding. (No one is going to fund something without knowing you have the permissions.) But since we pretty much shot this ourselves, it wasn’t a big expense or risk; we didn’t have to hire a crew. So basically we ended up in October going to Lyon to the competition, meeting the officials, and getting permission on the spot. The permission had a lot of qualifications: they said, “You can do it, the chefs agreed, but we have to see what it’s like.” They had never let anyone in to film—or even watch—before. “So after every night, they will decide whether they want to have you again.” So we went through this process each night. On the 3rd day, they were like, “Okay, [the chefs] are really scared now, to have you there. Everybody is going to be carrying their sculptures to the buffet table, and you can’t go running all around. You have to stand at the end of the table in this little square, and that’s where you have to stay.” Tribeca: Wow! D.A. Pennebaker: It’s basically a home movie, as most of our films are. No lights. Want to read the entire interview? Visit TribecaFilm.com? Kings of Pastry is now playing at Film Forum. Hegedus and Pennebaker will be at select screenings; check the website. Find tickets. Find out when Kings of Pastry will come to a town near you.
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Over-sized mansions, super-sized French fries, and sport utility vehicles. These are the marks of contemporary America, and we’re proud of them. After all, these are the tangible products of the “American dream,” a concept that promotes ingenuity and hard work as the means to financial abundance. We are a people who believe in certain unalienable rights–life, liberty, and the pursuit of opulence. Wouldn’t questioning the validity of such things be, well, un-American?
Actually, a new generation of American faithful is questioning whether such things are inconsistent with the Christian Gospel. The way of Jesus, they say, is focused on others rather than self, on generosity not wealth. While the American dream exalts personal promotion, the Christian Gospel emphasizes downward mobility. We become the greatest when we become the least.
Proponents of this paradigm highlight Jesus’ teaching that it is nearly impossible for the rich to enter God’s kingdom (Mark 10:25), and that a poor person is in a better position to receive the Gospel (Luke 6:24-25). Jesus did, after all, make clear that God and money are at odds, and we much choose which we’ll serve (Matthew 6:24). Such may be a shocking revelation for some American Christians trying to clinch both.
A prominent voice leading this charge is David Platt, a Southern Baptist minister who became “the youngest megachurch pastor in America” at age 26. His new job bred in him uneasiness in light of what he sees as the New Testament message, and inspired his New York Times bestselling book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.
Jesus, he says, was a “mini-church pastor” who made following him difficult. He turned people away with exhortations to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53) and hate your family (Luke 14:26). Christ was laser-focused on the poor and oppressed, and often had harsh words for the wealthy. Christians who think like Platt emphasize Jesus’ exhortation to the rich, young ruler to give up his wealth and follow him (Matthew 19:16-22). As they see it, Jesus doesn’t just upset the rich, young ruler; it upset rich Americans.
But this radical Jesus isn’t the Lord preached in many pulpits today, is it? Our Americanized Jesus seems to be okay with massive building budgets, suburban estates, and personal wealth, even in the face of global poverty, suffering, disease and hunger. The average church today spends more money on personnel and utilities than missions or benevolence. Our silence on this discrepancy indicates that we believe the Son of Man is cool with the set-up.
[Related: View Chris Seay's Q Talk on "Consumerism."]
“When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible,” Platt writes. “Instead, we may be worshiping ourselves.”
Platt’s arguments aren’t new. Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity released decades ago and is now in its fifth edition. The new monastic movement, led by figures like Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, has also gained momentum in recent years. What’s significant about Platt’s perspective is that it is coming from a solidly conservative voice in the evangelical mainstream and has released in the midst of a financial crisis that’s spurring a recalibration of economic norms.
“Platt’s arguments are old, but they emerge at a postexcess moment, when attitudes toward material life are up for grabs. His book has struck a chord. His renunciation tome is selling like hotcakes. Reviews are warm,” writes David Brooks of The New York Times. “Leaders at places like the Southern Baptist Convention are calling on citizens to surrender the American dream.”
But that leaves cultural observers with a significant question: Will this “radical” Christianity have any real effect on the American Church?
It seems doubtful to me. Despite the squeeze placed on many church budgets and personal incomes by the recession, I don’t see hordes of believers selling their possessions, moving to the developing world, or throwing off aspirations of affluence. I haven’t. And I can’t name a single megachurch pastor anywhere who has sold his or her church property and given the money to the poor. The distinctly American Gospel that tolerates luxury in the face of suffering doesn’t seem to be fading at any measurable rate, despite the efforts of the Platts, Siders, and Claibornes.
David Brooks agrees: “I doubt that we’re about to see a surge of iPod shakers. Americans will not renounce the moral materialism at the core of their national identity.”
The strength of wealth’s allure is now painfully apparent, but it is also disheartening. I often wonder what judgment Christians in 50 or 500 years will lay upon us when they survey our lifestyles through the prism of the New Testament. Will they look on us with bewilderment and disdain or will they sympathize with the dream we call “American?”
Only time will tell, but I for one hope that in time these revolutionary perspectives on faith will penetrate the ranks of the Christian elite as we consider together what it means to follow Jesus. Perhaps laying our homes, bank accounts, and SUVs at the feet of Christ for his glory and the sake of others is less radical and more reasonable than we realize.
Have you read any of the works mentioned above, and if so, did you find them convincing? Do you see a move toward this “radical” type of Christianity in your life and faith community?
Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer and author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. This piece first appeared on QIdeas.org.
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Record Number of Uninsured Another Reason Why Full Implementation of Health Reform is Urgently Needed
New census data out today show that more Americans are burdened by a broken health care system and beleaguered economy than ever before. According to the report, 50.7 million Americans were living without health insurance last year — a dramatic increase from the 46.3 million uninsured estimated in 2008.
That means one out of every three non-elderly Americans didn’t have insurance. Our health care system has been failing the public for far too long. We can and we must do better.
Having access to quality, affordable health care should be a basic right not a privilege in this country, yet the bleak data paint a different picture. Given the economic downturn and anemic job market, even more Americans could face the desperate plight of losing their insurance down the road.
Evidence shows that a lack of insurance can result in worse health outcomes and is too often a death sentence in this country. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health last year reveals that 45,000 deaths are attributable every year to a lack of health insurance.
The good news is that the new health reform law holds great promise for the U.S. public and, if implemented properly, could significantly turn the tide on this grim state of affairs.
The new law will guarantee millions of Americans access to quality, affordable care regardless of health status, decrease incidence and mortality rates of the nation’s leading chronic diseases, control soaring health spending and strengthen public health infrastructure.
In fact, several provisions will kick in on Sept. 23, the six-month anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. Effective next Thursday, all health plans must allow young adults to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26. Additionally, a ban on lifetime benefit limits as well as on excluding coverage to young people due to a pre-existing condition will take effect.
Just six months ago, our nation made a unified commitment to transform a once ‘sick care’ system to one focused on disease prevention and wellness.
We have made tremendous progress since enacting this live-saving law and countless Americans are already reaping — and more will soon reap — the benefits of reform. But there are formidable challenges that lay ahead — not only to interpret and implement the law but also to block efforts to repeal or de-fund it.
Today’s record breaking number of uninsured reminds us why health reform has been a top national priority. We cannot turn our backs on the millions of Americans who are falling through the cracks of a broken health system. Nor can we afford not to control skyrocketing health costs. The Affordable Care Act presents us with perhaps our only true chance to improve the nation’s health to a degree that has never been achieved before, and we must work hard to ensure that it reaches its full potential.
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Some people say home is where the heart is. I say home is where my stomach wishes it were, right now.
This recipe is for the days when you realize it is a mad, mad, mad, mad world. Or, at least, a cold one. For the days when you need some insulation, be it from a brusque boss or a brisk wind, and a time machine back to your mother’s couch and a bowlful of whatever it was she was serving. With every cup of tea she poured came a healthy side of sympathy. Sympathy is not something the New York supermarkets seem to be stocking these days. It must not be in season. Or maybe there’s a blight.
To me, home cooking, where-the-heart-is cooking, should be burnt and bubbling. I personally find cream as consoling as a puffy down pillow, and melting, oozing cheese on the same level of comfort as a cashmere blanket. It’s funny how the barest necessities, like warmth, can be made so luxurious.
This recipe is a hybrid between our American classic mac-and-cheese, and a French favorite: potatoes au gratin, a match inspired by my own maman who boils noodles in milk and butter until they became a porridge. So good! But that’s another recipe. Make a simple bchamel with sharp American white cheddar and top-of-the-crock Gruyre, and a secret touch of Dijon mustard. Stir in some macaroni (shells or elbows or whatever your mom used growing up), and bake in heavy dishes filled to the brim with half-and-half until they are bubbling cauldrons that will whisk you home–wherever that may be–in one bite. Bon app.
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked shy of all dente in boiling, salted water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 pound shredded sharp white cheddar
1/3 pound shredded Gruyre (4 cups of cheese total)
1 cup half and half
1 cup fresh baguette crumbs (optional)
1 additional tablespoon butter, room temperature (optional)
1.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2.In a saucepot, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter, and stir in the flour. Cook on medium-low heat until the roux bubbles and begins to smell like baking cookies.
3.Slowly whisk in the cold milk, avoiding any lumps. Cook on medium to medium-high heat until the sauce has thickened enough that if you dip a spoon it in and run your finger through the sauce on the back of the spoon, the sauce stays separated and your finger leaves a stripe.
4.Add in the cheese and Dijon mustard. Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni, and thoroughly toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5.Divide the mixture between 6 buttered gratin dishes. Pour the half and half over the pasta mixture, dividing it between the 6 gratin dishes.
6.If you want a breadcrumb topping, use your fingers to work together 1 cup of fresh crumbs and 1 tablespoon of soft butter. Scatter over the top of the gratin dishes.
7.Place the gratin dishes on a baking tray, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.
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A harsh dose of stock market volatility in May 2010 sent many investors running for the exit. or those who have chosen to pull back on their stock allocations, the next question is where to put the money until the storm blows over.
Four Alternatives to Stocks
Whether a period of market volatility is a wise time to sell stocks is another discussion entirely, having to do with your asset allocation strategy.
But for investors who have already decided to seek safe harbor from the stock market’s wild ride, here are four popular alternatives — and what you should know about their risk and returns.
Bonds. The first thing you have to do is make the distinction between corporate, municipal, and government bonds. If you don’t like stocks, it would be hard to make the case for corporate bonds. As for municipal bonds, given the poor fiscal condition of many municipalities, you may find yourself running headlong into one of the same risks — a debt crisis — that has been plaguing the stock market. US Treasury bonds offer security over the long haul, but prices may vary between now and their maturity dates. Also, fixed-coupon Treasury bonds may expose you to inflation risk.
Gold, oil, and other commodities. Keep in mind that commodities are alternatives to stocks, but that doesn’t make them any safer. Also, many commodities are economically sensitive, so you may still be exposed to some of the same risks you were when in stocks.
Certificates of deposit. CD rates can be higher than savings account rates or money market rates if you stretch out the maturity dates, but committing to a CD term could expose you to inflation risk. That is, if prices rise when your money is in a CD, you’ll be losing ground to inflation. Also, a longer-term CD may limit your flexibility for getting back into the stock market if you identify a hot buy opportunity.
Savings or money market accounts. Savings account and money market rates are both on the low side on average, but you can improve your bank rates by shopping around. As long as you stay within FDIC insurance limits, these represent a truly safe harbor, along with just enough flexibility to allow you to make your next move when you want to.
The original article can be found at MoneyRates.com.
Today’s guest post, from the independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, originally appeared in Spanish in the on-line newspaper, Diario de Cuba.
The Naked King
by Reinaldo Escobar
Fidel Castro’s recent confession that the Cuban System doesn’t work, not even for us, and the unfortunate clarification that sought to amend the slip, have surprised and excited those addicted to the regime, its opponents, and neutral Cubanologists.
The initial phrase, slipped into an interview with the journalist Jeffry Goldberg from The Atlantic magazine, came to be interpreted by some as a sign of changes to come, although others took it only as an inconsequential rant.
I remember the newspaper Granma’s front page from December 27, 1986: “1987: Year 29 of the Revolution,” and in letters even larger, the Maximum Leader’s brilliant line, “NOW WE ARE GOING TO BUILD SOCIALISM.”
A few years later, when Real Socialism collapsed in Eastern Europe, another journalist (obviously a foreigner) asked the Commander-in-Chief if Cuba would now dedicate itself to building capitalism. His answer then also stunned many: “What is built is socialism, capitalism gives birth to itself.”
Now, the first question that comes to mine is whether there has really existed a “Cuban system” susceptible to being defined under some theoretical formulation. The absence of a definition is what has allowed the pervasive voluntarism and improvisation with respect not only to the economy, but also to political culture, international relations, and all spheres of ideological work. If this is the model of the Cuban system we are now being told doesn’t work: thank you very much, we already know that. For denouncing or issuing warnings about its disfunctionality, many honest members of the Communist Party were expelled, many journalists, artists, professors and employees of the superstructure lost their jobs, and many citizens, considered dissidents, ended up in prison.
But we don’t seek vengeance. Let’s be positive. Start with a clean slate. Look to the future. If this “system” does not work, let’s design another, keeping in mind that socialism, as defined in books, never came to the point of failure of Cuba because it was never possible to implement it.
One of the problems we have faced, at least recently, has been the insistence on the irrevocable character of our system, with public discourse being allowed to advance only as far as promoting the idea of perfecting or realizing it. The “Not Working” sign which, in a Freudian slip, the Maximum Leader hung on the doors of the system, calls for replacement rather than repair; for change, rather than improvement. But it can also leave us at a dead end, marching in place.
The clumsy explanation that he was amused to see how he had been interpreted, because what he meant to say was exactly the opposite, makes me think of the late comedian Chafln, who explained to the public that when he was wearing his hat everything was a joke, he only spoke seriously bare-headed. Was el comandante wearing his cap when he was speaking with Goldberg?
The oft repeated story of the King wearing invisible clothes has found a different ending in Cuba. It is no longer an innocent boy who shouts that the emperor is nude. To the astonishment of the credulous, it is the monarch himself who, in an obscene display of exhibitionism, admits loudly, “I am stark naked.”
Reinaldo’s blog, Desde Aqui/From Here, can be read here in English translation.
Yoani’s blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.
Translating Cuba is a new compilation blog with Yoani, Reinaldo, and other Cuban bloggers in English.
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