TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Cam Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, leading No. 2 Auburn back from a 24-point deficit Friday for a stunning 28-27 victory over No. 9 Alabama that kept the Tigers on course for a shot at the national championship.Auburn (12-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed 21-0 before it even picked up a first down, and Alabama (9-3, 5-3) had a 314-2 lead in total yards at one point in the first half.But Newton, with the signature performance in what has become a season of controversy, rallied the Tigers for a victory that left the crowd of more than 101,000 in stunned disbelief when it was over. He threw scoring passes of 36 yards to Emory Blake, 70 yards to Terrell Zachery and, finally, a 7-yarder to Philip Lutzenkirchen with 11:55 remaining that gave Auburn its first lead of the day.It held up, keeping the Tigers perfect heading to next week’s SEC championship game against South Carolina. If Auburn wins that one, the reward will certainly be a spot in the national title game.Newton also had a 1-yard TD run, and this may be the performance that locks up the Heisman Trophy — if allegations that his father sought a huge payout for the quarterback to sign out of junior college don’t weigh too heavily on the voters’ minds.Certainly on the field, Newton has no peer.It’s unlikely that anyone in the country could lead a team back from such a daunting deficit at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where Alabama had won 20 in a row. Newton didn’t do much on the ground, rushing for just 39 yards and enduring plenty of big hits in the backfield, including four sacks.But Newton showed he’s no slouch with his arm, either, completing 13 of 20 for 216 yards.The improbable comeback wouldn’t have been possible without some help from Alabama. Last year’s Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, fumbled the ball away at the end of a long run just when it looked like the Tide was about to blow the Tigers all the way back to the Plains.Another fumble, this one coughed up by quarterback Greg McElroy after a big hit by Nick Fairley — and recovered by Fairley — cost the Tide another scoring chance deep in Auburn territory near the end of the first half.Alabama still led 24-7 going to the locker room, but yet another miscue probably hurt the Tide most of all. On Auburn’s second play of the second half, Newton threw a deep pass for Zachery down the sideline. Alabama safety Mark Barron came racing over and appeared to have a chance either at the interception or a big hit on the receiver.He got neither. Barron actually got to the receiver a little early and slid by him. Zachery came down with the ball and kept on going for the touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-14.The comeback was on. The Tigers never slowed down.Alabama, last season’s national champion, started out like a team that deserved a shot at defending its title, even after losses to South Carolina and LSU.The Tide scored on its first three possessions, carving up Auburn with McElroy’s pinpoint passes. He completed his first 12 passes, including a 68-yard touchdown to Julio Jones and a 12-yard scoring toss to Darius Hanks. Ingram started things off with a 9-yard TD run, and it looked as though Ingram had a shot to make it 28-0 when he caught a short pass and headed down the sideline.But Ingram was tripped up a bit, began to stumble and, while trying to keep his balance, had the ball punched out from behind by Antoine Carter at the 19. The ball rolled all the way to the back of the Auburn end zone, where Demond Washington fell on it for a touchback.The comeback didn’t start immediately. Newton finally completed a pass, and Auburn finally picked up its initial first down on the next play. The Tigers then punted it away again, and Alabama drove to first-and-goal at the Auburn 3. The Tigers defense finally stiffened, benefiting from a dropped pass by Trent Richardson that should’ve been a TD.Alabama settled for Jeremy Shelley’s 20-yard field goal.That would be it for the Tide, other than another field goal by Shelley after Auburn fumbled a punt.It was time for the Cam Newton Show.No matter what, he figured to be the center of attention. Newton has been under scrutiny since reports emerged alleging his father, Cecil, tried to sell the quarterback’s services for as much as $180,000 when he was being recruited out of a Texas junior college.Alabama certainly didn’t resist taking a poke at Newton. When he came on the field for pregame warmups, the loudspeaker blared “Take The Money And Run. When Newton trotted back toward the locker room, someone threw fake money at him.He appeared to take it all in stride, leading the Tigers onto the field as he always does just before kickoff and running all the way to the far end of the field, where a small contingent of orange-and-blue Auburn fans was crammed into a corner of Bryant-Denny Stadium, surrounded by Alabama fans.Then the game began, and for the better part of two quarters it looked like a total rout for the home team.At the end, though, Newton was taking a victory lap around Bryant-Denny Stadium.
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Archive for November 26th, 2010
With the appointment of the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper, we have a unique opportunity to apply a new approach to conveying national security information to the Commander in Chief. DNI Clapper is often described as the father of Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT). In an earlier job, DNI Clapper coined the term Geospatial Intelligence, and even renamed and reorganized an intelligence agency around the concept. This was not to establish yet another intelligence “stovepipe”, but to provide an integrative framework for all intelligence and operational national security information. Under his watch, it became common to hear every speaker in the national security community say things like “All Actionable Intelligence Exists in Space and Time” — a truism that has become accepted wisdom by all national security professionals. The map became accepted as the common frame of reference for all national security knowledge.
Recently, there has been lots of press coverage of DNI Clapper’s moves to re-organize the ODNI bureaucracy. What has not been covered has been his efforts to re-tool the President’s Daily Briefs (PDB) to breathe life into this anachronistic, if not completely moribund medium, to make it more responsive to the President’s needs. This was sorely needed. Yet, might I suggest that it is the medium itself that constrains the way in which the President receives intelligence. The PDB — a thin paper collection of highly vetted and heavily edited intelligence reports — is the anachronistic means by which the Leader of the Free World achieves situational awareness of the national security risks that face our nation.
The PDB was established by the CIA during President Kennedy’s first year in office as a means of conveying foreign intelligence regarding sensitive international situations. While the topics of 1960 were no less important, Presidents and National Security Advisers of yesteryear all agree that the information environment was infinitely less complex, that the pace of change was much slower, and that the number of international (or even non-state) actors that had to be understood was orders of magnitude smaller. A dozen or so briefs delivered once a day might have been sufficient back then, but I believe that this model will fail us in the dynamic and evolving future.
We are at an inflection point in how intelligence could and should be conveyed. We could abandon the outmoded and inadequate PDB framework for informing the President and his national security principals. We could embrace a new metaphor. Not a short paper brief — but, rather, an interactive digital mapping interface that is integrated into all of the datastores in the national security community. The President’s Map. And, we happen to have the right DNI, James R. Clapper, to make this happen.
But wait, there’s more. It is not just about how the President and his principals are informed, and how they cognitively integrate national security information. It is fundamentally about how information is shared across the national security community, and achieving a means for transparency and accountability that allows for actual leadership. If information is shareable to the President’s Map, according to some known set of technical standards, then it is shareable to anyone else across the national security enterprise that has sufficient security credentials. Finally, we would have a means to demonstrate concrete sharing of information, actually anchored to real-world locations and times. This in itself would be a revolution. It would make complex national security issues much more tractable. This would make many resource shortfalls and resource allocation issues plain as day, and it would empower national security managers to take action based on evidence. In short, it would enable “fact based analysis” which is often a rarity in the national security enterprise. Yes, we would still suffer from some degree of information overload, but at least we would not be under the illusion that a dozen short pages of the PDB constitute a meaningful means of informing the President of the United States.
Perhaps if commentators explored the sheer inadequacy of this means of communicating the complexity of the modern security environment, they would be more effective in identifying potential pathways for the reform and re-invigoration of the US Intelligence Community. More importantly, if only we opened our eyes to obvious alternative metaphors for conveying complex information, perhaps we could not only better inform the President, but also make the Intelligence Community (or even the larger national security enterprise) more effective.
It is time that we evolve with the times, and take advantage of new means of communication within the national security community. It is time that we take steps to launch the President’s Map, and move beyond the limitations posed by the President’s Daily Brief.
As I see it, you have two choices at the holidays: spend it with your family or spend it with friends. Each has their merits of course, although in my case, spending it with friends usually involves considerably more alcohol. And this is why, this Thanksgiving, I was only too overjoyed to accept an invitation from digital maven Micki Krimmel of Neighborgoods fame and her co-hostess Cris Dobbins for a potluck dinner at their office affectionately dubbed Thanksnerding.
Photo Credit: Micki Krimmel
For the most part, the dinner was traditionally as I always remembered it: all of us fought for the oven, which incidentally had never been used before this moment, we all ate far too much and fell asleep moments after and, finally, cue board games.
However, being that I was in the presence of my fellow nerds, there was also a considerable amount of social media during our holiday meal. Social media in the presence of digerati is very analogous to smoking socially: we’re doing it as a collective so let’s all participate together. Where is the line between enjoying the moment and sharing the moment? Instagram being the popular drug of choice these days, we all took to our feeds to post pictures of the sleepy aftershocks. We all commented on each other’s photos. At what point are we removed from the moment at hand while we navigate our mobile devices?
I really have no idea the answer to this question but Thanksnerding was a fine opportunity for me to have a good think on it. In the meantime, try borrowing something on Neighborgoods on this fine Black Friday rather than buying a bunch of crap you don’t need. Collaborative consumption gives you something else to be thankful for.
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I am back from a recent trip to Haiti. Haiti is a land of healing and hurt, openness and oppression, cooperation and competition, restoration and resistance. It is a study in contrasts.
Stepping into the American Airlines arrival section of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport was a foreshadowing of the irony found in Port-au-Prince. Broken ceilings, missing planks, exposed wires, scratched immigration desks, and a lack of workers — symbols of the disorder that is rampant. There is a crush of people surrounding the too small conveyor belt set to deliver the suitcases from the belly of the plane. An oppressive heat overtakes the building. Cab drivers, seeking fares, flock like geese upon potential passengers. Welcome to Haiti.
Upon arrival a choice must be made. Do I choose to underscore the positive or the negative, do I come to lend life or bring darkness into a country that already glows dim?
My arrival was on the heels of Hurricane Tomas and reports of the worsening cholera outbreak. I was desperate to be in Haiti. The time had come. The call was loud and clear. The opportunity was like no other.
In my January 13th post, I lamented the state of Haiti. My soul wailed for the future of the country. I was the Haitian-American who had never been to the country of her parents’ birth, who loved it by pure instinct. Today, I love the country because its problems and people convicted, challenged and changed me in the midst of the profound chaos. To go to Haiti is to commit to help change the country as the country changes you – you come back to America better.
The sorrow is immeasurable. The streets are in shambles. The tents are unlivable. Children are adults before their time; street smart, they walk along the roads with an air of lost innocence. They no longer cry, not for the cameras, not for the group of Americans or any foreigner. Why should they reveal the depth of their souls to me a stranger, when they have stopped revealing it to themselves?
I went to Haiti with OnCall Medicine with a Mission. To respond to the call to go to Haiti, or places like it – the Congo, Sudan – places of yet untold grief and misery is not comfortable and cozy. In Haiti you face a test of character. Your eyes are confused by the sights — sights of starving children, parents in turmoil, grandparents desperate for their lives to continue to count for something. “Is anyone listening,” the people wonder. Confronting me in Haiti were situations beyond the circumference of the borders and boundaries that I have known in America.
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The triangles just keep getting more complicated, don’t they? In the new Peruvian film, Undertow, fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his child by his wife Mariel (Tatiana Astengo), while at the same time carrying on an affair with his male lover, the artist Santiago (Manolo Cardona). But when Santiago dies in a swimming accident and returns as a ghost who can only be freed when Miguel formally sets him loose, issues of love, identity, and one’s perception within a closely knit community rise to the surface. (Fitting, I guess, for a nautical community.)
Director Javier Fuentes-Len is making his feature film debut here, and is employing a healthy dose of magical realism to tell his tale, giving the film as a whole a spare but appealing naturalism and imbuing the love-making sequences with a compelling sensuality. It’s a distinctive and affecting addition to fantasy film.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Javier.
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AT&T Mobility customers who use a smartphone to connect to the internet got notice of an early holiday gift this year — a class action settlement to compensate them for illegal taxes that the company has collected since 2005.
After looking at the settlement website and one of my wireless bills, I realized that this lawsuit provides a good reason to be thankful America’s class action system in this season of consumer largesse.
The settlement is for a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of customers for AT&T Mobility’s violation of The Internet Tax Freedom Act, passed by Congress in 1998. The Law prohibits states from taxing access to the Internet. In spite of the law, AT&T Mobility has been collecting state sales taxes on iPhone and Blackberry data access packages, and keeping a fee for collecting those taxes.
A monthly bill provides evidence of AT&T’s overcharge. Suppose I have an iPhone and pay $25 per month for voice and text service and $30 for data. Because Internet taxes are illegal, my state can only tax me on my voice and text plan, which is $25. I live in Massachusetts, which has a 6.25% sales tax, so my telecommunications tax should be $1.87. But it’s not. On my bill, next to “Massachusetts Telecom Tax,” it says $3.52, which means that AT&T is assessing the tax based on $55.00. I lose $1.65 per month so that AT&T Mobility can help Massachusetts illegally tax my access to the Internet. The bigger the tax that AT&T Mobility collects, the bigger the fee they get to keep.
This practice demonstrates why class actions are so vital for holding companies accountable to their customers. Your state government has no interest in helping you, because they are benefiting from your tax revenues even though they are illegal under state and federal law. Congress can’t help you because it doesn’t enforce the laws it passes, and it has already spoken on the issue legislatively. Because a legislative battle would pit big telecom and state governments against unorganized, unfunded consumers, consumers would lose on Capitol Hill. Since the amount of money per person is only a few dollars per month, no individual has a strong enough interest in hiring a lawyer to his/her own lawsuit. But multiply those few dollars per month times several years for each subscriber, and multiply that by AT&T Mobility’s 92.8 million customers, and we are talking about a gigantic sum of money that the company has stolen from the public.
Because of the class action system, the enterprising consumers who figured out this scheme can combine forces with every subscriber who has lost money by hiring a few lawyers to stop AT&T Mobility from collecting the illegal tax, disgorge its ill-gotten gains and compensate consumers. Instead of charging by the hour, the attorneys who represent the class will get a percentage of the total settlement. Consumers pay nothing if they get nothing, but lawyers take a massive risk by investing their time and resources if they lose. The parties have negotiated a settlement, and a federal court will determine its fairness in March. The usual arguments against class actions will surely surface: the lawyers have made a windfall, and the customers got comparatively little. But without our admittedly flawed system of civil justice, who else will prevent companies from ripping off their customers with impunity? Probably no one.
AT&T Mobility will take a costly hit, and the next time that they, or any other company, considers charging an illegal tax in order to profit at the expense of its customers, it will have to decide whether or not it’s worth facing the consequences of America’s class action system.
To collect your compensation, you do not have to do anything. Judging by the flurry of text messages that the court has sent to class members, someone will notify you when your claim is ready. So this holiday season, as you prepare to give and receive, to own and enjoy the fruits of American capitalism, you may rest easy, knowing that there is a class action lawyer out there who might be the only force between you and the company who is trying to rip you off.
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Holiday season is once again upon us. It’s a time of thanksgiving, and joy, and renewal — and believing, or pretending to believe, that it’s better to give than get.
To see loved ones far away, many will take to the skies and endure endless hours of discomfort in seats too small next to neighbors too large. Underpaid pilots, maybe multitasking on laptops, will apologize for delays. Flight attendants will serve either bad food for lots of money or no food for free. You will be charged for checked bags, aisle seats, window seats, exit-row seats, blankets, barf bags, headphones. The day airlines begin charging for lavatories, or oxygen masks, can’t be far off. Yes, sir, your seat cushion can double as a flotation device in an emergency, but that’ll cost you an extra $25.
And yet no one ever discusses the very worst part of air travel: babies.
Here’s the situation: You’re trapped on a six-hour cross-country flight and, in the row behind you, two parents are sitting happily with a 12-month-old baby on their laps. The plane remains parked at the gate. People are quietly chatting on their cell phones. The baby is preternaturally silent.
This will not last.
Once airborne, the child screams its head off. Nothing — neither earplugs nor noise-canceling headphones — drowns out the wailing. All hopes of sleep or peaceful reading die. Passengers with social or business obligations on the other end of the flight will embark on them with thudding headaches.
Fair, this isn’t. Soon enough, you too will want to scream your head off, but you can’t because you’re an adult. Adults don’t do that. (Or, if they do, they’re arrested and removed from the plane.)
Some say the child’s parents suffer more than surrounding passengers, as if they are mortified of the torture their child is inflicting on hapless neighbors. But I’ve never truly seen remorse. Most often I see instead Schadenfreude, the perverse joy people get from taking pleasure in others’ pain. “See,” their icy glances say, “This is your small punishment for not having kids. It’s a tiny price to pay, really. I have to listen to this all the time, and that’s on top of changing diapers, wiping runny noses and footing college tuition bills. You’ve gotten off much too lightly, young man.”
But at its heart this is a question about where one person’s rights end and another’s begin. I’m not suggesting airlines ban people from traveling with infants — just that they encourage people to think twice before hopping on a plane.
That babies scream on planes is unfortunate but not inevitable. Some are born-screamers, or so my high school history teacher — the father of a half-dozen children by a half-dozen women — once told me. He claimed you could tell a child’s temperament the second it left Mommy’s tummy. Some are tranquil by nature.
Happily, something can be done about the screamers. My proposed solution results from approaching the situation as any economist would. The unbearable noise generated by screaming babies is a negative externality — a market failure, in which someone else’s actions spill over and have a negative impact on innocent bystanders.
Air pollution is the classic example of a negative externality. And the classic solution is a Pigovian tax that gives companies a clear incentive to pollute less.
So here’s my Pigovian plan for planes: instead of issuing free or half-priced tickets to babies – which only encourages people to fly more often with their young in tow – airlines should require parents to buy a “baby ticket” that costs twenty times the normal fare.
A roundtrip cross-country ticket, then, costs $10,000 instead of $500. The money paid above and beyond what the average passenger pays – in this example, $9,500 — is fully refundable so long as the child doesn’t make any noise beyond what neighboring passengers decide is reasonable. At the end of the flight, passengers in the vicinity are polled. How much of a nuisance has the baby been? Compensatory damages are awarded. Those sitting closest to the child, who have suffered the full force of its shrieks and squeaks, obviously receive the most money. Flight attendants serve as neutral controls to guard against dishonest passengers attempting to extort money from the truly innocent.
The positive effect of such a policy would be to discourage those with babies in tow from flying in the first place.
This problem exists because airlines have strangely, inexplicably, perversely, decided to allow babies under 24 months to travel for free so long as they don’t occupy a seat. Betty and Bob are now zooming off with Zane to visit Grandma and Grandpa for Thanksgiving — it’s such a bargain to fly because it’s three for the price of two! — and then at Christmas they’re again zipping off with Zane, this time to visit Grams and Gramps.
Parents don’t see anything wrong with this. They often even expect sympathy when their wee-one wails onboard. But why? It makes absolutely no sense. In a capitalist country where negative externalities are viewed as market failures correctable through pecuniary fines, it’s hardly radical to suggest that parents flying with boisterous babies offset the damage done by their child.
That’s my proposed solution, anyway. I guess it’s why everybody calls me Grinch this time of year.
Here is a simple, well-thought-out nutrition and exercise plan for the four-day holiday weekend to help anyone avoid guilt and stress — and the weight gain that threatens to accompany it — on Thanksgiving Day. This plan is straight-forward and goal-oriented, based on the following figures:
In order to avoid gaining even one pound over Thanksgiving, plan to burn an extra 3,000 calories over the course of the four-day weekend.
To burn those extra calories, try my Nine-Step, Four-Day Program for a Guilt-Free Thanksgiving:
1) Start each day with a freshly squeezed lemon in room temperature water to help balance the body’s pH level, while enhancing the liver’s detoxification abilities.
Follow this with a cup of green tea, helpful for its “filling” effect (80 percent of the time, that feeling of hunger is actually thirst).
Its high antioxidant content also helps to maintain healthy and glowing skin.
2) After these morning beverages, go for a 30-minute walk on an empty stomach to burn 150 calories. (Four walks x four days = 600 calories burned from that indulgent Turkey dinner!)
3) Enjoy a healthy breakfast of raw food with lots of vitamins and fiber to help support the immune system:
10 raw almonds
1 mandarin orange
A few red grapes (with seeds if possible as their oil is very good for you)
4) Exercise or explore your surroundings with friends and family: You can burn calories simply by going for a walk in the woods or around the block.
This is especially easy on Black Friday when you might be going out to shop – that’s a marathon in more ways than one!
The key is to move, move, move for at least for one hour. (300 calories are burned if you are walking at an easy pace x four days = another 1,200 calories burned… Just 1,200 to go!)
5) For lunch, start your meal with a pure protein. Starting with a piece of chicken or fish reassures your brain and body that it’s getting what it needs most (versus starting your meal with white bread or candy, which may lead the body to think it won’t be receiving protein and cause it to immediately store the sugar as fat, also called glycogene reserves, in response).
Meal suggestion: Pair grilled fish with calcium-loaded baby spinach salad and a small roasted potato. Finish with a little something sweet (like three small squares of chocolate) to keep in the holiday spirit without driving the scale north.
6) Take advantage of this time off work to enjoy a power nap and help your body digest and replenish its energy stores.
7) Make sure you have an afternoon snack to keep your metabolism fired up: Try five raw walnuts and one apple, or walk to the coffee shop for a 10-calorie Chai (that’s a venti tea with one tea bag of Tazo Chai and one shot of soy milk, sweetened with Splenda) and a small biscotti.
8) For dinner, consider a soup. Soup can fill up your stomach and reduce your appetite by at least 35 percent.
Apply this to the Thanksgiving meal as well — even if you add a bit of sour cream to a tasty bowl of pumpkin soup, it can still be a healthy way to start your meal and could potentially bring the 3,000 calorie-average down to 2,000.
On the other evenings, follow your soup dinner with a few whole wheat crackers and some hummus or babaganoush, and finish with a soy yogurt and maybe another few squares of chocolate.
9) Remember that daily tasks such as cooking dinner and doing the dishes by hand count as exercise too. (75 calories over 30 minutes x four days = 300 calories burned).
If you are surrounded by kids, play hide and seek. (One hour of an activity like this will burn 250 calories x four days = another 1,000 calories gone!)
By allowing Thursday’s celebratory meal to be indulgent while maintaining a healthy eating and exercise program throughout the rest of the weekend, you can enjoy the holiday as it was intended.
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An obituary deep in the pages of the New York Times on Thanksgiving Day disclosed the death of Huang Hua, perhaps one of the most discreet, influential negotiators in China’s contemporary history. He was unknown to most Americans. In the 1930s, he helped the American journalist Edgar Snow write a series of newspaper articles about China that eventually was turned into a best-selling book about Mao Zedong and his rebel army entitled Red Star Over China. Snow never acknowledged Huang’s assistance in any of his reporting.
In 1944, he served as an interpreter, accompanying the U.S. Dixie Mission into the caves of Yenan where, for the first time, American military officers and diplomats got their first glimpse of, and extended meetings with, Mao Zedong and other Communist Party officials. It was a controversial initiative that angered the ruling Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek and eventually led to the firing of John Stewart Service from the U.S. State Department and cost Colonel David Barrett the likelihood of his promotion to Brigadier General.Their treatment was a forerunner of the Cold War madness that led to the dismantling of America’s outstanding corps of China diplomats that was to follow.
I first met Huang in 1971, by which time he had risen through the ranks of the Communist Party and was China’s ambassador to Canada. I was on a flight to Ottawa to cover the visit of Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin as a forerunner of my CBS News assignment to Moscow. Huang happened to be on the same plane, and I had a history of the Dixie Mission written by Barrett that was in my bag. I offered it to Huang and his wife because it contained a photo of him with the U.S. delegation. That seemed to break the ice for me, and I managed to keep in touch with him, using Chinese professors as conduits over the years.
Huang proved to be remarkably at ease with Americans, probably because of his earlier background as a student at a Beijing university run by U.S. missionaries, his friendship with Snow and his contacts with Presidents Nixon, Carter, Bush and Reagan and a number of journalists after he rose to become foreign minister. They were days, particularly after Mao’s death, when cordiality and not ideology occasionally ruled the day.
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As college students around the United States prepare for their end of semester exams and papers, they can take in the diversion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the first installment of the last film in J.K Rowling’s mega-best- selling Harry Potter series, which many of them began in elementary school.
This penultimate film shows the three main protagonists, Ron Weasely, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter far from any academic pursuits. Indeed, the trio has dropped out of their magical school Hogwarts to fight in the nasty civil war that has thrown the wizarding world into chaos. Such activism may appear both thrilling and compelling to students as they face the drudgery of finals.
Is there any inspiration in the film to keep the focus on school? Especially when the film suggests that our world may not be so far from the dark, totalitarian bureaucracy of the Ministry of Magic after the Death Eaters take over. Even in our relatively calm 21st century university atmosphere 40+ years after the student movements of 1968, there are students itching to flee the library for the streets.
This film makes it seem like there dropping out might be dangerous, but the characters have no other choice and have little use for school anyway.
That star student Hermione Granger seems perfectly self-sufficient with her own autodidactic learning and can conjure enough spells to consistently rescue her two hapless male counterparts. Who needs school if you and your friends can just read the manual and find that magic right answer just in the nick of time?
The fact is: their world is magic, ours is not.
That’s the wet-blanket realist answer of course: Harry Potter characters live in a fantasy world, where if they eschew their studies in favor of a showdown with ultimate evil, they always have their wands, spells and elves to snatch them away from danger at the right moment.
For us there are surely civil wars raging around the world and poverty and injustice everywhere. Would it hurt so much to drop out of school for a while to go somewhere and fight the good fight? It might. Dropping out of school for students in this world, the disenchanted, real one of American universities could mean huge personal losses, both for the students and their families.
What then, if any intellectual succor or motivation to stay in school might this movie offer? Watching this blockbuster, students can confirm their own mastery of many of the series ideas from the set design to literature and philosophy: That Ministry of Magic is a textbook study in monumental, authoritarian design: Black lacquered industrial title? Check. Heavenly filtered lighting? Check. Dripping gold ornament and Arno Breker style sculpture? For sure. Did anyone miss the references to Macbeth with the young witch and wizards on the heath? What about all those classical names and constellations? Perhaps there is an ethical message that might inspire students to focus on their work while also coping with the existential intensity of being 18-22 in our times?
Rowling’s ethics tend to be more religious than secular, indeed she consistently mobilizes a Christian Natural Law ethic that comes straight out of St. Augustine’s City of God: Humans are born good, but flawed and need the grace of an ultimate good to choose good over evil. Lord Voldemort, the power-hungry, vengeance-bent, self-deformed ultimate evil nemesis, was once a lonesome boy who never new grace, love or community, and in the end chose evil. Harry Potter, far from perfect himself, is an average student with a volatile temper that often pitches him into mortal danger. These ethics also have a secular correlation in later normative theories. With Kant we might say that Rowling shows us the crooked timber of humanity, but Kant might also say that while fate throws students all kinds of challenges, students must make their own fates.
So, what’s the take home message from this movie? Harry Potter and his friends may have dropped out of school to save the world, but you don’t have to jump to that conclusion — yet. Talk to your professors, no matter how evil they may seem: it’s their job to help you. They aren’t officials in the Ministry of Magic who have to cling to a rulebook written by elders, but rather they are there to work for you and help you explore great ideas, which may often contradict their own insularity.
Hopefully, your professors are more the benevolent Dumbledore type than the evil, simpering Umbrige-type. Too often, they are the vain, wound-licking embittered types like Severus Snape, but even Snape is capable of good.
When there are no wands or spells to save you, you can rescue yourself and choose good by getting others, especially your professors, to talk with you about important ideas.
Everyone is making a huge Taco Tuesday about TSA’s new enhanced screening methods that borders on sexual assault.
It was my turn to live the nightmare firsthand.
Yesterday I flew back to my native Minnesota for the holidays. Going through airport security I was paranoid to the point of profusely sweating.
All I could think was:
“Oh no! Here it comes. Here comes the groping. I’m going to get groped. I’m going to get the aggressive pat down — the slow hand sliding up and down my inner-thigh, leading to my “junk” being grabbed. Here it comes!”
Then it didn’t happen. All I could think was, “What!? Am I not pretty enough for you?”
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On Wednesday, Sarah Palin erroneously remarked that we had to stand by our North Korean allies. She obviously meant our South Korean allies, but never mind, all of the bloggers and media who she makes gag went into a frenzy over her gaffe. As usual, Palin flipped the snickering to her advantage commenting, “It seems that they [the media] could not resist the temptation to turn a simple one word slip-of-the-tongue of mine into a major political headline.” And for once the Barracuda has a point.
To moan that we live in an era of advocacy journalism is, of course, an understatement. Keith Olbermann and other progressive warriors on the so-called left insist that they have to stand up to the dragons like Limbaugh and Beck and fight fire with fire. But all too often, their idea of fighting fire with fire is one of spending ten minutes of air time intellectually masticating some utterly trivial contradiction or mistake. The hooting over Palin’s recent faux pas is just another example of commentators going hammer and tong and only managing to prove themselves to be the snobbish elitists that they are accused of being.
If the left wants to continue skewering the former governor of Alaska and keep Palin’s name endlessly ringing in our ears, then they should do it by grousing about her lack of experience, of a record, and of her less than Mama Grizzly bear-sized compassion. Frank Rich has eloquently made the point that it is plain stupid to keep trying to portray Palin as stupid. To parade out Monday’s blunder as though it were something serious, as though serious intellectuals have never been guilty of the same, is a serious strategic mistake that is infinitely more knuckleheaded than Palin’s most recent slip-of-the-tongue. If certain members of the media want to take off the gloves and duke out the image wars, then they had best learn how to throw a punch that will have some impact on the brains of the people they are struggling to reach.
Feeling a bit under the weather, I haven’t blogged as much as usual this week, but I can always count on Sarah Palin to pull me back in…
Yes, Sarah Palin, the most amazing living American, who, appearing on Glenn Beck’s radio show Wednesday — where she knows she won’t be asked any tough questions and where she can pretty much say whatever she wants without being challenged — made a rather significant gaffe:
Now, Think Progress’ Alex Seitz-Wald is right that “malapropisms can and should be forgiven for frequent public speakers.” Everyone makes mistakes. Think about Joe Biden, for example, who frequently needs to extract his foot from his mouth.
But Biden’s problem is that he is sometimes too honest (for a politician) or just says embarrassing things. In Palin’s case, her problem is that she’s lazy and unserious. Time and time again, what she reveals is that she doesn’t think, let alone think seriously, about… well, about pretty much anything other than the marketing of the Palin brand.
Think back, for example, to that Katie Couric interview during the ’08 campaign. As I put it back then:
Whether it was her comment that she had foreign-policy experience because Alaska is close to Russia, her general incoherence in response to any and every policy question, her inability to name a single Supreme Court case, her cluelessness on the separation of church and state, her ridiculous claim that she’d been “hearing about” Biden’s speeches since she was in the second grade, or her inability to name a single newspaper or magazine she reads, she exhibited not a tendency to commit malapropisms but a general ignorance about policy, politics, and, well, pretty much the entirety of the world around her.
Is it any wonder that Palin later accused Couric of “badgering” her, even though all Couric did was ask some fairly innocuous questions and, treading softly, give Palin every opportunity not to embarrass herself? Is it any wonder Palin recently said she won’t “waste time” with Couric if she runs in ’12?
Nothing has changed. The Sarah Palin of ’08 is the Sarah Palin of ’10. The only difference is that her brand is bigger — with a couple of best-selling (ghost-written) books, a (phony) reality TV show, an even bigger ego, a place of prominence in the Republican Party, and the tantalizing allure of a presidential run.
So back to her latest gaffe. Should we make anything of it? On its own, maybe not — I suppose anyone can confuse North and South Korea in this context, and she probably knows that the North is the totalitarian one (surely she knows at least that?) — but it’s just one more piece of evidence, and a vivid reminder, that her public utterances are really just a string of shallow talking points and ignorant assertions; that is, that she speaks without thinking, and without ever having thought about what she’s talking about (including on rather serious issues like this one).
Is it any wonder the vast majority of Americans, including no less an authority than George W. Bush himself, think she’s unqualified to be president?
Cross-posted from The Reaction.
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For many Emiratis, experiences with the current Federal National Council have been less than ideal. If asked to name a major achievement accomplished by any FNC member, few Emiratis would have anything positive to say.
The record of this partially elected body should not sour Emiratis’ overall impressions of the movement towards national civic participation. That movement was launched by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, in 2006, but four years later, some Emiratis still do not feel that they have a say in many issues in their country.
One way to bring Emiratis into the civic process and engage them in decision-making would be to allow citizens the right to run and vote in municipal elections where they themselves could work to improve services in their districts.
The role of municipal councils in the UAE does not differ from other countries. For instance, according to Sheikh Khalifa’s decree, councils in Abu Dhabi are responsible for improving services for residents in their districts, including public works, town and suburban services, infrastructure and town planning committees.
In some of the emirates, different municipal councils are responsible for different enclaves. For instance, in addition to Sharjah City’s municipal council, there are two others to be found in Kalba and Khor Fakkan. Abu Dhabi added a third municipal council in 2006 to administer the Western Region, which complemented the Abu Dhabi City and Al Ain municipal councils.
The Western Region of the emirate, also known as Al Gharbia, covers an area of 60,000 square kilometres and includes townships such as Madinat Zayed, Ruwais, Liwa Oasis and Dalma Island. Its municipal council is made up of 16 members who are serving two-year terms. At least six of the council members have to be selected from among the residents of these towns.
Besides the FNC, a number of other councils can be found in the UAE, including executive councils and consultative or Shura councils. However, the practical role that municipal councils fulfil was evident in the wake of Cyclone Gonu that hit the shores of neighbouring Oman as well as towns on the UAE’s east coast in June 2007.
In response to the natural disaster, Dr Mohammad Saeed al Sahi, the chairman of the Kalba City Municipal Council, created an emergency response committee that co-ordinated, among other responsibilities, the financial compensation that was allocated by President Khalifa and Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah, to those who were affected.
But in addition to their role organising community services, municipal councils can be powerful tools to cultivate civic awareness and participation among the nation’s citizens. This is vital to give Emiratis a stake and responsibility in the affairs of their communities.
The ultimate prize will be the engagement of nationals who must be more than spectators in the development of their country. Emiratis should be participants, suggesting new policies, interacting with Government and ultimately empowering national institutions through citizen participation.
The truth is, in their current form, many Emiratis do not know that municipal councils exist, much less their function. If citizens know that they are able to elect a representative who can look after the everyday needs of their communities, we can turn society from a group of passive bystanders to active contributors who promote issues as varied as environmental awareness to civic responsibility.
The governments of the seven emirates have an opportunity to demonstrate that, by empowering Emiratis in cities and towns across the country, government and public services can make great strides forward. Eventually, the EU model might be considered, which would allow citizens to vote in whatever district they resided in regardless of where they were originally from.
These changes do not need to be abrupt. Partial elections could be held for each municipal council, and the number of elected seats expanded if the experiment proved to be a success. In all likelihood, elected council members would represent Emiratis who were dedicated to the well being of their communities and who would make every effort to lobby for improvements on behalf of their constituents.
At present, some Emiratis seem to be disconnected from public service and civic duty. If they are empowered to represent their communities, then the energy of a young and growing population could be harnessed in the right direction.
This article first appeared in The National on September 20, 2010.
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The world’s unruly children, namely Ireland and North Korea, dominated headlines this week. Both nation-states are bankrupt and unable to manage their affairs.
Ireland went into receivership this week, and North Korea began lobbing bombs to get attention because it cannot feed its people.
Ireland is simply another sub-prime borrower living beyond its means. The North Korean situation is more dangerous, like a guy about to be foreclosed who has taken millions of hostages and is shooting out his window. The aim is to hurt others in order to get money to survive from South Korea and its Sugar Daddy in Washington.
Both events caused the world’s markets to roil as uncertain investors headed for exits. And I believe last week marked the beginning of a Joint and Several World.
This is a lending phrase which imposes the requirement on all partners who borrow money to agree to be on the hook for any, or all, of the others should they go bust.
Now that principle applies to sovereign lending or sovereign failure such as North Korea’s.
Bankrupts contaminate all their partners, neighbors, creditors and suppliers too. So do countries that lob bombs.
The Irish contagion came from Greece and will spread across Eurozonia. Bets are that Portugal and mighty Spain, bigger than Canada, will succumb eventually.
That will trigger a continental workout and bring about a dramatic political realignment in Europe.
Germany will bear most of the burden, as usual, and will lean on others to help. This will include nearby, non-Eurozone members of the European Union such as Britain, Norway and Sweden.
Next, Germany will insist that Europe’s suppliers also help by lending cash — on favorable terms — as lenders of last resort. In this category, I would include Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Switzerland, Russia and China. All must help bail out the Euro because they are major exporters who profit by selling Europeans their oil, natural gas, secret bank accounts and other stuff. In corporate bankruptcies, they would be asked to take haircuts on their accounts payable. In this case, they will likely be asked to take haircuts pre-emptively on their accounts payable to help keep their Euro customers whole.
The Euro will become a virtual Deutschemark and the EU capital will shift to Berlin. Governments in Ireland, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy will be independent democracies in name only and whoever helps, including Russia or China, will also be given a seat at the governance table.
This Joint and Several World also applies in the case of the two Koreas. Clearly, South Korea’s prodigal sibling to the North must be fixed. Its people are abused, the country’s a shambles and it is run by a dying lunatic. The only way out is a combination of guns and butter: De-fang its nuclear capability, or pay for them to do so, then finance re-unification. North Koreans would welcome liberation and Japan, China and Russia should help South Korea pay for it.
With all the turmoil, Americans finally, by default, had reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, their problems are soluble by belt tightening, slapping taxes on Chinese imports and imposing income taxes on their haves and have-mores.
As for the parties that called themselves countries — namely Greece and Ireland and others — the music’s stopped and the German burghers who work harder and pay taxes will now permanently call the tune.
Diane Francis is Editor at Large with the National Post
There is a two-fold complaint nestled in the plumy thicket of today’s screed, good people. And while they (the individual issues of the complaint) are as intertwined as two pigs’ privates mid-coitus, they could not be more different on their face. Perhaps a metaphor about the mythological two-faced God “Janus” might have been a more palate-friendly image than that of two mud-dusted hogs bumpin’ uglies under the withering August sun, but to agree with that is a pledge to stop reading this column. Still reading? I thought so, dirtbag.
For as long as I have been consciously alive, i.e. not legally abort-able (nice try, Ma) I’ve been fascinated* with names.
*”Fascination” is currently defined by this column as “an overwhelming need to produce a quick column and any old topic will do.”
My fascination extends not just to the given name by which we govern our everyday affairs, but also to the creative and dark nom de plumes to which we assign the creations that we scrupulously refer to as “ours.” My good buddy named his penis “Fear” (and we wonder why Al Qaeda hates us). My car is the called “the Red Rocket” because it has the distinct coloring and shape of a canine phallus. Now were this column strictly about my friend and mine’s cock-centric whimsies (damn that sounds gay) it would be a pleasantly enjoyable piece, I can assure you (the column, not the… oh, never mind). But this column falls under the genus of “Books” and it is to “Books” that this column must pertain.
So from here-to-forth I will hold court on the subject of irritable names — those of both authors and their creations.
The catalyst for this here topic is none other than the protagonist for the popular Hunger Games young-adult series, Katniss Everdeen. This is by far the worst name I have ever heard for anything, worse even than “Sweet Fish Vaginal Deodorant” (actual product!), and yet, I can’t ejaculate it from my memory banks. Everyday of my life for the past several months, it has popped up in my cerebrum when I am choosing what flavor of pot pie I am choosing for dessert, deciding what psychic hotline to call, or arguing with my phone company that the psychic hotline ripped me off. Katniss Everdeen. Granted, Suzanne Collins wasn’t the first scribe to give their character an offbeat name (thank you, Deuteronomy), but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most irritating. At least “Pippi Longstocking” has a certain “laissez-faire” genteelness to it. Pippi is soothing, Katniss Everdeen sounds like an ointment made by lepers for lepers. I recognize that you want your character to “pop” from the page ala Milo Minderbender or Kilgore Trout, but damnit, authors, you can do better. If you named your actual child “Beety Buggit,” guess what? They’d kick you right out of your local Gymboree. Even Vladimir Nabokov’s “Humbert Humbert” is pushing it. Hell, the name Vladimir Nabokov is pushing it; I don’t care what Russia thinks.
It’s odd when you realize that you’re no longer the carefree and dare-I-say Pippi Longstocking-ish free spirit you once were, and that nowadays your body cries out for normalcy, order, and fiber. In my youth, I gorged on the wildly inventive imagery conveyed by a name like Booger Farnsworth. These days, I hear a name like “Harry Potter” and I think, “Hmm, sounds like a good Christian Republican.” It won’t be long now before I mow my lawn in high socks while smoking a pipe. But on that day, I will still have the smug satisfaction that I never named a character Katniss. Also, the reason I am cutting my own grass is because I am not a multimillionaire like Suzanne Collins, so what the hell did I know?
Oh and since you’ve stuck around this long, you’ve earned it. The name I bequeathed upon my penis? Melville. Not because of the “white whale” thing though. It’s because my penis, much like Herman Melville, is not well regarded amongst its contemporaries, but one day, they’ll see. They’ll all see.
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The Dead Janitors Club: Pathetically True Tales of a Crime Scene Cleanup King
by Jeff Klima
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While the world of media spends incalculable hours debating the future of cable and broadcast TV, a generation of media-centric kids is growing up hardly knowing what cable is.
So, rather than use my childhood and adult experiences with media, I thought I might find a willing subject to talk about their relationship with the world’s largest “TV” service.
Of course, I mean YouTube, and my tour guide through the new world of “on demand” web TV is my 12- year-old son, Murray.
Murray is an excellent student, musician, athlete, and all around great kid. He doesn’t watch what I think of as TV at all. No cable, no broadcast, not even any Hulu or Netflix. His video diet is 100 percent YouTube.
I began with an easy question.
Steve Rosenbaum: Do You Watch TV?
Murray Rosenbaum: “My immediate answer is no. I watch news, autotuned by schmoyoho. Just to add a new perspective on it. TV isn’t going to be around much longer. Because of those way too long commercial breaks. As opposed to this…” (he points to text ads on a YouTube page) “…even those these are still annoying, you can still get rid of them. It’s not like you sit through 10 min commercial break — five minutes of your show — and then another 10 minute commercial break. ”
SR: OK, so what exactly is a “YouTuber”?
MR: “So, let’s go to product point of view and work your way down. YouTube is a website where you can put up any video you want and have your own channel. YouTubers are anyone with a channel. The Top10 YouTubers are the ones that are most popular, but really it’s anyone who’s created a video and has a channel.”
SR: And what does he watch? Comedy? News?
MR: “Well you know the elections just passed, and Christine O’Donnel, the “I’m not a witch” ad campaign — well Schmoyoho auto-tuned it. They collaborated with Weazer; Weazer did a whole YouTube thing. (He plays a video of the Band Weazer with “don’t leave me swinging in the wind” with lyrics and vocals by Congressman Charles Rangel.) The fact that they can take four minutes of news that no one was going to remember, and turn it into something people are going to remember. Well, skillz — they haz ‘em.”
OK, I’m trying to compare Murray’s world of Web video to my 12-year-old world of TV. I was watching Batman, Gilligan’s Island, and Get Smart. He’s watching politicians and news reports, re-cut to a dance beat and edited for both amusement and satirical commentary. Oh, and just so you don’t think he’s alone — Charlie Rangle’s duet with Weazer has been viewed more than two and a half million times.
When he’s not watching Auto-Tune The News, he’s a big fan of another YouTuber: Mystery Guitar Man.
Take a look at this one LINK — to get a sense both of what he does, and how he includes viewers in the process of making and sharing and sponsoring his videos.
While we’ve all been busy talking about the “future” of TV, kids and YouTube have already gone and built it. Interactive, Inexpensive, and Engaging.
YouTubers are to our kids, what networks were to us. And it’s going to get even smaller fast. So tune in, check it out, and figure out where shows like Mystery Guitar Man leave mainstream media and advertising. But do it quick.
If you only watch one — watch this one: Desert Duel. (viewed almost 2 million times. See if you can catch the product placement.)
Some Additional Links (If you want to check out more YouTubers):
Driving. Stripping. Swinging.
Added: September 12, 2010 | 2,543,927 views
Rents Too Damn High
Added: November 05, 2010 | 1,944,450 views
Added: July 31, 2010 | 42,045,194 views
Originally published in Silicon Alley Reporter
Steven Rosenbaum is a curator, author, filmmaker and entrepreneur. He is the CEO of Magnify.net, a Realtime Video Curation engine for publishers, brands, and Websites. His book “Curation Nation” is slated to be published this spring by McGrawHill Business. Follow him on Twitter @magnify
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Curation Nation: How to Win in A World Where Consumers are Creators
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7 Days in September: A Powerful Story About 9/11
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“This is an old building. This is an old chair from the 1700s. There’s a pit of sand…” Without listening any further you might think this was some conceptual nonsense, but speaking to John Maeda — the president of the Rhode Island School of Design — at his new exhibition: John Maeda Is The Fortune Cookie, Crane.tv gets a little insight into what it means to be an artist, especially during an economic downturn that sees resources steadily being deflected from creative industries.
Sitting around his recent works at the The Riflemaker Gallery, London, Maeda — himself a celebrated artist — talks of how he spends long lengths of time answering questions in discussions, always searching and aiding others in their search, “when I listen I try to draw in the sand.” Despite the confounding nature of his words and actions, he describes himself as interested in demystifying art, focusing on people’s unique relationship with it. To him, being an artist refers to one’s ability to re-figure and re-imagine. Which is why his focus today is on raising funds for scholarships, as well as promoting the arts to corporations and government bodies: how art can be integrated further into wider society. With changes in the UK’s fiscal policy enforcing massive cuts in education, it results in the arts being the most wounded of all. Maeda persists, explaining that a reduction in the arts is fundamentally damaging for the UK — and other countries — as it reduces the possibility of innovation.
Reminding us of the fact that discovery itself is linked to artists and the way they think, it is important that we continue to bear this is mind. His fight for creativity, coupled with a firm belief that in essence creativity is a natural and normal process anyway, finds one answer in the form of a school that represents change, innovation and possibility. “I see so many countries trying to remove creativity from their agenda, the arts from their agenda. It’ll mean a loss of innovation worldwide. Someone has to stick up for it.” To just be curious and not stop the search for how seemingly disparate things connect is a basis for creativity; being free to discover and form these connections, is a lesson learned for us in general before it’s too late.
Watch Crane.tv’s video here:
Text by Carmen Ho for Crane.tv
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The war in Afghanistan is about perpetual war, not Afghanistan.
It’s about preventing democracy in the United States, not bringing it to Southwest Asia.
And it is the tombstone of the Obama Presidency.
To justify the fight, they’ve rounded up the usual suspects: Terror. Oil. Minerals. Poppies. Democracy.
But George Orwell’s 1984 — now updated with important new books — illuminates the bigger picture: “continuous warfare” is the key to social control.
It keeps the public frightened and dependent.
And it keeps “the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed.”
Better to destroy them in a ritual slaughter like Afghanistan, and wherever is next.
For a truly prosperous society, educated and secure, cannot be ruled by the few. Poverty, ignorance and fear are the three pillars of authoritarian control. Without war, they all disappear.
Thus Afghanistan. Before it: the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, central America. After: whoever else is handy.
Recent books by Howard Zinn and David Swanson have updated Orwell’s analysis.
Zinn’s The Bomb, testifies to the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the utter senselessness of these “announced nuclear tests.” Once an Allied bombardier, Zinn revisited a French town he helped destroy. He found the act, of which he was once proud, had no military meaning whatsoever.
Though he passed away earlier this year, Howard’s People’s History of the United States continues to shape our understanding of this nation’s true core. In narrating the hidden, bloody past of our compromised democracy, he warns at end that even for the US, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
Swanson’s new War is a Lie adds to the litany. A tireless campaigner for peace and justice, Swanson was instrumental in tearing away the ridiculous Bush lie that the war in Iraq was about Weapons of Mass Destruction. War is a Lie adds carefully documented, passionately argued reasons why the era of endless slaughter in Southwest Asia is a tool of social control for the military-industrial elite.
Over the years, Norman Solomon’s books and film War Made Easy have also provided a firm, steady opposition to this fatal addiction.
Nowhere has our military madness become more transparent than in the Obama Administration. The “shellacking” the Democrats took this fall stems directly from Obama’s painfully visible failure to bring hope or change to a nation at war since 1941.
For a few infuriating weeks, Obama danced around the decision to escalate in Afghanistan. Rarely has a single human being had a greater chance to change history.
Obama could have stood up to the generals. He could have de-escalated. He could have begun the process of drawing down the military budget, the only way to save our economy.
More than 50% of taxpayer money goes to weaponry. We have troops in more than 100 countries. We spend more on our military than all the rest of the world combined. Throughout history — Athens, Rome, Persia — empires have spent themselves to military oblivion. We have now been in Afghanistan longer than the USSR.
With a simple speech, Obama could have begun the Great Reversal. It was a crystal clear moment. The public support was there. It was what he was elected to do.
But like Lyndon Johnson’s catastrophic March 1965 decision to escalate the war in Vietnam, Obama went exactly the wrong way. He became the first man in history to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with a pro-war speech. With Bush’s Secretary of War by his side, he ceded to the military our nation’s most critical decision. He doomed our domestic economy and global ecology by burying us still deeper in the lethal quagmire of perpetual war.
All else is sad detail. When Obama caved on Afghanistan, so did his presidency.
As Orwell, Zinn, Swanson and Solomon make clear, perpetual war is the carefully engineered route to poverty, ignorance and dictatorship.
Afghanistan is merely the latest installment in this seamless, unseemly tragedy. Its ever-changing justifications are meaningless smokescreens, forever poised to cloud the inevitable transition to the next conflict. The names, places and rhetoric may change, but the impact will not.
Until we find a way to break through to a genuine state of peace (and we must, and soon), we have no future.
Here is MY deficit-reduction plan. This plan does not reflect the views of anyone but myself — and maybe half the population. Unlike deficit plans from the “serious people” in DC, this one doesn’t annihilate the poor and gut Social Security and the middle class while passing even more of the benefits of our society up to a few at the top.
1) Restore pre-Reagan top tax rates. We didn’t have massive deficits until we reduced the top tax rates.
2) Income is income. No more reduced capital gains tax rate. The incentive to invest should be to make a bunch of money from a good investment. The reason there is a low capital gains tax rate is that the wealthy get most of their income from capital gains. And the reason they get most of their income from capital gains is there is a low capital gains rate. The resulting income shifting schemes are a drag on the rest of us. (Also applies to dividends.)
3) Income is income. Inheritance income should be taxed as income, except there should be a “democracy cap” on how much someone can inherit. We decided not to have an aristocracy when we founded this country so we shouldn’t have one.
4) Businesses should be taxed or not taxed, but not taxed AND not taxed. They shouldn’t be able to use “double Irish” or “Dutch sandwich” or operate out of PO boxes in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. (Bonus, this also helps reduce incentives to send our jobs and factories out of the country.)
5) If you don’t pay your taxes We, the People won’t pay to provide you with services. We can start by not allowing you to have a driveway that connects to public streets, or water/sewer hookups or mail. Also we won’t enforce any contracts for you, including the one that says you “own” your house(s). And no government-developed Internet for you.
If companies like Google want to “double Irish” and “Dutch Sandwich” us or operate out of PO boxes in tax havens, we shouldn’t let them use government services like courts, or the government-developed Internet. See how well they operate without access to roads (that includes for employees to get to go to work.) How about withdrawing the limited liability protection that investors in corporations receive? And of course no protection for “intellectual property” or trademarks. Oh, yeah, no access to anyone who went to a school that used tax dollars. And no government services means no sea-lane protection for your products shipping from Chinese factories, by the way.
6) Speaking of sea-lane protection, why do we have a military budget comparable to when we faced nuclear annihilation by the Soviet empire? Bases in Germany and Japan? And why can I go to this website, pick a DC-area zip code, say 22314, and learn that “Dollar Amount of Defense Contracts Awarded to Contractors in this Zip Code from 2000 to 2009: $7,086,397,848.” Seriously, scroll down the page and look at some of the contracts and amounts awarded. I suspect there’s some serious deficit reduction to be found in the military budget. A comprehensive and very public audit of where all that money has been going since, say, 1981 might take a chunk out of the debt problem all by itself
7) I could start listing all the corporate subsidies, tax breaks, monopoly grants, schemes, contracts, etc. that we pay for, but I think you get the idea. How about calling bribery by its name: bribery, and doing something about it?
8) To the extent that implementing this plan does not clear up the deficit and start paying off the debt, how about a yearly national property tax on all individual holdings above, say, $5 million, with the tax rate progressively increasing as total wealth increases, and keep doing this each year until the debt is paid off. Perhaps start at 1% on $5 million, 2.5% at $10 million, 5% at $50 million, etc. (Hedge fund managers and investment bankers start at 50% and go up, just for the heck of it. We can call this the “get the money from where the money went tax.”)
So there is MY deficit-reduction plan. Or, instead, we could do what the “serious people” deficit-reduction plans do: cut services for We, the People, cut Social Security, cut health care, cut education, cut infrastructure, cut the things that make life better for people, and give all the money to a few at the top. Take your pick.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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TSA workers have one of the worst jobs in America. Reports and surveys by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general show morale among TSA workers is at record lows for the federal workforce and jeopardizes airport security. “It is no secret that the morale of the TSA workforce is terrible as a result of favoritism, a lack of fair and respectful treatment from many managers, poor and unhealthy conditions in some airports, poor training and testing protocols and a poor pay system” says American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage. In addition to the poor treatment by their employers, TSA workers are the scorn of airline travelers everywhere as a result of the invasive procedure which they are forced to perform.
The only thing more outrageous than TSA’s policy of invasive procedures is the fact the TSA workers are legally barred from collectively bargaining. As a result of a Bush-era rule, nearly 50,000 TSA workers have no right to collectively bargain in violation of many international labor law agreements granting public employees the right to collectively bargain. Many other government workers with security-sensitive jobs such as Border Patrol and Federal Protective Service officers, ICE agents, FEMA employees, DoD civilian have the right to collectively bargaining, but TSA workers don’t President Obama had promised to grant the 50,000 TSA workers the right to collectively bargain, but has so far has yet to do so.
A glimmer of hope appeared when on Nov. 12 the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) declared that TSA workers had the right to call a union election and join a union. However, the FLRA declared that collectively bargaining and belonging to a union were two separate things and that workers would still be barred from collectively bargaining. TSA Administrator John Pistole promised to rule shortly whether or not TSA workers would have the right to collectively bargain. Still, TSA workers were jubilant because allowing them to a join a union would give them more strength to push for workplace improvements and eventually collectively bargaining rights.
However, the day after the FLRA granted TSA the right to a join a union, John Tyner launched his famous “Don’t Touch My Junk” video protesting security procedures. To those familiar with the tactics of union busters, it did not seem coincidental that Tyner decided to launch his attack the day after FLRA gave TSA workers the right to to join a union. The Rutherford Institute, funded by the union busting billionaire Koch Brothers, pitched his stories to reporters and helped book Tyner on major TV outlets. As a result of the media frenzy whipped up by Tyner’s video, right-wing forces are appearing on major TV outlets every night calling for airports to opt out of TSA security and privatize their own security forces. If TSA workers had collective bargaining, it would be much more difficult for airports to privatize.
So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the TSA workers who, despite terrible working conditions, a denial of a fundamental right to collectively bargain, being under attack by union busters and scorned by many airline travelers, still continue doing their jobs. I am thankful for the TSA workers who, despite such awful working conditions are keeping our airports safe this Thanksgiving season.
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The Beatles are arguably one of the most successful bands of all time, but their foray into the digital music space has long been frustrated. In their first week on the iTunes store, however, the Beatles amassed a staggering2 million individual song downloads and over 450,000 in albums sales. Not bad for a band who stopped recording music 30 years before the iPod was even invented. Their success is evidence of something else entirely, and it should terrify banks mired in physical methods of banking.
Apple versus The Beatles (also Apple)
The fact that The Beatles held out on launching their ‘content’ into the digital space for so long is sadly typical of many very traditional businesses confronted with changing modality and business models. The Beatles conflict intellectually with the digital space actually commenced as a legal battle between Apple Computers and Apple Corps (The Beatles Holding Company) that started more than 30 years ago in 1978. At that time The Beatles filed a lawsuit against Apple Computers for trademark infringement. In 1981 the initialcase was settled for just $80,000. Conditions of the settlement were that the two “Apples” would not infringe on each other’s businesses, i.e. Apple Computers would not enter the music business, and Apple Corps would refrain from selling computers. Thus, in 1986 when Apple allowed users to record songs to their computers, it was perceived they were in breach of that agreement. The legal jostling continued until February 2007, when a reported settlement of some $500 million was reached over the trademark dispute in favor of Apple Corps.
Modality shift kills physical music distribution
Confronted with the digital age most of the recording industry bristled. They saw changing modality, a shift to digital music as a threat to their entrenched distribution channels. Rather than embrace digital distribution the likes of the RIAA, when confronted with innovation in their sector, lashed out with lawsuit after lawsuit, starting with the famous case against Napster. The RIAA’s strategy was built on the sole premise of trying to prevent people from using file sharing networks so their existing distribution networks could be propped up indefinitely, and they celebrated Napster’s decline into bankruptcy as a sign of success for this strategy.
Clearly most saw the writing on the wall, but rather than change, the RIAA and the industry as a whole buried their head in the sand, hoping to limp along till change was absolutely inevitable, or worse thinking that they were immune to change. By all accounts, the RIAA was woefully unsuccessful in this strategy. Today, new artists live or die based on their ability to move product in the digital space, and The Beatles move at long last into the digital space singles that the last bastions of support for traditional, physical music distribution is crumbling. In fact, physical “record” sales peaked in 1999 at $14.65 Bn. By 2007 Physical sales of music content were already less than in 1993 having reduced to around $10 Bn, and by then end of 2010 it is expected digital music sales will finally overtake physical sales all together. Clearly the sector was in massive trouble with its decision to resist digital sales and the hundreds of millions spent by the RIAA on legal bills were largely a complete and utter waste of money. Those precious funds should have instead been put into revitalizing the industry digitally. The RIAAs actions in this light were reprehensible.
It’s not just ‘physical’ music that’s at threat
Others have faced similar battles in recent times, including Blockbuster who filled for Chapter 11 in September of this year, clearly signaling the near death of physical distribution of DVDs. Encyclopedia Britannica faced the same type of troubles when Microsoft introduced Encarta to show Windows’ multimedia capability in the mid-90s. This almost spelled the end of Britannica’s 300 year old business overnight.
What is under attack here is not DVDs, it’s not The Beatles, RIAA, Books or CDs and vinyl — what is under attack is physical distribution of goods that can easily be digitized. In that sense, the bank sector is in massive trouble because almost everything a bank does can be digitized.
Much of what our banking “experience” today means is wrapped up in the banking sector’s love of physical distribution. The centre of retail banking from an organization structure perspective in most cases remains the branch, which started life arguably as a physical distribution point for cash. Branch P&Ls exceed ‘digital’ by a factor of 50-100 times in most retail banks of today — an inequity that speaks volumes to ghastly outmoded thinking in bank boardrooms. Cash, Cheques, Plastic Cards, Branches themselves are all inevitable victims of this modality shift.
The Financial Times reported last week the following sentiment in the banking sector:
Physical banking is dead (at best dying)
This strategy is massively flawed. While improvements in customer service should be applauded, the fact is, based on distribution metrics, take up of mobile banking, internet banking, mobile payments, and other such indicators, the investment should be going into improving customer journeys, experience and service in the digital space. Most banks need to increase their investment in the digital space ten fold in the next 3 years at a minimum.
Like The Beatles, most banks when threatened with this modality shift, will find it extremely uncomfortable. The reality is, though, if they embrace the change revenues will follow. To give you some indication of the vast gap between shifting modality and the reality of bank distribution strategy, most banks still classify Internet Banking as a ‘transactional platform’ for saving distribution costs. For most customers today, though, they are 30-50 times more likely to visit your bank by logging in to Internet or Mobile Banking than visiting a physical branch. The problem with bank strategy in this respect is, if you come to a branch a core strategy is to try to sell you a new product. Today, most banks don’t sell anything through Internet Banking. If they did, most banks would be shocked to find out that they’d be actually selling more product online than through their entire branch network today.
It’s not branches that is under threat today — it is physical distribution. Banks can take the music industry approach and stick their head in the sand until things are absolutely inevitable, or they can adapt.
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Bank 2.0: How Customer Behavior and Technology Will Change the Future of Financial Services
by Brett King
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If the incoming Congress, especially the Republicans, are serious about paying attention to the American people, they could start with a couple of recent surveys, which are about life, health and even premature death.
The first, which shows how little confidence many Americans have in their newly elected lawmakers, found that “on the heels of the 2010 midterm elections, 63 percent of retirees are not confident Medicare will be there for their children.”
Indeed, according to the poll sponsored by Extend Health Inc., a private company which helps Medicare retirees choose health plans, 40 percent are unsure or not confident that Medicare will last through their lives. The rest are confident Medicare will continue to be available, but perhaps in altered form.
But on the downside, 17 percent are unsure, along with the 63 percent who are” not confident, that Medicare will be available for the rest of their children’s lives.” That takes in a good portion of the 70 million men and women in the huge boomer generation, as well as families in their thirties who have reason to worry they will be shut out of Medicare as well as Social Security.
The reasons for the pessimism include signs among Republicans in the new Congress that they wish to cut funds for Medicare or, as the incoming Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has suggested, privatizing Medicare into a system, in which beneficiaries will use vouchers to buy private insurance. In addition, the new health reforms have cut back on subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans and some of them are going out of business. Republicans favor saving Medicare Advantage in order to cut Medicare.
The other survey goes to the heartlessness of Republican efforts to raise the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 70, for if that is successful, then millions of working people will be forced to delay as well their enrollment in Medicare. And the liberal Center For Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has reported, with good documentation, that increasing the retirement age will not only be difficult for many who work in physically demanding jobs, but it would shorten the retirements and lives of many of those workers.
Using data based on the census and the Occupational Information Network, the CEPR said that “in 2009 6.5 million workers age 58 and older had physically demanding jobs, while five million workers age 58 and older were employed in difficult jobs” that were physically demanding or with difficult working conditions.
In addition, many of the most physically demanding or difficult jobs were also poorly paid, and most were held by Latino workers (54 percent), blacks (53 percent), Asian Americans (50 percent) and whites (43 percent). Even higher percentages of Latinos and blacks in the most demanding jobs were much older than 58 and would be especially hurt economically by a raise in the retirement age.
The survey found:
Or, after a life of hard work and paying taxes, they would go on welfare.
But that would not be the worst of it, for CEPR found, in a companion survey, that many retirees from difficult jobs don’t live long enough to collect benefits. Those who, like Ryan, intend to support raising the retirement age, argue that life expectancy has increased and therefore the retirement age should likewise be increased. Perhaps it doesn’t occur to Ryan and his allies that Medicare and Social Security are largely responsible for increased longevity (which still lags behind other nations). Perhaps this will be the Republicans’ “death panels.”
As CEPR reported:
Graphs and charts, in CEPR’s paper, illustrate the growing income inequality and life expectancy between minorities in difficult jobs and the rest of workers, especially those in white-collar jobs that are less demanding.
If the recent trend of growing inequality in life expectancy continues through the next three decades, these workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution an anticipate substantial reductions in the expected length of retirement, if the normal retirement age is increased… A male worker born in 1973 retiring at age 70 can expect to live a full year less than the expected length of retirement for a worker born in 1912.
The study’s conclusion:
If the normal retirement age is increased to 70 over the next 25 years, as advocated by many policymakers, then the rise in the retirement age will continue to offset most of the increase in life expectancy… The expected years of retirement (meaning the years until death) will be less for the 1973 birth cohort than it was for the 1912 birth cohort.
We reported earlier this year on the book The Spirit Level, which analyzed the growing income inequality in the U.S., compared to other countries, and the consequences for millions of Americans as they grow older and poorer. Trust the new Congress to do nothing to make it better for the American worker and his/her family.
The CEPR study added this note: “From the probabilities of death, life tables were constructed based on standard methods as described by Social Security.” The bottom line: The higher the retirement age, the shorter the lives of retirees. That, of course is one way of saving money; widows and widowers don’t cost taxpayers and Social Security as much as a retiree who lives a full life and draws a full benefit.
This study dealt only with the consequences of Social Security retirement longevity. But ignored during most of the debate on the subject have been the consequences for the quality of life for workers who also may be denied the protection of Medicare if its age of eligibility is also increased. Many employers have ended pension programs, and most Latino, black and poor white workers in demanding blue-collar jobs do not have 401(k) savings plans.
Nor do many employers provide good health coverage. And unless the recently passed health reforms continue in force, millions of America’s hardest workers at the most physically demanding jobs will remain uninsured and at great risk of illness and high medical costs in their older years, thanks to members of Congress who get taxpayer-funded health coverage.
Incidentally, if you wish to learn more about income inequality in the U.S., the The Spirit Level is cited in a fine series in Slate, called “The Great Divergence,” by Timothy Noah. And this U.K. site is worth examining: www.equalitytrust.org.uk.
You can reach Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friedman also writes for www.timegoesby.net.
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Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Today’s guest post is from my fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. Orlando recently collaborated in the filming of a documentary film about the Cuban writer and poet Jose Lezama Lima, only to learn later that, when the film was edited, every single scene in which he appeared was removed by the censor. In response, Orlando has published an open letter, translated here into English.
Open Letter to the World (Excepting Abel Prieto, Cuban Minister of Culture)
by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Last week I participated in an exceptional experience. For two days I spoke on camera for the fictionalized documentary Trocadero 162, Bajos, by director Tomas Piard, about the last years of Jose Lezama Lima: his final ostracism when the doors on the island were closed to him; his resistance to the Cuban vacuum, until he died in August 1976; the black hole that still today swallows his writing, not only among the lay public but also among academics on the island (for the Cuban diaspora Lezama a rare fossil, but at least educational programs are appearing).
I shared the movie set with a history student and a young professor from the Faculty of Arts and Letters, both from the University of Havana. I spoke on tape with two people who relished, face to face, the friendship, resignation, laughter, and ultimately the orphanhood of the late Lezama Lima: that unfinished poet of Oppiano Licario and the narrator of the unpublished Fragments of His Iman; that shadow so representative of his Pinar del Rio home that he swam in his sleep, both fists clenched (Virgil vomited his fear, but Lezama Lima swallowed his).
This most recent production by Tomas Piard is now being edited at the Faculty of the Art of Media Studies, and will debut on Sunday, 19 December 2010, Lezama Lima’s hundredth birthday. I engaged in and we engaged in critical discussions during hours and hours of shooting. The producer did not pay us for our effort. And now, suddenly, I am perplexed to learn that not one of the scenes of Trocadero 162, Bajos will feature my face or my voice. The Cuban State erases again, for political prudery, the insignificant and magnificent traces of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (like a King Midas, everything I touch melts into horror).
Someone, working in secret from the highest level in the Ministry of Culture, has made the most disrespectful decision: not a single frame shall escape from the censoring scissors of the despot’s accomplices, as our nomenklatura of lies spits its sterility on the unpeaceful memory of Jose Lezama Lima. We repeat the crime of butchering Cuban writers. Today is still yesterday. We stigmatize as a form of occupational therapy. The universe changes but the censors do not change: they remain employed thanks to this infantilism of the left that invents enemies to survive. If this happens with such self-assurance in November of 2010, I don’t even want to imagine in what kind of “bed of roses” Lezama Lima died in the seventies of the last century.
I don’t know if, in a country that is more of a country, someone would have to resign for such an atrocity (I, at least, do not resign my task of continuing to be one of those in my generation to push the boundaries of prose). I don’t know whether to nail a proclamation on the door of each ministry, or to give these new Pavons — our Cuban Torquemadas — the stylistic benefit of my forgiveness. My heart aches for the child orphaned by Tomas Piard, a good and universal Cuban whom the provincial brutes mock through their amateur director. I regret that 2011 already promises not just another Five Grey Years, but Fifty Black Years. I am happy only for the transparency of this grotesque gesture with which the powers-that-be put in black-and-white their utter disdain for everything with the least whiff of intellect (State Security demonstrates to the entire world their complete stupidity).
They know full well that no Tom, Dick or Harry — and much less a winner of the National Literature Prize — will protest (Lezama himself did not protest). The vice-minister is well aware that this shameful bullying will scare away my supporters, through mere instinct for self-preservation (every reader for himself). They assume I’ll end up just one more suicide, as this is the formula of “triumphant hatred” in the socialist system: With all and for the mediocrity of all (except Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture whom I exempt from reading this open letter to the world: his position allows him to manage the budgets of blame, but never the pride of culture).
Faced with the challenge of beauty and truth, our pre-posthumous country prefers to pass while its gatekeepers still don’t dare to shift even a millimeter. To be born here becomes an unspeakable fiasco. Me, I don’t know how to say it: Revolution.
For my part, I no longer expect anything, not even absence. Cuba will be free. I never was.
Yoani’s blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.
Translating Cuba is a new compilation blog with Yoani, Orlando Luis, and other Cuban bloggers in English.
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