Archive for November 3rd, 2010
Inspector General (IG) investigations expose some of the most egregious examples of misconduct by federal officials–everything from whistleblower retaliation to the abuse of taxpayer dollars–and the public has every right to see the (non-classified, non-redacted) results of these investigations. Yet in many cases, agencies have been known to over-redact, delay, or completely block the release of IG investigative reports. As we discussed in our 2008 report on IG independence, restricting public access to these reports undermines the important work performed by IGs, and creates a significant barrier to holding agency officials accountable.
A few weeks ago, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) released letters from 13 IGs describing how their agencies have interfered with investigations. Among other things, the senators asked the IGs to provide “biannual reports on all closed investigations, evaluations, and audits conducted by your office that were not disclosed to the public.”
As the senators continue their review, we hope they take a close look at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has a troubling history of withholding records from the public, including investigative reports issued by the IG.
On the SEC IG’s website, you won’t find any investigative reports issued prior to 2009, and there are only eight reports posted since then. Yet the IG’s semiannual reports to Congress describe dozens of investigative reports that have been issued to SEC management over the past two years.
To be fair, most of the SEC IG’s audit and evaluation reports dating back to 1994 have been posted online. But when it comes to investigative reports–in which the OIG’s Office of Investigations looks into “allegations of violations of statutes, rules and regulations, and other misconduct by Commission staff and contractors–very few have ever been released to the public.
After reviewing the IG’s semiannual reports, we’ve counted at least 27 investigative reports issued since 2009 that have not been posted online. These reports cover everything from insider trading by SEC employees to botched investigations of fraudulent companies. There are at least two reports–one on the SEC’s bungled investigation of Allied Capital, and one on allegations of whistleblower retaliation at the SEC’s Ft. Worth Regional Office–that have been redacted and released, but are nowhere to be found on the SEC or IG’s websites.
Even when the IG’s reports are released to the public, the SEC can still diminish their impact. In the case of the Allied report, for example, the SEC redacted the name of the official who became a registered lobbyist for Allied after he left the SEC and illegally attempted to access hedge fund manager David Einhorn’s telephone records, even though his name had already been disclosed in Einhorn’s book and various media reports.*
The SEC also has a troubling history of releasing IG reports on slow news days. As reported by the AP, the IG identified this problem in its latest report on the timing of the SEC’s charges filed against Goldman Sachs (the IG was investigating whether the timing was politically motivated or intended to overshadow the release of another IG report on the SEC’s botched investigation of the Stanford Ponzi scheme):
As the report suggests, it’s the agency–specifically, the Office of General Counsel–that’s in charge of redacting IG investigative reports, and the reports can only be released through a vote by the SEC commissioners. The IG elaborated on this issue at a September hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, stating that his office does not have the authority to make decisions on nonpublic information by itself, even though it has asked for such authority.
In recent testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, POGO’s Angela Canterbury recommended that “[d]eterminations of FOIA exemption applicability to OIG reports, particularly regarding investigations, should be independently reviewed by the FOIA office or a FOIA officer within the OIG, not by the Chair or OGC.”
We’re hopeful that the next Congress will be receptive to strengthening IG offices across the government.
– Michael Smallberg
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(Full disclosure: Einhorn is a major contributor to POGO.)
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Grab your partner do si do. The results are in. Bush turned the country to the left and Obama has now turned the country to the right. Feels like politics has become a square dance of discontent swinging to the right, to our left and then to our right seemingly not seriously dealing with any of the challenging issues facing the country. We all know the steps — in political language the predictable spin — of this dance.
Democrats, having maintained the Senate, claim the losses could have been worse, blame outside corrupting money for distorting Obama’s accomplishments, and lament voter’s ignorance of the facts and progressive’s unrealistic expectations of the political process.
Republicans, triumphantly declare the people have given their thumbs down to the President’s socialism and have affirmed Republican calls for patriotism in the form of limited government and no taxes.
Teabaggers, their anger transformed into power and funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, celebrate how regular Americans rose up in defense of the constitution to take back the country from elites and experts and warn the political establishment that they are now a force to be reckoned with.
Progressives, young people, and African Americans, who stayed home out of lack of enthusiasm, mourn the loss of the country to a reactionary right wing and blame Obama for compromises of principle that squandered his mandate and dispirited his base.
And of course the pundits on the right and the left, the former self-righteously counseling the President and his party to heed the clarion call of the people to work with Republicans to limit government, lower taxes, and free the market to do what free markets do while the latter bemoan the loss of power, engage in self-flagellation, internal bickering, and warn that Republicans will now gut everything from health care reform to regulatory reform from the safety net to civil liberties rolling back decades of social and economic progress.
Let’s not forget our comedians, who as a recent study by the non-partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University shows are increasingly becoming political pundits in drag with Leno and Fallon (NBC) favoring poking fun at liberals and Stewart and Cobert (Comedy Central) making fun of conservatives. Of course, we will all bemoan the partisanship and polarization of our political culture and just as surely will blame those with whom we disagree.
This all sounds rather bleak and tiresome. But what if the dreaded gridlock we seem to be mired in is actually the way we work through very complex issues that do not have immediate, simple, sweeping solutions — no matter what our political ideologues say or how attractive such solutions might sound? What if gridlock is actually good when facing systemic, complex, and intricately interdependent problems? When it is easy because of how difficult it is to seduce the problems into promised land solutions that will transform everything — even if they have unintended negative consequences? (In retrospect, wouldn’t it have been better if we had some serious gridlock regarding going to war with Iraq? Rather than the almost unanimous agreement that “remaking the Middle East” and “bringing democracy to the region” was the only solution?)
In the days before the election, there were two seemingly contradictory polls that together might suggest something necessary and wise about what we the people are doing in our seemingly spasmodic moves from one side of the political divide to the other. According to a Gallup poll, only a third of the public thinks that members of either party have a clear plan for solving the country’s problems. And there has been little change in the low confidence in Republicans since the 2008 election despite the Republican “resurgence” in this election — while confidence in Democrats has diminished over the past two years. In other words, the vast majority of people in this country — whomever they voted for — have little confidence that either party is capable of addressing the problems we face. In the face of society defining challenges: a new economic reality, energy, climate change, immigration, education, health, unprecedented income inequality, the Muslim world… the only sane response is uncertainty. Anyone who claims to know for sure how to address these problems — all of which require long term, structural, and life style altering policies — possesses dangerous false confidence. Two-thirds of the voters know this while for some 15% of voters on each of the far ends of the political divide ideology organizes facts, drives policy, and creates the illusion of certainty. But for the rest of us there are no easy answers. Not surprisingly, this matches up with the rise of Independents who now outnumber those affiliated with the traditional parties. We ought to not be surprised that with politicians needing to depend on their ideological base for funding and votes increasingly independent voters wind up having to choose from politicians in whom we increasingly have no confidence. If there is one conclusion political leadership ought to take from this poll, especially those imagining their election as some triumphant moment of affirmation, it is humility at the complex task at hand.
The happy elected from Reid to Rand start their first day with close to 70% of Americans having no confidence in them.
Now, there was another set of polls that did not get attention in the media that also provides insight into the meaning of this election. In a Bloomberg poll, when asked “If Republicans win control of Congress what do you want to happen… the parties to stick to their principles… or work together even if it means compromising some principles?” 16% said stick to principles and 80% said work together. And in a CBS/NYT poll when asked, “what do you think Barack Obama should do — compromise some of his positions in order to get things done or stick to his principles?” 22% said stick to his principles and 69% said compromise. In this same poll 72% said they thought Obama would try to work with Republicans while only 46% thought Republicans would wok with Obama. In other words, it is pretty clear a large majority of Americans have no confidence in political leaders to do what an equally large majority of Americans want — to compromise principles to get things done.
Taken together these polls suggest we have gridlock because we really aren’t sure how to address the serious problems we face and at the same time we wisely believe that solutions will only emerge out of new mixtures, blendings, bendings, and synergies of extremes: by locating and integrating in consciousness expanding and confounding, contradictory, and paradoxical ways the partial truths of Tea Bagger’s fears of government and Progressive’s hopes in government, of Republican and Democrat corporatist establishments, of free marketers and regulators, tax-cutters and tax-raisers, deficit hawks and stimulus supporters, amnesty activists and deportation advocates, social conservatives and social liberals, and all the other partial truths metastasizing in our polarized culture. Yes, we ought to try to be more civil as the Rally for Sanity urged but in all due respect to Jon Stewart — and I am a fan — we have had much worse division in our society from civil war to riots in the street. The unruly discourse with its fear mongering, name calling, and even occasional demonization is because the stakes really are high, our problems really serious and there are more voices than ever before vying to be heard — no wonder there is so much yelling. We ought to be smart enough to know that fierceness is often a mask for some deeper insecurity and uncertainty. Gridlock may well be a wise and necessary brake on simple solutions. To offer an edit on Mr. Stewart’s metaphor of seven lanes of traffic merging into one: what we really need which is far more difficult and ambitious than merging into one lane is to enlarge the tunnel.
Square dancing requires adjustment to changing partners as we move round and round. Maybe gridlock is the necessary space in which we need to learn to dance with different partners trying to understand how they move and how we can move best with them.
In response to this election, instead of gloating, mourning, blaming or warning perhaps we all need to ask ourselves what part of the critique of our most fiercely held positions just may be true and what part of the positions of those with whom we deeply disagree just may have some truth. After all, in serious debates differing sides often reflect, be it on an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual level, living truths or to paraphrase the physicist Neils Bohr the opposite of a profound truth is not a falsehood but another profound truth.
In the Biblical story of the Israelite journey through the desert to the promised land what was in geographical distance only a three month trek took forty years. The challenge to re-imagine a society in the midst of a profound transition — to redefine the relationship between its vision and aspiration and its power arrangements, is always slower and more divisive than we expect. This is true of all the great advances in our society from suffrage to civil rights, from Social Security to Medicade to Medicare… But as we make this tortuous journey to promised lands, as we fiercely argue about the policy directions to take it would be good for every leader elected to remember every day that while they argue about directions millions of people are out of work, losing their homes, and giving up hope that they are part of the American dance.
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Dont Listen To The Media The ProgressiveLiberal Coalition Is Responsible For This Election Not The Tea Party
The false meaning of the 2010 elections is being spoon-fed to us as cogent analysis by the media – even the supposed left friendly MSNBC – as a groundswell of conservative Tea Party extremism. But the real lesson of the 2010 elections is the dissatisfaction of the Democratic left, the abandonment of the Democratic Party by the Progressive/Liberal coalition that elected Barack Obama in 2008. The massive gains in the House by the Republican Party were not at the expense of liberal Democratic members. Aside from Alan Grayson in Florida who are the other liberal Democrats who lost their reelection bids? Did Dennis Kucinich get beaten? How about Barney Frank? Is Anthony Weiner looking for a new job? What about all the others – where are they? So, which Democrats were shown the door, tossed onto the dustbin of Congressmen past? The answer is the blue dogs, the least liberal, least loyal, least Democratic of Democratic Party members. It was Ike Skelton and others like him. Good riddance to them all. We’ll see what the Republicans do with the House, especially a House sprinkled with cantankerous Tea Partiers, people possibly more interested in principle than patronage.
In the Senate, twelve Democrats were up for reelection. Only two of them lost. Nine were winners – Boxer, Inouye, Mikulski, Reid, Schumer, Gillibrand, Wyden, Bennet and Leahy – and Patty Murray is leading in her race in Washington. Where was the conservative, Tea Party groundswell? It was lost by the fanatics and crazies like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle and Joe Miller – losers all. The only Democrats who lost were Russ Feingold and Blanche Lincoln. Both of them fell because liberal Democrats in Wisconsin and Arkansas failed to turn out in the numbers they had previously. Neither was a victim of a conservative uprising.
In Wisconsin, Feingold received 1,018,914 votes this time. In 2004 when he won he got 1,632,562 votes. What happened to those 613,648 Democrats who voted for Feingold six years ago? Its not like that they became conservative and voted Republican this time out. The losing Republican in 2004, Tim Michaels, got 1,301,305 votes in defeat. This time, in victory, the GOP’s Ron Johnson couldn’t match Michaels’ tally. He actually lost 177,290 votes. Johnson beat Feingold this year with only 1,124,015 Republican votes. Russ Feingold was shown the door by his own liberal base, Democratic Party regulars unhappy with the performance of the Democratic Party in the US Senate and with Russ Feingold’s failure to stand for liberal principles. Who, in their right mind, would have predicted that the GOP could get 177,290 fewer votes this year – and kick Russ Feingold out of the Senate?
The same thing happened to the only other Democrat in the Senate who lost a bid for reelection. Blanche Lincoln won her Arkansas contest in 2004 with 580,973 Democratic votes. This year she managed a pathetic total of 279,281. Lincoln actually lost more votes than she received – a net loss of 301,692. These were Democrats who voted for her before but refused to come out and return Blanche Lincoln to the US Senate. Did her GOP opponent roll to victory with a huge increase in Republican votes? Did Arkansas conservatives rally and grow their numbers? Not hardly. In 2004, in defeat, the Republican Jim Holt got 458,036 votes. This time out, in victory, John Boozman could wrangle only 432,322 Republican votes. Blanche Lincoln – like her soon-to-be former colleague Russ Feingold – was turned away by dissatisfied Democrats who did not suddenly become more conservative and vote Republican. They just wouldn’t vote for her again.
If there is any long-term future for the Democratic Party it is to return to their roots established under FDR, nourished in the nimble hands of LBJ and Hubert H. Humphrey and sadly last seen when Georgia’s Jimmy Carter made the Presidency an office honest and truthful Americans could take pride in. The Clinton/now/Obama brand of Democrat – little more than a Republican-In-Waiting – only serves to raise hopes of progressives and liberals during election campaigns and then dash all hope on the rocks of political capitulation.
We have, when all is said and done, only one real political party in the United States – the Corporate Party. When Democrats are in power, they surrender quickly and willingly while Republicans who sense even a sniff of power wield it with an eager heavy hand, laden with deadly weapons, in pursuit of the interests of their corporate keepers.
President Obama will now no doubt fold his flimsy tent, before the ink dries on this year’s final election results, and indulge the new Republican House majority in whatever it demands. Democrats in the Senate will not even think to use the procedural obstructions the Republicans employed with such great success for the last two years. Although the GOP controls only one house of Congress, it dominantly rules the American government.
As it took the most unlikely Richard Nixon to open the way to China, perhaps the only hope remaining for the salvation of representative government in Washington – which is to say the obstructionism of the One Party agenda – lies in the hands of a questionably unstable new Senator from Kentucky. It’s just possible that only Rand Paul, despite his many egregious faults, stands guard as lone sentinel over our democracy. Like David, with only a slingshot against Goliath, Rand Paul has nothing at his command save the ancient yet powerful Rules of the Senate. Could the solitary Senator Paul, like Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith, call a corrupt system to account?
Obviously some things have changed in Washington and around the country in the last 24 hours. But what will this shift in power mean for the green business movement and for the sustainability agenda in general? It may not change as much as you think, and I see a number of reasons to maintain hope.
Here are my three big takeaways from the elections in general, and the defeat of Proposition 23 in California specifically. (Quick reminder: Prop 23 was an oil-funded ballot measure that would’ve suspended the far-reaching environmental law AB32).
1. Federal legislative action on climate and energy is dead. But we knew that already — the defeat of the climate bill this past summer, even when Democrats held huge majorities in both houses, sealed that fate. But to be more nuanced about this point, this election does not mean that all government action is stymied. At the national level, the EPA will move forward with plans to regulate carbon, and it will continue its transparency initiatives, such as the mandate for the largest facilities in the country to measure and release data on greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s not kid ourselves: the new majority in the House, with some Democratic support from coal states, will be attacking the EPA aggressively. So all federal action will be a tough slog right now.
But the regional and local players will continue to advance sustainability agendas that affect businesses and consumers alike. Yesterday, I gave the keynote address at the State EPA Innovation Symposium in Wisconsin. I sat in on some sessions and heard about some really innovative ways states are using stimulus funds (or continuing existing programs) to reduce emissions and save money in schools, businesses, and homes. The innovation will not stop. Cities are promoting green lifestyles and business aggressively. Cleveland recently announced a program to give sustainable businesses a leg up on getting city contracts, for example.
But the best indication that climate action in particular is not on hold comes from California. The state announced yesterday that it’s moving ahead with a cap-and-trade program, and the defeat of Prop 23 ensures that the program will continue. Which brings me to…
2. A broad consensus on building a clean economy future is not dead. The defeat of Prop 23 shows that coalitions for clear economic and environmental winners can be surprising. As green job advocate Van Jones put it a few days ago, defenders of the landmark clean energy legislation AB32 put together “a beautiful coalition,” including clean tech business leaders, faith-based groups, Governor Schwarzenegger, President Obama, and people from “every political, ethnic, faith, and socio-economic spectrum.”
But I believe that one of the main reasons the logic of AB32 won the day was that a range of business interests saw that tackling climate was good for the economy. The greening of industry and society makes perfect business sense.
3. Business can, and will, lead the sustainability movement. It will have to. With federal support on the ropes, business will continue its leadership. For some that statement may sound odd, but I believe that over the last five years, the private sector has shown more sustained, creative drive toward a lower-carbon, resource-efficient economy than the government has. Corporate giants such as Wal-Mart, HP, IBM, and P&G have set tough goals for suppliers that are often much more strict than federal standards. They have also reduced energy use aggressively in stores, data centers, and fleets saving billions of dollars.
Clearly not all companies have kept up the momentum during the recession. But most of the leaders have. And the green business movement continues for one fundamental reason: it’s profitable. As GE’s Jeff Immelt said a few years back, “green is green.”
So on some level, when it comes to green business, the election doesn’t matter at all. Economic logic always wins out and sustainable businesses will be more profitable. Of course, without government support, the pace of change may not be fast enough to fully beat back the challenges of climate change, water scarcity, or biodiversity loss. But business and some unusual coalitions will continue on the sustainable path nonetheless.
For those of us who are working for a more sustainable, healthy, and profitable future for companies, communities, and our country, we should channel Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
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HuffPost Senior Politics Editor Howard Fineman appeared on MSNBC’s “Hardball” Wednesday evening to discuss the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections.
“Last Saturday, I talked to two really senior political consultants here in Washington, one a pollster of 30 years’ standing, the other a media consultant of 30 years’ standing, really solid people I’ve known for decades,” Fineman told host Chris Matthews. “They both, independently of each other, said 70 seats … that was a little high in terms of public statements, but privately I think a lot of people — and they had to be the people inside the White House, including David Axelrod, who talked to those same people I was talking to — had to be braced for the worst.”
A mixed bag for Obama
I realize there are other things to talk about on the day after Election Night 2010. Even if you restrict the subject matter to “President Barack Obama,” I should by all rights be talking about his post-election statement and press conference this morning. But the calendar is the calendar, and I’ve already put this column off once for the election (it really should have run Monday…), so here we go with our monthly look at Obama’s poll numbers. If you should feel a lack of content discussing the election is going to dissuade you from reading this column, I direct you to the entire rest of the media universe, where you can surely get your fill of that sort of thing today. This will be a more-abbreviated version of our Obama Poll Watch column, because there are so many other things to talk about today. We’ll just take a quick look at Obama’s poll numbers this month, and then everyone can get back to figuring out what this election “meant.”
Obama got a mixed bag of candy and rocks this Hallowe’en, at the close of October. Feel free to make your own comparisons to the mixed election results, but we’re talking here about the month leading up to the elections. Obama was out on the campaign trail in a big way, and his numbers were both up and down as a result. Let’s take a look at the chart:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Not much happened on the political front last month other than campaigning. We began October with the joyous news that Rahm Emanuel was packing his bags for Chicago, which raised the spirits of the Wonky Left, but wasn’t noticed by most Americans. Republicans pretty much scrapped their “Pledge To America” out on the campaign trail, and most Americans didn’t notice this political gimmick’s short lifespan.
Obama actually vetoed a bill, but again, most Americans didn’t notice. Their minds were more on the foreclosure crisis, which was actually related to the bill Obama vetoed — but Obama didn’t really have any new answers for what to do about the foreclosure mess, so it didn’t have a whole lot of impact either way. The Nobel Prize for Economics went to an Obama nominee currently being blocked in the Senate (for not being “qualified enough”), but most Americans didn’t even notice this particular irony.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was in the news due to a federal judge’s actions, but the whole thing is going to take a long time to resolve. The news briefly elevated the spirits of gay rights advocates, but the real fight on this is going to wait until after the Pentagon’s report in December. The whole subject has been successfully deferred until after the election (as Obama designed it to be, when he set the due date for the report).
What politically-aware Americans were paying attention to, of course, was the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series. Well, no, but I just had to throw that in here somewhere. Ahem. What the political world was concentrating on, instead, was the final month of the 2010 midterm elections. Obama was very visible this month out on the hustings, and recaptured some of the fire he showed in his own campaign two years ago. Results were mixed, as some candidates he campaigned for wound up winning, and some did not.
For the month, Obama posted an approval rating slightly down from last month. Previously, Obama’s approval had jumped upwards four-tenths of a percent, and this month he “gave back” half of that, to wind up with an average of 45.5 percent approval for October. This follows the cycle Obama seems to repeat of posting a gain, slipping back a bit, and then (if the current trend follows the pattern) of hitting a level spot for a few months. But the remarkable news is that Obama’s disapproval was also down — by a much more significant six-tenths of a percent. For October, Obama averaged 49.1 percent disapproval.
There were a few “outlier” polls this month (polls that are wildly out of agreement with everyone else’s polls) for Obama, which may have impacted his ratings a bit. But there were polls with Obama way up, and polls with Obama way down, so they tended to cancel each other out.
This is why I use, for my baseline data, the “poll of polls” average posted on RealClearPolitcs.com, because it tends to smooth out the jagged edges of outlier polls. This is also why I further smooth things out by averaging their daily numbers into one monthly data point (what I like to call a “poll of polls of polls,” in my so-far-unrequited hopes of sparking a reductio ad absurdum semantic battle with some other pollwatcher online). But enough silliness, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Obama’s approval rating stayed remarkably steady all month long. It rose slightly early in the month, then posted a severe dip (a result of one of those outlier polls) mid-month, down to a new all-time daily low of 44.2 percent (down a whisker from the 44.3 percent he posted two months ago). He bounced back after getting an outlier poll in the other direction, and hit a daily high of 46.4 percent for a few days towards the end of the month. But all-around, his numbers resembled last month’s very closely both in range and in value. Obama’s approval rating ended the month on somewhat of an upswing, at 46.1 percent.
Obama’s disapproval numbers, on the other hand, got better for him for most of the month. Obama started the month at 49.9 percent disapproval, which fell for a few weeks before briefly bouncing back up to 49.9 again. From this point on, Obama’s disapproval fell fairly sharply, down to a low of 48.3 percent late in the month.
There are two notable things about last month’s disapproval ratings for Obama, though. The first is that this is only the third month of his entire presidency that Obama has brought his disapproval rate down. Exactly one year earlier, in October of 2009, Obama posted a tiny drop of 0.1 percent in disapproval, and this May Obama dropped a whopping full percentage point. So while dropping 0.6 percent this month may not sound all that large, it is the second-best month he’s ever had on the disapproval rating line.
The other notable thing about October’s disapproval rating for Obama was how stable his daily numbers stayed all month. For the most part, the trajectory of the line was down, but for the whole month it only fluctuated 1.6 percent from high to low. This is the most stable month Obama’s ever charted — his previous month (for comparison) showed a range of daily disapproval change of 3.6 percent.
For the first time in quite a while, Obama didn’t set all-time record highs (approval) or lows (disapproval) for his monthly averages. He did set an all-time low daily number, as mentioned previously, but he did not set an all-time daily high disapproval number. As I said, a mixed bag, but all in all a pretty good (and stable) one for the president.
If Obama follows his own pattern, the next few months should be relatively stable for him as well. Obama’s cycle seems to be: a drop in approval, a slight “correction” upwards after the worst of it, and then a few months of almost flat lines, when the cycle (so far) starts anew with another drop.
This will likely be how at least November plays out for the president. Not much will be happening politically at the White House. Congress will still be out for most of the month, and even when they get back together it likely won’t be until December that much happens. Most of the attention is going to be on the incoming 112th Congress rather than the lame duck folks, as well. December things could get a lot feistier politically, since two reports are due at the beginning of the month — the Pentagon’s report on how to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the deficit commission’s report on how to fix our long-term deficit problems. Both of these are going to raise the heat politically, but it won’t happen until after Thanksgiving, so November’s likely to be pretty quiet for Obama’s poll numbers.
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
[Sep 10], [Aug 10], [Jul 10], [Jun 10], [May 10], [Apr 10], [Mar 10], [Feb 10], [Jan 10], [Dec 09], [Nov 09], [Oct 09], [Sep 09], [Aug 09], [Jul 09], [Jun 09], [May 09], [Apr 09], [Mar 09]
Obama’s All-Time Statistics
MonthlyHighest Monthly Approval — 2/09 — 63.4%Lowest Monthly Approval — 8/10 — 45.3%
Highest Monthly Disapproval — 9/10 — 49.7%Lowest Monthly Disapproval — 1/09 — 19.6%
DailyHighest Daily Approval — 2/15/09 — 65.5%Lowest Daily Approval — 10/17/10 — 44.2%
Highest Daily Disapproval — 9/26/10 — 51.2%Lowest Daily Disapproval — 1/29/09 — 19.3%
Obama’s Raw Monthly Data
[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]
Month — (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)10/10 — 45.5 / 49.1 / 5.409/10 — 45.7 / 49.7 / 4.608/10 — 45.3 / 49.5 / 5.207/10 — 46.6 / 47.4 / 6.006/10 — 47.6 / 46.7 / 5.705/10 — 48.1 / 45.5 / 6.404/10 — 47.8 / 46.5 / 5.703/10 — 48.1 / 46.4 / 5.502/10 — 47.9 / 46.1 / 6.001/10 — 49.2 / 45.3 / 5.512/09 — 49.4 / 44.9 / 5.711/09 — 51.1 / 43.5 / 5.410/09 — 52.2 / 41.9 / 5.909/09 — 52.7 / 42.0 / 5.308/09 — 52.8 / 40.8 / 6.407/09 — 56.4 / 38.1 / 5.506/09 — 59.8 / 33.6 / 6.605/09 — 61.4 / 31.6 / 7.004/09 — 61.0 / 30.8 / 8.203/09 — 60.9 / 29.9 / 9.202/09 — 63.4 / 24.4 / 12.201/09 — 63.1 / 19.6 / 17.3
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The 2010 election was the year of The Empire Strikes Back. Big Oil, the coal industry, and corporate polluters are desperate to stop the momentum toward clean energy that’s been building for years. You can’t stop the construction of 139 coal-fired power plants, implement the first-ever fuel-economy standards for medium and heavy trucks, or put the “protect” back into the Environmental Protection Agency without provoking a reaction.
In this case, the Dirty Energy Empire broke all campaign spending records and used their financial Death Star to target any politician who took a stand on clean energy and global warming. It may not have been a subtle strategy, but it was effective. What it doesn’t change, though, is that most Americans still disagree with Big Oil and Big Coal about environmental and energy issues.
Given a clear choice between moving toward a clean-energy future that brings new jobs versus staying stuck in the old, dirty-energy past, Americans will vote for the future.
You don’t have to take my word for it — because that’s exactly what happened in California. Voters decisively defeated Proposition 23, which was aimed at rolling back the state’s landmark clean energy and climate law. When clean energy and already-existing green jobs went head-to-head on the ballot against economic scare tactics from Big Oil, voters didn’t fall for it — even though the state has the third-highest unemployment numbers in the nation.
Big Oil was defeated because the Sierra Club, along with a broad coalition of other environmental groups, clean tech companies, small businesses, public health advocates, and organized labor, worked hard to make sure that voters both knew the true intention and real consequences of that initiative. But another reason for Prop. 23′s defeat is that advocates for the new-energy economy — from Silicon Valley venture capitalists to Bill Gates himself — stepped up to counter the more than $10 million in deceptive advertising that was spent by out-of-state oil companies.
In the short term, it’s not good that there will be more climate deniers and dirty-energy apologists in Congress and in Statehouses. It’s deeply disappointing that so many of the Sierra Club’s allies and supporters suffered defeats. But it’s not a short-term future we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for America’s future — and that means continuing to build a clean-energy economy at the local, state, and, yes, federal level.
When we win, it will mean millions of new jobs, freedom from dependence on foreign oil, and a cleaner, healthier environment for all Americans. And on that day, the headline will read “The Empire Struck Out.”
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As the seismic reverberations in the aftermath of last night’s historic election continue to ripple through 1600 Pennsylvania, the man occupying the Oval Office has been presented both with a daunting challenge and a great opportunity to lead. The challenge, of course, is that President Obama was elected as a post-partisan centrist who was going to change the manner in which government operated in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the president delegated much of the heavy lifting of the stimulus package, cap and trade legislation and of course, Obamacare, to the Democratic leadership in the Congress.
Perhaps more than any other decision he made in his first two years, Obama’s choice to allow Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid to shape his main legislative priorities proved tragic; legislators left to their own devices are prone to load up large bills with their favorite pork and spending projects. In doing so, partisan squabbling and the dramatic expansion of government left many constituents across the country to conclude that politicians in Washington, D.C. remained wedded to business as usual and unresponsive to their concerns.
As most Americans worried about their jobs and the state of the economy, Congress plowed away on controversial legislation that did little to improve their daily lives. As a result, Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives and several members of the United States Senate due to an over-reach and misreading of the electorate. Economic stimulus devolved into economic pork. A year long push on health care further left many across the country convinced the Democratic majority was tone-deaf an oddly out of touch.
And yet, President Obama is presented with a unique opportunity to refocus his administration and position himself for a strong shot at reelection if he properly interprets the message the American people sent him last night. For one, with the departure of Nancy Pelosi from the Speaker’s chair and a marginalized Senate Majority Leader, Obama can unshackle himself from Democratic leaders and negotiate directly with the House majority and bipartisan coalitions to achieve legislative successes in areas such as trade, energy and most importantly, the economy.
After pause for reflection, will Obama pivot like President Clinton did in 1995 when faced with loss of the House of Representatives and reach across the aisle to meet Republicans halfway and compromise? Or, will the president double down on his progressive agenda in the belief that if only he could communicate more clearly with people they would understand the brilliance of his ideas? Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President. We’re waiting to see what you’ll do next.
Ron Christie is Founder and CEO of Christie Strategies LLC, a full-service communications and issues management firm in Washington, D.C. A former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Christie is the author of the just published book, Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books).
Betrayal! Humiliation! Rage! Yes, Miley Cyrus could be feeling all these disturbing and conflicting emotions if the reports that her mother, Tish, had an affair with Bret Michaels, are true! Here’s why!
No matter how big a celebrity Miley is — the bottom line is that she is still a 17-year-old teenager AND there is almost nothing worse for any child than to have their family security destroyed. The rug has just been yanked out from under her feet in the most mortifying way: The world now knows Miley’s shameful secret — her mother is an alleged cheater.
“Teenagers are mortified enough by their parents’ behavior even when their parents are perfectly fine,” points out Beverly Hills psychologist Julie Armstrong. “Her mother has brought public shame on her.”
Her mother may also be responsible for Miley’s over-sexualized transformation in both her professional and personal life in the past year.
In her recent performances in three new videos, “Can’t Be Tamed,” “Who Owns My Heart,” and the new “The Big Bang,” Miley has groped men and women, writhed around on a bed, simulated girl-on-girl kissing, and dressed in corsets, tush-high skirts and over-the-knee boots.
In her personal life she has gone braless, showing off her nipples and side cleavage, has worn see-through tops over bras, and has been out until 4 a.m. partying in bars, even though she’s underage.
For all those wondering, “Where are Hannah Montana’s parents?” we now have an answer: Either busy with an alleged affair with rocker-bad boy Bret Michaels, or being suspicious about Tish’s alleged affair.
Click to read why no matter if Tish had an affair or not she is still hurting her kids!
Click to see pics of Miley dressing sexy!
Click to read how Miley’s parents divorce is turning her into a bad girl!
Click for why daddy Billy Cyrus needs to be a father not a friend.
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It is often the least of these who have the most at stake in elections. Nov. 2, 2010, was a night of reckoning for advocates of working people, immigrants, and civil rights for gay people, who faced many hard-fought losses. As the altered landscape became clearer for Democrats, a few narrow victories loomed all the larger in strategic importance.
In one of the election’s few bright spots, Washington senator Patty Murray clung to a small but consistent lead in her fight for a fourth term. Murray, a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, faced a frenzy of accusations in the final days of her race for door-knocking efforts on her behalf by undocumented volunteers. The incendiary charge, leveled on conservative talk radio and ricocheting on the Web, showed understanding on the right that partisan control of the U.S. Senate could hinge on her contest.
But solidarity may be the senator’s saving grace, and by extension, Democrats’. She has consistently backed a federal bill to bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people so widely backed by the public but long delayed in Congress that most Americans believe it’s already law. Loyalty to Murray from LGBT voters, particularly in the counties along Puget Sound, seems likely to make the difference in extending her Senate service.
Some conservative triumphs held particular sting for progressives. Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War veteran and sponsor of House legislation to overturn the military ban on openly gay servicemembers, narrowly lost. Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, an ally of immigration reform and a trail-blazing supporter of marriage equality in the U.S. Senate, went down to defeat.
Among the night’s ugliest outcomes was the ouster of three supreme court justices in Iowa who last year joined in a unanimous ruling recognizing equal access to civil marriage for committed same-sex couples under the state constitution.
The Iowa result followed a well-funded campaign by out-of-state groups targeting the trio. It bore out the dire prophecies of Republican and former U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She has repeatedly warned that last January’s 5-to-4 ruling by her former colleagues in the Citizens United case could corrupt state campaigns for judicial retention and undermine Americans’ faith in the fairness of the courts.
Just Playing the Game, or Playing on Prejudice?
For this dynamic, and the strategies that fuel it, John Boehner owes Americans an explanation. The incoming House speaker presumptive has joined top GOP spokespeople in characterizing the election outcomes as a response to economic frustrations and a rebuke to Obama administration “monstrosities” like health care reform.
But in state after state, Republican get-out-the-vote messages emphasized much different monsters. They appealed to fears and resentment of immigrants and gay people. In Iowa, urgings to overturn the 2009 court ruling on marriage by installing a GOP governor and majorities in both chambers of the legislature appeared within a wisp of realization. Control of the state Senate came down to one contest for a pivotal seat, with the Democrat leading by less than 40 votes.
Few outcomes indicate more starkly how the rights of minorities remain subject to the will of majorities at the polls than a pair of local referenda in John Boehner’s back yard, in Bowling Green, Ohio. In a city with a sizable university campus and student electorate, nearly 8,200 votes ended up split, with two nondiscrimination ordinances aimed at protecting LGBT people against bias hanging in the balance. One appeared to pass by a mere 24 votes; another lost, by 116 votes. Uncounted student ballots might still reverse the second margin, in favor of fairness.
The Whim of the Majority
In El Paso, Texas, an ordinance extending domestic partnership recognition to unmarried partners, including same-sex couples, went down to defeat at the hands of voters.
Oklahoma voters engaged in a binge of legislating against minority groups via ballot measures. The outcomes bore out a strategy of Republicans in the state legislature to use the referenda as tools for boosting turnout. They overrode the veto of outgoing Democratic governor Brad Henry, who had sought to block popular votes on the divisive questions.
Massive majorities approved laws demanding state business be performed in English, requiring voters to show ID when casting ballots, seeking to nullify the recently passed federal health reform act, and, in a dubious appeal to anti-Islamic sentiment, banning recognition of sharia law in the state.
The last portends no real-world legal impact, given that federal law takes precedence on such issues. But it casts an ominous shadow. Some conservatives see electoral rewards in stigmatizing America’s several million Muslims, as well as local Arab immigrant communities, the majority of whom are often Christians.
Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and other shrill voices from this summer’s Fox-News-fueled debate over the Manhattan mosque seek a national stage for their electoral ambitions. Expect to see the no-sharia-law measure repeated on other states’ ballots as a tool for tapping into religious intolerance and scaring up votes for Republicans in 2012.
Intolerance as Glue
Appeals to anti-Muslim intolerance may replace homophobia as the glue that holds the right-wing electoral coalition together. But don’t look for Republicans to let go of anti-LGBT ballot measures any time soon.
Lashing out at same-sex marriage, despite majority support for equality by Americans overall, could have new traction for Republicans in at least four states. In Indiana, GOP takeover of the state House may open the door for an anti-LGBT amendment to appear on the 2012 ballot, when Obama, who carried the state in ’08, runs for reelection.
The same holds true in North Carolina and Minnesota, where Democratic governors may find their hands tied in thwarting such drives. Even in New Hampshire, where Democratic governor John Lynch signed the state’s marriage law and won reelection, a new, overwhelming Republican majority in both chambers of the legislature may disregard voters’ demands for job creation and instead prioritize the marriage law’s undoing.
Clues for Fighting Wedges and Flood of Conservative Cash
Still, Election Day was not a washout for progressives. The conservative tide appeared to hit a seawall at the Rocky Mountains. Democrats Michael Bennet in Colorado and Harry Reid in Nevada won tight Senate contests. In California, Barbara Boxer rode her defense of working families and a deft attack on employers who outsource jobs to a rousing victory, by more than 700,000 votes, over former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
Even as threats loom to the freedom to marry in New Hampshire and Iowa, California is among the states were election outcomes suggest possible opportunities for extending recognition to same-sex couples. In the lone statewide race widely expected to go to the Republican, attorney general candidate Steve Cooley actually trails Democrat Kamala Harris. The San Francisco district attorney promised not to appeal the August federal trial court ruling striking down Prop 8. This pledge seemed to boost her standing.
A similar dynamic of swing voters shifting away from a GOP candidate for flirting with antigay policies was in evidence in a closely watched Assembly race in suburban Sacramento. There Andy Pugno, the attorney who led legal defense of Prop 8 and an earlier anti-marriage drive in 2000, actually lost his quest for an open seat in a Republican-leaning district by more than 3,000 votes. Making the stigma of intolerance stick to a practitioner of wedge politics can be a winning strategy, even in uphill territory, for a well-organized progressive coalition.
Gubernatorial and legislative victories in New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Rhode Island suggest openings for marriage equality in those states. Similar potential exists in Illinois and Oregon, depending on razor-thin outcomes in contests for governor, both of which could tip for Democrats.
In California, spending sprees like the windfall from corporations that fueled Republicans’ takeover of Congress actually seemed to have a boomerang effect. Republican Meg Whitman outspent Democrat Jerry Brown more than 5-to-1 but lost handily in the race for governor. Golden State voters also punished two Texas oil companies in their drive to block the state’s anti-global-warming law. Voters rejected Prop 23 by a 3-to-2 margin.
The New Populism
These outcomes hold a lesson. For Californians, they reinforce a pattern from the June primary. Then, on Prop 16, a multi-million-dollar campaign from one utility didn’t quite sell voters on pre-empting future competition from public-sponsored power providers. In that same election, state Assembly candidate Betsy Butler overcame an infusion of corporate attacks to walk away with a clear win in a crowded Democratic primary.
With such verdicts, left-coast voters are showing remarkable discernment by reasserting a sense of the public interest in fair debate and an even playing field. Triggering such discernment depends on clear, direct communication from credible ambassadors, such as neighbors or fellow union members, that convey the stakes for voters and their families in their language. Labor activists learned this lesson a decade ago. The Obama campaign of 2008 reflected it wholesale. Now it shapes winning Democratic and progressive issue campaigns.
By rejecting glossy attacks or appeals to corporate power and rewarding moderate to progressive candidates and measures deemed as victims of piling on or a tilted playing field, California voters are on the leading edge of an emerging dynamic in American politics. Call it the new populism.
Unlike its older versions, the new populism rests not on candidates’ arguments about common sense and the common good. Instead it depends on voters’ own sense of fairness, responsibility, and the desired balance of power in their lives and communities. But invoking the skullduggery of Wall Street or the treachery of outsourcing doesn’t trigger such populist values in a vacuum. Gaining votes from progressive, moderate, and crossover conservative voters requires fluent, repetitive messaging delivered by credible messengers, ideally in coalition.
More Hopeful Signals
In a move to break fiscal gridlock, Golden State voters lowered the threshold for approving a state budget from two-thirds to a simple majority in the legislature. This wasn’t the only progressive ballot measure outcome out west. Washington state voters defeated privatization of worker’s compensation and, in a separate measure, of state liquor sales. Colorado voters rejected a sweeping ban on abortion as well as three measures aimed at slashing taxes and public services.
Voters in Montana may have started a trend by putting caps on interest rates for short-term lenders often accused of preying on working people. And even in a conservative environment saturated with anti-immigrant appeals, progressives in Arizona secured a majority “no” vote on cuts to an early childcare program.
Back east, Massachusetts voters also rejected a tax rollback drive. Florida voters, in a rare check on Republicans’ success in taking control of many states’ redistricting processes, surpassed the 60-percent threshold to set strict nonpartisan rules on new legislative line-drawing next year.
Overall, for progressives, it was an election of harsh outcomes and hard confrontation with the lost opportunities of the current Congress. These include comprehensive immigration reform and a legislative response to the Citizens United ruling that might have stemmed the flood of corporate money into elections, to the long-term benefit of Republicans. After Nov. 2, a rare open window for progressive reform in Washington is slamming shut.
Still, the election contained some signals of hope. It even held some clues for how the Davids of American society, from labor to religious and immigrant minorities to the LGBT community, might continue to coalesce and fight deep-pocketed Goliaths in future elections.
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I remember very clearly the first time I really heard the music of the Beatles.
I was eight years old in 1995. The television, in between alternating bouts of Power Rangers for me and Sesame Street for my little sister, had implanted in my young mind the serendipitous idea of “The Beatles.” The Anthology series was about to be first broadcast and was being promoted heavily, and I was, if somewhat baffled, equally intrigued. Here was a group of four, rather straggly appearing English men with funny accents and long hair promising to expose my curious young mind to the idea of “rock n’ roll.” I was eight — I was due.
Conveniently, my father had a friend from work who was a Beatle-phile, and this friend generously spent an entire evening preparing several Beatles mix-tapes for my uninitiated ears. (This evening, I remember my father pointing out, happened to coincide with an important Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game, which my father’s friend was forced to miss as a result of my strong appetite to acquire these new sounds. In the depths of Northern Ontario, missing a momentous event such as an important Leafs game is akin to the Pope skipping mass.)
I can vividly recall first listening to the tapes — a clever mix of singles, album cuts, live tracks and b-sides spanning their entire career — repeatedly until the cassettes virtually dissolved; truly a sublime experience (the mediocre state of mid-90′s audio equipment notwithstanding). But that wasn’t the first time I really heard the Beatles.
I remember very clearly my father informing me, one unfortunate afternoon shortly after acquiring these cassettes, that I could never see the Beatles play together, as John Lennon had been dead for some time. At the time I didn’t understand the exact nature of John’s demise — in truth, I still don’t — but I did understand the implication: “The Beatles” didn’t exist anymore, and thus, no more music. I gradually came to terms with this discovery, and zealously gobbled up the entirety of their recorded output. However, for the moment, I was despondent. Big Bird and even happy Elmo were no consolation. I recall the feeling that I had been truly robbed of something. This wasn’t a loss for the world as I saw it; this was a personal affront (in what should have been one of the clearest indications of their young son’s impending megalomania, my parents remained blissfully unaware.)
That someone I never met, had no chance of ever meeting, and who existed to me on record alone should have such a profound impact is to me today, startling. However, when I fully consider the scope of the impact of this band upon my young development as a human being, the matter quickly becomes less surprising. For it was through John Lennon and the Beatles that I was exposed, through music, to the ideas of love, passion, travel, freedom and sheer, unadulterated joy. Anyone exposed to the entirety of their discography should agree — it’s all there. Happiness, pain, loss, hope, love, anger, confusion, clarity, depression, exultation — it’s all in there. The Beatles gave eight-year old Zachary a peak at the glory that is the human experience, and the type of life that I knew I wanted to lead. Heavy for an eight-year old, but at the level of the subconscious, I am certain I was aware of the immense impact this band would have upon my life. It wasn’t about the Beatles — it was the idea of “The Beatles” that had me transfixed, and indeed, this remains so today. And so, after first learning of John’s demise, I listened: alone in my room, indignant at the loss, but quite certain that the Beatles would follow me around for the rest of my life. This has, thankfully, remained true. Whatever I am experiencing, wherever I go, I am privy to the best soundtrack on the planet, and my life has been all the fuller for it.
I yearn for the day when I can expose my own children to the most exciting, and more critically, inspiring popular music ever recorded. Equally so, I fear the day they reject it for the Jonas Brothers. However, if they’re anything like their father, on some level their young minds will recognize the incredible possibility the Beatles represent.
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It’s continues to be a mystery to me why Americans voted they way they voted yesterday. Clearly they were dissatisfied somehow with the objective reality that the Obama administration and the congressional Democrats actually made things better — cutting the deficit by an historic $122 billion; creating upwards of three million new jobs; ending the war in Iraq; passing the largest middle class tax cut in history; rescuing the economy from the brink of collapse. Not good enough. Obviously.
Or did voters simply not know about these accomplishments? That’s entirely possible given the Democratic Party’s uncanny penchant for running away from its successes, while also fumbling very basic add-water-and-serve marketing chores. (And, by the way, adding to the party’s failures to ballyhoo its accomplishments, the progressive movement was systematically out-hustled, out-gunned and out-maneuvered for much of the last two years.)
Of course there’s also the Flailing Rage Factor, which I tend to favor as a reason for yesterday’s outcome more than ignorance or lack of Democratic marketing chops. For two years now, Americans have been incited by fakery and horror stories to the point of being pumped up into a ‘roid raging mob chanting shallow platitudes and bumper sticker zingers — incoherently attacking Speaker Pelosi’s face, and bent out of shape by the fact that there’s not a doddering old white guy stumbling through the west wing spinning grandfatherly yarns about American mornings and saintly cowboys.
Ultimately, what Americans voted for yesterday was divided government, which admittedly isn’t new in American politics. We typically like the idea of two sides, Congress and the White House, locking horns and ultimately compromising on the important matters of the day.
Unfortunately, this is a “pre-01/20/09″ mindset. It’s a mass delusion based on antiquated political attitudes.
The era when Republicans would, at least reluctantly, compromise with a Democratic president is long gone.
What voters unknowingly asked for yesterday was gridlock: immovable, unprecedented, insufferable gridlock of the worst kind, and at the worst time imaginable.
The Republicans have no intention of handing the president any successes. They’ll never in a million years compromise with this White House, or the Senate Democrats for that matter, because any move in that direction will bring down the loud, screechy tweet wrath of Sarah Palin and the tea party who will neither accept nor support anyone who appears to be leaning in the direction of the Obama agenda.
How do I know this? There’s two years of precedent, naturally — and the Republicans weren’t even the majority party in the House during that time. They voted against anything and everything that came down the line, regardless of how politically awful it looked (health care for 9/11 workers, bonuses for the troops, etc.). Now imagine what they’re going to accomplishment in the name of “Hell No You Can’t!” now that they enjoy a decent majority in the House and a narrow minority in the Senate.
Now that they’re in control of appropriations and all House legislation, they’ll only take up business the president would never in a million years sign into law, because as soon as he signs a bill, any bill, it becomes a win for the White House. A victory, however minor, that the president would be able to campaign on in 2012. Consequently, the Republican Party and its tea party base will only deliver far-right crap on a stick, with deceptive names and semi-hidden, unacceptable amendments that will make the legislation instant veto fodder.
So it’s difficult to imagine a scenario whereby anything gets done from January 2011 through, at least, January 2013.
Yesterday’s election launched America headlong across the zero barrier of the Darrell Issa Decade. Welcome, everyone, to the suck that never ends. Let the cartoons begin!
Brace yourself for a wide variety of investigations designed to slowly fester into an all out impeachment necrosis. The Republicans will absolutely investigate ACORN, those two Black Panther guys in Philadelphia, birth certificates, Joe Sestak’s (unpaid) job offer, the oil spill response, the tax records of anyone even remotely associated with the White House and, for good measure, I’ll go out on a McCarthy limb and predict another congressional witch hunt for commies, with maybe even a bonus witch hunt for Muslim evildoers, in the Obama government.
The cable news media will enjoy this thoroughly. And by “enjoy” I mean “inject it into its bloodstream like black tar heroin laced with permanent orgasms.” And we can all rest assured knowing that, with a few obvious exceptions (Maddow, Olbermann), the coverage will be framed with advantage Issa.
Oh, and did I mention the inevitable government shutdown? Just wait until the House attempts to de-fund health care reform in the next budget and, predictably, the president refuses to sign it. The government will shut down and all of those anti-government-health-care, anti-socialism retirees stop receiving their Social Security checks and Medicare reimbursement checks. And why? Who knows. They’ll tell you something about “freedom” and “slavery” and trail off when they begin to slowly realize that they can pay the bills that month because they elected a Congress that would rather torment the president than actually accomplish the business of governing.
See, unlike the Democratic Party — and the pre-Bush-era Republican Party for that matter — the modern Republican Party, driven by the contradictory memes of the tea party movement, doesn’t require or seek legislative success to thrive as long as there’s fear, inchoate rage and a mega-funded media apparatus (Fox News and talk radio) to spread the nonsense far and wide. So why bother digging into the ugly business of compromise with the other side? There’s no need. The total lack of legislative accomplishment can simply be masked over with loud noises and sloganeering aimed at blaming, you know, the black guy.
Again, how do I know? The strategy paid off bigtime yesterday.
One final thought: I wonder if this will help to ameliorate a slow growth economy. Don’t bet on it.
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What major media outlet didn’t apologize this month? Not many. It’s a little troubling when the big news of the week in the media is the media… offering up yet another mea culpa over something someone said. Count four times in the last couple of weeks — all linked to a writer, blogger, or television host using a word or words that upset a group of people.
I am not new to the Fourth Estate or the First Amendment. I have been reading, watching, and listening to the media since I was in knee socks and Mickey Mouse shirts. Not a day goes by when I am not personally offended by something said in the media about my beliefs, morals, or societal position. But — there’s that free speech thing again — I don’t regularly go demanding someone’s head on a platter for it.
It’s partly because I am the media. I’ve been saying my share of stupid or offensive things myself for years. People disagree with me all the time. It’s just what we’re all paid to do!
Secretly, people love it when members of the media make dumb and potentially inflammatory expressions. Imagine how boring life would be if everything you read was in perfect agreement with your views. Bill O’Reilly doesn’t have great ratings because everyone agrees with him — he has great ratings because he irritates the hell out of a good portion of his viewers.
People feel what they feel, whether they air it publicly or not. What’s mean, discriminatory, or inappropriate to one person isn’t to another. Double standards exist. We can compare anorexic models to Holocaust survivors and everyone laughs, but we say something derogatory about fat people and the Internets come to a halt. We can attack the Catholics (up, down, sideways, in every way possible) but you can’t say a thing about Muslims or you’re instantly a racist.
The way you say it matters, as does the person saying it. If a liberal like Jon Stewart made a comment about “being afraid of Muslims on planes,” or if Drew Carey (in his former fat self) made a comment about being “grossed out” by overweight people kissing, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now. I’m starting to believe that every member of the media be required to take a comedy course before getting a job. Seriousness and personal honesty are quickly becoming the journalistic kiss of death.
All that heavy stuff aside, the point is that public bullying of the media is quickly becoming a national pastime, especially among the politically correct, super-sensitive, partisan sect.
For goodness sakes, when did we all become such a bunch of Marys? (Oops, I apologize for that comment.)
For those who’ve been too busy paying attention to the elections or economic crisis or something, here’s a recap the biggest grovelers of the past month and how they could have saved some face:
National Public Radio: First, CEO Vivian Schiller fired conservative commentator Juan Williams over the phone following comments he made saying he gets nervous when he sees passengers in Muslim clothing on a plane. When questioned about it, Schiller made the comment that Williams’ beliefs should stay between him and “his psychiatrist or his publicist.”
The lame apology: “I stand by my decision to end NPR’s relationship with Juan, but I deeply regret the way I handled it and explained it.”
What she should have said: “I admit once and for all that NPR is a government funded, liberal tool and that Williams’ frequent appearances on Fox News were in direct conflict with my own — and my publicly funded radio station’s — political agenda. So this was a great excuse!”
The View: Co-host Joy Behar referred to defeated Republican Senate candidate from Nevada Sharron Angle as a “bitch” for what she viewed as a racist ad campaign.
The lame apology: “I really shouldn’t have called her a bitch,” said Behar. “Because, to me, that’s a term of endearment. I mean, I reserve that word for people that I know and love. So, that was a mistake and I take it back.”
What she should have said: “I’m incapable of acting like a courteous human being to people with opposite political views. But my producers are worried about ratings and forced me to apologize, so this half-assed, insincere joke is the best I could come up with. And Angle is still a ‘bitch.’”
Marie Claire Magazine: The magazine’s online relationship blogger wrote a piece called “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room (Even on TV)?” in which she said: “I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls of fat kissing each other… just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.”
The lame apology: After a major uproar, Kelly issued a post-script below her post: “I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed… and I sorely regret that it upset people so much. A lot of what I said was unnecessary; it wasn’t productive, either.” But not as lame as a statement that the magazine itself gave to one newspaper: “Maura Kelly is a provocative blogger. She has been extraordinarily moved by the thousands of responses she has received following her post.”
What they should have said: Kelly should have saved the apology, which came off even more gratuitous than the post itself… especially when she starts offering diet tips to all the people she offended [cringe]. Don’t say it if you can’t take the backlash — or, get yourself an editor, who on behalf of the magazine should have said: “We apologize greatly for hiring such an insensitive writer and we will either fire her, edit her heavily, and/or buy her a thesaurus and a dictionary so she can learn to spell the word heroin… or at least tell her how to use spell check.”
Shape Magazine: In the most ridiculous, unjustified apology of them all, the health magazine’s editor-in-chief Valerie Latona sent a letter to 40 readers (by mass email no less) who complained about putting a self-proclaimed adulteress, country singer LeAnn Rimes, on the cover. And Angelina Jolie doesn’t appear on HOW many magazines for the same reason?
The lame apology: “Shape has made a terrible mistake. Please know that our putting her on the cover was not meant to put a husband-stealer on a pedestal — but to show (through her story) how we all are human… But it did not come across that way… And for that I’m terribly sorry.”
What she should have said: “Um, did you say 40 readers who might cancel their subscriptions? Pu-leeze.”
So, members of the media, unless you maliciously slander, libel, defame, discriminate, break some golden FCC rule, or do something equally unethical or illegal, please stop apologizing. It’s not necessary and it makes you look weak. If we don’t like one of your writer’s or commentator’s voice or views, or a picture that you show, we’ll let you know. We’ll stop reading, watching, and buying. Their ratings will go down the tubes. Then you’ll have to get rid of them anyway and have a justified performance-based reason for doing so. We’ll respect you for it. And you can thank us later for all of those millions of page views.
Written by Cynthia Dermody for CafeMom’s blog, The Stir.
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For the past month or two, social media gurus have been feverishly debating a range of topics — from whether they deserve Nobel Peace Prizes, to whether or not Twitter was the engine for the Tea Party revolution.
If you missed it, the big controversy started when bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell published an article concluding that social media has little value for social change efforts. And (by design, mind you) his thesis sparked all kinds of impassioned denials and criticism.
Almost entirely missing from the debate is a realistic picture of how long term social change actually works. It’s a bit like evaluating new cancer medicines based only on how they effect symptoms like fatigue and muscle pain, rather than whether they actually shrink tumors.
Let’s cut through all the exaggerations and misrepresentations to see what social media is actually doing for activism, and how to take advantage to it.
Claim #1. Social Media Speeds Things Up
The reality: It’s true that it’s easier than ever to spread petitions or start online advocacy groups. And it’s true that we’re seeing numbers like we’ve never seen before. Just a few years back, UNICEF gathered a record 90 million signatures for a global online petition urging world leaders to support child rights. Avaaz.org collected more than a million signatures for a petition urging China to show restraint in its actions towards Tibet — all in less than one week.
But it’s not necessarily true that such large numbers always translate directly into impact. Consider for example, the 1964 petition for the release of Nelson Mandela from South African prison, circulated purely by hand and airmail. The petition received 197,387 signatures — small by today’s standards — but was still enormously influential.
So yes, we can do this more quickly now. But as the standard for “what’s big” keeps getting larger, we’re also forced to jump through higher and higher hoops to get attention. Smart strategists therefore think not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively — complimenting the drive for sheer numbers with storytelling techniques, events, and news stunts that can gather visibility. In fact, some might argue that the Tea Party punched above its weight in this election by doing just that — creating dramatic protests that made their following seem even larger than it may have actually been.
Claim #2. Social Media Make it Easier to Convince Others About Our Ideas
The Reality: This is one of the most widespread misperceptions about online marketing and activism. But it’s not (as Gladwell asserts) because most of our Facebook friends are just acquaintances who don’t care about our opinions. To the contrary, numerous studies have shown that our political and moral beliefs are heavily influenced by weak ties. When we see neighbors or acquaintances endorsing a political candidate, or supporting a particular cause, it becomes increasingly acceptable to do so ourselves — a concept known to social scientists as “social proof.”
Unfortunately, though, it’s doubtful that Facebook and Twitter make us more likely to engage substantively with people who don’t already think just like us. Legal scholar Cass Sunstein once went so far as to argue that the Internet was only balkanizing society — creating ever more isolated communities who only link to others with similar ideologies. His argument has been strongly contested. But here’s a litmus test. If you’re a Democrat, how often did your friends post links sympathetically portraying the views of people like Sharron Angle? And if you’re a Republican, how often did friends send you admiring articles about health care reform?
A few innovative organizations circumvent this challenge by correctly identifying what can more easily travel across online political and cultural divides — not ideas, but people. Friendfactor, a start-up social network for gay rights, seeks to broaden support from straight communities by centering its messaging strategy on people instead of politics (disclosure: I’m an adviser). The distinction is key. Gay people on the site are not explicitly asking their straight friends to change their mind about the politics of gay rights, or to declare their own position on the issue. Instead, they’re asking for personal support, a request that’s much harder to ignore.
People to people connections online: effective and incredibly promising. People pushing political/ideological ideas: much more difficult.
Claim #3. Social Media Enables us to “Crowdsource” Caused-Based Fundraising
The Reality: This is one that’s actually true. But again, the hype exceeds reality. One needs only to look at the relatively modest amount of money raised on sites like Causes.com and Facebook groups to glean what most non-profit fundraisers already know. When it comes to internet-based fundraising, we’ve got a long way to go.
In this respect, Gladwell is partially correct. It’s easy to buy widgets online, but we’re only likely to take a significant action (like donating money) when the interaction is more than skin deep — which is not yet social media’s strong suit. For example, Groupon.com has been wildly profitable by enabling group purchases for discounted products and services from local vendors. But Groupon’s founder Andrew Mason also tried his hand with a similar business to facilitate crowd-sourcing for cause-based fundraising and campaigns. The site, called the Point.com, has experienced nowhere near as much traffic or traction.
Once more, though, the lesson is not about strong or weak ties; it’s about putting people rather than just ideas at the heart of the appeal. Users are eager to make microloans to poor-country entrepreneurs on Kiva.org because they can see the photo and story of the individual who will benefit. By contrast, donating to charity online often still feels like an abstract intellectual exercise.
The lesson for online fundraisers: personalize, personalize, personalize. Seemingly obvious, but greatly under implemented.
Claim #4. Social Media Democratizes the Market for Information
The Reality: Yes and no. There’s no doubt that armies of bloggers and tweeters have forced governments and companies to be more transparent than ever before. And establishing oneself as an expert is far easier today than it was even ten years ago. But ease of self-publishing doesn’t mean that we now have a level playing field for the creation and dissemination of information.
As Matthew Hindman writes in The Myth of Digital Democracy, online traffic patterns are still remarkably concentrated. Despite the ubiquity of bloggers and tweeters, we still get our news predominantly from just a few major media corporations. And it turns out, the majority of blog traffic actually goes to only about 50 blogs. “It may be easy to speak in cyberspace ” Hindman writes, “but it is difficult to be heard.” At the very least, it’s a lot less easy than most of us would imagine.
Social media is not a panacea, but neither is it an opiate for the masses. It’s simply a tool that has lowered the transaction costs of activism in a small but significant way.
The takeaway here is to focus our use of social media on what it does best — which is connecting individuals in ways that the physical reality of daily life would not allow. Maybe it’s a gay teen whose school administrators won’t let anti-bullying activists on campus, but who can open up YouTube and see inspiring testimonies from older gay people as part of the “It Gets Better” campaign. Maybe its two friends who see each other only once a month, but take note of what the other posts on Facebook about how she’ll vote in the election.
Yes, of course these connections are not replacements for face-to-face meetings, clever messaging, bold leadership, or smart strategy. (But come on, Malcolm, who ever really thought otherwise?) And yes, collecting a million Twitter followers is not the same thing as actually altering power structures on a significant issue.
Massive social transformations always start with small ripples that, over time, can change the main direction of the tide itself. When Gutenberg invented the printing press, it didn’t automatically and inevitably lead to the Protestant Revolution. But Martin Luther’s message was unlikely to have reached such a widespread audience if the European population hadn’t been made literate by the spread of printed books.
Forget the exaggerated claims of the naysayers and the evangelists — the so-called “social media revolution” is indeed in bloom. And it is, in fact, being Tweeted, Facebooked, YouTubed, and Digged. Just don’t expect it to look like a traditional revolution — because long-term social transformations never do.
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Imagining Ourselves: Global Voices from a New Generation of Women
TONIGHT — 4 DECADES OF THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON ($119.99; Respond 2 Entertainment) — Okay, first the content. Johnny Carson is a legend but I still didn’t expect as a kid that I would want to watch reruns of talk shows decades later. But put on Dick Cavett and you sink into fascinating, informed conversation. Put on Carson and you get a master of the quick quip, gentle but smart interviewing and a remarkable ease whatever the situation. This set contains half hour chunks from a total of 56 episodes ranging from a New Year’s Eve show on December 31, 1965 featuring Woody Allen, skits from the Muppets and a live report from Times Square at midnight for the ball drop through a 1990 show that includes ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and BB King. Each segment begins with portions of Carson’s monologue and then segues into the segments, which range from skits to banter with the band to guests and performances. No, it’s not complete episodes but it does get closer to the feel of one. They do a good job of not repeating all the classic bits included on earlier highlight reel boxed sets. And of course rights issues and simple space had them choose to edit episodes rather than put the entire 48 minutes (or 60 minutes once it expanded) on, warts and all. So yes, it’s fun to watch and sink into these moments. Now onto the bad news. The image quality is ok, though the better your TV the more distracting the shaky video might be at brief moments. But really, it’s adequate. The sound is quite muffled and low, which could be a problem for older fans; crank that volume up high but don’t forget to lower it before switching back to regular TV. Finally, the packaging and extras are subpar throughout. The set looks nice, of course, but it’s quite bulky. I much prefer sets that will fit onto a shelf alongside other DVDs. More and more sets — even if they’re bulky — keep this in mind and include pull out volumes that can go on a shelf. Not this one, which has a fold-out, wallet sort of packaging that sits inside the box but can’t be pulled out and used individually since there’s no identifying info on the sides of them. The booklet that comes with the set is both bland and useless. With 56 segments containing multiple guests, you’d think they’d tell you which episode is on which disc at least somewhere. But no such luck. You have to count down to the episode you want and figure out which disc it’s on that way. (They come four to a disc.) That’s just lazy, since there’s plenty of room in the booklet for breaking up each four episodes with a headline that says Disc One and so on. You should also do it on the individual volumes, but no such luck. The final complaint is really unforgivable: no chapter breaks. That’s right. You can access each half hour segment, but if you want to skip to, say Frank Sinatra performing or Steve Martin or Bette Midler, tough luck. You have to fast forward to find each section. That’s really absurd in this day and age and for a set like this where you’re undoubtedly going to want to share favorite moments with friends. The quality of Carson is never in doubt. But the various boxed sets done of the treasure trove he left behind continue to frustrate and let fans down.
BACK TO THE FUTURE 25TH ANNIVERSARY TRILOGY ($79.98 BluRay or $49.98 regular; Universal)
ALIEN ANTHOLOGY ON BLURAY ($139.99; FOX) — Two wildly anticipated boxed sets are just out and they both have a lot in common. Both have a sci-fi angle, though BTTF is more of a warm comedy that uses a time-travel twist to shed new light on kids, parents, high school life and so on. The Alien series of course is much more disturbing and action-oriented. Both movies have problematic sequels. Most BTTF fans loved the first movie, liked the third and were confused by the “darker” second one. Most Alien fans love the first and second one but consider the third and fourth so-so at best. Now even their boxed sets have much in common. On both, the movies look spectacular in BluRay and on regular DVD. (The first two Alien movies in particular are eye-popping.) Both will overwhelm you with loads of extras, some new to these sets even though they’ve been extensively covered in the past and you’d think there was nothing new to say. Both sets also have very unfortunate packaging. The Alien set comes in a gorgeous hardcover book that squeezes in quite tightly into its box (you have to wiggle it out). Then the movies themselves are foolishly presented in sleeves: you have to sort of modestly bend the thick cardboard-ish page and then slide the DVDs out, trying not to scratch them as you do. Very unfriendly. The BTTF set features a weird sort of plastic tab thing I’ve never noticed before that kind of holds the DVDs in place and makes it tricky to get them out til you figure out the trick. Even then it’s sort of awkward. Don’t the people who design these sets ever actually try to remove and put back the DVDs to see how it works? That said, casual fans might want to wait for individual releases of their favorite movies in these series, especially if you really only want the first film. Surely they’ll come out eventually on BluRay. But fanatics — even those who owned earlier boxed sets of these films — won’t mind upgrading. These movies have never looked better.
WINTER’S BONE ($27.98; Lionsgate) — One of the best movies of the year, Winter’s Bone has proven a rare, word of mouth hit. That’s surely going to continue on DVD if and when lead Jennifer Lawrence gets a well-deserved Oscar nomination. She plays 17 year old Ree, a young woman barely holding her family together. Their meth cooking dad skips bail, which means the cops are about to kick Ree, her feeble mom and her other siblings out of their ramshackle home. She plunges into the backwoods territory of the Ozark mountains to find out where her dad is — assuming he’s still alive. Writer-director Debra Granik creates a growing sense of unease and danger. Ree goes from home to home — deeper towards the center of the mystery about her daddy — asking about him. Each new step she takes feels like one step deeper into violence and fear. It’s both real and riveting as she tangles with vicious criminals and drug dealers, not to mention the code of silence that keeps these poor as dirt people cut off from the law and the rest of society. Music is used beautifully throughout but the only thing Ree can finally take solace in is her own sense of right and wrong.
SLINGS & ARROWS THE COMPLETE COLLECTION ($79.99 BluRay; Acorn) — If you liked the Tony-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone, people behind that co-created and wrote this. If you liked Kids In The Hall, the brilliant sketch show, Mark McKinney is also a co-creator and writer. If you liked the sweet fish out of water cop comedy Due South, Paul Gross stars in this. If you like Sarah Polley and Rachel McAdams, they’re here too. Get my drift? It’s a nutty tale of a low-rent Canadian theatrical company haunted by the ghost of its former artistic director and led by Paul Gross in an utterly daffy manner. Season One, they put on Hamlet. Season Two they put on Macbeth. Season Three they put on King Lear. You don’t need to love Shakespeare blah blah blah — oh, don’t worry. It’s funny. This is really one of those gems a la The Office and Arrested Development. Quite offbeat but deliciously good. Dive in.
SEX AND THE CITY 2 ($35.99 BluRay and $28.98 regular; Warner Bros.) — Frankly, the idea of these empowered, smart, savvy women jetting off to Abu Dhabi for a fun vacation turned me off at the start. That’s like going to apartheid-era Sun City in South Africa. That bit of cluelessness aside, everyone agrees that this wasn’t as good as the first film and god knows the first film wasn’t that good to begin with. The highlight comes at the start when Mario Cantone’s character gets married and Liza Minnelli is the one who marries them. Now that’s a gay wedding! Plus she sings. They’re not complete idiots. The Eighties flashback was also a cute idea, one of very few here. However, it did make money ($288 million, quite a bit less than the original’s $416 mil, but still) so maybe they’ll take another shot at it and try and capture the spirit and intelligence of the TV show once and for all.
MOULIN ROUGE/ ROMEO + JULIET ($34.99 each; FOX) — I have issues with both of these Baz Luhrmann films. But intellectually I appreciate what he’s doing and Luhrmann is nothing if not visually striking. That’s shown off to great effect on these BluRays, which unfortunately do NOT contain all the extras found on earlier standard DVD editions. The leads give themselves over completely to Luhrmann’s vision which is the only way these confections can work. In Romeo, you can fast forward to your favorite passages and in Moulin Rouge of course you can jump to your favorite musical numbers. Remember when people used to watch movies on VHS, where a third of the picture would be cropped off and you had to laboriously fastforward and rewind to watch something twice? Madness!
LOS ANGELES LAKERS 2010 NBA FINALS SERIES ($89.98 BluRay and $79.98 regular) — It was one of the most watched NBA championships in a decade — and one of the most exciting, thanks to that Game seven comeback — so fans will savor getting to watch every game again on DVD. You get a modest pre-game overview with quotes from players and fans, stats for each quarter, the post-win boasting, the press conference interviews for each game and final trophy ceremony. That said, it’s basically just the games and $10 per game for something people could tape off their TV seems awfully high. They should have more bells and whistles AND a lower price so fans can jump on it as a fun keepsake.
POLDARK SERIES 2 ($69.99; Acorn) — The Poldark series was such a massive success when it first aired around the world in the 1970s that I’m sure the BBC and PBS were sorry they rushed through the first seven books in the Winston Graham series of novels. Masterpiece Theatre has that aura of highbrow entertainment. But the dirty little secret is that this is a bodice-ripping page-turners of a TV series, filled with intrigue and romance and danger and betrayal and all the sort of thing one finds in a soap. But well-acted and with a British accent. Great fun.
YOU DON’T KNOW JACK ($26.98; HBO) — Slightly overshadowed by the Emmy sweep of HBO’s other high quality TV movie Temple Grandin, this looks at the assisted suicide/mercy killing or depending on your perspective just plain killing of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Al Pacino won the Emmy for Best Actor and both he and director Barry Levinson are in fine form. If you can’t get to New York to see Pacino on Broadway in The Merchant Of Venice, why not check out one of his most acclaimed performances in years?
MAD MAX ($24.99 on BluRay; MGM) — Okay, I’d always dismissed the original Mad Max movie. Compared to the brilliant sequel The Road Warrior (one of the great action films of all time), Mad Max was sort of cheap with a brutal rape setting things off and it was just somehow inferior. Little did I know that my first experience of the film was a poorly dubbed US version. I still prefer The Road Warrior but I no longer wonder how one B movie led to the classic. Now Mad Max is on BluRay with a second regular DVD recreating the special edition version. The image looks even better of course, though they haven’t seemingly remastered the film. You can spot a lot more detail but I suppose we’ll have to wait till the next two movies come out and they do a boxed set with the whole series for a definitive version. That is years away, so for this modest price it’s a pretty good bargain to have both regular and BluRay available for a movie that’s much better than I originally thought.
EARTH AND SPACE ($79.95 BluRay; A&E)
WORLD WAR II 360 ($79.95 BluRay; A&E)
HOW THE EARTH WAS MADE ($49.95 BluRay; A&E) — The first two sets are sort of a weird repackaging, rebranding effort. Earth and Space looks like some entirely new production but in fact it contains the complete first seasons of both The Universe and How The Earth Was Made. The Universe has produced five seasons so far and How The Earth Was Made has produced two (to date). There’s a certain logic here. They’re both science-based shows made for a wide audience. But why would anyone want just season one of both of them? And why rebrand them like this when they’re available already? Still, both are good looking and solid in the current basic science they offer up. World War II 360 does a similar thing: it offers up both Battle 360 and Patton 360, two multi-episode shows that look at different aspects of World War II (not the entire conflict as such). Battle 360 follows the USS Enterprise, which took part in every major sea battle in the Pacific campaign. Patton 360 of course follows the famous (infamous?) general across Africa and into Italy and across the rest of Europe. The 360 degree hook isn’t really much more than a gimmick,but the shows are fine for war buffs. And in this case, it’s collecting two complete shows (only one season for each, naturally, given the subject matter) so it makes a lot more sense as a boxed set.
WILD GRASS ($28.95; Sony Pictures Classics) — Director Alain Resnais has delivered one of the most perplexing films of the year. One hour into this film, I defy anyone to describe it accurately and know where it’s headed. Is it a light, witty romantic comedy; a searching drama; a nihilistic fable and/or a satire of any or all of these? It begins with playful narration describing a woman who is buying shoes only to have her purse stolen. That purse is discovered by a mature gentleman who hesitates, picks it up and takes it to the police. Very small moments can lead to momentous changes, we are told (again and again and again). The man becomes mildly obsessed with the woman. Then the woman becomes obsessed with the man. Then they both turn on each other (though never at the same time). The wife of the man is of course at least 30 years younger and stunningly beautiful and yet still doesn’t blink an eye when his mistress comes over for a chat. This is a French film after all. And constantly the mood is changing. A playful moment is followed by a harshly real moment of emotion and pain which is followed by something entirely else. And it all ends on a completely discontinuous, seemingly unrelated and very brief moment that left everyone I saw it with shaking their heads in confusion. I think Resnais is saying the tiniest incident can change your world. That may not be an accurate reading but it’s the only one I can think of and is the only way to put this fitfully amusing but confused trifle to rest.
ON THE ROAD WITH CHARLES KURALT SET 3 ($39.99; Acorn) — From late night talk shows to news reports from Kuralt, it’s kind of amazing to me how entertaining and even fascinating TV from the past can be. Surely Kuralt crafted his news stories with care, but to think they’d hold up so well today probably didn’t occur to him or most of the people who fill up the hours of television with their work. Yes, comedies and dramas can endure, but who expected the day to day stuff to still intrigue? Of course, Kuralt isn’t just anyone. He’s an Emmy winning reporter who tracked down the offbeat and the everyday and delivered their stories with skill and avuncular charm. You get everything from stories of teachers and singing mailmen to trips to Ellis Island and “the last lighthouse” and a guy who lives on a glacier. Plus, it’s priced inexpensively. Good stuff.
TROPIC OF CANCER/SUMMER AND SMOKE ($24.95 each; Olive Films/Paramount) — Two more notable releases from the indie label Olive Films. I’m not a big Henry Miller fan but he was never better served than when Rip Torn plunged into the autobiographical story of Miller boozing and bedding his way through Paris. Frank for its time, someone might want to remake Tropic Of Cancer again in a more explicit fashion, though they’d be lucky to find anyone as perfect for Miller as Torn. Ellen Burstyn is also a standout in a small role. Tennessee Williams is often censored and softened when brought to the screen, so many of his classics are ripe for remake as well. (Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, anyone?) But Summer and Smoke was less envelope-pushing and thus got through relatively unscathed in this Oscar-nominated film. Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey (usually a stiff, to me) are wonderful in the leads and Rita Moreno pops in as well. Elmer Bernstein’s score is another plus. As with the previous Olive releases, the image quality is good and there are no extras. If Paramount is going to ignore substantial films like these, thank goodness they’re letting others pick up the slack.
Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.
NOTE: Michael Giltz is provided with free copies of DVDs to consider for review. He typically does not guarantee coverage and invariably receives far more screeners and DVDs than he can cover each week. Also, Michael Giltz freelances as a writer of DVD copy (the text that appears on the back of DVDs) for some titles released by IFC and other subsidiaries of MPI. It helps pay the rent, but does not obligate him in any way to speak positively or negatively of their titles.
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In the aftermath of the midterm elections, political commentators are saying that Democrats paid a heavy price for overreaching, particularly with healthcare. That is probably true. In our preoccupation with the political fallout, however, let us not lose sight of the real people who will benefit from the new health-reform law. As a physician, I am witness to the struggles of such people. David is one of them.
Several years ago, David went to an emergency room for a minor accident. His X-rays did not show any fractures, and he was cleared to go home. As he was leaving, a doctor informed him that he had high blood pressure. He told David not to worry. All he needed to do was make an appointment with a primary care doctor to get treatment.
David soon realized that there were no primary care doctors willing to see him without health insurance. Although his job as a taxi driver provided enough money to maintain a small apartment and pay the bills, it did not provide health insurance. So he had to forgo treatment as his high blood pressure silently damaged his kidneys.
Five years passed. David began to tire easily. He could not make it across a parking lot without having to stop to catch his breath. A few months later, he would wake up from sleep gasping for air. His breathing was getting worse by the day. One night his sister finally brought him into the emergency room, where I first met him.
I could tell that years of high blood pressure had damaged David’s kidneys beyond repair, causing fluid to accumulate inside his lungs and compromise his breathing. After a few days of treatment, David began to feel better. That is when I broke the news to him. To stay alive, he would need to go on dialysis.
David was stunned. “Doctor, will I be able to work?” was his first question. Then he asked me if he could ever visit his parents again. They lived abroad and were too frail to travel. That evening, it became clear that his life would never be the same.
David’s life will have to revolve around dialysis. For three days every week, he will make his way to a dialysis center and wait for four hours as his blood is cycled through a large machine. Since missing a single session can be dangerous — leading to sudden cardiac arrest, for example — his ability to leave town will be curtailed. It is unlikely that he will ever see his parents again.
Working will also be difficult. In addition to the demands of thrice weekly dialysis, David will have to put up with the weakness, nausea, and cramping that accompanies his condition. There will be the fear of complications. His risk of having a heart attack, for example, has increased by ten fold because of kidney disease.
This could have been prevented. The emergency room doctor who saw him six years ago was right. All David needed was a primary care doctor to regularly check his blood pressure and write a prescription for pills that cost as little as a nickel a day. Yet, he was denied that access because his line of work did not come with health insurance.
Americans are understandably skeptical about the new health reform law. Some fear a larger government role in healthcare. Others wanted the law to go further and include a public insurance option. Many were disturbed by the politics that played out on their television screens, such as the raucous town halls and Senate backroom deals.
Yet, no one can deny that the new law will address a fundamental issue in healthcare — the unacceptably high number of Americans, like David, who are uninsured.
Politically, it would have made sense for Democrats to put off health reform, at least until the economy had improved. Those without insurance, however, suffer the consequences of waiting. Had this law been enacted five years ago, David would have had a chance at saving his kidneys. Now, it is too late.
The new law will provide coverage for more than thirty million uninsured Americans. Those with insurance will have the peace of mind that they will be protected if they lose their job or fall ill. This matters for a mother unable to obtain a mammogram because she is uninsured or a diabetic who lost his insurance because he was laid off. With all the focus on the political fallout, now is a good time to remind ourselves that their stories matter. Because of them, health reform was worth it.
Anton Corbijn, Gerard Richter, b/w photography, 146 x 146 cm, Courtesy of the Artist
Dutch photographer and film director Anton Corbijn once declared his interest in portraying the pain of creation. Devoted to some of the most renowned living artists, his recent black-and-white series features painters, musicians, and a moving portrait of Nelson Mandela. Combining austerity and aesthetic qualities, these black and white prints strike us for the way they capture the geniality of the portrayed. In a quiet but striking way, these apparently spontaneous but perfect shots speak to us about the act of creation. These photographs reveal Corbijn’s affectionate and attentive look, his sense of amazement and his identification with others.
Despite stylization, Corbijn’s photographs display a strange closeness and a sense of intimacy. Seemingly naked, the strength of these photographs comes from the accidental as well as the intentional, which coexist in the process of their making. Strongly indebted to Minimalism (as evident in the photograph of Gerard Richter), Corbin’s vocabulary is bare, almost verging into silence. Bringing up a sense of wonder for the creative process of others, and a look into its shattering dilemmas, Corbijn’s new series of photographs confirms this photographer’s faith and pleasure as an artist himself.
I had a chance to sit down with Anton Corbijn for a frank conversation about his work and process.
LR — You have been working as a photographer since 1972. What are your thoughts when you look back at some of your photographs that have become iconic?
AC — My first pictures are from 1972, and my first proper camera dates back to 1973. During the first year I used my father’s camera. It had a flash on it, which I don’t like, but I didn’t know anything about photography back then, so it was just what I did. Then I worked during my school’s holidays at a factory and was able to buy my own camera with my own money. It was weird, I think I was lucky that in the seventies I lived in a small place in Holland so no one noticed all my mistakes. I published sometimes and I probably made a lot of mistakes, but I was able to learn while photographing. In the mid 70s until the late 70s, I started to make some pictures that I felt okay with. They corresponded to what I had in mind though I still felt that I couldn’t quite get it. The Memphis Slim photo was around 1973. This is one of my favorite pictures from that early period. And from 1976 onwards while in Holland I got Steely Dan, Ry Cooder, Jack Bruce, Costello and John Martyn. I started to get some pictures that portrayed what I had in mind, but people didn’t like them. There was no great reaction to the work. Although I really didn’t know anything about photography, I felt with these pictures — when I printed them — that there was something special about them. I sensed that these were pictures that could last longer than people realized at the time. I really felt that they would last and move beyond the popularity of the person in them. They were separate from the subject’s fame, they became something else and I think that was what I was looking for. I slowly started to get images now and then that functioned in this way. In 1979 I moved to England and photographed Joy Division and Bowie and Beefheart. At that time I got images that I felt had that special, well — power is a big word to say — more like intimacy and ambition that outlasted the photo shoot. I felt that they would have a longer life.
LR — Some of these photographs have became a part of History and the way we remember things, such as the Joy Division photograph. Do you feel a responsibility for the way things will be remembered?
AC — I feel a responsibility to myself, and not so much for the world at large. Because of my Calvinistic upbringing, I was trained to think that what you do has to have a purpose. Taking pictures that only satisfy an editorial would mean that they have no value beyond that. I felt that I would be letting myself down if I did that, because I always thought I was making something that had a reason to exist. Otherwise it would be a waste of energy.
Anton Corbijn, Anselm Kiefer, b/w photography, 146 x 146 cm, Courtesy of the Artist
LR – You are often misunderstood and quickly labeled as a “rock-photographer.” Do you feel that the celebrity status of the people you have photographed over the years has stood in the way of your being accepted by the art world? For example, Avedon’s portraits helped define our age of celebrity and are a part of it as well. But Avedon also looked into subjects who are not famous. In the early ’80s he traveled through the American West and took pictures of young people, workers, and drifters.
Anton Corbijn, Tom Waits, b/w photography, 146 x 146 cm, Courtesy of the Artist
AC — That is more the perception of the media than the art world – although in England it is different. In a lot of countries my work has gone beyond that. And even in your question I detect that you think that I am photographing celebrities, but I don’t think I do. I photograph artists, and some of them are very well known but if you ask the average man on the street: Do you like Anselm Kiefer? He would stare at you with a blank stare, because these are not celebrities. They are celebrated in a specific circle. But I am not really shooting a lot of Madonna or Paris Hilton or any of these big celebrities. People like Bono are big celebrities now but were not when I started working with them, celebrity status was not why I photographed him. So I hope that people look beyond this issue, and look at the fact that I photograph people I find interesting. And that is why I moved towards painters, because I find them incredibly interesting. And whether I sell these pictures, or people publish them, is something else. I just wanted to make photographs of people I wanted to meet, and wanted to do something in photography with them. When you mention Avedon who did the American West…funny, I find the Tom Waits picture slightly reminiscent of some of his pictures. Don’t you think so?
LR — Yes I do. Since there is a certain earnestness and intensity…
AC — Yeah, he looks like a drifter, also the background. It is one of my favorite series by Avedon, because I am not such a big fan of fashion and that seemed to be a very different way of photographing people.
LR — Wonder and closeness seem to be important aspects in your photography as well as in your films. I am thinking about your emotional relationship to Joy Division and Ian Curtis in Control, the close-ups and the intensive way you film George Clooney in The American, and the fact that almost all your photography is frontal. I wonder about your recent journey into film. Is this how you stay curious about the creative process? Is it a way of re-inventing yourself as an artist?
AC — These are two different types of curiosity, because my photography is much about people and film is more about stories. So they are different things. Yes, this may be my way of re-inventing myself. But I also try to challenge myself in photography all the time. I do different things, stay with it for a while, but then change it again. It is just that in film there seems to be a far bigger change by the very nature of filming than within my photography. In a way, I always think that the period that I am shooting now is my fifth period and that it is going back to the basics again. There were four periods before that and they were all connected. They were all around the same subject matter, but the approaches vary. Some photographs where documentary-like, others portraiture-like. The black and white ones were almost documentary-like. And the lithprints [a photographic print developed in lith developer that was baptised by Anton a lithprint. This special B/W paper is no longer made] were about portraits. These partly inspired the photo shoots for the self-portraits series [a.somebody, strijen], which were the last version from that specific inspiration. Whereas the paparazzi ones, 33 Still Lives, were a commentary on the world of celebrity. Once I finished that, I went on to see what I wanted with my photography, As my initial curiosity for this as well as for music was kind of finished. Now I am back working as a portrait photographer again since I like the routine and the language of it. You try to meet the person whose work you admire and take a photograph. It is a very basic thing, to go out with a camera and meet somebody through it and take pictures. I think that is what I like in my photography. In that way, and since I started doing film, I have become very attracted to photography again, because in film it is such a different energy and a far more complex way of creating the work, that it becomes really appealing to go back to the very simple art of photography.
LR — For the ‘stripping girls’ project, which you created with painter Marlene Dumas, you were acting on some premises which remain true for your work ever since. You repeatedly stated that you neither wanted to create documentary nor glamorous images. What choice is there “in between” these genres? And what is the importance of this alternative way of seeing?
AC — Well it is almost like an arranged reality. So the approach is almost a documentary one, and yet it is not. I always arrange something in order to make a better photograph, and so I can have more influence on what happens in front of my camera.
LR – Avedon once said: “Photography is always a lie even if an accurate one”. Your photographs exude a certain quietness, beauty and intensity which makes them outstanding in my opinion. Thank you for the interview.
Election Day was bad news for progressives, as we knew it would be. The combination of widespread economic pain and uncertainty, a right-wing base energized by Fox News and the Tea Party movement, the return of elections bought with secret millions from corporate coffers, and the traditional dynamics of a mid-term election all spelled trouble for Democratic candidates. It was a big night for conservative Republicans at both the federal and state levels. Where does that leave us and where do we go from here?
The next Congress will shift hard to the right with the election of a crop of extremists to both the Senate and House. The defeat of some of the more visible Tea Party Senate hopefuls like Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and Ken Buck, and the apparent defeat of Joe Miller and Dino Rossi, mean that things could have been worse. But that’s little consolation. Things are going to be plenty bad.
Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund raised money from Tea Party activists for ten Senate candidates. Those who won their races, and will make up a new “DeMint-ed Caucus”, are Utah’s Mike Lee, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Pennsylvania’s Jim Toomey, and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson. DeMint’s role, and the extreme-across-the-board candidates he helped elect, expose as false the notion that the Tea Party movement is fundamentally about government deficits and jobs and is libertarian in its leanings. DeMint, the Religious Right’s point man in the Senate, backed candidates who are hard right on social issues as well as in their views about the role of the federal government.
DeMint and his new colleagues may want the government off your back if you’re a corporate executive, but not if you’re a woman who was raped and is facing a choice about abortion. In that case many of them are willing to have the government take away your options. They talk about the Constitution, but they are interested in undermining the constitutional principle of church-state separation that protects the rights of all people of faith, especially religious minorities. They may be for maximum “liberty” if they’re talking about a company’s right to mistreat its workers or the environment, but not when they’re talking about a loving and committed gay couple that wants to take on the responsibilities of getting married. In that case, they’re eager to have the federal government step in to forbid any state from recognizing those couples’ freedom to marry. These self-described champions of “liberty” clearly disagree with Barry Goldwater’s assertion that “It’s time America realized that there is no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.”
The House of Representatives will be led by John Boehner, a longtime shill for big business interests, who will oversee an already far-right Republican caucus that will move even further to the right with the addition of representatives like Allen West from Florida, who relied on violent rhetoric like this: “You must be well-informed and well-armed, because this government we have right now is a tyrannical government. And it starts with illegal immigration.”
But even on this bleak day, there’s good news, and not only for those candidates who bucked the right-wing “wave.” It is clear that the election was not a referendum on the Republican Party or its agenda. Even GOP party chief Michael Steele admit this.
Exit polls confirmed that voters were worried about the economy and haven’t seen the results they had hoped for two years ago. Republican candidates rode that pain and dissatisfaction into office, but they have not won a mandate to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. Big majorities of Americans still believe big business has too much control over our public policy and want to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited sums to buy politicians to their liking. Americans increasingly support full legal equality for gay and lesbian Americans, including the right to serve openly and honorably in the armed forces and to have their relationships granted the same legal protections as other couples.
In other words, the Tea Party and the Chamber of Commerce had a big night, but they also have some trouble ahead as they make the shift from campaigning to legislating. They campaigned on rhetoric about reducing the deficit without offering any serious proposals for where they would cut. And in many cases they literally hid from the media and hid from voters the extent of their extremism.
Between now and the start of the new Congress, People For the American Way will work to help Americans learn more about the extreme positions advocated by the new far-right members of Congress. We will contrast the agendas and interests of the American people with the agendas and interests of officials whose campaigns were funded in order to give even more power to the corporate interests that got us into our current economic mess. And we will encourage President Obama and congressional Democrats to collaborate responsibly, when possible, with the newly empowered Republicans in Congress, but also to expose and resist extremism that threatens the nation’s ability to, in the words of the Constitution, establish justice, promote the general welfare, and ensure domestic tranquility.
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The subject of equal pay for skilled workers is of course a serious subject, but in “Made in Dagenham,” a little known but true story about a strike at a Ford plant in mid-century England is told with such heart and humor, many will call it a comedy. On Monday Rouge Tomate was bustling for a luncheon hosted by ReVive and Laura Mercier celebrating the film and its actors Sally Hawkins, the feisty Rita who leads the women seamstresses in a work strike, and Miranda Richardson, formidable and funny as Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity.
Of the casting, director Nigel Cole said, never believe a director who says he always wanted so and so for the part. They always have a string of actors and they keep going down the list. In this case, he got everyone he wanted including Rosamund Pike who plays an upper class wife stuck in stifling domesticity. Cole made another crowd-pleaser featuring feisty women, Calendar Girls. That’s the one where all these women over 40 take their clothes off for a calendar to raise money. There I was with all of them, laughed Cole. We didn’t know but the actors wanted to rehearse with the actual women and they made a pact, insisting on being entirely naked, even when they did not have to be. We found out: nudity on the set is a good way to get people to work hard. As no one wants to actually look, so they suddenly get eye-averting busy. With Helen Mirren, he quipped, the trouble is to get her to keep her clothes on.
The director continued with hilarious on-the-set tales, concluding with his time directing Christopher Walken having sex with Sharon Stone in “$5 a Day,” a movie so fraught with legal troubles, it went straight to video. How do you direct a sex scene? You have to be specific. You have to say where to put your hands, and so on, because everyone is embarrassed: maybe others don’t do what I do at home. With Walken and Stone, all you had to do was call action. We wanted to hose them down.
Dana Ivey brought playwright Alfred Uhry to the lunch. His 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Driving Miss Daisy opened last week on Broadway. Even the critics who ponder the slight story line of the spry 72 year old white Jewish matron in Atlanta whose son Boolie hires a black man to chauffeur her around are enchanted with the acting. To age to somewhere in her 90′s, all Vanessa Redgrave has to do is water her eyes dim and go gummy, drawing her lips over her perfect set of teeth. And James Earl Jones as Hoke Coleburn, shuffling about, bearing the weight of racism, does more than drive her to temple. A hotter couple you are not going to see on Broadway for tender banter.
The play’s riches come across in a scene where Daisy is to attend a Martin Luther King benefit and her son (the excellent Boyd Gaines) decides it is not to his advantage to go. You recognize with pain how many decisions are made this way.
Uhry has acknowledged his joy in having had wonderful actors performing in the play and movie versions of his work, including Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, and Dana Ivey, present company his favorite Daisy.
This post also appears on Gossip Central..
It didn’t quite fold–like the cheap camera to which Rabbi Yehua Levin likened Carl Paladino after the latter backed off his nasty remarks about homosexuals and gay marriage–but our mortgage bank, Chase Home Weasel, finally ‘fessed up, in writing, to wrongdoing.
Readers of my previous posts on this subject (here, here, here, here and here) know that for the last three months, my wife and I have been working out our issues with Chase, which in June wrote us to say we were in default for payment of our next door neighbor’s water bill ($81.59). As a result of this “delinquency,” Chase was adding an escrow charge of almost $500 to each monthly mortgage payment to cover all the taxes we were clearly in the habit of not paying. This was far from Chase’s first attempt at making us pay more than our mortgage requires-it’s tried the neighbor’s water bill thing four times-but it was possibly the most transparently fraudulent.
Well, after three months of letters, phone calls, emails, blog posts, legal threats and, in the privacy of the home, voodoo rituals, I am happy to say that Chase has officially apologized. The tone of its letter isn’t quite as mealy-mouthed and abashed as I’d hoped. Still, there on Chase Home Weasel letterhead are the words “We apologize,” preceded by statements of Chase’s various heinous acts: Yes, they escrowed us for payments that were not late, or missing, or even ours. Yes, those letters of notification Chase claimed it had sent were never actually sent. Yes, our escrow waiver was violated when the bank made tax payments on our behalf without our knowledge or permission and which we had already made, and now the Brooklyn tax authorities, those meanies, won’t return the bank’s dough, putting it instead toward our next quarter’s payment. The letter “requests” we reimburse Chase for the disbursements it made “on our behalf.”
If Chase were a class act, it would eat those tax disbursements as a nice show of contrition. But these days no one expects banks to be class acts and I’m sure the only contrition felt Weasel about our situation has to do with getting caught. Still, there’s something about the smell of apology in the morning.
It’s a small victory, certainly, and one I’m sure we owe more to the challenges Chase faces at the moment than to our tenacity. It has always amazed me that, despite Chase Home Weasel’s leading roles in both peddling crap mortgages and then illegally foreclosing on them, it’s never forgotten the little things-like persistently trying to cheat us. I picture the bankers dabbling with such petty larceny as a fun break from selling derivatives and seeking new ways to suck blood out of the economy.
Guess there’s no time for fun these days. Chase Home Weasel has had to halt its brisk business in foreclosures amidst accusations that they are based on paperwork that is unverified, inaccurate, falsified, or otherwise flawed. The mother ship, JP Morgan Chase, faces scrutiny (not to mention lawsuits) related to its securities lending and for its role in manipulative silver trading (http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/cftc-said-to-scan-jp-morgans-silver-trading/?scp=2&sq=jp%20morgan%20chase&st=cse).
With problems like these, you can see where the Weasel might decide to reel in the small-bore scams such as ours. Its letter assured us that the parcel number of the neighbor’s house has been removed from Chase’s system, presumably to reassure us that his water bill will no longer be levied upon us. We’ll see.
The Day After Tomorrow: The Final Battle in the War Against Poverty
Authored by Otaviano Canuto and Marcelo Giugale*
This is the third in a series of blogs where we take a look at the issues and the countries that will be at the forefront of the development agenda, not now, not next year, but over the next 2 to 5 years–thus, “after tomorrow”.
There is now a budding consensus on what reduces poverty: it is the combination of fast and sustained growth (more jobs), stable consumer prices (no inflation), and targeted redistribution (subsidies only to the poor). On those three fronts, developing countries are, on average, doing well. So, where should poverty fighters focus next?
First, on better jobs. What matters to reduce poverty is not just jobs, but how productive that employment is. This points toward a more efficient allocation of resources in the economy as a whole, and to the broad agenda of reforms that make an economy more competitive. It also points toward something much closer to the individual: skills, both cognitive (say, critical thinking or communication ability) and non-cognitive (say, attitude toward newness or sense of responsibility).
Second, more human opportunity. It is now possible to measure how important personal circumstances–like skin color, birthplace, or gender–are in a child’s probability of accessing the services–like education, clean water, or the Internet–necessary to succeed in life. That measure, called the Human Opportunity Index , opened the door for social policy to focus not just on giving everybody the same rewards but the same chances, not just on equality but on equity. A few countries, mostly in Latin America, now evaluate existing social programs, and design new ones, with equality of opportunity in mind. Others will follow.
Third, lower social risk and larger social protection. A few quarters of recession, a sudden inflationary spike, or a natural disaster, and poverty counts skyrocket–and stay sky-high for years. The technology to protect the middle class from slipping into poverty, and the poor from sinking even deeper, is still rudimentary in the developing world. Think of the scant coverage of unemployment insurance.
Fourth, less gender discrimination. The future priorities of gender policy will be defined by demographic dynamics. Countries still facing demographic “explosions” (mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa) will continue to prioritize maternal health and family planning services, especially among teenage mothers. Countries in demographic “transition,” with large working-age populations relative to children and the elderly need women’s effective participation in the labor markets, primarily through skill formation and support to entrepreneurship. A smaller, but growing, group of countries (all of them in Eastern Europe) are experiencing demographic “implosions,” with rapidly aging populations. This has exposed the dearth of, and the need for, social security for women, a legacy of comparatively lower labor market participation, higher informality, and smaller salaries.
And fifth, easier poor-to-poor transfers. Remittances are a large source of private financing that proved surprisingly resilient during the crisis. Is there anything governments can do to leverage them into poverty reduction? Yes, plenty. There is too little competition and transparency in remittance markets, where transfer fees tend to be unrelated to cost. Subsidizing banks’ marketing (Pakistan), mobile money-transfer technology (Kenya), or settlement systems (the Philippines) is worth experimenting with. Funding investment projects with “diaspora bonds” has proven useful (El Salvador). Bilateral efforts to establish guest-worker programs (for example, between Europe and India) have served well both origin and destination countries.
To access The Day After Tomorrow: A Handbook on the Future of Economic Policy in the Developing World, please visit: http://go.worldbank.org/TPPWANWXR0
It can also be read online and purchased (World Bank Publications; ISBN 978-08213-8498-5; $35) at http://publications.worldbank.org/18498, through bookstores, and through the World Bank’s network of international distributors http://go.worldbank.org/6XBJT3DJA0.
This blog was originally posted on the World Bank Insititute Growth and Crisis website.
*Otaviano Canuto is the World Bank Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, and Marcelo Giugale is the Sector Director of Poverty Reduction and Economic Management for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region.
 Here we borrow heavily from a book that we’ve just published: Canuto O. and M. Giugale, eds., 2010, The Day After Tomorrow: A Handbook on the Future of Economic Policy in the Developing World, World Bank Publications, Washington D.C.
 See J. Molinas, R. Paes de Barro, J. Saavedra, and M. Giugale, 2010, Do Our Children Have a Chance? The 2010 Human Opportunity Report for Latin-America and the Caribbean, World Bank, Washington, DC.
Sixteen years ago this morning, I woke up from a night sleeping on the floor of the Capitol Hill townhouse my friends and I rented. The year was 1994 and a hand full of us ended the previous evening watching election returns on CNN.
Though future election nights would consist of cell phone calls from colleagues on campaigns across the country, blackberry news updates and web sites with continuous exit polling information, in 1994 our long night ended clinging to any update we could get our hands on, hoping that somehow there might be some good news to report and that Senator Diane Feinstein could at least pull off a victory against Representative Michael Huffington in the last race of the night.
I woke up early the morning after the 1994 election, the television was still on, my body aching, my friends and housemates lying motionless, sleeping huddled around the television. I opened the front door and looked at the U.S. Capitol, a building that had always provided me with inspiration, and I swore it looked different. I bent down to pick up the Washington Post, but I already knew what it would say. We had lost the House. We had lost the Senate.
I looked at that newspaper, rolled up and wrapped in a plastic bag, for a long while. I had graduated from College only seven month earlier. Today would be my last day interning at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. I thought about the campaigns I worked on during the 1994 political cycle. I worried about my future. Most of all, I asked myself how could things have gone so badly for Democrats in just two years. I decided I would leave the newspaper in that plastic bag. I did not want to read it, and I made a vow not to open up the bag until the day we won back both the House and Senate.
The evening before, Election Day, started in Wilmington, Delaware. The DSCC had loaned my friend and me to the Charlie Oberly Senate campaign, the Delaware Democrat running against Republican Bill Roth. At that age, I had no idea what a Roth IRA was, nor had I ever been to Delaware before, but I was very excited. While in Washington, DC stuffing envelopes at the DSCC, I saw optimistic polls that showed Oberly was in striking distance of Roth. I would later find out that those kind of “internal” Committee polls are skewed to help fundraising efforts in bleak election years. Though my friend and I were political novices, I had worked for the Joel Hyatt Senate campaign, the Democrat running for Senate in Ohio while in College earlier in 1994. As we drove up to Delaware I spoke nostalgically of “campaign life,” telling him how great this experience will be. Once in Delaware, the mood was much different. I felt like Charlie Sheen in Platoon, discovering Vietnam for the first time. It was so bad that a few days later, when polls closed on Election Day at 8:00 pm EST, CNN was comfortable enough to project immediately that Roth had won reelection. It was the first projection of the night.
Without saying a word, my friend and I looked at each other and simply left, we just wanted to get out of Delaware and head back to DC. Racing down I-95 South, we listened to returns on the radio. Senator Kennedy, from my home state of Massachusetts, was holding on to his political life. Senator Wolford, who in 1991 proved the Reagan Revolution was over, had already lost. Joel Hyatt, the man I had worked for earlier in 1994 in Ohio had lost. Now Mario Cuomo, who gave the first political speech I could remember at the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, the speech that inspired me at 12 years old to get involved in politics, had lost! One by one, my idols were crushed.
In between news updates, there was just silence between me and my friend. I thought about the job offer I received while in Delaware on the campaign, the day before the election. It was a political appointee position, a “schedule-c,” where I would have been an assistant to a Deputy Director of some government agency. When I turned down the job, the man offering me the job told me I was nuts. Holding the phone to my ear, trying to hear him over the voices of Oberly campaign volunteers and staff, he screamed “Do you not get it! Democrats are going to lose big time tomorrow. You are never going to find a job with a Democrat after tomorrow. You are making the biggest mistake of your life!” I turned down the job because I did not want to be someone’s assistant, I wanted to be a press secretary, but now in the car, I replayed the conversation over and over in my mind. As we arrived back to DC I could not believe what I had done. I was now jobless, with no prospects in sight.
It must have been about 10 pm when we raced into Democratic Party Headquarters on South Capitol Street. We arrived to what we thought was would be an election return viewing party, but to our shock, no one was there. The headquarters were completely empty. All that remained was an open bar, television screens, a room full of popped balloons and my fellow interns from the DSCC. We all took the remaining bottles of alcohol and decided to head to our group house in NE Capitol Hill. As I entered the house I was greeted with multiple phone messages from members of the college fraternity I had just graduated from, all singing and laughing at the Democrat’s demise.
My friends and I sat there blankly staring at the television. I kept trying to think of the positive. I thought back to Election Day in 1988, when my high school history teacher, seeing that I was upset about Michael Dukakis’s presidential loss, stopped me to explain the importance of the “checks and balance” system. It did not make me feel better in 1988, and in 1994 the thought still did not provide me with any comfort.
The election of 1994 was crushing. I was angry because I felt this was my generation’s time to contribute. I cried for the great politicians who I respected and who now lost. I was tired, having worked long hours to help Democrats get elected. I felt stupid, like there was a joke I did not get or a test I had not studied for. And I was worried, not only about being right out of college with no job, but deeply concerned for the future of our country.
Beyond all of those emotions was the fundamental frustration of how a President who I loved was punished because he had made tough choices.
That was sixteen years ago, but like all things, time adds perspective and context.
I would go on to find job and become a press secretary on Capitol Hill.
The friends I shared the 1994 election night with would become my best friends. Without them, I would not have met my wife and would not have the great life I have today.
Senator Feinstein would go one to beat Representative Huffington in 1994, and his wife would become one of the most important leaders in progressive politics.
Joel Hyatt, the 1994 Senate candidate from Ohio that I worked for, would go on to do many great things, including start a television network called Current TV, where I now, coincidently, work.
The person managing that 1994 senate campaign in Delaware, David Plouffe, would go on to run arguably the greatest political campaign in history and become one of the most important political strategist in Democratic politics.
Democrats eventually did win back the House and Senate (and though I had left politics, I did pull out that 1994 Election Day newspaper and opened it.)
Most of all, President Clinton, would eventually be rewarded and beloved for making those tough decisions. And the policies he fought for would bring unrivaled prosperity in this country.
Today looks grim for Democrats. Maybe it looks particularly grim for young idealistic Democratic staffers and interns, but today the future begins. Historic perspective is a luxury I did not have in 1994. I am glad I have it today.
Matthew Frankel is a former Democratic Press Secretary and Intern. He currently serves as Senior Vice President for Communications at Current TV.
As the dust settled on a midterm election that significantly altered the political landscape, voters sent a clear message that cutting the deficit and ending wasteful government spending should be top priorities for Congress. Americans will be watching closely to see if lawmakers got the message. Eliminating ethanol subsidies and trade protection would be a good way to indicate that they did.
Democrats and Republicans have vowed to work together on this issue, hinting that the days of $6 billion per year in ethanol tax credits could be over when they expire on December 31. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee told Bloomberg News that “[t]here are folks who ideologically don’t want to see the tax credit,” noting that the election results were sure to strengthen that viewpoint. Chambliss could be referring to folks like Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who in a report by The New York Times on the bipartisan debt-reduction commission called corn-based ethanol tax incentives “a stupid idea.”
Exit polls also indicate that voters are dissatisfied with the federal government and want to see politicians find common ground on pocket-book issues that can improve the economy. Several pundits pointed to trade policy as one area where Republicans and Democrats might work together.
Nobody recognizes the opportunity more than — surprise, surprise — Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who pointed to trade as one area where farmers and ranchers might benefit from coming changes in Washington. According to his recent interview with Agriculture.com, Grassley thinks Republican control of the House will make it easier for President Obama to push for free trade, saying: “We export more than a third of our ag products. I think there is going to be more encouragement to the president, who I think down in his heart, is a free trader.”
Let’s hope that same enthusiasm for free trade also applies to the ethanol sector! By ending the ethanol import tariff, Americans would benefit from lower fuel prices, greater energy diversity and access to cleaner alternatives like sugarcane ethanol.
The U.S. corn ethanol industry may be getting the message on competition and the need to remove trade barriers on cleaner, more affordable energy. During a conference call with reporters this morning, the president of the Renewable Fuels Association reiterated his support for setting the ethanol tax credit and import tariff at the same amount – a concept industry insiders refer to as “parity”:
We’ve always supported parity on the secondary tariff with the tax incentive. We think the only reason to have the secondary tariff is to protect the taxpayer, not the industry. And that has been our viewpoint and you know, I think indeed if the tax incentive were to be adjusted, it is quite likely that the secondary tariff would be adjusted as well.
The next several weeks will be an important litmus test in determining whether or not Congress has truly heard the American people. Tough decisions will be need to be made to cut the deficit and restore fiscal responsibility and bipartisanship to Washington. Ethanol policy is a good place to start. We’ll be following the lame-duck debate closely and communicating with our growing list of nearly 20,000 clean-energy advocates when their voice can make the biggest difference. So stand by for more!
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In 1980, Ted Kennedy shocked voters by launching an insurgent campaign against his party’s unpopular president, Jimmy Carter. Would Hillary Clinton dare?
If you’re watching Sarah Palin, then your attention may be fixed on the wrong would-be female president.
Political addicts and analysts will be monitoring Hillary Clinton’s behavior over the next few months. In particular, they’ll be looking to see if she voices dissent against Obama’s domestic policies, which are sure to be informed by the newly Republican House and the party’s stronger presence in the Senate.
Next, they’ll ask for her opinion on The Poll. The Poll, of course, is the impending media coverage on whether Democrats favor Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama and by what margin. Additionally, they’ll be asked if they think Hillary Clinton, whose husband oversaw the largest expansion of jobs in U.S. history, would have done a better job with the economy.
We’ll all be watching for an obvious sign: if Clinton resigns her post as Secretary of State. She will claim exhaustion as the reason, as she mentioned last year in a joint Newsweek interview with Henry Kissinger. If she resigns in early 2011, the reason will most certainly not be exhaustion.
How similar are Carter and Obama? Their presidencies are both marred by recession, they both installed solar panels on the White House (Obama’s are going up soon), both supported nationally comprehensive healthcare and, well, they both bailed out Chrysler. Carter’s approval rating was around 28% when Kennedy moved to unseat him. Obama’s, according the Rasmussen Report, is roughly 46% today, due to the sizable economic woes of Americans and the administration’s favorable treatment of Wall Street.
Obama’s appointment of Clinton as Secretary of State can be seen as a cold-blooded political calculation, much like his dealings with Wall Street. You may have forgotten (and if you have, Peggy Noonan is here to remind you), but Obama’s victory over Clinton was by no means overwhelming. Roughly half of Democrats voted for her presidential nomination.
For Obama, the Secretary of State appointment doubled as a prestigious position and a muzzle for Clinton. If you don’t think so, why did he pass over John Kerry, the man who arguably launched his career at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, for the position? He brushed Kerry aside twice, actually, most recently on climate change. I’m sure Kerry would probably love to support a Clinton presidency.
The question is, would you?
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