Archive for December 14th, 2010
Drug Czar Blames Rising Teen Pot Use on Medical Cannabis Laws Rather Than on His Own Failed Policies
Since 1975 the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has been tracking students self-reported use of cannabis and other intoxicants, and every year their use of these substances trends either up or down from the prior survey. Predictably, when self-reported use goes down, drug war lackeys like Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske claim that drug prohibition is working. Conversely, when use trends upward — as it did this past year — drug warriors respond by pointing the blame at everyone else.
Okay, let me get this straight: California enacted legislation legalizing the physician-supervised use of medical marijuana in 1996 — some fourteen years ago — thus kicking off the national debate that is still taking place today. Between 1996 and 2005, nine additional states enacted similar laws (Alaska, 1999; Colorado, 2000; Hawaii, 2000; Maine, 1999; Montana, 2004; Nevada, 2000; Oregon, 1998; Vermont, 2004; Washington, 1998). Yet, the Drug Czar claims to the national media that this discussion has only been taking place in earnest for “the past couple years”?! Does he really think the public is that stupid?!
Further, the Czar is well aware that throughout this period of time, youth-reported use of marijuana declined across the nation — including in the very same states that enacted medical cannabis access. NORML Advisory Board member Mitch Earleywine co-authored a comprehensive review of this data here, concluding: “More than a decade after the passage of the nation’s first state medical marijuana law, California’s Prop. 215, a considerable body of data shows that no state with a medical marijuana law has experienced an increase in youth marijuana use since its law’s enactment. All states have reported overall decreases – exceeding 50% in some age groups – strongly suggesting that the enactment of state medical marijuana laws does not increase marijuana use.”
Investigators at the Texas A&M Health Science Center also assessed whether the passage of medical cannabis laws encourages greater recreational use. They too found, definitively, that it does not. “Our results indicate that the introduction of medical cannabis laws was not associated with an increase in cannabis use among either arrestees or emergency department patients in cities and metropolitan areas located in four states in the USA (California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington). … Consistent with other studies of the liberalization of cannabis laws, medical cannabis laws do not appear to increase use of the drug.”
As this government map (Marijuana Use in Past Year among Persons Age 12 or Older) so keenly illustrates, marijuana use rates as a percentage of the overall population vary only slightly among states, despite states having remarkably varying degrees of marijuana enforcement and punishments. In fact, several states with the most lenient laws regarding marijuana possession — such as Nebraska (possession of up to one ounce is a civil citation) and Mississippi (possession of up to 30 grams is a summons) — report having some of the lowest rates of marijuana use, while several states that maintain strict penalties for personal users (e.g., Rhode Island) report comparatively high levels of use. The Drug Czar is aware of this of course, yet he is forbidden by his office from ever acknowledging it publicly.
But wait, it gets even sillier. One statistic gleaned from the Monitoring the Future study that was not emphasized by the Drug Czar (for obvious reasons) was that more than eight out of ten 12th graders report that marijuana is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get — a percentage that has remained constant for three and a half decades! So much for the notion that criminal prohibition is limiting youth marijuana access. It never has and it never will. On the other hand, Kerlikwoske concedes that the legalization, regulation, and the imposition of age restrictions on alcohol and cigarettes is associated with a reduction in teens use of those drugs. Nevertheless, the Czar irrationally brags that, when it comes to cannabis, those words are not even in his vocabulary. Seriously.
Finally, as to the Czar’s notion that teens are ‘misperceiving’ (a term that was apparently made up by Kerlikowske) the harms of marijuana compared to cigarettes and alcohol, let’s get real. Cigarette smoke is far more dangerous to humans than cannabis smoke, the latter of which has been shown to have an inverse relationship with incidences of certain types of cancer, even when consumed long-term. Further, unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing lethal overdose, is relatively nontoxic to healthy cells and organs, and its use is not typically associated with violent, aggressive, or reckless behavior. That’s why, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, fewer than one in five Americans nationwide now believe that consuming marijuana is more dangerous than drinking alcohol, and by a nearly two-to-one majority, respondents agree that marijuana is far less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. In short, the public has gotten it right even though their government keeps getting it wrong.
As for the Drug Czar and his mindless rhetoric, never forget the words of novelist Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In reality, Kerlikowske is not nearly as stupid as his sound bytes imply; he just assumes that you are.
Contemporary art is the world’s newest social and economic currency. Culture and art have become luxury products merchandised and promoted around the globe like handbags and Italian loafers. With the internet enabling us to study, discuss and experience art in ways not imagined before, artists work across medium and disciplines. Painters become film makers. Photographers become sculptors. Actors become performance artists.
Indeed, contemporary art has become the cultural fabric and language of the world we inhabit, a rich landscape of creativity, choice and innovation.
Art is more accessible, more integrated in our lives and more utilitarian than ever before in history. What’s best is that everyone can now buy real art made by recognized contemporary masters for modest prices. With works priced from $30 to $5000, this year’s Artworld Gift Guide for the Holidays brings affordable and near-affordable works from some of the world’s greatest contemporary art legends.
This year’s curated artist choices include:
Elmgreen & Dragset
Carrie Mae Weems
LOUISE BOURGEOIS, I DO, $1000
I do, 2010
Louise Bourgeois is undeniably one of the greatest female artists of the 20th century. Born in France but living most of her life in America, Bourgeois made paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, and other works including textiles. She was prolific and excellent in all aspects of her work. Made just prior to her recent death, this limited edition print showcases her trademark red. As an object of beauty, as an investment, as an homage to an artist who will long live in the pantheon of great artists, this work will stand the test of time on every measure.
NICK CAVE SOUND SUIT PRINT #1, $200-6000
Combining elements of dance, music, fashion and theatre, artist Nick Cave creates Sound Suits, sculpture which incorporates all these elements. This limited edition photo of a Cave Sound Suit in action conveys the artist’s obsession with movement, musicality and craft. Nice Cave is surely one of the most important contemporary artists working today. While his works are waiting list only for art collectors, you now can enjoy have a Sound Suit in your home thanks to this editioned photograph.
JESSICA CRAIG-MARTIN, “PROP ART,” (MAN AT POOL), $250
The daughter of a famous artist and well-respected in her own right, Jessica Craig-Martin has created a photographic multiple that is suggestive and sexy. Is this a still from American Gigolo, a party pic from your last trip to LA or a fantasy?
PETER DOIG, BEACH TOWEL, $95.00
If you’re heading to the beach for the holidays, there’s no better artist to take with you than Trinidad-based artist, Peter Doig. His paintings often feature scenes like the one reproduced in this all cotton, beach towel. Why pay over $2 million for a DOIG painting at auction, when you can wrap yourself with this masterpiece, then throw it in the washing machine?
ELMGREEN AND DRAGSET, PRADA MARFA SIGN, UNLIMITED EDITION PAINTING ON CANVAS, $300
“Alongside a desolate stretch of highway outside the small Texas town of Marfa (pop. 2,121), a solitary white monolith emerges from the desert sand emblazoned with the most powerful word the world has ever known: Prada. Created in 2005 by Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Prada Marfa is sculptural reconstruction of a Prada store, complete with actual Prada shoes and bags from the Fall 2005 collection displayed in the window. Yet, there is no working door, leaving the viewer as a perpetual window-shopper. Now Prada Marfa is essentially a minimalist sculpture paying homage to the town of Marfa, Texas–once home to revolutionary minimalist artist Donald Judd–while documenting a fleeting moment in the ephemeral tastes of fashion, forever as unattainable fetishized items of desire.-Drew Tewksbury”
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM GLASSES $225.00 for Guggenheim Museum Members
Nothing says art world extravagance like these sunglasses made famous by the great patroness, muse and art world paramour Peggy Guggenheim. Designed by American artist Edward Melcarth, these glasses come from Italy, like Guggenheim herself, who held court over her salon from a Venetian villa on the Grande Canale. You too will feel like a doyenne looking at the world through these blue tinted glasses!
JIM HODGES, BLANKET (“IF THERE HAD BEEN A POOL, IT WOULD HAVE REFLECTED US”), $200.00 / $160.00 FOR MUSEUM OF MODERN ART MEMBERS
Every year, famed art collector, billionaire Peter Norton commissions the hottest contemporary artists to make gifts for his friends in the art world. Who is on the list to receive these amazing gifts? Leading curators, collectors, big donors and influencers in the art world, naturally. Jim Hodges was recently commissioned to make one of the annual gifts, and now, thanks to the Museum of Modern Art’s gift shop, you too can be wrapped in the elegance and beauty afforded to Norton’s nearest and dearest.
ISAAC JULIEN, TRUE NORTH PHOTOSTILL, $5000
Isaac Julien’s films and photo still images transport viewers to extreme and exotic landscapes, along the way exploring issues of race, immigration, and class. This image taken from Julien’s True North series is exceptionally beautiful, juxtaposing the black woman in the Icelandic landscape.
PAUL PFEIFFER, FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE SERIES, $1750 SPECIAL PRICE, NORMALLY $3500
(UNTIL DECEMBER 20TH MARY ANN MONFORTON, 718-636-9100 EXT. 105)
Paul Pfeiffer’s use of video stills in this tryptich show everything but the ball!
ANDY WARHOL COCA-COLA POSTER, $30
This poster was printed to commemorate a gallery show hosted by art world genius Larry Gagosian. While Andy Warhol, surely the most important 20th century American artist, is known for his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Jackie O, and Liz Taylor, his earliest work focused on elevating the images of every day consumerism like Campbell’s Soup cans and Coca-Cola. Nothing says POP ART better than a Warhol Coca-Cola image. This will make the perfect gift for the young enthusiast. Everyone desires to begin his or her collection with a Warhol. Nothing says POP like Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola image.
CARRIE MAE WEEMS, Untitled, from the Kitchen Table Series, $1,000.00
This black and white photo comes from Weems’ “Kitchen Table Series” which portrayed Weems in various domestic scenes in which the artist performs various stories, creating a narrative about relationships, family, race, sex and society. The work is evocative, mysterious and dramatic. What more can one hope for in the art we live with?
KEHINDE WILEY, “LOUIS XIV,” $1,400
The author first met Kehinde Wiley over a decade ago thanks to The Studio Museum of Harlem’s Thelma Golden. Wiley, known primarily for his luxuriously baroque paintings, takes inspiration from the classical Renaissance Court artists.
His works are portraits of beautiful young men in heroic poses, elevated far above their contemporary context. By going back in a historical context, Wiley raises up his young black men.
The editioned sculptural work here positions the subject as a King of France, specifically inspired from a marble bust of Louis XIV.
It may be a sign of the times that this year’s holiday season has seen a notable influx in secular and atheist billboards and bus banners sarcastically challenging the veracity of the Christmas story. One in New Jersey reads: “You KNOW it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason.”
It is also a sign of the times that this message has been promptly rebuked by religious leaders and commentators who, one could suspect, have fallen for the bait. While many lament that it is especially offensive, given the time of year, others more bluntly have described it as “kind of an asshole move.”
With a creeping rise in secularists and nonbelievers today, some American Christian traditionalists see a politically existential threat, leading to reactions such as those mentioned. One could be reminded of John Kennedy Toole’s cantankerously amusing character, Ignatius J. Reilly, in Confederacy of Dunces — combative towards modern culture and nostalgic for the halcyon days of Thomas Aquinas. This traditionalist camp is deeply perturbed by new threads in the social fabric and insistent that America is a Christian nation — demographically as well as politically.
This tension transcends a historical argument about the roots of American liberty. It goes to the heart of some of today’s most trenchant political debates, such as same-sex marriage, prayers at town meetings, US foreign policy toward Israel, and end-of-life issues germane to health-care reform.
So is America really a Christian nation?
Demographics give a clear answer. In 2008, 76 percent of Americans called themselves “Christian.” That’s down 10 percentage points since 1990, but it’s still an overwhelming and defining majority. Meanwhile, just 1.6 percent of Americans professed to be agnostics or atheists, more than double the amount in 1990.
History gives a more-muddled answer. The United States’ political origin as a “Christian nation” is a far more contentious issue, often reduced to each side drawing lines in the sand with fanciful single-factor readings of complex past events. A prime example comes from Jonah Goldberg, writing in Reason a few issues back: “Our constitutional order rests on the conviction that we are endowed by our creator with certain rights. Both the abolitionist and civil rights movements were religious in nature.”
Mr. Goldberg’s oblique claim belongs to those who see American freedom as a Christian brand — available for all, but religiously trademarked nonetheless. But those who state outright that Christianity was the driving force behind the settling and political conception of the United States rely on contrived historicism.
There are insidious intellectual implications to maintaining such a position: namely, the view that Christianity itself plays a defining, prerequisite role not just in the character and culture of America, but in its philosophical embrace of individual liberty as well.
A hefty segment of American Christians believes that its specific version of God is the inspiration for all men’s conception of freedom. If the United States is a wholly Christian nation then it follows that the liberty it affords to all is specifically Christian-furnished.
Indeed, the Declaration of Independence does make quick mention of God and a Creator, but not one of its 27 specific grievances has anything to do with religious liberty, and the nature of that “Creator” is hopelessly vague. Most everyone for whom rights were secured at the drafting and signing of the United States Constitution was a Christian, but that document makes no mention of any god. And historically, some of the first settlers to America — Christian separatist pilgrims — were indeed seeking religious liberty, but they arrived at Plymouth 13 years after European bullionist policies had already sent the Virginia Company to settle Jamestown.
So, did Christian culture or religiosity alone derive American notions of liberty? Christianity has long been a mercurial political instrument used to justify the rule of despots and democrats alike, depending on the century.
When the Roman Emperor Constantine first brought Christianity into the political fold, his motivation was purely autocratic. And most of the centuries of Roman Catholic rule that followed were not kind to individual liberty. The 16th-century Reformation challenged the extant church-state alliance and certainly embraced a fresh platform of human individuality in religious affairs, but to say that Protestantism championed democratic political liberties — as many do — goes too far.
Martin Luther and his immediate followers opposed all calls for a popular revolution and, according to the English historian Lord Acton, “constantly condemned the democratic literature that arose in the second age of the Reformation.” By Acton’s account, even John Calvin, despite his moderate republican leanings, saw the general populace as “unfit to govern themselves,” and instead advocated a form of aristocratic rule.
Thus historical arguments for Christianity’s role in securing the modern American notion of freedom are seriously impaired, as there is equally compelling evidence opposed as in support.
Of course, the “Christian nation” argument also asserts that, despite its past shortcomings, it is Christian ecumenism itself that advises individual liberty and equal rights. Indeed, an important facet of Christian belief is free will under God. This seems to align with previous understandings of freedom, which often centered on individual agency.
Aristotle defined it quite simply as, “to live as one wants.” Unfortunately, Christianity failed through much of its history to extend this position beyond personal, household religiosity. By contrast, at its outset, the notion of American freedom was predominantly political and populist in nature.
As the 20th-century philosopher John Dewey observed, “the freedom for which our forefathers fought was primarily freedom from a fairly gross and obvious form of oppression, that of arbitrary political power exercised from a distant center.”
With this in mind, Dewey points out that American freedom at the time of the Revolution could essentially be boiled down to a libertarian skepticism of government generally, and the right to vote.
This formulation was not without complications. Dewey saw freedom as a moving target — “an eternal goal [that] has to be forever struggled for and won anew.” Indeed, as Tocqueville realized early on, strict majoritarianism in the absence of effective government to safeguard individual liberties has just as much potential for tyranny as any other form of rule.
Presumably, those in the majority who assert that the United States is a Christian nation prefer it this way. If they already see American freedom as derived from their own faith, then why shouldn’t they?
The dangerous implications of thinking in such a way should be obvious. A case in point is this year’s Texas school board curriculum revisions, which will recast American history in Christian terms and dangerously undermine accepted science.
Because the Texas board is a parliamentary body subject to majority vote and comprised predominantly of traditionalist Christians, these deliberations fulfilled Dewey and Tocqueville’s warnings, as well as an observation from H.L. Mencken, who described American democracy as “a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.” It can be easily argued that this is a majoritarianism that does not adequately comport with the rights of the religiously neutral minority.
Seeing American freedom as Christian freedom sets the stage for political battles much larger than Texas school books and secular billboards during Christmastime. The historical debate over the Christianity or secularism of the Founders will continue to be caviled over ad infinitum. More urgent and insidious is the claim by members of one side that they have first dibs to the freedom all should equally enjoy.
Adapted from a piece that originally appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.
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Gift-giving is the bully of the holiday season. Everywhere you look there seems to be someone you need to thank or an offering you need to reciprocate (or one-up). Not only is it exhausting and annoying, it is also bank-breaking. These presents have nothing to do with the gifts you actually want to give, the ones you’ve put thought and care into, the ones you hope will elicit wide eyes and excitement from your loved ones.
I know, it’s better to give than to receive but really, when did all of this giving start? When I was a kid there was no such thing as a “teacher gift.” Now that’s all my friends complain about. The classroom, piano and ballet teachers, the tutor, the coach and the babysitter all seem to require a little tangible appreciation. You’re already hundreds of dollars in and you haven’t even dealt with your residence. If you live in an apartment you have the staff, some of whom you’ve never laid eyes on (they should actually be tipped the most generously since they spend their days toiling in the grey walled labyrinth of your building’s innards), and all of whom compare and contrast how they are remembered by each resident. If you are lucky enough not to clean your own home you have the cleaning person, if you have a car there are the garage guys and if you like to lean over and pick up your newspaper in your pajamas there’s the delivery service. If you live in a house don’t forget the lawn care people or the neighbor who fed your cat while you went out of town for that weekend. Basically anyone who makes your life livable needs a pat on the back, and I don’t mean that literally.
At this point your wallet is flat, your account balance on the fast track to overdrawn and you have barely begun. Let’s hope you’ve set aside some funds for your nearest and dearest. But there’s still a group we haven’t addressed: the hosts. Rumor has it some people are dizzy from their holiday whirl. A party every Saturday for a month leading up to the big 12/31 is bound to take a toll in more ways than one. Not only will you be hung-over every Sunday for a month but don’t even think of showing up empty handed. Here’s where things get tricky. You need to know who you’re dealing with. I used to be invited to a Christmas party (wait, ‘used to’ not because I did something offensive but because they no longer give the party) where every year I brought the hosts a nice house-gift from a store the hostess frequented. And not once did anyone say thank you. I get it, the party was crowded, the present joined others under the tree and really weren’t they keeping me in food and drink and what did I expect them to do, say thank you to me for saying thank you to them? You could go back and forth for years. But still, some acknowledgment would have been nice. The fact is, I probably could have gotten away with giftlessness and spent the $25 on another deserving soul but I wasn’t raised to be a mooch.
At this point I’m all about the homemade house gift. You have to know your customer though. I once made my granola (glassine bag, tied with a satin ribbon–a very elegant presentation if I do say so myself) and when I handed it to the fancy hostess she said, “Oh, pot pourri!” in a you-shouldn’t-have-and-I-wish-you-hadn’t kind of way. No lady, it’s not 1986 and I’m not busy drying flowers in my closet.
I’ve done the toasted, spiced nuts thing which can be treacherous if your sister calls while the nuts are in the oven and you forget about them until you smell them at which point are you better off showing up with no gift or a bag of burnt pecans? The choice is yours. When I saw this recipe it followed on the heels of my date discovery and it looked so good I saved it for gift-giving time. These are so easy to make (just set up an assembly line) and all about contrast: a spicy, salty, crunchy almond, a chewy, sweet almost creamy date and the deep je ne sais quoi of dark chocolate. Just be sure to make an extra batch. It’s still nice to receive, even if it’s from yourself.
For more stories with your recipes please visit In Sweet Treatment
Better-to-Give Chocolate Dipped Almond Stuffed Dates
From Bon Appetit, November 2010
36 salted roasted almonds, divided
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel, divided
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
12 Medjool dates
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Line small baking sheet with foil, set aside.
Toss 24 almonds, 1 teaspoon orange peel, honey, and spices in small bowl. Set aside.
Cut slit in each date and remove pit.
Press 2 spice-coated almonds into each slit and enclose nuts in date.
Melt chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl until melted, about 20 seconds, stopping once to stir.
Grasp end of 1 stuffed date and dip 3/4 into melted chocolate. Shake off excess chocolate. Place date on foil. Repeat with remaining dates.
Sprinkle remaining orange peel over chocolate-dipped dates.
Dip 1 plain almond halfway into chocolate; place atop 1 date. Repeat with remaining almonds and dates.
Chill until chocolate sets, 30 minutes.
Yield: 12 dates
The headline stories from WikiLeaks of the last few days have focused attention on American foreign policy, with a particular focus on the strains within and with historic allies.
The central role of Turkey in these revelations has caused further apprehension in U.S.-Turkish relations at an already tense moment in the alliance. Given the actions of Ankara this summer with regard to both Israel and Iran, a powerful narrative has emerged in which the West has “lost” Turkey.
The rise of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Muslim worldview as the dominant and unrivaled force in Turkish politics, as demonstrated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s successful approval of a Sept. 12 constitutional referendum, has only heightened fears among many in Washington. Rather than seeing further democratization in Turkey and noting the domestic pressures facing a populist AKP government, they see a final nail in the coffins of the military and secular elites that once protected U.S. interests. So former friends of Turkey have concluded that Ankara has become a turncoat to the West by switching sides from the historic U.S.-Turkey alliance.
This would be a grave misreading of Turkey and, worse, could bolster the very internal forces the West fears. It will give credence to their assertions that Turkey can never be part of the West and encourage Turkey to move its foreign policy in a more extreme direction. It risks demonizing Turkey precisely when Washington should be coordinating policies with Ankara. There is cause for concern that the U.S.-Turkish relationship has reached a critical juncture, but that all is not lost, yet.
America has recently elected a more conservative Congress, and Turkey has been seen recently as anything but a “model partner” to the U.S. Ankara’s rhetoric and behavior on Iran and Israel have caused anger and confusion in Washington, as evidenced by WikiLeaks. The links between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy have rarely been understood in Turkey, and have become increasingly difficult for Turks to understand in light of recent events. At the recent NATO summit in Lisbon, Turkey was seen as one of America’s greatest problems regarding missile defense and broader divergences in strategic concepts about the threats confronting the transatlantic community.
Turkish officials insist that their new foreign policy represents only a difference in tactics, and not ends, regarding Washington. However, they clearly have not internalized that the Obama administration sees preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons as one of its primary strategic goals in the region, along with containing such non-state actors as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Despite its “No” vote at the U.N., Ankara insists it will uphold the letter of the law concerning sanctions on Iran. But given Turkey’s efforts to triple trade with Iran, many in Washington complain that Ankara is undermining the intention of the sanctions.
Turkey should work with the U.S., given that a nuclear Iran, with proxy allies in the region, would be a long-term destabilizing factor that would ultimately change the region’s strategic calculus, which currently favors Ankara’s considerable economic incentives for stability and conventional military advantage over its competitors. Perhaps even more damagingly, it would dangerously alter Ankara’s relationship with Washington.
Turkey is at the center of one of the most critical regions, and recent changes to the country and the region have only heightened the country’s confidence on a global stage.
With the world’s second-fastest growing economy — after only China — in the second quarter of 2010, Turkey is clearly no longer a backwater but a regional hub defining dynamic change in its neighborhood. As the head of the Council of Europe, NATO member, G-20 founding member, U.N Security Council member, European Union aspirant and head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ankara has transformed itself into a more autonomous actor.
However, with greater influence comes greater responsibility. While there are real causes for concern, it is clear that Turkey continues to offer the U.S. numerous opportunities for strategic cooperation and thus remains a critically important partner for the U.S. Relations between Turkey and the U.S. have always been dynamic. So turbulence in U.S.-Turkish relations should be expected in the short-term but ignored only at America’s peril.
It would be foolish to write off Turkey’s important strategic role and the degree to which America’s and Turkey’s long-term interests will still converge more than they diverge. While Turkey may not be the model partner that we had hoped for, neither is it a turncoat that has been irrevocably lost.
Joshua W. Walker is a post-doctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University.
Originally published by Providence Journal
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Originally published on Epolitics.com
John Boehner’s tears may have overshadowed the substance of his 60 Minutes appearance last Sunday, but he did mention some “serious” policy options in his time on screen. I put “serious” in quotes for a good reason, because looking below the surface of one at least one of his ideas suggests just how un-serious he is about the job of governing.
Talking with Leslie Stahl, The Speaker-to-be made the following grand proposition:
Great idea, right? After all, who wouldn’t want to spend less on an institution that’s raised pork-barrel politics to a high art? Well, actually, anyone who wants a functioning representative democracy in an age of easy digital communications. Boehner’s may idea SOUND populist in a starve-the-beast way, but in reality it doesn’t even rise to the level of faux populism — it’s actually deeply ANTI-populist, since it will make it even harder for members of the House to listen to their own constituents.
Congress shouldn’t have a problem finding out what the voters think, since the people have been quite happy to tell them by letter and phone for years, and as digital communications have removed the already-low barriers to contacting Congress, they’ve been doing it A LOT more. Between 1995 and 2005, for instance, the volume of messages arriving in Congressional offices from all sources quadrupled to roughly 200 million per year, and this was before the rise of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (for details, see page 14 of this CMF report). Now? Even well-run operations can drown in a sea of constituent communications, and it’s hard to see how a staff cut would do anything but make the situation worse.
Besides unleashing a flood of individual messages, the internet age has also helped to create a whole new category of organizations that are almost entirely digital creations. MoveOn.org, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the Tea Parties are just a few of the political entities funded and organized online that devote their time to stirring up the masses. And of course, they’re joined by thousands of older nonprofits and trade associations that have also learned to use online tools to mobilize millions to barrage our elected officials.
All of these communications add up to clutter, to immense amounts of noise in which even the best staff will struggle to find a clear signal. Who benefits? Lobbyists, of course — they’ll still have access to the members and the staff, regardless of whether or not constituent messages can even be counted. Just as term limits have the perverse effect of giving power to the lobby (if members are term-limited, lobbyists and a handful of long-term staff become the only institutional memory), cutting Congressional budgets will in practice create even more distance between Congressmembers and the people they represent. An anti-populist idea indeed, no matter how much faux populism Rep. Boehner attempts to trowel on top of the it.
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The internet firm has now announced redundancies four times in three years, as it cuts costs to try to lift profits that trail bigger rival Google.
The redundancies also follow after Google recently announced a 10% pay increase for every member of staff.
In 2008 Yahoo rejected a 47.5bn (30bn) bid from Microsoft. Today its market capitalisation – the combined value of its shares – totals 21.68bn.
Yahoo said in a statement: “Today's personnel changes are part of our ongoing strategy to best position Yahoo for revenue growth and margin expansion, and to support our strategy to deliver differentiated products to the marketplace.”
The company's revenues have risen by less than 2% so far this year, compared with growth of 23% at Google.
Maggie Shiels, the BBC's technology reporter in Silicon Valley, said: “The Yahoo job cuts come in stark contrast to what is happening in Silicon Valley as a whole, where companies like Google and Facebook have embarked on an aggressive hiring spree.
“Undoubtedly some of those employees who have been given pink slips are likely to see job offers landing in their email boxes amid a fierce battle for talent in the Valley.
“As for the prospects of Yahoo's CEO Carol Bartz, these cuts are only likely to intensify pressure on her and increase criticism of her role in failing to improve the fortunes of the once mighty internet company.”
Yahoo had 14,100 employees at the end of September.
Last year my 26-year-old niece left her job as an executive assistant at a well-known advertising agency to become an apprentice gardener at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Now, when she moves back to San Francisco, she wants to talk her neighbors into tearing down the fences separating their yards so they can build a community garden. She wants to make soap and dye wool to make a living. She and nearly all of the twenty-somethings I meet want to spend the day with their hands in the dirt, not in front of a computer screen; they want food and financial security, they are interested in homesteading, and they are crazy about urban framing.
The good news is that the guerrilla urban farming movement is taking root in San Francisco. Sue Moss lives in the St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter and created a garden out of a small patch of dirt near a freeway on-ramp. Her tools? Just a plastic fork and whatever else she could scavenge. When the folks at Fort Mason Community Gardeners heard about her they gave her a small rake, a spade and bag of seeds. Volunteers now help her maintain the plot — she has created food and community in what was an abandoned eyesore.
When Annette Smith and Karl Paige began planting flowers and vegetables around a blighted Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood residents soon stepped in to help. Some gardened while others began to create art and share history. The Quesada Gardens Initiative was born and the community flourishes to this day.
In 1995, San Francisco’s now-thriving Alemany Farms was a four-acre, illegal dumping site growing tires, cars and refrigerators. Community leader and former San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners Director Mohammed Nuru spearheaded a unique, community-based collaboration to put at-risk, low-income youth to work transforming the vacant lot into an urban farm. San Francisco’s first “urban youth farm” was planted, providing 50 lucky teens with business, landscaping and non-violent resolution skills while offering a healthy alternative to a life of drugs, crime or violence. Today, Alemany Farms stays true to its original vision; growing organics foods and creating green jobs for residents of low-income communities with the values of environmental justice and social equity firmly rooted.
The Garden Project and Catherine Sneed are another urban farming phenomenon. The Garden Project employs recently released inmates from the San Francisco County Jail to work its half-acre garden. While food security, beautification, gardening and environmental sustainability are often the key motivators for urban gardening, the Garden Project has demonstrated that the social and economic benefits of programs like these are even further reaching. The Garden Project has proven that when former inmates are offered a chance to participate in a program that provides job training and education, where they love what they do and can see immediate results, there are lower recidivism and unemployment rates and an even greater commitment towards stewardship of the environment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture called the Garden Project “one of the most successful community-based crime prevention programs in the country.”
In just a few months, Hayes Valley Farm has proven that with the right leadership, care and tending a flower can bloom. After the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the central freeway was deemed unsafe and shut down. Early this year the city re-opened the site as a temporary green garden space. Recognizing this unique opportunity, community organizers and urban farmers poured in and decided to develop “a springboard for urban agriculture all over the city.” For now, the site functions primarily as an educational and resource center where curriculum development programs and plant sales are underway. The goal of Hayes Valley Farm is to demonstrate the potential techniques and beauty of urban farming. Our main yield is education,” says Chris Burley, Co-Director. “We’re trying to teach folks about growing their own food on balconies, in back yards, open air parking lots and on paved areas.”
These projects have much in common; they create jobs and build life skills for people in need; they enhance and make safe the urban environment; they provide an element of food security and foster community; they give the participatory citizens of San Francisco a sense of ownership and pride in their own city. But even more significantly, they all happened with San Francisco City and County money, support and involvement. These are exactly the kind of projects that local, state and federal governments should promote and support. With such support and the opportunity for community leadership they are easily replicable and would make measurable difference in the quality of life in every city and county throughout the country.
Last year Mayor Gavin Newsom took urban farming squarely into the political arena when he issued the innovative and groundbreaking executive directive committing the City and County of San Francisco to increase its healthy and sustainable food. He said:
In this directive, Mayor Newsom also calls on all city agencies and departments to conduct and audit of land within their jurisdiction suitable for, and actively used for food producing gardens and other agricultural purposes.
As the recently appointed president of The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, I have jumped at the opportunity to see what my agency can do with our 75,000 acres of land outside our City boundaries and 1,400 or so within the 49 square miles of San Francisco itself. I have asked the SFPUC staff to determine what lands within our jurisdiction might be available for urban farming and food growing. With the resources of our agency, we look forward to doing our part to revitalize San Francisco’s unused public spaces, reconnect our neighborhoods, reduce our environmental impact and help everyone live and eat better. What better way to ensure these goals than to create urban farms all over the City and County of San Francisco? Let’s get planting.
A lot of people are unhappy that the president punted on first down, and I’m one of them. Extending the excessive Bush tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires will explode our deficit over the next two years without doing anything to help our economy. I think it’s simply bad policy.
But for Minnesota’s middle class, struggling to get by in a tough economy, there’s a lot in this bill that will really help: tax cuts for working families, a payroll tax holiday, energy tax credits, and the extension of Recovery Act initiatives that are already making a difference.
And for the Minnesotans truly suffering right now — men, women, and children on the edge of economic disaster — the alternative is simply unacceptable. If we let Republicans block unemployment benefits, even temporarily, there will be a lot more pain for working families, a lot more homeless kids spending Christmas in a shelter or a car.
If this is the prelude of a permanent extension of the Bush tax breaks for the super-wealthy, we’re in big trouble. We’ll lose our ability to make the investments we need to grow our way out of long-term budget deficits: education, infrastructure, and research and development. And I am taking the president at his word that he will fight harder to put an end to these wasteful tax breaks in 2012 than he did in 2010.
This isn’t a great deal by any stretch of the imagination. But I got into this line of work because I wanted to stand up for Minnesota families trying to put food on the table and build a better life for their kids. And, for them, the only thing worse than a bad deal would be no deal at all. That’s why I voted yes yesterday — and why I will continue my fight for economic policies that create jobs, address our deficit problem, and build new opportunities for Minnesota.
It wasn’t any particular comment during the financial crisis that led me to write “Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype.” Rather it was the cumulative effect of a host of anti-Semitic statements focusing on money matters together with the uncertain environment in which Jews were living that provided the imperative for me to return to the world of authorship, my vow never to return notwithstanding.
Still, a number of the comments made a deep impression on me. One was the claim that Lehman Brothers, immediately before its collapse, transferred $400 billion to Israeli banks. It reminded me of the Hezbollah charge soon after 9/11 that they had “learned” that 4,000 Israelis did not show up for work at the World Trade Center that day. These conspiracy theories are so outlandish that one is tempted to ignore them. But, as absurd as they are, they do take hold. There’s no room for complacency.
Then there was a comment on an online news site: “Ho hum, another Crooked Wall Street Jew. Find a Jew who isn’t Crooked. Now that would be a story.”
Or, “Just another Jew money changer thief. It’s been happening for 3,000 years. Trust a Jew and this is what will happen. History has proven it over and over. Jews have only one god –money.”
And so I embarked on this project to tell the story of how the stereotype about Jews and money came into being, what were its consequences through the centuries, and the impact and danger that it presents in our own time.
The accusation is pernicious at any time. On a personal level it leads to distrust of Jews and legitimizes comments about people that are hurtful. On a societal level, it opens up a variety of attacks against Jews that can be very damaging.
Shakespeare’s Shylock figure in the “Merchant of Venice” embodies so much of what took place historically. Jews will do anything for money, which leads as well to the idea that Jews have no loyalty to any group other than their own and that Jews are naturally treacherous. We know where such ideas buried in the subconscious of a population can lead when exploited by a demagogue.
Of course, the period of 2008-2009 was not any time. It was a time of great anxiety, a perfect setting for conspiracy mindsets. The world financial system was in trouble, Islamic extremist terrorism continued and Iran was moving forward on its nuclear program.
In such a setting, I thought it important to speak to the broad public that may not be sensitive to these issues both as regards to how offensive these accusations are and how dangerous they are in our modern world. My mantra, as reflected in my decision to write this and two other books, is that anti-Semitism is not a history lesson, it’s a current event.
Let me cite just a few examples of how the theme of Jews and money is alive and well beyond individual comments on blogs and Web sites.
When a recession hit Malaysia in the late 1990s, the prime minister, in a country without Jews, seeking to avoid speaking of the complexities of the economy, attributed the suffering of his people to international Jewish currency dealers who were manipulating the currency to serve the interests of Jews against the interests of the Malaysian public.
When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke before the United Nations General Assembly in 2009 as the world economy was sinking, he told the gathering of world leaders that Zionists, although a small minority,”have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers… in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner.”
Further examples appear in ADL polling of European attitudes toward Jews. In a survey conducted late in 2008 and early in 2009 in seven European countries, 40 percent of those surveyed indicated that Jews have “too much power in the business world” and 41 percent indicated that Jews have “too much power in international financial markets.” Perhaps most troubling, in the same survey, taken during the height of the global economic crisis, 31 percent of the Europeans surveyed said Jews were to blame at least in part for the crisis.
In other words, the potency of this stereotype remains intact. And what this should tell us, and what my book is about, is several seminal points.
First, with all the appropriate attention being paid to the “new” anti-Semitism — hatred of Jews in the guise of anti-Zionism — the classic stereotypes still are powerful and undergird the new manifestations.
Second, because of ongoing economic anxiety, blaming the Jews for corrupting the world economic system is likely to surface again and again.
Third, the explosion of the Internet and the ability of extremists, conspiratorialists and anti-Semites to reach new audiences and stoke the emotions of millions means that younger generations need to be educated on this subject.
In the end, I hope my book contributes toward three goals: waking people up to the nature and severity of the problem; encouraging adults to educate their children against such insidious prejudice; and providing a framework for leaders around the world — governmental, business, religious, cultural — to speak out when confronted with this ancient and persistent myth.
A few years ago, I worked with a product manager for a medical device company who had a burning question for me. His game-changing product was ready to go, the sales force was lined up and beginning to make contacts with customers, and his CEO was expecting this to be a $100 M product. He now just needed to slap a price on it, and wanted to know what I thought. My response: you should have been thinking about this a long time ago.
Pricing is an incredibly important aspect in the success of nearly every business. Yet somewhere in the commotion of building their enterprise, an entrepreneur often lets it slip through the cracks. Sooner or later (usually later, unfortunately) my medical device client’s question will pop up: “When should I start to think about price?” The answer is that if you have a business plan, a potential customer, a prototype, or anything beyond an idea on a napkin, you should already be thinking a lot about price. Generally speaking, if you find yourself asking that question, you are probably already late and need to start catching up.
Over the next few months, we will dig into best practices and useful techniques to drive more profitable revenue in your business. However, we need to first examine the urgency of thinking about price early and often.
For starters, price is one of the most effective levers a manager can pull to drive profits. But to effectively do so over the long-term, it cannot be a one-time decision. Pricing is a mindset that needs to be integrated throughout the entire lifecycle of your product and must infiltrate every functional area of your business. Effective pricing is driven by the value you are able to deliver to your customers. Managers must constantly assess this value and look for ways to increase it. In many cases, it is an economic value (e.g., labor savings, access to a new customer segment). This is most common in B2B markets. Sometimes there is a psychological value delivered (e.g., a “coolness” factor of a new gadget), which is often a factor in consumer markets. But to capture this value, to truly monetize your new business, you need to be thinking about price at all stages of the game.
Launching Your Business
This mindset is particularly necessary for entrepreneurs. When developing a business model or drafting your business plan, price (and accordingly, value) needs to be at the top of your mind. Why would anyone pay me for this? What are they getting? How will this specifically help to improve a company’s financial position? What are my customers using now (the next best competitive alternative, to be discussed more in a future article on quantifying value) and how is my solution better? Thinking about these questions from the moment of your business’s inception will ensure you are driving toward a profitable outcome — one where you are going to truly deliver value that the market will pay for.
Remember that you are starting the business to make money, not to make stuff. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to succeed in this task by doing more with less. But the “less” comes through higher efficiency — a greater degree of focus in your actions — not through simply doing fewer things (or worse, just doing everything 50 percent of the way). Focusing on price at the planning stage and throughout the company’s lifecycle will help you keep your eye on the prize, and ensure you are spending your limited resources in the right areas — the ones that return the most money. So when you think about launching a new business, think about price.
Launching New Products and Services
All too often, the end goal of driving value is forgotten in the chase to make stuff. As the product begins to take shape, new features are added daily. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had an extra flashing light? It wouldn’t be hard to make the product function as a toaster, too, so let’s add that. The result of this product-centric process is a lot of time and money spent developing a more costly product that doesn’t deliver any more value to the market. When the product launches with the inevitably higher price required to cover the additional features, no one buys it, as the value delivered does not merit the high price.
The product development and launch processes need to be done with price at the forefront. Will adding this feature allow us to capture higher profitability? Why? What is the value that the new feature delivers — is it a totally new value driver, or does it just increase the impact of the original value driver? Is this the most important value driver to my customer, or the 10th most important? Are the same customers interested in both of these value drivers? As an entrepreneur, your time and resources are stretched thin. Focus on developing your products in a way that creates the biggest impact on the most important value drivers. When you think about developing and launching your product, think about price.
Finding and Meeting Customers
Have you ever met with a potential customer, even just in exploratory conversations, having not given serious consideration to price? If so, fear not; you’re not alone. Entrepreneurs can easily get caught up with other aspects of the business and think that it’s not the “right time” to think about price. But what happens? A potential customer eventually asks, and you don’t have the answer. Do you throw out a number? Marginal cost plus 10 points?
The first price mentioned to a customer, even if informally, creates a very powerful reference point. What you do today affects what your world looks like tomorrow. Pricing decisions are not made in a vacuum, and will not magically reset a year down the road when you’re ready to get into the black. Once a reference price is set, you’ve given customers an anchor that they will not quickly forget. Dramatic moves away from this initial price will not lead to pleasant conversations. What would your best customer say when you tell him or her that the price is about to double? And if you cut price in half, customers may wonder if you were being “fair” initially, or perhaps that the price is falling because no one is buying (and they can therefore get even further discounts).
Instead, use these early conversations as a source of information to further develop your pricing decisions and understand how you can deliver value. Before you show up, do your research. Read a 10-K and find a line where you think you can have impact. Are you trying to impact a $1 million cost bucket, or a $500 million cost bucket? If a customer is focused on reducing costs, realize that a revenue driver may not be as attractive to them. Is there a better way to frame your value story? Talk specifically about how they would use the product in their company — what processes, divisions, people and financial line items would be affected. What are the most attractive aspects of this product and why? Don’t assume you know the answer — ask the question. Ask what could be done to improve the value of the product. When you are talking with customers, you need to be thinking about price.
The “Right Time” for Pricing
Thinking back to my medical device client and his innovative $100 million product, a major opportunity to drive profitability was lost by waiting until the 11th hour to think about price. After a few months of hard work using some of the strategies and tactics that we will discuss here in the coming months, the product launched at a price over ten times that of the current market leader and has been very successful. Even so, money was lost by not infusing price into the development process. For example, early stage consideration may have led them to develop studies to validate his performance claims, increase the speed of revenue growth and perhaps open additional segments in the short term. Who is to say it couldn’t have been a $500 million product?
For all the reasons discussed here, the right time to think about pricing is now. Companies are by and large rational decision makers. They will buy when they get something in return that is greater than the opportunity cost. Understand why buying your product is a good decision, and use that information to become an even better supplier. In doing so, stay focused on monetizing your value at all stages of the game.
Remember: you’re here to make profit, not to make products.
(Special thanks go out to my friends and former colleagues on the Monitor Group’s pricing team, especially Georg, without whose support over the years, I would not have much to write about.)
The post originally appeared on the MIT Entrepreneurship Review. It is written by Jim Schuchart, an MBA candidate at MIT Sloan who previously spent five years as a consultant at Monitor Group.
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I pleasantly recall my first flights as a young child, when friendly flight attendants served warm bagels and Philadelphia cream cheese alongside fresh orange juice. For years I tallied my trips, until the industry changed, bringing us to our current state: miniature seats; inadequate sundries; and painful security processes. You pay for more and get less, unless you’re collecting excruciating travel anecdotes, the type that test your sanity but develop into important travel lessons and fodder for dinner parties.
Choose Airlines Wisely (Avoid Absurd Rules of the Sky) I sleep like a champion on airplanes, creating a restful haven even within coach’s cramped quarters. Good timing and various accoutrements are essential: a window seat and sleeping pills before take-off; Tempur-Pedic Eye Mask; neck pillow; sound-canceling headphones; and a cotton scarf that serves as a blanket extension. It isn’t pretty, but my on-flight fort works like a charm.
I was rudely awakened during my first and only trip on Virgin Atlantic, not long after take-off. The flight attendant repeatedly touched my shoulder until I emerged from my burrow. “Miss, you need to raise your seat to the upright position.” Bleary-eyed and confused, I blinked a few times before asking why. “The people behind you are having their dinner,” she brusquely offered, forcefully jerking my seat forward. I complied, too delirious to argue with this flight attendant and her bizarre rule.
An uncomfortable hour passed before I reentered REM-state bliss, and then: stinging sensations all over my scalp. Was this a nightmare or had hornets nested within the recycled air of this 747? I realized that whatever it was occurred in real time, not within the depths of my imagination. I emerged to discover the flight attendant a mere feet from my seat. She was serving tea, the scorching contents of which had befallen my sleeping head. A directed attack or unintentional spill? I suppose I’ll never know.
The third act of my beleaguered journey occurred an hour before landing, when the flight attendant insisted on waking me once more. She asked that I remove and safely store my blanket and sleep mask. I begged for an explanation, to which she responded, “Safety concerns.”
“What?” I queried, “How could the presence of a blanket on my lap and a sleep mask on my face possibly compromise anyone’s safety?”
The now-very agitated attendant would not back down, particularly since my rebellion drew attention from surrounding passengers. She snatched my blanket and began a theatrical performance, designed to replicate the extreme danger caused by a lone blanket, landed in the middle of the aisle.
Her enacted scenario would result in the following newspaper headline: Airline blanket thought to cause passenger to trip during emergency landing.
Silence Your Smartphone (Conceal the Autonomous Blackberry)
I do not–excepting the above anecdote–defy airline rules and regulations, but my blackberry occasionally operates semi-automatically like some robot out of Dwight Schrute’s imagination. For some time, I noted but couldn’t control the Blackberry’s inconvenient decision to turn itself on during flights. Control was only exercised at the most superficial level by putting the phone on silence.
On one long-haul flight, I forgot to silence my phone when I powered it down. Midway over the Atlantic, I heard the feared text message beep. Just as I worked steadily to shut it down once more, a flight attendant caught a glimpse of me and my clandestine act.
“Excuse me,” he growled from across the aisle. He aimed to embarrass me in front of my entire section. “Don’t you know that you’re not allowed to use cell phones during the flight?”
“Of course I know that,” I retorted, without adequate respect or submission in my voice. “Which is why I’m turning it off. I did the same before take-off but for some reason it turned itself on during the flight.”
His voice raised an octave, adopting an angry, mocking tone. “Is that so? Is there a ghost living in your phone?” He quipped and laughed, as did the cast of nearby strangers.
Damned technology and its many complexities! I have learned my lesson, but unfortunately the blackberry continues to revolt against my instruction. The only recourse, therefore, is to disable it completely before turning it off…and never again forego silent mode.
Never Travel Too Close to Christmas (Or with a Devilish Cat)
I arrived to Dulles Airport in the midst of Washington’s first severe blizzard of the winter. I was traveling with my maniacal cat who was forced by fearless security guards to exit her kennel and accompany me through security. If she were to escape, the airport security system would implode at her first jab. Trust me when I tell you: this creature is part-Bobcat.
She and I passed through without incident, and I felt relaxed for the first time in 24 hours. I reached my gate, put down my things, and attempted my own cat nap, but my brief respite was commandeered by a nasty stomach bug that caused near-constant vomiting.
Thus began my Christmas conundrum: risk my health and the health of other passengers by spending four painful hours ill on a plane or attend to my medical condition but risk missing Christmas with my family. I opted for the treacherous flight, carefully concealing my illness (which took much willpower and several plastic bags) until we were off the ground, at which point I literally took over the lone airplane bathroom. I have never been so sick, and never so reviled, even when I exited the plane… in a wheelchair.
Ironically, my cat reaped some benefit from our ill-fated journey. In contrast to my behavior, she appeared saintly. Never before nor since has anyone described her as “docile, cute, lovely, well-behaved” or anything apart from “evil, devilish, crazy.”
***I’ll think of these moments when I board my flight home tomorrow, staving off travel humiliation with crossed fingers.
The central bank made the comment as it reaffirmed its commitment to continue purchasing 600bn (380bn) in bonds to stimulate the economy.
The Federal Reserve also kept US interest rates on hold at between 0% and 0.25%, as had been widely expected.
US unemployment hit 9.8% in November, its highest level since April.
Just 39,000 jobs were created last month, down from 172,000 in October, meaning 15.1 million people were without work.
The US unemployment rate has now been above 9% for 19 months, the longest stretch on record.
The most recent data showed that the US economy grew by an annualised rate of 2.5% between July and September.
However this is not sufficient growth to allow job creation to keep up with the growing US working-age population.
The Fed's latest 600bn stimulus package was announced at the start of November.
The central bank had already pumped 1.75tn into the economy since the recession.
Although small businesses in the US have suffered setbacks because of the financial crisis, they are starting to become more positive again as reported by the National Federation of Independent Business’ index of small business optimism increased in November. And that optimism is in itself what sets entrepreneurs apart from others. You have to have a lot of passion and a huge amount of focus to get a small business started. You also usually need a loan from a bank, investors, or for the poor, a microloan.
Entrepreneurs, whether the poorest of the poor in the developing world, or those in the US and Europe who have more access to capital, are the engines which make our economies work, not only on an international or national level, but also on a very local level. Helping entrepreneurs around the world are business angels, such as those found at Keiretsu, which supports entrepreneurs in the US and internationally.
According to Jack Bays, co-president of Keiretsu Forum Paris and London:
I decided while attending LeWeb Technology conference 2010 outside Paris last week to focus purely on entrepreneurs whose work exemplified this passionate approach to business, as well as concrete ways to make our lives and our world a better place. I did not visit the PayPals or Microsofts or Googles but rather spoke with those smaller, web-related start-ups, which, whatever their size, however long they have been around, well-funded or newly created somehow made me feel my life and the lives of others would be richer, because of what they provided and because their founders were extremely passionate. And that is the key to entrepreneurship, being passionate. Beyond that, one can never truly fail. The experience itself is worth it.
One company I have been following for some time is Tagattitude, created by technology entrepreneur, Yves Eonnet, who, in addition to being a tech guy, likes to keep things simple. He is also a huge fan of Muhammad Yunus’ social business ideas. Yves’ company takes their technology, and a simple cell phone, and creates payment systems which are already at work in parts of Africa, as well as Pakistan. The phone itself becomes both the credit card and the cash register. I love this street vendor video.
Why is his company different, beyond its simplicity? The payment mechanism is not tied to a telecom, and thus remains independent. As mobile phones become our bank accounts, content distributors and information sources, this is increasingly important. Furthermore he helps small businesses thrive and conduct their own business!
Two fantastic examples of companies started by entrepreneurs built on amateur passions: photography and sports. I always find it wonderful when people can take what they love most, their hobbies, and make them into a business, because you know they are going to work hard and remain passionate which is what is needed especially during tough times. It was obvious that Mike Kerns loves not only Fantasy Football but also amateur sports and communicated that during our interview. He is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen Sports, maker of social and sports-related applications found on the Facebook, Android and iPhone platforms, Kerns joined Yahoo! when Citizen Sports was acquired in 2010. Kerns obviously understands that the sports is better when you can interact, participate thus a natural for Social Media … (heck, some guys can ONLY communicate when talking about, expressing themselves through sports!). And though Yahoo! has recently been through a rough patch, I think Citizen Sports is one area where they may have the competition beaten. His is one of the success stories many entrepreneurs like to hope for, if they do decide to one day sell their companies.
As for one of my own loves, photography, it kills me to see professional photographers and photojournalists unable to make a living anymore. And for all those amateurs who are now able to do more thanks to digital photography, this site is beyond inspiring: www.fotopedia.com. Their recent partnerships with UNESCO and US National Parks make you both want to visit the sites and become a photographer yourself if you are not already. What is remarkable is the detail and refining of perspective made possible by new cameras and digital technology thus lending itself to the internet experience. The Chinese photographer, Quang-Tuan Loung spent ten years photographing the National Parks and the result is a stunning collection of 3000 photographs.
The company itself was started by a passionate amateur photographer, Jean-Marie Hullot along with another Microsoft alum, Christophe Daligault. In this case, the business model allows for the purchase of professionally made prints of the photographs, making sure the photographer retains rights and earns fairly from each work. The National Parks series in particular harkens back to Ansel Adams and the documenting of what is so very precious, that pristine (for now) nature…almost a kind of visual John Muir.
Another company I happened upon by chance at lunch when I sat down at a table with one of the founders of Rent2Buy, which started in the US, and which has a blog I like. The reason I liked this company and what I heard from its owner was that it seemed to be a win-win for both consumer/potential buyer and the seller. During the financial crisis there are indeed opportunities and one part of this company helps both those selling their homes, who are having a hard time finding buyers, and those who cannot yet buy, or who have gone through a tough time, to build up both a positive credit history as well as a down-payment as their rental payments go towards the purchase of the property they are renting. Worst case scenario, you rented it and lived in it. Best case, you are buying a home in an affordable way and not throwing away money on a rental, and are not going to become another subprime default tragedy. This company has been increasing listings around the world and creating strategic partnerships.
Perhaps my favorite entrepreneur at LeWeb was a young Frenchman from Toulouse, only 22, who is passionate about cooking which he learned from his mother and grandmother. His social network for food buffs is already thriving. His Facebook page jaimecuisiner (I love cooking) has over 22,000 friends and he recently purchased www.cuisiner.com. If I had to take a bet on a young entrepreneur who is willing to give it his all and absolutely loves what he does, while remaining 100% true to his French love of cooking roots, it would be Benjamin Moreau. I will be following him carefully … he exemplifies both the hyper-local and international appeal of how the internet can be utilized to create a business model.
If there was one common thing linking the entrepreneurs I met, it was that uplifting, optimistic feeling of individuals taking their passions and turning them into realities. In each case, these entrepreneurs are making our world richer not only because of the new businesses being created, but because I was convinced that they each wanted to add something entirely new to human experience, be it through social media, increasing human transactions which lead to a better quality of life, or simply the beauty of nature brought to a huge audience or the pleasure of sharing a recipe for a well-made meal.
In other words, entrepreneurship is about creativity, combined with a sense of endless possibilities. That in itself is why the future needs people and businesses like these.
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Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga. WikiLeaks has given New Zealand’s Sunday Star-Times 1,490 diplomatic cables from the United States’ Wellington Embassy. To date, only a few of those cables have been publicly released. However, they clearly indicate an increasingly close relationship between New Zealand and the U.S., as well as an increasing reliance by the U.S. on New Zealand when it comes to Pacific security issues.
While a closer relationship is desirable, given the growing importance of the Pacific in global affairs, primary reliance on New Zealand to guide the way in the Pacific is not sufficient and leaves the region vulnerable to outside influences and internal instability.
U.S.-New Zealand Security Relationship
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and U.S. President Barack Obama at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit.
The renewed engagement between the U.S. and New Zealand seems to have gained momentum about five years ago. Since the 1980s, due in large part to its anti-nuclear stance, NZ was not treated as a full security partner by the U.S. While still a member of ‘Five Eyes’ (a security grouping of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand), it had restricted access to intelligence.
That started to change around 2005. A 2007 cable written as a ‘scene-setter’ for then New Zealand PM Helen Clark’s visit to Washington reads: “Clark has since the 2005 election appointed to key positions a number of officials well disposed towards working with the United States.”
Officials named included Foreign Minister Winston Peters , Secretary of Defense John McKinnon, and Director of the NZ Security Intelligence Service Warren Tucker. The cable explains: “these officials have improved their agencies’ coordination on U.S. policy and instructed staff to be helpful to us wherever possible.”
The U.S.-New Zealand relationship was further improved with the election of current NZ PM John Key, described in another cable as having a “strongly personal pro-American outlook”.
The closer engagement coincided with increasing US security concerns about the Pacific, including concerns over China’s expansion in to the region.
New Zealand as a Security Force in the Pacific
New Zealand police units with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. Photo by Michael Field.
New Zealand has seemingly successfully positioned itself as a reliable source of information and as an operational ally in Pacific countries such as Tonga. The 2007 cable reads: “We continue to cooperate closely on events in Fiji and have come to value the views of Kiwi officials regarding events in E.Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga.”
The cooperation is tactical as well. According to the cables, US Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Randall Fort “commented that GNZ sigint had been critical to USG understanding of the 2006 coup.”
A 2010 scene-setter for Hilary Clinton’s January visit to New Zealand, features the header: “New Zealand’s Special Relationship with the Pacific Islands”.
New Zealand, otherwise a relatively small country on the geopolitical periphery, gains strategic importance if Washington feels it can ‘deliver’ in the Pacific. NZ benefits from highlighting security concerns in the Pacific and placing itself in the center of the solution. The rewards are valuable. The 2010 cable notes: “Our intelligence relationship was fully restored on August 29, 2009 (which should not be acknowledged in public).”
The cables also show that New Zealand presents itself as better equipped to manage the Pacific than Australia. A 2008 cable reports the opinion of Maaten Wevers, who oversees NZ’s intelligence committee: “Often there are significant differences with Australia, he added, as New Zealand is a more Pacific country than Australia and the latter is not always attuned to Pacific developments.”
This message was reinforced in the 2007 cable, which reports that Helen Clark: “also realized after the Fiji coup that New Zealand had become too reliant on Australian intelligence.”
(It is worth noting that, according to a WikiLeaks 2005 Canberra cable on North Korea, Australia had its own issues with NZ. The cable reports: “If U.S. officials wanted to hear the “bleeding hearts” view of “peace and love” with respect to North Korea, [Australian Foreign Minister Alexander] Downer joked, they only had to visit his colleagues in New Zealand.”).
What This Means for Regional Security
In a time when the Pacific is getting more attention from Washington, Wellington’s role in advising on the region is becoming more valued
This is potentially problematic in two ways.
First, NZ’s information and advice may not always be as reliable as thought. There are examples of failure to predict/manage critical situations. For example, mismanagement of the Fiji coup by NZ/Australia resulted in pushing Fiji closer towards the China camp.
Fiji Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama and Chinese Ambassador to Fiji Cai Jinbiao make a deal.
Similarly, in Tonga, New Zealand has been backing the ‘pro-democracy’ movement. That group triggered riots in 2006 that burned down much of the capital city. Following the riots, failure by NZ to substantially participate in the reconstruction resulted in Tonga having to take out a debilitating loan from China. The fact that a group supported by NZ as pro-democracy resulted in the country becoming indebted to an authoritarian country is a small indication of the something going wrong.
Coincidentally or not, in the 2008 cable, US Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Randall Fort, notes that the larger Pacific region is more fragile today then it was ten years ago.
Another problem is the character of NZ’s engagement of the region (which can affect intelligence gathering, analysis, and operations).
There is a perception of a pervasive NZ ‘we know better’ attitude towards Pacific island nations. For example, NZ is proposing sending a team to train the new Tongan parliamentarians in governance, in spite of the fact that the Tongan system is fundamentally different than the NZ one.
Similarly, in the 2007 cable, NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Deputy Secretary Caroline Forsyth offered that:
RAMSI troops in the Solomon Islands.
The sort of ‘engagement’ that results in one nation sure thinking it can, and should, make “long-lasting improvements” in another nation’s society does little to build mutual trust and respect.
Second, NZ’s interests are not necessarily US interests. NZ has its own range of national priorities and one would expect it to put those above the interests of partner states, no matter how close the relationship.
For example, the 2010 cable notes that: “There is also collaboration [between the US and NZ] on the Energy Development for Island Nations (EDIN) project, which aims to develop renewable energy resources for Pacific Islands and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.”
However, as is seen with the proposed Meridian deal, NZ is not above using tied aid to try to get Tonga to buy a solar power plant from a Government of NZ owned company. This could potentially tie Tongan consumers in to high energy costs and so undermining economic development, which can lead to instability, which can lead to greater gains by others, including China (as has happened in the past).
Towards a Secure Pacific
All in all, while a closer relationship between NZ and the US is desirable, it would benefit both nations, as well as the Pacific islands, if the responsibility for the region’s security was more embedded in the region itself.
Given the Pacific’s increasingly geopolitical importance, the US might want to consider opening more diplomatic missions of its own in the Pacific (perhaps even along with the UK and burgeoning partner India), as well as helping to facilitate the opening of reciprocal missions to Washington.
There is a lot of natural warmth towards the West in the Pacific, but the relationship with NZ has left some feeling burned. That can affect intelligence flows and operational capacities, creating vulnerabilities for all concerned. NZ should encourage more direct US engagement in the region, if only to buttress its own intelligence and security.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Navy, greets Tongan Honor Guard soldiers during a visit to the kingdom on Nov. 9, 2010. Mullen visited Tonga on the second stop of a Pacific tour to thank the Tongan people for their continuing dedication and support in sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.
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Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic and Political Crises will Redraw the World Map
by Cleo Paskal
Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic and Political Crises will Redraw the World Map
by Cleo Paskal
One of the knocks against the Douglas County Board of Education pursuing a school-voucher program is that the county is relatively wealthy. That misses the point. I’ll explain why in a moment. First, check out this coverage…
“Establishing a school voucher program in Douglas County would be akin to sending famine-relief supplies to the Upper East Side of Manhattan while people starve in Darfur,” Alan Gottlieb, publisher of Education News Colorado, wrote last month on The Huffington Post.
“Douglas County is one of the wealthiest in the nation, with median family income topping $105,000 and just 8% of students qualifying for subsidized lunches, compared with 72% in the Denver Public Schools,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
At Tuesday night’s board meeting, which I attended, the board agreed to move into the research phase on vouchers.
Amid the discussion, Board President John Carson made this point about media coverage…
Carson nails it. Parents – rich, poor, middle-class or of any other description – want the best possible education for their kids. Why are vouchers being considered in Douglas County? Simple. It’s the one place in Colorado with the political will to look at a program like this.
Hopefully the Douglas County venture will find success and then be accepted in places that may be less willing to take that risk. The future of all children in Colorado depends on it.
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A lot of important stuff is cooking here at the end of the year. The headline battles about the tax cut deal and the deficit commission are very big deals, with short and long term implications both policy-wise and politically. You have probably seen enough writing about these headline grabbers (including from me) to keep you awake- or put you to sleep- well through the holiday season. But what is going on behind the curtain, away from the headlines, in the fight over banking policy and foreclosure fraud is just as important, and in some ways even more so. The budget deal expires in two years, some of the provisions (including the best one, unemployment extension) even sooner. The deficit commission report was a big moment in an important debate, but between partisan warfare, unpopular policy proposals, and short attention spans, most of what’s in there isn’t likely to be acted any time soon. But what happens in terms of the foreclosure fraud issue and the fight over banking regulations over the next year will determine whether we have a chance at escaping a Japanese style lost decade. I believe it will have more to do with whether the economy starts to revive than whatever mostly inefficient stimulus this tax cut provides, and I think it will have a bigger impact on whether Obama is re-elected than the tax cut deal or any other big issue coming up any time soon.
What crashed our economy was the speculative, out of control concentration of market power on Wall Street. That is what caused the housing bubble and subsequent housing price collapse, and until the massive underlying damage to our entire economy caused by that collapse begin to get healed, this economy will not get a whole lot better. With 25% of mortgages underwater, and more mortgages and household financial situations than that threatened by a weakened and unstable housing market, working and middle class consumers are not going to be going on any spending sprees any time soon.
The stimulus in the Obama-McConnell-Boehner tax cut deal, in spite of being bigger than the last stimulus, won’t stimulate much except the excitement of inside the beltway pundits. The millionaires getting an extra $80,000 plus will buy a few more expensive meals and bottles of wine in expensive restaurants and maybe splurge on some new luxury items, but mostly they will save that money, investing it in safe bond deals while they wait for the economy to recover- because as corporations have shown the last two years, you can be awash in cash but still not invest it in making new products if you don’t think there is anyone out there buying. Middle class folks will tend to spend any extra dollars they have more on lowering their debt and adding to their savings, because with their biggest financial asset- their home- not worth nearly as much as they thought it would be a few years, they know they have to shore up their financial position. The only folks actually spending more as a result of this deal are the unemployed and poor, simply because they have no choice- they will be using the money to buy groceries and pay utilities and rent.
There is one other problem with this stimulus, and this is one the macroeconomists aren’t getting: the vast majority of this money is going to preserve the status quo. It is stimulus in the sense that it is a lot of government money, unpaid for by any other budget cuts or long term tax hikes, but in terms of how real people will feel it, it is the status quo. People currently getting unemployment comp and various tax credits- EITC, etc- will still be getting them. People’s tax rates will stay the same, because this is simply an extension of the tax cuts that have been in existence now for 10 years. To the vast majority of Americans- still hard pressed, still squeezed by higher costs in necessities, still with a lower value home, still worried about their or their family members’ jobs- there will be no boost in their take home pay or earnings potential, no new jobs actually being directly created like in the last stimulus bill. I am sure that many folks are happy to hear their taxes won’t be going up, but they will have no extra money to buy no new things and no extra confidence that the economy will suddenly get better.
Which brings me back to banking and housing policy. This kind of ineffective weak tea stimulus is the only kind Republicans will be giving Obama in the next two years. But there are ways to significantly boost the economy right now that, between the Obama administration and the state Attorneys General negotiations with the big banks, can actually be done: write tight regulations around the financial reform bill, especially when it comes to issues like the swipe fees that directly pit the Wall St. bankers against main street business; have the DOJ prosecute bankers for using their market power to distort and harm the economy; and especially right now, force the bankers to write down mortgages. If the banks wrote down the mortgages of 5,000,000 underwater homeowners to the level the house was now worth in the market, so that they could stay in their homes and stabilize their financial condition, two very important things would happen economically. The first is that the housing market would finally begin to stabilize and recover- neighborhoods would no longer be riddled with abandoned homes and unkempt properties. The second is that all those homeowners, their debt reduced and their long term finances stabilized, might actually start spending money again: the multiplier effect would be big. Wall St will go into high pitched whining mode, but according to numbers one economist showed me, the profits that doing this would cost the banks would only amount to half the bonus money they paid out the last couple of years. The banks will scream bloody murder, but they will be just fine if we force them to write down these mortgages.
This is also actually the right thing, the moral thing, to do. The big banks on Wall Street destroyed this economy, and made out like bandits in the process. It should now be up to them to have to sacrifice to make things right again. But- with all other possibilities of big boosts to the economy walled off by Congress- this is also the only policy option the administration and the state AGs have to help get us through the bad times from this damaged economy.
Here’s the other thing this does: it changes the political dynamics completely. It would show more clearly than any other thing the President could do that the Obama administration is on the side of hard-pressed middle class homeowners. And because the bankers will be squealing to high heaven, and their Republican friends on the hill taking up their cause, it will be obvious who is on what side. Pushing the banks hard to write down these mortgages is the best thing the administration could possibly do economically, morally, and politically.
The administration as a whole, which includes a lot of different components, does not yet see this. I think Elizabeth Warren gets this, and from what I am told some of the lawyers at DOJ get it and are chomping at the bit to exert legal pressure on the banks. Some of the political staffers I talk with are starting to see this dynamic as well. However, Treasury certainly doesn’t seem inclined in this direction, and certain agencies especially the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are completely in the tank for the bankers. One state AG told me that the “OCC has the attitude that the banks are perfect”, and are resisting the AG’s investigations and negotiations in every way they can.
I don’t know what will happen with the administration. I am hopeful that it will sink in soon that the economy isn’t going to get better very quickly, and that the political team will realize that taking on the big banks on behalf of hard pressed homeowners is a political winner. But no matter what the administration does, I do hold some hope for the state AGs as they negotiate with the banks. They are led by Tom Miller, an old friend of mine from Iowa and one of the most honest and pro-consumer politicians I know. Tom is meeting today with community activists from around the country, and I know that his heart is with them. Whatever the Obama administration is doing, I have hopes the AGs can put enough pressure on the banks to move this in the right direction.
If we can finally start getting to the heart of the problem- the bankers and irresponsible system they created- we can finally start rebuilding this economy. That will be a fight, a big one because no politician likes taking on these banks. But that kind of fight might actually start moving our politics in a better direction as well.
Cross-posted at my home blog, OpenLeft, where you can find all of my writing on Wall Street, the economic crisis, and U.S. politics in general.
North Korea has “at least one other” uranium enrichment site in addition to the one shown to US experts last month, the US State Department has said.
The country's enrichment programme “reflects work being done at at least one other site”, a spokesman said.
A New York Times report quoted unnamed intelligence officials, saying North Korea was using “significantly more advanced” nuclear technology than Iran.
Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear fuel or made into weapons.
'Not out of thin air'
North Korea revealed what appeared to be a fully operational uranium enrichment plant at its Yongbyon atomic complex to US nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker on 12 November.
Officials in the US and South Korea have said in recent days the facility shown to the expert last month could not have been constructed so quickly if other secret sites or another completed uranium enrichment plant did not already exist in the country.
“We're very conscious of the fact that, in the recent revelations to American delegations, what they saw did not come out of thin air,” US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
“It certainly reflects work being done at at least one other site.”
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan would not confirm a media report that Pyongyang had three to four plants to enrich uranium. But Mr Sung-hwan said he believed there were facilities in North Korea aside from the Yongbyon site.
“It is a report based on what is still intelligence and let me just say that we have been following this issue for some time,” Mr Sung-hwan said on Tuesday.
The news comes weeks after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong, a small South Korean island, over a disputed maritime boundary, killing four people.
A gunman has opened fire during a school board meeting in the US state of Florida.
It was not immediately known if there were any fatalities or injuries at Bay District School in Panama City.
One board member hit the gunman with her handbag and he pushed her to the ground and started firing, a local TV reporter said.
A gay friend:
His question was simple: What’s the best way to shake hands when you first meet somebody you’re interested in?
A simple handshake can up your odds of getting a man, a date or a phone number. Here’s why: It’s the first time he’ll touch and feel your skin. What kind of physical impression do you want to leave him with? Consider how you go into judgment over-drive when somebody shakes your hand and you’ll see why it’s so important for you to get this right.
Let’s say your hottie extends his hand and you shake it. What do you notice? The size, the shape, and the pressure he uses, whether his skin is soft or rough, warm or cold or dry or sweaty. You’ll probably also notice whether he has clean nails or bites them — all of which you have an opinion about.
A handshake doesn’t just leave a physical impression; it communicates an emotional one, too. If you’re not careful, you can come across as a selfish SOB, a butt-kissing suck up, a needy little barnacle or a toss-your-head snob who’s six feet above contradiction. None of which will get you a date. Or, land you a phone number.
The most important feature of a handshake isn’t the pressure of your hand but the angle of your palm. The more you turn your palm face down the more you’ll come off as an overbearing control freak. You’re literally and symbolically taking the Upper Hand which inevitably results in seeing the Back of His Head.
At the same time, the more you turn your palm upward the more you’re going to be perceived as a bumbling Mr. Magoo. You could split the difference and keep the edge of your palm completely vertical to the floor, communicating equality. It’s the perfect handshake for business but do you want to sign a contract or make contact? Go for the handshake that studies show create instant rapport:
Ask Barack Obama about that handshake. It’s the only one he uses. Which brings up an interesting point — sexy male body language is the same as friendly male body language. The handshake that makes you appealing in a gay bar also makes you appealing at work. The same handshake that helps increase your attractiveness in the gay dating world, helps you increase your influence in the working world. So pay attention and you’ll be able to kill two birds with one handshake.
Mike Alvear is the author of the first body language guide for gay men, Attract Hotter Guys with the Secrets & Science of Sexual Body Language. Available for instant download here.
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Men Are Pigs, But We Love Bacon: Not-So-Straight Answers from America’s Most Outrageous Gay Sex Columnist
by Michael Alvear
Alexander the Fabulous: The Man Who Brought the World to Its Knees
by Michael Alvear, Vicky A. Shecter
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Often we have goals or dreams that we let go of because we have no idea how we would obtain them or worse, we believe we do not deserve them. We discount our abilities and strengths and focus on our weaknesses (or perceived weaknesses) to talk ourselves out of taking the risks that would be needed to achieve what we really want, but desire is where it all begins.
Becoming an author was a dream of mine for over a decade. The interesting part of that dream was when the desire first came to me I had no idea what the content would be, what my message would be or how I would ever get a publishing deal. This is one of the first lessons in the power of desire.
All you need to put a dream into motion is a deep-rooted desire. Once you have that desire and set the energy in motion, then you must have the faith that life will give you the experiences, lessons and people to move forward in the direction to achieving your goals.
Next, you must commit to the work of the journey with unwavering determination and perseverance. The journey itself provides you with many new goals and achievements along with failures, many of which you never could have predicted, but are very important as part of your process.
One other extremely important part of the equation is gratitude. I believe that gratitude is the emotion that brings depth into the journey; gives it real purpose. Being grateful for the good times and the lessons learned in the bad times gives meaning to whatever it is you are doing. It is an emotion that fuels your spirit and creates internal happiness.
As the new year approaches we begin to reflect on the past year’s events and make new plans and goals for the future; both personally and professionally. Know that you truly have the power to create the life you choose. No matter where you are today, you constantly have choices to determine how your future can be.
As you begin 2011, challenge yourself to not just set goals like “join the gym” or “be more organized” but additionally challenge yourself to reflect on what your purpose is, what you would like your legacy to be and commit to taking action steps to move closer toward those visions everyday. Even if you don’t know how to “get to where you want to go”, gaining clarity and desire in your vision and maintaining gratitude will perpetuate better circumstances in your life along with incredible people who will be your teachers along your journey.
Know your worth and know that choosing to strive to live to your fullest human potential is how you create the most abundant intrinsic happiness that will radiate and positively affect the world around you.
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Sharks have a severe image problem. Most people have probably never seen the beauty of a shark up close, but I have been fortunate enough to dive with sharks in Belize and Cancun. They are stunning, prehistoric animals that have been swimming the ocean for 400 million years. But when we hear the word shark, our imaginations project a much more villainous image that instills fear and has made at least one great movie. (Playing a vampire on True Blood, I can relate).
In reality, however, humans are the predators and sharks are the prey. We’re hunting many shark populations to the brink of extinction.
The demand for shark fins, which are used to make shark fin soup — a popular dish in Asia — leads to the killing of tens of millions of sharks around the world each year. Sharks aren’t furry or cute, so there just aren’t as many voices to speak for their conservation. I know my own feelings toward sharks changed after seeing the documentary Sharkwater, which exposes the shark finning industry while displaying the natural beauty of sharks. I visited the Philippines, too, which also opened my eyes about shark conservation. As trays of shark fin soup passed my table, I saw how voracious the human appetite for shark fins really is, and I realized how changed our oceans would be without sharks.
The whole world isn’t going to see Sharkwater, but there are ways to change public opinion of sharks and help populations recover — and it starts with you. Sharks weren’t put here millions of years ago just to be made into soup. We need them, and they need our help — sharks are part of our ecosystem for a reason.
As you read this, there is a bill awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate that would eliminate in U.S waters the barbaric practice of amputating shark fins at sea, and make our country an international leader in shark conservation. The Shark Conservation Act is likely to be voted on in the upcoming weeks.
With the clock ticking towards the end of the current Congress, it could also be ticking away the time sharks have in our oceans. It does not have to be that way. You can make a difference by contacting your senators and letting them know that they should support this important legislation before it’s too late for sharks.
Playing the top of the food chain on television is fun, but in real life that position has its responsibilities. I suspect sharks aren’t here just to be an appetizer.
Please join me in asking our senators to do the right thing for sharks.
Now that the Obama administration’s efforts to reach an agreement between Israel and Palestine are finally moribund, it is worth stepping back to ask what is really going on in this troubled part of the world. Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires not only a grasp of cold facts and statistics, but an understanding of the daily experience of the real people who live on each side. American news media heavily emphasize Israeli perspectives, but provide few opportunities to hear directly from Palestinians. To help counter this imbalance, I am posting video clips of some of the Palestinians I spoke with on a recent trip.
I begin with Joyce Ajlouny, who gave me a tour around Ramallah one morning. Joyce is the head of the Ramallah Friends School, a renowned K-12 coed Quaker school established in the 1800s. Her family is one of the original seven Christian clans that established Ramallah in the 1600s. Joyce’s stories about her life were so riveting that I pulled out my camera, put it in video mode, and kept filming as she talked. Joyce was speaking informally and candidly just to me, but later I got her permission to share this video with a wider audience.
What does occupation mean?
I asked Joyce what living under occupation meant in terms of her daily life. In this clip, she begins by describing her early experiences of life under occupation (her brother being beaten up, her husband detained by soldiers in the middle of the night, her friend shot), and ends with a discussion of how the situation has changed since the Oslo accords of 1993 (Palestinians now control their educational system, but confiscation of water resources and land continue). Terraced hillside, olive trees, and new construction on the outskirts of Ramallah can be seen out the window as she talks:
What does Israeli settlement building mean?
The centerpiece of the Israeli occupation is the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. These settlements are connected to Israel proper by a network of roads cutting through the West Bank–that only Israelis are allowed to drive on. Joyce pulled over at one vantage point outside Ramallah to show me a settler-only road (visible in the valley in the clip), the Israeli settlement of Dolev (on the upper hillside to the right; the further one to its left is Talmon), and a large agricultural area that is controlled by the settlement, all built on confiscated Palestinian land. Across the valley on the ridge at the left you can see the Palestinian village of Al-Janiya, one of the oldest villages in the Ramallah district, with historical ruins dating back to the Romans.
What are Palestinian refugee camps; how did they come to be, and what are they like today?
During the 1948 Israeli war of Independence, which Palestinians call the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” over 700,000 Palestinians left or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel, and never allowed back (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Palestinian_exodus). These refugees moved to camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and surrounding countries, where many of their descendants still live today. Sixty-two years after the Nakba, these people have become the largest and oldest refugee community in the world (7 million worldwide). Am’ari is one such camp in the West Bank, just outside Ramallah. Am’ari’s original tents were erected in 1949 and later replaced by cement block shelters, and still later by multistory buildings as families had nowhere to build but up. Whole families of ten or more often live in a single room. The camp is administered by “UNWRA,” the UN refugee agency. Here is Am’ari:
We spoke with some kids in the camp:
Detentions without charge or trial
I spent a day visiting Birzeit University near Ramallah, one of the best universities in Palestine. Faculty members described trying to run lab courses when the Israeli authorities would not allow the most standard lab equipment to be shipped to them. Birzeit students are routinely picked up by the Israeli army in the middle of the night and held under ‘administrative detention,” that is, without charge or trial, for periods of months to years. (For more information and statistics on Israel’s administrative detentions, see the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem: http://www.btselem.org/english/Administrative_Detention/). Israel justifies these detentions in terms of “security.” Who then are the people detained? I asked Fardous Salameh, a recent graduate of Birzeit, if it is students suspected of having ties to Hamas who are detained. Her answer:
Hebron: seizures of land, obstruction of daily life.
Sofia Hasan, a fourth-year student of economics at Birzeit, described the situation in her home town, a village just outside Hebron in the south of the West Bank, where her grandfather lost all his land because it was near a settlement, and where the main street of the village was closed for 15 years to protect one settler who had a small piece of agricultural land in the village:
Some of my colleagues and I took a tour of Hebron. Our Palestinian guide showed us the house he was born in, and the location of his father’s shop (next door) in the center of the old city of Hebron. Once a bustling and vibrant commercial center, the entire area is now boarded up and nearly empty, closed by Israeli military order. Today a few hundred settlers live in Hebron, protected by thousands of Israeli soldiers, and the Palestinians who remain are ensnared in a web checkpoints, closures, curfews, and roadblocks. Our guide referred to this regime as a “transfer policy, to make life harder and harder so the Palestinians will plan their future outside this area. Maybe now you can stay,” he mused. “But your children? You will plan a future for them outside this area.”
Are these policies really in the service of Israeli security?
Israel argues that most of its occupation policies are necessary for security. But many Palestinians, like our guide in Hebron, believe that the real purpose of these policies is not to enhance the security of Israeli, but rather to convince Palestinians to leave. Joyce makes this point at the end of the first clip, above, which is worth replaying:
What are they telling us?
Although these clips represent just a small sample of Palestinian society, a clear message nonetheless emerges. The Israeli occupation remains a salient part of the texture of everyday life, even in relatively privileged parts of the West Bank, where Palestinians endure countless humiliations and roadblocks (literal and figurative). Israel argues that the occupation is necessary for its security. But Israel can only attain lasting security by making peace with Palestinians. And the first steps toward peace must surely include an end to land seizures, arbitrary restrictions of movement, and imprisonments without charge.