Archive for December 15th, 2010
By Pamela Takiff
Advisor, Fighting Discrimination Program
Last month, on November 8, a Pakistani woman from Punjab was sentenced to death by hanging under section 295-C of the country’s blasphemy code – which carries a mandatory death sentence for defaming the Prophet Mohammed. Aasia Bibi, a Christian farm worker and mother of five, was accused of making blasphemous comments, following a run-in with Muslim co-workers who refused to drink from a container of water she carried, believing it to be tainted.
On November 29, the Lahore High Court barred Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari from issuing a pardon until her appeal has been exhausted. That could take years – and Bibi has already been in jail since June.
Meanwhile, extremists have threatened to take the law into their own hands if Aasia Bibi is released. An imam from a local mosque has offered a $6,000 (500,000 rupee) reward to anyone who takes her life – if the death sentence is not upheld. Due to death threats and verbal and physical attacks, her husband and children have been forced into hiding. Life as this family knew it – regardless of the outcome of the case – is not possible. Even if acquitted, those charged with blasphemy in Pakistan are marked for life. Canada and Italy have offered asylum to the entire family.
Unfortunately, Aasia Bibi’s case is not unique. There are scores of cases from around the globe that provide ample warning of the dangers of enacting a global blasphemy law. Human Rights First recently released a report entitled Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions [pdf], which documents more than 50 cases in 15 countries where blasphemy and similar laws have been abused. Let’s hope the UN delegates are taking note as they prepare to take up this important issue.
Next week, the United Nation’s (UN) General Assembly will be voting on a controversial resolution entitled Combating defamation of religions introduced by Morocco on behalf of the 57 member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Supporters of this resolution seek to create internationally-binding blasphemy laws, and claim that such laws are necessary to fight discrimination and protect freedom of religion. In reality, local blasphemy laws are often abused to stifle discussion and dissent, violate freedom of religion and expression – and, as in the case of Aasia Bibi, to settle private disputes motivated by jealousy and rivalry. Blasphemy laws have provoked devastating – and in some instances fatal – consequences for individuals who deviate from the mainstream religion or belong to a minority faith in many of the same countries that support this resolution.
Though this year’s resolution will certainly pass again, the good news is that support for it has diminished significantly since it was introduced more than 10 years ago and the resolution is likely to pass with the slimmest margin of support yet.
That eroding support can also be seen beyond the U.N. building. For example, in response to the grave injustice seen in the case of Aasia Bibi, a bill to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws has been introduced in the National Assembly by the prominent politician, Sherry Rehman. Among other changes, the bill would eliminate the death sentence for those convicted of committing blasphemy and replace it with a ten-year prison term. The bill is intended to “ensure that all citizens of Pakistan have an equal right to constitutional protection and that miscarriages of justice in the name of blasphemy are avoided at all costs.” Sherry Rehman noted that “the amendment to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010 will not only rationalize the punishment prescribed for offenses relating to religion under sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistani Penal Code, but it will ensure that the concept of criminal intent is taken into account when charging an individual with this offense.”
Asma Jahangir, former UN Special Rapporteur and current head of the Pakistani Bar Association, said “We need to rethink our laws in the name of justice and compassion… If we believe in the rule of law, we must believe that laws should protect the religious rights of minorities rather than as a tool to exploit religion.”
Even so, this proposal – which still leaves in place laws that violate international standards–has been met with overwhelming resistance by extremists. The fear of appearing “un-Islamic” has deterred advocates for change from publicly declaring their solidarity. The lives of Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shabaz Bhatti, and others who have spoken out against the death sentence, have been threatened.
The tragic example of Aasia Bibi highlights the ways in which blasphemy laws promote an atmosphere of intolerance and can result in devastating consequences for those holding views that differ from the majority or adhere to minority faiths. These laws should not be advanced under the guise of efforts at the UN to establish an international blasphemy code.
All U.N delegations should vote against the “defamation of religions” resolution on the grounds that it fails to recognize the importance of freedom of expression and provides explicit support for national blasphemy and defamation laws. Another strategy is needed: one that both supports existing international norms on freedom of expression and confronts directly the growing problem of hostility and violence targeting members of religious and other minorities.
Hopefully, support for this divisive text will continue to erode and those persecuted under such laws, including Aasia Bibi, will soon find relief.
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Two polls released this week ask voters to rate a series of deficit-reduction proposals. The results show a sobering way ahead on this issue that also pleases the public. Compromise is one of the few ways forward for those prioritizing deficit reduction.
Both Washington Post/ABC and Bloomberg asked very similar questions, and found similar results. In the Post poll, not a single proposal received majority support. In the Bloomberg survey, only a quarter of the proposals tested were popular. In both surveys, an increase in the gas tax was among the least popular, as was anything described as a cut in benefits. Below are charts of their results:
Notably, in both surveys, the most popular proposals uniquely affect wealthier Americans. And the opposite of one of the provisions in the tax package currently under debate (“eliminating tax cuts the wealthiest Americans have received in recent years”) is one of the more popular proposals in the Bloomberg poll.
However, as Mark Blumenthal noted here yesterday the tax package as a whole is more popular than the sum of its components. The question wording, which in the Post poll includes the language “Obama and the Republican leaders of Congress have reached an agreement” probably moves many. Voters may be able to move past proposals they don’t like, as long as the final result comes from cooperation.
But it’s also likely easier to support tax cuts for others than it is to support tax or fee increases for oneself. That would explain the Post and Bloomberg results, showing voters very reluctant to support proposals affecting them directly (like a gas tax), but more willing to support proposals less likely to affect them (like a Wall Street profits tax). And in the Bloomberg survey, half (51%) would prefer a plan to bring down the deficit that “minimizes sacrifice for the American people” as opposed to “bold and fast change.”
Whether Republicans are promoting bold change, or protection of the status quo for the wealthiest Americans, they will quickly run afoul of public opinion. In fact, according to the Post’s writeup of their survey, Republicans begin behind their 1994 post-election levels on many measures. And given Speaker-elect Boehner’s reaction to the mere word “compromise, it’s no surprise over half (54%) of Americans say Republicans are doing too little to compromise with Obama.
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Let it be known that one night in Echo Park, my life was altered. Through a rare stroke of luck and good fortune, and the infinite kindness of one Nic Harcourt from TheLiveBuzz, I was able to attend a KCRW event with Henry Rollins called “Rare Cuts and Conversations.” Aside from the fact that I have long been a fan (or fanatic, if you will) of Henry’s musical career, both with Rollins Band and a little musical group known as Black Flag, I’m also a fan of Henry’s writing, spoken word, and expansive charitable work for causes like World Hunger Relief and the USO. If you listen to his radio show (and you should listen to his radio show), you know that the man has incredible taste in music, taste that reaches far across time and genre and cultures. What’s truly inspiring about Henry Rollins is that he himself is an unabashed fan, a collector, and a true music nerd. On his show, he often alludes to certain rare and unreleased tracks from his personal collection that he is unable to ever play on the radio without breaking the trust and confidences of the people who have bestowed these various records and tapes upon him.
(all photos: Jeremiah Garcia)
The other night, to an intimate crowd (barred from bringing in phones or recording devices of any kind) at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, he played some of these extremely rare and incredibly amazing tracks. For three hours. With anecdotes and stories. Before I get into what transpired within those walls, I’d like to burden you with some personal background on myself, which I can do because this is my blog and I said so.
As a young, awkward, fairly unattractive (with pictures to prove it) girl growing up in the South Bay of California in the nineties, my musical journey took a sort of strange path. At the time, most of my compatriots (and myself, admittedly) were busying ourselves with the post-grunge alt-rock KROQ scene of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Hole (and some other questionable bands, like 311 and the Toadies, whose CD “Possum Kingdom” definitely lived in my collection via the BMG music club). Ever the intrepid researcher (also known as isolated nerd) I channeled my love for Nirvana (see: jumping on bed alone screaming lyrics at the walls) into a search for more, more like this, more power, more movement, more more more. So it went that I happened upon a book called Route 666: The Road to Nirvana by Gina Arnold, and holed up in my room (Swatch phone, MAD Magazine collection, many Trolls) I pored over the pages and absorbed all my young twelve year old mind could. It was through this incredible book that I discovered Fugazi, Black Flag, Bad Brains, The Minutemen, The Replacements, Husker Du, and a slew of other life-shaping artists whose cassettes and CDs I purchased every week from Wherehouse Music or Go Boy Records with my meager allowance. So while I was never part of the original scene that got to soak up Gregg Ginn’s sweat at The Fleetwood in Redondo Beach (ironically right next door to my hometown of Torrance) or bask in the beauty of Mike Watt’s bass lines, this music still carried me on its back through my youth, and scored my own private rebellion.
But enough about me. Back to Mr. Rollins, and the set that blew a hundred minds. Throughout the course of his life, Henry Rollins has interacted with and befriended some of the greatest musicians of our time (see: Ian Mackaye, Nick Cave, Chuck D., Johnny Ramone) and along the way has gotten his hands on some of the rarest recordings these people have ever produced. Ever the hoarder (bless him) he kept it all, and because he did, we got to hear some of it. I won’t share the entire set list (both out of respect for Henry and a selfish need to keep the magic to myself) but here are some highlights:
Black Flag: “Louie Louie” with Henry on Vocals
We heard several Black Flag studio outtakes, but this was my favorite. The first Black Flag version, with Dez Cadena on vocals, is pretty much perfect, but hearing Henry’s unique vocal stylings on a classic track like this one was pretty great.
Nick Cave: “From Her to Eternity” (alternate version, just vocals and piano)
If Nick Cave isn’t a large part of your musical landscape, this may not be the post for you. Listening to this haunting, stripped down version of the masterpiece from the Nick Cave and Bad Seeds record of the same name almost brought tears to my eyes (but then again I cry at romantic comedies and vacuum commercials).
Birthday Party: “Little Doll” (Stooges cover, live)
Birthday Party covering the Stooges. That’s all that needs to be said here.
Iggy Pop: “Untouchable” solo acoustic song with lyrics from Henry’s writings
After hearing about how Henry got his hands of The Stooges’ Raw Power ORIGINAL MASTERS and did his own mix of “Raw Power” (which we heard and which, with Henry’s turned up harmonizing back-up vocals, was quite amazing), Henry told us tale of how one day Iggy Pop (also known as Jim) popped a black tape into his hands, and it turned out to be an original song Iggy had recorded of himself singing one of Henry’s poems. No big deal.
Dee Dee King: The Goon (unreleased demo)
Did you know Dee Dee Ramone, master songwriter of all the classic Ramones songs we know and love, did a stint as… as rapper? Me neither. Apparently this is no secret but not only did Henry pull out the original press release about the Dee Dee King album (pretty sure they referred to him as a “hip-hop genius”) he also played us this track of an unreleased demo for a song called “The Goon” (sample lyric: “I’m an expert at rappin’ with the yo yo/I’m rocking the mic like a psycho”). And now my jaw hurts from throwing itself the floor.
Joey Ramone: “I Don’t Want You” (solo with acoustic guitar, found on a cassette in Johnny’s closet)
(So maybe I love The Ramones). This was one of the most arm-hair raising tracks of the evening for me. Apparently this tape was found in Johnny Ramone’s closet after he passed away (Johnny was also a bit of a hoarder) and his wife, Linda, entrusted it to Henry. The tape contained an acoustic version with just guitars and vocals of the song “I Don’t Want You” recorded by Joey Ramone and given to Johnny Ramone in order for him to learn the song. Joey’s version sounds like it was recorded in his bathroom but is still incredible, and with one listen it was clear the released version (which is also awesome) belied some of the profound aching Joey poured into that song.
Bad Brains: “Pay to Cum” (live version from their second ever live show)
If you’ve ever seen a Bad Brains show you know the incredible frenetic vocal assault that is H.R, but hearing them play “Pay to Cum” in what was the infancy of their band, at their second ever live show, you could really feel all the youth and vinegar and rage and genius that was just taking shape. Listening to this track made me feel excited to be alive.
Charles Manson: “SST Recording Studio”
Charles Manson sent in demo tapes to SST Records. SST Records made him a record. It was never released. There are five extant copies. We heard a track off one. That is all. Carry on.
Fugazi: “Waiting Room” (first ever Fugazi demo)
And then I died. Twice.
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With the House passing the DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act last Wednesday and the Senate set to vote on it as soon as this Friday, now is a good time for a personal account of what’s at stake with DREAM.
Gaby Pacheco, a 25 year-old undocumented immigrant whose parents brought her from Ecuador to the United States at age 7, has been an outspoken advocate for DREAM since 2004. In addition to her work with Students Working for Equal Rights and the Florida Immigrant Coalition, she joined three other undocumented students on the Trail of Dreams earlier this year–a four-month walk from Miami to the nation’s capital–to call attention to the plight of the roughly 2 million undocumented people brought to this country as minors. We spoke about her experience as an undocumented child, her involvement in DREAM advocacy and some of the difficult compromises involved in getting the DREAM Act through the Congress.
Altschuler: I was hoping you could start out by telling me a bit about your personal story and how you became aware of the immigration issue.
Pacheco: I’ve been in the United States for 18 years. I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but I was raised in Miami, Florida. I started in the 3rd grade, and I scored really high in math and science, so I was put in a gifted program. That gave me confidence to believe in myself, and my teachers instilled in me a great desire to achieve and persevere, with the idea of achieving the American dream–that if we work really hard, we can achieve anything that we set our minds to.
At elementary school, I was in the choir, and I would stay after-school helping the teachers grade papers. I guess you could call me a teacher’s pet, but I just really loved school.
In middle school, I started getting into honors classes. In high school, I took AP classes, and I was part of the cross-country, basketball and the track-and-field teams. I was part of the ROTC program with the Army and the Navy and was one of the top students in the school.
The first time I started finding out that there was something wrong was in the 8th grade. One of my two sisters had finished high school, but she wasn’t able to go to school and continue her path–she wanted to be a nurse. It shocked me, so I started working even harder. And then in 10th grade, I took Drivers Ed, and I took all the paperwork that they’d given us. They told me, “All you need to do is fill out these papers and they’ll give you your learner’s permit.” So I did do that, and I was really happy, but then I got turned down. And then my dad said, “That’s OK, we’ll just go to another office.” But then I kept getting turned down. I was missing a paper that was going to stop me–not only from driving, but also potentially from going to college.
In 12th grade, when I graduated from high school, I confronted that issue. But, thankfully, Miami-Dade College opened the doors to me and other students. I was able to excel. I was student government president–not just of my college, but of the 28 colleges in the whole college system in the state of Florida. In 2006, I was representing 1.1 million students and had the opportunity to meet with the governor and senators and promote legislation that actually became law. I was really proud of myself. When I graduated from college, I thought I had proven everybody wrong, and maybe there was some way that I was going to be able to somehow find a reprieve. But I went to lawyers, and they told me that wasn’t going to happen.
Altschuler: How did you get involved in advocating for the DREAM Act?
Pacheco: I became an advocate for the DREAM Act in 2004. And now, more than ever, it’s crucial that we get the DREAM Act passed.
I’m formally connected to Presente.org, which does online organizing. And I came from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and I was one of the founders of Students Working for Equal Rights in the state of Florida. From four of us that used to meet to try to pass the DREAM Act, we now have 16 chapters throughout Florida. Students Working for Equal Rights is part of the United We Dream network, which is led by students and represents 26 states.
This year, along with Felipe, Carlos and Juan–we walked from Miami to DC. And last week, I was able to witness passage of the DREAM Act from the House gallery. This week, we’re looking forward to talking to our senators to try to get a favorable vote either this week or next week for the DREAM Act.
Altschuler: Could you share with me your position on the DREAM legislation in its current form, after negotiators opted to reduce the age limit (from 34 to 29 years old) and the extension of the waiting period for citizenship (10 years before one can apply for citizenship) to get the bill through the House?
Pacheco: For me, it was really tough to see the DREAM Act change, and change in such a dramatic way. Now it will leave out my sister, for instance. The reason I’ve been fighting so hard has been for her. Actually, yesterday, December 14, was her birthday–she turned 31. And so I thought that the legislation would have passed by now, and I thought that if the legislation changed, it would be for 30 or under. She was fighting so hard, is so bright–she wants to be in the Air Force–and now will be left out, unable to do anything.
But at the same time, it’s still good legislation, and it would still allow potentially 1 million students to fulfill their dreams.
Altschuler: Can you tell me about the discussions between the pro-DREAM groups about the compromises that were on the table?
Pacheco: For us, the compromises and the changes came at a high cost. But, at the same time, we understood that they were needed to push forward and have the bill where it is today. For us, that was the bottom line. We don’t want the legislation to change anymore, because we don’t want to lose any more students.
So, as a collective, at all the different stages, we did have a call where we discussed it, and everybody took a vote. The majority–and it was almost unanimous–felt that this was what we needed to do, and that we needed to move forward. But making sure that we are keeping our leaders responsible–making sure that these changes would allow more senators to vote for it.
Altschuler: How concerned are you about the possibility of there being further concessions to DREAM–for instance, on enforcement provisions–to get it passed in the Senate? Would you and other pro-DREAM groups stay on board?
Pacheco: There are definitely concerns about what might get attached to it. And I think a lot of people are aware of where the limits are going to be. But, because we haven’t seen the language yet, we’re just worrying about pushing it forward. At the same time, we respect the decisions that the organizations from border states make. They’re the ones that will be most affected, and their voices will be crucial in how we want to move the legislation forward. Because we do not want to hurt people in the process of helping others. And that’s one of the beautiful things about being united–that we can have these conversations and say, “Arizona, how do you feel about this? Texas, how do you feel about this? California, how do you feel about this?” Because we’re a family, we’re a community, and we need to make sure that everyone’s going to be OK. So there will probably be a time when we have to talk if the legislation comes with extreme things that we cannot allow. And I think we’ll stand together if it does have things that are unacceptable to our community.
Altschuler: Can you tell me about the recent activities in which you’ve been involved to promote DREAM?
Pacheco: Tuesday was an incredible day. We had faith leaders from all different religious backgrounds and states come to DC. In the morning, we had a press conference, and the different religious leaders had the opportunity to speak to say why it’s important for DREAM to pass. We had organizations that represent millions of people saying that this is something they want. Also, the faith leader who was leading the press conference said, “If the senators don’t pass this, they’re going to have to deal with us, and all the Christians, Muslims, and Jews that are represented here. We’re going to open our universities and colleges, and we’re going to go against the laws, because they’re going against the will of God.” And it was really amazing to see older preachers saying, “We’re going to do civil disobedience and they’re going to have to go through us to get to these students.” It fills our souls and our hearts. Having people from the faith backgrounds supporting us is really key.
There is also the Jericho Walk around the Senate by the students. And the faith leaders joined, and they went to every single one of the buildings and the Capitol, where they had the students in the middle and the religious leaders praying around them. And, before that, all the students got together and sang the national anthem. And after that, we walked into the Senate Hart building, where there were prayers, and then the religious leaders did pray-ins in Senate offices with the students. We went to the offices of Senators Sessions, Lemieux, Hutchinson, Landrieu, McCaskill, Brownback, and many others.
Altschuler: One final thing–assuming the DREAM Act passes, what would becoming a citizen mean to you?
Pacheco: It would be a golden key for success. It would be the ability to use the talents and gifts that I have to give back to this country. The DREAM Act would mean the realization of the dreams that I have, and unleashing the potential of hundreds of thousands of students throughout the United States.
(Copied with permission from www.americasquarterly.org.)
Perhaps unwittingly, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson of Richmond, Va., has enhanced the prospects for single-payer health reform. He did so Monday by ruling the individual mandate provision of the Obama administration’s health law to be unconstitutional.
Hudson ruled that the so-called linchpin of the law — the requirement that most Americans obtain insurance — exceeds the authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause. While his decision has no immediate effect, and while this is certainly not the last word on the subject, it does cast a cloud over the law’s prospects and adds another element of doubt over the law’s ability to fix our broken health care system.
Judge Hudson and the American people should be aware that this kind of problem wouldn’t come up under a single-payer national health insurance plan, an improved Medicare for all. Unlike the administration’s law, which requires that people carry or buy health insurance — generally from a private health insurance company — or face a penalty, a single-payer plan would automatically cover everyone and be financed by taxes and federal appropriations, much like Medicare is financed today (but on an stronger foundation). Much of the funding would come from recovering about $400 billion presently squandered on private-insurance-generated administrative waste.
As my colleague Dr. Don McCanne, senior health policy fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program, has remarked: “Nobody is going to argue that Medicare is unconstitutional. We should fix it so it works better and then provide it to everyone.”
Today, Media Matters posted an alarming email sent by Bill Sammon, the Washington, DC, managing editor at Fox News. Sammon sent the email to Fox News producers on December 8, 2009 — just as the Climate Conference in Copenhagen was beginning:
But there’s no legitimate debate: the planet is warming. Moreover, man-made global warming pollution is the principal cause. To drive the point home, Media Matters points to something that happened just fifteen minutes before Sammon sent the email:
Fox News has consistently delivered false and misleading information to its viewers about the climate crisis. The leaked emails now suggest that this bias comes directly from the executives responsible for their news coverage.
COP15 was a critical moment in the fight against the climate crisis. It is unsurprising, yet still disturbing, that Fox would allow its political bias to infiltrate its news reporting about the conference. Over all the media’s coverage of climate issues has been atrocious. However, Fox seems determined to set the bar even lower.
This post originally appeared at Al’s Journal.
This Blogger’s Books from
Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
by Al Gore
An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It
by Al Gore
It’s that familiar time of year again- crisp weather, holiday cheer…and reindeer sweaters and fruitcake. The social norms of gift giving are alive and well, and I, as an economist, am here to help you navigate the murky and sometimes treacherous waters of trying to figure out other people’s preferences and gifting accordingly. As such, I’ve organized a few tips to help solve your gift-giving dilemmas:
Gift Tip #1: Cash is King
Economist Joel Waldfogel wrote a paper back in 1993 entitled “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas.” (It’s a wonder why economists aren’t more well-liked, right?) In this paper, he estimates the inefficiency caused by mismatches between gifts and the preferences of the people receiving them and finds that gift giving destroys between 10 percent and one-third of the value of gifts. (In other words, the gift recipients value the items at somewhere between two-thirds and 90 percent of the prices paid for the items.) To put this in perspective, estimated gift inefficiency amounts to about 10 percent of the inefficiency that results from income taxation, so, as ridiculous as it may seem, it’s not really a laughing matter.
Luckily, there’s an easy solution to the inefficiency problem: give the gift of cold, hard cash. Sure, cash may not be the most romantic of gifts, but it sure beats an ugly reindeer sweater, right? The writers of The Office, for example, seem to understand this concept:
(I will acknowledge that it often feels better to give a specific gift than to give cash, but I will also point out that a gift should be about the receiver and not the giver and encourage you to not be so darn self-centered.) If people buy the things that they value the most with the money that they have, then cash is, economically speaking, the best gift ever. (And no, a Wal-Mart gift card doesn’t count as cash.) Socially speaking, however, it’s a bit of a different story, so I’ve prepared some alternate suggestions:
Gift Tip #2: Get Inside Your Giftee’s Head
One can avoid gift-giving inefficiency by gifting someone an item that he or she would have purchased anyway but hasn’t gotten around to buying…but beware: this can backfire if the item is not chosen properly- just ask my dad about the time he got my mom a holiday vacuum cleaner. (Apparently efficiency considerations do not make a good defense in this scenario.) One can also potentially do well by gifting an item that the recipient would love but doesn’t know exists, but again, this is dangerous territory that I will try to stay away from. (See tip #4 for an alternative)
Gift Tip #3: Circumvent Guilt and Budgets
I know this all sounds discouraging, but behavioral economists are here to tell you that the gift-giving situation is not entirely hopeless. Economist Dan Ariely has some advice on gifts for people who are in a gift-giving quandary:
Behavioral economists acknowledge that people don’t always make completely rational choices about what to buy and consume, and if this is the case then perhaps (non-cash) gift givers can actually be more helpful than inefficient. While Ariely argues that guilt could cause people to restrict their normal consumption, economist Richard Thaler describes the phenomenon of mental accounting as an organization and self-control device. For example, say you have a rule that you are never going to spend more than $300 per month on technology and gadgets. This rule would technically prevent you from purchasing a $700 big-screen television even if the television was worth more than $700 to you. Therefore, a gift-giver can do better by giving you the television than by giving you $700 in cash. Whatever the reason, there’s potential gift leverage to be gained in this scenario, but you have to really pay attention to your giftee in order to figure out where that leverage can be found.
Gift Tip #4: Give a Hypothetical Gift
If you are either broke or feel weird about giving cash, you could always try my approach of wrapping a picture of the gift that you would have gotten the person along with the cash/big pile of nothing. (I’m actually not kidding- I recently emailed an article about an Etch-a-Sketch iPad cover to my best friend since I wanted to get it for him but we had agreed to not exchange gifts.) This has the the upside of conveying your thoughtfulness without the pressure for the recipient to actually buy what you suggest. However, there are a number of things to keep in mind with this approach. First, the recipient has to be aware of your strategy beforehand, since otherwise you just look like some hybrid of weirdo and cheapskate. (I suppose the cheapskate label can be avoided by including a wad of cash with your picture.) Second, the thoughfulness of the “gift” clearly trumps the extravagance, since no one is going to be impressed by “hey look honey, I got you a hypothetical yacht.”
Regardless of what strategy you choose, I hope you have a very happy holiday!
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It’s been a tough year for TV comedy. We lost a Golden Girl, a Designing Woman, and Gary Coleman. Showtime’s Party Down was cancelled because the cast was just too successful on other shows. And, worst of all, Ke$ha was on $aturday…er, Saturday Night Live. But no matter to what depths our hearts plunged this year, our desire to laugh allowed us to persevere. And laugh we did, at this year’s outstanding funny television moments that made us feel totally double-rainbow. — Martin Moakler for Hulu.com
Glee Theme Episodes
The musical phenomenon had already proven itself more popular than The Beatles, but this year the kids from McKinley High’s New Directions became event television with theme episodes that utilized the collections of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the story’s narrative. Certainly some of the most talked-about television of the year, these Glee episodes revered these musical icons and whetted Gleeks’ appetites for the next target of the show’s adulation.
Katy Perry and Elmo-gate
Katy’s décolletage proved a bit too scandalous for parents who protested her appearance alongside Elmo on Sesame Street this fall, prompting the PBS children’s series to pull the clip altogether from the show. It would seem that Katy got the last laugh as she made a provocative cameo on The Simpsons’ Christmas special, in which America’s favorite yellow family was re-imagined as puppets in honor of her arrival.
Betty White Hosts Saturday Night Live
The power of the Internet was never so apparent as when a random Facebook campaign convinced NBC to invite comedy legend Betty White to host Saturday Night Live … and Betty had never even heard of Facebook! The episode, which honored SNL’s funny ladies past and present, was just one jewel in the resurgent crown of popularity she experienced this year, proving that funny (not to mention muffins) has no expiration date.
Modern Family Wins the Emmy
In their second season, The Pritchett-Dunphy clan proved that they were no sophomore slumps when Modern Family snagged the Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Eric Stonestreet’s performance as the hilarious Cameron.
John Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
In the midst of the mid-term election, political pundits who preach rather than report and government officials telling us the latest thing we need to fear, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report banded together to host the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Created as a means to hold up a mirror to the three-ring circus that our news and politics has become, the D.C. rally boasted an attendance estimated at 215,000, with an Internet and television viewership of close to 2.5 million. Of course, the rally didn’t solve our current societal woes, but perhaps it did as their motto instructed: “Take it down a notch for America.”
The Office’s In/Out Tray
Less than nine months (ahem) after their wedding, Dunder-Mifflin power couple Jam (Jim and Pam) gave birth to Cecilia Marie Halpert. This joyful arrival was quickly obscured, however, by Steve Carell’s summer “WUPHF” that the 2010 season would be his last, leading to wide speculation as to who in the office will fill Michael’s void. (That’s what she said!)
Late Night Wars
After handing over the reins of The Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien last year, NBC gave them back to Jay Leno in January after his ten o’clock talk show failed to gain any momentum. Outrage from O’Brien’s minions passionately rang in the form of organized protests and Facebook groups, and a Che Guevara-esque icon as your avatar instantly demonstrated that you were “with Coco.” After months of gag orders, high-profile interviews, and a summer-long touring show, Conan is back on the air, albeit basic cable. The hullabaloo has almost totally died down, but it was sure a heck of a ride.
30 Rock Live Episode
There was more frenzy than usual in the halls of 30 Rockefeller Plaza when the madcap comedy did not one, but two shows in front of live studio audiences in Tina Fey’s old SNL stomping grounds, Studio 8H. With the help of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as “Past Liz” to smooth over the sitcom’s trademark jump cuts, the live 30 Rock event was a wild success, and even managed to include jabs at more timely events like the Chilean miners and Brett Favre’s … um, photographic largesse.
What were your favorite comedy moments of 2010? Leave them in the comments!
Christians want the focus of Christmas to be Christ. But most everybody else makes the primary personality of the Christmas season Santa Claus.
And doesn’t that make Santa Claus the anti-Christ?
Ho, ho, ho, indeed!
The gall of the Dark Prince pretending to be jolly!
Santa really being Satan certainly explains a lot. The red suit, for one. And also the flying reindeer. Remember how scary the flying monkeys were in The Wizard of Oz? Clearly, making mammals fly is an earmark of the deeply malevolent. And what would you rather have flying in the air above you — a 50-pound monkey, or a 500-pound reindeer? That wide-brimmed hat the Wicked Witch of the West wears might protect her from monkey droppings, but is it really going to help against a team of reindeer flying overhead?
Clearly, Santa is uber-evil.
And what about those elves? Please. An elf is just a gnome with better PR. And everyone knows that gnomes are deviants who thrill at creating havoc. I used to live in a house in the woods that became infested with gnomes. Believe me, that is not something you want to happen. And if it ever does happen to a place you’re living, do not use Gnome Motel. That product is useless. Those little creeps built on to the Gnome Motel we left out for them. They put in a little jacuzzi, and a deck. The workmanship was awful. And it led to all these little airplane-size booze bottles being scattered all around the place.
Terrible. We finally had to call in a pack of mad rottweilers.
Boy. Talk about getting the job done.
Anyway, the point is that Santa is Satan. Look how close their names are! And Santa/Satan isn’t the only diabolic anagram going on with Mr. Red Nose’s name, either. Rearrange the letters spelling “Saint Nick,” and what do you get? That’s right: sick taint. And Kris Kringle? Try Sir Grinlekk — which totally sounds like it could be the name of one of Harry Potter’s wicked wizards, doesn’t it? So I think that settles it.
Santa Claus. Satan’s cause. Satan’s claws. I mean, come on. It’s not even subtle.
Plus, everyone knows that the Devil’s whole thing is to make people believe the opposite of the truth. And, as we all know, Hades is about as far south as south gets. So where does “Santa” live? But of course: as far north as north gets.
Pshh. Any child is trickier.
Speaking of children, do I even need to mention how wrong it is to teach our children to associate getting great things for free with breaking and entering? How long is it before any Christmas-inculcated kid with any initiative at all thinks to himself, “Hmm. Santa goes down the chimneys while people are asleep. I could go through windows while people are on vacation. Why shouldn’t every day be Christmas for me?”
The Christmas season is upon us. Let us become ever more vigilant against the evil that tries to distract us from its true meaning. Christmas is about celebrating the incarnation of God — period. And that is why I, for one, will be prepared throughout this entire Christmas season to at any given moment stand straight, point accusingly, and cry at the top of my lungs, “Get thee behind me, Santa!”
I’ll let you know how that goes.
John Shore also blogs on JohnShore.com. (He invites you to “like” his Facebook page.)
This Blogger’s Books from
I’m OK–You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop
by John Shore
Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do the Things I Do, by God (as told to John Shore)
by John Shore
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This morning I had the honor of standing with Senator Tom Harkin, a tireless advocate for the elimination of child labor, as I announced the release of three Labor Department reports on child labor and/or forced labor around the world.
These reports shed light on the work that has been done globally to halt these practices. Additionally, they highlight challenges that lie ahead in once and for all eliminating these forms of child labor. No child, anywhere in the world, should be forced to sacrifice their childhood to ensure that their families can make ends meet; especially in environments that are not only unhealthy but, in some cases, costly to their lives.
These reports also highlight each government’s efforts to address the worst forms of child labor and provide recommendations to areas where improvement is needed — including legislation, enforcement, policies and social programs to address the worst forms of child labor.
The reports also include 6 new goods from 12 new countries, for a total of 128 goods from 70 countries. These are goods that the Department of Labor has reason to believe are produced by forced labor and/or child labor in violation of international labor standards.
The Labor Department also maintains a list of products, by country of origin, which we believe might have been mined, produced or manufactured by forced or indentured child labor.
The most significant change in the reports is the inclusion — for the first time — of a set of proposed actions for each government to consider. These actions would address the main areas of concern highlighted in the report and signal progress in fighting the worst forms of child labor.
Protecting children and vulnerable workers abroad is a part of our overall efforts here at the Department of Labor. Since I took office, one of my primary goals has been to step up enforcement efforts on behalf of all workers, including children, here at home.
The Department has added 350 new field investigators, issued regulations to keep young workers out of hazardous non-agricultural jobs; and instituted a tougher penalty structure for employers found illegally employing child workers. We are also exploring regulatory changes to further protect children in the agriculture sector.
And while we are focused on child workers here at home, we are also working in partnership with other countries to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.
Today, we also announced $40 million in grants to combat exploitive child labor in a dozen countries working with the International Labor Organization’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.
These programs will allow us to work with governments, the private sector and civil society to combat exploitive child labor in agriculture, including the West African cocoa sector; the Thai shrimp and seafood sector; the West African mining and quarrying sector; along with projects in Bolivia and El Salvador.
Now is the time for us to redouble our efforts, renew our commitments, and follow through.
No one has the right to threaten the health, education, and well-being of children by involving them in illegal or inappropriate work. No family should have to depend on the labor of its children to put food on the table and no person should be forced to work in captivity.
As a nation and as members of the global community, we reject the proposition that it is acceptable to pursue economic gain through the exploitation of human beings. No nation does, nor should get ahead, at the peril of its workers.
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The money came in a white envelope, brought to the door by an agency — alternative and illegal — that distributes remittances. It was accompanied by a letter from the uncle who went to New Jersey thirty years ago and never returned. “Use it to celebrate Christmas,” he wrote, in his stylized handwriting, ending the note with a brief, “bye.” The lady closed the door, still in disbelief that the relative who emigrated had sent them, for the end of the year, these fifty dollars of salvation. She shouted to her son and daughter-in-law, while the great question started to take shape in her mind: “What will I buy?”
First they thought about repairing the roof that leaks every time it rains, but after subtracting the twenty percent tax levied in Cuba on U.S. dollars, there wasn’t enough to buy the materials. Another possibility was to invest in a license to sell juice from the door of the house. But her son quickly convinced her not to, as the profits from such self-employment would be too long delayed and they were desperate for money as soon as possible. He pointed out that his wife was going to give birth in three weeks and the priority was disposable diapers for the baby. But the lady of the house refused to convert all the money into Pampers; they could use the little capital to repair the washing machine that had been broken for years. “Besides, I need a pair of shoes, because it hurts me to keep going to work like this.” The uncle — far away — had no idea of the turmoil his remittance was causing.
They spent the rest of the week discussing what to do with the 40 convertible pesos they got from the bank. The dispute took on an aggressive tone at times, when the daughter who didn’t live in the house showed up to claim that part of the money was hers. None of them gave serious thought to doing what the exiled relative had intended: buying themselves some nougat, a bottle of cider and piece of pork for Christmas Eve. As a Saturday in December dawned, the toilet appeared clogged. They found a plumber who charged 38 CUC to repair it and replace a piece of pipe. Life itself had established their spending priorities. The woman sat down on the living room couch and wondered, again, what she should buy now, with the 2 CUC remaining.
Yoani’s blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.
Translating Cuba is a new compilation blog with Yoani and other Cuban bloggers in English.
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I will be writing more soon about the just released Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the first ever — but wanted to post this video of the event and the transcript of an exchange that I had with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Two things quickly.
First, it was terrific that Secretary Clinton and her team have ‘dedicated’ this first QDDR to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
Second, Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of the Office of Policy Planning at the State Department, was the one who steered and dogged the QDDR process. Many were involved — and Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator, also gets top tier billing. But Slaughter, in my view, deserves enormous credit for producing a product and report that is far better than I expected (cynicism is tough to overcome when it comes to government agencies working together) — and I have great hopes for effective implementation.
Given that George Kennan, Mr. X, directed State’s Policy Planning office — I had actually encouraged Slaughter to release the report in the form of a long telegram, or even a long email — and have it emailed under the name, Madame X.
Regrettably, the State Department didn’t take advantage of my great marketing advice.
For the time being, here is a link to a pdf of the 2010 QDDR Report Executive Summary. (The 200-page report link is still being prepared and will be released soon).
About 35 minutes into the program, I had this exchange with Secretary Hillary Clinton on the question about the Pentagon and its place in this QDDR process:
Secretary Clinton was very impressive at this meeting and clearly had deeply drilled down into the detail of this report and what it means. I thought hit the ball out of the park in her response to the question I posed.
– Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons
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Americans, like their European counterparts, have a shameful sense of entitlement that is poised to end our dalliance with democracy. In step with the citizens of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, Americans continue to demand public officials deliver services without imposing an appropriate surcharge. And, sadly, elected officials respond to these demands with little apparent regard for the future. The impending vote on President Obama’s “great compromise”–a $858 billion increase in our national debt–is but the most recent case in point. We have agreed to extend tax cuts the nation cannot afford in order to provide more unemployment payments–that Washington can also not afford.
“Not to worry” cry those best described as Pollyannas. “The economic stimulus provided by this deficit spending will serve to enhance tax revenues.” Really? Given our current incoherent tax laws, economists estimate a 1% increase in U.S. gross domestic product will only generate about $40 billion in addition federal revenue. Now $40 billion may seem like a lot of money to you and me, but $40 billion in Washington’s hands is insufficient to run the State Department or pay a tenth of the Pentagon’s annual bills. And $40 billion is just a drop in the bucket when you consider a 10 year extension of the current tax rates will increase the national debt by at least $1.8 trillion…before Congress figures out how to further expand spending so as to meet their constituent’s endless demand for federal handouts.
Oh, I’m certainly not alone in noting publicly elected officials are seemingly incapable of reining-in spending. A Washington Post – ABC poll conducted from 9-12 December found 55% of respondents disapprove of Mr Obama’s efforts to address the deficit. Approximately 60% of the same respondents declared the nation’s fiscal ailments should be addressed via a combination of increased taxation and spending cuts…but…well, I think you can see this coming. Less than 5 minutes after expressing a desire for federal financial responsibility, 54% of those surveyed expressed support for extending the Bush tax cuts, 78% opposed raising federal gasoline taxes, 64% opposed reducing annual increases in Social Security benefits, and 52% opposed a reduction in defense spending. In fact, the poll found a majority of Americans oppose seven of nine proposals currently being debated as options for reducing the federal deficit.
Given these numbers it should not be surprising our survey-sensitive elected officials are reluctant to read Edmond Burke. Back in 1774, Mr Burke admonished the electors of Bristol by arguing a wise elected official strives to serve the nation…not his or her selfish constituency. As Burke so eloquently put it, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” He then went on to decree, “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.”
Alas, Edmund Burke has been dead for over 200 years…and there is no one in the current American political establishment who appears willing to don his cloak and argue each member of the House and Senate should case aside constituent greed in favor of a greater national good. Instead, the world watches as our deliberative body argues over tax breaks for the wealthy while quietly packing legislation with pork totaling over $8 billion.
To make matters worse Tea Party candidates who were supposedly elected to clean up this mess have immediately adopted the behavior of their predecessors. The Washington Post reports at least 13 of the incoming new Republicans have hired former lobbyists to run their offices–and I have lost track of how many lobbyist fundraisers these “outsiders” have attended in the short month since winning office. Now there is nothing wrong about convoluting with lobbyists–the Constitution does provide for freedom of speech and an ability to petition our legislators. The real problem here is that lobbyists–by definition–are not overwhelmingly paid to promote national objectives. They are paid to provide lip service for selective interests…and the justification for their fees is a tendency to generate even more government spending.
Is it really too late to fix this mess? To save our government from bankruptcy? Considering the violent protests in Greece and Great Britain, the answer is an unfortunate yes. Constituents who have fed at the teat of federal largess for all of their adult lives are not about to tolerate a significant reduction in a long-subsidized lifestyle. As Athens and London have discovered, pulling children away from the teat prompts a violent tantrum and likely removal from office in any future election. Such behavior condemns democracy as a form of governance to that rapidly filling ash bin of history. Selfish constituents who cannot be ignored are like young children and dogs–in desperate need of authoritarian leadership that prevent burning down the house or running into traffic.
That lesson appears to have sunk in with the Chinese, Russians, and Singaporeans. Beijing’s success has become the “China model”–a formidable challenge to the ideals our nation purports to be “unalienable.” Confronted with such a dire situation one would think we would be more responsible…so one would think. We appear nowhere near achieving such a grim realization. Instead, Americans chose to engage in behavior that is indeed a foretelling of the demise of democracy.
This Blogger’s Books from
Take the Money and Run: Sovereign Wealth Funds and the Demise of American Prosperity (Praeger Security International)
by Eric C. Anderson
China Restored: The Middle Kingdom Looks to 2020 and Beyond
by Eric C. Anderson
CBS News, long a major presence on television, has had a modest online presence, widely trailing industry online news giants MSNBC.com and CNN.com – as well the websites of ABC News, Fox News and the BBC.
But this appears to be changing as CBSNews.com has registered over 19 million unique visitors in November, besting ABC News, Fox News and the BBC in traffic in the United States, according to the latest numbers from comScore. See numbers below.
According to comScore, traffic to CBSNews.com has increased 29 percent since March.
Yesterday, we visited the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan to interview Dan Farber, editor-in-chief of CBSNews.com.
Farber, who has headed the site for the past two years, is a veteran technology editor who ran CNET News and, before that, ZDNet, explains how a wide-ranging strategy of social media, live streaming and syndication via YouTube has grown traffic.
He says that Twitter has been a powerful tool, with 1.6 million followers, along with Facebook. The site has also utilized a lot of video-sharing capabilities from its popular channel on YouTube and live streaming channels on Livestream and Ustream, as well as extensive live programming on the company’s proprietary player.
Farber says that traffic has doubled over the past year, up 36% in November alone. (A company spokeswoman declined to provide internal numbers).
Yahoo Leads General News Category for November
Yahoo remains the most popular general news site, followed by CNN.com, MSNBC.com, AOL.com, then CBSNews.com, according to comScore.
Disclosure: I’ve know Dan for about 15 years, beginning when he was an editor at ZDNet and later CNET, when Plesser Holland represented him. In recent years, Dan has become a valued mentor as I have developed Beet.TV
You can also find this post at Beet.TV
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Last week, 17 more billionaires signed on to the Giving Pledge and declared their intention to give away to charitable organizations at least 50 percent of their wealth. The initiative is being spearheaded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.
I’ve been following this effort since it was launched earlier this year with a cover story in Fortune magazine. Let me say clearly that I think it’s fantastic for billionaires to give money to charity instead of buying expensive toys they don’t need or giving it all to their heirs. And I applaud the Gates family and Mr. Buffett for being willing to challenge their peers and to lead by example. Their effort will surely lead to an increase in giving among billionaires and others. I do, however, have some concerns.
I don’t want to be a Grinch about it in the middle of the holiday season, but there are three important reasons to keep our enthusiasm for the Giving Pledge in check. First, the pledge is likely to have an extremely small impact on total giving, especially in the first few years. Second, little of the money is likely to benefit the most under-served populations. And third, giving by billionaires has typically been limited in its effectiveness and has dangerous implications for democratic decision-making.
I’ll explore the first two concerns in greater detail now; I’ll share my thoughts on the third point in a second posting later in the week.
The amounts being given are actually quite small.
Early news reports about the Giving Pledge hyped estimates that if the Forbes 400 of 2009 signed on, it would mean $600 billion for nonprofits. The problem is, the money is going to trickle out over a very long period of time, and it will represent only a very small upward tick in total charitable giving.
Billionaires who take the pledge commit to giving half their wealth to charity at some point during their lifetimes, or at their deaths. Some people on the list are quite elderly, but others are likely to spread their giving out over the next 50 years.
The biggest issue to consider, however, is endowments. My guess is that most of the money will wind up in university or foundation endowments, with only about 5 percent of the asset base getting spent on charitable purposes each year in perpetuity. The corpus will be invested in the stock market or other vehicles intended to earn a financial return, and only a tiny fraction of the assets will be working to advance a charitable goal.
How slow will the trickle be? Let’s do some math. Assume every billionaire signs the pledge and the $600 billion windfall that was predicted actually materializes. Now assume the money is given out in even installments over the next 40 years as billionaires clarify their charitable goals and have life events that trigger giving. Those assumptions get us to $15 billion per year. Since total United States giving is about $300 billion annually, you might think we are looking at a respectable 5 percent increase in charitable giving. But you would be wrong.
Assuming I’m correct that most of the money will be put into endowments with 5 percent payouts, we’re looking at $0.75 billion in new money for social purposes the first year, $1.5 billion the second year, $2.25 billion the third year, etc. It won’t be until the 20th year that we’ll hit even $15 billion annually in new money actually reaching nonprofits doing the important work that needs to be done. Clearly, the Giving Pledge will not be a major factor in sparking a much hoped-for rebound from the drop in giving that has decimated many nonprofits these last two years.
Warren Buffett is a noble exception here. In his pledge letter, he is clear that none of his giving is to go into endowments. He notes, “I want the money spent on current needs.”
I hope others who take the pledge follow his lead and spend now to address urgent problems. If they do, we’ll all be better off and the Giving Pledge will have more impact sooner.
Another option available is for billionaires to begin using the assets in their endowments, in addition to the grants payout, to achieve a social purpose — a practice known as “mission investing.” While mission investing is growing in popularity, it remains disappointingly uncommon, so I don’t hold much hope that signers of the pledge will begin using this approach in great numbers. Any pledge signer who does want to learn more about mission investing should get involved with More for Mission, a group of foundation leaders dedicated to building the mission-investing field. Or check out this white paper by the Nathan Cummings Foundation on shareholder activism.
Little of the money will likely reach under-served populations.
Wealthy donors don’t tend to prioritize lower-income communities, communities of color or other marginalized groups as beneficiaries of their giving. Instead, they tend to give to nonprofits that they patronize, such as cultural institutions and their alma maters.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out in an op-ed in the LA Times that wealthy donors give to places “where they spend their leisure time” and that only 10 percent of charitable contributions actually benefit the poor. And a 2009 study by the organization I lead found that only 33 percent of giving by foundations is intended to benefit under-served populations, even when very broadly defined.
So if billionaire donors recruited for the Giving Pledge act like most of the wealthy donors who have come before them, groups working with and on behalf of those with the least wealth, opportunity and power shouldn’t expect a very large slice of the pie.
Bill and Melinda Gates are an exception, not the rule, in this regard. They — admirably — have made it explicit that they want the vast majority of their philanthropy to benefit the world’s poor. If more of the billionaires taking the pledge shared that commitment, I’d be more excited. The question of who benefits from philanthropy matters.
Watch out for the continuation of this posting in the coming days, where I’ll discuss the real limits and risks of billionaire philanthropy.
As Americans gather together this holiday season, many will take a moment to give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Most will be thankful for their family and friends. What will likely go unmentioned and unconsidered is an appreciation for the access to two basic necessities that many of us take for granted: access to water and adequate sanitation.
This is why it is important for all Americans to remember the 884 million people across the planet who went without access to clean water this year and the 2.5 billion who went without adequate sanitation. Without access to these basic building blocks of modern society, many of our brothers and sisters in undeveloped nations have also likely been left without the ability to pursue productive work because of health problems that hamper productivity and discourage economic investment.
The countries of the world, including the United States, have come together to say that we can do better. A set of shared goals — entitled the Millennium Development Goals — have set specific targets relating to increasing access to water and sanitation by 2015. With these goals, the international community has pledged to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or afford, safe drinking water.
As the 111th Congress draws to a close, members of the House and Senate have a time-sensitive opportunity to make good on that promise. Important legislation entitled the “Water for the World Act” (H.R. 2035, S. 624) has already passed the Senate and is close to making its way to the president’s desk. This legislation, authored by my colleague Dick Durbin in the Senate and Earl Blumenauer in the House, would help the United States take a huge step forward in streamlining and focusing our foreign aid commitments when it comes to providing access to water.
Establishes an Office of Water within USAID to implement country-specific water strategies;
Creates a Special Coordinator for International Water within the State Department to coordinate the diplomatic policy of the US with respect to global freshwater issues;
Establishes programs in countries of greatest need that invest in local capacity, education, and coordination with US efforts; and
Emphasizes cross-border and cross-discipline collaboration and the utilization of low-cost technologies, such as hand-washing stations and latrines.
If enacted, this bill could help 50 to 100 million people over the next six years. The bill would also provide a gift to the American people by spreading good will abroad and, thus, strengthening our national security through the exercise of soft power. Let’s move this legislation across the finish line and provide millions of our fellow world citizens with the gift of water and, most importantly, a sense of hope for a better tomorrow.
Trojan recently launched a line of vibrators called Trojan Vibrations. These “good vibrations” are the hot stocking stuffer for 2010. Dr. Logan Levkoff, Trojan’s resident sex expert and I sat down for a frank conversation about sex, and agree that every politician in the Senate and Congress could use one of these puppies.
Directed by David McIntyre for imageloading.com
Check out IMW-TV
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Traveling to Italy so often — at least several times a year — I’ve discovered that my favorite season to visit Italy is winter, especially right around Christmas. This is the time when tourist crowds are more tame, the weather is usually still mild and Italians are doing what they do best: bringing together family, food and faith according to age-old traditions. While modern life have caught up with many other areas of Italian life, Christmas in Italy still seems to be held sacred. Home to the Vatican, and many noteworthy churches, Italy’s capital of Rome, in particular, offers a wealth of free Christmas festivities:
Piazza Navona’s Christmas Market
(Photo by Sean O’Neill, flickr.com)
Italy’s Christmas markets don’t quite have the notoriety of their northern European cousins, but they still bring Old World charm to the holiday season. Between the prelude to Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), Romans head to Piazza Navona to peruse the stalls selling food, candy, crafts and toys. Yes, there is an Italian Santa Claus (Babbo Natale) and he can be seen both in person and in the toys made from his image. Even more popular is La Befana, the good witch who hands out candy to children on the Epiphany. During the holiday season, Piazza Navona truly comes to life especially in the early evening for la passeggiata — the Italian tradition of an evening walk around the neighborhood.
The Nativity Museum (Museo Tipologico Internazionale del Presepio)
(Photo by Frances Kidd)
A few years ago, when my American expat friend Frances Kidd introduced me to this small museum in her adopted hometown, I felt like I had been let in on a delicious Christmas secret (like what Santa was planning to bring me). Many native Romans don’t even know that inside inside the Church of Ss. Quirico e Giulitta is a museum devoted exclusively to all the elements of the presepio (nativity scene). As Frances reminded me, “Italians are crazy about nativity scenes — almost every Italian home is sure to have at least one if not more on display during the Christmas holiday.”
Over 3,000 nativity figures and mangers — from every corner Italy and the world – are on display at Rome’s Nativity Museum. According to Frances, you will find pieces made from all kinds of materials – clay, stone, coal, cloth — even eggs and marzipan. The museum, founded in 1953 by the run by the Italian Association of Friends of the Nativity, has extended hours during the holidays but is also open most of the rest of the year.
Midnight Mass at the Vatican
(Photo by sunshine city, flickr.com)
Likely the most famous Midnight Mass in the world, Christmas Eve services at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City are once-in-a-lifetime event for those who are lucky enough to get tickets to sit inside the church. Like many Christmas Eve services, “”Midnight Mass” at the Vatican actually now starts two hours earlier (10 p.m.) than the traditional time. Although challenging, it is possible to score these tickets to the Midnight Mass at the Vatican but you have to start trying early — like in May — and work any connections (now is the time to reach out to your cousin the bishop) you may have. Yet, you don’t need tickets to soak up the magical feeling in St. Peter’s Square on Christmas Eve. When my parents and I spent an impromptu Christmas in Rome a few years back, we stood in St. Peter’s Square — next to the life-size nativity scene — and watched the mass on large video screens. The warm energy and joy our fellow pilgrims in the square that night added to the magical experience.
Christmas Eve at Ara Coeli
(Photo by Allie Caulfield, flickr.com)
Midnight Mass at the Vatican isn’t the only game in town for Christmas Eve in Rome. The Eternal City is home to over 600 churches — all of which have their own special celebrations. Atop Capitoline Hill, the 7th-century Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli is a stunning sight on Christmas Eve with candles on each of the 124 steps leading to its entrance. This church is considered the official church of the Roman people and bears a fascinating history. Inside, a statue of baby Jesus (Santo Bambino) — supposedly carved out of wood taken from an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before his crucifixion – is waiting to be unveiled for just one day of the year. Ara Coeli is the official church of It of the Italian Senate and the Roman people (Senatus Populusque Romanus).
For more on Christmas in Rome, get a free copy of Dream of Italy’s 35-page Christmas in Italy guide.
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It seems like the words “good news” and “banking” haven’t gone in the same sentence since the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Although there’s no doubt that bank customers got a raw deal in the recession, there were many positive developments in banking during 2010.
Here were the eight best trends in banking for consumers this year:
Mortgage rates were cheaper than ever. Historically, 30-year mortgage rates have averaged around 8.91 percent. For the first 11 months of 2010, they averaged 4.69 percent. This cuts the interest expense of buying a house almost in half.Perhaps even better, the drop in mortgage rates sparked a surge in mortgage refinancing, giving a boost to the budgets of many a cash-strapped household. The great thing about these historically low mortgage rates is that while they may not last long, homeowners who were able to lock in 30-year mortgages this year will benefit from this dip in rates for many years to come.
Financial reform. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — commonly known as financial reform — was a mixed bag for consumers. Chief among the negatives: higher compliance costs may cause higher fees on checking accounts and/or lower interest rates on CDs, savings accounts and money market accounts in the years to come.In the big picture, though, the new law’s consumer protections and restoration of elements of the old Glass-Steagall legislation should make the banking system more stable and secure. Looking ahead, it remains to be seen how long these reforms survive the efforts of the banking lobby to chip away at them.
Millions of Americans stopped paying protection. It’s not extortion, but it is exorbitant — overdraft fees had become a huge profit center for banks in recent years. New rules gave customers the latitude to say no to overdraft protection programs and, according to Moebs Services, over 30 million customers did just that. Unfortunately, a great many more chose to continue overdraft protection. Even these customers got a small break, though. The average overdraft fee dropped by 50 cents in the latter half of 2010, according to Moebs.
Free checking survived. Some predicted that the compliance costs of Dodd-Frank, the loss of some overdraft fee revenue and previously implemented limitations on credit card practices would drive banks to drop services like free checking. Indeed, a Moebs survey found that the availability of free checking dropped 11 percentage points.However, that still left nearly three-quarters of banks and credit unions offering free checking. With thousands of FDIC-insured institutions out there, customers still had plenty to choose from. A poll in late 2010 by MoneyRates.com and GetRichSlowly.org found that 95 percent of respondents were able to avoid monthly checking account fees one way or another.
The hike in FDIC insurance was made permanent. For years, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance was $100,000 per depositor at any given institution. This was temporarily hiked to $250,000 during the banking crisis, and in 2010 this higher insurance limit was made permanent. This was a triple win for consumers. First, this emphatic government backing demonstrated that the federal government is prepared to stand behind deposits in the U.S. banking system. Second, the increase in the insurance ceiling reflected the fact that the previous $100,000 limit had been significantly devalued by inflation since it was established in 1980. Third, raising the insurance limit to $250,000 increases the ability of customers to consolidate funds and take advantage of “jumbo” rates on deposits (offered on balances of $100,000 or higher) and other benefits available to large depositors.
The dollar limit for FDIC insurance was increased. In a less publicized move, FDIC insurance on non-interest-bearing transaction accounts, which includes checking accounts that don’t pay interest, was temporarily expanded without limit. These accounts also will not count against the $250,000 limit for other deposits, making it easier for customers to have checking accounts at the same bank as their savings accounts or money market accounts without exceeding the insurance limit. Two caveats: This unlimited insurance is available only from December 31, 2010, to December 31, 2012, and it only applies to accounts that don’t pay interest. Of course, with interest rates as low as they are now, customers would not have to forgo much interest for the benefit of obtaining unlimited insurance on their accounts through 2012.
Consumers fought back against credit card debt. A streak of 40 straight years in which revolving credit balances, which chiefly includes credit card debt, increased was broken in 2009. Federal Reserve figures through October 2010 showed that revolving credit debt was on track to decrease again in 2010. This sudden reversal in a decades-long debt binge doesn’t mean that revolving credit balances are now low, but at least they are finally headed in the right direction — back to the neighborhood of 2004 levels. It is also possible that consumers are taking advantage of low interest credit card rates to reduce their total debt spend.
Americans began to build savings. Paying down debt is just half the battle for American households. After years of lax savings habits and disappointing investment returns, Americans were far behind in their retirement savings. In 2010 there were some steps in the right direction. According to the Federal Reserve, savings deposit accounts increased during each of the first 10 months of the year. This added a cumulative total of more than $400 billion to savings deposit balances — despite the fact that these balances were getting little help from low interest rates on savings accounts. As with the trend in revolving credit balances, this increase in savings so far represents only a short-term reversal of some long-standing bad habits. Still, the road to rebuilding savings accounts has to begin somewhere, and the figures indicate that in 2010 Americans have at least made a start.
Which banking customers didn’t benefit in 2010? Most notably, those who were victimized by slapdash foreclosure procedures by some banks and mortgage processing companies, and the customers in deposit accounts who lost billions of dollars to inflation in an environment of unnaturally low CD rates, savings account rates and money market rates. Maybe 2011 will be the year when these customers get a better deal.
The original article can be found at MoneyRates.com:8 best banking trends of 2010
Sweet Caroline singer Diamond, 69, said he had thought in the past that he may be nominated “but I kind of figured they'd get around to me at some point”.
Rock star Cooper, 62, said it had been “a waiting game”.
Phil Spector collaborator Darlene Love and singer Dr John will also be inducted in New York on 14 March.
Acts including the Beastie Boys, Bon Jovi, Donna Summer and LL Cool J had been shortlisted.
Diamond, whose early hits in the 1960s included Cherry, Cherry said he had initially been “a lone voice out there with a guitar, and it was different than what was going on because it was the English invasion and I wasn't doing that”.
He said of his induction: “I'm glad they did it before I'm dead.”
Cooper, whose hits with his band include School's Out and Poison, said that before they came onto the scene in the late 1970s “there was no spectacle in rock 'n' roll”.
“I think what we did was we kind of brought theatre to rock 'n' roll,” he added.
Love, 72, who had a number one US hit with He's A Rebel with Spector-produced girl band The Crystals in 1962, said: “It still hasn't hit me yet.
“I still have that nervous stomach and I'm still excited.”
New Orleans pianist and singer Dr John, 70, has released more than 20 albums.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musical excellence award will go to keyboardist Leon Russell who this year teamed up with Elton John on his album The Union.
WikiLeaks raises some of the most poignant questions of our time about the power of cyber warfare, the role of hackers, and the future of the Internet. It is not a coincidence that Madame Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has created a whole new effort to explore and fight cyber terrorism. In fact, WikiLeaks and Assange may represent the first of the wholesale anarchists using today’s information highway to do battle. Consider that instead of taking to the streets in protest, this generation may take to the Internet to wage their battles and carry their message. We are living a time represented by the power of Facebook that links over 500 million people together. And if this is true, we may have unleashed a whole new generation of cyber warlords on the world’s information centers.
Many of our brethren are writing about democracy, liberty and the freedom of information pivoting off what they believe WikiLeaks stands for. Julian Assange has been elevated to the “Man of the People” as filmmaker Michael Moore contributes to his bail fund, and the Huffington Post sets up a whole section devoted to whistleblower Fantasy Land. You know, we all need something valiant to believe in during the difficult days of Obama. The obnoxious wealthy are dancing on the heads of US lawmakers. The banks are still doing the Texas two-step, and the Middle Class continues to suffer in silence with simmering rage. There are two deeply divisive wars. China is rising and scaring the heck out of us. The liberals of the Democratic Party continue to act like toddlers, and Sarah Palin is making hay laughing all the way to her off-shore accounts. So Julian Assange, or whoever is backing him, could not have picked a better moment of discontent. They are evoking new archetypes of good and bad in a world that is increasing grey.
Assange is the anti-hero. He has been personified as a man with no country who is a metrosexual kind of guy willing to risk it all to uncover the truth. Yet, we don’t really know much about this man, or what makes him tick. Is he really the wizard behind or the curtain, or there really someone or something else pulling the strings. Is he a hacker extraordinaire, or just a man that is a brilliant online community organizer? In fact and most importantly, what does it mean to be a hacker? Are hackers by definition anarchists, or is it just Julian that wants to topple the establishment at any cost. Or are there droves of these cyber-sleuths trolling the black lands of the Internet looking for back doors into silos of information? Remember Assange was a cryptologist of sorts which is the super duper folks that develop the ways to tunnel into software code. And it may be fair to assume that these same hackers were probably responsible for the DOS (Denial of Service) attacks on Visa, Master Card and others. And if this is true then who is really pulling the strings since these were very, targeted attacks on specific corporations that shut out the money flow for WikiLeaks? The bottom line is that we still don’t know how the WikiLeaks information is gathered and/or obtained. Does it come from this new breed of whistleblowers, such as Private Manning that had a rare blend of tech talents and access? If so; does this new breed even resemble our beloved archetypical whistleblowers circa Daniel Ellsberg, or even Erin Brockovich? And I ask again, have we grappled with the ramifications of an Internet that is locked down in response to WikiLeaks? Are we ready to usher in a new age of restrictions? This sadly will make the debate around net neutrality seem like child’s play if cyber war erupts.
Please note that a selection of the reference material used for this article and others in the past on WikiLeaks is included in the complex pearltree below.
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WEEKENDS WITHOUT HUNGER
Very soon, children across the country will begin their long holiday break from school. But for too many of them, being out of school will mean not getting enough to eat. For 19 million children who rely on school meal programs for nutritious lunch and breakfast during the week, extended school holidays bring empty bellies because free and reduced-price school meals aren’t offered when school is out.
More than 150 Feeding America food banks across the country have established programs to help feed low-income children on weekends and long school holidays when free and reduced-price school meals are not available. Our BackPack Program was designed to discreetly send children home with nutritious, child-friendly, easy-to-prepare groceries on Friday afternoons. Last year, we operated more than 3,600 BackPack Programs that fed more than 190,000 children. But it’s not nearly enough.
The Youth Programs Coordinator for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier in Elmira, New York recently shared some stories demonstrating the impact of their BackPack Program. She reports that children regularly are found hoarding food before school break, including one little girl who filled her pockets with ketchup packets because there wasn’t enough food at home. Thankfully, the school was able to offer her father the BackPack Program and in so doing, found out that he had recently lost his job and was struggling to make ends meet.
No child should go hungry simply because school is out. Food banks and other charities are working with private donors and coordinating with schools to protect our most vulnerable children on long school holidays and weekends, but we cannot do it alone. The House last week passed the Weekends Without Hunger Act (H.R. 5012) to test the feasibility of providing nutritious USDA commodities to programs that provide healthy food to low-income children.
Our leaders often remark that there is no greater investment that we can make than in our children. The bipartisan passage of the Child Nutrition Bill demonstrates that a divided Congress can still find consensus on our children’s well-being. The House reaffirmed that bipartisan consensus with passage of the Weekends Without Hunger Act last week, and now it’s time for the Senate to follow suit. As Congress prepares to adjourn for the year and children prepare for the Christmas break, Feeding America urges the Senate to pass the Weekends Without Hunger Act. Congress shouldn’t leave for their holiday break before ensuring that no child goes hungry during theirs.
Help us make sure that no child goes hungry when school is out by calling your Senator today. Dial 877-698-8228 and enter your zip code to be connected directly to your Senator’s office. Then ask them Please bring the Weekends Without Hunger Act (HR 5012) to the floor and pass it this year.
The mission of Journey of Action is to inspire the youth to become active citizens. Apart of being an active citizen is being a global citizen. There are many ways one can become educated, but the most obvious one is schooling. We believe the purpose of education is to prepare students to become socially responsible global citizens. The need for global citizenship education is now more than ever necessary as we live in an interconnected global world that is increasing integrated. The context in which education now occurs has been re-shaped by globalization and technology. Educational systems need to recognize their transformative power, and their ability to become responsive to contemporary global changes. Students should be educated to understand the connections between their local actions and experiences and what is happening in the rest of the world.For the first time, we have a plan of action and the tools that will allow us to join forces to create a better world.
For the reasons listed above, we highlighted Global Citizen Corps while in Portland, Oregon. Global Citizen Corps is a program of Mercy Corps, which is a year long program that works with 500 youth leaders. The leaders of GCCare apart of an international movement of youth who connect globally and act locally During the span of the year, leaders work with Mercy Corps to get the training, knowledge, resources and tools to raise awareness and organize effective local actions that make a global impact. Leaders mobilize their schools and communities around a series of Global Action Days, which connect to international campaigns.
Leaders gain skills in four areas: action planning, leadership development, multi-media and global issues. With this training, leaders have the knowledge and skills to organize powerful actions that address the problems such as global health, hunger, climate change and lack of access to education. Their motto is awareness plus action equals impact.
Programs like Global Citizen Corps deserve praise and need to be integrated into our school systems, because if we want American students to be able to compete in the global market place, they need to be globally aware. As America continues to evolve its education system, we must also evolve our understanding of the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century.
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The Voyager 1 spacecraft is saying goodbye to our solar system. The veteran probe is currently more than 10 billion miles from us, and adds a million miles every day to its trip. Yet, the most distant man-made object is not bidding farewell to us as it continues to send information that help us to better understand the cosmos.
The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched in 1977, were originally designed to conduct flyby studies of Jupiter and Saturn. But, these spacecrafts eventually went on to study all the four outer planets and many of their moons. They follow special trajectories at different speeds, with the Voyager 1 at a higher speed has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system.
Artist concept of the two Voyager spacecraft as they approach interstellar space. Image credit: NASA/JPL
The Voyager spacecrafts carry messages intended to communicate our story to any other civilization should that be encountered. Known as the Golden Record, this message is carried by a phonograph record, a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk ,containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.
Each record contains multilingual greetings, music, pictures and a variety of natural sounds. One of the greetings reads,
“This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”
The 33 years old message meant for other civilizations has so far no takers. In fact, it was not meant to be a serious attempt to begin an interstellar communication. This was more of a symbolic scientific adventure as the message and the probe will take 40,000 years to pass within 1.6 light years from another star, which is not even considered to have a solar system.
The spacecrafts have enough power to operate for another decade and they would return valuable data that already helped to rewrite our Astronomy text books. Among the Voyager’s many discoveries, the first ever family portrait of our solar system and the pale blue dot showing the Earth against the vastness of space are intriguingly unique.
It takes almost 16 hours for the radio signals from the probe to reach the earth and that is increasing as the distance is added up. Like a bottle in the cosmic ocean, the Voyager will continue to drift in the vastness for many years to come, until its radioactive heart stops beeping. Above all, Voyager teaches us the immensity of space and our place in it. The late Carl Sagan, who headed the committee to choose the golden record once wrote, “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”