Archive for December 16th, 2010
Television and video have an undistinguished track record in public education, as either a babysitter or a security measure. But things have changed in recent years, and the future is certainly getting interesting.
I cannot begin to count the number of times I have seen darkened classrooms full of kids watching some video or other. Sometimes it seemed to be relevant; other times it was clearly filler, an uninspired teacher killing time or “rewarding” his students by letting them watch a movie.
Of course, some teachers have used video brilliantly to bring to life what otherwise might be words on a page. Far better to experience, say, Olivier’s Hamlet on the screen while also reading the play. (When I was a high school English teacher in the late ’60s, I used some wonderful Caedmon LP’s of Shakespeare’s play to bring Macbeth’s power and passion to life.)
Lots of schools use video cameras for security purposes. I’ve been in schools where every hallway is wired and someone sits in the main office watching multiple screens. Creepy. Other reporters tell me about schools where classrooms have cameras, allowing the principal to monitor activity.
However, in recent years we’ve seen videos of teachers losing it in class, thanks to hidden cameras or cell phones.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some teachers were now turning the tables, whipping out their cell phones to video kids who are misbehaving.
But this use is negative and reflects how unhealthy the atmosphere is in some schools.
Now the ante has been upped, with a massive project to videotape thousands of teachers in action. Sam Dillon reported on this in the New York Times recently. Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation are heavily involved, and large-scale videotaping experiments are now going on in at least seven districts, including Dallas, Denver, Hillsborough, Fla., and Pittsburgh. About 3,000 teachers are allowing themselves to be videotaped, with trained “graders” viewing their efforts (but not their principals). These graders look for specific behaviors: does a teacher consistently ignore students who have their hands up to answer questions? Does he/she make an effort to help students who may have missed the previous day’s lesson? Does he/she turn her back on the classroom on a regular basis?
What’s the endgame? If the goal is to provide tutorial videos that will demonstrate good teaching techniques to struggling teachers, I think it’s going to be a failure, as I explain below. And if it’s a “gotcha game,” it will be strongly opposed by organized teachers everywhere. As the AFT’s Randi Weingarten told the Times, “Videotaped observations have their role but shouldn’t be used to substitute for in-person observations to evaluate teachers.”
Bill Gates told the Times that he was interested in helping teachers. “Some teachers are extremely good… What’s unbelievable is how little the exemplars have been studied… You have to follow the exemplars.”
There’s money to be made here. Firms like Teachscape are charging districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up systems for schools (one camera per school) so they can videotape teachers at work. The Times says Teachscape charges about $1.5 million for a district with 140 schools and 7,000 students for the first year, and $800,000 annually after that.
But let’s take a deep breath. This particular project will result in 64,000 hours of classroom video by June 2011, creating what someone has called “a cottage industry” for retired educators who will now sit and watch and “grade” what these teachers do.
So far so good, but how do those 64,000 hours become short tutorials of the sort that Mr. Gates is envisioning? I work in this business, and for a typical “NewsHour” piece that runs eight minutes, we will come back from the field with 20 to 30 hours of video. And we will work for days and days, whittling and shaping so the video tells a story. Who is going to do that with these 64,000 hours?
And because television is little more than radio with pictures and these classroom videos are really nothing more than a wide-angle camera in the back of the room with a small microphone mounted on top, and a second mic on the teacher, the sound is going to be pretty bad. Nobody is going to watch what they cannot hear!
To give you a better idea of just what 64,000 hours means, that’s about 2,666 days or 7.3 years of video — mostly without decent sound. I’d rather do hard time in a penitentiary than be sentenced to watch all that.
Or think of it this way. I have been working for PBS since 1985 and in 25 years have amassed an archive of 90,000 hours of video (professionally recorded with good sound quality). These folks are collecting 64,000 hours in just the first year alone.
Properly used, video can transform learning, but it’s a tool, a piece of technology that has to be harnessed to specific learning objectives.
Let me give an example from my own high school teaching. I decided to try bringing bring Shakespeare’s Macbeth to life by putting Macbeth and his wife on trial for first degree murder. Some students took roles of major characters in the play, which required them to know the play well enough to testify accurately. Other students served as attorneys, and the principal was the judge.
But this was a large class, and there weren’t enough major parts to go around, which meant that some students had the less interesting job of juror.
Introduce a video system, however, and a whole new dimension emerges. Student newscasters could deliver regular reports on the trial (careful writing required here); a panel show could provide a forum for interviewing the defendants (more careful study of the play required); technicians would be needed to tape and edit the proceedings (I’d also have them prepare a written plan and a subsequent report); and so on. Some curious students would probably end up analyzing the plot, perhaps comparing it to one of the daytime soaps. Everyone would learn something about the cooperative nature of television production, not to mention a great deal about Macbeth and Shakespearean tragedy.
Before we left Macbeth, we’d probably try our hands at acting and videotaping some scenes and speeches. I’d have the students watch different actors in T.V. dramas and ask them to figure out where the camera was, and why. They’d be thinking, and writing and learning.
Here’s what I believe about video and schools: Children should be given access to information about how television is made and to the T.V. making equipment itself.
Access invites inquiry and encourages curiosity and creativity. So as not to scare anyone, I’ve labeled what I’m talking about as access, but in fact I mean power — giving young people more control over their own learning.
It’s time to recognize that television, the most powerful medium of mass communication ever invented, is also a wonderfully effective way to acknowledge individuality, foster cooperation and encourage genuine citizenship.
Hands on involvement with television makes school a place that young people want to be, and interested students make school a more satisfying place for everyone else. Hands on experience with television makes children better-educated, better-informed consumers of television, which will lead them to demand better television, avoid inferior programming and hopefully recognize propaganda when they see it.
To those who worry that T.V. and other media will replace the textbook, I think there is a real possibility that the textbook may go out of fashion, but text itself will not disappear. Words will always matter. In my experience, students who become avidly media literate remain curious about the world around them. They read to learn. A clothing outlet (Syms) hawks its wares with the slogan, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” That should be adapted to education: “An educated citizen is our democracy’s best hope.”
John Merrow blogs regularly at Taking Note, where this post originally appeared.
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Choosing Excellence: Good Enough Schools Are Not Good Enough
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Below C Level: How American Education Encourages Mediocrity – and What We Can Do about It
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The cerulean waters of the Florida Keys are a long way from Gulf of Mexico’s northern end, yet oil from last summer’s tragic Deepwater Horizon spill might have reached them, if not for a serendipitous event – an ocean eddy obstructed the Gulf’s Loop Current, which typically cycles water south from the Louisiana coast out between the Florida Keys and Cuba. Though short-term disaster was avoided, no one knows what the long-term impacts of the oil spill will be on the Key’s spectacular, but vulnerable environment and interconnected economy.
Composed of 1,700 islands that stretch 200 miles, the Keys is host to the world’s third longest barrier reef, second only to Australia and Belize. Its coral and mangrove habitats are invaluable, both biologically and to regional tourism and fishing industries.
When the Gulf spill occurred, agencies and citizens in the Keys leapt to action. The unthinkable suddenly happened and had to be responded to fast! , What did this harrowing summer teach us and those in the Keys?
NRDC helped answer this question in a new report released today, compiling interviews with 11 people who were on the frontlines in the Keys—leaders from the Coastguard, the National Park Service, Marine Sanctuary Program, local businesses and environmental groups—as many feared the oil was headed their way. The report explores how they handled the nerve-wracking times, and what they learned, so the region might be better prepared in the face of future oil spill threats.
Here’s just some of what was said and the advice they shared in NRDC’s report, “The Florida Keys Response to the Gulf Oil Disaster”:
The Keys needs to be prepared for a spill of the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon that goes on for months, not just a spill from vessel grounding. (Everyone)
When it comes to a spill, there needs to be a clear understanding of the hazard, the science and, importantly, the chain of command in the response. Reality needs to be parsed from rumor, and the ensuing reaction should be appropriate to the level of peril. (Capt. Pat DeQuattro, U.S. Coast Guard; Dan Kimball, National Park Service; Billy D. Causey, Ph.D., NOAA; Capt. Tad Burke, Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association)
Face-to-face public meetings are essential to open channels of communication, and thus to a community’s trust in those heading up the response to the danger. (Capt. Pat DeQuattro, U.S. Coast Guard; Irene Toner, Monroe County Emergency Management Dept.)
The media needs easy access to areas potentially impacted by a spill; then it needs to accurately report on the situation. In the Keys, as everywhere, transparency is crucial. (Capt. Pat DeQuattro, U.S. Coast Guard; Bob Holston, Operations Dive Key West; Capt. Lara Fox, Danger Charters, Key West; Capt. Tad Burke, Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association)
The National Park Service and other agencies should continue table top exercises and drills in the field that rehearse cooperating with other agencies. The more practice, the better the response to the real thing. (Dan Kimball, National Park Service)
More booms and other supplies used to combat encroaching oil should be on hand (Karl Lasard, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association; Dr. David Vaughn, Tropical Research Laboratory); however, it’s equally important not to hoard these resources, should they be needed elsewhere. (Billy D. Causey, Ph.D., NOAA)
Agencies and nonprofits should be ready to quickly contain, examine and treat animals affected by an oil spill, especially birds and marine mammals. (Dr. Robert Lingenfelser, Marine Mammal Conservancy)
In the event of a spill, the Coast Guard and other agencies should employ the help and advice of local guides and fishermen, who know the nearby ecology and waterways, and have a stake in protecting their homes and livelihoods. (Karl Lasard, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association; Irene Toner, Monroe County Emergency Management Dept.; Capt. Lara Fox, Danger Charters, Key West; Capt. Victoria Impallomeni-Spencer, Reef Relief)
Because of the Loop Current and the Keys’ location at the bottom of the watershed for the Gulf of Mexico, effects from the spill could still be felt in the future. (Capt. Tad Burke, Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association)
More research is needed on oil dispersants that aren’t toxic to coral; for example, the dispersant used in the Gulf may be more harmful to coral larvae than the oil itself. (Dan Kimball, National Park Service; Dr. David Vaughn, Tropical Research Laboratory; Capt. Lara Fox, Danger Charters, Key West)
The government needs to take more protective measures to prevent spills like this from happening. (Capt. Tad Burke, Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association)
Read the complete stories from the people behind these lessons-learned, and how they arrived at them from their involvement in the Florida Keys’ response to the Gulf spill in our report here.
And stay tuned for a series of posts from me highlighting the individual stories. Their advice and their experience in the Keys have great implication for seaside communities and environmental disaster response the world over.
This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.
The Huffington Post Hits Record 23 Million Unique Visitors in November Now Ranked Number Two Newspaper comScore
The Huffington Post has registered 26 million unique monthly visitors in the United States, a record for the site, according the comScore November data for the “Newspaper Sites.” (See below.)
The comScore numbers find the Huffington Post holding in the the number two “newspaper” position, after the New York Times. It has passed the Tribune newspaper group, which is now ranked third.
In the period of May through November, the Wall Street Journal registered the biggest jump in traffic, up 23 percent, although slightly down in November. In that same period, The New York Times rose six percent, also slightly lower in November.
Earlier this year, Beet.TV interviewed co-founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington about the growth of the site, its editorial direction. We have republished that interview today.
You can also find this post up at Beet.TV
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First off an apology, I forgot my recorder and so was not able to record the interview. So we’re going by my memory and a couple of notes I made. Consider all “quotes” to be paraphrases.
We started off with Senator Johnston asking me about my idea to address TABOR, etc. He was interested because most every Republican I have mentioned it to finds it an interesting alternative and so it might get wide support. The idea is to eliminate all budget restrictions in the constitution and replace it with a limit that total state revenues from all sources cannot exceed X% of the state GDP averaged over the previous 3 years.
Michael’s first response was why not a percentage of total state income (fine with me). But he then discussed that an approach like this would let the legislature then adjust different revenue sources without having to take each change to the voters. He was a bit plaintive about the fact that in no other state do they need to go to the voters at all, but did accept that in Colorado the voters insist on being asked.
My first question was on SB-191. I said that passing the legislation was the easy part, implementing it effectively is the hard part. Michael said he’s recently learned that and plans to stay heavily involved in the process as it moves through the Governor’s Council, then to the Board of Education, and then back to the legislature.
He said the Council is doing a great job with everyone, including the CEA members, are working diligently to build a really good system. So he is continuing to pay attention to this and realizes he’s just started down this path.
I next asked what he’s going to focus on this year. Three main areas. The first is to give instate tuition for undocumented children who live in Colorado. He was very passionate in his discussion about how it is the right thing to do and is of benefit to the state of Colorado. (He’s right on both counts.)
Second was energy where he is introducing three pieces of legislation. First is a bill to make it easy for homeowners to get a loan to improve the energy efficiency of their house and then split the savings in the monthly utility bill with half going to pay off the loan and half they keep (nice incentive). He agreed virtually all homeowners can do this today going to their banks, but this will make it a single step and that ease means more will do it.
Second (on Energy) is to have all buildings, residential and commercial, when sold or rented get an energy use rating so that the purchaser or tenant knows what their probable utility bill will be. He says he particularly likes the system Washington state has in place. The idea is that facilities that have high energy usage will have a stronger incentive to improve as the bad rating will make it harder to sell or rent the building.
Third (on energy) is to improve the transmission lines in the state. Senator Johnston says between wind and solar potential in this state, we have enough to power all of California. But that power needs a way to get to California. He wants to modernize the grid (it presently is antiquated) and set up a system to carry all the excess power we can generate to California.
I asked about getting it through the states between here and California and he discussed how the states are going to work together to create a transmission super line, but he then said that he had not discussed this with any other states. (So good idea, but I think there’s quite a bit of homework remaining for this one.)
I next asked Michael what he’ll do after his terms are up. He said he hadn’t given it any thought and that 7 years will be the longest he’s ever held a single job. (The way he put this and acted, I think he was being truthful.) He then offered that if he went back to being a principal after this, he would be very happy. I observed that those are two different roles, the principal is an executive while the Senate is legislative. He agreed but said they each had their advantages.
We then switched to asking what Republicans he looked to to find common ground. He first listed Josh Penry and said he will miss him as Josh was really good to work with. He next listed Senator Brophy and said while they tended to widely disagree, Greg was always thoughtful, willing to listen, and would look for compromise. And finally he listed Nancy Spense as a moderate he could find common ground with in many cases.
And then the flip side, what Democrats are so locked in to their views that there’s no point in working with them. I got a look of “is any politician dumb enough to answer a question like that” and said none of them. He said that all of them were open-minded and that they are a good group. (Hey, it was worth a shot.)
I next asked about the Fed’s actions addressing the depression. He talked about how ARRA stopped states and local governments from being devastated and that many would have been forced into bankruptcy. He then discussed the upcoming compromise bill saying that while he wasn’t thrilled with it, he supported it, then launching into a discussion about how many people in his district are dependent on the unemployment insurance extensions in the bill.
Senator Johnston brought up the very valid point that most on the right wing are screaming that the compromise bill is unacceptable, and to him that’s a sign that it is a fair compromise – that both wings are against it. (That is a very good way to measure it.) He then added that once it is passed, the Democrats have to work hard to bring back the progressive wing.
I then brought up the question of does the state have a strategic plan. Michael said that yes, but that the governor has a plan, the Republicans in the Senate have a plan, the Democrats in the Senate have a plan,… He then discussed how Governor Ritter had a very clear strategic view on education and green energy – and did a superb job implementing that plan (very true). He sees the present strategic plan being to increase jobs in the state and continue to protect and support the people in the state.
Next up was the question of measuring the impact of state actions, improvements, tax exemptions, etc. Michael immediately jumped on the fact that none of the predicted negative impacts from eliminating some tax exemptions occurred and in fact companies like Pepsi that predicted layoffs actually increased hiring. (My guess is this is indicative of many in the legislature and so they will be very willing to eliminate additional exemptions – and ignore any predictions of negative consequences.)
He also said there is nothing in place to measure the impact of anything the state does. He agrees it is something the state should do. (Legislators have limited time and bandwidth – I think Senator Johnston will support anything along these lines, but he’s not going to drive it.)
I then asked if state departments should be antagonistic toward business. His reply was “I hope not.” When I took him through my experience with the Department of Revenue where they could not answer 2/3 of our questions and they told us to ask a tax expert (and left unsaid that they would then come after us if they disagreed) – he was very surprised. He started asking me questions about how the state could best give businesses clear answers so they could know they were correctly following the law. I suggested that they should provide answers, and live with that answer for a year – this was one of the two times he took notes, so maybe we’ll see improvement here.
I next asked him what program he would end. Michael’s first comment was that when the budget situation is this grim, everyone looks to what they will try to keep and silence is viewed as consent to cut. So legislators are focused on what to save. But he then after some thought said that he would support drastically reducing DARE (which I think is the polite way of saying end). He said that reviews of the program showed that it didn’t have much impact (I have read that too).
Then the flip side, I asked what program he would like to create. He immediately said the career ladders proposal in SB-191. This is a program for the top teachers to document their best practices and then teachers who are new or struggling can look up what has worked well teaching the same subject, and makes use of the practices that best fit their situation. This is a part of the bill that was going to be funded by Race to the Top, but the Governor’s Council can propose the state funding it and the legislature can hopefully scrape up the funds (that they saved from DARE).
Next up was TABOR. Michael’s first discussed the fiscal commission that is looking at this whole mess and he is interested in what they will come up with. He then thinks we will either need to do a one-time revocation of the one-issue rule (as an amendment) followed by an amendment that undoes TABOR and the other constraints (his first choice). Or they will need to put a tax increase on the ballot (his second choice).
I asked him if he was open to a constitutional convention and he said yes. However, he was not aware that this route requires three elections and that put a bit of a damper on his support for the idea.
I then asked about his level of constituent service (I heard a complaint). He apologized for doing poorly on it and said his goal now is to answer everything within 1 week. And he asked me to put out a plea – if you have sent him an email and not received a response, please resend your email. He did try to track down the complaint I heard but was unable to find it. (This is definitely not his strong suit but he is trying to do better.)
I closed out by asking if he had any advice for his fellow Democrats. Michael’s reply was that no, he’s still learning. (Clearly he does not view himself as an expert or major player.) He then went on to say they will have to work differently this year unlike last year when a D on the bill pretty much guaranteed passage (that’s sad). And they will need to focus on growing jobs and providing core services.
Senator Johnston is personable, smart, & energetic, but so are many others in the legislature. What I think makes him stand out is he’s focused on accomplishing his goals and fine that the job is short term. And he’s clearly willing to put it all on the line to accomplish his goals. Michael is not in the legislature on the way to somewhere else, or to accomplish various items in the future – he’s there to get some things done today and tomorrow.
I think this makes him a very effective legislator. And my bet is in 9 years he’ll be a principal again putting the same focus and energy into his school.
Americans can tell when we are being lied to. We’re being lied to when Harry Reid tells us that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia is a bit of unfinished business that the Senate must ratify because it’s “urgent.” Urgent? If that had been the case, why didn’t Mr. Reid bring the measure up last summer? Or last fall?
Last summer, too many Americans might have had fresh memories of the “Hamburger Summit” that President Obama held with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Putin’s puppet met with our Commander-in-Chief at a hamburger joint in Northern Virginia just a week after ten Russian spies had been arrested and booted out of the country. They didn’t even get their Miranda warning from Attorney General Eric Holder. Nor did we get a chance to interrogate them thoroughly.
I hope President Obama kept a better eye on his onion rings at that hurry-up summit than he did on our nation’s secrets. I suspect that the president also picked up the tab: So Medvedev can now say that he literally ate the president’s lunch.
How different this lax attitude toward national security is from the old days of the Cold War. In May, 1960, President Eisenhower refused to apologize for having sent Francis Gary Powers flying over the USSR in a U-2 spy plane. Powers, working then for the CIA, was shot down. Soon, his cover story unraveled and the U.S. was embarrassed internationally by Khrushchev, the Communist Party boss. Khrushchev demanded an apology from Ike before he would attend the scheduled Paris Summit Meeting. Ike steadfastly refused. The United States was forced to take such measures, he said, because of the closed nature of Soviet society.
Russian society has not greatly improved since 1960. Their post-Soviet era constitution gives all power to the president of the Russian Republic. Vladimir Putin used that power ruthlessly when he was president. He uses it still, now that his cat’s paw–Medvedev–sits in the president’s chair. Putin is an ex-KGB agent. He had a statue of the dreaded Felix Dzershinsky–founder of the Soviet secret police (Cheka)–replaced at the ministry of internal security in Moscow. It was the tearing down of Iron Felix’s statue that had signaled Russia’s brief dawn of liberty back in 1991. The replacement of the statue tells you all you need to know.
Two of those in the Senate who are trying to rush through the START treaty before Christmas have their own stories to tell. Here’s what Claire Berlinksi writes in City Journal:
The heroic Bukovsky was one of those dissidents, subjected to imprisonment in psychiatric hospitals of the USSR.
Have things changed in 31 years? Do Biden and Lugar care today what happens to Russian journalists? Forty-one of them have been murdered since Putin came to power.
Anyone who delves too deeply is in danger.
Has anyone connected the dots on current Russian policy? Putin is Iran’s number one trading partner for nuclear materials. Iran — whom we have identified as the leading terrorist regime on earth. Iran — whose drive for a nuclear weapon is universally said to be the most dangerous foreign policy crisis in the world. Russia is helping the mullahs.
How about Putin in Venezuela? Putin is trading arms to Socialist dictator Hugo Chavez, who may well trade them off to Mexican narco gangters — just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
What, exactly, in Russian diplomacy merits “urgent” attention to the treaty that Russia so obviously wants? What have the Russians done to deserve favored nation treatment by the U.S. administration?
Opposition to this treaty has focused, quite rightly, on how it might constrain U.S. missile defense. Barack Obama has wanted to limit U.S. missile defense since he was an undergraduate at Columbia. His thesis — said to be on Soviet nuclear disarmament — has not been made public. Wouldn’t that thesis be most relevant now?
Stanley Kurtz, in his important book, Radical-in-Chief, places Barack Obama irrefutably at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York’s Cooper Union in April, 1983. That was the largest meeting of Marxists in America that year.
The Socialist Scholars Conference was held just one month after President Reagan labeled the USSR an “Evil Empire.” And just weeks after he announced his own plans for a missile shield.
President Obama has never disavowed his socialist convictions. Even the Washington Post refers to him as a socialist. Isn’t it time we had a full airing of all of this before we ratify a treaty with the rulers of the Kremlin?
Buying insurance is all about personal financial “risk management.” There are also ways you can reduce your daily risks that you may not have even considered. We asked Fred Kilbourne, actuary with The Kilbourne Company in San Diego, to help us assess the risks we encounter every day. Here are the surprising results.
What’s more dangerous: Your spouse or a serial killer?
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John Lennon QUOTES: Inspirational Thoughts And Lyrics About Peace, Love And Life
Roughly 15,000 people are murdered in the United States annually. Of these, about 100 are believed to be the victims of serial killers, although some experts believe this category is underestimated and may be as large as 1,000. Compare this, however, with the number of victims killed by their spouse or intimate partner: 80 percent of the total murder victims are male, and about 10 percent of these were dispatched by their wives. Females comprise only 20 percent of the victims – but about half of them are done in by their husbands. Arithmetic leads to an annual estimate of 2,700 people killed by their spouses, which is nearly triple the high-end estimate for serial killers.
There's no conclusive evidence that you're at greater than average risk if your spouse happens to be a serial killer. One of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history, Dennis Rader (the “BTK killer,” above) who killed 10 women over a 20-year period, was a church and Cub Scout leader and father of two, and was married to the same woman for 33 years. She did, however, receive an expedited divorce upon his 2005 conviction for his crimes.
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The original article can be found at Insure.com:
What’s more dangerous? A surprising look at everyday risks
The president kicked up his “corporate charm offensive” meeting for hours with 20 CEOs yesterday. Characteristically, he started with an apology for not “finding the right balance” in addressing business. “We want to be boosters,” he said, because “when you do well, America does well.” The president and the business leaders talked about free trade, fiscal discipline, and relief from regulation. The White House let it be known the president was considering a speaking gig at the board meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, the right-wing corporate lobby that had accused him of waging a “general attack on our free enterprise system.”
Can’t fault the president for showing a little love to America’s corporate leaders, but there is one small problem here: The entire premise of the meeting is wrong. The reality is that the corporations are doing extraordinarily well — and America is in trouble. US corporations recorded the highest profits on record last quarter, while more than 20 million people were in need of full-time work, and poverty is at record heights. What is good for General Motors or General Electric or IBM is no longer necessarily good for America.
In fact, these executives and their companies are more part of the problem than part of the solution for this country. They’ve been making out like bandits, but Americans are less and less the beneficiaries of their success. As President Obama has stated, if we are to revive an America with a vibrant middle class and a widely shared prosperity, we need fundamental reforms to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity — an agenda the country needs and the CEOs he met with largely oppose. Consider:
Unsustainable Trade Deficits and Massive Job Loss to Offshoring.
America was running a trade deficit of more than $2 billion a day when the economy collapsed, borrowing that sum from abroad, largely from Chinese and Japanese bankers. We’ve been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs for years. Now the big companies are offshoring information technology and back office jobs in large numbers. We’re running a growing deficit in high technology goods with China. The CEOs the president met with — from General Electric, IBM, Cisco, Intel , Boeing — have been at the front of this trend. As Andy Grove, the former head of Intel, warned, there are now fewer manufacturing jobs in the US computer business than there were when the first PC was assembled in 1975.
The president rightly made balancing our trade central to his economic agenda. That requires pressure on China, Germany, Japan and the surplus nations — not more trade accords that allow them to play by a different set of rules. And it requires making things in America once more, with companies committed to exporting goods, not jobs.
Yet, the CEOs the president met with have fought hard against reforms that would end tax breaks companies collect for moving jobs abroad. They champion trade accords that have helped disembowel manufacturing in this country. They support lobbies like the Chamber and Business Roundtable that oppose bold industrial initiatives that might help American manufacturing revive. Their increasing ability to run up profits while moving jobs abroad and using the threat of doing so to lower wages at home undermines America’s prospects.
Gilded Age Inequality and a Declining Middle Class
In the five years before the financial collapse, when the economy was growing, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans captured a staggering 2/3 of all income growth. Household income for the typical family actually lost ground over the course of the decade. Corporate and Wall Street executive compensation practices allowed the top executives to capture excessive rewards, while workers were facing lay-offs, wage and benefit cutbacks, and greater insecurity.
The CEOs the president met with are perfect examples. Kenneth Chennault, the CEO and Chairman of American Express, pocketed $17.3 million during 2009 when the economy tanked, about 542 times what the average worker makes. Jeffrey Immelt, Chair and CEO of General Electric, took home about $9.8 million, 308 times a worker’s pay. Paul S. Otellini, the CEO of Intel, was paid about $14.5 million, making more in a day than the average worker in a year.
A prosperous middle class economy cannot survive if the wealthiest are capturing this proportion of the rewards. In the US, we’ve never done much redistribution through taxes. The only successful strategy — the core of the post-World War II economy that built America’s middle class — has been a strong labor movement in a full-employment or near-full-employment economy. When labor was 35 percent of the private workforce, it not only lifted the wages of its members, but its wage and benefit packages set a standard that non-union employers had to respond to. And a strong labor movement provided an internal check on executive excess. A full employment economy lifts the demand for labor, making it easier for workers to make wage demands, as demonstrated most recently in the dot.com economy of Clinton’s last years. Reforms are also needed to limit current executive compensation schemes, which hide the full cost of pay packages through stock options, give perverse short-term incentives that have little to do with relative performance, and rely on board compensation committees that are controlled by executives.
Needless to say, the CEOs that the president met with are unlikely trumpets for these reforms. Business lobbies warned that labor law reform would bring down Armageddon on the administration. Curbing excessive executive pay meets fierce resistance. But it is hard to imagine how we rebuild a broad middle class unless workers can once again capture a fair share of the productivity increases that they help to generate and executives are limited in how much they can plunder the companies that they head.
Financial Speculation and Soaring Insecurity
40 percent of American households have experienced unemployment, foreclosure, underwater homes or mortgage arrears in the financial collapse. Americans lost some $11 trillion in savings and home values, dashing retirement plans. At the height of the Bush economy, Wall Street was capturing fully 40 percent of corporate profits, as the housing bubble built on a tsunami of financial speculation. UBS and General Electric, whose CEOs met with the president, were among the financial institutions bailed out by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury.
This bubble-bust Wall Street economy was a product of deregulation, the growth of a shadow banking system, and the spread of leveraged speculation with other people’s money. President Obama was right when he said Wall Street needs to be smaller and engaged more in real investment than in speculation. But the president’s cautious reforms engendered a multimillion-dollar lobby reaction from Wall Street. The banks were rescued but not reformed, the casino has reopened, and Wall Street’s back to paying record levels of million dollar bonuses. The pervasive fraud and abuse revealed in the housing bubble has resulting in shockingly few prosecutions.
The economy can’t work well without major reforms that curb financial speculation and make banking boring again. That requires tighter control on leverage and activities, curbs on banker’s compensation schemes, and, as even the IMF now supports, taxes on banks — including a financial transaction tax that would dampen computer-driven speculation. Needless to say, America’s financial barons and their lobbies will oppose these reforms fiercely.
Top End Tax Cuts and a Collapsing Infrastructure
America is literally falling apart. Collapsing bridges, exploding water mains, crumbling levees are a deadly clear and present danger. Children go to schools that are dangerous to their health. Our declining infrastructure is also costly economically, with outmoded transport, crowded highways, slow and inadequate broadband impeding our ability to compete. As President Obama has suggested, we need to make significant investments in building a 21st-century infrastructure, in education and training, in research and development as a foundation for a revived American economy.
In theory, the business lobby supports these investments. But they also lobby hard for top end and corporate tax cuts, and for spending cuts that makes it impossible to finance them. A fruitful conversation with the CEOs might have focused on whether they would commit real resources in a drive to increase investment in areas vital to our future. Instead, reports are that the president promised to move directly from the egregious top-end tax cuts in December to cutting spending and reducing deficits in January. If the wealthiest Americans, like those around the table with the president, are going to continue to pay a lower effective tax rate than their secretaries — as Warren Buffett has noted — then America will continue to starve investments in the areas vital to our future.
Regressive Tax Reforms and Record Poverty
More than 43 million Americans are in poverty, the highest number since they began keeping records. More than 42 million are on food stamps. Millions of homeowners are still facing foreclosure and loss of their homes. Mass unemployment continues, with more than 20 million Americans in need of full-time work. An entire generation of urban kids is essentially being written off, sentenced to crowded schools, broken families, dangerous streets, and joblessness. This is the tinder for social explosion.
Yet, programs for the poor will be on the chopping block from conservatives when the new Congress convenes. The politicians that the CEOs supported will be adding to, not subtracting from, the burdens of the “least of these.” For there to be a serious effort to address poverty, to promise a fair start for every child, to provide the core elements of a real hand up that offers them the opportunity for a good education, a decent job, an affordable home and hope, we’ll need costly new priorities that will have to be pursued largely without significant corporate support.
Corporate Power and Corrupted Democracy
Corporate lobbies and corporate money are corrupting our politics. Over the last two years, we’ve witnessed graphic scenes in how powerful and entrenched corporate lobbies could fend off common sense reforms in health care, energy, finance and trade. The decision of the conservative Supreme Court gang of five in Citizen’s United, overturning settled precedent to declare that corporations had the same free speech rights as people and could spend unlimited amounts in independent expenditure campaigns to influence elections, contributed to the flood of corporate money that helped to bring Republicans the majority in the House.
Washington can’t work as an instrument of common purpose so long as corporate lobbies dominate the backrooms and corporate money dominates elections. Hundreds of billions of subsidies are now wasted on entrenched corporate complexes — the military industrial complex, the drug and health care complex, the agribusiness and Big Oil complexes. Needless to say, the Obama CEOs aren’t about to cut back their lobbying unilaterally and oppose bitterly any restrictions on their political activity. Yet, no reform agenda can survive unless the corporate hold on Washington is challenged.
This list can go on. Talking with CEOs makes much sense. Finding areas of agreement — perhaps around infrastructure investment, education, R&D — is useful. (It remains bizarre that corporate America so vociferously opposes single-payer health care that would remove from their balance sheets a major expense that harms their ability to compete). Making an alliance with the small businesses and national companies that actually want to prosper in America might be possible.
But the president should not use his “bully pulpit” to teach the wrong lesson. America can’t succeed without prosperous companies, but global corporations now are prospering while America fails. They stand in the way of reforms vital to our economy and society. If Obama is at peace with America’s corporate barons, he isn’t doing his job. Embracing their agenda isn’t “moving to the center,” it is abandoning the fundamental reforms this country desperately needs.
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'Underwear bomber' Abdulmutallab faces new charges
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was indicted by a federal grand jury on two new charges of conspiracy and possessing an explosive device for a terrorism plot.
The 24-year-old, who fired his court-appointed lawyers in September, failed to enter a plea on the new counts.
He now faces a total of eight charges and, if convicted, life in prison.
Judge Nancy Edmunds entered a not guilty plea on Mr Abdulmutallab's behalf, according to prosecutors.
Mr Abdulmutallab was previously charged with the attempted murder of 290 jet passengers on 25 December 2009 and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, among other counts.
On a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam, passengers overpowered the Nigerian native after he had allegedly attempted to set off explosives concealed in his underwear.
Judge Edmunds said she would set a date for the trial at a hearing on 12 January.
The international climate negotiations in Cancn, Mexico, have concluded, and despite the gloom-and-doom predictions that dominated the weeks and months leading up to Cancn, the Sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) must be judged a success. It represents a set of modest steps forward. Nothing more should be expected from this process.
As I said in my November 19th essay — “Defining Success for Climate Negotiations in Cancn” — the key challenge was to continue the process of constructing a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action (not necessarily some notion of immediate, highly-visible triumph). This was accomplished in Cancn.
The Cancn Agreements — as the two key documents (“Outcome of the AWG-LCA” and “Outcome of the AWG-KP”) are called — do just what was needed, namely build on the structure of the Copenhagen Accord with a balanced package that takes meaningful steps toward implementing the key elements of the Accord. The delegates in Cancn succeeded in writing and adopting an agreement that assembles pledges of greenhouse gas (GHG) cuts by all of the world’s major economies, launches a fund to help the most vulnerable countries, and avoids some political landmines that could have blown up the talks, namely decisions on the (highly uncertain) future of the Kyoto Protocol.
I begin by assessing the key elements of the Cancn Agreements. Then I examine whether the incremental steps forward represented by the Agreements should really be characterized as a success. And finally I ask why the negotiations in Cancn led to the outcome they did.
Assessing the Key Elements of the Cancn Agreements
First, the Cancn Agreements provide emission mitigation targets and actions (submitted under the Copenhagen Accord) for approximately 80 countries — including, importantly, all of the major economies. In this way, the Agreements codify pledges by the world’s largest emitters — including China, the United States, the European Union, India, and Brazil — to various targets and actions to reduce emissions by 2020. The distinction between Annex I and non-Annex I countries is blurred even more in the Cancn Agreements than it was in the Copenhagen Accord — another step in the right direction!
Also, for the first time, countries agreed — under an official UN agreement — to keep temperature increases below a global average of 2 degrees Celsius. It brings these aspirations, as well as the emission pledges of individual countries, into the formal UN process for the first time, essentially by adopting the Copenhagen Accord one year after it was “noted” at COP-15. (There’s also an abundance of politically-correct and in some cases downright silly window dressing in the Cancn Agreements, including repetitive references to various interpretations of the UNFCCC’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” as well as some discussion of examining a 1.5 C target.)
However, despite even the 2 degree (450 ppm concentration) aspirational target, the Agreements are no more stringent that the collection of submissions made under last year’s Copenhagen Accord. But, as Michael Levi (Council on Foreign Relations) has pointed out, the Cancn Agreement “should be applauded not because it solves everything, but because it chooses not to.” As my colleagues and I have repeatedly emphasized in our work within the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, many of the most important initiatives for addressing climate change will occur outside of the United Nations process (despite the centrality of that process).
Second, the Agreements elaborate on the mechanisms for monitoring and verification that were laid out in last year’s Accord. Importantly, these now include “international consultation and analysis” of developing country mitigation actions. Countries will report their GHG inventories to an independent panel of experts, which will monitor and verify reports of emissions cuts and actions.
Third, the Agreements establish a so-called Green Climate Fund to deliver financing for mitigation and adaptation. Importantly, the Agreements name the World Bank as the interim trustee of the Fund, despite objections from many developing countries, and create an oversight board, half of which consists of donor nation representatives. In addition, the Agreements establish a goal by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, a funding target which would include public and private resources (that is, carbon markets and private finance), bilateral and multilateral flows, as well as the Green Climate Fund.
Whether the resources ever grow to the size laid out in Copenhagen and Cancn will depend upon the individual actions of the wealthy nations of the world. However, it’s interesting that the section in the Cancn Agreements on adaptation comes before the section on mitigation. Things have come a long way since the days when economists were alone in calling for attention to adaptation (along with mitigation). I recall when economists were therefore accused of throwing in the towel, and not caring about the environment!
Fourth, the Agreements advance initiatives on tropical forest protection (or, in UN parlance, Reduced Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+), by taking the next steps toward establishing a program in which the wealthy countries can help prevent deforestation in poor countries, possibly working through market mechanisms (despite exhortations from Bolivia and other leftist and left-leaning countries to keep the reach of “global capitalism” out of the policy mix).
Fifth, the Cancn Agreements establish a structure to assess the needs and policies for the transfer to developing countries of technologies for clean energy and adaptation to climate change, and a – as yet undefined – Climate Technology Center and Network to construct a global network to match technology suppliers with technology needs.
In addition, the Agreements endorse an ongoing role for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and other “market-based mechanisms;” indicate that carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects should be eligible for carbon credits in the CDM; and offer some special recognition of the situations of the Central and Eastern European countries (previously known in UN parlance as “parties undergoing transition to a market economy”) and Turkey, all of which are Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol, but decidedly poorer than the other members of that group of industrialized nations.
That’s the 32-page Cancn Agreements in a nutshell. As a member of one of the leading national delegations said to me in Cancn a few hours after the talks had concluded, “It’s incremental progress, but progress nonetheless.”
Are Such Incremental Steps Really a Success?
Recall from my November 19th essay that the best goal for the Cancn climate talks was to make real progress on a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action. I said that because of some fundamental scientific and economic realities, which I will not repeat here. In that previous essay, I also described “What Would Constitute Real Progress in Cancn” A quick comparison of my criteria from November 19th and the Cancn Agreements of December 11th tells me that the outcome of Cancn should be judged a success.
My first criterion of success was that the UNFCCC should embrace the parallel processes that are carrying out multilateral discussions on climate change policy: the Major Economies Forum or MEF (a multilateral venue for discussions – but not negotiations – among the most important emitting countries); the G20 (periodic meetings of the finance ministers – and sometimes heads of government – of the twenty largest economies in the world); and various other multilateral and bilateral organizations and discussions. Although the previous leadership of the UNFCCC seemed to view the MEF, the G20, and most other non-UNFCCC forums as competition – indeed, as a threat, the UNFCCC’s new leadership under Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres displays a positive and pragmatic attitude toward these parallel processes.
My second criterion was that the three major negotiating tracks be consolidated. These tracks were: first, the UNFCCC’s KP track (negotiating national targets for a possible second commitment period – post-2012 – for the Kyoto Protocol); second, the LCA track (the UNFCCC’s negotiation track for Long-term Cooperative Action, that is, a future international agreement of undefined nature); and third, the Copenhagen Accord, negotiated and noted at COP-15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, 2009.
Permit me, please, to quote from my November 19th essay:
Consolidating these three tracks into two tracks (or better yet, one track) would be another significant step forward. One way this could happen would be for the LCA negotiations to take as their point of departure the existing Copenhagen Accord, which itself marked an important step forward by blurring for the first time (although not eliminating) the unproductive and utterly obsolete distinction in the Kyoto Protocol between Annex I and non-Annex I countries. (Note that more than 50 non-Annex I countries now have greater per capita income than the poorest of the Annex I countries.)
This is precisely what has happened. The Cancn Agreements — the product of the LCA-track negotiations – build directly, explicitly, and comprehensively on the Copenhagen Accord. The two tracks have become one.
Alas, the KP track remains, and a decision on a potential second commitment period (post-2012) for the Kyoto Protocol has been punted to COP-17 in Durban, South Africa, in December, 2011. It is difficult to picture a meaningful – or any – second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, with the United States out of that picture, and with Japan and Russia having stated unequivocally that they will not take up another set of targets, and with Australia and Canada also unlikely to participate. But note that this issue will have to be confronted in Durban a year from now. With the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ending in 2012, COP-17 will provide the last opportunity for punting that contentious issue.
If you agree with my view – which I have written about in many previous blog posts – that the Kyoto Protocol is fundamentally flawed and that the Protocol’s dichotomous distinction between Annex I and non-Annex I countries is the heavy anchor that slows meaningful progress on international climate policy, then you will not consider it bad news that a second commitment period for the Protocol is looking less and less likely. On the other hand, you will, in that case, share my disappointment that the issue has been punted (recognizing, however, that had it not been punted, the Cancn meetings could have collapsed amidst acrimony and recriminations).
I also wrote in my November 19th post:
The UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” could be made meaningful through the dual principles that: all countries recognize their historic emissions (read, the industrialized world); and all countries are responsible for their future emissions (think of those rapidly-growing emerging economies).
The Cancn Agreements do this by recognizing directly and explicitly these dual principles. This can represent the next step in a movement beyond what has become the “QWERTY keyboard” (that is, unproductive path dependence) of international climate policy: the distinction in the Kyoto Protocol between the small set of Annex I countries with quantitative targets, and the majority of countries in the world with no responsibilities.
A variety of policy architectures can build on these dual principles and make them operational, bridging the political divide which exists between the industrialized and the developing world. (At the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, we have developed a variety of architectural proposals that could make these dual principles operational. See, for example: “Global Climate Policy Architecture and Political Feasibility: Specific Formulas and Emission Targets to Attain 460 PPM CO2 Concentrations” by Valentina Bosetti and Jeffrey Frankel; and “Three Key Elements of Post-2012 International Climate Policy Architecture” by Sheila M. Olmstead and Robert N. Stavins.)
My third criterion for success was movement forward with specific, narrow agreements, such as on: REDD+ (Reduced Deforestation and Forest Degradation, plus enhancement of forest carbon stocks); finance; and technology. Such movement forward has, in fact, occurred in all three domains in the Cancn Agreements, as I described above.
My fourth criterion for success was keyed to whether the parties to the Cancn meetings could maintain sensible expectations and thereby develop effective plans. This they have done. The key question was not what Cancn accomplishes in the short-term, but whether it helps put the world in a better position five, ten, and twenty years from now in regard to an effective long-term path of action to address the threat of global climate change.
Despite the fact that some advocacy groups – and for that matter, some nations – are no doubt disappointed with the outcome of Cancn, I think it is fair to say that this final criterion for success was satisfied: the Cancn Agreements can help put the world on a path toward an effective long-term plan of meaningful action.
Why Did Cancn Succeed?
If you agree with my assessment of success in Cancn, then a reasonable question to ask is why did the Cancn talks produce this successful outcome, particularly in contrast with what many people consider a less successful outcome of the Copenhagen talks last year. To address this question, let me expand on some points made in an insightful essay by Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
First, the Mexican government through careful and methodical planning over the past year prepared itself well, and displayed tremendous skill in presiding over the talks. Reflect, if you will, on the brilliant way in which Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patricia Espinosa, who served as President of COP-16, took note of the objections of Bolivia (and, at times, several other leftist and left-leaning Latin American countries, known collectively as the ALBA states), and then simply ruled that the support of 193 other countries meant that “consensus” had been achieved and the Cancn Agreements had been adopted by the Conference. At a critical moment, Ms. Espinosa noted that “consensus does not mean unanimity,” and that was that!
Compare this with the unfortunate chairing of COP-15 in Copenhagen by Danish Prime Minister Lars Lkke Rasmussen, who allowed the objections by a similar same small set of five relatively unimportant countries (Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Venezuela) to derail those talks, which hence “noted,” but did not adopt the Copenhagen Accord in December, 2009.
The Mexicans were also adept at facilitating small groups of countries to meet to advance productive negotiations, but made sure that any countries could join those meetings if they wanted. Hence, negotiations moved forward, but without the sense of exclusivity that alienated so many small (and some large) countries in Copenhagen.
The key role played by the Mexican leadership is consistent with the notion of Mexico as one of a small number of “bridging states,” which can play particularly important roles in this process because of their credibility in the two worlds that engage in divisive debates in the United Nations: the developed world and the developing world. We have examined this in our recent Harvard Project on Climate Agreements Issue Brief, Institutions for International Climate Governance. Mexico, along with Korea, are members of the OECD, but are also non-Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol. This gives Mexico — and gave Minister Espinosa — a degree of credibility across the diverse constituencies in the UNFCCC that was simply not enjoyed by Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen at COP-15 last year.
Second, China and the United States set the tone for many other countries by dealing with each other with civility, if not always with understanding. This contrasts with the tone that dominated in and after Copenhagen, when finger-pointing at Copenhagen between these two giants of the international stage led to a blame-game in the months after the Copenhagen talks.
As Elliot Diringer wrote, they may have recognized that “the best way to avoid blame was to avoid failure.” Beyond this, although the credit must go to both countries, the change from last year in the conduct of the Chinese delegation was striking. It appeared, as Coral Davenport wrote in The National Journal, that the Chinese were on a “charm offensive.” Working in Cancn on behalf of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, I can personally vouch for the tremendous increase from previous years in the openness of members of the official Chinese delegation, as well as the many Chinese members of civil society who attended the Cancn meetings.
Third, a worry hovered over the Cancn meetings that an outcome perceived to be failure would lead to the demise of the UN process itself. Since many nations (in particular, developing countries, which made up the vast majority of the 194 countries present in Cancn) very much want the United Nations and the UNFCCC to remain the core of international negotiations on climate change, that implicit threat provided a strong incentive for many countries to make sure that the Cancn talks did not “fail.”
Fourth, under the pragmatic leadership of UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, realism may have finally eclipsed idealism in these international negotiations. Many observers have noted that many delegations – and probably most civil society NGO participants – at the previous COPs have misled themselves into thinking that ambitious cuts in greenhouse gases (GHGs) were forthcoming that could guarantee achievement of the 450 ppm/2 degrees C cap.
The acceptance of the Cancn Agreements suggests that the international diplomatic community may now recognize that incremental steps in the right direction are better than acrimonious debates over unachievable targets. This harkens back to what I characterized prior to COP-16 as the key challenge facing the negotiators: to continue the process of constructing a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action. In my view, this was accomplished in Cancn.
By Deepak Chopra Deepak Chopra and Annie Bond Annie Bond
What Does Responsibility Mean?
Responsibility means not blaming anyone or anything for your situation, including yourself. Having accepted this circumstance, this event, this problem, responsibility then means the ability to have a creative response to the situation as it is now. All problems contain the seeds of opportunity, and this awareness allows you to take the moment and transform it to a better situation or thing.
Once you do this, every so-called upsetting situation will become an opportunity for the creation of something new and beautiful, and every so-called tormentor or tyrant will become your teacher. Reality is an interpretation.
Adapted from The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, by Deepak Chopra (Amber-Allen Publishing and New World Library, 2004).
Turn Off Your Phantom Loads
Energy conservation can be a way to transform your part in global warming. Understand phantom loads: If you have electronic applications with a clock that never fully turns off, such as a computer, coffeemaker, VCR, range, and microwave oven, you’re consuming energy even if the equipment is not in use. Other devices that never fully turn off include powered by a remove control, such as a TV or sound system, and equipment that uses a “power cube” in an electrical socket, such as a recharging base for an electric toothbrush, cordless screwdriver, and cell phone. These “power cubes” are 60 to 80 percent inefficient in their use of electricity.
Adapted from, Home Enlightenment by Annie B. Bond (Rodale, 2005).
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Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet
by Deepak Chopra
The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment
by Deepak Chopra
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In the current coverage and conversations about education reform, one stepchild remains in the room — continuation education.
Even when given appropriate funding, great teachers and high standards, not every child flourishes in a traditional classroom or school. Some are at-risk due to poverty, poor health, abuse, pregnancy or some other issue. Others are simply bored and do not understand education is relevant. This is when continuation education is most vital.
Continuation education is a high school diploma program designed to meet the needs of students at least 16 years of age who have not graduated, are not exempt from compulsory attendance, and are deemed at risk of not completing their degree. Students in continuation education often lack credits or need a flexible schedule because of employment or family obligations. Offering an alternative path for earning a diploma can mean the difference between graduating and dropping out.
The importance of a diploma can be measured with wage analysis — other measurements may be more difficult to quantify but also take a significant toll on our youth and finances. According to 2005 Census Bureau data the median family income of adults who dropped out of high school was $15,700 less than adults with a high school degree, and more than $35,000 less than those with a two-year degree. Over a 45-year career the earnings difference between a dropout and a high school graduate can amount to more than $700,000. A Brookings report noted, “Considered from a broader social perspective, this income-education pattern shows that dropouts contribute substantially to the problem of income inequality.”
We can address this inequality if we provide paths that allow students to thrive. More than 4,800 continuation schools are scattered across the country. It’s time to talk about the classroom of the future — many of which are found in these schools and provide an alternative path to adulthood. Options and opportunities already exist.
Educational expert Thomas Frey envisions an educational future where economically accessible coursework is available to anyone at anytime, and that education will progress from being teacher-centric to learning-centric, as well as more individualized courses and a move from classroom based learning to anyplace, anytime learning. We already see this shift in continuation education in the advancement of evening schools, online coursework and work-study.
The critical role of continuation education demands its inclusion in the current reform conversation. The problems associated with dropouts include high unemployment, poverty, government dependence, and high incarceration rates. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University found that the incarceration rates of young males are found to vary considerably with their educational attainment. Nearly one of every 10 young male high school dropouts was institutionalized on a given day in 2006-2007. This can be compared to one of 33 high school graduates, one of 100 of out-of-school young men who completed one to three years of post-secondary schooling, and only one of 500 men who held a bachelor’s degree. The Northeastern researchers concluded the average high school dropout will cost taxpayers over $292,000 in lower tax revenues, higher cash and in-kind transfer costs, and imposed incarceration costs relative to an average high school graduate.
Dropouts are a major fiscal burden while we struggle to put our economy back on track. With the current and projected deficits of the federal and state governments, the financial burden of supporting dropouts is unsustainable. It is high time to redeploy and ramp up the resources to fight the dropout tide and support continuation education.
In Massachusetts, Project Coffee (Co-Operative Federation for Educational Experience) has been in operation for 30 years and hundreds of students have graduated from this alternative middle and high school. Its students have faced judges, had serious drug problems, or missed school because they were in jail. Some have been homeless and still others the victims of abuse. This model is one example of connecting the dots. The school offers small academic and occupational instruction as students work in a hands-on mode gaining real skills. This is an introduction to the world of work and the students find the work has relevance to their future.
Educational justice leaders and education practitioners have an important role to play in lifting up our youth so that they, and our country can achieve the promise and potential of our democracy. Our leaders must make sure the policies and resources are in place to help them do so through a strong and relevant continuation education system. It deserves a high priority in the current educational reform movement.
Arguing that he was dealing with “hostage takers,” President Obama agreed with leading Republicans to allow extension of the Bush tax cuts even for the richest Americans, even though our nation’s debt drove the Republican wave to crest in the last election.
Pushing for legislative priorities that work in opposite directions — both tax cuts and deficit reduction in deep measure — the much empowered Republican flank seems to have gone bonkers.
Even worse, the Republicans are flouting the will of the voters. A Bloomberg poll says that nearly two thirds of Americans do not support extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a recent Gallup poll revealed that by a 14 point margin, even Republicans prefer deficit reduction to tax cuts.
Bill O’Reilly at Fox News dismissed the polls saying, “I read polls all the time” and, “most Americans are relieved and happy” about the full set of Bush tax cuts being extended.
The disconnect may originate deep within the agenda at Fox. It’s been America’s number one cable news channel for over 100 months while steadily growing a reputation as a political organization, having been built by Roger Ailes, the former media man and political operative for Richard Nixon and two other Republican presidents. Ailes tracked with dirty trickster Lee Atwater in implementing the “Southern strategy” that lured whites alienated by the passage of Civil Rights into the bosom of Republicanism. Later, Atwater crafted the Willle Horton for George H. W. Bush, cementing an outlook among Republicans that Americans, our values, and our selves, are under attack.
To watch Fox is to feel the fear factor. Its headlines are often crafted with implications of threat to your family; even the advertisers get in on the act with ads that play up fearful threats more than you see at other stations.
Seeming to borrow a ploy from Karl Rove, Fox News has employed a “big lie” by giving itself the slogan “Fair and Balanced” while consistently framing issues for the conservative perspective. When liberals are present on Fox, they are in the minority and often poorly treated, then they walk the halls with paid commentators who also run for office on the Republican ticket. Fox’s parent company, NewsCorp made a million dollar donation to the Republican Governors’ Association and Fox is being sued for promoting a candidate’s fundraising information.
Fox’s coverage of health care reform engaged another big lie. Howell Raines, formerly the executive editor of the New York Times, pulled no punches in calling Fox News propaganda, specifically for engaging “the endless repetition of the uber-lie, Americans do not want this health care reform”. Americans did want health care reform for decades before Obama’s arrival, and startling majorities like many particulars of the completed reform bill. But Fox News would not parse such realities anymore than Bill O’Reilly would concede Americans’ true feeling about tax cuts for the wealthy.
With two masters degrees, at least O’Reilly has an education. In the world of Palin we’re supposed to defend the worth of education, which can be summed up as formalized work accruing to broad knowledge, skill and insight. Military experience and other intense activities that entail disciplined development of skill and insight are true rivals to formal education. Fox News seems unique in journalism for lending power to commentators who skipped college or wiffed on it. Glenn Beck skipped college, went straight to radio. Sean Hannity (like Rush Limbaugh) dropped out early to go to radio. Sarah Palin stumbled through five campuses, finished late, and has no respect for knowledge to show for it.
Can education matter that much? Glenn Beck and Fox News were overt boosters of the development of the tea party, so how well do they measure up? David Frum the former speech writer of George W. Bush, had his group FrumForum interview hundreds of tea partiers on the Washington Mall to discover how much they knew about the taxes they were protesting. It turned out, not much. They believed that taxes were much higher than they really were, and they were certain that federal taxes had risen under Obama when in fact they had dropped. Later, when Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert drew thousands to the mall for their “Sanity Rally”, their fans turned out to have much closer grasp of the facts.
Do education and accuracy matter? Does it matter that the station that openly promotes all things Republican also ramped up a story about the President Obama’s trip to India costing $200 million per day that was blatantly inaccurate?
Does it matter that management at Fox ordered on air personalities to cast doubt on climate change due to the so-called climategate scandal in which stolen emails were cherry picked to make the science look corrupt to the credulous and the craven? Don’t ask the news station that makes big stars of college drop outs whether chemistry has consequences.
And don’t ask Roger Ailes. When confronted by Arianna Huffington about Fox’s journalism, he retorted that his job was to produce ratings and millions, not journalism.
A version of this column ran in the Boulder Daily Camera
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IN TODAY’S RADIO REPORT: Make way for the “grolar” bear; Bad week for BP: the Obama Administration finally sues, while BP also gets the Wikileaks treatment …PLUS: Surprise! Leaked email reveals Fox “News” slants climate science! Who knew?! … All that and more in today’s Green News Report!
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IN ‘GREEN NEWS EXTRA’ (see links below): Coal industry gets coal ($$$$) in its stocking; Eastern Arctic warming trend alarms scientists; CA solar installer sees growth boom in midst of Great Recession; India’s water is running out; Civic water-to-go program eliminates need for plastic water bottles; Protecting UN climate summit’s “fragile victory”; FDA finally reveals how many antibiotics factory farms use–and it’s a [boat]load; Pros and cons of wind farms … PLUS: This could get interesting: new study finds evidence of abrupt climate change in Earth’s past over a decade or less ….
‘Green News Report’ is heard on many fine radio stations around the country. For additional info on stories we covered today, plus today’s ‘Green News Extra’, please click right here…
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<img alt="2010-12-12-Picture3.png" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2010-12-12-Here's something you probably don't know about Christmas: there really was a St. Nicholas. He was born in 280 AD, in Patara, on the southern coast of Asia Minor, now part of Turkey. He was a Christian priest who later became a bishop. He was also a rich man who developed a reputation for secret gift giving. If children left their shoes outside, late at night Bishop Nicholas would return and put coins in them. The Bishop traveled the country, giving money and other presents to those who were in need, but he wanted to remain anonymous. Parents told their children to go to sleep quickly or Nicholas would not arrive — in this way, he would not be seen.
Myths sprang up all around the Mediterranean Sea. Nicholas was said to be able to calm raging seas, rescue desperate sailors, help the poor and downtrodden, and save children. He was soon named the patron saint of sailors.
If you're wondering why we hang up stockings, the story goes that a poor man had no money to give to his three daughters on their wedding day, so Nicholas dropped bags of gold into their stockings which the girls had left to dry by the fire. Others began to hang their stockings by the fire in hope that Nicholas would also leave them money and gifts.
Nicholas died on December 6, 343, and by 800, was officially recognized as a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church. In the 1200s, December 6th was celebrated as Bishop Nicholas Day. By the end of the 1400s, he was the most beloved religious figure after Jesus and Mary, and over 2,000 chapels and monasteries were named after him. Over the centuries, Nicholas' popularity continued. Europeans created new stories showing his concern for children. Nicolas' named evolved as "Santa Claus" from the Dutch Sinterklass — their pronunciation of "St. Nicholas."
Unlike Santa Claus and Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, Jesus Christ's birthday, the day of St. Nicholas is celebrated two weeks leading up to and on his birthday. Sinterklass is celebrated on December 5th in such countries as the Netherlands, Suriname, Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, and Indonesia. In Belgium, Sinterklass is celebrated on the morning of December 6th.
In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas arrives with his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who helps disperse candy and presents to "good" children. Sinterklaas has a long white beard and dresses in his red mantle, mitre, and golden crosier. He carries a book listing all the good and bad children, delivering presents to only the good children.
Children from many countries could not pronounce Sinterklass, so it became "Santa Klass," and then, Santa Claus. Replacing Bishop Nicholas' cloak and jeweled gloves and hooked staff, were a red suit, black belt and boots. Today, in anticipation of St. Nicholas's nightly visits, children in several European countries put their shoes outside and leave a carrot or hay for St. Nick's horse. When they wake up in the morning, their gift to the horse is gone and their shoes have been filled with gifts and candy.
When I was a child, we left a carrot by the fireplace for Santa's reindeer, and milk and cookies for Santa. In the morning, the food and milk would be gone; Santa would leave a note as well as presents under the tree and a filled stocking by the mantel. I grew up; neither husband was big on Christmas and I'd outgrown it. Today, I still like to look at the department store Christmas windows (although this year, except for Bergdorf's and Barney's, they are pretty unspectacular). I always go to see the Rockefeller Tree, but my favorite is the snowflake on 57th Street. I buy some gifts, but I don't really think about Santa Claus; that is, I didn't until yesterday,
I was jogging on 59th St. and Park Avenue, headed towards Central Park when I suddenly was forced to dart around a large group of people all dressed as Santa Claus. I figured they were going to a costume party — but by the time I arrived at Bethesda Fountain, it was so packed with Santas that I had to slow to a crawl. "What's going on?" I asked a Santa who was adjusting his white beard.
"SantaCon," he grinned.
Santacon, a mass gathering of Santas and assorted Christmas characters, I learned, doesn't just take place in New York City, but around the world — in parks, in bars, on street corners. It's an event for people to dress up as Santa, sing, belt out ho-ho-ho, and spread goodwill. Santacon evolved in 1994 in San Francisco where the first "Santarchy" was held. Later, a group of free spirit San Franciscans known as the Cacophony Society turned Santarchy into SantaCon.
I worked my way through the mass Santas at Central Park's Mall and began to run again. A thin Santa caught up and ran next to me. "Hello!" he said, "How often do you run?"
"A few times a week," I responded.
"Yeah, I thought so. You need to, to keep your sanity, right?"
"Oh yes," I laughed. I pointed to his costume, "And I see how you keep yours."
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John David Duty, 58, is set to become the first US inmate to be executed using the sedative pentobarbital.
He is scheduled to die at 1800 local time (0000 GMT) at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in the town of McAlester.
A shortage of sodium thiopental in the US forced the state make the change.
A judge's ruling to allow Oklahoma to substitute pentobarbital for sodium thiopental was upheld by a federal appeals court this week.
Sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic, is usually used in the state's lethal injection formula, which also includes drugs that paralyse muscles and stop the heart.
Lawyers representing Duty and two other death-row inmates argued during a court hearing in November that use of the sedative could be inhumane and that inmates could be conscious but paralysed when the other drugs were administered.
“No-one who has been put to death has come back and testified about what it felt like,” said lawyer Jim Rowan, a board member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Several of the 35 US states that use lethal injections are hunting for alternatives to sodium thiopental after Hospira, the sole US manufacturer of the drug, said new batches would not be available until early 2011.
Yesterday, President Obama met with some of the nation’s largest CEOs asking them to do more to create jobs in the United States. Obama reportedly asked business leaders what he could do to help create more jobs in America. Perhaps, Obama should have been asking these CEOs why, despite numerous pledges to keep good jobs in America, they continue to ship them overseas. “We would have preferred to bare down on these CEOs to commit with actual specifics on how they were going to hire ten thousands of workers. I mean actual plans of where they were going to hire these people” said UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. “We would have preferred of feel good promises for the cameras that are based in facts.”
In attendance was GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. Immelt had made big headlines last year promising to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. “Some companies had gone overboard with outsourcing in the past and now it was time to bring that work back into the United States to create a strong economy,” Immelt said at the Detroit Economic Club. “This country ought to be, and we can be, not just the world’s leading market but a leading exporter as well. GE plans to lead this effort.” GE launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign playing up their pledge to keep jobs in America.While GE is opening a few factories in the United States in order to qualify for public grants, it’s moving most of its factories overseas. Since Obama has been elected president, GE has announced the closing of 26 plants in the United States according to Townsend. Many suspect the multi-million dollar media campaign to keep jobs in the United States is nothing but an effort to win government contracts.Also in attendance was Boeing CEO Jerry McNerney. Boeing has been moving work to Asia and IT jobs to China. Boeing likewise has been engaged in massive union busting at its South Carolina facility. Jim McNerney, president and chief executive of Boeing, told CNBC that businesses oppose Obama on several initiatives: “We all made our apologies and said we wanted to move on.” McNerney in his post summit comments though made no promise to bring back those jobs from Asia or India. Nor did Boeing pledge to discontinue any of its union busting.In attendance was also one of the most high profile union busters in America–Honeywell CEO David Cote. Determined to break unions throughout Honeywell, Cote locked out union workers at Honeywell’s uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Illinois. Honeywell has since hired poorly trained scabs to operate the facility, which has already resulted in an explosion at the plant. While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) initially prevented the plant from using the scabs, it has now–under political pressure–taken the unprecedented step of waiving its 60 year precedent of not allowing scabs to work in this extremely dangerous uranium facility.With the lockout in its fifth month, Honeywell has spent more money keeping workers locked out at the Metropolis facility than it would be spending if it were providing the workers what they want. According to union officials, Honeywell has already spent or lost at least $48.8 million to keep the workers locked out over a four month period. By contrast, agreeing to workers’ demands that Honeywell maintain their current health and retirement benefits would cost the company only $20 million over the life of a three-year contract. Honeywell is spending more than twice the amount it would take to maintain current workers’ benefits because it has its eye on a much larger goal: destroying the unions that represent workers at thousands of Honeywell facilities around the country.Obama’s invitation of Honeywell CEO drew sharp criticism from the United Steelworkers. “How suitable that the biggest corporate PAC contributor has secured a ticket to the White House to promote himself and Honeywell Corp” said United Steelworkers Public Affairs Director Gary Hubbard. “But he’s the wrong guy to be asked to fix America’s economy. He has dirty hands with his lock out of 230 loyal USW workers and their families since Jun. 28. Instead of negotiating corporate deals in the White House, he should give priority to meeting at the Union Hall in Metropolis, and negotiate a deal that puts his union-represented employees back to work.”Obama is expected to meet with labor leaders later in the week where he is expected to ask unions to be more cooperative in accommodating the needs of business in this tough economic time. This would follow on the precedent set by Obama by forcing federal workers to accept a two year wage freeze.The irony is asking workers to accept wage cuts will only increase the effects of the recession and not create jobs. If Obama really wants to create jobs perhaps it’s time that he threaten companies like Boeing, GE and Honeywell that receive massive amounts of federal contracts to either keep jobs in America and treat workers right or lose the business of the United States.
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Happy hols to all! No matter your pick–
Tinsel and baubles? General Tso’s and a flick?
Spruce or menorah, light up the lights!
Let’s tour the year past, and take in the sights–
Chi Chi Le Le, heroic miners!
Coal for all the Tea Party whiners!
Eyjafjallajokul, travelers waylaid . . .
(Icelandic rhyming’s beyond my pay grade.)
Curvy Joannie, morning drinking,
Sterling Cooper Draper Price is sinking.
Avatar and Mockingjay–
We watched 3D, we read YA.
Jerry Brown’s back–no Moonbeam joke;
Prop 19 is up in smoke.
Boehner’s orange, Pelosi’s blue–
Whimpering grizzlies, Sarah who?
She’s spending her days in Iowa
No wassail in Wasilla. Why? Oh duh.
Farewell Rahm and farewell Russ
Feingold. Joe Miller–what a wuss!
A hornet’s nest for Lisbeth Salander
Her tattoos, piercings, hacking and her
Lust for a Swedish journalist
(I made a rhyme with Mr. Blomkvist!)
Burj Khalifa rises high
Taller than Taipei, in Dubai
Julian Assange, hero or rake?
Is Wikileaks journalism–or is it fake?
Facebook and Zuckerberg, Twitter, eBay
Where’s my bone? down in Treme
The Gores did split, inconvenient no more,
and warrior McChrystal sent home from the war.
Food fight! Now it’s quinoa and kale
Speck and kolrabi, microbrewed ale.
Cookies in schools! Don’t take my fat!
Bubba’s a vegan–imagine that.
Glenn and Jon and Stephen, oh dear!
Rallies for honor and sanity and fear
First Dude shellacked by an angry mob,
Goodbye Larry Summers, heck of a job.
Gold for Shaun White, snowboarding master
Myrrh for Apollo! Ohno! Who’s faster?
Deepwater Horizon, an oily sea
But stiff upper lips (no shellfish for me!)
The sporting life! Now here’s the score:
LeBron picked a team! What, you want more?
Tiger’s selling tabloids, but how about greens
in regulation? They’re far between.
Will Santa hear your Kindle wish?
Author! Rocker! Patti Smith!
A wizened Stone settles some scores
Henrietta Lacks, Obama’s Wars
Goodbye JD, who went into the Rye
An Unmarried Woman too young to die,
A musical McGarrigle met her match
Kevin McCarthy’s body was finally snatched
Did I miss your hero, a big event?
Tears for Haiti, prayers sent
Liu Xiaobo, Aung San Suu Kyi
The carolers sing a song for thee
Magi trek and ornaments dangle
So (with apologies to Roger Angell)
Wishes and hopes, the end is nigh
for twenty-ten, the year gone by.
This Blogger’s Books from
On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits
by Wray Herbert
Americans are less satisfied with Congress now than at any other time in the history of the Gallup poll. This includes July of 2008, when Americans were being ravaged by an economic meltdown, record-high gas prices, and the movie The Love Guru.
Here’s a little perspective on the latest Congressional approval rating, thanks to the movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. As you can see in the listing below, the 111th Congress is ranked slightly ahead of both Cats & Dogs and Saw 3D, while enjoying a comfortable cushion over the Adam Sandler buddy movie, Grown Ups.
That’s good news for America.
62% Jackass 3-D
50% The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
41% The Expendables
25% Resident Evil: Afterlife
20% The Tourist
14% Alpha and Omega
13% Congressional Approval!
12% Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
11% Saw 3D
10% Grown Ups
With a little more effort moving forward, it’s possible Congress could even surpass Alpha and Omega, a film described by the Arizona Republic critic as “An animated flick that doesn’t leave much of an impression. It’s even difficult to recall what happened once it’s over.”
Something for the 112th Congress to shoot for next year.
This Blogger’s Books from
Marching Bands Are Just Homeless Orchestras, Half-Empty Thoughts Vol. 1
by Tim Siedell
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Few people go against convention and actually succeed. Aaron Schock is one of them. The indefatigable, 29-year-old Republican Congressman from Illinois challenged the Peoria school board at age 19 when they wouldn’t let him graduate early because of a lacking gym class credit. And he won. Four years later he was elected the youngest school board president in history.
“I believe in challenging conventional wisdom and thinking big. In the U.S. with great ideas, determination and hard work you can do anything regardless of age. If I sat around ‘waiting for my turn’ I may still be working in a gravel pit.”
Schock is a new breed of pol: young, humble, focused and apparently abtastic, as TMZ excitedly reported last year. He called me between votes on a frenetic day in Congress and in a slight Midwestern lilt that only a fellow Illinoisan could detect described what he admired in young people today.
Rep. Aaron Schock, Credit: Associated Press
“There is a young Filipino boxer named Manny Pacquiao. He’s an 8-division world champion and just a total star in the Philippines, they hold parades for this guy. He’s a multimillionaire and would be successful just boxing for the rest of his life, but he felt compelled to do something for his country so he ran for office. At first no one believed he was serious because he was so young. To prove his conviction he went door to door in the district and eventually won. That’s the kind of passion I admire. And I see that energy and willingness to go against convention in many young people in this country.”
When I mention that this story reminds me a lot of Schock’s own assent, he demurs, pointing to hard work and being “too stupid to realize he might fail” as the key to his success. Amazingly, for all of his prodigious accomplishments — being the youngest member to be elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, the youngest member of the U.S. Congress, remarkable fundraising capabilities, and most recently being appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee — it hasn’t gotten to his head. Schock was one of the most polite, attentive and just plain nice politicians I’ve encountered.
Natalia Brzezinski: A lot of young people lose their heads when they achieve success and power early in life, how do you remain so grounded?
Rep. Aaron Schock: I’ve gone home almost every weekend since I was elected just to stay normal. When you’re a politician someone always wants something from you so they’re constantly telling you how smart or great you are, and that can warp people! Exercising humility is important to me. My friends back home treat me like the same person I was when I was waiting tables. I also know that to stay focused on what’s relevant to my district I need to spend as much time outside of Washington, D.C., as possible.
Another uber-successful Millennial, 26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg was just named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. What kind of statement does that make about the effect young people are having on the broader national conversation
Above all it says something great about America. Here’s a college kid who had a unique idea and was able to pursue it. He developed an open forum for dialogue and relationships, and his website now hosts more people than any single president or prime minister governs over in the world. He has amassed more wealth than many small countries can boast in their GDP. If he was in Russia or China, it may not have happened.
You’re obviously someone who has been able to identify early on what you’re good at and go for it. What advice do you have for 20-somethings today, many of whom may be having trouble finding a job or focusing on a career path?
Each year I host a leadership summit in my district and my biggest advice to young people is get experience. Get your foot in the door. If anyone had studied my bio sheet when I was running for Congress they would’ve thought I was schizophrenic! I’m not from a political family and didn’t grow up dreaming of being George Washington. I started working in 8th grade and have held every odd job possible — working in a gravel pit, weighing big wheelers, ticket sales, data base management — but I knew if I worked hard and got experience I could apply that experience to my next endeavor.
Some say that “the era of job security is over,” and that Millennials will be living in a very different professional reality where they may never have a stable job or do as well as their parents did, do you think that’s true?
I think to a certain extent yes because the American workplace is becoming more dynamic with more employers. Young people also have a different view of professional success. I don’t have many friends whose goal is to find a great company and then work there for the next 40 years. They want to find a great professional home where they can grow and then move on to another challenge better and stronger.
Most of your colleagues have at least 20 years on you. Has transitioning to Congress been difficult?
It’s truly an awesome place to work. My colleagues on both sides have been very helpful; they look at me as a son, or sometimes a grandson. It can be a very familial atmosphere despite the bickering you see on TV right now. The more surprising thing to me was the formality. I had to get used to showing up with my staff at congressional luncheons and everyone eating and talking but them. They’d be sitting against the wall behind us, taking notes silently.
Our own Arianna Huffington was quoted in a book review saying that Millennials exhibit a “readiness to abandon the partisan wars we’ve been fighting for too long.” Do you think we’re the first post-partisan generation?
When I campaign with seniors, it’s always “are you a Democrat or Republican?” But when I campaign on college campuses, they ask me where I stand on specific issues. I think Millennials are much less interested in conventional labels. One thing that’s universal among Millennials is a distinct frustration with Washington, D.C. Both in 2008 and in the 2010 midterms, 20-somethings sent politicians a message: You guys need to work together or get out.
Do you have a pet project or political passion?
My number one focus is promoting jobs and economic growth. I think sometimes we have a communications problem in this country. The president passes a trade agreement with South Korea, and that’s good! But people see it as stealing away their jobs. I’d like to take a leadership role in explaining trade policy so people can see that if we cut ourselves off from the other 95 percent of the world economy we’ll be hurting even more.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
People always ask that, but it’s usually 10 years. And I say, well 10 years ago I was in high school! Honestly, I believe in keeping my head down and working hard at what I’ve been given. I love what I’m doing and if the people of my district give me another opportunity in two years to keep doing it, I will.
This profile is the third in a series, called “Millennial Perspectives.” Read the first profile with U.S. Olympic Gold medalist and Dancing with the Stars finalist, Evan Lysacek. Read the second profile with Washington Post blogger and MSNBC commentator Ezra Klein here.
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While the tax debate continues in Washington, the more immediate challenge for taxpayers is finding ways to reduce their tax bill for 2010. Fortunately, there are still some smart moves you can make now to potentially reduce your tax bill come April 15 (or earlier!). Following these tips before the New Year arrives can boost your chances of maximizing your refund at tax time:
Donate to charity: ‘Tis the season for giving, and donating to your favorite charities is good for the community and good for boosting your tax refund. Contributions made before year’s end to qualifying organizations are tax deductible. Check with the IRS to make sure that your donation qualifies to receive tax-deductible contributions. Don’t forget that donated items, including clothing, furniture and toys qualify – as does mileage, if it’s part of your charitable work. Make sure you keep receipts to prove the amount and date of your contribution. Use free online tools like It’s Deductible to accurately value your donated items.
Consider selling investments: The first3000 of your losses is deductible against ordinary income. Any losses in excess are carried over to 2011 where you can again write off up to3000.
Speed up your retirement contributions: Participants in 401(k) retirement plans can contribute16,500 in 2010. If you aren’t going to reach that limit and can afford to, additional contributions will save you at tax time. Participants 50 years and older can contribute up to an additional5500. Investing in your retirement plan now allows you to grow your retirement nest egg tax free and get a tax savings now.
Prepay deductible expenses: Paying your January 2011 mortgage bill by December 31 gives you an extra month’s worth of mortgage interest to deduct in your 2010 tax return. The same applies to property taxes if you normally pay those in January.
Benefit from tax credits: Investing in making your home more energy efficient saves on your monthly utility bills and may qualify for up to1500 in tax credits. So insulating the attic, replacing those drafty windows or purchasing a new furnace may qualify, but don’t wait long, this credit ends this year. You can read more at EnergyStar.gov.
Gifting: Each year Uncle Sam allows you to give any individual a13,000 tax-free gift. If you’re married, you and your spouse can combine your gift for a total of26,000. Give to your children and grandchildren and you can actively reduce your future estate taxes, which are scheduled to increase in 2011.
Review Medical Expenses: You can deduct out-of-pocket medical expenses, including medical insurance premiums, as long as they add up to 7.5% or more of your adjusted gross income. So if you earn75,000, for instance, that’s5,625. If you’re thinking of getting any elective surgery, that expense, plus other out-of-pocket medical care you paid this year for, could help reduce your taxable income.
Any or all of these simple tips can provide the average taxpayer with real savings on their 2010 tax bill. Despite the temptation to put off tax matters until W-2s arrive in the mail, taking some time before the holidays can provide taxpayers with big savings.
As vice president for consumer advocacy for Intuit’s TurboTax business, Bob Meighan works with customers to help ensure TurboTax products meet their needs. A Certified Public Accountant, Meighan holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina.
Photo from Flickr: Schlsselbein2007
The holidays are upon us and that means multi-course, epic meals and countless opportunities to flex your beer and food pairing muscles. Ten years ago, hardly anyone was talking about how well the wide array of beers now available compliment different foods but the craft brewing renaissance has changed all of that. Foodies now know that craft beer has all of the distinction, diversity and food compatibility of wine and it has finally made it as an adult this holiday season. Light lager is refreshing and ubiquitous but rarely a great partner for flavor-forward foods. Craft beers have a lot more flavor and diversity. Yup, they will usually have a little higher calorie count then their light lager cousins but holidays are the time to relax and reward yourself. Suck it up and go for a jog or bike ride the next day but life’s too short to resist treating yourself when so many great beer options are now available coast to coast.
First off, everyone’s palate is different, that’s why there are so many different kinds of beers and these suggestions should be taken as just that: suggestions, not mandates. The most sweeping wine analogy I can offer when considering beers to pair with food is this: ales tend to be more fruity and robust, like red wines, so they generally pair with foods in a similar way (e.g., steak, spaghetti & meatballs); lagers are similar to white wines, refined and mellow, so they pair better with more delicate foods (e.g., grilled fish, sushi).
So here are some suggestions for pairing beers with some common holiday food groups that your are bound to run into or are planning to cook up for guests yourself this season.
This is the de facto way into many a holiday meal and, while wines may go pretty well with some cheeses, the carbonation and diversity in beer make it a better partner. The bubbles in beer exfoliate the tongue of the fatty weight of the cheese to prepare you for the next bite. Some great combinations:
Fresh mozzarella and a nice bready, spicy white beer like Avery White Rascal or Allagash White.
Sharp aged cheddar with a hoppy beer like Russian River’s Pliney the Elder or Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.
Roquefort or a big stinky bleu with a beer with some serious body and darker roasty grains, like Thomas Hardy’s Ale or Deschutes Abyss.
Sirloin steak is usually paired with dry, tannic red wines; however, this classic dish is a great partner for spicy beers like Saison du Pont or Chimay Red.
A pork chop’s lighter meat has more subtle flavors so you don’t want to overpower it with too big of a bee so opt for a German bock, like Schneider Aventinus or an Amber Ale like New Belgium Fat Tire.
Glazed ham is both sweet and salty, so it needs an earthy and fruity beer as a partner, like Theakston Old Peculiar Ale or Brooklyn Brown Ale.
New England clam chowder is a thick, rich soup that has a lot of tongue-coating cream and a salty flavor, but it can be overwhelmed by too strong a beer. Opt for a stout, like Murphy’s or Guinness.
Lobster is a dish that goes really well with traditional lager, like Heineken or Yuengling Lager.
Grilled tuna (assuming it is lightly seasoned and unadorned with a heavy cream sauce) goes well with a mid-body lager, like Troeg’s Troegenator or Sam Adams’ Double Bock.
Fried fish and chips needs a beer that is dry and bubbly enough to cut through the palate-coating batter. I recommend Bink Blonde Hoppy Golden Ale or Birra del Borgo ReAle.
Whether it is pure chocolate bars and candy or rich chocolate cakes, I think the ultimate beer and food pairing is any type of chocolate and dark roasty imperial stout. Try Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues or Chicory Stout from Dogfish Head.
Now eat up, drink up, have fun and cheat on your go-to beer…and don’t forget to go for that run tomorrow morning.
Hailed by many as one of the most important International theatrical events of recent years — there is still time to catch The Great Game: Afghanistan here in New York. An experience not to be missed. Below, meet two of its talented British ensemble.
Through the eyes of twelve leading British and American playwrights and the voices of those actively involved in the war and on U.S. and NATO policy in Afghanistan, The Tricycle Theatre Company’s The Great Game: Afghanistan explores, in three separate thrilling and provocative parts, the culture and history of Afghanistan since Western involvement in 1842 to the present day.
Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of The Public Theatre, comments:
A talented ensemble of fourteen actors perform all roles, as they approach the culmination of this incredibly ambitious project, two residencies at The Tricycle in London and a fifteen week American tour, British actors Tom McKay (Frost/Nixon, Donmar Warehouse/West End; Henry V, Mother Clap’s Molly House, National Theatre; Macbeth, Lord of The Flies, RSC) and Daniel Rabin (Chicken Soup With Barley, Tricycle; The Fever Chart, Trafalgar Studios/Theatre Royal York; Enemy Of The People, Arcola) play a wide spectrum of characters from a British bugle player at The Gates of Jalalabad in 1842 to Amanullah Khan, King of Afghanistan 1919-1929. Here they discuss their experiences:
How has this project differed from others you have worked on?
Tom: The amount of research required at the outset was certainly much greater than most. One of the objectives of the cycle is to educate and inform people about Afghanistan’s political and cultural past (and present); the reason for this was that Nick Kent felt it had become ignored as it fell into the shadow of Iraq and that people knew very little about it. I was certainly guilty of this so had to do a huge amount of research during and prior to rehearsals.
Dan: Size really. I’ve never really worked on something so big before, at the end of one rehearsal for one play, you’d be running around the Tricycle trying to find the rehearsal room for the next. But it was incredible the support and humour that would be in the room. Even the work load, which was for a three and a half week rehearsal period pretty huge, there were a lot of laughs. When you work on a subject that at times can be so depressing as a group you counterbalance it with humour.
What does this project mean to you? What do you most enjoy about your involvement?
Tom: While we are under no illusions that a single piece of work can change the world, I think the sense that, in however small a way, we are doing something to inform and enlighten people about the complexities of Afghanistan and our involvement there is very rewarding. Certainly, the more I know the more confused I get and our job is very much to raise questions as opposed to answer them, but when you do a Q&A after a show and people are genuinely fired up and engaged by what they’ve seen, then I think we have done our job. There’s no doubt that that feels in some way more significant than doing a straight forward drama which might not have the potency and immediacy of a subject like Afghanistan.
Dan: It’s great to be involved in something that is greater than the sum of its parts. There is not one play that consistently stands out as the audience favourite, different people go for different plays, in the same way there is no actor that has significantly more to do than the others, so that means that every ones involvement and investment is the same, when one person is playing the lead in one play the other is moving furniture about the set and visa versa. My favourite thing about this is being involved in a proper ensemble cast, which is quite rare.
How have audiences in different venues responded differently? Especially UK vs US?
Dan: From London to the States the main difference is reactions to the parts where their country was involved. Part three, which starts with 9/11 and follows into operation Enduring Freedom, seems to have much more relevance here than at home, and therefore the reaction and plays have more potency.
Tom: There is a tangible difference in response for all sorts of reasons in each venue, ranging from the size of the audience, the place you’re in and even the night of the week you’re playing. For example, a trilogy audience tends to be much more engaged and up for the challenge than a single part audience; a DC audience tended to be much more politically-minded than most and would respond much more to the politically motivated material, whereas a Berkeley audience might respond much more towards the impassioned left-leaning pieces. The New York audiences tend to be much more similar to a London audience, which is unsurprising given the volume of theatre in both cities.
Were there challenges in making material of this nature dramatic and emotionally alive?
Tom: The real challenge in this respect was for the writers; when your remit is to deliver a cycle of plays which cover the political history and cultural complexity of a country like Afghanistan, it would be easy for any sense of drama to be lost in a wave of information and exposition, but they made our jobs very easy by delivering 12 rich, character-driven stories which are stylistically very diverse; this makes it much easier to play as actors, in spite of the difficulty of the subject matter.
Dan: Some plays were easier to ‘create’ for the stage than others. Some have an awful lot of information in them that needs to be given to the audience and others are there to make the audience connect emotionally. The latter are easier to work on because as an actor an emotional through line is where you would naturally start the work. The harder plays to work on as an actor are the former, where you have to search for an emotional through line that isn’t obvious. If you’re playing a real life character in this situation, for instance as I do in Honey, where I play Ahmed Shah Massoud, then that’s when you rely heavily on research.
How do you approach playing real historical characters?
Dan: Research. Some characters are easier than others because there is more documentation of their lives. I bought a lot of books because I wanted to start with the history of the country and then to research characters once I had an idea of where they were from and the position from which they would be coming. Once I’d done that I started on each character individually. Reading books that Nick Kent suggested to me and also YouTube is great tool because you can see footage of the real people, hear their voices and watch them move.
Have you enjoyed being in an ensemble?
Tom: On a pastoral level, the thing that has kept this job so much fun has been the ensemble. On a project where you basically need all bases covered by having as broad a spectrum of actor possible in terms of age, ethnicity and gender, you could end up with 14 people who have nothing in common and don’t gel. In this case, the fact that we are all very different has been one of it’s biggest virtues and during casting, Nick, Indhu Rubasingham (Co-Director) and Rachel Grunwald (Assistant Director) managed to achieve that weird alchemy where, for whatever reason, the cast all get along brilliantly and have SUCH a laugh together. Which is very important when you are all crammed into a small dressing room for a whole weekend!! The other thing is that by definition there is no hierarchy because one minute you are carrying someone’s chair, before playing a lead, before helping someone with a quick change, so there is no room for anyone being precious or demanding!
Does it get tiring?
Dan: Not as tiring as one would think. The actual doing of it, ie when we’re on stage is not, what I find exhausting is the build up and down to each play. Also, we’re at the end of a long job, it’s that that is tiring, we’ve been on the road with this for 3 and a half months, it’s a long time to be living out of a bag, I think most of the exhaustion that is felt is from that. We’re all a lot more tired now than at the beginning of this tour.
Tom McKay, Hugh Skinner
If you were to work on another project of this scale, which country/history/issue would you like it to address?
Dan: Israel/Palestine. India/Pakistan. It’s interesting, I have a line in one of the plays where I play an ex president of Afghanistan who is being interviewed: ‘Every blood conflict in the world today has its origins in the imaginations of British surveyors’.The British empire would be an interesting topic.
Tom: I think I’d have to leave that to the expert, Nick Kent — he has an amazing ability to identify topics that are immediate and in need of urgent attention, but often ignored. That’s what he’s been doing at the Tricycle for years, and I know he has a few very exciting ideas up his sleeve, so watch this space.
The Great Game: Afganistan runs at The Skirball Centre, produced by The Public Theatre, until Sunday, December 19th, 2010.
On December 15, 2010 the National Park Service inaugurated its new exhibit, “President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation” at the Liberty Bell Center pavilion in Philadelphia’s Independence Park. The pavilion has been built on the site where the first home for U.S. presidents once stood, and specifically where George Washington’s domestic slaves labored while he commanded the nation for most of his two terms as the first President of the United States.
For nearly a decade, members of the local community organized to ensure that the exhibit would address the fact that President George Washington enslaved people in this locale, and that their historic presence would be acknowledged and represented here as well. Although initially resistant to the idea, the National Park Service has inaugurated an exhibit that features material telling the story of the nine people enslaved by the Washingtons, and a long struggle has resulted in a very public revelation of some painful truths about the founding of our nation.
The President’s House exhibit provides some critical lessons that President would be wise to observe. One lesson is that presidents ought to fight for their convictions. George Washington’s stated anti-slavery convictions misaligned with his actual political behavior. While professing to abhor slavery and hope for its eventual demise, as president Washington took no real steps in that direction. Freeing his own slaves during his lifetime could have been one of those steps, but instead, Washington promised their emancipation upon his wife Martha’s death. Whether he was simply bowing to the political tenor of a time dominated by Southerners’ defense of slavery or a personal lack of will to stand up to them as the growing abolitionist movement did, we will never conclusively know. But the fact is, Washington not only enslaved a number of individuals in the president’s house during his two terms in office, he aggressively sought to recapture them after they fled to freedom.
A second lesson to consider is that despite Washington’s reluctance to carry out his stated anti-slavery predilections, the movement against slavery grew anyway, including within the president’s very own household (among the men and women he enslaved). While Washington was president and commanding from Philadelphia, at least two people made bold escapes. Oney Judge, who worked principally for the First Lady, escaped to freedom one evening while George and Martha were eating dinner. Hercules, Washington’s well-known personal family chef, took off one year later in 1797. He left on the night the Washingtons were scheduled to move back to Mount Vernon after Washington’s term came to an end. Although Washington considered Hercules one of his most loyal and trusted servants, the prospect of freedom was too powerful to resist.
In both cases, Washington had the opportunity to enact his convictions about “freedom” for those whose lives he had direct control over: he could have simply let them go. Instead, in each instance, he sought persistently and repeatedly, and ultimately unsuccessfully to track them down and have then re-enslaved. Oney Judge and Hercules believed in freedom too, and they risked everything to defy the most powerful man in America to achieve it. Against all odds, they succeeded. It is a tribute to their brave and defiant spirit that the National Park Service has erected this important new historical exhibit.
Thus, the President House exhibit’s most important lesson is not about the country’s first President, but about the voiceless people whose stories have gone untold for centuries. History is not just a series of dates and facts, it involves interpretation, analysis, and point of view. Historic understanding shapes public consciousness, and thus politics and policy decisions, social relations, and access to resources and opportunity.
Philadelphia’s black community fought long and hard to have the commemoration focus on the lives of the people enslaved at the first White House as a way to both redress the past and address the present. While legal slavery no longer exists in this country, the economic and social disparities between whites and people of color in the United States have been stubbornly persistent for decades, with little focused attention from either the White House or Congress. Certainly, a critical part of black support for Barack Obama was rooted in the belief that, as he stated, he would be president to all Americans. While this meant that he would not (and could not) be president only to African Americans, it also should have meant that black interests would not be ignored as they have been so consistently in most administrations. Policies that specifically address the impact of social and economic dislocation on black Americans are as vital to implement as those policies specifically constructed to address the needs of seniors, rural workers, or women.
The opening of the President’s House exhibit and its exposure of the role of slavery in the founding of the country is a propitious moment for reflecting not only on the history of black Americans vis–vis the White House and the presidency, but also for a redirection in public policy that begins to seriously address the specific needs of the black community, which will not be met sufficiently by a general, one-size-fits-all approach.
In perhaps his most memorable speech, delivered in Philadelphia during the 2008 campaign, and his only major public address to focus on race, Obama stated “[Race] is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now,” pushing back against those who contend that racial discrimination is no longer an issue. He went on to say, “[We] do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from earlier generations that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”
U.S. history is taught — and for the most part, learned — through filters. In everything from schoolbooks and movies to oral traditions, historical markers, and museums, we are presented with narratives of the nation’s history and evolution. For generations, the dominant stories have validated a view that overly centralizes the experiences, lives, and issues of privileged, white male Americans and silences the voices of others. It has been as though some have an entitlement to historic representation and everyone else does not. “History is always written wrong,” said George Santayana, “and so always needs to be rewritten.” The new President’s House exhibit opening in Philadelphia this week does not rewrite history, but it does finally include the names, stories, and freedom struggles of Americans who for too long have been written out of the national narrative.
Clarence Lusane is associate professor at American University and author of the new book, The Black History of the White House, just published in the Open Media Series from City Lights Books.
This post was written by Ethan S. Wilkes
We are Generation Wiki. We are interconnected collaborative creatures, and we like to share. We link and like, comment, post and poke. We Yelp when we’re hungry, Skype when we’re lonely and G-chat throughout the day. Our cell phone bills are light on minutes and long on data almost every month.
We are the first of our kind. A computer has sat comfortably in some nook of our home for as long as we can remember. We grew up trying to find Carmen Sandiego, and came of age to the beeps and cackles of a 14k modem connecting to America Online. Before we had our own car, before we had our own cash and before we had a fake ID, we had chat rooms, instant messages and inboxes. We had an entire World Wide Web of possibilities with which to explore beyond the confines of our bedroom walls. Our rebellion was data-driven, a battle cry of zeros and ones where power grew out of the results of a search engine.
We are broadcasters, mini-content creation machines and this is how we communicate. But while we may share more publicly, we are hardly the open books some claim us to be. Our online profiles reveal little more about our character, competence and intellect than our choice of clothing does because we know our boundaries, however unspoken. In fact, we are remarkably self-regulating and adept at maintaining privacy in a very public manner. What we share tends to be topical, trivial and rapidly replaced. The way we share it is marked by a unique etiquette. We don’t SMS the way we e-mail, we won’t send a message for what we can comment on and a chat window is not the same as a phone call. We don’t type the way we speak and we all understand that. Sometimes we chastise our parents for not getting it. “No Mom, text messages are not for conversations!” They are for clarification of questions, confirmation of meetings and the occasional witty witticisms between the sexes. “Don’t photo comment on Facebook asking if I ate dinner!” It’s simply not the place.
We are aware of these ambiguities of the digital age, and we are comfortable with them. They are the products of a networked world where information is in abundance and easily diffused; it is the only world that we have known. So imagine how confounding we find the reactions to this WikiLeaks debacle, many of which are so oddly out of date and knee-jerk. The e-mail sent by our Office of Career Services that made international headlines and the mailing lists of other policy schools, along with similar messages sent to the student bodies of Boston University School of Law and Michigan State University James Madison College, is evidence of this reality. To be sure, no, no one muzzled our right to free speech, and contrary to the Village Voice , description Columbia is not “fascist.” But the simple truth that someone, somewhere thought we would do best to keep a lid on it — to say nothing of the statements emanating from the House of Congress and the State Department — shows how remarkably misguided the thinking is on this issue.
What seems to be missing is an understanding of what Generation Wiki has known all along about information gone viral: we consume, comment and move on; the story dies when we are done with it. Trying to put the genie back in the bottle is no way to deal with an expos once it has gone online. Furthermore, WikiLeaks will not be a one-off. Whatever comes of the website, Julian Assange or Bradley Manning does not negate the fact that in the absence of a far more heavily restricted internet we live in a WikiLeak-able world. No matter how secure our servers, how rigorous our clearance processes or how thorough our legislation, we will never eradicate the human element from security or the technological platforms on which treasure troves of classified documents, corporate secrets or other private data can be obtained and blasted across the public domain.
The million-dollar question that nobody seems to be asking is: where do we go from here? The current strategy of trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted does not seem terribly effective for the digital age. As students of policy, as Generation Wiki, we’d do well to think of an answer, because those managing the current crisis do not appear to have a good one.
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