Archive for December 9th, 2010
We need sanctions against Iran
Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” No one yet has come up with an analogy to describe the difficulty of understanding and dealing with Iran.
With its thousands of years of history and multitude of cultures and languages, comprehending Iranian society and its politics could perhaps be likened to a fusion of astronomy and algebra. Very often political scientists discover new factors and players which they were not aware of. And once they do, establishing relations and correlations between them could turn into calculator defying operations.
This is one of the reason why western countries have found it difficult to deal with Iran, especially after the revolution.
Despite the present challenges in understanding Iran, since Obama took office in 2009, some factors have become more clear than others.
One is the intransigence of the Iranian leadership. Since taking office Obama has tried several diplomatic initiatives in order to reach out to the government of Ali Khamenei. These included two personal letters to the Iranian supreme leader. His overtures were dismissed. The regime does not seem interested in a diplomatic rapprochement with the U.S.
Meanwhile evidence is mounting against Iranian claims that the nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. These include: discovery of a secret enrichment facility in Natanz in 2002, another secret facility at Fordo near Qom in September 2009, and the discovery by the UN nuclear agency that Iran had tested advanced nuclear warhead design.
Such discoveries, as well as Iran’s refusal to accept Obama’s diplomatic overtures are convincing increasing number of countries that Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and the man responsible for Iran’s nuclear program, has military plans for his nuclear program. They are also an indication that he is not interested in reaching a compromise with the West, until he has fulfilled this goal.
Inaction will not stop the Iranian government. At the same time, war without giving diplomacy and other non-militaristic methods a chance would also boost the regime’s standing at home. This was witnessed after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. His unprovoked attack boosted the regime’s credibility.
For now, targeted sanctions offer the most suitable solution. The engine of the Islamic Republic does not run on chants of “Death to America.” It runs on income from its economy. Punishment of the Revolutionary Guard’s business interests, and the private wealth of the regime have sent a powerful message to Tehran’s rulers that defiance carries a price.
Understanding Iran is still a perplexing challenge for many governments. But history has shown that when pressured, the regime responds. Therefore the west should continue to pressure it, and what better way than targeted sanctions, which punish it for its nuclear policies, and its abuse of human rights, even more.
Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst, the coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The State of Iran and UN Global Expert.
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Tradition tells us that Santa Claus travels every year on Christmas Eve from his home in the North Pole to make the children of the world happy.
But exactly 50 years ago, Santa was especially generous with all Americans, young and old.
He gave us a historic present: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established in Northern Alaska, not too far from the North Pole.
Santa, of course, had the valuable help of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who signed into law the protection of one of the few complete ecosystems left in the Western Hemisphere.
This precious gift is home to a huge variety of wildlife, comparable to Africa’s Serengeti. In the Refuge’s pristine tundra and on its shores there are almost 200 species of birds, a formidable caribou herd, plus the largest polar bear habitat in the U.S., muskoxen, wolverines, grizzly bears and several species of whales.
And watching over all this bounty is the ancestral Gwich’in Nation, the Native Americans who for millennia have lived in harmony with the environment and have depended on a vital caribou herd.
This natural treasure, however, has been under siege for decades by the greed of Big Oil and their deputies in Congress. They all aim to drill in the Arctic tundra in search for yet another fix for our national oil addiction.
“Destroying this place would constitute a crime because the wildlife would be put in deadly danger,” says Brenda Lemus, a Guatemalan-American and a Sierra Club activist who has committed herself to fight for the protection of our special places. “Words cannot express enough why protecting the Arctic Refuge is so important.”
Big Oil’s siege threatens to intensify in January once the new Congress begins. Many of the newly-elected conservative politicians will come determined to turn the Refuge into an industrial wasteland in the name of corporate greed.
And all this for a handful of dollars. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the oil production in the Refuge would reduce the price of an oil barrel by 75 cents by the year 2025. If we consider that an oil barrel today costs $90, that reduction would be insignificant for the consumer. In fact, if OPEC were to play around with oil prices, that meager savings would be completely wiped out.
This rampant greed is a direct assault against common sense and the rules of arithmetic. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. burns 25 percent of the planet’s oil production, while our country has only 3 percent of the global oil reserves. To continue drilling this hole of an energy crisis benefits only Big Oil’s bank account.
In the meantime, an endless supply of alternative energy is already at our fingertips: the sound use of our resources. By improving our vehicle emission standards and the weatherization of our buildings, we could save all the oil that would be extracted from the Refuge, and all the oil we get from off our shores and from the Persian Gulf.
We not only would preserve a natural treasure of critical ecological importance. We would also improve our air quality exponentially and no longer be at the mercy of the dictators and autocrats who control the oil wells half way around the globe.
So, what is the immediate alternative for the Refuge?
“It is of extreme importance to designate the Arctic Refuge as a National Monument,” says Brenda, “so that once and for all we stop this insanity of wondering when the Refuge is going to become one more memory of the past.”
Turning it into a national monument would be the perfect antidote to Big Oil’s greed because this natural jewel would be excluded from any form of development.
And the only person who can do this is President Obama, who has the unique opportunity to become one of America’s great conservationists.
President Obama, save that lovely bearded man some work and be our Santa: turn this monument to Nature’s greatness into a national monument.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist.
The Lord of Flies nestled within America’s intelligence establishment sent lead bees to sting Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, and Malcolm X when each was only 39.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is now 39.
A real-life Robin Hood, a Neo from The Matrix, Assange follows the path of Geronimo and H. Rap Brown. He fights for us, by revealing in black and white U.S. complicity in the torture and murder of innocents. Saving Assange may be the first decisive battle of the internet.
I have felt for years that the last defenders of our freedom would be the cyber-anarchists. We are not at freedom’s end yet, but cameras capture the average Briton 300 times daily. The Lord of Flies even wishes to invade our minds, to determine when we are lying to him.
There is hope. Mathematical results with practical significance may enable us at least to transmit encrypted messages in such a way that no one unintended can decrypt them. This comes from the fact that it seems to be time-consuming to factor the product of two large prime numbers. For this reason, the Lord of Flies seeks to limit in essence the size of the prime numbers one can use for encryption.
There are two ways we can protect Assange. First, we can complete the mission. The Lord of Flies wishes to shut down WikiLeaks. The world now sees the sham of the neutrality of Switzerland, a country the civilized world should have invaded years ago for giving aid to druglords, dictators, and the people who make those insufferable clocks. Interpol is now illegitimate. Sweden’s servility to the United States would make Tony Blair blush.
The way to prevent an epidemic is to make sure that 1 is greater than the reproductive ratio, the average number of people an infected person makes sick. Let’s spread the dis-ease. Already there are 200 mirrors of the WikiLeaks site. For every site the Lord of Flies pulls down, let’s put two up.
A second way to protect Assange is with the Golden “Mean”: Do unto others as they would do unto you. American cowards have threatened Assange and his associates, and their families, and myself, with death. Right-wing politicians and pundits have called for the execution of the people behind WikiLeaks.
Nothing stops the Left from doing the same, except the will, which is lacking, because American liberals often want to make friends with the Enemy. For example, in Oakland, California, local police illegally spied on a black church because it was engaged at that time in anti-apartheid activities. After apartheid ended, I asked a senior pastor of the church what had happened to the guilty police. He didn’t know. He hadn’t followed it up.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who said, of the war criminals in his predecessor’s administration, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” now says through his attorney general that he wants to “hold people accountable”–meaning Assange.
Let’s make an example, just as the Lord of Flies wishes to make an example of Assange. Pick any individual who has called for Assange’s death. Shut down that individual’s website with denial-of-service attacks. Publically accuse that individual of treason–feel free to invent a reason why, as the gnats of America’s right-wing media have no qualms about using this word improperly–explicitly pointing out that treason carries the death penalty. Put that individual’s contact information, along with that of his associates, on a website, on Facebook, on everything. The correctness of this approach stems from ideas in evolutionary game theory, “Tit-for-Tat.” It is logical, ethical, and legal–although naturally it would make sense to set up these non-lethal internet SWAT teams outside the United States.
Very soon the cowards will become quiet.
And, in the quiet that kills hysteria, we may eventually succeed in saving the man who kicked the hornets’ nest.
Elizabeth Edwards will be ever remembered as a woman who offered hope to the suffering, as well as one who stood up valiantly for economic well being and protection for those denied these rights. She was fierce, brilliant, and authentic in her reasoning and her pleas on their behalf. Even before the public humiliation that ultimately reversed John Edward’s political fortunes, many said Elizabeth, not her husband, was the stronger Presidential candidate.
This said, however, the contradictions in the personal and public lives of Elizabeth and John Edwards are not only sad. They are also confusing. Yet, it is these very contradictions that offer vivid understanding of seemingly invisible forces that lead to estrangement and divorce.
How could a man who publicly demonstrated fierce love for his wife, who a month before abandoning his presidential race described her as “fearless,” the one he trusted more than “anybody in the world” be having an extramarital affair which led to the birth of a child as he spoke these very words?
How could a woman who went through hell with him after the death of a son, who was determined to once again give him children, and who was a fiercely protective wife in all areas of their world be treated in this way? The pathetic picture of a woman begging her husband for some semblance of time and affection documented in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book, Game Change, pointed to the utter turmoil and pathos, as well as the contradictions, in the public versus the personal lives of Elizabeth and John Edwards.
This dynamic, however, is acted out again and again on far less public stages. It is, in fact, sadly quite common. Such agony occurs when one marries another who needs the assets of this partner to move forward in life because of intense insecurity (often scrupulously and successfully hidden from others), and confuses this need for love. The resulting ultimately miserable dance, that at first can hold great passion, goes like this: One partner does not feel whole unless the other is filling him/her up constantly. The other does not feel secure unless he/she is needed constantly. In time, there is great pain, without understanding the reasons for an ultimately malignant dance: Terrified by distance and rejection the giver, in desperation, does more and more to be appreciated. But the receiver has long ago stopped expressing private appreciation and warmth. Instead he/she withdraws, resenting the giver more and more, viewing his/her acts as documentation of personal inadequacy. The distancing often involves turning to another for sex and escape, with no understanding of the forces at work.
Because she let us know and understand her through her writing and interviews, Elizabeth Edwards most have felt relief and peace in the brave, extraordinary legacy of hope and care that she left behind. Both of her books, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, which documents her fight for survival from cancer, and Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, which shows a fierce devotion to her husband and the survival of her family, leave her blueprint for a meaningful life journey. Though surely Elizabeth Edwards wanted to live to see all of her children more secure in their journeys, she must have found calm and peace in the ways she protected and loved them, doing all in her power to ensure that they and their father will have some form of a trusting relationship. Though she wrote Resilience before her marital separation (when she could no longer deny her husband’s lies), the book was her declaration that John was eternally hers; and she must have felt satisfaction that he was with her and their children in her final hours.
That said, Elizabeth Edwards also left us life lessons not in her books that can be used as we do all possible to plan our lives and help our children to do the same: Before choosing a mate, be as whole a human being as possible. Do not commit to a partner whose primary passion is for you to help him/her feel whole and cover up insecurities, or even worse, self-hate. In other words, look for the following music and poetry expressed in and behind the words of one you find yourself considering as a life partner: “I love you because you are the one I need to love.” And think again and again before committing to one who tells you, “I love you because I need you.” The latter almost always leads to great personal pain, loneliness, and loss.
This Blogger’s Books from
Whoever Said Life Is Fair?: A Guide to Growing Through Life’s Injustices
by SaraKay Cohen Smullens
Setting Yourself Free :Breaking the Cycle of Emtional Abuse in Family, Friendships, Work and Love
by SaraKay Smullens
A grumpy Norwegian fishing boat captain, a Hulk necktie and nonstop rain in a small Alaskan village with not a single road leading out of town… if you had told me on August 23, 2010 that all of this was in my immediate future, I would have wondered what odd dream you had just woken up from.
The next day, it all began to fall into place.
Tuesday, August 24th was the day that Tea Party extremist Joe Miller defeated U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Alaskan Republican primary. His victory was yet another in a series of victories for Tea Party candidates over incumbent Republican senators in their party’s nominating contests. But what was different with Joe Miller’s victory was the reaction seen in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Within hours, progressives across the country went into action to help the unknown Democrat in the race – Scott McAdams. Miller’s nomination created an opportunity to win a U.S. senate seat that, until then, national Democrats had written off as unwinnable. And the effects were immediately felt.
Within three days, I was asked to join the campaign team of the unknown mayor from Sitka, Alaska in his suddenly very-serious and very-real campaign for the U.S. Senate. Contributions were flowing in from across the country at a furious pace, the political establishment was beginning to notice and the mainstream media began to cover the developing campaign as yet another example of how unusual and unpredictable Alaskan politics can be.
But they were missing the real story.
Yes, Alaskan politics are different. But ever since the Dawn of Sarah, when the Alaskan governor was plucked out of relative obscurity to be John McCain’s running mate, this had become a tired and oft-repeated routine of “Look how quirky those Alaskans are.” Meanwhile, the story that no one was reporting was how progressives across the country were empowering a Democrat and putting him into real contention in what would ultimately be a three-way contest.
Over the next ten weeks, Scott McAdams would become the latest example of how the Internet has changed the way campaigns are run. In this volatile political environment, the energy and speed of thousands of political activists nationwide can quickly bolster insurgent campaigns when an opportunity arises. And this is a development that crosses party lines (witness Scott Brown).
It is easy to over-read this development — it is a particular mix of factors that will cause a race to jump onto the radar of activists. It is most often seen in U.S Senate contests where there are national implications to every seat up for grabs, in congressional special elections when the political world often looks for national trends, and, of course, in presidential politics.
But of particular note is how, in low-cost states like Alaska, this surge of Internet-based activism can put a candidate into contention in a race where, at the outset, no one expects them to win.
So, this is the story of how Scott McAdams found himself at the center of a political earthquake with an army of supporters that he could never have imagined when he first entered the campaign.
But first, a little background — because, yes, Alaskan politics are indeed different. And I had seen all of this before.
I was born in Anchorage, Alaska exactly seven days before the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. On that day when the earth turned upside down and a tsunami pulled an entire Alaskan city out to sea, I rode out the quake blissfully asleep in my crib – with my father riding on top of the crib’s rails as it careened from one side of the bedroom to the other, using his body to block falling debris from striking me, while he held on for dear life with a white-knuckle grip.
Had I woken up, it would have been an early lesson that Alaska has a way of taking you on a wild ride when you least expect it.
Growing up in Alaska, I was very aware of our state’s interesting, and sometimes, tragic politics. I remember well — as an 8-year-old in 1972– when our congressman Nick Begich and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs were lost in a small plane somewhere in the clouds between Anchorage and Juneau, never to be found. Every morning for 39 days I asked my mother if they had found the airplane yet. On the fortieth day, she told me they had stopped looking.
I was in high school when a banker named Frank Murkowski rode Ronald Reagan’s coattails and won the seat of then-senator Mike Gravel (later of rock-into-lake fame) in a 1980 rout.
And I graduated from high school on the very same day that, a few miles down the road in Wasilla, a little-known basketball player named Sarah Heath was also graduating – before heading off to her first of five colleges and an eventual place in Saturday Night Live history.
But this story really isn’t about me. The point of all of this is that my upbringing in the last frontier gave me a unique insight into the rough and tumble world of Alaskan politics and a landscape of great beauty, vast isolation and occasional death by Grizzly bear mauling. And I had traveled much of the state during my lifetime – Ketchikan, Juneau, Fairbanks, Chicken, Tok, Coldfoot, Deadhorse, Prudoe Bay, Barrow, Homer and, of course, our own little place called Hope. But I had never been to Sitka. And I had never met Scott McAdams.
Two years earlier, in 2008, I had helped Mark Begich defeat the legendary Ted Stevens – a man who, 28 years earlier, had turned me down for a three-week high school summer internship, even after I had mustered up my courage and politely introduced myself on an airplane flight and told him how much I hoped I could be of service. I was a 17-year-old kid, but my parents were teachers, not Republican contributors, and I didn’t merit much more than a grunt from the senator in first class.
So I waited in the tall grass for nearly three decades to help the son of the lost congressman in his quest to be the first Democratic senator from Alaska in 34 years. And we won.
In Alaska, all things and all people seem to be connected.
Now here it was, 2010, and I was talking long distance to Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka, about why he wanted to be a U.S. Senator. And it was a remarkable conversation.
Scott was not your usual senate candidate. The son of a single mom, he had grown up in Petersburg, Alaska, a small fishing village that I hadn’t yet visited. He had worked as a deckhand in the Bering Sea and on a long-line fishing boat out of Kodiak. He coached high school football. He had been a teacher, a school board president, a later-than-usual college graduate and a relatively new mayor of Sitka. He had increased school funding, saved a hospital, and created jobs. And, as he liked to say about his wife Romee, “I married up.”
Scott had decided to run against Lisa Murkowski purely because he thought that he could raise some important issues in the debates. He knew he was likely to lose in a landslide. But we have a lot of those in the mountains of Alaska.
In other words, Scott was real. And he was also very, very bright. I liked him immensely from the start.
So we had eight weeks to build a campaign from scratch and attempt an “impossible” win. We had the Netroots behind us, but we needed to build a campaign on the ground and on the air.
Our team was a crew of Alaskan political veterans — manager Suzanne Fleek, field general Leslie Ridle, advisors Tom Begich and Charles Wohlforth, pollsters Celinda Lake, David Mermin and Daniel Spicer, direct mail consultant Joe Hansen, press secretary Heather Handyside and me, the media consultant. Assisting from the DSCC were Teresa Vilmain and Martha McKenna.
At this point in time, Lisa Murkowski had not yet declared her intention to run as a write-in candidate. Early polling showed Scott trailing Joe Miller by 11 points (43% to 32%), but Miller was well below 50 percent. We could win this thing. But if Lisa jumped in, the race was Miller 36%, Murkowski 31%, McAdams 21%. If that happened, it would not be easy.
But, as noted earlier, the Netroots groundswell was already quickly building and it was clear that, because Alaska was an affordable state, we would have a well-funded campaign. Not only could we run TV advertising through Election Day, we could run radio, a direct mail campaign and a credible ground game.
As quickly as possible, we completed our own polling to help guide the TV and radio script development and the overall campaign strategy. While our poll was “in the field,” Lisa announced her decision to run as a write-in. We anticipated this could happen, so our polling was testing two-way and three-way dynamics, and the message was clear – with Lisa in the race, too many Democrats were supporting her because they saw her as the best hope to beat Joe Miller. And no one knew who Scott McAdams was.
Our job was to introduce Scott, tell his story, try to pull some of those Democrats off of Lisa and position him for the hoped-for and likely event that Lisa and Joe would start annihilating each other. In the short time left (we could afford five weeks of television), our best hope was to “come up the middle” and be the candidate whose only focus was delivering for Alaska in a place that valued pork, earmarks and government jobs.
In fact, even before we completed our polling, we settled on a slogan that fit the campaign and character of our candidate. For Joe Miller, his campaign was about an extreme view that most federal spending was unconstitutional. For Lisa Murkowski, it was about her status in Washington and her many go-along-to-get-along votes with the Republican leadership, even when it meant voting against Alaskan projects. For Scott, as we said over and over again, “It’s about Alaska.” And that was the touchstone for the entire campaign.
I wrote three scripts in one short afternoon and a few days later I was on a flight out of Washington National Airport (I’ve never gotten the hang of calling it Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) through Denver, Seattle, Juneau and finally to Sitka — a somewhat typical 16-hour odyssey to remote Alaska.
My advanceman, Rob Grossman, had been scouring the town for locations and he reported that the weather had been beautiful. For six straight days. According to the locals, it was a veritable drought the likes of which you never saw in Sitka. Of course, tomorrow the rains were to return. Just in time for our shoot.
Our goal was to capture Scott’s personality, the unique flavor and character of Southeast Alaska, and each ad would showcase Sitka — a place that, even among Alaskans, had a special character and romantic ideal. The first ad would focus on Scott’s life story, starting with his years as a deckhand. And a small line in a news clipping had caught my attention — Scott had spoken of not being afraid of Republicans in Washington because, as he put it, “I’ve been cursed at in Norwegian.” It seemed, in one colorful remark, to sum up Scott’s character and how he would be a dogged fighter for Alaska.
The day the ad was released, it was featured on Rachel Maddow and led to a spike in Internet contributions. Then, as the ad made its way around the blogosphere, it drove our Internet fundraising even higher.
A second ad featured Scott trying on a series of neckties, in pursuit of the perfect tie to look more “senatorial,” while talking about the battles he would fight as Alaska’s senator. Some observers thought that Scott had settled on a bolo tie in a nod to the state’s lone congressman, Republican Don Young. Actually, I had forgotten that Congressman Young liked the bolo — I just thought it would be a good departure from the standard Washington look.
The kicker was the ending. Senator Stevens had been famous in Alaska for wearing a “Hulk tie” on the floor of the senate whenever he was in a fighting mood — most often when he felt Alaska had been wronged. So I wrote an ending to the ad that was meant to be a sign of respect for the senator — with Scott gently touching, but not wearing, a Hulk tie that was identical to the one Senator Stevens used to wear. In the ad, Scott leaves the tie in the tie rack — a salute to his legacy and an acknowledgment that he wasn’t yet ready to wear the tie.
If you lived in the “Lower 48,” you probably didn’t get the ending. If you lived in Alaska, you did. Despite my own personal history with Ted Stevens, I thought it was important for Scott to show that he understood what Ted Stevens had meant to the state. The senator had just perished on the side of a mountain in yet another Alaskan plane crash, and there was a palpable sense of “who can ever fill his shoes?”
Now, getting that tie was not an easy matter. We could not locate one for sale anywhere. I had found online the name of a collector who owned the tie, but tracking him down took some effort. Justin Murphy, one of my producers, scoured superhero chat rooms until he found the collector posting comments, not just about the Incredible Hulk, but also where he mentioned his home town. Not an easy thing to find. That allowed us to track down his phone number. After repeated phone messages, we finally connected with him and rented the tie for a few weeks. As I was traveling to Sitka, I double-checked my carry on so frequently that one would think I was carrying the gold briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
Now, some progressives think that there is nothing good that can be said about Senator Stevens — but part of our shot at winning the campaign was to demonstrate that Scott McAdams understood the uniqueness of Alaskan politics and that even though he might disagree with Stevens on many issues, in the end, he would fight for Alaska just as hard as Stevens had. It was a necessary nod of respect if we wanted to win over hard-to-get moderates and independent voters. Without them, we would never rise into contention.
Our third spot, “Sitka” was the most comparative of the initial batch of scripts, and also attempted to capture the unflappable, indomitable spirit of Alaskans. “We’re not much for carrying on, even when it rains” was a last minute addition to the script during the shoot. With the near constant rain that was drenching our candidate and video crew, it was my attempt to make lemonade out of lemons.
The principal point of “Sitka” was driven by our polling, which showed that Lisa’s votes to cut Medicare and privatize Social Security were weak spots we could exploit IF voters were inclined to listen to us. The most difficult aspect of the campaign was trying to poll a three-way race with one of the candidates running as a write-in. There was no guidebook to show us the way. And every pollster was coming up with a different result – sometimes Joe Miller was ahead, sometimes Lisa, sometimes Scott closing the gap quickly. The consistent trend seemed to be Scott moving upward, with Joe and Lisa locked in a seesaw race. The candidate on top usually depended upon who was polling and the pollster’s methodology of choice.
In the final days of the campaign, we decided to take our hardest shot at Lisa. We were concerned about tarnishing the un-politician brand we were building for Scott, but polling indicated that Lisa was strong and was still attracting Democratic women and Democratic-leaning independents. We didn’t need all of them to win, but we certainly needed more of them.
We had been running some pretty tough radio ads targeted at women voters, laying out the case of how Lisa had been voting against Alaskan projects on the Appropriations Committee “where the votes are more hidden.” We focused on votes against specific Alaskan projects, such as health care facilities and domestic violence prevention programs, and we tailored the scripts to the audiences in different media markets. One script for the Bush (the interior of Alaska) went into great detail about Lisa’s votes “against erosion protection in Bethel, hydro power in Dillingham and early childhood learning in Toksook Bay.”
Our final TV ad echoed these attacks, and we ran this in rotation with “Sitka” — so voters would not lose their feel for Scott, his personality and his focus on doing what’s right for Alaskans.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Not enough time, not enough ads, and not enough moderate voters who could be convinced, as Scott often put it, to “vote their values and not their fears.” The irony is that Lisa Murkowski ended up becoming the underdog in a race against an increasingly discredited, yet still in contention, Joe Miller. Joe had had railed against public assistance, despite his own personal history of accepting government aid, and the release of employment records showed that he had a checkered past of lying to his government employer about political activities on the job.
As of this writing, Joe Miller is still contesting the election, despite being thousands of votes behind Lisa Murkowski. He’s hoping that something will turn the results upside down. He just can’t accept that his earthquake already happened back in August, when he won the Republican primary. Ever since, he’s been riding a careening campaign on a rolling floor with a white-knuckle grip.
And Scott McAdams? Well, Scott’s loss is not to say that all was lost. He now has one of the highest positive ratings of any public figure in Alaska, he is well positioned for a future run for public office, has a network of support that extends far beyond the edges of the last frontier and has the benefit of time to decide how he can best help the state that he loves.
For Scott McAdams, as always, it’s about Alaska.
For progressives, it’s about finding more candidates who can win. And sometimes, quite suddenly, you find them where you would least expect.
** Please share your thoughts in the comments section below about the McAdams campaign, what makes a good (or bad) television campaign, and whether or not you think Lisa Murkowski’s winning write-in campaign was an aberration or a sign of things to come now that Tea Party activists are winning Republican primaries. **
Mark Putnam is a Democratic media consultant and founder of Putnam Partners, LLC. He is known for creating some of this decade’s most memorable political advertising, including Barak Obama’s 2008 thirty-minute television special, John Hickenlooper’s “Shower” ad, Bill Richardson’s “Job Interview” ads and “Western”ad, and Tom Udall’s “Humbled” ad, among many others. You can read about his new firm at PutnamPartners.net.
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This post was co-authored by Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of NAACP and Reverend Richard Cizik, president of New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
While TV pundits and politicians continue to debate the existence of climate change, the impacts of the crisis continue to worsen, threatening the lives and livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people across the world. As representatives from over 190 countries meet in Cancn this week to determine how to address the climate crisis, the US has the opportunity to step up its leadership and shore up its plans to help.
Constituents and staff of the NAACP will be in Cancn to ensure that the experiences and risks faced by marginalized communities in the US are considered in the deliberations, while also identifying common interests with developing nations who share a need to halt the progression of climate change and address the impacts. Additionally, many different religious communities, evangelicals included, such as the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, are in Cancn to draw attention to the plight of the poor and marginalized who are being impacted negatively by climate change.
If sea levels continue to rise, the Maldives could be the first nation to disappear entirely; their country sits just 4.9 feet above sea level and rising waters could threaten their very existence. Across Africa, changing weather patterns and erratic rainfall are making farming more and more difficult, contributing to food crisis and famines in country after country. Communities in the United States are not spared of these impacts including increasing food prices and affecting availability of nutritious foods in the US where African American communities and other communities of color already disproportionately experience elevated hunger rates.
At a climate summit in Copenhagen one year ago, developed countries, including the US, pledged to deliver $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor countries transition to clean energy economies and adapt to the impacts of climate change. This money would be used by at-risk nations to build storm-resistant homes, hospitals and flood shelters and helping farmers grow and store food in the face of extreme weather and rising tides.
The US commitment to funding for adaptation has been undermined by Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive climate legislation. Even with these massive obstacles before us, we must continue to work with President Obama’s administration and supportive leaders in the House and Senate to develop and implement creative ways to meet meet and exceed the US’s stated commitment with new option including public finance.
While new funding is critically important, so, too, is the mechanism to deliver these funds. In Cancn, the US should also support the establishment of an independent global climate fund that will ensure transparency and accountability and allow at-risk communities direct access to funding and participation in decision-making at all levels of the funding process.
The outcomes in Cancun are of critical concern to the faith and civil rights communities — those who serve traditionally marginalized groups and people. Bad environmental decisions will result in lost cultures and devastated livelihoods particularly among those who have done least to create the crisis, at home and abroad. Support and leadership from the US is urgently needed in Cancn and beyond.
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He is one of 17 new people to support a group, founded by Bill Gates and his wife along with Warren Buffett, which encourages America's wealthiest to publicly promise to donate to charity.
At 26, Mark Zuckerberg is one of the youngest to sign up.
Earlier this year, he gave 100m in shares to schools in New Jersey.
“People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?” he asked in a statement.
“With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts.”
Mr Zuckerberg, estimated to be worth 6.9bn (4.4bn), was placed 35th in this year's Forbes list of the richest people in the US.
The Giving Pledge initiative was launched earlier this year. It was announced in August that 40 individuals or families had taken the pledge.
Some of the super rich prefer to give to charities anonymously, but the Giving Pledge stresses the importance of being open about donations.
“Research shows that when people know that others are giving, they are themselves more likely to give,” said Princeton University's Peter Singer in a statement released by the Giving Pledge.
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who also signed up this month, said he had not previously considered going public.
“However, I certainly see the value of a project that encourages wealthy individuals to step forward and commit to use their wealth for the common good,” he said.
“I hope that by adding my voice with those who are supporting this project, we will all encourage others to participate.”
There was also a sign that the founders may take the Giving Pledge outside the US.
Warren Buffett and the Gateses are talking to other billionaires from around the world to learn about their philanthropy efforts, a statement said.
The senate voted 57-40 to block debate, thus preventing a vote on the issue itself. Democrats needed 60 votes to overcome Republican delaying tactics.
The vote may signal the end of months of debate on one of President Obama's policy priorities, analysts say.
But the issue could still come to the floor again in the current Congress.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a report which found that allowing openly gay troops would have little, if any, impact on the readiness and cohesion of America's armed forces.
The repeal bid which failed on Thursday was attached to a spending bill that funds the activities of the Department of Defence.
Senator Joe Lieberman has said he will attempt to bring the the repeal to the floor as a stand-alone bill.
But it is unclear if Mr Lieberman will successfully bring that bill to the floor before the end of the current US Congress.
Next year, several Democratic senators will be replaced by conservative Republicans, making it more difficult for a repeal to pass.
The BBC's Katie Connolly, in Washington, says that Thursday's vote was less about the policy of gays in the military than a warning to Democrats to not try to move any legislation before dealing with tax cuts.
The failure is still a blow to Mr Obama and will add to his increasingly tense relationship with liberals in his party, who were upset earlier this week when he announced a tax deal with Republicans, our correspondent says.
Gay voters were strong supporters of Mr Obama during the 2008 election and will be deeply disappointed that one of their critical priorities has been defeated, our correspondent adds.
A Gallup poll released today shows that 67% of Americans favour repealing the ban on gays in the military.
In Thursday's vote, newly-elected Democratic Senator Joe Manchin sided with Republicans, and Democrats attracted just one Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine, to their side.
Ms Collins blamed Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid for the bill's failure, questioning why he brought it to a vote when Republicans had vowed not to pass any bills until the Congress had voted on the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.
I have a Best Bet on tonight’s NFL game between the Titans and Colts. I’ll have the rest of my NFL analysis for this weekend available on Friday afternoon at drbobsports.com.
***TENNESSEE (+3 ) 21 Indianapolis 17
Apparently losing 5 consecutive games straight up and against the spread is enough to turn the public against a team. I can certainly understand not wanting to bet a team like the Titans who are on a 5 game slide, but it turns out that it is exactly the time that you want to be on them. Teams that have lost 5 or more consecutive games to the spread and are coming off a straight up loss are actually 22-1 ATS since November of 2006, including 4-0 ATS this season. That list includes Dallas beating the Giants as a 13 point underdog right when everyone had written off the Cowboys. It also includes my Best Bet on Minnesota two weeks ago when the won at Washington and my Best Bet win on Cincy at the Colts when the Bengals covered despite the bad luck of being -5 in turnovers (the other winner this year was Houston +7 at the Jets 3 weeks ago). It’s pretty clear that nobody wants any part of the Titans given that they are a 3 point underdog when they should be favored in this game.
The Colts aren’t exactly playing well either, having lost 3 straight games heading into tonight, but people seem to think that Peyton Manning can bounce-back. He didn’t bounce back after throwing 3 interceptions against the Patriots, as he threw 4 picks in a loss to San Diego. Manning didn’t bounce back after that game, as he threw 4 more interceptions in a loss to the Cowboys last week. I don’t expect Manning to keep throwing multiple interceptions, but my math model favors the Titans by 4 points even if he goes back to his normal 2.5% interception rate. The Colts’ offense simply isn’t very good without RB Joseph Addai and without WR Austin Collie, who accumulated 562 yards on just 61 passes thrown to him this season. Collie has played just once in the last 6 games (and Manning averaged 7.6 yards per pass play in that game against New England) and Manning has averaged only 5.8 yards per pass play in 5 games without Collie despite facing teams that would combine to allow 6.7 yppp to an average quarterback. I actually don’t think he’ll continue to be that bad without Collie, as based on the stats of the receivers taking Collie’s place Manning should be 0.3 yppp worse than his season average, which would put him at 0.3 yppp worse than average (for the season he’s averaged 6.6 yppp against teams that would allow 6.6 yppp to an average QB). The rush attack has averaged just 3.3 ypr in 6 games without Addai (against teams that would allow 4.3 ypr) and I rate the Colts’ attack at 0.2 yards per play worse than average without Addai and Collie tonight. Tennessee is still playing at a decent level defensively and they are 0.4 yppl better than average for the season (5.2 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average team), so the Titans have a big advantage of the Colts’ offense.
The problem with the Titans lately has been an offense that has scored 17 points or fewer in 4 consecutive games. However, home underdogs that have scored 17 points or fewer in 4 or more consecutive games are actually a 60% plays since 1980, including 59-29 ATS if they’re also coming off consecutive spread losses. It will also help getting big play receiver Kenny Britt back, as Britt was averaging an incredible 11.4 yards per pass thrown to him (434 yards on 38 pass attempts) before getting hurt early in week 9. Having Britt back should allow the Titans to run the ball better, and running on a Colts’ defense that has given up 5.0 ypr this season shouldn’t be a problem as I expect Chris Johnson to have a big night. The Titans certainly aren’t as good with Kerry Collins at quarterback as they were when Vince Young was under center, and I rate the Titans’ attack at 0.4 yppl worse than average with Collins (I didn’t adjust for Britt being back since his playing time may be limited). The Colts’ defense is 0.2 yppl better than average because they do defend the pass well, but the Titans match up well since they don’t figure to throw too often since they should be able to run the ball well.
Overall, my math model projects 5.1 yppl for Tennessee and 4.5 yppl for the Colts in this game, but Indianapolis is projected to run 19 more plays than the Titans will and the total yards projection does favor Indy 331 yards to 277 yards. However, Tennessee has an advantage in projected turnovers and a huge edge in special teams and my math still favors Tennessee by 4 points in this game. Even using a compensated points model would favor the Titans. The Colts have out-scored their opponents by an average of 2.2 points while playing a schedule that is 0.5 points tougher than average, so they’ve been +2.7 points. The Titans have out-scored their opponents by 2.3 points per game while playing a schedule that is 0.3 points tougher than average, so they’ve been +2.6 points. The adjustments for current personnel (Addai and Collie out for the Colts, Collins at QB for Tennessee) favor Indy by just 0.2 points and home field advantage is 2.9 points this time of year, so I would get Tennessee by 2 points using a compensated points model. The only reason for the Colts being favored is because Tennessee has been in such a negative slide lately, but the trends suggest that is not likely to continue and I’ll certainly take advantage of the line value. I’ll take Tennessee in a 3-Star Best Bet at +3 points or more and for 2-Stars at +3 points.
I also like the Under in this game, as both teams are worse than average offensively with their current personnel and both defenses are better than average. My math model projects just 39 total points and an adjusted compensated points model also comes up with 39 total points. I’ll consider the Under (45 points) a Strong Opinion.
I will have free analysis on most NFL games this weekend in the Free Analysis section of my website.
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Just a little while ago, I walked out of our Democratic Caucus meeting, and I have a major development on the tax cut debate:
We just voted — almost unanimously — AGAINST the Republican “compromise” that is a good deal for those who want to give tax cut bonuses to the wealthiest 2% of Americans, but is a bad deal for the economy and the middle class.
I’m so proud of my colleagues right now — but unfortunately this vote isn’t binding — this was just a caucus vote. We need to push the rest of the House of Representatives to do the right thing, too.
Which is why I’m calling on my House colleagues to vote NO on the current “compromise” that forces us to accept deficit-busting tax cuts for Donald Trump if we want to keep the necessary tax cuts for the middle class and support for the enemployed we already have: www.NoTaxDeal.com
We have to remember: The House already passed a bipartisan plan for middle-class tax cuts. The House voted and passed them last week.
Now, the Republicans are just trying to take that away in a “compromise” that anchors tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans — tax cuts that will add over $700 billion to our deficit — to keeping tax cuts for the middle class, small business, and unemployment insurance.
It is a bad deal — if we want to help the economy and the middle class and protect the unemployed, they are asking us to add billions to the deficit to give people like Donald Trump a tax bonus. And today I led my Democratic colleagues to say “NO.” First, I joined Reps. McDermott and DeFazio in a letter to get a Democratic caucus vote. Then, today, we passed a motion in caucus to call on the House Democratic leadership to not move forward with the current “compromise” bill that is on the table right now.
This is our best chance to get a better deal for the middle class, the economy, and clean energy since President Obama made this “compromise” with the Republicans — and we need to jump on it RIGHT NOW.
I need your immediate help: Sign our rapid-response petition: Tell the House to vote NO on the current deal — and deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy. Keep the middle-class tax cuts we’ve already passed.
Go to www.NoTaxDeal.com now to sign.
If we stand up now, we have the power to get a better deal. Success will depend on support for this effort from people like you.
Do it now — minutes count here — and momentum is important. We need to push ahead while we’re strong.
Thanks for your help.
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He studied medicine, put on the white coat, entered a hospital to work in a specialty, and blindly believed in the maxims of Hippocrates. At first, imbued with a fascination for cells, muscles and tendons, he barely noticed that his colleagues walked in mended shoes, and that he himself did not earn enough to feed his family. He saw too much in the Artemis hospital: the professional greatness of some and the material disaster of all. One day it was announced with great fanfare that they were going to raise the salaries of all heath care workers. But barely 48 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of 2.00 convertible pesos — or about $1.60 U.S. — were added to his meager monthly salary.
So he and a friend wrote a letter to the minister of his profession, communicating the discontent among physicians at such a ridiculous increase. They managed to collect 300 signatures and delivered it to the Minister of Health, as well as to the Council of State, the seat of power on this Island. The answer came a few weeks later in the form of his expulsion from his specialty. Five months later both letter writers were fired and their university degrees stripped away. Five years have passed since those events, but neither of the two has been able to get work in a clinic as a doctor.
Last week, Jeovany Jimenez Vega — the protagonist and victim of this story — decided to go on a hunger strike in Marti Park in Guanajay, to demand from the Office of the Minister of Public Health, that he and his colleague Dr. Rodolfo Martinez Vigoa be restored to the practice of medicine. In the same days when the Cuban news featured the air traffic controllers’ strike in Spain and the worker protests in Greece, two men languished very near to us and we heard nothing. Yesterday, fortunately, they resumed eating, because Jeovany has decided to open a blog to tell the world; to opt not for starvation but information. He believes that the letter that was signed by only a few could collect thousands of signatures, if it is made public and presented to all the trained doctors in this country stripped of their rights.
Below are a statement from Jeovany and a declaration regarding the interruption of the strike.
The new blog will be ready on Monday and will be announced via Twitter.
Yoani’s blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.
Translating Cuba is a new compilation blog with Yoani and other Cuban bloggers in English.
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The ‘GNR’ is also now available on your cell phone via Stitcher Radio’s mobile app!.
IN TODAY’S RADIO REPORT: Crunch time in Cancun as the UN climate summit races to a close; Major moves in the US over coal, oil and emissions …PLUS: More WikiLeaking: from Nigeria (who loves both Shell and Dick Cheney!) to Canada to BP … All that and more in today’s Green News Report!
PLEASE SUPPORT TODAY’S ‘GNR’ SPONSOR:
Grace Institute for Democracy & Election Integrity
Got comments, tips, love letters, hate mail? Drop us a line at GreenNews@BradBlog.com or right here at the comments link below. All GNRs are always archived at GreenNews.BradBlog.com.
IN ‘GREEN NEWS EXTRA’ (see links below): Now hiring: Craigslist ad for a coal baron; Parking lots a major cause pollution in US lakes; Sec. Chu announces Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative; “Opportunities and Challenges” in nuclear energy: report; Clearing the air: Is your house making you ill?; Report: Global Clean Power: A $2.3 Trillion Opportunity; Improved car batteries 5 years off … PLUS: US v. China: Building a Skilled Clean Energy Work Force — a Tale of Two Countries ….
‘Green News Report’ is heard on many fine radio stations around the country. For additional info on stories we covered today, plus today’s ‘Green News Extra’, please click right here…
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At first glance, Brian S. Pratt of Boswell, Oklahoma, doesn’t fit the stereotypical profile of a best-selling author. Yet he, and other indie ebooks authors like him, represent the future of book publishing.
Pratt began publishing with Smashwords (the ebook publishing and distribution platform I run) in early 2009. His first quarterly royalty payment was $7.82. While most authors would find that number discouraging, Pratt was encouraged. It was a start.
In the quarters since, Pratt’s earnings have grown, and in recent quarters he’s become a breakout success by any measure. Last quarter, he earned over $18,000 from sales across the Smashwords retail distribution network. This quarter, with three weeks to go, he’s on track to break $25,000. At his current rate, he could earn $200,000 in 2011 when he includes his sales at Amazon. Not one to count his eggs before they’re hatched, though, he’s fast at work on his next series.
The road to here was anything but easy. At age 43, he’s held a number of eclectic jobs, ranging from a U.S. Air Force avionics technician to a taxi driver. Until recently, as he shares in the interview below, he was living below poverty level.
He writes fast-paced, can’t-put-it-down fantasy. Pratt started writing because the series authors he enjoyed reading weren’t completing their series fast enough. So he started writing books he’d like to read himself. Unlike some ebook series writers who take shortcuts and carve up a single full-length books into short serialized chunks, Pratt’s books are full-length, with most clocking in around 150,000 words. Most of his books are priced at $5.99, for which he nets about $3.50 per copy.
His writing style is completely his own, and most New York editors would bristle at the rules Brian breaks. His most popular series, The Morcyth Saga, is written in the present tense (though he changed to past tense for subsequent series). It’s no wonder that after years trying to land an agent and a publisher, he faced unanimous rejection from publishing experts.
Yet readers had other plans for Pratt, as we learn in this interview.
Lacking a traditional outlet for his work, Pratt self published in 2005, first in print and later ebooks. Today, his ebook sales far outpace his print sales by a factor of more than 100:1.
Today, Pratt has 17 books at Smashwords, and we distribute the books to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo and the Sony Reader Store, as well as to online mobile app catalogs of Stanza and Aldiko.
His Morcyth Saga, a seven-book fantasy adventure series, is by far his most popular collection.
Below in this exclusive interview, Brian S. Pratt recounts the long road to his overnight breakout success.
[Mark Coker] Brian, tell us about your books
[Brian S. Pratt] I have 17 books completed spread across several series. Most are full length, epic fantasy type novels, each anywhere from 120,000-190,000 words. I have a few I call my mini’s that are just plain fun and get the reader into the adventure from the get-go. These range from 60,000-90,000 words.
[MC] How did you get started as a writer?
[BSP] Back in 2005, I found myself waiting for several of the main authors to get around to finishing their next novel. The biggest one that annoyed me was The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the series up to around book 6; then it lost me. Action grew infrequent and far between. It got bogged down in mundane details. Jordan wasn’t the only one I was impatiently waiting for. So, on March 1, 2005, I sat down at my computer and decided to write The Morcyth Saga. Figured I could do a good job and write the kind of book I wanted to read. One that had action in every chapter, you followed the main character throughout, and descriptions were down to a minimum. That is exactly what you get in The Unsuspecting Mage; Book One of The Morcyth Saga.
[MC] What training do you have as a writer?
[BSP] Training??? Not a bit. All I started with was the drive to write a story and everything else followed. I ended up writing a seven book series in present tense, rife with errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Most of the errors have been fixed in subsequent editions. My word usage was not what one would find in the traditionally produced books, some said it was too simple. I don’t know about that, but at least you don’t need a dictionary at hand when you read my books. Some have liked it, others less so. My books feel different than others for that reason.
[MC] Tell us about some of the first customer reviews you received, and how you reacted?
[BSP] Reviews, yes there have been some dillies. Here’s the first one-star I ever received. It was at Amazon.com less than a month after I first published The Unsuspecting Mage.
The last line was directed at the other reviewers who said they liked my book.
Needless to say, this devastated me and I stopped writing for a few weeks. Of course, I’ve had much worse ones since. But then my books kept selling. And I always told myself that as long as my books keep selling, even if it is marginally, then it would be worth it to continue. I’ve come to realize that there will always be those that do not like my books, and so what? They simply are not in my target audience. And my target audience is me. I write what I would like to read. And it looks like there are many “me’s” out there for I’ve sold lots of books. If you want to see what may be in your future, check out The Unsuspecting Mage at Amazon.
[MC] You joined Smashwords March 27, 2009. Can you take us back to that moment in time, and recall what was going through your mind?
[BSP] Let’s see. I was a single dad living with three kids and boy, was I poor (under the poverty level). Up until then, I hadn’t really thought much about eBooks. I tried Mobipocket for a while and had great sales for three months, then it died off. Sales for my paperbacks, which I had published through iUniverse had fallen off dramatically. Where I had been breaking 4 figures a quarter, I was now less than 600 per quarter and bleeding red. I typed in “self publishing” and saw a quirky little site called Smashwords. It said, Your eBook, Your way. Didn’t cost a thing so what did I have to lose? First quarter sales at Smashwords were dismal, 2009-04-07 — $7.92 As it happened, April 7th is my birthday. That was cool. But I wasn’t deterred. Books were selling. Sometimes, one or two a week, but they sold. I stayed with it and refused to allow all the naysayers (and there were those by the droves) to stifle my dream. Sales gradually improved and, well, here we are. Can’t give up on your dream, EVER!
[MC] Your first quarter at Smashwords you earned $7.92. I’ve seen some new Smashwords authors jump for glee over a number like that, and others have unpublished their books and quit Smashwords in disgust. What was your reaction?
[BSP] My reaction was, “I’m ahead, $7.92.” By this time I had been published for a little over 3 years and had seen sales go up and down. Can’t make any kind of decision based on just one quarter. Plus, I was getting the hang of how to make Smashwords work for me. You can’t just publish your book, sit back and think, “Okay, the money is going to roll in now.” It ain’t gonna happen. The industry is stacked against anyone who is just starting out. You have to get out there and grab readers by the collar and shout, “Here I am!” They won’t find you or care about you until you do.
[MC] Your sales started small but then grew steadily, and in more recent months you’ve broken out into the best-seller lists at some of our retailers. What was the secret?
[BSP] After receiving my second royalty check which was only $183.60, I figured I needed to get busy and get creative. So I first looked around for a good place to advertise and found Project Wonderful. They suited my needs perfectly; ads would run on websites for pennies a day. I then created a coupon code that would discount my first book for free. I then created a series of ads stating that a free copy was available, all they had to do was copy down the code and go to Smashwords for their free copy. Well, that bombed and bombed badly. Came to realize that I was asking way too much of customer. In order to get my book, they had to go to Smashwords, create an account, put in the code, then download.
People are inherently lazy about shopping, especially in this world where everything is a click away. I pondered on the lack of success with my coupon code, then realized that if I just made the book free, they would only have to click the link in the ad, then download a free copy. Simple. (Keep it simple-stupid) I made it so easy for people to download my book, that downloads jumped. Subsequently, sales for books 2-7 jumped as well.
If it’s free and downloading is just a click away, people will do it. Very few can walk away from a free deal. Unknown authors are risky to readers and few wish to risk money, or time, to try a book they are not sure they will even like.
When Smashwords signed the deal with Barnes and Noble, my sales jumped 300% that quarter. Barnes and Noble have one of the best “Free eBook” sections and now people could find my book without having to see a small ad. Without Smashwords’ free copy of book one at Barnes and Noble, I would hardly be doing the sales I am today. That was the one act that set into motion sales the likes I never thought possible for an Indie without agent, editor, or publisher.
[MC] Prior to publishing at Smashwords, multiple agents and publishers rejected you. Tell us about your most memorable rejections.
[BSP] No one wanted me. All the rejection letters were worded very politely, but you can’t help but adding phrases to them like “You suck as a writer” or “Your book would be good to keep my table level but as for making money, it has a better chance to spontaneously combust.” When I published it through iUniverse, I opted for an editorial review ($300 at the time). They basically said the manuscript would need a serious overhaul before it would become commercially viable. And oh, by the way, we do have many such services available… for a price. At the time I thought it was a complete waste of time. But now looking back with five years experience under my belt, many of their comments had merit. Although one must keep in mind, had I continued working with my first book to get it right, I’d still be working on it to this day and all subsequent ones never having seen publication. There comes a point when a writer has to say, “It’s ready. Good or bad, let’s see what happens.” What happened in this case was that there were many people out there who enjoy a good adventure and have since traveled with James through 8 books and are patiently (impatiently might be a better word) waiting for the second installment of the follow-up series, Travail of The Dark Mage.
[MC] What does it mean to you to be described as a self-published author, or an Indie author?
[BSP] The biggest worry a writer had back in 2005 was whether or not they wanted to be stigmatized as “self-published.” Once stigmatized, I was told, never again would a traditional publisher take you on. Unless you sold over 50,000 copies. But then, I thought, if I sold 50,000 copies, what would I need a publisher for?
Now, I think of it as a badge of pride. My success is mine, no one else’s. Everything that comes from my books, comes because of the hard work I, and I alone, put into it. Others have helped, but I spearheaded it and got it done. Even if today I was to get a publisher, from what I’ve heard of other author’s experiences, they still do most of their own publicity and get tied into restrictive contracts and unrealistic demands. Case in point, the movie Back to the Future. The head of the studio sent the producers a memo in which he stated that “Frogman from Mars” would be a better title. What a nightmare to have to deal with that. As a self-published author I don’t have to worry about another’s “taste” or “ideas.”
Of course, if you fail, again you have no one else to blame. But the only failure you will have, is if you quit. Try new ideas, talk to those who have succeeded, most of all don’t give up.
[MC] What’s your view of the future of indie authorship, and where do you think traditional publishers fit into your plans, if at all?
[BSP] Indie authorship is here to stay and the traditional publishing houses better get used to it. They also better not discount the effectiveness of its appeal or they’re going to regret it. I think they are going to wake up one morning and wonder where all their profits have gone. The better authors will do it themselves because they are going to make more money at it. Also, as the indie revolution continues, more and more authors being sought by publishers will be taking hard looks at their contracts. True, if you only have a single book, traditional publishers may be the best route. I make money because I have a series, a completed series, and give the first one away free. Can’t beat free for advertising.
As of today, I no longer send query letters (what a waste of time that was) to agents. No longer submit to publishers or even enter contests. My books are not award winners. They are merely fun books. I’ve tracked winners in the past and they don’t always do well.
What would happen if I got an email from a publisher asking for publishing rights? I’d listen to what they have to say. I’d carefully scrutinize any contract for how future books would be affected and so forth. I feel the restriction and demands made by them would far outweigh any increased royalties. But I could be wrong. Never say never to anything where money is concerned.
[MC] Where does print fit into your publishing strategy going forward?
[BSP] Print goes hand in hand with eBooks. You have to have a print copy of your book. I sell maybe 2 or 3 books per 1000 eBooks. Not much, right? Keep this in mind. eBook readers tell their book reader friends about your books. If you want them to buy it, it needs to be available. My biggest hurdle with print has always been pricing. Not much you can do about that, self-publishing print books is expensive no matter where you do it. I’d suggest Lightning Source Inc. — they’re the best and will put your books before the most customers.
[MC] Imagine you’re mentoring a new author today. What three secrets to success would you share, and why?
[BSP] Actually, I’ve already helped over a dozen authors with getting started. I take the time to answer questions and give advice freely.
[MC] Every author must compete against hundreds of thousands of other books. What’s the secret to breaking out?
[BSP] Write, keep writing, and when your fingers are sore, write some more. The more books you have out, available through the most channels, the better your exposure. Never cancel a channel unless you know another will fill the void. Best channels right now are Smashwords and Kindle. Neither costs you anything but time. From the first sale, you’re making a profit. If you give up, it’s over. Until then, anything can happen. I’m a prime example of that.
Find ways to get your book in front of people. Don’t expect glowing reviews to sell your book. After all, if readers don’t find your book in the first place, no amount of “good” reviews will help.
[MC] Now that you’ve achieved success as a writer, how might your writing change, if at all?
[BSP] I now understand why some authors take a long time in getting out the next book. The more books you have, the more time ends up being devoted to previous titles and other things (this Q&A is a prime example). Editing has always been a sore point with [my] readers, or rather, the lack of it. My books have never seen a professional editor and could use a touch of polishing. I’ll be looking into that with the new year.
[MC] Now that you’re able to devote full time to your writing, what’s your typical day like. What’s your process?
[BSP] I spend far too much time on the internet checking sales, answering emails (I love that part) and seeing what’s going on in the world of publishing. Smashwords is usually the first page I visit in the hopes that sales have posted. Most days, I’m disappointed. There have been times when I thought, “What the heck is going on? Where are my sales?” But you know, they all come in before the quarter payout, and I’ve never had a problem with getting my money from Smashwords. [Note from MC: We hear you Brian! Faster reporting is one of our top priorities for 2011]
After that, I try to get some editing done on my newer works, then an hour or so of computer gaming. I write some, check emails again, and so forth. The longer a series goes, the more complex it becomes. You need to take into account all that has gone before, keep your characters consistent, and make it all seem flawless.
[MC] What’s coming next?
[BSP] Finish Travail of The Dark Mage. I’m on book 2 and figure the series will be around 5 books. Never know for sure until I’m done. The initial plan for The Morcyth Saga was 10 books. Can you imagine what would have happened if I had contracted for 10 books with a publisher and instead came through with 7? Love being an Indie.
I do have ideas for another 2 series after Travail, as well as off-shoots like The Improbable Adventures of Scar and Potbelly, a series of short adventure books based on the duo from the series. One thing I do know for sure. I will not release another series unless I have it already completed. I hate making readers wait.
[MC] Thanks for sharing, Brian!
To sample or purchase the ebooks of Brian S. Pratt, visit his Smashwords author page or any major ebook retailer.
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by Mark Coker, Lesleyann Coker
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In case you haven’t seen it yet, in this video posted last week on iHollaback, Nicola Briggs screams at Mario Valdivia after he rubbed his penis against her. Valdivia wore a (vomit) condom, proving that this jerk was some kind of sick expert in the perv dept. Thanks to Nicole Briggs, Valdivia is not only in jail, but he will be deported back to Mexico, where he is sure to jam his junk up against more ladies south of the border.
Nicola Briggs, can we be friends? You are the type of person I like to roll with: strong, outspoken and possessing bigger balls than the flasher who messed with you.
My last Huffington Post piece addressed “cat-calling” without even delving into the common and crude problem of flashers. Flashing, cat-calling, harassment — it all falls into this category of behavior that most people with souls consider inappropriate and a steps short of rape. Meanwhile, some people (i.e., perpetrators and jackasses) seem to think that such acts are justified, funny and flattering.
Salon.com’s Broad Sheet posted:
Uptight? How is not wanting to be sexually assaulted make American women “uptight”? I’m a huge fan of sex — consensual sex. If only enjoying sexual activities that I am willingly a part is the definition of uptight, then I am uptight with pride.
The first time I experienced being “uptight” was in tenth grade, when my older sister (a college sophomore) took me and my three girlfriends to see “Grease” at the Wang Center in Boston (wang! foreshadowing!). I was stoked to see one my childhood crushes, Mickey Dolenz, live on stage in the role of Vince Fontaine. On the subway ride home, a very sweaty, lanky man in running shorts stood close to me, holding the bar above me, as I sat in seat. While I did find it odd that on a not-crowded train this man felt the need to stand super close to my face, I didn’t think enough of it to move. To avoid making eye contact with his stomach, I turned my body toward my sister and friends. My sister and friends all looked horrified.
“What?” I asked. One of my friends squeezed my hand, as my sister and two other girlfriends widened their eyes in fear. “What?!” I asked again. Now I was getting annoyed; why was everyone acting so weird?
Then a large man sitting with a woman across the car yelled at the jogger, “Hey you! Yeah, you! I see what you’re doing! Get the fuck off this train right now or I’ll kill you!”
The jogger exited the train. I turned to my friends and sister and said, “Whoa, why is that guy yelling at that poor jogger?”
And then they proceeded to explain to me that the “poor jogger” had his penis sticking out of his shorts and was waving it back and forth inches from the side of my face, while I sat there totally oblivious.
“Why didn’t anyone say something to me?!” I asked. I was horrified, upset, disgusted. They explained that it all happened so fast and they were too shocked to know what to do.
As we got off at our stop, I thanked the man who defended us and then immediately started to cry. I was upset not only because some sicko had had his nasty balls next to my 15-year-old face, but also because I hadn’t noticed and therefore hadn’t had the chance to defend myself. I, like Briggs, am not one to stay silent. Even as a teenager I couldn’t let someone get away with violating me. This fighter instinct has often gotten me in some scary situations in which I, a lone, 5’4″, petite female, have found myself confronting 6’4″, large, ignorant males. I can’t help it; harassment pushes my explosive anger button, the same button thank ignites road rage and booze balls.
Just as I’ve asked many harassers before, I ask flashers the same: “How would you feel if someone did this to your mother, wife, daughter or sister?” Would that give you a boner? Huh? To know that a woman in your family is terrified, threatened, and invaded? Does that notion make you all hard and excited?
I’m an idealist; I have to be or the reality of how crappy the world can be would force me to never leave my apartment. I like to believe that everyone has some good inside, it’s just that with some people their good has been buried beneath garbage, causing them to be evil. So what the hell happened to these flashers, harassers, rapists, to cause them to behave so unfairly and frightfully? The men I know would never do anything like this. The men I know are respectful, intelligent, compassionate human beings who don’t need to violently dominate the opposite sex to feel empowered. Which makes me think there is something missing in the upbringing of some boys that causes them to fail to learn how to respect other people. Women are constantly being taught how to protect themselves, yet who is teaching men to not be a threat?
Despite the fact that the Briggs video has apparently become a turn-on to Internet perps and has received a barrage of (shocking!) ignorant comments on YouTube, most reactions to Briggs’s bravery have been supportive and inspiring. Sadly, there will always be dumb people who hear a story of a woman simply standing up for herself and turn it into an opportunity to rant about “feminazi male-bashing.” (Ugggggh! That term “feminazi” makes my educated feminist skin crawl. Just to clarify, a Nazi is a hateful murderer responsible for the deaths of over six million Jews, a feminist is someone who believes in equal political, economic and social rights and opportunities for women. So how about we stop combining the two? Sound good? Great!) But this flasher story isn’t about women vs. men; it’s about right vs. wrong. As Briggs explained on CBS News, “it’s about taking away the shame, from you, as a woman being violated — and bringing the shame back on the perpetrator.” Now that’s true empowerment.
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Tis the season of giving and Oprah is in a giving mood. For most of the last decade, the TV personality and cultural trend setter has annually bestowed upon unsuspecting studio audiences a smorgasbord of gifts, large and small. The reaction of audiences is almost impossible to believe, let alone describe. I have to admit to watching clips of this year’s “Oprah’s Favorite Things” over and over again, with a mix of fascination and revulsion.
Of course, we couldn’t help but have fun a little fun with it:
We make light, but there’s something deeply disturbing about this scene. We jokingly edited the Oprah special to show the audience in fits of ecstatic delirium over The Post Carbon Reader, rather than the gadgets and household products they actually received. But if we were able to actually give them copies of the book, the very first thing I would have them read is Dr. Peter Whybrow’s chapter, “Dangerously Addictive.”
And that is not just true for us as individuals. Our entire economy has been built around ever-growing consumption. In fact, it’s as addicted to us buying cell phones, big screen TVs, and anti-depressants as we are. But in the rush to constantly stoke the engine of economic growth, we have exceeded our means.
Not only has this unprecedented abundance of material and sensory stimulus (pick your poison… sugar, porn, gambling, drugs, television…) led to “epidemic rates of obesity, anxiety, depression, and family dysfunction,” we find ourselves coming due: climate change, water and food scarcity, biodiversity and habitat loss, social and economic injustice, and increasing conflicts over diminishing resources, including the very energy sources that have fueled this explosion of abundance.
That pile of bills is terrifying to consider (which is probably why we’d all rather run out to the mall than ponder our fate) but it doesn’t make it any less real. And is getting more stuff really all that’s left of the American dream?
Somewhere along the road to affluence, caught up in the excitement of global markets, a virtual world of electronic wizardry and immediate material reward America has lost sight of [our] founding hopes and dreams. What is the purpose of the journey in this land of opportunity when individual social mobility lags behind that of Europe, when 45 million souls are without health insurance and when our educational system is badly broken?
Now with reality challenging the laissez faire ideology of recent decades we have the opportunity to take stock with a renewed self-awareness, to curb our addictive striving and to reach beyond immediate reward to craft a vigorous, equitable and sustainable market society—one where technology and profit serve as instruments in achieving the good life and are not confused with the good life itself.
Perhaps it’s an unfair burden of expectation to place on her shoulders, but Oprah Winfrey is (as The Onion joking points out) a hugely influential cultural icon. So, yes we joke, but seriously… wouldn’t it be nice if—instead of hawking throw-away products—Oprah urged her audience to break this dangerous addiction, before it’s too late?
To be fair, this isn’t about Oprah Winfrey. It’s about the society that she and we live in. And to those who would decry of us for the hypocrisy of hawking our own book, we certainly do wish we could give away The Post Carbon Reader for free. Oh, wait, we do. You can download free chapters here.
If you’re a football fan, you probably know Lou Holtz and all that he accomplished as a college football coach from 1960 until his retirement in 1995.
What you may not know is his compelling quest to do 107 things before he died. It started in
1966, when Lou was 28 years old. He was a married, out of work assistant football coach, and his pregnant wife was expecting their third child. He was sitting at the dining room table one night and decided that he was going to get out of his mental funk and start setting some big, audacious goals for his lifetime.
He came up with a list of 107 goals. Among these goals was being a guest on The Tonight Show, having dinner at the White House, landing a plane on an aircraft carrier, coaching Notre Dame Football, winning a national championship and meeting the pope. This was pretty heady stuff for an unemployed 28 year old.
The inspiration for this list of 107 seemingly impossible goals was the book, The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, which his wife had given him to lift his spirits. After reading that book, he realized that by writing down goals that really mattered, he would find a way to achieve them.
Three years later he was head coach at William and Mary and won the Southern Conference championship in 1970. Going back to his list of 107, one of those things was to be the head coach at Notre Dame. So, when he was offered a coaching job at Minnesota he had it written into his contract, that he could leave at any time if he were offered the head coaching job at Notre Dame. How’s that for keeping your eye on the prize?
The fateful call from Notre Dame came two years later in 1986. Under Lou Holtz Notre Dame was ranked first in the nation in 1988, winning all 11 regular season games and beating third-ranked West Virginia 34-21 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Along the way, Lou kept chipping away at his list of audacious goals. He had dinner at the White House with Ronald Reagan, cracked jokes with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, met the pope, jumped out of an airplane, scored a hole-in-one (actually two), became national coach of the year and led Notre Dame to a national championship. At last count, he had achieved 102 of his original 107 goals.
Here are his tips for achieving goals:
1) Decide what you want to achieve and the date.
2) Know what talents you must acquire to do this.
3) Consider who you have to work with to achieve it.
4) Determine what problems you nust overcome to achieve this.
5) Have a plan.
6) Share with others why they will benefit.
The importance of establishing personal goals and writing them down cannot be overstated. According to Holtz, only 3% of people set goals for themselves, so it’s not surprising that so few people are able to achieve truly memorable things in the course of their lifetime.
“Don’t be a spectator, don’t let life pass you by. ”
Fred & Gladys
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success
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Let’s please start calling things — and people — by their right names.
If your close personal relationship (speaking terms) with your God, or your holy religion (even without special FaceBook Friend relationship or even Twitter-follow with your God), or just your old-fashioned, good-old-American bigotry and ignorance have caused you to support a policy which has resulted in the discharge of a single courageous gay soldier or a single crucial gay translator or anyone else in the military, and if that shameful discharge has resulted in any harm to any other American soldier or to the country, what is the name for you?
Patriot? Sure. You can have that word. That’s a word that people like you have totally degraded.
But the real name for you is traitor.
Since Elaine Kaufman’s death nearly a week ago, there has been an avalanche of words written and spoken about this iconic New York restaurateur. Most were written by–or about–the celebrated writers and journalists who made her simple eatery such an institution for more than 45 years. The following are some thoughts by an uncelebrated friend of this extraordinary woman.
A Non-Celebrity Remembers His Friend Elaine Kaufman
December 9, 2010
At noon on September 10, 1964, I had been discharged–honorably–from the United States Army at Ft. Dix New Jersey, following 18 months in West Germany. By ten o’clock that night, I was walking into a somewhat non-descript-looking Yorkville bar/restaurant called Elaine’s for the first time. I was there thanks to the recommendation of my friend Bobby Short and it was as such that I introduced myself to its remarkable proprietor. Doubtless the sponsorship of a celebrated nightclub entertainer and good friend of Elaine’s had given me some slight edge over the average 21-year old wandering in off 2nd Avenue. But I think, for Elaine, it was learning, in the course of two scotch and waters for me and two Ricards and water for her, that I was going back to Harvard to resume my interrupted undergraduate studies that caused her to take me under her commodious wing. (I was soon to learn that Elaine, in common with Oscar Wilde, liked men with a future and women with a past.)
From that initial encounter, Elaine’s magical saloon became my first stop on what were increasingly frequent weekend trips down to New York. Staying up ’til 3 am drinking and talking with some of the regulars–mostly writers and journalists–and some of the waiters and of course Madame herself was my introduction to the world of smart, funny grown-ups. Elaine, although only in her mid-30′s then, presided over this world with serene and maternal calm, a serenity only occasionally disturbed by the need to deal with an obstreperous customer or an unruly drunk. In these situations her manner was, shall we say, highly effective.
One particularly memorable night was Christmas Eve 1965 when, at closing time, Elaine suggested that about half a dozen of us race off to the then still-standing Paramount theatre to catch the 4 am showing of “Thunderball.” At the end of the great Bond film, our motley crew poured out into the thin gray light of Christmas dawn to find a Times Square peopled with the sort of people you would expect to be in Times Square at dawn on Christmas. I remember thinking, “Wow, now this is sophisticated living.”
On one of those weekend jaunts to the city, I had asked Elaine to cash a $50 check for me to provide a little ready money–to which she readily agreed. However, when I came back to New York in two weeks, I was forced to tell her that the check had bounced (she knew) and ask if I could give her a check now for $100–replacing the bum one plus an added $50 for current spending money. ($50 went a lot further in the New York of 45 years ago.) This she did without hesitation, extracting the hundred dollars from somewhere deep within her ample dcolletage.
However when that check was also returned “NSF” by the Harvard Trust, and I once again returned, asking for further check cashing privileges, this was her response: “Would you stop with the farkakte rubber checks. Just tell me how much you need each weekend, and I’ll keep a tab. You can pay me back whenever you can.” I obviously quickly agreed to this arrangement. Thus Elaine became my New York bank account for the next year and a half, and for this reason we always told people that she had put me through Harvard. By my graduation the debt had risen to nearly $1,000, a not inconsiderable sum for a C- credit like my young self. Fortunately I was able to repay it within a year or so of my beginning to work on Wall Street (a far less glamorous–and far less well-paid–vocation in those days.)
The late ’60′s were the glory days for Elaine’s, as her place was rapidly becoming well-known as a hangout for writers and, increasingly, the show business crowd. But it was still an intimate gathering spot for a fairly small group, defined not by celebrity but by common interests and our common affection for its proprietor. And that affection was warmly returned. In those days, the restaurant was closed on Mondays. Elaine, in the full flush of her initial success, had developed the charming habit of inviting a few of her regulars, plus a few of the waiters, to be her guests for dinner at Caf Chauveron, then perhaps the finest restaurant in the city–and certainly one of the most expensive. At Elaine’s insistence, we consumed amazing meals, starting with mounds of black caviar and iced vodka, working our way through multiple gastronomic courses, downing about three serious bottles of wine and ending with souffls Grand Marnier.
But life as Elaine’s friend was not all caviar and souffls–or squid salad, veal chops and zabaglione, my then nearly standard meal at her restaurant. Incurring her displeasure could happen fairly frequently, often striking from an unexpected quarter. One night, around 1971, I came in with a date around 10 pm. Elaine greeted me in her gruff but oddly charming way–”Ya eatin’?” I said, “No, just having drinks. In fact we just had a great meal at Chauveron.” (My financial status had also enjoyed a slight improvement.) She fixed me with a stern look and said in a voice an octave or so below her normal contralto, “Chauveron is for Mondays.”
A year or two later I foolishly allowed some silly dispute over a mistaken bill to degenerate into a sharp exchange of words. (How I thought I could ever come out on the long end of that interchange I can’t, with the wisdom of years, begin to imagine.) But I decided to boycott the establishment for what became almost two years, until I finally realized how much I missed it–and her. I came back, meekly apologized for my bad behavior, and then began a slow process of working my way back into her good graces–and from a table in the center rear to one–after nearly two more years–halfway back along the right.
For those who were not among Elaine’s regulars, let me try to explain the table thing. It was not about seeing and being seen. The “good tables” were those where you were likely to end up in a spirited conversation with the table to your right or left–and often both. Those matches were almost invariably made by Elaine who knew who should know whom–in case they didn’t already. She also saw it as her business to help her patrons’ careers along, especially when they were flagging.
Speaking of careers, Elaine gave me the best advice I never took. One night, about six of us were sitting at table #4, when the name of a fairly scurrilous individual came up. Knowing the person, I said of him, “He’s nothing but a scam artist.” Elaine fixed me with her best prison matron look and intoned these memorable words: “Don’t worry about other people’s scams. Get one of your own.”
On another memorable night, sometime in the late 1970s, I came in for dinner with a well-dressed older woman. I had the sense not to introduce her to Elaine, knowing this wasn’t going to be a match made in heaven. At the end of the meal, when I went over to kiss Elaine goodnight, she gave a shrug of her shoulders in the direction of the woman waiting at my table. “Drop the broad,” she said in a level sotto voce. “Elaine,” I said, affecting a tone of injured innocence, “that ‘broad’ is my mother.” “I know,” she said.
When in the late 1980s I moved to LA for what became a nine-year exile, Elaine forgave me, as it was business–and the movie business at that (the only reason she could imagine for living in Los Angeles.) My appearances at her restaurant remained fairly regular, as stopping in at my old haunt was always the high point of my nearly monthly return visits to New York. But what she could not quite bring herself to forgive was my confession that I actually liked LA. Indeed, my experience of her over the years caused me to take comfort in the belief that, for her, “schmuck” was actually a term of endearment. Although–come to think of it–I can’t quite recall her ever using it on Gay Talese or Lewis Lapham.
In 1996 I came in one night to give her two pieces of news: I was moving back to NYC for good and, far more important, I was marrying Terry Steiner, whose parents had been bringing her to the restaurant since she was a child. Elaine fixed me with her most intense look and said, with what I assure you was her idea of genuine affection, “It’s about time you did something right.”
Despite Claims to the Contrary It Appears That We Do Negotiate with Hijackers Blackmailers and Even Possible Murderers
If a person walks into a bank and points a gun at a teller and demands money, and the teller complies, I suppose we could call the teller’s act one of “compromise”. Likewise, if the Republicans threaten the President with the curtailment of unemployment benefits for millions of persons, (resulting in some cases with the inability to feed and shelter their families); allow through inaction an increase in taxes for all citizens in these harsh economic times, and endanger our national security by refusing to confirm treaties, I suppose capitulation to those threats might also be defined as “compromise”.
In the case of Zahra Baker, prosecutors have or are considering a plea deal with her step-mother in exchange for locating her body parts. Zahra who was age 10, hearing impaired and had lost a leg to cancer was raped and murdered and her body dismembered and hidden in various places. The step-mother who apparently knows where the body parts have been buried, has admitted writing a false ransom note suggesting the kidnap victim was to be the daughter of her husband’s boss. I have listened to the husband’s 911 call, and he appears to confirm this concoction. This is not meant to suggest that there is any comparison here to what the Republicans have done, (Please—- I am not claiming the Republicans are rapists or murderers) but rather suggest that there may be circumstances in which the practical must give way to more important considerations. Plea bargains save time and money for both the prosecution and the defense; may result in evidence not otherwise available and reduced sentences for the defendants and other practical benefits. But are there not times when the crime is so horrendous and the demands of the defendant so despicable that no bargain should be struck!
We will never know whether or not the Republicans would have been willing to end unemployment benefits; raise taxes for everybody and endanger the national security, solely for the purpose of protecting 2% of the very rich among us (and increasing the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars at the same time). Nor we will ever know whether or not sufficient evidence would have been found in the Baker case absent the plea bargain with the Devil. I suppose that when one is being threatened by a gun, there is no choice. But are there some circumstances when other non- lethal threats are so vile and damaging to the public interest that bluffs must be called, the onslaught resisted and the ramparts defended. Is there a time when the practical must give way to the principled? Whether or not this was the time in either of these instances, is for wiser minds than mine. I merely pose the question: Where is that line in the sand?
Anyone who still clings to the notion that Fox News is actually a news organization rather than a propaganda machine for special interests — and that it actually is led by journalists who adhere to the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists — must read the leaked memos Media Matters for Americadisclosed this morning.
Under the heading of “Fox boss caught slanting news reporting,” Media Matters shared on its Web site an internal memo that Bill Sammon, Fox News’ Washington managing editor, sent a memo “at the height of the health care reform debate” to his network’s so-called journalists, directing them not to use the phrase “public option.”
Instead, Sammon told them, they should use focus-tested Republican and insurance industry talking points “to turn public opinion against the Democrats’ reform efforts.”
In his October 27, 2009 memo to his staff, Sammon offered what he call a “friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option.’” Instead, he ordered:
As I wrote in my book, Deadly Spin, PR firms representing the health insurance industry routinely furnished conservative pundits and so-called journalists with talking points their consultants developed to scare people away from reform.
The insurance industry has spent millions of our premium dollars over the years on linguistic research and message testing to assist it in disseminating false and misleading information to manipulate public opinion.
I devoted an entire chapter to the industry’s “playbook.” Here is one of the tactics I said included in the playbook:
I am calling on Rupert Murdoch to fire Sammon, and I am calling on Fox’s so-called journalists and the network’s producers, many of whom I know and have worked with over the years, to denounce Sammon’s partisan approach to reporting and commentary. I am further calling on them — and the news staff at the Wall Street Journal, also owned by Murcoch, to dedicate themselves to truly being “fair and balanced” and to familiarize themselves with the profession’s code of ethics.
Northing short of our democracy is at stake here, folks.
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Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans
by Wendell Potter
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“Performance is where the parts of me [Haitian -- anthropologist -- professor -- singer -- writer] integrate. When I perform this piece I am wholly human and meet the audience on that visceral level.”
As Gina Athena Ulysse prepares for her show, Because God is too Busy: Haiti, me and The World at La Mama (Monday, December 13, NYC), her homeland is again crying out in protest and violence. I spoke with Ms. Ulysse yesterday, December 8. She answered the phone and let out a long low, moaning breath. Haiti, she explained is her reason for everything. At first, she had tried to be a singer, playing clubs and working the scene in New York City in the ’80s. After struggling for nearly two years, she decided to take a different route and went back to school. A self-described accidental student, Ulysse earned her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology in hopes of helping her birth-country. She graduated in 1999 and has been engaging students in classrooms, conference halls, bookstores, and performance venues ever since. Onstage she marries her love of singing and performing with her academic training. She also returns to Haiti to help out and witness the situation first hand. She was last there in August.
“Haiti’s history and our responses to it has always been a bigger issue about how we define humanity and how we deal with humanitarian crises. The revolution is not over. The revolution’s aim remains an unfinished project.”
Currently a professor at Wesleyan University, Ms. Ulysse teaches a course calledHaiti: Myths and Reality. The class is one way she educates people and raises awareness around the history of Haiti. Writing articles, essays, and poems is another vehicle for her educational message. And her one-women performance piece is where, she says, it all comes together. Because God is too Busy: Haiti, me and The World is a dramatic monologue and investigation of “how the past occupies the present. Ulysse weaves spoken word with Vodou chants to reflect on childhood memories, social (in)justice, spirituality, and the incessant dehumanization of Haitians.”
Next Monday’s performance in New York City is a fundraiser for inured.org — a small organization that is committed to research, higher education, and capacity building in Haiti . Ms. Ulysse will be selling her CD, I Am A Storm: Songs & Poems for Haiti, to support two projects: (1) a scholarship for 10 students from Cit Soleil who are studying in universities in Brazil and (2) a community forum.
For tickets and further information please visit:
Read Ms. Ulysse’s writing on the Huffington Post, here.
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Cancn, Mexico – It’s crunch time! A draft text emerged this morning; heads of state and government have arrived and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is here. There are two days left for government leaders and their representatives to come to an agreement. Can they make progress? Can they find solutions? It seems most likely that there will not be an international legally binding agreement but will the foundation be laid for one? Will negotiations have moved closer to one? Or further way?
On one thing, people at the COP 16 seems to agree: another climate conference is possible!
Yesterday’s late breaking news, revealed by John Vidal in the Guardian UK, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/09/cancun-climate-summit-alternative-deal. As Vidal revealed, Europe and small island Pacific states have proposed a new treaty for consideration.
This proposed agreement would commit developed and developing nations to reductions in climate emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol stipulates the former, emissions reductions from developed nations, which the U.S. being the only developed nation not having signed on and refusing to do so. The Copenhagen Accord stipulates the later, that is, emissions reductions commitment from developing countries, particularly the fastest growing among them, China and India.
While this move could be read as an attempt to break out of the gridlock, in which the UNFCCC negotiations are stalled, it has angered many developing countries, including Brazil, China and India. Drafted in 1997, implemented in 2005, and set to expire in 2012, the Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding treaty currently in existence. Its dissolution would allow developing nations off the hook with regard to emissions reductions.
Given that the United States has not signed on to the Kyoto Protocol and shows no intention to do so; and given that it has been seeking to ram through the Copenhagen Accord for the past year, showing disregard for the UNFCCC process in various ways, these countries are concerned that this treaty is an attempt to ditch the Kyoto Protocol, leaving nothing in its place to ensure commitments to greenhouse gas reductions, the cornerstone for averting climate change.
According to Vidal, sources close to the talks said that “a result would be that most of the elements of the controversial Copenhagen Accord – the non-binding political agreement pushed by the US in Denmark last year – would be put up for adoption by the UN, presenting a major victory for the US and other rich countries.” Even using the backroom negotiations, in order to put the Copenhagen Accord up for a vote by the UNFCCC majorly thwarts the official process.
Mexico, eager to see an outcome from this year’s talks, is working to draft a new text for presentation to negotiating countries. But that process, too, is troubled, since it has only asked four countries to contribute short texts.
Bolivia, meanwhile, sent an alert yesterday to the chairs of the parties of the COP. Pablo Soln told The Nation that he is filing the alter because “in the UNFCCC there is a process and you have to respect that process. We are not sure what the structure of the process is currently. It’s necessary to have a formal and conclusive process of negotiations.” Soln added that he expected that a text to be presented by Friday.
Soln stated “we do not want to go into any process of finger pointing. We want to find a positive solution.” But he added, “There is a UNFCCC. There are discussions within the two official working groups. And they produce a text. It cannot be that the negotiating groups negotiate and come up with a text; and the informal negotiating groups negotiate and then come up with a different text.”
“You can see it yourself in the agenda,” Soln said, “that there are no meetings of the LCA working group.” He added, “The Mexican chair stated that the formal process continued to take place, but if it continued to take place, we want to know where it was taking place because there are no other meetings.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived early this morning and addressed a press conference this afternoon, stating that if nations do not take action, they are committing ecocide.
President Morales heads on to the La Via Campesina camp this afternoon to address indigenous peoples and peasants and their allies, who have traveled here via caravan from throughout Mexico.
Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic, who has covered international climate change negotiations, most recently in Copenhagen and Bonn. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, In These Times and The Nation.
The routine is now maddeningly familiar: The U.S. Justice Department announces that some huge drug company has broken the law and defrauded government healthcare programs of tens of millions of dollars. Prosecutors use terms like “illegal kickbacks” and “conspiracy” to describe the schemes they have discovered. And large financial penalties are trumpeted as evidence that justice has been done.
But there is nearly always something missing in these cases: Criminal charges against the Big Pharma executives who orchestrated the frauds. Worse, the companies involved typically do not even admit any wrongdoing. Strangely, these serious crimes don’t seem to involve any actual criminals.
The latest example is the settlement announced earlier this week by the Justice Department with three drug makers, including Abbott Laboratories. Collectively, the firms will pay $421 million as result of charges that they overbilled the U.S. government for medicines. Abbott will pay $126.5 million.
Abbott and the other firms were nabbed for a type of fraud that is widespread in the healthcare field, namely telling the government that drugs cost one price while charging healthcare providers a much lower price. This allows healthcare providers to get reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid for much more than they actually spend on drugs, what’s known as a “spread.” Drug makers engage in this scheme to incentivize providers to use their drugs. Taxpayers get soaked because drug makers inflate the price of drugs beyond what is justified so they can offer a nice spread to providers yet still make a profit. These schemes are one reason why the costs of Medicare and Medicaid have been sky high, while Big Pharma makes record profits and doctors drive Mercedes. And it’s not just the federal government that gets stuck with an inflated bill. States overpay, too, since states pick up part of the tab for Medicaid. In turn, high Medicaid costs can squeeze out spending on other priorities — like education.
This is outrageous stuff, and government authorities have been hopping mad for years. The Justice Department has gone after nearly every major drug maker, often repeatedly, and state attorney generals have also joined the fight. In announcing the settlement earlier this week, the Justice Department played up just how tough the crackdown has been:
All that sure does sound serious. So it is bizarre that the specific individuals who perpetrate these criminal schemes are nearly never held responsible. Nor are their names even mentioned in most of the cases. (Top executives at Abbott Laboratories include: Miles D. White, Richard A. Gonzalez, and Donald V. Patton. The COO of Roxane Laboratories, one of the other firms named, is Robert Fromuth. The CEO of the third firm named, B. Braun Medical, is Caroll H. Neubauer. None have been accused of wrongdoing.) And despite clear evidence that crimes occurred, the companies are not forced to acknowledge criminal deeds. In fact, they typically deny any wrongdoing even as they fork over record sums to settle claims by the Justice Department. So it was that on the same day that DOJ announced its settlement with Abbott Laboratories, a company spokesperson said the following: “We continue to believe that we have complied with all laws and regulations and have entered into this agreement to eliminate the uncertainty associated with continued litigation.”
You can find similar statements by drug makers in nearly every large settlement involving the defrauding of U.S. government programs. And you’ll hear the same language in settlements about the illegal marketing of drugs. For instance, last year Pfizer agreed to a record $2.3 billion penalty — but still denied any illegal behavior. Basically, these cases amount to Big Pharma and the Justice Department agreeing to disagree as to whether any laws were actually broken. And instead of executives being punished, it is shareholders who pick up the tab for criminal behavior.
Sidney Wolfe, a doctor and consumer advocate with Public Citizen, said about the Pfizer settlement at the time that it may seem large, “but it’s not enough to ensure drug companies will curb their bad behavior.” Wolfe said what drug makers were doing was “part of well-organized crime in this country” and the penalties wouldn’t deter more such crime “because they represent just a fraction of drug company profits and no one has gone to jail.”
The latest slap on the wrist for Big Pharma this week shows that nothing has changed.
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The UN Climate Conference (COP16) in Cancun is turning out to be both anti-climactic and anti-climatic.
There will be no major agreement to stop global warming this week, despite the timed release of a number of reports that show that the phenomenon is advancing more rapidly than expected, with lethal consequences.
There likely will be announcements of progress in schemes to allow contaminating industries and nations to continue with business as usual and add another lucrative area to their portfolios–trade in carbon offsets and credits.
It’s a worst-case scenario for the planet. Most negotiators seem to agree on abandoning or postponing the essential goal of mandatory emissions controls, while promoting markets for the global trade of permits to pollute.
Rather than commit to this massive assault on our futures all at once, the representatives of 192 nations gathered at this beach resort are expected to put off major decisions until next year in South Africa. Here in Cancun, they will probably announce progress in market-based incentives like the UN Reduction of Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) proposal and the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol.
Both allow developed-country polluters to use peasant and indigenous lands and projects in developing countries to offset continued pollution. In the bargain, not only do polluters avoid having to reduce emissions, but the land-management contracts that verify offsets typically strip traditional communities of their rights over the carbon-absorbing lands they have preserved for millennia.
A March Against “False Solutions”
On Dec. 7, thousands of members of grassroots organizations turned out for a long walk from Cancun’s city center toward the cloistered Moon Palace, where delegates meet to hash out a response to climate change. Hundreds of men in blue stood guard behind a metallic police barrier, preventing the march from getting anywhere near the center of power.
For marchers–International La Via Campesina of small farmers, Mexico’s National Assembly of Environmentally Affected Communities, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), Friends of the Earth, and other groups–the showdown in Cancun is over preventing a market-based approach to global warming. Sadly, no one who came to these meetings expects progress on the urgent issue of emissions controls.
The peasant and indigenous organizations of the Americas that demonstrated on Tuesday maintain that carbon market schemes make cynical use of the global warming crisis to launch an offensive on their territories. Dallas Goldtooth, a Din-Dakota member of the IEN who carried a large “No-REDD” banner, said that the offset schemes present the biggest threat of the COP 16 negotiations. “It’s the negotiators’ main objective now. We’re here to march and to strategize to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Members of Mexican and international organizations walked in the worn shoes and disciplined rows of poor people’s organizations accustomed to mobilizations. The streets are usually the only forum open to them. Cancun is no exception, as climate talks have been marked by excessively restricted access and exclusion of civil society. Their banners proclaim: “No REDD”, “Our Forests are Not Just Carbon Sinks”, “We are All Made of Corn–No to Transgenics”, “No to False Solutions”, “Small and Medium-Sized Agriculture is the Solution”, and “We Defend the Mother Earth.”
In addition to REDD and other carbon credit plans, the “false solutions” opposed by the grassroots organizations include the use of geo-engineering, genetically modified seed, monoculture tree plantations and agrofuels.
Reading the signs and listening to the marchers quickly reveals the distance between the Moon Palace–”far from planet Earth,” quipped one critic–and the communities of the protestors. The marchers’ philosophy of the relationship of humans to the planet we live on comes from their own experience and cultures. Theirs are hands that work the earth, and eyes that measure the rains the way others check the Dow Jones.
For them, the planet is not just the source of exploitable resources for production and consumption. They come from cultures that view the planet as a Mother; “Mother Earth” is not a counter-cultural phrase–it’s the root of their land-based cultures.
Mickey McCoy comes from the town of Inez, Kentucky, population 600. A bearded veteran of many battles against the coal companies, his family has lived in the Appalachians for generations. Mountaintop removal has destroyed the environment and led to an epidemic of cancer in his town. He shows off a bright red t-shirt with what he explains is the motto of resistence in Kentucky hill country: “What we do to the land, we do to the people.” A Bolivian Quechua woman, dressed in the traditional montera (hat) and colorful pollera (skirt), nods in approval when the phrase is translated.
Whether from Bolivia or Kentucky, what they have in common and what has brought them together in Cancun is that bond with the land and a great sense of urgency. Climate change is only one among many threats their communities face–from mining, dam-building, industrial pollution. They explain that all these threats trace back to a system that extracts for the few and leaves the consequences to the many.
Real Solutions from the Ground Up
The force of the Cancun march can’t only be measured in numbers. The bonds forged in the Alternative Global Forum on Life, Environmental and Social Justice, where hundreds of people from all over the world are camped out for the week, constitute the best hope citizens have for turning around climate change.
Indigenous farmers who speak little Spanish explain climate change fluently. They intuitively understand the connections between greenhouse gas emission and other environmental threats to their communities, which stem from the corporations insistence on exploiting the earth for profits.
Rafael Alegria, a Honduran leader of Via Campesina tells the crowd that the first task is to fix the relationship between earth and human beings. The knowledge and wisdom of the people, especially indigenous peoples, should be the basis for restoring harmony and equilibrium, he says.
People at the campesino and indigenous camp agree. They’ve come to protest, but also to demand that world leaders look to them for answers and support agroecology and traditional practices that have proved effective. Forget the mass media’s stereotype of violent globalphobics–this is clearly not the “no” brigade. Thousands of men and women are saying, “yes, we have solutions.”
The march slogan sums it up: “Small farmers cool the planet.” Many scientific studies back them up. Small-scale farming practices convert agriculture into a carbon-absorbing activity, inverting industrial agriculture’s current role as a major contributor to global warming. Consuming local and seasonal foods, growing food organically, restoring plant material to the soil, all contribute to stopping climate change. In this sense, to protect the peasant/indigenous way of life is to protect the planet–and vice versa.
A UN Environmental Program report released this week shows global warming advancing rapidly. The report noted that the number of people in Latin America and the Caribbean affected by extreme weather events–including high temperatures, forest fires, droughts, storms and flood–grew from five million in the 1970s to more than 40 million between 2000 and 2009.
But as campesinos marched, negotiators fiddled.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon formally recognized the urgency of the situation and the ineffectual efforts of negotiators. “I am deeply concerned that our efforts so far have been insufficient,” he said. “Nature will not wait while we negotiate. Science warns that the window of opportunity to prevent uncontrolled climate change will soon close.”
Ban’s exhortations may have little weight. Rumors suggest a planned attack on the entire framework of a binding, multilateral commitment. Although the current talks ostensibly aim at extending and deepening the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. government has reportedly been pushing the much weaker Copenhagen Accord–a face-saving measure with almost no binding commitments that resulted from the failed COP 15 and was supported by just a handful of countries.
Wikileaks cables show that the U.S. government has been doing some serious arm-twisting since Copenhagen to get buy-in to the voluntary accord as a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which it has not signed.
Chair of Friends of the Earth International, Nnimmo Bassey, warned of the consequences, “Replacing the Kyoto Protocol with a system that is pledge-based would sideline 20 years of multilateral negotiation and devastate the climate and the world’s people. It would be unjust and unacceptable.” UNEP research estimates that the Accord could result in up to five degree warming–a level that would have drastic effects on the planet and its life forms. There are also reports of efforts to remove the carbon markets from the Kyoto Protocol so that the business of global warming no longer needs the U.N. commitment framework.
A New Climate Paradigm
Pablo Solon, the Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, left the official negotiations to come out and speak to join the grassroots organizations at the end of the march. He told the marchers, “The battle in the streets is just as important as the battle in the Moon Palace.” Solon noted that for the first time in COP talks, a strategic alliance has been established between the protesters outside and delegates inside, based on a shared understanding of what’s at stake. The terms of the alliance resulted from the unprecedented process of forging a global consensus in Bolivia during the People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth last April.
According to Solon, the introduction of the concept of “the rights of nature” represents a huge change in the debate and directly confronts attempts to commercialize the crisis. Combined with full recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, this rights-based perspective pushes nations to respond to the crisis with deep reforms, not technological fixes.
He added that 300,000 people a year die from climate change-related causes. Bolivia has proposed the creation of an International Climate Justice Tribunal to ascertain legal and moral responsibilities for the disasters occurring throughout the world.
Some 20 to 25 heads of state are taking part in the last few days of the conference–far fewer than Copenhagen. Presidents of powerful developed countries, including the United States, won’t be coming to Cancun. Their absence both reflects and contributes to the low expectations for this meeting.
As talks draw to a close, the Cancun COP 16 has racked up a carbon footprint of 25,000 tonnes, and a place in history as the stopgap conference on climate change–a tropical layover between the failed Copenhagen talks and next year’s round in Durban. If not for the critical battle over carbon markets, it would seem to have little justification for being.
Compared to the opacity of the official talks, a ray of hope comes from the marchers in the streets. Its not just banners they carry aloft. They carry the message that the world urgently needs new ways of seeing and treating the earth. They’ve met each other Cancun to insist that elite economic interests give way to sustainable, small-scale solutions to the climate change crisis.
These are messages capable of carrying us into the future, illuminating ways of reclaiming our severely threatened planet.
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