Archive for September 21st, 2010
The Daily Beast has written a story about the former outreach coordinator for Christine O’Donnell’s abstinence organization, a gay man named Wade Richards. He recounts his journey from ex-gay to ex-ex-gay, (i.e. back to gay, period) and says when he finally came out to Christine O’Donnell she turned her back on him. He further notes the irony of her behavior because O’Donnell has an openly lesbian sister. This I knew. It was a shock to see this supposedly feminist former friend of mine clapping for her sister on stage on election night, cheering for a woman so radically “pro-life” she believes 14-year old girls raped by their uncles should be forced to carry the child to term.
It seems that even in 2010, gays seem to make all sorts of allowances for homophobic family members, even when they would never tolerate the same kind of prejudice were it directed at others on the basis of ethnicity or race. Were O’Donnell an anti-semite instead of a homophobe, I imagine her sister would be less understanding, but O’Donnell gets to be a hypocrite on this issue and no one seems to be suffering much cognitive dissonance over the contradiction. (O’Donnell probably doesn’t understand the concept of “cognitive dissonance.” Maybe one of the human/mouse hybrids she believes in can explain it to her.)
At first I wanted someone in the Delaware press to ask the Christine how she would feel about her lesbian sister’s rights to get legal recognition of her partnership, to adopt children, or to serve in the military. And I still do. But I also realized these were legitimate questions to ask each and every right-wing congressional candidate, most of whom probably do have at least one gay relative, even if they don’t know it. Voters have a right to know exactly what kind of hypocrites the candidates are or would be, even if only theoretically.
There’s the Dick Cheney kind of hypocrite. He’s conservative on every issue known to man except gay rights, for the well-known reason that his daughter Mary is a lesbian. We all know that if she wasn’t, there would no such open-mindedness from the former vice president. And such a specific open-mindedness it is, starting and ending with his daughter. (Or is there some tape of Dick Cheney giving speeches on human rights I never heard about? He was probably too busy signing torture memos to get around to it.)
The other kind of hypocrite is the “family values” conservative who doesn’t much value family at all, at least when that family member is gay. I suppose he or she gets points for applying rigid Old Testament principles consistently, regardless of whether it means casting out one’s own flesh and blood or merely denying him or her the right to visit a sick partner in the hospital. How about your position on Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, potential congressperson? Think it’s too extreme? Wouldn’t they just be carrying out the punishment proscribed in Leviticus? Or don’t you believe the Bible is the literal word of God, as you have continually indicated?
It’s seems Miss O’Donnell is a hybrid of these two types. She appreciates the love and support of her sister, and yet we saw her engage in the most egregious “get-your-man-pants-on” gay-baiting of Mike Castle. I imagine she falls into the “love the sinner/hate the sin” school of rationalization. I’d love to hear that out of her mouth though, preferably with her lesbian sister at her side.
Right-wingers want it both ways on a whole bunch of issues. They denounce the deficit, while screaming for tax cuts that will make it far worse. They claim Obama is a failure because he’s not creating jobs, then try to kill unemployment insurance because there’s supposedly plenty of work. And they want to claim they love their gay relatives, yet support every kind of legislation that would deny them equal rights.
It’s a bankrupt claim, devoid of meaning. It would be no different than me insisting I love my black friends in every way equally to my white friends except for their skin pigment. If that’s the conditional “love” Christine O’Donnell is made of, the voters of Delaware deserve to know it.
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First United Church in East Vancouver describes itself as “a community at the margins.” The surrounding neighborhood on East Hastings hosts perhaps the largest outdoor assemblage of addicts, pushers, prostitutes, and mentally-disturbed persons in North America. The church itself houses as many as three hundred homeless people a night.
First United also is the place of sanctuary for an American war resister, 32-year old Rodney Watson. Since he can be arrested by Canadian and US authorities if he ventures outside, for one year Watson has taken asylum from war in an asylum of homeless misfits.
Next week the Canadian parliament is expected to hear a bill proposing humanitarian grounds for granting asylum in the country. Watson’s application for permanent resident status is on hold. About 40 other American war resisters are seeking asylum in Canada, where nearly 80,000 were given protection during the Vietnam War.
Each day Watson waives goodbye to his Canadian wife and two-year old son as they venture out of the church to shop, go to the parks and enjoy the amenities of Vancouver’s celebrated urban life.
An African-American from Kansas City, Watson joined the US army and was dispatched to Iraq in 2006. Back home, he had been holding down a well-paying job in an auto shop until the economy slowed down and he was laid off.
He grew up around the gangs of St. Louis — Bloods, Crips, Folks, MS 13 — and saw several friends die in the streets. When he lost his job, a dope dealer friend fronted him some weed to make a little money. Watson refused, and the dealer happened to be murdered the next day. It was a sign. Watson joined the Army.
He signed up as a cook on a three-year contract, imagining that he would open a diner back in Kansas City one day. Instead he was deployed to a unit defusing car bombs in Mosul.
Think Hurt Locker without the Academy Awards.
Every day Watson suited up and went looking for car bombs. He examined thousands of cars. It was 120 degrees and, he recalls, “I could hear my sweat sizzling.”
He has no idea how he survived. Perhaps a sheik he befriended was looking out for him. Otherwise it was random luck, the kind that runs out.
Just before his Army contract expired, Watson received word he was going back to Iraq on a unilateral extension of the contract, under the Army’s stop-loss policy.
He went home to Kansas City on a brief leave, and measured his options. His luck around car-bombs was sure to end in an explosion at some point. He was tired of the racial epithets in the Army towards the “sand niggers”, as Iraqis were called. “It reminded me of home.”
Keeping his thoughts to himself, he considered going to Mexico. Then while watching Tyra Banks one day, he was struck by some televised footage of Vancouver. It looked wonderful, an oasis of the North.
“So I hugged my parents good-bye, told them I was going back to Fort Hood”, he said, then took off for the Canadian border by Greyhound.
At the border, he remembers how a Canadian agent looked him over — a nervous black American, of military age — then smiled, said “c’mon” and waived him through.
In Vancouver, he had $2,000 and nowhere to go. For a time he lived in a hotel for $20 a night, and walked the streets looking for work. He took a chance and told someone at a hostel of his plight. “You’re not going anywhere,” he was reassured, and soon he was doing construction work as an immigrant without papers. That lasted for two years, until the day that the letter came from the immigration authorities.
Instead of turning himself over for deportation back to a US prison, Watson joined the small Canadian underground of resisters first built during Vietnam, which still exists to offer support, housing, jobs, and legal advice to anyone resisting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That’s why he took refuge in the First United Church on September 18, 2009, one year ago this week. With Watson when he entered the sanctuary were two members of the Canadian parliament and the First United pastor, Rev. Ric Matthews, a native of South Africa. Rev. Matthews takes Christianity seriously. In a letter this year to President Obama, he wrote that he hopes for “meaningful conversation” about the issues of “war, personal accountability, conscientious objection and basic justice” underlying Watson’s case. He hasn’t heard back.
Watson still sits in his self-made prison. When the wife and child go outside, he admits it hurts a bit. He has difficulty sleeping sometimes. His weight has increased. He keeps himself busy corresponding with his 643 Facebook friends. And he waits. The military could invade the church at any moment.
Meanwhile, the homeless addicts around First United treat his family reasonably well. But he’s aware that his transition in life has been from The Hurt Locker to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Howling incoherent arguments continually erupt, and sometimes fist-fights too, on the doorstep of the place he calls home. It too is a war zone.
Tom Hayden can be reached at www.tomhayden.com. This article is one of an occasional series on forgotten soldiers in our unfunded wars.
With tiresome predictability, the Iranian tyrant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is again in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. And again, he is performing to type. Rambling, inchoate speeches about the decline of capitalism, facile equations of the Iran’s judicial system with that of the United States, ranting about Israel – of course! – and a televised sit down with Charlie Rose. And Larry King.
As my colleague Kenneth Bandler argued in a recent op-ed, “no broadcast media outlet is obligated to give Ahmadinejad a platform. Some may argue about the need to protect free speech, but that’s definitely not the issue. It’s about the Iranian leader taking advantage of our open society to propagandize.”
It’s hard to believe that producers and anchors don’t know that already, nor that they haven’t watched their colleagues wrestle with Ahmadinejad’s elasticity in the past. Really, why bother any more?
I am not suggesting that Ahmadinejad be ignored. But to indulge him in this way serves no purpose other than reinforcing his sense of immunity, at just the time that his clerical rivals are once more scheming to bring him down.
Far better to remind Ahmadinejad that the world is watching. For those in New York, there are protests – like this one outside the UN, or this one, outside the Hilton hotel where he is staying, and doubtless more besides. After all, there are plenty of reasons to protest – most immediately the sentencing of human rights defender Shiva Nazar Ahari to six years of incarceration, just days after the regime extorted $500,000 from her family to bail her out of prison.
To protest is to recognize the futility of dialogue with Ahmadinejad, a man who, when it comes to lying, enviably blends classical totalitarianism with postmodern spin. As an interview subject, he should be left to the sort of useful idiot who thinks that a show on Ahmadinejad’s mouthpiece, Press TV is a mark of celebrity – serious journalists need not, and should not, follow there. They would be better off investigating why a regime media outlet like Press TV is widely, and preposterously, regarded as a legitimate broadcaster.
They might find that part of the answer lies in the marketing. Press TV has quite snazzy graphics and music inflected with soul and jazz. It even waged an advertising campaign on the red double-decker buses of London – which is its main international operating base – using the frankly Orwellian slogan “24/7. News. Truth.”
Truth, in this case, means alternately demonizing and marginalizing the protests of the democracy movement in Iran. It means ignoring the power struggles plaguing the Iranian regime, like that between Ahmadinejad and parliament speaker Ali Larijani – a rivalry so bitter that not even their shared enthusiasm for Holocaust denial can heal it.. Above all, it means fabricating stories. Here’s the JHate blog with a venerable example:
Of course they have. This same allegation of blood libel has been around for hundreds of years – and as Ahmadinejad himself might tell you, the old tunes are the best.
But my patience has run out. I don’t want to know what Ahmadinejad had for breakfast this morning. I want to know why governments which have banned terror broadcasters like Al Manar and Al Aqsa continue to tolerate the presence of Press TV on the airwaves. And I want to know when they are going to shut it down.
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You’ve probably heard about age discrimination in the workplace. And maybe you’ve even seen it in the doctor’s office with a parent or spouse–that moment when the doc dismisses your 70- or 80-year-old loved one’s complaint of an ache or pain as “just part of getting old,” and then sends her out the door without a thoughtful or thorough evaluation so he can move on to the next “customer.”
But have you ever stopped to think that the medical care you get as someone boomer-aged or younger–care that you may have dismissed simply as generically underwhelming–might also have its roots in ageism? I’m an internist who cares for younger adults as well as a gerontologist who cares for older ones, and I’m telling you it’s out there. After all, you don’t get old overnight. So why would you think that the age discrimination we know goes on in health care starts suddenly when patients turn 65 or 75?
In truth, its younger victims are surprisingly varied. They include the 50-something weekend-warrior athlete who gets injured but is told only to slow down, rest for a few months or switch to golf, instead of being offered (or even informed about) an aggressive procedure or physical therapy that could have them back on the field. If the doc doesn’t think you’d need it, want it or tolerate it, you won’t even get the option–even though weekend sports may be the most important thing in your life.
Then there’s the 40-something woman with a large family who is guided towards a hysterectomy to treat uterine polyps because the doc just assumes “you’re done and don’t need a uterus anymore.” Or how about the single 60-year-old in for an annual physical (the adolescent unit in my business) who gets every last screening test known to man–cholesterol, mammograms, colonoscopy–but doesn’t get a single question about safe sexual practices, because we all know that no one over the age of 60 has sex?
Do you see I mean? You may have suffered this type of care and dismissed it as generically “bad,” when in fact, it has its roots in subtle age discrimination.
So why does this happen? I don’t think it’s because the medical profession is discriminatory on purpose, but rather because we medical men and women are members, and mirrors, of a society that worships and is drawn toward youth. All things being equal, who do you think gets a more attentive evaluation of possible appendicitis in an emergency room, a 22-year-old fashion model or a 52-year-old homemaker?
There are other factors at work, too. As medicine gets more pressured and hurried, many doctors tend to take more of a “cookbook” or “age-focused” approach rather than look at the individual — the living, breathing patient sitting across from us on the exam table with all his or her uniqueness. But there’s a problem with that: we may have all been created equal, but we just don’t age that way — not mentally, and not physically. That’s why appropriate care requires a patient-centered approach, not an age-centered one!
Whatever the reason for age discrimination in health care, it’s important to recognize when it’s happening to you. When you see medical ageism in action, you can gently steer the conversation (and your care, or the care of a parent or loved one) to the patient-centered approach, because age is only one of a host of factors; it shouldn’t dictate your care. We geriatricians have a saying: “If you’ve seen one 80-year-old, then you’ve seen one 80-year-old.” That’s also true of us at 50, 60 and 70. I have 60-year-old patients who are home-bound and others who can whip me in a set of tennis. Why would I assume they would all want or need the same type of care?
In my next installment, I’ll tell you how to recognize when you’re experiencing ageism in the medical encounter — at any age — and what to do about it. And if you’re interested in more detail about how to get the best health care for you or a loved one, visit my site www.treatmennotmyage.com.
In order to “make news” something must be…new, or weird, or unusual. It’s already assumed we know the old and usual – so news is the opposite of that. We read about outliers and changes happening in any given day. Anything sticking out as different is considered newsworthy.
So anti-war protesters protesting (yawn) gets little coverage. But old people in Tea Party rallies protesting Medicare and Social Security get a proverbial barrel full of ink. Because it’s weird…unusual.
The Tea Party is somewhat like the Temperance Movement – people marching for less. But it’s also like the Know Nothings, who organized against the scourge of Italian and Irish immigrants in the 1840s. These tea-fueled corporate-encouraged rallies resemble demonstrations during the Great Depression – with one big exception: Folks in the 1930s were demanding the government help the downtrodden…as opposed to demonizing the poor on poster board as parasites.
By all accounts the economy hit hard times because of deregulation – the government’s not chaperoning industry led to a boom and ultimately to a bust. Now there is a group calling for the government to free industry completely and do nothing…because the group is angry at the government for the economy…the economy that tanked because of government deregulation.
The Tea Party’s premise is like phoning someone you’re mad at because they won’t call you back and telling them never to call you again. That’ll show ‘em you aren’t crazy!
The de facto leader of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, is the wife of a well-known secessionist. She quit her gig as governor of a state which pays its residents to live there – at state which receives more federal money per capita than any other (for every $1.00 Alaskans pay in taxes, Alaska gets over $5 in federal money). Her message? She warns about work ethics, denounces the evils of “socialism” and gleefully touts guilt by association.
What’s getting attention now are Republicans not being in lockstep unity with each other. Very weird. Ronald Reagan proclaimed the Eleventh Commandment as, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” The GOP had been devout. But in this primary season we have seen Republicans pitted against other Republicans. Some Republicans won. Other Republicans lost. Of course, there were Democrats competing in primaries (yawn), but it wasn’t as interesting as Republicans bloodying each other because of those aforementioned weird rallies.
And to make it all the more notable – the GOP unity make-up sessions haven’t panned out. In the Delaware primary, mainstream GOP candidate Mike Castle lost to fringe to the lamestream Sarah Palin backed GOP candidate for the Senate, Christine O’Donnell. Castle has yet to endorse his former opponent. In Tennessee, former state Republican Party chairwoman Robin Smith lost her bid for the 3rd Congressional District. She countered by refusing to attend the GOP unity breakfast for the winning candidate, Chuck Fleischmann. Florida Republican Charlie Crist and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski are running as independents for the Senate in their states’ general elections…against other Republicans.
Republicans support everything American and Republican – so in order to be against someone or something, it must be dubbed un-American or RINO (the ominous Republican in Name Only). This is tricky for self-identified Republicans who aren’t as adept at self-hatred as Democrats.
George W. Bush’s top advisor, Turd Blossom (AKA Karl Rove), now also a paid contributor at the “balanced” Fox News, came out against a Republican candidate. He said Tea Party backed Christine O’Donnell has said some nutty things! He treated a fellow Republican with contempt he normally reserves for undercover CIA agents like Valerie Plame. The audacity!
In this unusual primary season, the kicker is the super-polarizing Palin. Yes, the hammer and screwdriver in the Dubya crack in the GOP is now the one calling for unity. The figure who divides Republicans on whether or not they like her – let alone if she’s qualified to be president – said to a crowd in Iowa last week, “It is time to unite. If the goal really is to take away the gavel from Pelosi and Reid and to stop the Obama agenda and stop the government agenda, then it is time to unite.”
The question is whether Republicans will say thanks but no thanks to that bridge to nowhere.
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Here’s a question: Can America’s political system resolve our country’s poverty?
Do the poor matter, or is everything in Washington aimed at those wealthy enough to give campaign contributions?
Are we still one nation, or just a country with a small elite wealthier than any in history, with a declining middle class that was once the envy of the world?
Meanwhile, off to the side of our politics and media falls a growing group of Americans living in poverty — more poor people now than half a century ago when JFK first reacted to Michael Harrington’s The Other America.
Recent evidence is not encouraging. A new U.S. Census report shows that poverty is vast and growing. This report should serve as a clarion call to our leaders — but has been greeted mostly with silence, or one-time stories. Despite our radical wealth gap, an inequality gap unseen since before the Great Depression, poverty is not currently on the public policy agenda.
Instead, the argument in Congress is over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest group of people on the planet, who already have benefited unfairly from government tax breaks and subsidies, from their “investments” in politicians and from a Wall Street casino economy that overvalues finance, undervalues working families and devalues the poor.
We possess the greatest resources and wealth ever known. So to have more than 44 million people living in poverty — 14 percent of our population, and 20 percent of our children — strains the soul of America.
Fully one in four Americans, 72 million people, are “near poor” — officially, a family of four earning just $32,634 in 2009 — and that’s a moral disgrace.
The stimulus program is credited with saving or creating 1.4 to 3.3 million jobs, and keeping more than 6 million additional people from falling into poverty. But poverty continues to grow — an unfathomable 3 million more poor in 2009, and more poor people living in poverty now than 50 years ago when data was first published.
This reality is devastating. In 2009, poverty jumped to 14.3 percent, and the number of people without health insurance broke 50 million for the very first time. The unemployment rate swelled, with that of African-Americans and Latinos double and sometimes triple the national average.
The middle class continues to sink. Major cities are losing public transportation jobs, public school teachers, bus drivers, even police and firefighters. Public housing is becoming rarer, and home foreclosures are on the rise. The effect of such devastating poverty is undercutting our schools, weakening public safety, harming our environment and overwhelming American families.
I just spent a week on a bus tour meeting with congregations, students and workers at plant gates in Michigan. It is clear to me that poverty has a new face. Despite the old stereotypes, it was never true that most poor people in America were black, brown, yellow or red — instead more of the poor were white, female and young. Now the new face of poverty in our nation includes autoworkers whose jobs have been shipped abroad, never to return; it includes young college graduates working in minimum-wage jobs while living back home, unable to find jobs worthy of their educations; it includes former welfare-to-work mothers, now laid off because of the recession, with no safety net to help keep them going.
Can this much pain in America really be ignored by our political system?
As people of conscience, we seek the moral center. We must ask ourselves: Isn’t it time for a new War on Poverty, a new New Deal, a new Great Society plan similar to LBJ’s? Dr. King’s cry for a Poor People’s Campaign has come full circle. We must demand that our political leaders take heed.
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1) You have the ability to listen to Slate’s Gabfest while simultaneously composing a blog post, madly consuming internet news and beating the heck out of JabbaTheHutt420 at online Scrabble.
2) At different intervals in your non-cyber life, you’ve found yourself with a strange desire to press “Command-F” to find things and to Force Quit when the going got tough.
3) You often wake at night, dry-mouthed, just dying to know what new hijinks Lady Gaga is up to.
4) You privately believe you could tweet your way out of an alien abduction.
5) Your significant other has threatened to leave you if you don’t stop carrying that Manga love pillow around, even though you’ve patiently explained that at least you stopped taking your virtual girlfriend to expensive hotels.
6) You have recently purchased fancy gloves to hide the claws your hands have become, even with your pricey ergonomic keyboard.
7) Once the whole love pillow/virtual girlfriend thing cleared up, your significant other still felt that you were cheating… with your Mac. You weren’t worried. You suggested online couple’s therapy.
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The Morgan Library & Museum has struck gold again — this time in partnership with the New York Public Library with a new Mark Twain exhibition, Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Progress, in celebration of the 175th Anniversary of the author’s birth. It is on view from now through January 2nd, 2011.
In addition to the original manuscript pages from such masterpieces as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) and Life on the Mississippi (1883) there are more than 100 other priceless items from both the Morgan and NY Public Library which together, hold two of the world’s greatest collections related to the life and works of Mark Twain (1835-1910).
Handwritten manuscripts and typescripts of works by Twain are on display as well as his letters and correspondence, drawings and illustration mock-ups for printed editions, photographs, and several three-dimensional artifacts. What makes this collection so unique is that it deals with a recurring theme in Twain’s work: his critical attitude towards the rapidly modernizing America. Look at Twain’s words, and you’ll see that beneath all his humor is rage, anger and disillusionment.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known more by his pen name, Mark Twain, is considered the quintessential American author, humorist, lecturer, essayist, and master of satire. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain examines the history of the river and the impact of technological progress on river life. He paints greatly contrasting portraits of urban life in the North and South. In Following the Equator(1897), Twain is savagely sarcastic in expressing his outrage at the crimes that the Western colonial powers perpetrated on the indigenous populations of Africa, Asia, and Australasia.
Twain read all his work to his wife and children, and his wife also served as an editor. In his
manuscript,” Mark Twain: A Biographical Sketch,” it’s easy to see the corrections on page 13 in the handwriting of his wife, Olivia (Langdon) Clemens. She crossed out the amount of money they lost in 1886-89 ($170,000 — the equivalent of about $3 million today) on James W. Paige’s typesetting machine, and substituted for it the phrase “a large amount of money.” She also crossed out the phrase “a fraud,” following Paige’s name, and inserted instead, that the invention “was a failure.”
Twain, a world traveler, might be one of the greatest travel writers in history. He described the great volcano on the Hawaiian island of Kilauea in 1886:
The show is co-curated by Isaac Gewirtz, Curator of the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at The New York Public Library, and Declan Kiely, Robert H. Taylor Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library. With so much rich material to chose from, you might wonder how a curator decides which pages to display?” Says Kiely, “It comes down to an inverse beauty contest.” Kiely has chosen to display the manuscript pages with the most changes.
What to me is every bit as exciting as the manuscripts, are the illustrations by Twain’s longtime collaborator, artist Daniel Carter Beard. Many are extremely disturbing — especially those depicting injustice in the world.
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A recent article in The New Yorker revealed that the organization Americans for Prosperity is funded by the billionaire brothers Koch. The organization has provided tee shirts and talking points to Tea Party activists who remain unaware of the wealthy backers of the purportedly grass-roots movement. Surely if the Brothers Koch were as strongly in favor of prosperity for Americans as they are for themselves, they would keep the tee shirts and share the wealth.
It may be a bit unfair to say that the Koch’s do not share the wealth. They certainly contribute to some noble causes. Museums and ballet companies benefit from their generosity. They have hospital wings named after them. So, they do contribute huge sums of money, albeit to causes and institutions that their lower working-class political lackeys would consider frivolous.
The Kochs are arch libertarians. They embrace an Ayn Rand world view, according to which the fact that they inherited a fortune and parleyed it into a larger fortune proves them more worthy than others of status, power and influence. That they are able to manipulate the poor, the desperate, the frightened proves their entitlement to do so. That they have the means to steer the political system to their selfish ends is proof that they should. If deregulation serves their empire, they will fight for deregulation regardless of who or what their unregulated endeavors will harm. If maintaining and improving their position requires that they convince the poor to loudly protest against their own social safety net by vilifying it as a socialist entitlement, then the billionaire Koch brothers feel they are entitled to do so.
By holding a stealth position behind an organization that seems to be a wide-spread and populist one, the Koch brothers strive to continue concentrating wealth and improving their political leverage. To do this, they deliberately frighten the most manipulable fringe of the conservative spectrum, the undereducated, the overly religious and the fiscally oppressed. The only way to continue building their leverage is to increase the number of undereducated, overly religious and disenfranchised citizens.
The real grass roots members of the Tea Party have become easy fodder for Comedians. Interviews on site at Glenn Beck’s recent rally have spread virally across the internet as laughably inarticulate protesters prove themselves incapable of civil discourse that transcends the most inane mouthing of slogans and epithets. I think, though, it is time for us to stop belittling and begin educating. It is time to deprogram the vast number of desperate people whose energies are being utilized to further causes that will only harm themselves.
The Kochs see the poor as stupid people to be used as fodder in their own crusade for increased profits. As long as we who disagree with them continue to attack members of the Tea Party as fools, we only serve to polarize and entrench them, supporting and furthering the work of our political adversaries. We must engage and embrace individuals.
We must seek to enlighten and educate.
It is time now for the left to remind the poor, the uneducated and the desperate that it is we who fight for their ability to prosper, to learn, to excel. When the hoarders of wealth at the top of the Republican Party and it’s Randy sisters the Libertarians call us elitists, we must point out that even our the wealthiest and best educated among us seek only to raise everyone to the highest possible level. When the wealthy seek to hold onto their own tax breaks saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” we must point out that these are the words of people who can afford boats. When corporate-backed politicians urge us to free the corporate profit-machines of regulation, cheerily reminding us of Reagan’s trickle down economics, we have to ask, time and again, whether anyone has ever really enjoyed being trickled on.
The Tea Party is made up of energetic Americans who care deeply about their country and their own prosperity. Sadly, their vision is clouded, their ability to reason impeded by decades of misleading language, corporate disinformation and distorted debate. Rather than continuing to attack and belittle our fellow Americans, let us invite them all up to the moral high ground with outstretched hands and open arms. There is a chance — though I cannot claim certainty on this — that the truth might set us free.
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Its Okay to Be Ambidextrous but Dont Let Either Hand Do All the Work on Jaron Lanier and Book Buying
Jaron Lanier (author of You Are Not A Gadget) wrote this past Sunday in the New York Times Magazine about technology and education, while touching briefly on the pains of letting algorithms choose your music, and even defining what your musical tastes might be.
It struck me that his key point could also be used in how we think about book browsing — online searching and shopping vs. the somewhat aimless yet frequently serendipitous browsing discoveries in a “real” brick’n'mortar bookstore.
Online book shopping shows up the flaws as well as the virtues of our increasingly digital, connected world: we have instant access to any book we might think of. If we already know of the book we’re looking for, then finding it online is the work of seconds and buying a physical copy can be accomplished in a few more seconds, thanks to “One Click.” If we wish to have an ebook, a minute more and it’s on our device.
But what if we don’t already know what book we’re looking for? A great read? Something that we once heard about on NPR, but have forgotten the title, author, air date? What if we’re just looking for something new but need some guidance?
Online search & shop can only take us so far. A savvy Googler will likely be able to solve the mystery of that lost book from NPR. But I think that the book suggestion algorithms in online stores can only go so far to replicate the human interactions between wandering customer and experienced bookseller. And please remember that those “If You Bought This, You’ll Probably Like This” links are usually paid-for promotions by one publisher or another. They may seem like magic, but it’s not that different from seeing a promotional poster of a book in a store and saying, “Yep, that’s the book for me because I saw the poster near a book I once liked.”
And the “browsing” experience in every online store I’ve ever tried just doesn’t serve any customer well for serendipity. Your options are essentially limited to keyword searches, or browsing lists of books, sorted by title, author, release date or “popularity.” This is great if the book was just published, or if you’re looking for something that’s currently a best-seller.
But what if you want something off the beaten track? Or by an author whose name starts with “M”? Or a book published six years ago? Or all three of those criteria? I’m thinking of a book I spotted over on my bookshelf, Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned, published six years ago by Akashic Books, one of the publishers I represent.
If you already knew you wanted that particular book, or even a book by Joe Meno, your online searching would be easy. You’d have a link to click in seconds.
But if you didn’t know that you wanted that book, but were merely clicking through the fiction pages at Amazon.com or Borders.com or the iBookstore, looking for something interesting, how many pages would you have to click through until you got to Joe Meno? Hundreds? Thousands?
In fact, you might end up taking a chance on some other book long before you got to Joe. And that, I guess, would also be some kind of serendipity. But not one that answers your need for Joe Meno’s particular brand of edgy all-American fiction.
Indie bricks and mortar bookstores may not always be able to satisfy that desire for “search-find-click-done” instantaneity, but they do have an edge in browseability. And I would give a physical bookstore the edge in what I might describe in parallel terms as “wander-browse-sample-done”.
Algorithms and Google’s almost magical ability to deliver search results may be a fast route to finding a specific book, and that must satisfy many of our modern tastes for speed and efficiency.
But our human nature must also sometimes treasure what Lanier calls “longitudinal intelligence” — which I imagine might include a bookselling equivalent to his stories in the linked article about his father’s intuitive teaching skills.
Instead of trying to provide exactly a copy of every single, specific book you might want out of the universe of all available books (which doesn’t really scale well for bookstores that have a physical limit to their store’s square footage), actual bookstores focus on teaching their bookselling staff some key skills in locating books that do exist in the store, learning how to match customer’s requests with books that might be on hand, how to recommend books that will satisfy a customer’s desires, and how to locate books that might be orderable.
It’s this duality that gets to the heart of what I think Jaron Lanier is writing about: Some days, you feel like getting exactly the right book right now. And some days, you feel like wandering through a real store with your real body and interacting with other humans to see what life might put in your path.
It’s perfectly fine to be ambidextrous. But as with all skills, you need to keep working both sides of the duality. If all your book-buying is done online, you might find that your local physical bookstore is no longer there when you have one of those “I wonder what life will put in my path” sort of days. And that would be a shame.
Cross-posted at www.my3books.com.
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As long as most of us have been alive, owning your own home has been a big part of the American Dream, but suddenly some prominent media voices are saying, “Not so fast!” Some of these newfound doubts about homeownership have a distinct aroma of racism about them.
Most Americans still look at homeownership the way they always have. If you ask renters or young people if they hope to own a home one day, the resounding answer will be, “Yes!”
But there is a growing movement – epitomized by Time’s Sept. 6 cover story, “Rethinking Homeownership” — to make America a nation of renters. By amazing coincidence, those claiming that too many people own homes seem to have had that brainstorm just as Latinos, African Americans and Asians were beginning to get a piece of the action.
The Time piece bemoaned what it calls “the dark side of homeownership … foreclosures and walkaways, neighborhoods plagued by abandoned properties and plummeting home values.” The story declared flatly, “Homeownership has let us down.” It even blamed homeownership for “the hollowing out of cities” and pretty much every wasteful, energy-inefficient aspect of the suburban lifestyle.
Time wasn’t the first to call for a retreat from homeownership. In a June 7 Wall Street Journal column, Richard Florida called owning one’s own home “overrated.” At present, about 67 percent of Americans own their homes, and Florida thinks we’d be better off at between 55 and 60 percent. That, he claims, is the rate of homeownership in America’s “most economically vibrant regions.”
Such reasoning is nonsensical, as we’ll see in a moment.
Implicit in all this – not stated plainly in polite company, but lurking just under the surface – is the idea that things were fine until the wrong people started buying houses. On right-wing blogs the accusation is often more explicit, blaming government programs for putting people of color into homes.
Of course homeownership is not for everyone. But it was not homeownership that “let us down.” What let us down were predatory and dishonest lending practices that made homeownership a casino game. That’s why entire financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and others collapsed. Meanwhile, firms such as Goldman Sachs encouraged investors to purchase mortgage-backed securities even as they were betting that the housing market would collapse.
While some pick and choose statistics to make a bogus claim that homeownership is somehow a drain on economic vibrancy, multiple studies point in the opposite direction. Homeownership leads to stability, both for individual families and the neighborhoods in which they live.
And that, in turn, correlates with all sorts of social benefits. Numerous studies, for example, have shown that children of homeowners are more likely to graduate from high school than children of renters, and are at least twice as likely to go to college. Other research has found homeowners to have higher rates of life satisfaction, self-esteem and sense of control over their lives.
Federal Reserve statistics show that communities of color were victims, not perpetrators, of the mortgage disaster. Among buyers with the best credit ratings – FICO scores of 720 or higher – 13.5 percent of Latino borrowers and 12.8 percent of African-American borrowers received high-cost loans, compared to only 2.6 percent of white borrowers. That led to higher foreclosure rates and a massive loss of wealth.
The problem wasn’t that “irresponsible” (read: nonwhite) people recklessly bought homes they couldn’t afford. The problem was that they didn’t get equal treatment simply because they had the same income or FICO score.
The question is not whether we should be renters or homeowners. The question is how to go back to the original idea of homeownership: seeing a home as the place that protects your family, not something you invest in for a quick flip.
People of color simply have not had as much access to this bedrock source of financial stability as whites. In 2009, while 74.9 percent of whites were homeowners, only 59.1 percent of Asians, 48.9 percent of Latinos, and 47.5 percent of blacks owned their own homes. Not surprisingly, for every dollar of wealth the average white family owns, families of color have 15 cents.
Some, it appears, want to keep it that way.
Rather than blaming communities that were victimized by predatory lending practices, we should search for responsible ways to make sure that Americans of all races have equal access to the benefits that well-planned homeownership can provide for individuals, families and neighborhoods.
Preeti Vissa is community reinvestment director of The Greenlining Institute, www.greenlining.org.
The Los Angeles art world’s discomfort with the idea of Jeffrey Deitch — not the reality, mind you, the idea — came to a head this summer when poor Jeffrey played into our worst expectations, or at least he seemed to. Discounting the bulk of his 35-year career — during which he served as everything from innovative curator to, yep, artist — the local arterati had the guy cast as a baldly commercial tchatchke salesman, a spectacle-sucker, and, worst of all, a New York smart-ass whose come to town to tell us what to think and to whore around Hollywood. No question about it, Deitch’s aesthetic — hell, his whole ethos — is definitely oriented towards splash, and the feeling has been that Tinseltown hardly needs to import such hucksterism. The real Jeffrey Deitch is a far deeper, more complex package, but his first acts as MOCA director were pitched to the bleachers, and we artsters in the box seats didn’t like that one bit, no, we didn’t.
Deitch’s one true misstep was getting involved, right up to his walk-on, in James Franco’s meta-deconstruction of either or both art and/or soap opera, staged at MOCA’s West Hollywood outpost. That would have gone down easier, say, a year from now, once Deitch were settled in and the gesture didn’t seem so grossly silly, smarmily undignified, and consolation-prize-y. (The closing of Deitch’s gallery robbed Franco of his New York artist debut.) It also came on the heels — or was it the other way around? — of Dennis Hopper’s retrospective, mounted at MOCA’s deep-downtown Geffen Contemporary space, and the two events together comprised a Deitch-debut that pegged him as a screaming celebrity hound. The Franco thang did indeed indict Deitch. But the Hopper show, still on view until this Sunday — Sept. 26 — is a different matter; not without its problems, but on paper, at least, more to Deitch’s credit than to his detriment.
DENNIS HOPPER: DOUBLE STANDARD installation
First of all, Hopper’s retro had been scheduled later in the year, but was moved up in the hopes the artist would be around for the opening. No such luck; he succumbed to his cancer around a week before the show opened. And Deitch was thus stuck with a “celebrity show” as his inaugural effort. Effort as a curator, not just director, that is. Sure, Julian Schnabel was the nominal “curator” of his late friend’s survey, but Deitch was the true curatorial brains behind it — Schnabel’s primary, and most evident input being in the installation. Schnabel, of course, likes bombast as much as Deitch loves spectacle, so the show is full of visual noise, artfully but awkwardly installed. In fact, the space occupied by the show is itself awkward, the Geffen’s comparatively squeezed south wing further compressed into corridors. This has worked for other retrospectives of artists who, in fact, shared something of Hopper’s sensibility — for instance, H. C. Westermann or Allan Kaprow. But for Hopper, who was at once a very wild and a very conventional artist, the arrangement serves to amplify the scalar jumps between various aspects of his output, but does not provide sufficient intimacy for the small stuff or sufficient viewing room for the large. The whole might have come together as a kind of Schnabelian installation, but only one room — a side corridor in which larger photographs are arrayed in rhythmic asymmetry — coalesces sufficiently.
DENNIS HOPPER, Selma Alabama (U.S.Historians), 1965, Gelatin silver print, 16 x 24 inches, Courtesy the Estate of Dennis Hopper and Tony Shafrazi Gallery
DENNIS HOPPER, Tuesday Weld, 1965, Gelatin silver print, 16 x 24 inches, Courtesy the Estate of Dennis Hopper and Tony Shafrazi Gallery
The show’s presentation thus got in the way of the art, in no place more than in the room where Hopper’s best known work — photographs from the 1960s documenting his friends and his milieux — is shown stacked top to bottom, the bulk of the images more or less impossible to see. Deitch has explained that this is to diffuse people’s concentration on the stuff they know best. Well then, hey, why show it at all? Or, to pose a more sympathetic suggestion, why not show — at eye level or, okay, in Schnabelesque discontinuity — some of Hopper’s least known photos? He could have displayed the civil rights marches, various artist Happenings, and shots of Euro-artists, like Niki de St. Phalle or Martial Raysse, visiting Los Angeles, as well as early wall photos that anticipate Hopper’s color photos of the ’90s, and so forth. Hopper’s photographic style relied equally on artful composition and a vivid you-are-there documentary feel, and the rewards of that recognition — and, now, recollection — are enhanced by the rewards of the vision itself, and vice versa, the pleasures of looking and seeing married once again. This hanging deprives us of those pleasures.
DENNIS HOPPER: DOUBLE STANDARD installation
DENNIS HOPPER, Florence (Yellow with Silver Spray Paint), 1997, Color photograph, 75 x 50 inches, Courtesy Estate of Dennis Hopper and Tony Shafrazi Gallery
There are pleasures to be had in Hopper’s later, larger, color photos, although here the selection seems offhand or — like the fascinating gang-graffiti series — not hung especially well. In fact, the show comes together best in the galleries devoted to Hopper’s early assemblages, proto-pop object lessons that oscillate between clever and exuberant, and frequently yield something very funny and/or very handsome. Hopper’s paintings — only a few of which survived an early-60s fire — seem like modest efforts, but, under the influence of Marcel Duchamp and the serious goofiness of his Venice Mafia pals, he did some bold, odd things with found objects.
I can understand why skeptics of Jeffrey Deitch’s abilities and intentions — not to mention those simply gunning for him — would take “Dennis Hopper: Double Standard as a case in point. The complaint has been that the work itself simply doesn’t merit an extensive survey in one of America’s leading museums, and that Deitch showed Hopper’s art only because Hopper was a Movie Star. “Double Standard” — the name itself a critics’ bull’s-eye — doesn’t show Hopper to best advantage, falling short of a presentation that would offset the caviling. (The worst room in the show, dominated by huge, corny roadside figurines, is the first one you enter. Oops.) But there are a lot of fascinating pieces in there, pieces that hold their own with, and even illuminate, comparable artworks from the same periods. Hopper was a serious artist, and a gifted one, erratic but never half-hearted. Nobody in LA’s art scene pissed and moaned over the past few years when ACE Gallery here showed Hopper’s paintings, photographs, or even the paintings he made — or had made — from the photographs, much less when heavy-duty Euro-museums like Amsterdam’s Stedelijk and Vienna’s MAK mounted much more extensive retrospectives. So what’s the big deal now? Tell you what: It’s close to home, it’s a problematic show, and it more or less accidentally confirms naysayers’ suspicions about Jeffrey Deitch.
DENNIS HOPPER: DOUBLE STANDARD installation
As someone who’s followed Deitch’s entire career since we were both pimply-faced kids running around SoHo, I not only feel compelled to advocate a longer trial time for him but to assure everyone that the best is yet to come. And as someone who has regarded Dennis Hopper’s visual work with great curiosity and admiration, I can only regret the fact that “Double Standard” — a must-see show in any case — plays so readily into the hands of the cynics. This is not about celebrityhood, dudes. This is not a matter of what the French call the violon d’Ingres, after their great 19th century painter who thought his artistic greatness automatically extended to his musicianship — even as his peers dissented, albeit to one another. This town, and the profession for which it is best known, is full of such self-indulgence, and the rags and blogs that fuss over celebrinoids make much of such pretenses. Hopper wasn’t into that; he ran with artists and learned from them and was part of their discourse. Even when his work fell short, it was part of art history; it was perfectly symptomatic of its time, bright and eager, voracious and hopeful, and manifested a sensibility quite like no one else’s.
HERB ALPERT, Untitled Black Totem, 2010, bronze
I feel the same way about Herb Alpert’s artistic output, which I’ve also followed for a good while — although in Alpert’s case, it’s not so much a matter of the work reflecting its time as transcending it, going back to the aesthetics and practices of slightly earlier times and building on them. The musician and producer took up painting some 20-odd years ago, and within a couple of years was producing a very credible — not just acceptable, but strong — body of abstract painting that expanded on the surrealism-derived gestural styles, European as well as American, from the postwar era. For almost as long Alpert has produced sculpture, carrying over his fluid, voluble but tightly organized abstract organic-ism into bronze — again with almost startling mastery, and again after some trial and error. Alpert’s musical success has left him well-off enough to do some serious philanthropizing in and around the arts; it has also allowed him, equally happily, to pay for some very ambitious sculptural projects, the latest installed until October 9 at ACE in Beverly Hills. These “Black Totems” soar up to 20 feet, clustering in the gallery’s central space like a sequoia forest. A very spooky sequoia forest: as their name implies, the bronze shafts have a deep, almost velvety black patina, and the bulges and whorls and tendrils and eruptions that bloom with muscular insistence and voluptuous energy make the “trees” seem more fauna than flora.
As their name implies, the Black Totems are the result of inspiration Alpert took from the wood-carved family-ancestral structures, particular to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. All that carries over formally from colorful, highly articulated Haida and Tlingit and Kwakiutl totems, however, is a general sense of animistic presence; running their surface articulations and protrusions together into elongated episodes, Alpert clearly thinks of his Totems as single organisms, not compendia. His structures more resemble the ominously metamorphosing sculptures of Miro, Lipchitz, Giacometti, Arp, and other modernists. That’s so unhip, it’s hip.
HERRB ALPERT, Untitled Black Totem, 2010, bronze
Hopper was so hip, so of his late modernist-into-post modernist time, that he now seems unhip, a man unstuck in time whose last paintings blow up the photos he took forty years earlier to billboard size — of billboards and billboard-size paintings, as it happens. Of course, his recent passing endows this condition with that much more poignancy and finality. Alpert, by contrast, seeks vitality in classically high-modern tropes, to the point where he risks disappearing into the masters he emulates. But, finally, unlike the bulk of their fellow Hollywood hotshots, Hopper and Alpert embraced visual art for its own sake, on its own terms, acknowledging — not without some difficulty — that its demands are equal to their other disciplines, and did the time and the thinking. At various times, sure, the two multi-talents engaged assistance and took shortcuts unavailable to many visual artists; but they exploited those benefits judiciously and to substantial ends.
Am I marking on a curve here? Am I crowing about these guys because I’ve written catalogue essays for both of them, or because I’m just another star-shtupper? No. By the evidence currently on view — and despite the brow-slapping faults of the MOCA show — Dennis Hopper and Herb Alpert have earned the right to be taken seriously as visual artists.
This weekend, the FBI arrested a man for planting what he thought was an improvised explosive device outside Wrigley Field in Chicago. Sami Samir Hassoun had hoped to kill scores of spectators who were leaving Saturday night’s Dave Matthews Band concert. Fortunately, Hassoun had been on the FBI’s radar for quite some time – and had been provided with a dummy device incapable of exploding.
As a counter-terrorism professor, I can draw several lessons from this case: (1) successful terrorist attacks occur only when intentions are matched by capabilities, and the desired capability in this case – the bomb – continues to be a means that is just not readily available to terrorists; (2) groups do not have a monopoly on terrorism, with lone wolves like Hassoun often perpetrating acts of politically-motivated violence; and (3) there seems to be no shortage of idiot terrorists – for which we should count our blessings.
But let me not bore you with points I have made in the past.
This piece is not on the attack but rather public reactions to the attack.
I have been somewhat appalled by some of the comments I’ve read on Twitter regarding the Wrigleyville plot.
Here’s just a sampling:
This is why illegals shouldn’t be allowed a free ride – Sami Samir Hassoun Arrested In Alleged Chicago Bomb Plot.
some lebanese kid named samir hassoun tried to blow up wrigley field last sunday…someone get these dirty ass aliens out of our country.
Sami Samir Hassoun Charged in Bomb Plot Outside Wrigley Field. These MUSLIMS in America, ain’t they somthin’?
Sami Samir Hassoun sounds like a christian name? LOL
A man was arrested yesterday for trying to blow people up at Wrigley in Chicago. His name? Sami Samir Hassoun. Yep, definitely Amish.
The guy just busted in a plot to blow up Wrigley Field is named Sami Samir Hassoun. Clearly, another Norwegian Lutheran fanatic.
Hassoun is a permanent legal resident of the United States. While he is a Lebanese citizen, he is in the U.S. legally. Suggestions to the contrary are wrong.
Moreover, the sarcasm of many of these tweets regarding Muslims is not just misplaced, it’s inappropriate. For starters, Hassoun’s motive was completely secular. The authorities have made it clear that he was not driven by extremist religious ideology. Instead, his gripe was with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop people from making cracks at expense of Muslims.
Wake up call: Equating terrorism with Islam is worthy of a Nobel Prize in Ignorance.
Here’s a news flash: not all terrorists are Muslims! Recall Timothy McVeigh, Scott Roeder, James von Brunn, and Joseph Stack? What did they all have in common? They all killed Americans for political purposes. Oh, and none of them were Muslims.
Here’s another news flash: in trying to identify violent Islamic extremists, name, nationality, race, and sex are poor predictors of terrorism. How soon some people forget Jose Padilla, Michael Finton, Carlos Bledsoe, and Colleen LaRose (a.k.a., Jihad Jane)? Furthermore, let’s not forget that the deadliest terrorist attack inside the U.S. since 9/11 was committed by an American citizen – not some “alien” – and, to boot, one entrusted with a position of trust in the U.S. Army: Major Nidal Malik Hasan.
This past weekend, Nick Kristof wrote a column in the New York Times publicly apologizing to Muslims for the bigotry to which they’ve been subjected. I see Kristof’s point.
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There are a few words I could use to describe the Week 2 loss-excuse me, blowout-in Green Bay.
Summing it up, the game was basically a hotass mess. Not great.
Ya see, what had happened was (Will Smith in Fresh Prince voice), the combination of a struggling quarterback (he was actually beyond struggling, but I don’t know a word for that) and a non-existent offensive line made for a 34-7 loss.
Yep, you read that score correctly. A lot of people probably don’t think those numbers are particularly surprising because, ya know, “we’re the Bills.” But I AM surprised, because even though I expected a loss, I didn’t expect what it took to get there.
If we’re trying to look at the positives here, the Bills should really be commended for putting on a fantastic show of borderline amazing failure. I’m sure Packers fans were thoroughly enjoying their Sunday afternoon. You’re welcome.
But to dissect what went wrong…well actually, it’s really not that complicated. Let me break it down for you.
Chan Gailey, in trying to be a good coach or make a statement, decided that he was going to let the three QB options duke it out for starting spot during training camp and preseason. That’s fair, I suppose. I guess Trent Edwards seemed to prove that he could handle the job. However, apparently he couldn’t and if people had listened to me babble on for months and months and months about how the Trent Edwards ship has sailed and it’s time to move on, we might not have thrown away the first two games of the season and my Monday mornings might have been just a little more pleasant on so many levels. It’s all good and diplomatic to give Edwards a chance, but once you see that that chance is not panning out, suck it up and do what it takes to win. This isn’t football at the park, this is the NFL, and there are thousands of Bills fans out there ripping their hair (or hair plugs) out week after week, season after season. That’s all the ranting I’ll do on the matter, since Fitz has been named starter for Sunday at New England. I’m happy, but it’s still too late.
The next issue was the offensive line, or lack thereof. I’m pretty sure Edwards wouldn’t have been great even with some protection, but the fact that he had virtually zero didn’t help the mess that ensued. Much of the inability to score actually boils down to an inept O-line, as our RBs can only do so much with what they’re given to work with. I don’t get it. How is it possible that our O-line is that bad? These guys must have some type of skills or they wouldn’t be playing professional ball (well, you’d presume). Someone needs to help them get their ish together and soon. I’ve already laid out the basics of what their job description is, and have even been kind enough to remind them of the date, location and time they must show up. I’m only one woman, there’s only so much I can do. I honestly don’t know what the answer is here, besides learn how to block or get some veterans that already know how.
Obviously, without a QB who throws (or even has a chance to) our receiving game was weak. My poor Lee got no receptions and no yards. Stevie Johnson did a good job (lost ball is forgiven) and Roscoe looked better than he did last season. CJ Spiller returned some kickoffs and did a decent job.
The run game was alright. I was pleasantly surprised by Marshawn Lynch’s performance. While it wasn’t stellar by any stretch of the imagination (17 carries for 64 yards), he actually fought for yards and I saw a glimmer of the “beast mode” he used to display when he first became a Bill. I even took back some of my harsher criticism (via Twitter) about midway through the game. When given the chance, Freddy J also showed he’s still a powerhouse, working great with Marshawn to blast down the field and give us our only touchdown of the game. A tip of the stiff arm to you, boys.
You wouldn’t think our defense did much of anything by looking at the score, but they did a fine job. Things went downhill fast, courtesy of the offense losing the ball right at the beginning of the second half, which directly resulted in a GB touchdown. Cue a bunch of 3 and outs with another turnover and you have some more points for Green Bay and a very tired Buffalo defense. A defense cannot perform spectacularly if they’re constantly being shuffled back on to the field.
Next week, the Bills head to Foxboro to face the New England Patriots. Not great, considering the Pats will be super pissed, fresh off their loss to the Jets. Translation: Sucks for us!
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This weekend, at a panel on the U.S./Mexico border in Marfa, Texas, GRITv friend, reporter Mark Danner discussed the “thinning out” and hardening of politics.
When there’s insecurity, violence and threat, he noted, people flock to those who promise to deliver security and stability even at the cost of their personal liberties. Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico—whomever offers protection attracts popular support.
But that’s not only true in visibly war-torn countries. It’s true here too. Don’t you think? The economy hasn’t recovered, no matter how many reports proclaim that the recession ended and millions cast about for answers, for someone to blame, someone who promises to help.
The middle of the spectrum, Danner noted, thins out while the extremes thicken and grow more powerful. Funny how here in the U.S. we’ve only heard about one extreme: the Tea Party movement, the angry, anti-government, pro-gun, far white. The money media loves their rallies and their politicians. Wacky views make great cable news.
So what about other views? Views that might be considered the other end of the “extreme” spectrum remain unspeakable. Suggest that Obama is a socialist Kenyan Nazi Muslim and you might end up winning a primary campaign. Suggest that Bush and Cheney ought to be prosecuted for torture and other war crimes, and you’re ostracized. Why is that?
Perhaps the reason that we’ve only heard from one extreme in this time of crisis is that those in the money media fear that the other, leftist sort might actually gain traction. As Americans feel the ground shifting beneath them, nothing’s more critical than controlling what’s out there, on offer, on which to hold tight.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.
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Now that the Deepwater Horizon oil well seems to be capped for good, there is a danger that the majority of Americans will return to life as usual, relying on fossil fuels as much as — if not more than — before. As residents of the Gulf region know all too well, we cannot afford to do this.
While the BP oil disaster captured public attention as no other spill has, it’s not an isolated event. It’s part of a widespread global pattern that underscores the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels — and to do so before this year’s spill pales in comparison to some even greater future disaster.
That’s exactly what happened with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which released more than 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and it involved less than five percent of the 205.8 million gallons released during the Deepwater Horizon spill.
There have been many other spills in American waters during the intervening years as well, with more than 8 million gallons spilled in incidents off the coasts of Alaska, California, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island, among others. The release of another 7 million gallons is attributed to Hurricane Katrina. And these are just incidents in America during the past two decades.
Worldwide, the consequences are far greater. The Ixtoc I oil well on the Mexican side of the Gulf of Mexico caused nearly as much damage as Deepwater Horizon, releasing 140 million gallons when it sprung a leak in 1979. The 1991 Gulf War caused the release of an estimated 330 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf. And Nigeria’s Niger Delta is plagued by the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years, according to a recent report in the New York Times.
The technology used to combat spills has not improved significantly, as the response to Deepwater Horizon so clearly demonstrated. A case study of the Ixtoc I disaster, prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sounds eerily familiar, despite having taken place more than 30 years ago:
It took nearly 10 months to finally cap the well.
With oil spills being so common — and so little effort going into development of advanced cleanup technology – the only sound strategy is to reduce our dependence on oil. Swift and effective policymaking will be an important step toward making this happen. But individual citizens can — and are — taking action on their own accord.
Just one example of this is My Gulf Action, a not-for-profit online campaign that encourages individuals to reduce their personal use of fossil fuels. The site calculates the effects of those reductions and shows users how their actions, combined with others from the My Gulf Action community, add up to offset the oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico during the BP oil spill. It’s a powerful way to show people how their everyday activities — from buying water in disposable plastic bottles to adjusting their thermostats by one degree — is inextricably linked to our country’s dependence on fossil fuels and offshore drilling.
My Gulf Action was created by SmartPower and has been endorsed by several leading environmental groups, including 350.org; DoSomething.org; Waterkeeper Alliance and Save Our Gulf; League of Conservation Voters; Clean Water Action; Center for Resource Solutions; and Gulf Future, a joint initiative of the Gulf Coast Fund and Gulf Restoration Network.
The campaign website — www.MyGulfAction.com — and its energy waste reduction tools are available for free to anyone. The campaign, which launched last month, has already offset 25,000 gallons of oil — and that’s just the beginning. Long-term, this has the potential to transform the way that Americans think about oil and their energy use.
Each of us can make a difference by thinking more critically about how we use energy in our daily lives — and if we are indeed to realize a true clean energy future, we have to.
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Fiscal policy is deadlocked. So, apparently, is monetary policy.
The Fed’s decision today (Tuesday) to keep short-term interest rates near zero is no surprise. What’s odd is its apparent decision not to boost the economy by buying hundreds of billions of bonds — despite its acknowledgment that “the pace of recovery in output and employment has slowed in recent months,” and that prices are rising too slowly for comfort (i.e., we might be facing deflation).
Every indicator suggests third-quarter growth will be as slow if not slower than in the second quarter. Consumer confidence is down. Retail sales are down. Housing sales are down. Commercial real estate is in trouble.
A growth rate of 1.6 percent means even higher unemployment ahead. Maybe we’re not in a double-dip but we might as well be in one. Growth this slow is the equivalent of heading downward, relative to the growth needed to get us out of the hole we’re in.
The Fed is deadlocked because it harbors hawks who worry near-zero interest rates will lead to another round of speculation, ending in an even bigger bust. Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig, for example, is openly dissenting from the Fed’s near-zero policy and I’m sure he resists doing anything more to stimulate borrowing.
I don’t generally side with the hawks but they have a point.
Even though economy is heading downward, flooding it with more money may not help.
The problem isn’t the cost of capital. Most businesses can get all the money they need. Big ones are still sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash.
The problem is consumers, who are 70 percent of the economy. They can’t and won’t buy enough to turn the economy around. Most don’t qualify for more credit given how much they already owe (or have already defaulted on).
Without consumers, businesses have no reason to borrow more. Except to speculate by buying back their own stock and doing mergers and acquisitions, which is exactly what they’re doing.
Ultimately, even if fiscal and monetary policy weren’t deadlocked, we’d still face the same conundrum. Say the White House and Ben Bernanke got everything they wanted to boost the economy. At some point these boosts would have to end. The economy would have to be able to run on its own.
But it can’t run on its own because consumers have reached the end of their ropes.
After three decades of flat wages during which almost all the gains of growth have gone to the very top, the middle class no longer has the buying power to keep the economy going. It can’t send more spouses into paid work, can’t work more hours, can’t borrow any more. All the coping mechanisms are exhausted.
Anyone who thinks China will get us out of this fix and make up for the shortfall in demand is blind to reality.
So what’s the answer? Reorganizing the economy to make sure the vast middle class has a larger share of its benefits. Remaking the basic bargain linking pay to per-capita productivity.
Let me end with a brief commercial. My new book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future is out today. In it, I explain this in detail.
This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.
The tar sands pits in Alberta, Canada that Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) visited last week are so bleak that one UN official, after seeing them for the first time, compared them to Mordor, the hellish wasteland from Lord of the Rings.
But Senator Graham, after meeting with oil industry representatives and tar sands proponents, hailed the toxic mines, the source of the world’s dirtiest fuel, as “an industrial ballet,” adding that the project “really blends with the natural habitat.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Graham and his delegation never met with opponents of the project — like the people living near the tar sands pits, who report higher-than-average cancer rates linked to water contamination, or biologists, or the wildlife experts, who counted hundreds of ducks that died after landing on the project’s toxic lakes.
But you would think plans to expand pipelines carrying this toxic crude into the United States would come under a little more scrutiny from U.S. leaders — especially the ones living in states where pipelines threaten drinking water supplies.
That’s why it was so surprising to hear Montana Senator Max Baucus pushing for hasty approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would carry this toxic oil right into his state, traversing major sources of fresh water like the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, posing a constant threat of ruptures, spills, and contamination. In addition to Montana, the pipeline would run through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, crossing dangerously close to drinking water supplies and agricultural aquifers.
We know the oil industry’s influence on our representatives in Washington is out of hand. And when companies like BP spend nearly as much money on public relations after a major environmental disaster like the oil spill in the Gulf as they do on clean up, it’s clear that we’ve got our work cut out for us.
But here’s what we’ve got on our side: the truth.
We know the Keystone XL pipeline would put American health at risk. In addition to threatening drinking water, processing tar sands oil releases pollutants directly linked to asthma, emphysema and birth defects. Refining tar sands crude from the pipeline would create far more air pollution in American communities that are already burdened with cancer and poor air quality as a result of the oil industry.
We also know the pipeline would cross the most important source of agricultural water in the United States, the Ogallala aquifer.
And we know pipeline disasters happen.
The Enbridge oil disaster in Michigan in July poured one million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River, forced evacuations of families living near the site, and billed the EPA $17 million to clean up. Just weeks ago, another pipeline ruptured outside of Chicago, sending oil bubbling to the surface and raising questions about vulnerability of the project along the rest of its 465-mile route.
The BP disaster taught us how cozy ties between the oil industry and federal agencies can lead to lax oversight and we know this is a concern with the agency overseeing pipeline safety.
But even if we succeeded in forcing the oil industry to beef up safety on its pipelines, projects like Keystone XL wouldn’t make sense. The oil this pipeline would carry is the dirtiest in the world, and the most difficult and expensive to produce. It requires chopping down ancient forest, using massive amounts of energy and water to squeeze out a tiny bit of crude, and leaving behind giant toxic lakes.
But that’s not the end of the story. Once this dirty oil reaches refineries in places like Houston and Detroit, it spews chemicals into the air, putting Americans at risk for asthma and cancer.
The most mind-boggling part is that the pipeline will do nothing for American citizens. The oil it promises to provide could be recovered just by increasing our cars’ fuel efficiency by about two and a half miles per gallon — something we already know how to do.
It’s a pretty simple solution. But Canada’s oil industry won’t profit from increased fuel efficiency or clean energy. So they are spending millions of dollars working to convince American leaders like Senator Graham and Senator Baucus to support their pipeline.
Fortunately, Senators Graham and Baucus are among only a handful who have caved to oil industry pressure. More than 50 members of Congress have called on the State Department to stop the pipeline proposal. EPA director Lisa Jackson has raised questions about the safety of the project. And a poll last week in Nebraska showed that citizens overwhelmingly oppose construction of the pipeline.
Every day, more Americans add their voices to the tens of thousands who have already asked the State Department to kill the project. At a time when we could be moving forward into a clean energy economy, it’s just plain crazy to pipe the world’s most expensive, dirty, and wasteful oil into America — all so the oil industry can break profit records.
Photo credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute.
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Some band frontmen use their hiatus to shack up in a some faraway villa and take a full-on sabbatical from the studio. Then there’s people like Serj Takian, who uses the extended time to feed his creative juices in the form of solo work. The frontman of System of a Down releases Imperfect Harmonies today — the second solo album since the band took its hiatus some four-plus years ago, and he’s quite please with the end result. “It fuses electronic beats and sounds with a full legato orchestra,” he explained.
The new album, like his previous effort, Elect the Dead, is also filled with his signature political rage, as well as angst, hope, and everything else in between. And it seems the videos off the new album will follow other Tankian gems in that they’re mind-numbingly stunning. Take the video for the first single, “Left of Center,” for example, in which a near claymation world gets skewed. I spoke with Tankian recently and asked him about the new album, touring, and how he felt performing in his homeland.
You recently played in your native Armenia. What was that experience like for you?
Playing for the first time in Armenia, my cultural homeland, was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my career. It was like bringing your music home. The over-the-top reception and excitement usually reserved for bands like the Beatles was a bit unexpected. It was summer time and the taste of apricots did not leave my senses.
Apricots… mmm. How is Imperfect Harmonies different than your first solo effort?
Imperfect Harmonies incorporates quite a different spectrum of sounds than my first solo record, Elect the Dead. It fuses electronic beats and sounds with a full legato orchestra, anchored down by live, rock instrumentation, spiced up with jazz solos and interludes. It’s a melancholic, brooding record with an emotionally-layered depth, lyrically, to match the layers of the sounds musically.
Are all the tunes of Imperfect Harmonies geared toward the political spectrum? Or do you have some songs that are about less weighty issues?
Actually, only a few of the songs on this record are overtly political. Most of the songs are theoretical or philosophical explorations dealing with the concept of life beyond civilization. Ecological changes coupled with human reactions, along with personal stories of love and loss dominate the emotional canvas of the record.
Speaking of which, what can you tell us about the BP situation that we haven’t heard before?
Well, this is the Huffington Post, so I’m not sure if there is anything you haven’t heard or written about on the topic already… (Smiles) I think it’s always important to note that regulation in industries that deal with the possibilities of catastrophic natural disasters are crucial. It was BP this time, it could be some other oil or energy company next time.
Another thing I find interesting are BP’s roots as a company. BP used to co-own Iran’s oil rights along with the Persian oil company. In the 1950s, when the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mossadaq, tried to nationalize Iran’s oil, it was BP that went to the British gov’t and the CIA, who in turn, helped overthrow Mossadaq and replaced him with the Shah to secure foreign rights over Iran’s oil.
What do you make of Obama’s presidency thus far?
Obama’s leadership has helped usher in some significant changes. From the healthcare bill to regulation on industries, to key changes in all levels of government personnel and bodies, to the stimulus package, his leadership has done a tremendous job since taking office. The obstructionist opposition in Congress and industry, naturally polarized to all this change, have done our democracy a disservice by acting to block all forms of progress.
Obama’s mistakes are the escalation of the invasion of Afghanistan, and going back on his use of the word Genocide when dealing with the slaughter of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians at the hands of the Turks during WWI.
You don’t presently have any North American dates on this tour — can we expect some soon?
Yes. We are in the process of planning a new North American tour to support Imperfect Harmonies.
Can we expect another System of a Down album? I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but as a fan, I have to ask the cliched question.
There are no current plans for a System Of A Down record. The band has been on hiatus since 2006.
What’s currently on your iPod? Any Rick Astley?
Wow… I have close to 3000 records on my iPod. No Rick Astley though. (Smiles)
Lastly, where do you want to be musically in seven years?
Well, artistically, I want to try everything the muse brings to my window. I have a musical, Prometheus Bound, opening at the American Repertory Theater in March 2011. I’m writing my 1st classical-jazz symphony for orchestra, releasing my second poetry book, called Glaring Through Oblivion, and have a few other projects including film scoring and a non-fiction book in the works. You could say that my expressional explorations are what get me out of bed in the morning. I’m a big fan of the Huffington Post, so thanks for having me on.
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Nine members of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force have died in a helicopter crash in Zabul province, southern Afghanistan.
All nine were US soldiers, it was announced later. A Nato soldier, an Afghan soldier and a US civilian were also injured, Isaf said.
The Taliban said it shot down the aircraft but Isaf said there had been no enemy fire in the area.
At least 529 foreign troops have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan.
With more than three months to go, 2010 is already the deadliest year since the US-led invasion in 2001, according to figures collated by the website iCasualties.
A spokesman for the governor of Zabul told AP news agency the helicopter came down in the province's north-western Daychopan district.
Isaf did not give the exact location of Tuesday's incident.
“The cause of the crash is under investigation,” it said. “There are no reports of enemy fire in the area.”
An Isaf spokesman told the AFP news agency an operation was underway to recover the aircraft.
The three injured have been taken to an Isaf medical facility for treatment.
There were no reports of insurgent activity in the area, suggesting the helicopter was not shot down, says the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said insurgents had shot down the helicopter, but this could not be substantiated. The Taliban often exaggerates reports of its attacks on foreign troops.
There are almost 150,000 foreign troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, supporting about 300,000 Afghan security forces.
President Barack Obama's top economics advisor, Larry Summers, is to leave the administration at the end of the year.
Under Mr Summers, the council has been at the heart of the government's economic policy making.
The president praised him for “brilliance, experience and judgement” at “a time of great peril” for the US.
But the departure of Mr Summers, who is returning to a post at Harvard University, is the latest from the White House economy team.
In July budget director Peter Orszag stepped down and chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer left earlier this month.
The White House said Mr Summers had been an architect of the 2009 Recovery act – aimed at jump-starting the US economy, and had also, among other roles, led an overhaul of the automobile industry.
“I will always be grateful that at a time of great peril for our country, a man of Larry's brilliance, experience and judgment was willing to answer the call and lead our economic team,” President Obama said.
“Over the past two years, he has helped guide us from the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s to renewed growth. And while we have much work ahead to repair the damage done by the recession, we are on a better path thanks in no small measure to Larry's wise counsel.”
Meanwhile, Mr Summers said he would “miss working with the president and his team on the daily challenges of economic policy making”.
A hot internet topic is a letter from a young, Caucasian doctor named Dr. Roger Starner Jones to President Obama. There are a considerable number of variations of this letter posted so I have posted below the version I am referring to:
When I read this letter, other versions of it and some of the posted comments, a few thoughts came to mind: (1) The internet is ripe for distortion and Dr. Jones is probably displeased with some of the vitriolic versions of his letter, (2) Personal responsibility is critical to any functioning society, whether we are talking about health, safety, education, democracy, energy usage or other public concerns, (3) Many Americans simply don’t believe that basic healthcare is a human right in contrast to international declarations and the standards in other wealthy countries and (4) Current health care reform discussions are laced with the same ugly racial and class overtones of the Reagan-era initiated Welfare Queen.
Welfare Queen mythology consists of massive exaggerations of welfare fraud which resonate with those in the anti-welfare movement. This mythology is rife with overt negative racial and class stereotypes where Welfare Queens are portrayed as lazy leeches on society, pilfering vast sums of money from “hard working people’s taxes”.
In any form of socialism (whether that be food subsidies, housing subsidies, Medicaid, etc.) there will be a few that take advantage of the system. Likewise, in any business there will be individuals that profit by undermining the system’s principles. This is human nature and to ignore so would be foolish.
In America, conservatives often argue against social systems by making claims of massive fraud or that socialism discourages personal responsibility, while liberals often defend social systems while ignoring the system’s limitations and problems.
What do I think? I think that the Declaration of Human Rights made it clear that most countries agree on a set of human rights, including the right to basic health. I think that people have a right to live somewhere safe, a right to have enough food to eat, a right to a basic education, a right to basic healthcare, a right to speak freely and a right to influence their government, among other rights. I also think that in any large group, some people will take advantage of a social system but that doesn’t mean the system should be abolished. Rather, that means that quality checks and incentives need to be put in place to improve implementation and to ensure that the system is a support and not a disincentive.
I strongly encourage intelligent discussions of critical issues in American society in order to develop lasting, impactful solutions. If political discussions continue to be filled with the misdirection tactics of racial and class stereotyping rather than well-grounded facts, America will forfeit its dubious claim of being a vanguard of human rights and accelerate a downward spiral.
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The atmosphere in the Brookings Institution meeting room was electric. It was Sept. 21, 2009 and Julius Genachowski, newly confirmed at President Obama’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was about to give his first major policy address.
All parts of the telecommunications community were there. The room was packed. TV cameras covered the event. Many of those present had supported Obama and the progressive Internet policy he advocated – a policy Genachowski had written during the campaign.
Word got around that Genachowski was about to announce his support for reversing the long-standing industry-friendly policies that had governed at the FCC. He was going to come out for a free and open, non-discriminatory Internet.
On that day, Genachowski didn’t disappoint. He praised the idea of the open Internet. He recognized the threats to the Internet’s “fundamental architecture of openness.” He proposed to enshrine in FCC rules the four somewhat nebulous open Internet “principles” the FCC had adopted in 2005 which said consumers were entitled to access to lawful Internet content, applications and services, and to attach equipment that didn’t harm the network. (The fourth principle said consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, but that one has been largely ignored.)
He also proposed to add to the rules two more requirements. One was non-discrimination –
The other principle was transparency, so consumers could know what was happening with their Internet. It was, all in all, a bravura performance, for which Genachowski was justly praised.
And then the roof fell in, and nothing has been the same since. For some, the fact that Genachowski hasn’t fulfilled that early promise was due to the decision by the U.S. Appeals Court, which in ruling on the Comcast case in April struck down the Title I authority the FCC had used as a legal basis for the Internet principles the FCC had adopted in 2005.
No doubt, that case presented the FCC with some challenges, in part because it went not only to the FCC’s policy on an open Internet, but to the FCC’s ability to act on universal service, public safety and a range of other issues related to broadband deployment.
Even though it was obvious to just about everyone at the January 8 oral argument the FCC had a losing hand, it took the Commission six weeks to come up with an alternative – Genachowski’s so-called “Third Way” which was a limited version of a proposal advocated by Public Knowledge and others to reverse the 2005 decision which took broadband Internet access out of the traditional telecom regulation and into the nebulous gray area that the Appeals Court found so objectionable. His proposal came on May 6, the FCC put it out for comment, and nothing happened. The FCC subsequently put out for comment a proposal from Verizon and Google, with the last comments due Nov. 4. That proposal was roundly criticized by open Internet advocates because, among other items, it would segment the Internet into a nominally open wired Internet, but a closed wireless Internet.
The root of the FCC’s lack of action, however, isn’t the legal challenge thrown by the D.C. Circuit. It’s more simple, yet harder to deal with. The problem goes back to a month after that triumphant Brookings speech, when AT&T launched an all-out “shock and awe” campaign against Genachowski. Using its formidable grass roots organization and its more formidable financial stranglehold over members of Congress, AT&T convinced Genachowski and his team, most of whom had not been in Washington for long, that they would be crushed if they attempted Net Neutrality rules. The FCC has been nearly paralyzed ever since. After that, as sort of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) set in. AT&T mounted a follow up campaign in May this year, attacking the “Third Way,” locking in the despair of the eighth floor.
It takes a long time to get over PTSD, if one truly ever recovers. But it can be done, little by little. The FCC leadership can start by going back to basics – back to the Brookings speech in which Genachowski set out, and answered, each of the substantive arguments subsequently thrown against him. Then he has to recognize the firm hand he holds in having two commissioners supporting him and recognize as well that if political forces want to reverse his decision, so be it. That shouldn’t stop him and Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn for doing what’s best for the American people.
But he has to do it by the end of the year, at the latest. The record will be complete in all of the proceedings. All of the arguments will have been made. The time for inaction and for excuses will have run out.
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Sukkot is a strange holiday. What stands behind the custom of sitting in a fragile booth in the backyard while a sturdy house stands nearby? The traditional explanations are three, two of them from the desert. Either the Sukkah represents the booths that Israel dwelt in while wandering through Sinai, or it represents the cloud covering God offered the Israelites in the same wandering. The third explanation is that the Sukkah is reminiscent of the harvest. During the gathering laborers rest or perhaps briefly live in these booths if the fields were far from home. Yet For all the justifications concerning harvesting and desert wanderings, Sukkot represents something deeper than historical reenactment. Sukkot strikes at the heart of the human predicament.
As Frost wrote, “nothing gold can stay.” This holiday is about instability and evanescence. Yom Kippur has shaken our certainties. Sukkot arrives to reinforce the truth – we are temporary. The Sukkah is fragile by design. If a Sukkah is too sturdy it is not kosher. We have to remember that the Sukkah tells the truth about our homes — each is truly fragile; if the earth rocked or the winds came, they would collapse. We live on sand and believe it is rock. Our lives are brief and we live as if we had forever.
The book we read for Sukkot is Ecclesiastes (Hebrew name — Koheleth). With its famous declaration that “all is vanity” (in other words, futility, emptiness) Ecclesiastes reminds us that everything is passing, ourselves included. Our seemingly stable homes are transient, and our lives are a spark snatched from the abyss.
Yet one requirement of the Sukkah points us still deeper. A Sukkah has a porous roof because one must be able to see the stars. For in the midst of the impermanence shines eternity. Through the tracery of leaves, we see hints of the greater world where God presides: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the psalmist (Ps. 19). On Sukkot we are reminded how much is fragile and fleeting. Then we pray. We look at the stars. We are suddenly grateful to have the assurance of eternity.
The ancient philosopher Epicurus famously said that when it comes to death we all live in an unwalled city. There is no protection. Sukkot is the holiday that reinforces the truth of mortality. Death erases what we are: perhaps that is why standing in a Sukkah you perform the mitzvah — the commandment — with your entire body. All of you is in the Sukkah, and all of you that one can see, will one day disappear from this world. But the wandering in the desert which parallels the wandering in this world; the harvest theme which parallels the way in which we harvest the world and at our best make something grow — these ideas call us to our true destiny. Strangely, the Rabbis call Sukkoth “zman simchateinu” – the time of our joy. In accepting that we are mortal and understanding that our Source is beyond mortality is true joy.
We are made for this world, but not only for this world. There is something beyond us, above us, transcendent. One day it will be our inheritance.