Archive for October 1st, 2010
The earthquake in Haiti, the plight of women in Kenya, the orphans in Peru, the rise of cancer rates, the hungry child in your neighborhood, the homeless person on the street.
It seems that no matter where you look these days, whether it’s in the news or right in your own backyard, people everywhere need help. Are you willing to see what’s around you and make a positive change in the world? Unfortunately, many people are not.
“Those things are too depressing to think about,” “I can’t deal with other people’s misery; I have my own,” and “It’s not my problem” are common sentiments from those who are unwilling to help. These people see only the sadness of the situation rather than the wonderful gifts that come from helping someone in need. The fact is that when you turn the situation around and see it from a different perspective, you can experience the joy in helping and easing someone else’s suffering.
It’s Better to Give…
Those who give of themselves to help others — to help even those who are suffering from extreme poverty and disease — all say the same thing: “I’m seeing how much help I’m giving, and that makes all the difference.”
In other words, when you actually see how your efforts give someone clothes or food, teach them skills like reading and writing, or simply enable them to smile for the first time, you know all your efforts are worth it. You’re making the world a better place, and that trumps the feeling of “This is so depressing.”
Also, it’s important to realize that life is a journey, and everyone is where they are supposed to be. People in underdeveloped countries do have many positives, despite their circumstances. For example, when orphans in Peru were asked, “Do you think God is fair putting you here?” they unanimously said, “Yes, God is fair.” When questioned further, they said such things as, “If I weren’t born here I wouldn’t have met my best friend,” or “I wouldn’t have had that wonderful teacher.”
As privileged Americans, we look at their situation and think, “Oh, those poor children.”
But those “poor children” don’t see it that way. After all, that’s the only life they know, so they find the blessings in their situation.
And it’s not just the children who have such an outlook. Many adults in these impoverished places believe God put them in their circumstances because they are the chosen ones. They believe they’re going to go to heaven when they die and live a better life in eternity. In their view, those who are blessed while on Earth are going to either suffer in eternity or they’re going to have to come back to the physical realm over and over again.
What makes the situation depressing is when we put our interpretations on their life. We think that because we live in fancy homes and can buy designer items, that those who can’t must be suffering. But those material things aren’t important to these people. They don’t know what a privileged life is like, so they can’t compare their situation to that.
Find What Moves You
Giving of yourself and helping others in need does not mean you have to be the person doing the hands-on work. While it would be wonderful if everyone had the experience of personally helping someone, especially someone in an underdeveloped country, that’s simply not possible. So yes, you could be the person on the frontline delivering aid, or you could be someone on the 5th or 50th line working behind the scenes. In other words, your support could be anything from donating money or goods, doing a fundraiser for a cause, writing or blogging to spread awareness of an issue, or simply reading about a situation, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, and praying for the people there. The goal is that you don’t turn a blind eye to what’s going on around you and dismiss it, saying, “I can’t handle reading or seeing that.”
So find your own comfort level and start there. Not everyone has what it takes (financially, emotionally, or spiritually) to be on the frontline working with the sick and impoverished. However, you can be the person who organizes a food drive, the person who collects money, or the person who spreads a message. There is some level of involvement you can handle; you simply need to find it.
Finally, find a cause that’s important to you. So many organizations and relief efforts need help. Go to www.volunteer.com and other volunteer sites and browse the list of possibilities. What has personally impacted your life? What makes you angry when you think about it? What makes you sad? From helping cancer survivors to battered women, from offering relief to the Haitians to the orphans in Peru, from working with the homeless to the illiterate, do what feels right to you. Walk for a cure, shave your head in support, make phone calls… do something. Remember, helping others doesn’t mean you have to hop on an airplane and fly to Uganda; you can stay in your own neighborhood and make the world a better place.
Change the World, One Life at a Time
The bottom line is that we can’t hide anymore. Between the Internet and 24/7 news feeds on television, we’re all being bombarded with the days’ happenings from around the world. And the world is in a state where each one of us has to do something, even if it’s something small. Always remember that even the smallest act can help… and change the world for the better.
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“I will die but I will rise. I will return, the Phoenix from the flame”
–”Troy” by Sinead O’connor
Astrology is a symbolic system that provides us with a vivid three-dimensional metaphor for life. For many of us who keep track of the tales spun by the orbits of the planets, Astrology is a poem written by the cosmos. In this epic that has been recited for billions of years, we find verses that make us feel exultant and gloomy, secured and fearful, enlightened and confused. Like any good story, it is the journey of the hero, the soul’s journey, that captivates us and keeps us on our toes. It is therefore my duty, as someone who spends most of his waking hours listening to these stories, to inform you of the next verse in this cosmic tale that begins on October 8th.
Two important celestial processes take place that are both mythologically and astrologically significant. Venus, the planet symbolizing money, relationships and diplomacy, starts her retrograde motion in Scorpio, the sign of death and transformation. She will appear to “walk” backward until November 18th. In addition, from October 8th to November 7th, the Sun will transit through what the ancient astrologers called the Via Combusta, which roughly translates to the Fiery Way or the Burning Path.
It was believed that when the Sun or the Moon travel through this part of the zodiac belt, we experience “ill luck and misfortune.” Since I do not believe in luck or her less fortunate sister ill luck, I can assume the elders meant to warn us that during this period of time, the Magical Threshold (Scorpio is the sign of magic) that leads into the unknown is wide open. When these gates open, alas, all kinds of creatures, neurosis and creepy crawlers make themselves much more visible. Everyone is affected differently. Some become snappy (I call them snapicorns) and they project their inner challenge out on anyone in their path, some go inward feeling the Winter Blues, and others do unspeakable things in the name of their God.
Another way of looking at the Via Combusta is through the mythological lens of Joseph Campbell:
“The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died.”
–Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The Sun, which represents the human soul, is like the hero passing into the womb of the whale. It is there in the darkness of the unknown that it find its true identity and resurrects baring the gift of light.
The Celts independently arrived to the same conclusion regarding this time of the year and its volatile nature. Their way to deal with the magical threshold was to celebrate their New Year, Samhain, on the eve of October 31st. They believed that the veils separating the living from the dead were temporarily lifted on that day, allowing spirits and other such entities to roam freely among the living. The powerful healing these celebrations and myths provided the people were so strong that the Catholic Church could not eradicate them, forcing the clergy to assimilate the holiday. They rebranded the sacred day of thresholds and called it Halloween or All Saints’ Day. It should be noticed that it’s not a coincidence that the Day of the Dead is celebrated during Via Combusta, when the Sun sails through the troubled waters of Scorpio, a sign that governs Death, magic, healing and transformation.
Out of darkness comes light and from the ashes of the Fiery Way the Phoenix rises again. This concept explains why, in Judaic and Celtic traditions, the day starts when the Sun sets and not when it rises. The Mythos logic is simple: the day is conceived in the darkness of the night, just like we begin life in the darkness of the womb. When we are ready to face the world, we emerge into the light like the Sun rising at dawn. Artists often express that some of their best work comes from experiencing dark spells of depression and pain. The Via Combusta is the womb by which you too can give birth to wonderful creations.
Now let’s look at Venus Retrograde. Every 18 months Venus retrogrades for about 40 days. At this time you will be asked to reexamine your relationships, especially those closest and most intimate. You will be surprised by how many times a day people will want to know that you love them. To avoid conflict, profess your love as often as you can. However, take heed not to lie. Venus in Scorpio can see right through deception and her wrath can be bloody indeed if she catches you being insincere. Since Mars is also transiting in Scorpio, he will serve as her knight executing her bidding. Spend as much time as you can in water, long baths with salt water can calm her down and maybe even put her bodyguard to rest.
During Venus retrograde it is not recommended to sign documents, forge partnerships, open a new business or take loans. However, refinancing could actually work very well. Please avoid buying expensive products, but you are more than welcome to purchase second hand goods. It is also considered to be a great time to ask for forgiveness and resolve old grudges.
As for the midterm election, since it will take place during Venus retrograde and the Via Combusta, expect the unexpected and throw away the polls. Who knows which side of the bed Venus might wake up on come November 2nd.
My suggestion for this tumultuous time:
Do not be afraid to burn the old, a resurrection is sure to come. Remember, the planets are with you and we are nothing but verses in an epic cosmic poem.
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What is it with vampires these days? Books, TV shows and movies featuring these mythical creatures seem to be all the rage and I can hardly turn around without bumping into something “fang”tastic. Now, I’d love to tell you that I’m above jumping on the bandwagon of this current fad but I have been seriously bitten (so to speak) and simply can’t get enough. And I know I’m not alone. In fact, in a survey that I totally just made up for this article, I found that three out of four people in my mind are drawn to vampires for the following reasons.
10 percent of you see them as dark, dangerous and sexy.
20 percent feel that they reunite you with a primal, animalistic part of yourself that has been long suppressed.
35 percent just love the idea of having fangs.
And the remaining 35 percent of you have no idea why you are still reading this article but somehow are unable to stop. And no, I’m not glamoring you … not yet anyway.
What’s this have to do with your health? Nothing really, it’s just that I fell asleep last night watching a recent episode of “True Blood” (yes I’m a fan and yes I’ll deny that if you ever tell anyone) and when I woke up I had this thought: vampires are like bad habits.
What I mean by that is that while they may seem to have some mystique or magnetic draw they are ultimately going to come around to bite us, leaving us the weaker for it. You see, vampires feed off of blood, which is our life force. And like bad habits, they suck our energy, often without us even knowing it, because we have fallen under their spell.
Let’s take a look at a couple daily energy drains that can be easily re”vamped” into energy gains.
1. Energy Vampire #1: The Dark
Did you know that on average Americans spend 87 percent of their time indoors. Why is this a problem? Because the sun is largely responsible for our daily production of Vitamin D and recent research from the Mayo clinic found that Vitamin D plays a vital role in protecting us from osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and several autoimmune diseases. Then, there are the well-known issues of depression, lack of energy and disrupting one’s sleep cycle that occur from not getting enough sun.
The good news is, even an extra 10 minutes a day in the sun has been shown to greatly benefit a person’s health. So make it a habit to get outside because as you know, vampires can’t ever go into the sunlight. So, no matter how good your indoor lighting is, it just can’t compare to the sun, or should we say … It’s simply no compari-sun.
2. Energy Vampire #2: Not knowing what to-do.
How often do you feel crazy busy all day only to realize you didn’t get anything you wanted done? A simple “to do” list has been shown to increase focus, save time, increase energy and sense of purpose, and reduce stress. Here’s one powerful way to do your to-dos.
Right before bed, write down the five most important things that you want to get done the following day. Getting these things out of your head and organized in order of importance has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve your quality of sleep. Then, each morning when you wake up, review your list. This stakes out your daily plan and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you cross off each item. And we all know how vampires feel about stakes and crosses. Seriously, you will be amazed at what a big difference this simple habit makes. Bottom line: Make a big to-do about your daily to-dos.
Now, this article may not have cleansed us of our current obsession with these shady creatures of the night, and certainly hasn’t shed any light on the whole Jacob vs Edward debate, but hopefully you are have a couple of tools to protect yourself from any “pain in the neck” energy suckers you are confronted with each day.
For more powerful tips on how to feel better in minutes a day, please visit us at www.completebalance.com, a wonderful on-line program where the healthier you get, the more money we donate to charity.
“Fangk” you very much,
The Baietto Brothers
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We’re back down at the beach this weekend after a two-week stint in the big city. It was actually an easier and friendlier return than we had feared. The house was welcoming and efficient: this time, for a change, we found no malfunctions. The lights worked. The fountain played. The fish swam, happy to see us back…
And we edged our way gingerly back into the world of art and culture. Last weekend, as I noted in The Buddha Diaries, there was a round of galleries with some interesting shows. Then, Thursday, a big press conference at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to introduce the new Resnick Exhibition Pavilion. Designed by the Italian architect, Renzo Piano, and surrounded by an artist-designed palm garden by Robert Irwin, it replaces one of those vast, hideous LA parking structures that we all love to hate. A low-profile, seemingly rather modest single story structure from outside, the pavilion creates a wide open space for what LACMA boasts is “an acre of art.”
In his short address at the press conference, the architect described it nicely as a “tolerant space” which seeks to capitalize on one of our chief attributes in this part of the world: light.
Piano is a known maestro in the use of natural light, and the quality he has achieved in the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion is reminiscent of the exquisite serenity of light in the Louis Kahn-designed Kendall Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The three concurrent inaugural installations — more in a moment — are designed to highlight the flexibility (well, “tolerance”) of the space, but a wide central swath allows an unobstructed experience of this calm, even distribution of light from the banks of skylights overhead. Art objects of all kinds are hungry for light — even though some have to be protected from it — and spring to life when exposed to it in the most appropriate way. Thus, in the central area, a spectacular collection of ancient objects from the Mesoamerican past is allowed to shimmer with renewed vitality even in the context of the contemporary world.
(My own photo: excuse poor quality)
As noted, the acre of space is for the present divided into three separate and very different exhibition spaces. The central “aisle” is devoted to “Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico,” which in fact features masterworks from roughly 1400 to 400 BC, ranging from the massive stone portrait heads of rulers…
… to quite tiny sculptural objects of both ritual and utilitarian significance…
Documented with a rich resource of historical information, the exhibition is a fine example of what a museum like LACMA should be doing at its best, bringing the past to life and allowing us the opportunity to experience that particular moment in human history through the objects that its people made and left behind them.
Confronted with these ancient products of the human imagination, fabricated by human hands no different from my own, I feel both a physical and spiritual connection with those who strove, so many centuries ago, to come to terms with the mystery of their own humanity — and learn that much more about my own. Impossible to stand before those massive, silent presences without a profound emotional response that reaches into the complex depths of consciousness.
To western side of this central corridor is “Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection,” a fitting tribute of gratitude to Lynda and Stewart Resnick, whose generous gift supported the construction of the Pavilion. Installed in rococo splendor…
(My photo: as above)
… complete with Versailles-sized mirrors, rich wallpapers, chandeliers and fine furniture, the huge collection of paintings and sculptures vies valiantly with the effusion of decorative arts. I have to say that I am not a big fan of (mostly French) art of the period, but my eye was tickled by a couple of sensual extravagances like this Boucher painting…
… and by a naughtily charming Fragonard painting of two pubescent girls with their dogs (no image available in the LACMA press package.)
The area to the east of the Olmec show is devoted to the third installation, “Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915,” another exhilarating example of museum work at its best. Beautifully installed along a winding corridor, as though but recently resurrected from their packing crates, these eye-popping exemplars of stitchery and design are at one level a sheer aesthetic pleasure for the eye, on the other a social and economic history of Europe in its heyday. If the Olmec show invites us into the world of Mesoamerica, long before the arrival of Columbus and the European colonizers, “Fashioning Fashion” allows us a glimpse–no, the offer of a prolonged and detailed investigation–of those Europeans and their culture of glorious, even wasteful extravagance.
The exhibition includes a multitude of truly beguiling dresses and magnificently wrought textiles…
But I’m particularly glad that the curators chose to include the support systems for many of the costumes–the bustles and crinolines, petticoats…
… and corsets–since these, it seemed to me, evoked not only the artifice that supported these very beautiful and glamorous garments but also the underlying systems of monarchies and the increasingly wealthy bourgeois classes that predominated.
“Clothes make the man,” wrote Mark Twain, echoing the old adage. “Naked people,” he added with a twinkle, “have little or no influence on society.” What, I wonder, would the Sun King have looked like without his peacock’s display of couture, fancy accessories and wigs?
All in all, it is gratifying indeed to have this wonderful new exhibition space on the still-developing LACMA campus. Located at the center of our sprawling mass of cities, it is well placed to be the “town square” for all of Los Angeles that it aspires to be.
Microsoft is suing Motorola alleging it has infringed nine patents in its Android phones.
The giant software maker said Motorola phones that use Google's Android software are based on Microsoft technology.
The functions include synchronizing e-mail, calendars and contacts.
Microsoft filed its lawsuit in a federal court as well as filing one with the International Trade Commission.
Microsoft said Motorola licensed some of its mobile technology from 2003 to 2007 but continued to use the technology without renewing the license.
Its court filing specifically mentions the Motorola Droid 2 and the Motorola Charm smartphones, but Microsoft claims that the infringements were not limited to those devices.
It is the latest development in a web of legal actions in the smartphone business.
A Motorola spokeswoman said the company has not yet received a copy of the suit, but based on its strong intellectual property portfolio, plans to “vigorously defend itself”.
The suit is the latest in a complicated web of legal actions between various phone makers and software firms over who owns patents to the technology used in smartphones.
Nokia began by suing Apple last year, and Apple subsequently sued handset maker HTC.
Oracle has filed a lawsuit against Google, accusing the search engine giant of infringing patents on its technology.
Oracle says Google infringed patents on its Java software while developing its Android operating system.
By my analysis, we are not yet on the final path to recovery, and there are one or more financial ‘breaks’ coming in the future. Underlying structural weaknesses have not been resolved, and the kick-the-can-down-the-road plan is going to encounter a hard wall in the not-too-distant future. When the next moment of discontinuity finally arrives, events will unfold much more rapidly than most people expect.
My work centers on figuring out which macro trends are in play and then helping people to adjust accordingly. Based on trends in fiscal and monetary policy, I began advising accumulation of gold and silver in 2003 and 2004. I shorted homebuilder stocks beginning in 2006 and ending in 2008. These were not ‘great’ calls; they were simply spotting trends in play, one beginning and one certain to end, and then taking appropriate actions based on those trends.
We happen to live in a non-linear world; a core concept of the Crash Course. But far too many people expect events to unfold in a more or less orderly manner, with plenty of time to adjust along the way. In other words, linearly. The world does not always cooperate, and my concern rests on the observation that we still face the convergence of multiple trends, each of which alone has the power to permanently transform our economic landscape and standards of living.
Three such trends (out of the many I track) that will shape our immediate future are:
Individually, these worry me quite a bit; collectively, they have my full attention.
History suggests that instead of a nice smooth line heading either up or down, markets have a pronounced habit of jolting rather suddenly into a new orbit, either higher or lower. Social moods are steady for long periods, and then they shift. This is what we should train ourselves to expect.
No smooth lines between points A and B; instead, long periods of quiet, followed by short bursts of reformation and volatility. Periods of market equilibrium, followed by Minsky moments. In the language of the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, we live in a system governed by the rules of “punctuated equilibrium.”
Our economy is a complex system. The key feature of such systems is that they are inherently unpredictable with respect to the timing and severity of specific events. For the uninitiated, they can look enormously fragile and prone to flying apart at any minute; for the seasoned observer, there is an appreciation that the immense inertia of the economic system will almost always delay and dampen the eventual adjustments.
Like everybody else, I have no idea exactly what’s going to happen, or precisely when. Anybody who says they do know should be greeted with a furrowed brow and a frown of suspicion. As my long-time readers know, I prefer to assess the risks and then take steps to mitigate those risks based on likelihood and impact.
Which means that although we cannot predict the size (exactly how much) or the timing (precisely when) of economic shifts or world-changing events, we can certainly understand the risks and the dimensions of what might happen. Just as we cannot predict when an avalanche will release from steep slope, or even where or how big it will be, we can readily predict that constant snowfall coupled with the right temperature conditions will lead to an avalanche sooner or later, and more likely in this gully than that one. Given certain conditions, we might expect one that is larger or smaller than normal. Although we don’t know exactly when or how much, we do know that when snow accumulates, so do the risks of more frequent and/or larger avalanches.
Such is the nature of complex systems. While inherently unpredictable, they can still be described. The most important description of any complex system is that it owes its order and complexity to the constant flow of energy through it. Complex systems require inputs. This is one way in which we can understand them.
Given this view, one easy “prediction” is that an economy without increasing energy flows running through it will stagnate. To take this further, an economy that is being starved of energy becomes simpler in the process — meaning fewer jobs, less items produced, and a reduced capacity to support extraneous functions.
Accepting “What Is”
The most important part of this story is getting our minds to accept reality without our passionate beliefs interfering. By ‘beliefs’ I mean statements like these:
“Things always get better and are never as bad as they seem.”
“If Peak Oil were ‘real,’ I would be hearing about it from my trusted sources.”
“Dwelling on the negative is self-fulfilling.”
While each of these things might be true, they also might be false and therefore misleading, especially during periods of transition. Our job is to remain as dispassionate and logical as possible.
Let’s now examine more closely the three main events that are converging — Peak Oil, sovereign insolvency, and currency debasement — using as much logic as we can muster.
Peak Oil is now a matter of open inquiry and debate at the highest levels of industry and government. Recent reports by Lloyd’s of London, the US Department of Defense, the UK industry taskforce on Peak Oil, Honda, and the German military are evidence of this. But when I say “debate,” I am not referring to disagreement over whether or not Peak Oil is real, only when it will finally arrive. The emerging consensus is that oil demand will outstrip supplies “soon,” within the next five years and maybe as soon as two. So the correct questions are no longer, “Is Peak Oil real?” and “Are governments aware?” but instead, “When will demand outstrip supply?” and “What implications does this have for me?”
It doesn’t really matter when the actual peak arrives; we can leave that to the ivory-tower types and those with a bent for analytical precision. What matters is when we hit “peak exports.” My expectation is that once it becomes fashionable among nation-states to finally admit that Peak Oil is real and here to stay, one or more exporters will withhold some or all of their product “for future generations” or some other rationale (such as, “get a higher price”), which will rather suddenly create a price spiral the likes of which we have not yet seen.
What matters is an equal mixture of actual oil availability and market perception. As soon as the scarcity meme gets going, things will change very rapidly.
In short, it is time to accept that Peak Oil is real — and plan accordingly.
Once we accept the imminent arrival of Peak Oil, then the issue of sovereign insolvency jumps into the limelight. Why? Because the hopes and dreams of the architects of the financial rescue entirely rest upon the assumption that economic growth will resume. Without additional supplies of oil, such growth will not be possible; in fact, we’ll be doing really, really well if we can prevent the economy from backsliding.
Virtually every single OECD country, due to outlandish pension and entitlement programs, has total debt and liability loads that Arnaud Mares (of Morgan Stanley) pointed out have resulted in a negative net worth for the governments of Germany, France, Portugal, the US, the UK, Spain, Ireland, and Greece. And not by just a little bit, but exceptionally so, ranging from more than 450% of GDP in the case of Germany on the ‘low’ end to well over 1,500% of GDP for Greece.
Such shortfalls cannot possibly be funded out of anything other than a very, very bright economic future. Something on the order of Industrial Age 2.0, fueled by some amazing new source of wealth. Logically, how likely is that? Even if we could magically remove the overhang of debt, what new technologies are on the horizon that could offer the prospect of a brand new economic revival of this magnitude? None that I am aware of.
In the US, the largest capital market and borrower, even the most optimistic budget estimates foresee another decade of crushing deficits that will grow the official deficit by some $9 trillion and the real (i.e., “accrual” or “unofficial”) deficit by perhaps another $20 to $30 trillion, once we account for growth in liabilities. This is, without question, an unsustainable trend.
It’s time to admit the obvious: Debts of these sorts cannot be serviced, now or in the future. Expanding them further with fingers firmly crossed in hopes of an enormous economic boom that will bail out the system is a fool’s game. It is little different than doubling down after receiving a bad hand in poker.
The unpleasant implication of various governments going deeper into debt is that a string of sovereign defaults lies in the future. Due to their interconnected borrowings and lendings, one may topple the next like dominoes.
However, it is when we consider the impact of the widespread realization of Peak Oil on the story of growth that the whole idea of sovereign insolvency really assumes a much higher level of probability. More on that later.
For now we should accept that there’s almost no chance of growing out from under these mountains of debts and other obligations. We must move our attention to the shape, timing, and the severity of the aftermath of the economic wreckage that will result from a series of sovereign defaults.
We could trot out a lot of charts here, examine much of history, and make a very solid case that once a country breaches the 300% debt/liability to GDP ratio, there’s no recovery, only a future containing some form of default (printing or outright).
In a recent post to my enrolled members, I wrote:
You can be nearly certain that every single country is seeking a path to a weaker relative currency. The problem is obvious: Everybody cannot simultaneously have a weaker currency. Nor can everybody have a positive trade balance.
If a country or government cannot grow its way out from under its obligations, then printing (a.k.a. currency debasement) takes on additional allure. It is the “easy way out” and has lots of political support in the home country. Besides the fact that it has already started, we should consider a global program of currency debasement to be a guaranteed feature of our economic future.
Conclusion (to Part I)
Three unsustainable trends or events have been identified here. They are not independent, but they are interlocked to a very high degree. At present I can find no support for the idea that the economy can expand like it has in the past without increasing energy flows, especially oil. All of the indications point to Peak Oil, or at least “peak exports,” happening within five years.
At that point, it will become widely recognized that most sovereign debts and liabilities will not be able to be serviced by the miracle of economic growth. Pressures to ease the pain of the resulting financial turmoil and economic stagnation will grow, and currency debasement will prove to be the preferred policy tool of choice.
Instead of unfolding in a nice, linear, straightforward manner, these colliding events will happen quite rapidly and chaotically.
By mentally accepting that this proposition is not only possible, but probable, we are free to make different choices and take actions that can preserve and protect our wealth and mitigate our risks.
What changes in our actions and investment stances are prudent if we assume that Peak Oil, sovereign insolvency, and currency debasement are ‘locks’ for the future?
I explore these questions in greater depth in Part II of this report (enrollment required).
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There may be a dim, but brightening, beacon, at the end of the Afghan tunnel. At least that’s what the UN’s emissary to Afghan conflict, Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, conveyed to a group at a private meeting held by the UN’s International Peace Institute in New York City yesterday afternoon. Mr. De Mistura, a distinguished 38 year career official of the organization who is in his seventh month in Kabul, said that, while the Taliban have never admitted it, he believes they have concluded that they cannot win the war militarily. This may be a self-serving message for a UN official to transmit, but De Mistura, a dual citizen of Italy and Sweden, is considered one of the UN’s star diplomats and would not necessarily wish to place the organization in the position of claiming progress if they was none.
De Mistura feels that the Taliban have realized that they can no longer take over Afghanistan again because they are so disliked by the Afghan people as a result of their catastrophic half-decade in power that saw minimal progress, the persecution of women, the general repression of the citizenry, and a deadly alliance with Al Qaeda. Many Taliban, he says, have bitterly learned their lessons from their behavior and have changed, even to the point of distancing themselves from Bin Laden and his vicious warriors. In addition, he argues, in any case, there are now four or five different Taliban factions – nationalists, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, and outsider groups, which further splinters the movement. Also neighboring countries who fear the Taliban will make sure at all costs that the insurgents do not retake control of the country. Finally there are foreign troops from some 47 countries in Afghanistan, making a takeover at the moment a virtual impossibility. De Mistura thinks that, by July 2011, the date set by President Obama for the beginning of US withdrawal, the reconciliation process will have been completed, leading to a peace settlement. Those dealings will assure the Taliban’s agreement to the Afghan constitution, the laying down of arms, and its recognition of the rights of women. The first step, he notes, is already being taken by the Afghans through the Karzai government’s High Peace Council that is reaching out for talks with the Taliban; in time, there will also be discussions with regional powers; and a final resolution will be reached under a global umbrella. The next ten months, he says, will be rough as both sides jockey for the strongest position. But this is the “make it or break it” time for the war to end.
If you regularly read this blog, you may have already read about the Reconnect program. Reconnect began in 2004 when Goodwill first partnered with Dell, and it offers consumers a free drop-off program to donate unwanted electronic equipment for recycling. Reconnect helps fund job training programs, employment placement services and community-based operations. It has also created hundreds of green jobs for Goodwill employees who manage the recycling program. Reconnect is one of several green initiatives we have at Goodwill.
Goodwill of Greater Washington, in our nation’s capital, runs a 10-week job training program in the field of sustainable building known as Green Pathway DC. This carbon-neutral project trains DC residents who are out-of-work or underemployed in a high-growth and high-demand field. What is great is that it helps to create a local workforce that is more capable of building energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings, homes and neighborhoods. And it’s a proven pathway to green jobs in the District.
One person who recently benefitted from Green Pathway DC is Bill Johnson. Bill came to Goodwill after having moved from job to job following a 10-year career as a warehouse manager for Circuit City. When the retailer went out of business, Bill found it hard to keep a steady job. As he puts it, “I needed a career change and was looking for something permanent.” Bill is glad that he turned to Goodwill.
The Green Pathway program includes three weeks of employability skills training, which helps individuals with interviewing skills and rsum writing. Program participants then take part in five weeks of pre-apprenticeship instruction in green construction through the National Center for Construction Education and Research. For Bill, that meant working with Associated Builders and Contractors in Hyattsville, MD, to get some hands-on experience. Participants can also opt to spend two additional weeks at the center, taking electives in such areas as weatherization, green advantage or smart meter installation.
Upon completion of the program, participants have the chance to meet with representatives from local construction companies through a private career fair. In addition to the training they receive, participants also receive job referrals and a reference from trainers. I’m happy to report that Bill was referred to a contracting company in Rockville, MD, where he had an interview and was given an initial assignment.
“The program made me dig deep and it made me learn again, and that was actually a very good part of it,” Bill says. “I would encourage anyone that’s looking for work or going through a hard time to come to Goodwill and try to get into this program.”
If you would like to help ensure that Goodwill continues to provide valuable job training services to people like Bill, all you have to do is donate your gently used items to your local Goodwill. Whenever you bring in a donation — whether it’s an old laptop computer, clothes or household goods you no longer use — we can then sell those items at low prices to people who can use them. Not only that, but the revenue from those sales goes directly to funding programs like Green Pathway DC. So, keep up the good work, and I’ll keep telling you Goodwill success stories!
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As the clock ticks closer toward an ignominious end to the Obama Administration’s ill-conceived gambit to reconvene direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, President Obama appears desperate to keep the talks alive, as revealed on Wednesday in accounts of a letter he purportedly sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
To date, Netanyahu has refused to extend Israel’s self-declared “moratorium” on settlement building, which expired on September 26. For his part, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has grown increasingly assertive that he will walk away from the table with the endorsement of the Arab League if the “moratorium” is not extended by October 6.
To keep the talks going, Obama’s letter to Netanyahu reportedly offers him “far-reaching” incentives if Israel agrees to a one-time 60-day extension of the settlement “moratorium,” according to two remarkably similar and credible accounts published by the Israeli daily newspaper Ma’ariv and David Makovsky, of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The White House has asserted that “No letter was sent to the Prime Minister. We are not going to comment on sensitive diplomatic matters.” But as Politico’s Laura Rozen plausibly speculated, this statement could be technically true but highly misleading, as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak may have transmitted the letter, or a draft of it, to Netanyahu, thus letting the Obama Administration claim that it did not “send” it.
Whatever the case may be, the reported contents of the letter point to an Obama Administration strategically adrift and throwing good political capital down a bad hole. Both accounts of the letter offer evidence that the White House is willing to grant important concessions to Israel in exchange for the prospect of just two more months of fruitless talks, conveniently timed to avoid a major foreign policy fiasco for the President before the mid-term elections. These concessions reportedly include:
* Supplying Israel with additional sophisticated weapons systems, including additional F-35 fighter jets, missiles, missile defense systems, and satellites–all financed, of course, by U.S. taxpayers;
* Agreeing to an ongoing Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley even after Palestinian statehood is established, and stringent measures to prevent Palestinians from obtaining weapons;
* Blocking Arab countries from pushing for a declaration of Palestinian statehood in the UN Security Council; and
* Ensuring that Palestinians stop complaining in public about Israel’s colonization of its land
All of these hugely important carrots that Obama is reportedly dangling in front of Netanyahu are completely out of proportion to what the United States is requesting of Israel; namely a short-term, half-hearted, and unconvincing gesture that Israel is somehow now ready to suspend its colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian land and thereafter negotiate in good faith.
Even if Obama is somehow successful–perhaps by including the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, as hinted at in today’s New York Times–in sweetening the deal to an extent that would allow Netanyahu to risk his governing coalition falling apart for the sake of extending the “moratorium” for two more months, if the last ten months of “moratorium” are any indication, then its extension will mean very little on the ground.
Netanyahu’s original “moratorium” was so purposefully shot full of exceptions, loopholes, and caveats as to make it meaningless. Israel’s colonization and ethnic cleansing of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, a project which has been ongoing for the past 43 years, continued on a pace similar to that before the self-declared “moratorium.”
And–assuming, just for the sake of argumentation, that a leopard could change its spots–if Netanyahu were to honestly implement a two-month settlement freeze, should Israel be entitled to such generous rewards by the United States for doing so?
Israel’s settlements are, after all, illegal both according to international law and official U.S. policy, and Obama, since the first day of his presidency, has been fairly consistent and forceful in his demand of Israel to halt settlement activity, though unwilling to apply pressure to make it happen. Grandiosely rewarding Israel for temporarily complying with international law is like a teacher giving candy to a schoolyard bully for not beating up his hapless victim on a given day. Both actions perversely incentivize more malfeasance.
Having mistakenly reconvened Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without any reference to human rights, international law, or UN resolutions, the Obama Administration is now floundering about to keep the talks alive for the sake of talking.
When asked about the slim likelihood of negotiations succeeding, Obama’s “peace process” team often states that there are no good alternatives other than negotiations to achieve peace. This may be true, but negotiations also cannot be successful without the right context and good faith efforts of all involved. Rather than coddle Israel into more rounds of talks when it is so evidently not prepared to negotiate in good faith, treating Palestinians as objects to be subjugated instead of as equal human beings, the Obama Administration should let these pathetic talks die a quick death.
The sooner the farce of negotiations breaks down, the better, since such a dramatic step appears to be the only way that the Obama Administration will rethink its flawed strategy to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. Once these talks fail, Obama should take a page out of President Eisenhower’s playbook, when he sanctioned Israel by cutting off all U.S. assistance in the aftermath of Israel’s military occupation of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula in 1956. As Eisenhower found out, this policy tool–more than any other in his arsenal–proved most effective in making a recalcitrant Israel more pliable.
If Obama were to cut off military aid to Israel, rather than reward it with ever-increasing amounts of weaponry, until a time that Israel was prepared to negotiate in good faith with Palestinians on the basis of human rights, international law, and UN resolutions, and work with–not against–international efforts, then his prospects for brokering peace would look much brighter.
* Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.
by Annie Sovcik
Advocacy Counsel, Human Rights First
Deadlines are everywhere – income taxes must be filed by April 15th to avoid a penalty from the IRS, final term papers must be turned in by the end of the semester to earn a passing grade, job or college applications must be submitted by a set date for consideration. In few circumstances, however, do deadlines dictate unforgivably the answer to fundamental human questions such as whether a mother will ever hold her child again, whether a husband will see his wife again, or whether a refugee will be granted asylum protection in the United States or face return to a country where she has a well-founded fear of suffering religious, political, ethnic and other forms of persecution.
In our newest report, “The Asylum Filing Deadline: Denying Protection to the Persecuted and Undermining Governmental Efficiency,” Human Rights First documents how the one year asylum filing deadline – a technical/procedural obstacle to asylum – has barred thousands of refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from receiving asylum in the United States and resulted in increased costs and delays in the asylum adjudication system. The report was featured in yesterday’s New York Times, “Reports Say Deadline Hinders Asylum Seekers,” and on WNYC, “Refugees Denied Asylum After Missing Filing Deadlines.”
The report details the agony of some of the estimated 21,000+ refugees from countries including Burma, China, Colombia, Guinea, Iran, and Sierra Leone, who could have been granted asylum but for the deadline between April 1998, when the deadline went into effect, and June 2009. Among them, the report recounts the story of an Eritrean woman who was tortured and sexually assaulted due to her Christian religion, but denied asylum in the United States based on the filing deadline even though an immigration judge found her testimony credible and compelling. It describes the plight of a student who was jailed by the Burmese military regime for his pro-democracy activities and then denied asylum by the United States based on the filing deadline despite his isolation in the U.S. and lack of English. And it explains the case of a Chinese woman who feared persecution and torture in China for her assistance to North Korean refugees but, even though she was determined by an immigration judge to face a clear probability of torture, she was denied asylum based on the filing deadline.
Refugees denied asylum on the basis of the deadline, may still be eligible for “withholding of removal,” which requires a higher burden of proof and offers a temporary promise by the U.S. government to not return a refugee to a country where his life or freedom would be threatened. This temporary promise, however, keeps refugee families divided, leaving young children stranded in difficult circumstances abroad and separated from their refugee parents in the United States, as withholding of removal does not allow a parent or spouse to petition to bring their children and spouses to safety in the United States.
Beyond the human tragedy, the deadline pushes the cases of credible refugees into the overburdened immigration courts, diverts limited time and resources that could be more efficiently allocated to assessing the actual merits of asylum applications, and is not needed to counter abuse in the system.
Human Rights First recommends Congress eliminate the asylum filing deadline so that claims can be adjudicated on their merits, rather than on the basis of an arbitrary line that has the power to dictate whether a refugee will be returned to persecution, granted protection, or left in limbo. To assist in this effort, please urge your Senators to co-sponsor the Refugee Protection Act of 2010, a bill that would fix several problems in the U.S. asylum system, including eliminating the one year deadline.
Click here to read Human Rights First’s report.
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Boulder, a dog-loving town, has dog-fearing laws.
Boulder, Colorado: home sweet home.
Born and raised. I love it here.
I count my blessings every day I live in Boulder.
Just two minutes above our fair valley–where the great jutting Rocky Mountains meet the Great, golden, now-suburb filled Plains–you can hike, in the wild, not a house in site–and fill your lungs with good air and empty your mind of workaday busy-ness.
In the last few years we’ve been lauded on the NY Times for being a national epicenter of tech. We’re one of the greenest municipalities in the US–even if we’ve got plenty of commonsense, money-saving room for improvement. We’ve been named Happiest Town in the US, best town to retire in, smartest city, fittest city, most bike-friendly, and just last week, foodiest town in the US. And the awards keep coming.
Being out West, and being the kind of town welcoming to families, students, retirees, hippies, hipsters and yuppies alike, about 1/3 Boulder’s homes have a dog. Or two. That bears repeating:
one-third of all homes have a dog in ‘em.
We don’t term ourselves dog owners: we term ourselves dog guardians. It’s a dog-crazy city.
And yet–and yet–this morning, looking at years of Top 10 Dog-Friendly City and Town lists, I confirmed two things I’d long suspected.
1. Boulder, rather surprisingly, has never been listed as a top dog-friendly town.
2. It’d be easy, and painless, to change that.
The Status Quo: where we’re at.
I, and every neighbor with a well-behaved dog whom I have the pleasure to know, has been harassed for years by Animal Control. I don’t use that word lightly.
Now, the good folks at Animal Control are uniformly (no pun intended: their uniforms strike fear in the hearts of not-so-law-abiding dog citizens everywhere)…good folks. They’re well-intentioned animal lovers. I’ve had great interactions with them. They’re not the problem.
The counterproductive, expensive, and commonly disrespected laws they’re tasked to uphold are the problem. And, with the Humane Society giving up Animal Control to an outside, for-profit mercenary team, the relationship between the citizens of Boulder and the Animal Control we pay for will likely get worse.
So what is the problem? Dogs aren’t allowed anywhere in the city unless their leash is on their owner’s hands. On Open Space, they’re allowed to run off leash if they have a green Open Space tag–a tag that’s freely sold to obedient dogs and wild, aggressive dogs alike.
My dog is a good boy. He’s great with children. Alone among 10 dogs running off leash, he’s almost always the first to stop playing and come back if called. If he’s had enough exercise, he’s the perfect dog. If he hasn’t–or if he runs into a favorite human being, he’s highly excitable–in a harmless but loud, happy, yelpy, houndy, butt-wiggling way. Overall, obedience-wise, I’d give him a B+. And yet–under our current leash laws–he has to be left at home every day, unless I put him in the back seat of a car (I don’t own one, anymore, thanks to our Boulder being so bike-able) and then deposit him in an office.
Boulder’s a bicycle-happy town (though we don’t have quite enough bike lanes, causing us to jump sidewalks all the time, or ride dangerously in the middle or lanes, fun!). Thanks to the good folks who work for the City of Boulder, I was able to give up my car two years ago, and now ride a bike 365 days a year. And I owe Boulder’s green streets and the hard workers and visionaries at the City for that. But if you ride a bike and own a dog, you can’t go anywhere together. My dog, Redford, loves to run. We run downtown, pausing to play, cool off and rest in the creek. He can’t be off leash. We run on to, say, to a cafe, and I can’t leave him outside, though he’s better behaved than your average human three year old.
I can’t leave him outside because Boulder chooses not to distinguish between well-behaved dogs and dogs who’ve failed a test that we don’t bother to offer.
And, I can’t bring him inside, either. Though cafs are not restaurants, and all the food production (if there is any–in most cafes, there’s no kitchen and everything’s prepackaged) is contained behind a counter, a dog’s presence is considered unsanitary. And, of course, you can’t go to any restaurant (unlike many, many cities on the Top 10 Dog-friendly lists).
You can, legally, take your dog all over Boulder–if you drive and leave ‘em in your car–which isn’t great for the dog.
So my only choice is to leave him outside with a stranger who agrees to watch him–to hold his leash and be responsible for his behavior. And then, when I get my drink, I have to go back outside and sit with him on the curb. If it’s winter, obviously, this doesn’t work at all. Result? Dog left at home. If it’s Summer, it’s usually blindingly bright, so you can’t work on a laptop outside on the curb? So? Dog left at home.
The point is this: you can’t leave the dog outside, you can’t take it inside.
The only lifestyle that legally works with a dog in Boulder–and the one I’ve been explicitly encouraged, again and again, by Animal control, is this: walk your dog before work, “leave your dog at home” all day, walk your dog at 5 when you’re off work, leave your dog home again if you go out. It’s not much of a life for a dog. I prefer to be the sort of dog guardian that’s with my dog all day. An active dog is less uptight, less full of energy, less bored and less stressed. An active dog is–ironically–safer, more relaxed, more obedient and less inclined to get in a tussle with another dog.
And Animal Control enforces regulations randomly. This lack of consistent enforcement is as illegal as it is understandable. I’ve had friends who’ve left their dogs, technically illegally, unsupervised, for years outside of various establishments–with no incidents. I did this myself for three years until an elderly lady, trying to use a payphone that Redford was leashed beneath, stepped on Redford and received a freaked-out bite on the ankle (I went to remedial dog training, and was of course more than happy to pay for her bite wound, which was not bad fortunately).
Current situation: Boulder is one of the least hospitable dog towns in the US. Groups have been formed to advocate for dog owner rights. Every time I or a neighbor is harassed/warned/ticketed by Animal Control, we think and talk about moving to a small town that welcomes dogs.
But that’s not necessary.
Click here for suggestions on improvements to the leash law.
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1. Failure of something, want, defect.
a. Absence (of something wanted); want, lack, scarcity of.
b. Lack of food or other necessity; want, poverty.
c. A failure in being perfect; an imperfection, defect, blemish, flaw.
2. Failure in performance.
Well, the Oxford English Dictionary seems to have it covered as far as all the things I think and feel about possible default. Sharp dip in self-respect, check. Feeling of misery and failure, check. Enormous ego blow leading to sadness and despair, check. Experience of want and poverty, check. And of course, fear of impending recurrences of default, check times a billion. Student loans: once my saving grace, when I had a rosy and swelling hope that the outcome of my education would be filled with wonder and enough money to pay bills; now, the single largest black hole that keeps sucking away my money. Oh, and there has been neither wonder nor enough money.
Before I go on, a caveat. To all my professorial friends and colleagues: I realize that I just began this entry with a definition. After begging my own students to eschew this practice for so many years, I have myself committed the vulgar “Webster’s Dictionary defines X as” transgression. I would point out that the definition is central to my discussion of student loans and that the top of the page is the best place to ensure that readers get the idea straightaway, but I would only be echoing my poor students’ defense against my terror-inducing pen. Anyway, on with my hypocrisy.
A friend of mine and I were trading very long and angry posts about the student loan racket the other day, and she inspired me with some words I feel I need to share here. I quote: “What I want to know is WHERE WERE THE RESPONSIBLE ADULTS WHEN I WAS SIGNING MY LIFE AWAY??? All this tisk tisking [sic.] now that we are screwed for life is completely useless and totally and utterly cruel. ” Emphasis totally hers, of course. I think her question, caps and all, gets to the heart of this whole problem. We were, as she says, “sold” on this idea, by seemingly mature and accomplished adults, that the loans are in investment in your future–in other words, as I understand basic economics, you will reap returns plenty large enough to pay off any insignificant amount (/sarc) you owe to the federal government. No worries, the interest rates are WAY low and they won’t make you pay if you absolutely can’t. You can get forbearance, or you can pay interest only, or you can even start paying before you graduate. They’re only looking out for you!
Well, the road to default is paved with good intentions.
Now, instead of “Don’t worry, you’ll graduate soon and be able to pay this off,” or “Sure, I’ll cosign for you since it’s for your education,” it’s “How in the world did you get so much student loan debt?” and “Oh, you’ll have to work the rest of your life to pay that off!” Well, duh!! I’ve written before about what it’s like to get behind on bills, and everyone knows about the debt vortex: You get behind one month, which turns into two, and then you have to pay three payments at once, and so on. Pulling yourself out of that hole is a lot like physically pulling yourself up over a flat ledge (a terrible ordeal involving strained muscles and fatigue). And there’s nothing like late fees, either–in some cases, a couple months of late fees can turn into more than a whole month’s payment, and at that point your payment plan has reached the realm of the absurd.
My point is that those of us who are close to default, or are just stretching a dollar so thin that it’s transparent, feel like we’ve been had. Perhaps calling the system a racket is a little disingenuous. Don’t worry, I’m not going to look up any more definitions, but I just want to declare that while I complain about owing so much money, I know how important student loans are to people who cannot pay for a degree in cash. Without loans, my husband and I could not have gone to grad school, during which I confess I learned the value of dusty old books and academic politics. But I can’t escape the fact that I and millions of other graduates feel like we’ve just been informed that the new and exciting investment opportunity that promised big returns in exchange for very little input is, in fact, a Ponzi scheme. Way to fail, student loan machine (OED). Or is the fail partly ours?
To be continued.
Negro boys on Easter morning, April 1941, by Russell Lee (Image: W.W. Norton & Co.)
Whether expressed in the archives of the Schomburg Center in Harlem, New York, or the African-American Research Library in Atlanta, Georgia, interest in the history of the black experience in America is resurgent. Seeking to understand themselves beyond the narrative du jour of slavery and Jim Crow, some contemporary scholars and archivists are revising black history through the nuanced lenses of African-American photographers.
“I was fascinated by images I saw of my family dating back to the 1800s; of my great-grand parents down to my grandmother — fascinated by the beauty” says Duane Cramer, a noted photographer living in San Francisco who has snapped everyone from Bill Clinton to Freda Payne and Willie Brown. “I was always awestruck by the power of the imagery… my sister and I, we knew how people looked — we knew what they did, and learned how fortunate we were to have such a collection dating back so many centuries.” Pointing out the fact that most African-Americans have no such illustrated records of their own family history, Cramer says “I would always ask my mother about these pictures… who are they?”
Curator, photographer, author and scholar Deborah Willis, knows a few things about the filmed lives of African-Americans. She is the award-winning author of Reflections in Black, a prodigious book published in 2000, which documents the photographed lives of African-Americans by African-Americans, 1840 to the present. Willis is the chair of the photography and imaging department at the Tisch School of the Arts, and in the lead-up to the eventful 2008 presidential election, she penned the best-selling book, “Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs.”
Out now is her latest treatise — Posing Beauty: African-American Images from the 1890′s to the Present, a handsomely-bound book published by Norton, which, she says, “explores the ways in which our contemporary understanding of beauty has been informed by photographers and artists.”
A Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow, Willis says she started out writing the book with a list of theoretical questions, some of which were: What is Beauty? Is it tangible? Does beauty matter?
Following a request through her secretary, Willis made time for a lengthy conversation; discussing some of the more unexpected aspects of what it once meant, and means now, to be black and beautiful in America.
Donyale Luna wearing dress by Paco Rabanne, 1966, by Richard Avedon (Image: W.W. Norton & Co.)
Max Eternity: I notice that you say you don’t attempt to define beauty in your book. Still, I’d like to know: If you have one, what is your personal definition of beauty?
Deborah Willis: I don’t have one. I’m really conscious of that. I believe my response to beauty is in the experiences that people have. I’m not defining it. I’m reflecting.
Goodness is beauty. It reflects in people’s attitude, and sense of style. That’s basically how I consider and recognize beauty. I’m not defining it. I’m reflecting.
ME: Why have you felt compelled to write about the beauty of black Americans, and what is this “interplay between historical references to beauty and contemporary life” you talk about?
Four women, Atlantic City, ca 1960′s, by John W. Mosley (Image: W.W. Norton & Co.)
DW: I decided to write for a number of reasons. One, I’m looking as a photographer. I’m fascinated by the way people pose.
I found one of the first beauty contests was in 1890. It was really a popularity contest. I was fascinated about how, in that period, when negative stereotypes abounded, that a community of blacks refuted that. I was fascinated with that movement during this 30-year period after the ending of slavery.
So, I wanted to create a discussion about beauty. Since that time, I’ve seen a number of new books about beauty, and none really looked at black beauty. I also had cancer during this time, writing the book, and discovered that a lot of people had difficulty looking at me with a bald head. I realized that, even in illness, beauty is important.
ME: When you say the book’s collection of photographs can be seen as concepts of beauty by efforts of self-empowerment, what does that mean?
DW: Well, it goes back to the images of people sitting in front of the photographer’s camera — looking at themselves and thinking about how they are empowered in their own sense, and their body. They have experienced projections of their body in many ways, out and in and people looking back.
There’s a picture on p. 109 of a woman who visited the Highland Studios. Just imagining her sense of style and stance, it’s a private moment, but universally she’s letting people know that she’s in power by her gesture.
ME: In your book you quote author Ben Arogundade as saying “the right to be beautiful and acknowledged is not so much a folly as a human-rights issue.” How would you communicate beauty as a human rights issue?
DW: Basically as a spectator, it’s that beauty has been silenced. And it’s really hard for people who have been ignored to be recognized outsides their communities or work effort. It’s a way of representing themselves as human, as human beings, but also as people who have contributed to the world. It’s not about the way other people have perceived them as less than human, it’s how do we conflate this experience of people who have been seen as objects, and are now seen as human?
ME: Your mother was a beautician and your father a tailor. How much has that shaped study of the physical and cultural aesthetic of African-Americans and their sense of style and beauty?
DW: I didn’t realize it until much later on in my life, but I grew up watching women who believed in their work and ideals. They were church women and woman who sang at clubs, but also too, in just watching men who visited my father, who had fancy cars and believed in themselves. These were people who looked at their lives outside of the ridiculed imagery. They were men who were dignified and full of pride.
I started studying photography and discovered that the pictures in my history books didn’t match with the people I grew up with. I grew up in Philadelphia, in the community of beauty and respect. And the books already out actually showed people underemployed and hurting in other ways, which only showed one side of the story. I became more aware, thinking about ways to complicate images of black people by showing a range of photographs.
ME: I was intrigued by the story you tell of the beautiful, runaway slave named Dolly. Could you talk about that? In other words, does Dolly symbolize a unique set of circumstances, or did you include her in the book because she is emblematic of some larger narrative?
DW: It’s both. I became aware of her about 5 years ago, and now I’m reading about 4 scholars who are writing books and extended essays about Dolly. People are thinking about women during slavery — their lives. We all know that black woman were desired by slave owners, and had children with them, but never did I see a photograph with text saying “rather good looking” and having “good teeth.” That dominated the text for me, because I thought: here is a man that really desired this woman, representing his loss in a public way.
Dolly was ceded from studio photography, so there was a sense that he had a relationship with her, having her photographed in a studio — having her image preserved. With Dolly, she represented for me a history of women who were not photographed, but written about in slave narrative. On the other hand, for me, this was photographic evidence of beauty and desire.
Reward notice for a runaway slave named Dolly, ca. 1863 (Image: W.W. Norton & Co.)
ME: Is beautiful the same as good, as philosopher Umberto Eco says?
DW: Well, it’s more about emotive feelings. When someone feels good about themselves they reflect it in their behavior and desire to please themselves and other people. As a spectator, looking at someone that has a sense of self, feeling good — a walk, a look in the eye — well, it sounds corny, but there’s this wonderful sense of beauty. Inner beauty is not something to be dismissed, because it relates to reflective beauty.
People always try to theorize it as frivolous, but when I travel and talk about beauty, I look at the audience and I see people reflecting on a time in their lives where they experienced the good feeling of representation. People identify with their own experiences of beauty. It touches everyone in some way.
ME: In the book, you say that W.E.B. Du Bois linked photography to racial politics. What exactly does this mean?
DW: It goes back to when there was a time where images of blacks were used as types — classified as types. I was basically speaking of the Paris exhibition of 1900; where he organized an exhibition that focused on faces and lifestyles of people in Georgia, entitled The Georgia Negro. I felt that he decided not to name the subjects, because he wanted the subjects to be emblematic of black people, period. Many of the images in other exhibitions had images of blacks that were degrading; pictures of men being lynched. It was one type of image being shown. But Du Bois used it differently, using his images as a political act — showing all these well-dressed beautiful black people, essentially creating a new type. He told a different kind of story.
ME: I understand Langston Hughes was quite fond of the photographs by James Latimer Allen, and broadly speaking, what role did the Harlem Renaissance play in promoting black beauty?
DW: During the 1920s, Allen was a studio photographer, and worked as an artist. He created work for exhibitions, and Hughes found his work to be poetic, not about social types. Hughes thought that Allen knew how to use photography, finding the essence of beauty, capturing skin types. Allen could show the range of developing skin colors in negatives. Hughes wrote about this, how Allen printed his photographs, where he celebrated beauty during the Harlem Renaissance. He used the images with poems, using terms like “negro beauty” and “brown skin Madonna.” Allen created portraits that were not necessarily social types, but were more poetic in the posing of the subject.
ME: And the role that hairstyles have played in beauty? Like in the 1960s and ’70s — talk about the Afro as a halo, its connection to the “black is beautiful” concept.
DW: I’m basically using the language of the time, just looking at how they were angelic in the way of creating hairstyles as a crown of glory and beauty — a halo as angelic and also protective. This was a time when it was political to find a new identity that included elegance in dress and style. It was a story of propaganda of sorts. Blacks needed at that time a way to re-identify their lives, and the afro was one of the most politicized hairstyles of that period.
Posing Beauty book cover (Image: W.W. Norton & Co.)
ME: Where are we today? How are blacks defining beauty in the post-civil rights, digital age?
DW: This is a confusing time for many people. There are different moments. As I teach a class called “Beauty Matters,” I’m noticing that women and men are adopting and redefining hairstyles from the 1960′s to define themselves in beauty today. In the press, I’m finding that images of women that had been viewed as negative, women in movies and music videos, they are creating a new type of beauty. These are images of women who are seen as available based on their body types. But because of cosmetic surgery, it has caused a number of people to equate vanity and beauty.
It’s hard to characterize beauty today, mainly because of the desire to reform the body, based on the commercialized images of people in music and movies. Women today are trying to find a balance, understanding that they know there’s a problem going on. I’m thinking about how beauty is constructed, which we don’t all have to agree with, but still recognize. It’s evolving; from hairstyles, to dress — how people are responding to images of beauty.
Today another world record is in the bag for Iraq. This time, it’s the country to go the longest – 208 days – between holding a parliamentary election and forming a government. (The Dutch were the previous record holders, dating back to 1977 when attempts to form a government dragged on for 207 days.)
Elections are dicey things–consider our own brush with the hanging chads of Florida. What matters, clearly, is not just getting folks to the ballot boxes. That can be challenging in itself. But what comes after the voting matters more. Who takes office? What kind of public mandate do they have (or believe they have)? How do they govern? What advisers and officials do they surround themselves with? What kind of accountability is in place between elections to keep a check on those in power? What does the public know about what’s happening?
For those of us watching Iraq from afar, our information comes via the international media. And global media closely follow elections in countries where the Americans have keen security interests: Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan. But after the ballots have been counted, the media spotlights turn off, the news goes elsewhere, and we at home turn away to other more sensational stories.
We aren’t interested in the messy business of forming a government, and we certainly aren’t interested in status quo. That’s a problem because Iraq has been mired in stasis for 208 days now. What we are interested in is political conflict and controversy – consider the U.S. midterm elections and the wall-to-wall coverage about the rage in the New York governor’s race or about whether a brush with Satanism is this year’s equivalent of claiming not to have inhaled.
Yet for all their pandering to the lowest tabloid-esque interests, media have gotten better at covering elections, even if they are not great in covering what comes next. The International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland recently completed a study of U.S. and U.K. media coverage of five elections over the past 5 years, work conducted in part for a Carnegie Corporation of New York scholar award project. ICMPA researched reporting of the 2010 and the 2005 elections in Iraq, and the 2009 Afghanistan and Iranian elections and the 2008 election in Pakistan.
What did we find? The news media have learned some important lessons… although there remains room for improvement. Here are some highlights of our study:
“Terrorism” is abating – at least the practice of reflexively considering those who oppose American-style institutions as terrorists. Media are more careful about what they call ‘terrorism.’ Following 9/11, U.S. and U.K. media covered elections in the Muslim world as if they were cosmic battles between the forces of terrorism and those of democracy. But for the March 7, 2010 election in Iraq, when media talked – or quoted others as talking – about terror, it was in specific reference to a particular act of terror, such as a suicide bombing.
Who are the new global bad guys? Fraud and corruption. The cases of fraud and corruption that have dominated media in the U.S. and U.K. have put corruption elsewhere around the world higher on the agenda. In recent elections, coverage of corruption and fraud has been almost as extensive as coverage of security concerns.
“Islam” is not always a four-letter word. When American and the British outlets focus on election violence, media can still be tempted to broadly characterize enemies – or even just political opponents – by pejoratively referencing religion. So, for instance, while covering the election in Pakistan, media spoke about “radical Muslim clerics,” “Islamic extremists,” “Islamic radicals” and “Islamic fundamentalists” – all without clear indications of what those phrases meant in context or in relative terms. But when the media focus on politics and policy, as during the 2010 election in Iraq and the 2009 election in Iran, media more clearly identified sectarian divisions and political parties.
The term “Western” is still too casually used in opposition to “Islamic” or “Muslim.” Just as monolithic references to a group or a policy as “Muslim” or “Islamic” hides important distinctions, so too does use of the term “Western” obscure differences between the U.S. and the U.K., or the U.K. and other European countries, etc.
U.S. media still too often cover international elections as if they were referenda on American policy, rather than about issues internal to those countries.
Violence makes the news, but media have become blas about suicide bombings. Bombings are reported, but as a yardstick for assessing the security level of a country. Are terrorists – the Taliban, al Qaeda – gaining ground? What does the level of violence mean for Pakistan, for instance … and what are the implications for the United States? The problem is that since the perpetrators of violent attacks – as well as the victims – are rarely clearly identified, an audience’s understanding of the implications of and possible solutions to the violence is strictly limited.
Coverage of elections remains “top-down.” Media pay too little attention to voters beyond talking about voting blocks or regional/tribal divisions. When talking about voters, media too often portray them as a faceless mob, manipulated by politicians and religious leaders. Media too rarely portray the public as being independently responsive to policy decisions by authorities.
Women: Reports on their status continue to be used to evaluate a country’s progress toward civil rights for citizens. And reports on their victimization are still used to indict those who abuse them – whether those are husbands or the state. But overall women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq received little coverage in the time periods of the elections – and significantly less than they did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
With the exception of the 2009 election in Iran, U.S. and U.K. mainstream media have not tapped into social media for local opinions and eyewitness reports. Iranians in the streets covered their own protests after the international press corps was booted out of the country. But in other countries where foreign journalists have had access, there has been little effort to tap into YouTube postings, Tweets, Facebook, the blogosphere or other social media outlets to supplement and deepen coverage.
What’s the takeaway from these highlights? That media can do better in covering politics. They can do better in specific ways, and in ways that don’t take more money, but that just take more attention to details.
And what are the lessons for us, the audience? That we should ask for – and look for – more coverage not just on the horse race of politics, but on the forming and running of governments. If we are putting billions of dollars into helping countries such as Iraq hold elections, then we the voters need to follow up on the progress of those elections.
Why should we care about whether the Iraqis can form a government? Well, remember that here we are, in the midst of our own midterm elections, already grousing about too much on the docket for the lame-duck session, and worrying that our sitting legislators are going to accomplish too little in that window of time. But at least our Congress will be “sitting,” and a president will be in the Oval Office.
FOR EXTRA CREDIT: What’s another world record that Iraq holds? This summer, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that ever since the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq has been the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist. Iraq also holds the world record for journalists killed with impunity; no one has ever been prosecuted for any of the 88 murders over the last 10 years.
As a former farmer from Maine, I never imagined that surviving 18 years in foster care and dancing with American Ballet Theater’s school and Junior Company in NYC, would not only lead me, but aid me in slugging it out in Hollywood, working with leading men like Jim Carrey, Samuel L. Jackson, Dick Van Dyke, Will Smith, Forest Whitaker and landing me in the SUDS. That’s right, seventeen slippery years of nail-biting, cliff-hanger suspense on the nation’s number one soap opera in America, The Young and the Restless as the iconic Drucilla Winters. So what, right? It’s only a soap. But is it? As an African American actor and business woman I made it part of my work to know the statistics and the audience I was performing for; who was behind the bubbles.
In a story referenced by Conde Nast, over 40% of The Young and Restless audience is watched by African Americans, overwhelmingly black women. So why are their voices ignored? Y&R has been distributed to up to 100 countries, including the continent of Africa, in India, Israel, multiple times in the Caribbean, and throughout Europe. Its sister soap, Bell Phillip Television Productions’ The Bold and the Beautiful appears in over 140 countries and is the only soap to be simulcast in Spanish. When asked how much money B&B brings in with SAP (Secondary Audio Program) episodes in Spanish-speaking countries, Bell Jr. said, “It’s not something we can quantify.” It is estimated that gross revenues of each soap exceed 100 million annually even with a dramatic decline in daytime drama. Why do I care?
Bell Dramatic Serial Company ‘s The Young and the Restless is more than a soap opera, it’s an institution, and has enjoyed the spoils of loyal black viewers for decades and generationally, while simply refusing to reinvest in that very demographic to the extent it should. Though serious demands have been made by its black audience and more, Y&R owners and producers casually allow casting to trade one African American actor out for another as if revolutionary and adequate. Since its first air date, March of 1973, it has failed to hire one African American writer, producer, or director in thirty-seven years. Furthermore, to my knowledge there are currently only two African American writers on the entire Daytime landscape; Michele Val Jean, General Hospital, and Alda Croal, One Life to Live. Unacceptable in 21st century America.
During my tenure at Y&R, I campaigned hard to close multiple disparities and was met with tremendous pushback. Though I repeatedly consulted with non-black staff writers, selecting music and providing choreography, I was never given credit or compensation. I introduced stories ranging from classical ballet to foster care and adoption which received Congressional recognition while being asked to leave price tags in my Y&R wardrobe. The African American cast has won Emmys, dozens of NAACP Image Awards and various accolades for The Young and the Restless yet they continue to be marginalized and pushed to the periphery. When my representative requested Y&R consider me as a writer/director for the show, a courtesy afforded previously to many Anglo actors in daytime, such as Susan Flannery, Meg Bennet, Ellen Wheeler, Courtney Simon, Douglas Marland, and Christopher Gotman, the response from Sr. VP of CBS Daytime Television Barbara Bloom was, “We’ve never done that before.”
Nielsen announced earlier this month that African American television households and total viewership eclipses all other minority groups… the highest of any specific ethnic group, whites included. According to a top CBS executive, no entertainment format has been hit harder by the economic downturn than daytime soap operas. And yet, the daytime television industry remains stubbornly resistant to changing an antiquated lack of diversity, in front of, and most insidiously, behind the lens. They continue to ignore the largest television-watching market segment per household. Maybe it’s time we ignore them.
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The body language said it all.
As President Obama announced the departure of his combative chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel stood on one side of the president, hands on his hips, apparently enjoying the moment.
After all, it wasn't just that the president was saying nice things about him.
With the cabinet in attendance, this was also tantamount to a launch party for his Chicago mayoral bid.
To the president's left, an owlish Pete Rouse cut a rather different figure – almost visibly squirming when the president described the less flamboyant skills of his new enforcer.
The president's choice of words was telling too. He called his new chief of staff an “arbitrator”.
Perhaps, with Congress expected to become an even more difficult place for the White House to do business after November's midterms, a soft-speaking negotiator is just what the president needs.
The “101st senator” certainly has the connections and the experience to operate effectively on the Hill.
Where Mr Emanuel was criticised by Republicans as a partisan hitman and by progressive Democrats as responsible for watering down the president's reforms, Mr Rouse may find it easier to tread a more conciliatory path.
Inside the West Wing, Mr Rouse's reputation as the man who put out the fires that the irascible, profane Mr Emanuel seemed to ignite in the course of his ruthless pursuit of the president's agenda, may also be good for morale.
These are anxious times. With a hesitant economic recovery still not really being felt on Main Street, the Obama Administration has been buffeted by a number of high-profile resignations from the president's economic team, culminating in the departure of Larry Summers, another combative figure, ten days ago.
The departure and arrival of new staff needs to be expertly handled and most people seem to think that Mr Rouse is just the man.
And what of Mr Emanuel's mayoral bid?
It seemed typical of this driven, ambitious man that he opened his remarks with talk of the prospect of new challenges.
He said he is excited to be returning to “the greatest city in the greatest country in the world.”
He said he was “energised by the prospect of new challenges” and “eager to see what I can do to make our home town even greater.”
But while Rahm Emanuel may now be the most high-profile candidate to fill the shoes of Mayor Richard Daley, he's not necessarily a shoo-in.
A Democratic strategist in Chicago said Mr Emanuel had simply been away from the Windy City for too long.
The fact that the would-be mayor was about to embark on a “listening tour” of the city, he said, was proof that he had a lot of catching up to do.
Two US balloonists who went missing over the Adriatic Sea while taking part in an endurance race are unlikely to have survived, race organisers have said.
Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer-Davis disappeared in a thunderstorm on Wednesday off the east coast of Italy.
Radar readings from their balloon's tracking device showed they plunged towards the sea at 80km/h (50mph) before signals stopped.
The pair were taking part in the Gordon Bennett gas balloon endurance race.
Other competitors now believe their balloon was struck by lightning.
In a statement, the race organisers said they had received recorded transponder readings from Croatian air traffic control which showed the balloon had a moderate descent rate to begin with.
However, this then increased to 50mph.
Organisers said this was “very pessimistic information” and survival was unlikely.
Both balloonists were highly experienced and had previously won the race.
Richard Abruzzo came from a ballooning family: his father, Ben, made the first successful balloon flight over the Atlantic in 1978.
The race began near the English city of Bristol last weekend.
The 19 other balloons taking part in the race had landed safely by Wednesday.
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has said the US committed “crimes against humanity” in a study that infected hundreds of Guatemalans with gonorrhoea and syphilis more than 60 years ago.
President Barack Obama has apologised for the medical tests, in which mentally ill patients and prisoners were infected without their consent.
Mr Obama told Mr Colom the 1940s-era experiments ran contrary to American values, Guatemala said.
The US has promised an investigation.
Syphilis can cause heart problems, blindness, mental illness and even death, and although the patients were treated it is not known how many recovered.
was unearthed by Prof Susan Reverby at Wellesley College. She says the Guatemalan government gave permission for the tests.
No offer of compensation has yet been made, but an investigation will be launched into the specifics of the study, which took place between 1946 and 1948.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday the news was “shocking, it's tragic, it's reprehensible”.
The joint statement from Mrs Clinton and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said: “Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health.
“We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologise to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.”
In his phone call to President Colom, Barack Obama reaffirmed the United States' unwavering commitment to ensure that all human medical studies conducted today meet exacting US and international legal and ethical standards, the White House.
President Obama also “underscored the United States' deep respect for the people of Guatemala and the importance of our bilateral relationship”.
The study by Prof Reverby shows that US government medical researchers infected almost 700 people in Guatemala with two sexually transmitted diseases.
The patients – prisoners and people suffering mental health problems – were unaware they were being experimented upon.
The doctors used prostitutes with syphilis to infect them, or inoculation, as they tried to determine whether penicillin could prevent syphilis, not just cure it.
The patients were then treated for the disease, but it is unclear whether everyone was cured.
Prof Reverby has previously done research on the Tuskegee experiment, where the US authorities measured the progress of syphilis in African-American sharecroppers without telling them they had the disease or adequately treating it.
The experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, with President Bill Clinton eventually apologising for it.
The Obama administration’s attempts at seducing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are getting embarrassing. Netanyahu has made it very clear he is not interested.
According to Haaretz, the latest (and most cringeworthy) moment in the saga came this week when Dennis Ross, the president’s top adviser on Israel-Palestinian issues, convinced Obama that Israel would only agree to an extension of the settlements freeze if Obama would “come off as friendlier” to Bibi.
So Ross and his aides (working with the Israelis) drafted a letter to Netanyahu in which the United States would give Israel everything it could possibly want in exchange for a two-month freeze.
The details of the letter (which the White House is denying) were revealed by researcher David Makovsky on the website of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
It is hard to imagine anything Ross left out. For Bibi, the Ross offer was a dream come true. All that for a 60-day freeze.
But Bibi said “no.”
“Netanyahu said he appreciated the letter but could not accept the American proposal because it included a two-month extension of the construction moratorium, which he said would damage his public credibility,” Haaretz reported.
But the “moratorium” was the whole point of the offer. Bibi seems not to believe that his dealings with America have to be two-way streets. He will only consider deals where the United States gives and he gets. (But then, that is the way it always is.)
Ross and the other administration figures are now “incensed,” having been played yet again.
They even went up to Capitol Hill to discuss the situation with Bibi’s pals up there. No dice.
So it’s back to the drawing board. Maybe Ross can give Bibi one of the 50 states (Alaska!).
But that won’t work. The word from Israel is that Netanyahu is counting on a huge GOP landslide to save him from Obama. And then in 2012, there will be a Republican president who is more likely than Obama to let him bomb Iran.
Netanyahu has done this before. During the Lewinsky affair, he came to Washington, ignored President Clinton, and went up to the Hill to smoke cigars with Speaker Newt Gingrich and exchange Monica jokes. To understand Bibi, you need to realize that as much as he is Likud, he is a right-wing Republican.
Here’s what we should do. Tell Netanyahu that either he agrees to the freeze or the United States slows down the delivery of aid. After all, Israel is the #1 recipient of U.S. aid in the world. Surely, there are ways the Pentagon can indicate displeasure.
Or maybe we can refuse to veto one of those Security Council resolutions that rightly condemn Israel’s actions in occupied areas. We don’t always have to be the one country in the world that stands alone at Israel’s side when the U.N. attempts to pass a resolution we know is right.
I mean, we are the United States. We are also Israel’s only real ally on the planet. We do not have to take this kind of dissing lying down.
And Dennis Ross, who came to the White House from the AIPAC-created Washington Institute for Near East Peace, should devote his attention to some other region of the world, one in which his penchant for wishful thinking would be relevant.
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A Newport Beach real estate executive recently wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal claiming that it wouldn’t be fair for President Obama to not extend the Bush tax cuts for those who make over $250,000 a year. Upon reading this letter, I was struck with a sense of gratitude that God did not grant conservatives the capacity to laugh. Now, rather than call out the name of the person who wrote this letter to the WSJ, I will respect this concerned citizen’s privacy by referring to him as Vangogo the Peapod.
Vangogo the Peapod writes:
Your story, Vangogo the Peapod, is identical to that of millions of Americans all across the country… Except for the part about making 250K a year.
Let’s break this down:
“My family isn’t wealthy.”
Your family’s situation is unfortunate considering the fact that you make a lot of money. You should probably share some of that money with your family; it’s kind of a dick move to not.
If you have too many expenses in your life, there are plenty of free money-management programs that you can find on the web… go ahead and check them out after you’re done burning your ottoman for internet fuel.
“I have no funded retirement plan save Social Security, if it is there when I need it…”
I’m sorry for being so candid, Vangogo the Peapod, but what the hell have you been doing with your money as a Newport Beach real estate exec?! If you’re informed enough to know your tax rate, no one is going to buy that you don’t know how to open up an IRA. Or at least get a lemonade stand going, for the love of God.
Also: I would be careful about spreading the whole “no funded retirement plan” around the office. Your co-workers might start regarding you with a rare mix of pathos and fascination usually reserved for viewing a three-headed piglet preserved in a jar. (As for worrying about whether or not Social Security will be there when you need it, just relax and stop worrying… It won’t be.)
“I have no guarantee of permanent health care.”
This is definitely a problem in our country. I wish someone would step forward and promote some sort of single-payer universal health care policy. I also can’t wait to see where this “automobile” fad goes and I’m against women showing their uncovered femurs in public.
“I am paying off school loans for our three children.”
Well, lucky for you, you’ve been enjoying 9 years of free money! With the Bush tax cuts, you had an extra 4.6% of your income! Since 2001, that’s at least $100,000 for the education of your offspring! Now, I know that $100,000 hardly makes a dent in the overall expenses, right? It’s just a drop in the bucket, right?! Oh, but wait… that’s the exact amount of money you’re complaining about not having if your tax cut doesn’t get extended.
So $100,000 is either:
A) A significant amount of money that you just had the opportunity to save over the last 9 years.
B) Not a significant amount of money, in which case, why are you complaining about missing it?
C) The total amount of money you’ve invested in your mid-life crisis.
Vandogo the Sweetpod, your income puts you in the top 2% of all Americans; can’t you be happy living within a structure built to protect and further your interests? Considering that all financial laws in this country are tilted in your favor, is it too much to ask for the common decency to keep your victory behind closed doors as opposed to crying like a marshmallow Peep en route to the microwave? You’re not oppressed, you’re damn lucky.
I would take a piece of conscience from Warren Buffet on this if I were you, if only for the fact that here’s someone who could make an excellent living, sans bitching, even on a paltry $250,000/year:
Pimp Daddy Warren Buffet Sez: “[We] pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you’re in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent.”
Your perspective, however, Tatonka the Sweetpea, is a little different:
“Yet those of us who make $250,000 or more are vilified and held accountable for solving our government’s penchant for spending more than it takes in so that politicians can buy votes.”
No, you’re not being held accountable for solving anything; don’t flatter yourself. I wouldn’t be silly enough to hold you accountable for solving a rebus puzzle.
However, it is fair that you are held accountable for paying a reasonable share considering how much you benefit from labor, taxes, and social initiatives, both local and national. Someone paid taxes for you to have an interstate, a fire department, a board that establishes guidelines for sanitary food, a national defense program… all of that stuff comes from people paying in.
If you want to argue that you don’t get more by paying in more, let’s you and I make a date and go for a walk through downtown Detroit and I’ll show you how much more you and your family get just because of the fact that you happen to make a lot of money.
“We already pay more in taxes than 98% of the population, particularly the nearly 50% of eligible voters who pay no federal income tax.”
Yeah, you’re supposed to pay more.
And if you don’t believe that, fine. Regardless, according to a 2008 report by Citizens for Tax Justice you may actually be paying .1% in taxes less than others in the top 10%.
“The president wants us to pay more, and he frames it in a way that casts us as not yet carrying our fair share of the burden.”
Can somebody get this guy a tissue? And a spine?
Badonkadonk the Teatime, you’re starting to embarrass conservatives with this. If you had a backbone, you would stand up and say, just as several people in your tax bracket have done publicly, “Things are tough now and everyone has to make sacrifices. That ‘everyone’ doesn’t exclude me, and I probably won’t miss this money anyway.” (PS, I’m sorry you feel that the president frames you unfairly. It was tough on Oswald, too.)
Funkarock the Boostank continues:
“Apparently our president thinks that living in America is so wonderful that we will never leave, despite being directly attacked and held responsible for the political class’s inability to constrain its desire to buy votes with our money. ”
Are you really feeling directly attacked? You know what was a direct attack? 9/11 was a direct attack. This is you not getting an extension of your tax breaks. Stop being dumb.
Actually, don’t stop being dumb, do us all a favor, Shlomo the Fleasnob, take your $250K and leave. Go ahead and leave the culture that has afforded you the opportunity to have a home, a family, and a job that puts you in the top 2% of the richest country in the world… You have dealt with the injustice for too long.
Of course, this isn’t just about Tonyromo the Meatrod, this is about all of the Rolygogo the Heehaws out there who can’t seem to understand why the U.S. government won’t just leave them alone and let them be rich.
Marcopolo the Ramrod’s letter is easily an open insult to the 70% of Americans who make less than 25K/year, but beyond that, it beautifully exposes an appalling obliviousness to the state of our country by certain advantaged members of society, as well as an absolute disregard for those who do not share their tax bracket. Such a buffoonish unmasking of this blatant contempt is probably considered social treason even to others who are in favor of extending the tax cuts.
Gorgonzola the Flashmob, you might want to keep the talking that happens inside your head quiet until November when it’s time to vote. Just make sure you’re able to scrape together enough coins from the change jar to get to the polls; a gallon of gasoline can be as high as .0012% of your yearly income.
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There is a gargantuan storm brewing. The conditions were set for it with Congress’ repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1998, loosening restrictions on banks to sell securities and still lend money for consumers to buy homes.
In just 12 years these pressure fronts are about to erupt because of something as simple as how documents are notarized. I am reminded of the fact Timothy McVey was apprehended, not because he robbed a bank, but because the tags on his car were expired. One thing leads to another, and what unfolds is the discovery of something so fundamentally wrong that it can’t be ignored.
Ever wonder why President Obama brought into the White House financial advisors who seemed to have come from the thick of financial practices we were trying to shed? That’s because our home mortgage financial transactions and what happens to the paperwork after we sign it have become so complicated, it took people who knew the system to clip the right wires so the bomb didn’t detonate.
I’m from Ohio, where home mortgage foreclosure rates remain among the highest in the nation. My parents grew up in a rural Ohio town so small that the town residents today still go to the post office for their mail. What I learned from my parents was to be honest and work hard. We were taught, like many others, to respect authority, play by the rules, only take what is yours, be kind, treat others with respect and stand up for what is right.
That’s not what American consumers have gotten from today’s lending industry. Since the repeal of Glass Steagall, the creation and trading of mortgage-backed securities have become a norm, enjoying less regulatory oversight than for traditional securities trading. Mortgages now became parts of “tranches,” a French word for “pieces,” that back securities sold. Mortgage notes, which must to be recorded to become a lien on real estate are now, through a sleight of hand, secondary to the interests of the mortgage backed securities traders with the advent of Mortgage Electronic Registration Services, Inc. (MERS) which facilitates trading without recording the changing ownership interests in mortgages. Local governments lose revenue from recording those changing interests, and the original note often becomes lost in the brisk shuffle of trading and reassigning them to various tranches that back purchases of them from all over the world.
Most mortgages are sold by the original lender within weeks of a home closing. The lender gets funds for selling the mortgage (often selling to taxpayer backed Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) and is flush to lend again. If you play it out in your mind, you can see why the housing “bubble” that developed finally burst and is slow to come back–more and more people were told they could afford homes they couldn’t, and more and more people made money at each step of the way from the appraisal to the sale of a home to the sale of the mortgage to open trading of the mortgage as backing for a myriad of securities configurations.
What happens when the homeowner can’t pay the mortgage anymore–because of job loss, medical expenses or excessive credit card and other debt? Foreclosure. But in Ohio a court has to grant it. In a lawsuit for foreclosure, documents are presented to a court to decide if the homeowner is in default and by how much. The lawsuit is supposed to be brought by the person or institution who holds the note for the mortgage being foreclosed. If ownership of the note has passed through many hands, a “chain of title” must be established to prove that the person who claims rights to foreclose on the home is the person actually owed money on the mortgage. Once the court grants foreclosure, the court can then order sale of the home and eviction of its owners.
Under today’s financial schemes, foreclosure documents are routinely created to demonstrate the transfer of the interest in the note so the right person brings the foreclosure lawsuit. In the case of Chase Home Finance, LLC, its Columbus, Ohio employee, Beth Cottrell, testified in her deposition that she helps create foreclosure documents by signing on behalf of the banks and financial institutions (including MERS) that have been involved. Then, a small group of notaries at Chase notarize her and others’ signatures on various foreclosure documents (about 18,000 documents a month at Chase Home Finance, LLC).
While serving as a Chase Home Finance, LLC employee, Beth Cottrell’s name has appeared in foreclosure affidavits from 2008 through 2010 in the Florida court system on documents showing mortgage amounts owed on behalf of Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Federal National Mortgage Association, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, People’s Choice Home Loan, Wachovia and Citi, even though she was an employee of Chase Home Finance, LLC in Columbus.
In Ohio, I read two depositions of Beth Cottrell taken in Columbus, Ohio in May of this year, about a Florida foreclosure. I was frankly chagrined to read her description of the notary activity to process the 18,000 documents a month by the company she works for alone–using just eight notaries. In her deposition, Ms. Cottrell’s stated that: no oath is administered for the signing of each document; notaries (not signers) are filling in numbers in the affidavits used in court ordered foreclosures; notarized documents are not verified by the person signing them, but rather, signers are relying on verification by others, and notaries know this at the time they notarize documents; and large numbers of documents are signed in bulk and notarized in bulk separately.
As Secretary of State of Ohio, I license Ohio’s notaries. My state’s notary laws, like those of many states, don’t give me the tools to address the notary problems found in the changing circumstances in mortgage financing. In Ohio, even though I grant notary commissions, I don’t have the power to investigate or prosecute when there is suspected wrongdoing. That’s why I asked the Department of Justice to review and investigate.
The seal, date and signature of a notary public are there to bolster the reliability and integrity of a document, especially one that allows a court to order the taking of someone’s home. In the situations I have brought to the DOJ’s attention, something is clearly amiss.
Corporations, like consumers, must follow the same rules for transferring property as we would if we sold our house to our child or neighbor. The notary process is necessary in preparing the documents required to foreclose. The notary process must not be abused or bypassed when convincing a court to foreclose on a mortgage, evict its inhabitants and sell their home so that someone can recover money at the end of a long transaction of securities trading.
This is beginning to look like a storm that blew right into Oz.
Just as it took a dog named, “Toto” to pull back the curtain to see what was being perpetrated on Oz, maybe what some consider a minor detail, like notarizing documents as the law requires, will help the Dorothy’s of this day and age have a home to go to.
More information on the referral to the Department of Justice can be found here.
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As a teacher, I read the most recent story of bullying and think, what is wrong with people?
Why would an otherwise intelligent kid think it’s okay to a) spy on his roommate with a computer camera and then b) post the video on the internet? Where is the disconnect in the brain that allows anyone to think that is okay to do? Has the availability of the internet and YouTube produced a generation of sociopaths? Or simply a generation of people who believe that boundaries don’t apply to them, that their day-to-day lives are a game to be played on the public screen?
It’s obvious from online comments on news stories that hate and intolerance and racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia remain rampant in today’s society — at least given the protection of anonymity. We like to think we’re raising a generation of open minds and acceptance, but evidently we’re not. We’re just ensuring that people are hating in private, which seems, somehow, even more dangerous. My generation of bullies, cowards hiding behind screen names, is raising a generation of bullies who have the added advantage of a worldwide audience.
There have always been bullies, of course. And some of their tactics, even in the “olden” days, achieved a level of cruelty that was simply not within a normal person’s imagination. But it seems that technology has afforded these idiots the tool of perpetuation in addition to their usual arsenal of cruel and unusual punishments — guaranteeing, in the victim’s mind, that things will not get better. They can’t get better. The victim’s shame and humiliation are made complete by the fact that they are on display on the internet for the entire world to view, forever.
So is the problem the bullies themselves? Are they insecure, popularity-seeking, angry? Do they need therapy, or discipline? Is it their parents, who often refuse to see their children for what they are because it then becomes a reflection on them, or who are working two jobs to make ends meet and simply don’t see what’s going on, or who see the behavior and hate it but don’t know what to do about it?
Is it technology, which has given the bullies even more power and visibility, with the added bonus, often times, of anonymity? We’ve given our children the ability to film and record and share everything they do, but have not given them the cautions that should necessarily come with the power. Don’t film yourself naked and send it on your phone. Don’t tweet in anger or haste. Don’t put something on the internet that you don’t want seen in twenty years. And we haven’t given them these cautions because it wouldn’t matter. They’re children. They’re invincible, remember? They live minute to minute and day to day, because that’s how children are. We’re giving them adult tools and expecting them to handle them like adults.
Maybe the problem is a society in which bullying someone for being different than ourselves has been a national pastime for as long as there have been heterosexual white men in power. Because really, do clearly heterosexual, strong white boys get bullied to death? Or is it the weaker boys, the effeminate boys (gay or not), the masculine girls (gay or not), girls who are perceived as sexually “loose,” kids who are dorky and smart and fringe, or kids from different cultures just trying to get along in American schools? Sure, kids bully for different reasons, but in most cases the victims are the same — people the bully perceives as different, and therefore fair game.
We have got to start setting examples for our kids, to parent them better, to teach them tolerance and openness and fairness, and to show them the consequences of this technology that they take for granted. We have got to start teaching them, somehow, that no one is fair game, because it’s not, in fact, a game.
As a parent, I know it’s life or death.
Look, she’s never been a beloved candidate. Even Meg Whitman’s supporters have never really been able to get excited about her. For most of them she may simply be the only ideological game in town. The rest are likely more blinded by the endless array of ads bought with her personal fortune than they are dazzled with her promise as a leader. What’s truly astonishing is that this woman is literally trying to purchase an election and the best she can get is layaway. Up against Jerry Brown, a septuagenarian fixture in California politics, she casts herself as the fresh face in this race and she’s not only significantly behind him in the polls, but she actually comes across as the stodgy, self-entitled insider to his scrappy, fighter-for-the-people.
That was all before the remarkable events of the past two days. This is a woman who has campaigned heavily on getting tough with employers who hire undocumented workers and then yesterday, incredibly, we learn that she was one of them! She had an undocumented immigrant working in her house for nine years.
It’s not like Meg Whitman’s problems with hypocrisy are new. Since the beginning of her campaign, she’s been forced to answer questions about the uncomfortable fact that when she casts a vote for herself in a few weeks it’ll be the very first time she sets foot in a voting booth! She wants Californians to come to the polls on her behalf and yet she’s never deigned to go and vote herself?
Whitman has an ad in which she says that other politicians don’t realize how serious the unemployment situation is because “they don’t see it every day.” However, she declares, “I see it every day.” Sure, Whitman sees unemployment every day. That’s because she shipped 40% of eBay’s jobs overseas! The California Labor Federation called her a “serial outsourcer.”
I love California. I’ve been here for twenty years and I won’t ever live anywhere else. The state is as vast as it is varied, but there is a common theme that this is a place where anything is possible. Even if you spend $120 million dollars of your own money, you can still lose.
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The Philadelphia sports fans have taken a beating through the years and often received a bad reputation for their conduct. Some of that is earned (booing Santa, throwing snowballs, throwing up on a kid, streaking on the field), some of it is not. My belief is that we are the most passionate fans in the country (and that is saying a lot when you look at the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox supporters.)
I base my belief on the Phillies’ fans. When I was in West Chester State College (PA) I remember seeing a bumper sticker on the studio door of a voice teacher (I was a music major) that said “Joy Is A Phillies Phanatic”. Very fitting considering her name was Joy. And this was back in the early 1970s before two world championships (1980 and 2008) and three other trips to the world series (1983, 1993, and 2009). We Phillies fans have been suffering for a long time: the 1964 collapse, 10,000 losses, many last place finishes. So forgive us our exurberance as we celebrate these heady days of four straight National League Eastern Division titles and a team that currently has the best record in baseball and what some consider the top three starters and most potent lineup in both leagues.
Can any other team boast 123 straight home sellouts? Does any other team have such faithful fans that follow them to other cities as far away as California and Florida? On Monday night in Washington DC there were far more Phillies fans in the stands than National fans. They were rewarded for traveling more than 2 hours and sitting in the rain by seeing their franchise win the NL Eastern Division title behind pitching ace Roy Halladay, who delivered a 2-hit complete game shutout for his 21st win as the Phillies won 8-0.
It was fitting that Doc Halladay was on the mound in DC to end their quest because this is where the season started with him on April 4th pitching against the same Washington starter, John Lannan. The Phils won that one 11-1.
The Phillies fans stayed in the stands after the game on that dominating Monday night clincher waiting to see a glimpse of their hometown heroes as they have done in past years at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. Alas, it didn’t happen in DC as they had the lights turned out on them. My guess is the Phillies didn’t realize they were still there or they would have come out to celebrate with them.
Instead the festive rite was held in the clubhouse. The fact that the team waited for and allowed the three veterans who have never been in the postseason before, (pitcher Roy Halladay, catcher Brian Schneider, and infield utility man, Mike Sweeney) to pop the first bottle of champagne exemplifies the team spirit of unselfishness and unity of this year’s gang. They are team players, every one of them.
And this team realizes the significance of the fans and what is means to winning for them. Several team members have often said the hometown crowd is the tenth player on the field. When interviewed Ryan Howard, cleanup and homerun RBI man, said he had a tear in his eye when thinking of the fans. Closer Brad Lidge spoke directly to the fans and thanked them for their support and said we need you.
All I know is that the energy is electric in that Philadelphia ballpark, especially in September. My dad and I went twice this month and had a great time cheering on the Fightin’s. If I could take that positive, exciting feeling of hearing 46,000 cheering a home run while waving their rally towels and bottle it, I would and then I would send it wherever peace was needed. There is nothing quite like experiencing the oneness of a Phillies crowd at a winning home game.
Now, losing is another story. Phil’s fans are passionate and not afraid to let you know when they are unhappy with an error or stikeout. But lately their ire is mostly directed at the umpiring crew if they make a bad call. I’ve noticed because of this four year winning streak, Phillies fans have taken on the demeanor of the team’s skipper and mentor, Charlie Manuel and become more patience with the players.
For example, this season was no walk in the park. They started out strong, but after injuries to 17 out of 25 players, they faltered in June and July and were 48-46 and 7 games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place. Throughout this slump the sold out crowds kept coming and cheering them on. I remember a close friend of mine was lamenting that maybe this wasn’t their year because they weren’t hitting and I said: “They have always been a streaky team and this year their losing streak was a little longer than usual. They will come back in the second half as they always do.” And I was right.
The patience and trust Manager Charlie Manuel gives his players allows them to relax and come back from any adversity. I read an interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Bob Brookover. This story came to light to him during the Phillies’ recent Division title celebration. He related how after a low point in the season right after the All Star break when the Phils lost three of four games to the Cubs in Chicago and the first three in St. Louis, Shane Victorino, center fielder asked: “Oh my God, what’s going on here?” Backup catcher and prophet Brian Schneider sat down in the visiting clubhouse of Busch stadium and worked on the math. He figured out for everything to come out OK they would need to go 50-18 the rest of the way. He said there were 68 games to go and he wanted to make the math as easy as possible.
Victorino thought Schneider was being overly ambitious saying it was a ridiculous number. However, since that date, the Phils are 47-18 with three games to go until the end of the regular season. Not so ridiculous now.
What is ridiculous is the lack of support from other cities in the country for their baseball teams. Only 12,446 fans showed up Monday night to see if the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays (FL) could clinch their second playoff berth in three years. All season the Rays have been battling the Yankees for the AL East lead and the best record in baseball. Rays’ all star third baseman, Evan Longoria called it “disheartening” and “embarrassing.” The Rays then made 20,000 free tickets available for Wednesday night’s game against the Orioles.
These tactics would never be necessary in Philadelphia. Maybe it is because we have a long history of being staunch, die-hard Phillies fans. Maybe it’s because we have begun a baseball dynasty that may eventually rival the Yankees and Braves and Red Sox (take that, Ken Burns, director of The Tenth Inning, baseball documentary.) We also have the best mascot in baseball, the Phillie Phanatic.
2010 may be our best year yet. Phillies fans are everywhere and we are joyful phanatics. Phillies, we appreciate you and will follow you faithfully anywhere, even to the ends of the earth.