Dozens of baby deaths could be avoided each year if parents stopped sharing beds with their children, research
Abu Qatada has lost his latest bid for freedom. The radical cleric will remain behind bars after a judge denied him bail, ruling he was a national security risk who may attempt to
Britain is risking another housing crash – and billions of pounds of debt – through a plan to help people on to the property ladder, the Bank of England governor has
The nuclear tragedy currently unfolding in Japan started decades ago on a piece of paper. Before any infrastructure project that size is approved, a risk assessment needs to be done. Hazards are identified and a cost/benefit analysis is made about how to approach those risks.
If constructing in a seismic zone that hasn’t seen an earthquake above a magnitude of M6.5 in 100 years, do you build to withstand a magnitude of 7? Or put in extra the millions upfront to protect against a magnitude of 8 that may never come? Or do you simply choose not to build a nuclear power station in an earthquake zone at all?
Every critical energy installation (and much of all infrastructure) is built on the basis of such risk
By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger
This week, House Republicans will hold a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill is expected to pass the House, where the GOP holds a majority, but stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the meantime, the symbolic vote is giving both Republicans and Democrats a pretext to publicly rehash their views on the legislation. At AlterNet, Faiz Shakir and colleagues point out that repealing health care reform would cost the federal government an additional $320 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget
At last week’s Summit on the Global Agenda, convened in Dubai by the World Economic Forum (WEF), risk was high on the agenda. In fact, risk has been center stage from the very first Summit, held in the late fall of 2008.
This year’s Summit was the WEF’s third, and the emphasis on managing risk called to mind the surreal environment of the first Summit. At that event, the world’s economy was in freefall, and nowhere was that more pronounced than in Dubai, where real estate speculation as hot as summertime in the Persian Gulf was crashing to earth. When Dubai’s ruler told the plenary audience–over and over–that everything was fine, it succeeded only in stoking fears that the opposite was true.
The last couple of years have made clear just how much work needs to be done to manage systemic risks more effectively. The WEF made a significant contribution to that important goal at this year’s Summit by announcing its new “Risk Response Network,” a network of corporate risk officers and other thought leaders who will aim to identify systemic geopolitical and economic risks–and offer potential solutions. The Network will be inaugurated formally at Davos in late January, and convened formally for the first time in New York in early April.
Many of us at the Summit expressed concern that undue focus on avoiding risk will undercut the creativity so crucial to rebuilding global economic vitality. Indeed, in a meeting at the Summit of the Consumer Industry Council, which I chaired, we focused our attention on innovation as the key to building sustainable growth and prosperity.
The mandate of the Council, which includes companies like Pepsico, Best Buy, and Procter & Gamble, and thought leaders from design firm IDEO, the University of Manchester (UK), and Brazil’s Akatu Institute, is to sketch a vision for the consumer products industry over the coming decades, with a report due in June, 2011. Over three days, we debated whether economic models that measure and reward growth are appropriate in an era of growing populations and natural resource constraints.
In charting the industry’s future, we fixed on health and environment as two crucial features that merit increased investment and focus. In just the past several weeks, many high profile consumer products companies have announced sustainability focused initiatives: Nestle’s creation of a new business unit focused on “nutraceuticals,” the combination of food and medicine; Best Buy’s investment in pioneering home energy management systems; and Nike’s making public its environmental apparel design tool, so that peers–and competitors–can use it. These efforts are part of an emerging movement in this and other industries toward sustainable consumption, an issue that BSR considers the next frontier in sustainability.
It is said that generals too often fight the last war, instead of preparing for the next one. The WEF’s Risk Response Network is making a crucial investment by strengthening the world’s collective ability to avoid the mistakes that nearly brought down the global economy. But it is the creative impulse found throughout the Summit on the Global Agenda that will generate the sustainable, inclusive growth that makes the world’s economy worth protecting in the first place.
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The reviews were right: See “Inside Job,” the documentary about the Wall Street-driven financial meltdown of 2008, through which we’re still suffering two years later—and you will come out steaming.
In a two-hour cavalcade of cause and effect, the film charts the insane risk-taking, via voodoo financial products, that the vaunted “talent” of Wall Street undertook to aggrandize themselves and their firms, in the process blowing up the global financial system and throwing millions of “small” people (to quote another corporate titan) out of jobs, homes, and savings. While this story has been reported piecemeal, it’s useful—and steam-making—to see the whole saga presented in cogent form, as this film does.
But what popped the cork of the audience I was with was seeing how our ostensible watchdogs are also on the take: regulators, ratings agencies, government advisors, and, most shockingly, economists. One would hope the independence of thought prized by academe would govern behavior, but watch economists from the most hallowed halls try on-camera to defend that independence when the filmmaker cites evidence they were paid $100,000-plus by Wall Street firms to write “research” papers that, surprise, reinforce those firms’ rapacity. By this point the audience was hissing.
And throughout the film, never—not once—did any of this “talent” express concern for the calamitous damage their actions visit on Main Street and the nation. The film makes vivid how complete is money’s thrall. Best way to break that thrall is criminal prosecution, yet the film shows precious little of that has occurred.
Once I could convert my own steamed reaction to reason, and reading that Wall Street is posting record profits and getting its swagger back (here)—and, essentially unreformed, priming for another crash that again hurts Main Street more than itself—two thoughts occur, both making the utility argument for ethical reform:
Appeal to Wall Street’s survival instinct: Given money’s blinding thrall, shame won’t change Wall Street’s behavior, but appealing to the instinct for survival may. Surely there are risk managers on the Street who recall that free-falling feeling of the ’08 crash and understand that capitalism’s “creative destruction” can overstep, take a risk too far, to become destructive destruction—of the entire economic system. And if the entire economic system is destroyed, how can another dollar be made?
It seems screamingly obvious (though screaming from Main Street hasn’t made it so): Protecting the economic system is in the interest of both Main Street and Wall Street. Understanding this, and acting on it, would mean Wall Street take a loyalty oath to Main Street and the nation. Whether such oath is extracted as a matter of ethics or utility, if Wall Street begins treating Main Street’s interests as its own, it’s a net advantage for all. (I blogged on these points earlier.)
Reframe the Wall Street vs. Main Street dualism: It follows that, if Wall Street’s loyalty to Main Street is to be cultivated, then the current Wall Street vs. Main Street dualism works against that. Alignment was theoretically possible when Main Street came to Wall Street’s rescue with the TARP and the bailouts. But Wall Street reacted churlishly—resisting all reform legislation; continuing to give itself outsize bonuses for failure; treating a true people’s watchdog, Elizabeth Warren, as a meanie—and now the two streets are seen pitted at war.
But wars have winners and losers—and guess which street in the great game of Capitalism vs. Democracy always loses? American discourse too often is combative, framed as either-or; we need to get to conference, framed as both-and. For the benefit of both streets and to repair the economic system, we need to get away from the simplistic mindset of war (defensiveness is an easy out for Wall Street) and get to subtlety. Rather than Wall Street vs. Main Street, we need to get to Wall Street and Main Street.
Of course, the best mechanism for course correction—promoting Wall Street’s loyalty to Main Street, aligning the mission of both streets—is the Obama White House, amplified by the commentariat. It remains to be seen, though, how Mr. Obama can use his bully pulpit after his “shellacking” in the recent midterm elections. I for one feel he’s got room enough for maneuver if he channels his inner Main Street—the one in Chicago, that is.
And should any more fraud be committed, Mr. Obama and his Attorney General should make it clear that, henceforth, wherever it occurs—Wall Street or Main Street—fraud will be prosecuted to the full force of the law.
Meanwhile, to correct the shameful fact of economists for hire by Wall Street, the American Economic Association needs to establish an ethics code, something that, astonishingly, as economics professor and New York Times “Economix” blogger Nancy Folbre notes, it lacks.
All this correction seems long on speculation—very—not remotely possible, given present realities. But if Main Street takes another shellacking from Wall Street, expect a revolution mounted by Main Street, one that will make the Tea Party’s anger seem, in comparison, tepid.
Carla Seaquist is author of “Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character,” a collection of op-eds, essays, and dialogues. Also a playwright, she is at work on a play titled “Prodigal” (www.carlaseaquist.com).
Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I thought that was a pretty good week for Democrats.
Maybe it’s just the subject matter I’ve been tackling this week, that could contribute to my spirit of optimism, I suppose. I began the week examining the increasing and interesting struggle for power between the Tea Party Republicans and the entrenched-establishment Republicans, which is always both fascinating and amusing. Tuesday, I reflected on heroism as President Obama awarded the first Medal of Honor that went to a living recipient since the Vietnam War — an uplifting subject matter if there ever was one. Wednesday, I got to interview the chairman of the Populist Caucus, Representative Bruce Braley, who was a little-noticed success story for Democrats in the midterm election (he had millions in outside anonymous donor money spent against him in some vicious attack ads, but instead of retreating from being a Democrat he proudly stood up for Democrats’ recent achievements in his campaign — and he won re-election as a result). And yesterday I wrote what could be read as a preamble to today’s column, about Democrats and the lame duck session of Congress (more on this in a bit). [You can read any of these at my site, as I didn't want to over-link this paragraph with all the individual article citations.]
All in all, pretty positive subject matter all around. Of course, there were a few disappointments, but on the whole what I would call a pretty good week for Democrats — something they haven’t enjoyed in a while.
But mostly the optimism centers around what could happen, and not what actually has happened yet. Meaning that, once again, I have gotten my hopes up a bit. Perhaps this is naive and they will come crashing down to reality by New Year’s Day, but that’s the risk you always take when quaffing from the eternal spring waters of Hope.
But we shall continue to so quaff, mostly because “quaff” is such a cool word to type. Hey, I warned you I’m in a good mood this week.
Enough nonsense, let’s get on with the show….
There were three Democrats worthy of mention this week. Actually, there were more than that — which is an optimistic sign, at the very least — but these three stood out in particular. And their names may come as somewhat of a surprise to some readers.
The first is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Perhaps Reid has been spooked by his recent very-tough re-election battle. Perhaps he has been spooked by how close Democrats came to losing the Senate. Perhaps he is following others’ leads. Or perhaps it is just that Harry has shown he can indeed get things done — right before a Senate vacation. But whatever the reason, Reid deserves credit for backing up the other two honorees this week.
As I wrote yesterday, the lame duck session of Congress could actually be more productive than the conventional inside-the-Beltway “wisdom” had been thinking. Democrats, after all (so this punditocracy-cocktail-party chatter held), were supposed to lie down, roll over, and play dead until the Republicans took over a few months from now. Democrats, of course, wouldn’t get anything done except what the Republicans wanted — more massive tax cuts for the rich.
Democrats seem not to have received this memo. Because they don’t seem to be lying down and playing dead. And Harry Reid seems to actually have their back. He’s been promising votes on some very contentious issues, giving a lot of political strength to Democrats who are advocating for action on these issues. For once, Democrats seem to be coordinated in their actions. And Reid played a big part in this, so he has earned an Honorable Mention for doing so.
But the first of our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards goes out to President Barack Obama. Ever since getting back from his Asia trip, the president has seemed a lot more energetic and a lot more involved with moving some legislation in Congress than he has been for a long time. As I wrote yesterday:
President Obama has not only been making lots of calls to senators, to get them on board one issue or another, but he has also been sticking his neck out politically in a way not seen since the early days of his administration. Obama has been taking political risks by getting strongly behind issues which may fail to pass in the lame duck session. He’s fighting for some things he may well lose on, in other words — and he is doing so wholeheartedly, and not in some vague, on-the-sidelines way.
This can be seen clearest in his push to get the “New START” nuclear arms reduction treaty ratified by the Senate. Treaty ratification takes a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes — a higher threshold than the filibuster. If every Democrat votes for it, Obama will still need a lot of Republicans to do so as well. And Obama has lined up some pretty powerful people who agree with him — Republicans and Democrats who have served in the past three or four administrations. He has been offering Jon Kyl any sort of “Arizona Kickback” he wants, but so far to no avail.
This is a standoff Obama could win. There still are sane Republicans who subscribe to the old “politics ends at the water’s edge” way of thinking on American national security issues. If Obama relentlessly hammers Republicans as putting politics ahead of American security, he could get a lot of the public’s opinion behind him and shame the Republicans into ratifying the treaty.
But he could fail, as well. It’s a big risk for him to take — especially considering that 67-vote bar he’s got to clear. But that’s exactly what we (and a lot of others) have been begging Obama to do for a while now — take a few risks. Get behind some stuff that might not pass. Even if the pundits will gleefully say “Obama failed!” you will still be seen as standing up and fighting for what you believe is right — which will, in the end, help you politically in your next fight.
Obama didn’t have to pick this fight. He could have thrown up his hands and punted the issue to the next Congress. But that would be putting politics ahead of security, as well. For not doing so, and for getting out on a limb for once, President Obama wins a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week.
Perhaps I should warn our readers to be sitting down for this next part. Our second MIDOTW award winner may come as an even bigger surprise, because it is none other than Senator Joe Lieberman. It absolutely pains me to type it, but he’s really shown some “Joe-mentum” this week.
Hey, I warned you to sit down, so don’t blame me if you just fell down and bumped your head in frank astonishment.
Lieberman is one of the chairmen of the Senate committees which deals with the military. And he has become the point man on the effort to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (DADT) of denying gay Americans the right to openly serve their country in uniform. A few weeks back, the rumor made the rounds that one of the other Senate committee chairmen — Carl Levin — had already agreed with his Republican counterpart to strip the DADT repeal out of the Pentagon’s appropriations bill for the year. In other words, Democrats would throw in the towel on the entire effort, and it would likely be dead for the foreseeable future — before the fight had actually begun.
Lieberman called a press conference this week with a passel of other Democratic senators, and said, in essence: “Not so fast!” He’s been telling anyone who’ll listen since then that he actually has the 60 votes he needs to pass the repeal, especially after the Pentagon report comes out in a few weeks.
This is the way to fight. Get out in front, with a show of strength. President Obama and the White House have also reportedly joined in the fray, pushing hard for repeal in many phone calls to individual senators. This is the way to lead your team!
Once again, the effort may not succeed. Both Obama and Lieberman are sticking their necks out, and taking some risks. And that is what most people call “leadership.”
For leading the charge on DADT, we hereby gratefully award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Senator Joe Lieberman. [Yeah, we know -- he's not technically a Democrat, in the same way that Lisa Murkowski is now not technically a Republican, but for the sake of discussion (and awards) we've long since decided that Lieberman is eligible. Mostly because we keep giving him MDDOTW awards, we fully admit. Heh.]
Keep up the good work, President Obama and Senator Lieberman! Other Democrats — it’s time to get behind them and fight the good fight.
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, and Senator Joe Lieberman on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
Before we get to the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, we’ve got to pause for a bit of silliness. From Pennsylvania state lawmaker Paul Costa, to be precise.
Costa was, a few weeks ago, attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game. As many Americans do, he was tailgating in the parking lot before the game. Also as many Americans do, he smoked a joint with a buddy of his. And, sadly, also as many Americans, Costa was busted by undercover police (who were actually looking for illegal T-shirt vendors).
None of that, mind you, is the disappointing part. What was actually beyond disappointing, jumping over the borderline to absolutely ludicrous was Costa’s defense (issued through his lawyer): Costa “detests marijuana.”
Um, OK. For this mind-bending legal defense — “My client so detests marijuana that he was forced to consume as much of it as he possibly could so that others would not have the opportunity to consume it” — Costa wins a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week. [Insert your own "what was he smoking" type joke here.]
But our real Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award is somewhat of a no-brainer this week. Representative Charlie Rangel takes the MDDOTW cake this week. This will be Rangel’s sixth time for the award, as he’s won it on five separate occasions — four of which were given for the same misconduct we’re talking about now (see: FTP , , , and ).
Now, Rangel’s already gotten the MDDOTW for his income tax problems themselves (while chairing the House committee which writes the income tax laws), and for not stepping down from his powerful chairmanship until forced to do so. But this week, he wins not for finally having his trial and being found essentially guilty on 11 counts, and not for the humiliating censure he’s about to have to endure; but rather for his grandstanding conduct during the ethical hearing itself. He huffily got up and stormed out of the hearing, because the committee refused him time to raise money for a lawyer. The man’s got chutzpah, that’s for sure. He forgets to report a property in the Caribbean worth over half a million bucks on his taxes, and now he’s pleading poverty to the committee — he simply can’t afford a lawyer to sit next to him, and wants time to raise money for one via a legal fund drive. Oh, puh-leeze.
For his antics in front of the committee, which were only partially mitigated by the much-more-humble statement he gave later in the week, we hereby award — hopefully for the last time (at least for this particular subject) — Charlie Rangel the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Contact Representative Charlie Rangel on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 147 (11/19/10)
This is a warning to Democrats everywhere: the new fall line of Republican Talking Points is out.
There are, basically, two of them. The first is that the Republican Party is now doing what “the American people” (or perhaps “The American People”) want. The second is the flipside of this, which is that Democrats “just don’t get it.” This one is comfortably vague and all-encompassing.
But the first one isn’t, and this presents a giant opening for Democrats to fight back. Because we can actually tell, on many important political issues, what “the American people” think about things. Yes, I’m talking about opinion polls. Now, polls can be a two-edged sword, I’d be the first to admit that. But why let the other side use its edge and perpetually blunt your own by refusing to wield this weapon?
Because there are a lot of issues on which the American people are solidly, even overwhelmingly on the side of the Democrats. So use this fact! Point it out, for Pete’s sake! Don’t let the Republicans steal the phrase “the American people” as they’ve stolen so many others over the years.
I guarantee it — if Democrats start using the exact same phrase to describe their positions on popular issues, then Republicans will stop using it, or at the very least, tone it down a bit. But you’ve got to forcefully swing that sword in order for it to cut both ways. And there’s no time like the present to start doing so.
The American people want DADT to end
Here’s the first one. It’s easy. And it’ll become even more effective when the Pentagon releases a report showing that not only do ever-wider majorities of the American people favor dumping DADT, but also that majorities of people currently serving also favor jettisoning the policy as well.
“You know, Republicans have been making a lot of noise about how they now speak for ‘the American people,’ and how Democrats ‘just don’t get it,’ but then they turn that on its head when it gets down to specific issues. For instance, something like 60 to 75 percent of Americans want us to end the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy on gays in the military. I put it to you, sir, that the American people want exactly the same thing Democrats do on the issue, and Republicans are the ones who really just do not ‘get it.’ Even a large majority of those in uniform want an end to the policy, but Republicans continue to thumb their nose at the will of the people on the issue of ending such discrimination in the military.”
The American people want arms reduction
Can somebody please get Obama’s back on this one? Pretty please?
“You want to know what the American people want from Congress? I’ll tell you. Recent polls show that three out of four Americans want the Senate to ratify the new nuclear arms reduction treaty — the ‘New START.’ Why are Republicans playing politics beyond the water’s edge? Why are Republicans in the same corner on this issue as Iran? America’s national security will be strengthened by getting our inspectors back into Russia to, as Ronald Reagan said, ‘trust but verify.’ We cannot verify right now, because the old treaty expired. The American people want us to pass this treaty, and there is absolutely no reason why we should not ratify it. Republicans are trying to wheel and deal and get their own kickbacks put into the bill. They are shamelessly playing politics because they don’t want Barack Obama to get a ‘political victory’ on this issue. They just don’t seem to get it — this won’t be a political victory, this will be a victory for any American who cares about our national security, and we call on Republicans to support it, as three-fourths of the American public does.”
This one is such an enormous bludgeon, it is almost begging to be used.
“Right before the Christmas holidays, Republicans have blocked extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. If you are about to lose your benefits and you voted Republican in the last election, I’d just like to point out that you put this lump of coal in your own stocking. This is what you voted for — people who would cut off millions from their last resort, right before Santa arrives. Thanks, Scrooge McRepublicans!”
A Texas-sized hole in the deficit
This one comes from a recent story about a new ad going up in favor of ending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires. I find I can’t improve on McMahon’s words one bit.
Listen to the Patriotic Millionaires
I can’t improve on these words either. There’s a new group of wealthy folks (they’ve even got a website) calling themselves the “Patriotic Millionaires,” who are advocating to end the Bush tax cuts on themselves and people like them.
From their letter to President Obama:
We are writing to urge you to stand firm against those who would put politics ahead of their country.
For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you allow tax cuts on incomes over $1,000,000 to expire at the end of this year as scheduled.
We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more.
We have done very well over the last several years. Now, during our nation’s moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don’t need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way.
Letting tax cuts for incomes over $1,000,000 expire, is an important step in that direction.
Hippie terrorists? Honestly?
This one is just ridiculous. Our tax dollars — which are supposed to be paying for valid anti-terrorism efforts — are instead being used to play out some Nancy Reagan-era action/adventure fantasy which casts as the evil villain marijuana terrorists.
You just can’t make this stuff up, I’m afraid.
Here’s the story, via WashingtonPost.com:
Federal, state and local officials carrying out a counter-terrorism drill in Northern California Wednesday played out a scenario in which local marijuana growers set off bombs and took over the Shasta Dam, the nation’s second largest, to free an imprisoned comrade.
According to an account in the Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight, the 12-hour drill was part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Critical Infrastructure Crisis Response Exercise Program, begun in 2003.
“More than 250 people from more than 20 agencies took part,” said Sheri Harral, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, according to the paper.
Harral said the drill took 18 months to plan and cost the bureau alone $500,000. The other agencies covered their own costs.
The paper made only passing reference to the scenario’s designation of pot growers as terrorist villains.
In the otherwise realistic mock-terror scenario, the marijuana growers’ “red cell” set off bus and car bombs as distractions, took over the dam with three hostages, and then “threatened to flood the Sacramento River by rolling open the drum gates atop the dam,” according to the paper.
I’m at a loss for words. Seriously. Free “an imprisoned comrade”? I mean, what year do these people think it is?
You’re going to have to make up your own talking point to cover such idiocy. Imagine if this money had been spent in the wilds of some red state on a drill involving a “right-wing terrorist group,” and then channel the outrage which the other side would have vented — that may help you to formulate your talking point, here.
Because that was so depressing, we will end on a much lighter note this week.
Was it good for you, too?
Why can’t we have political ads like this in our country?
This isn’t really a talking point, per se, but more of a When Harry Met Sally moment, so to speak.
Spain’s young Socialists have come up with an ad titled “Voting is a pleasure” — which is exactly what it sounds like. I guess that’s why Republicans are so afraid of Socialists, because they’re terrified ads like this could ever run in this country. Heh.
Watch the ad. See for yourself.
“I believe I’ll vote for whom she voted for…”
[Program Note: See you in two weeks, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!]
Chris Weigant blogs at:
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How Democrats Can Take Back Congress
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Most headlines from the recent Pew and Time survey were some variation on “4 in 10 say marriage is becoming obsolete.” The full report was titled “The decline of marriage and the rise of new families” and it described an American population not too rattled about these demographic transformations.
Asked whether the increases in various “new family types” were good, bad, or made no difference, Americans mostly shrugged. People living together without marrying? Unmarried couples raising children? Gay or lesbian couples raising children? About each of these growing trends, more than 40% said they were neither good nor bad. They really didn’t care about the increase in the number of women who never have children (55% said it didn’t matter) or about the rise in interracial marriages (60% shrugged).
There was, though, one big exception. Asked about the increase in single women having children, 69% of the nationwide sample said it was a bad thing.
More than a decade ago, I wasn’t studying singles or their place in society. My familiarity was only with the media reports that seemed to suggest that children of single parents were at great risk for screwed up lives. I set out to read the original research reports to see just how bad things were for these kids.
I was stunned at what I found. In some studies, children of single parents did no worse than children of married parents. Sometimes, in some ways, they even did better. Yes, there are lots of studies in which children of single parents appear, at first glance, to be doing less well than children of married parents. The differences are statistically significant. Look closely, though, and often they are not big differences.
Consider, for example, the results of a nationally representative sample of 22,000 adolescents. What was the rate of drug or alcohol problems and how did it vary with the type of household? For children of married parents, the rate was 4.5%. For the children of single parents, it was 5.7%. So yes, the children of the single parents did a bit worse – by all of 1.2%. When you see headlines proclaiming that the children of single parents are doomed to addiction, remember these results. Also keep in mind that 94.3% of the children of single parents had no alcohol or drug problems. (Maybe also of interest: the kids in households with a married mom and dad did not do the best. Adolescents living with a mother, father, and another relative did – their rate of abuse was just 3.4%. Also, there’s nothing magical about the number two. Father-only, for example, was better than father plus stepmother.)
Even when studies do show children of single parents faring less well than children of married parents, they often do NOT show that they fared less well because they were in a single-parent home. In cases of divorce, the studies typically do NOT show that the kids would have fared better if their miserable, bickering parents had stayed together.
Many studies comparing children from 1- vs. 2-parent homes are assessing them at just one point in time – often after a divorce. More impressive studies follow children of married parents for many years, then continue to follow them if and when the parents divorce. The results are striking. When kids are having problems after a divorce, often they were already having difficulties many years before the parents divorced. Divorce itself wasn’t the cause.
There are environments that are bad for kids, but they have less to do with how many parents are raising them and more to do with the emotional and interpersonal quality of life at home. Cold and neglectful parenting is bad for kids. High levels of conflict and hostility are painful. But a stable, secure, consistent, and caring relationship with an adult? That’s a good thing. A very good thing. A single parent can provide that.
I reviewed relevant studies in more detail, and explained my arguments at greater length, in the chapter on single parents in my book, Singled Out. I’ve kept up with relevant studies that appeared after Singled Out was published, and written about them in posts such as these:
It Takes a Single Person to Create a Village
Children of Single Mothers: How Do They Really Fare?
TIME’s Misleading Cover Story on Marriage
“Avoid marriage,” advises Atlantic writer
On tax breaks, emotional commitments, and the myth of the transformative power of marriage
Marital mentalities: The changes are historic, and we’re living them
I don’t think it is ever a good time to stigmatize children of single-parent homes or their parents. The nasty, gloomy proclamations are at odds with the results of scientific research, and they set up negative expectations that can become self-fulfilling. Plus, with so many parents heading to war and not returning, do we really want to tell their kids that not only will they never see their parent again, but that they are also destined to a life of failure?
Beware of self-righteous and scientifically dubious proclamations and prejudices. Sometimes the children are listening.
[I'm also writing about the Pew report for my Living Single blog at Psychology Today. The first post is "From 'marriage becoming obsolete' report: Only 46% of singles want to marry." Posts at All Things Single (and More) may also be of interest.]
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Single with Attitude: Not Your Typical Take on Health and Happiness, Love and Money, Marriage and Friendship
by Bella DePaulo Ph.D.
During the global financial crisis, governments spent billions to bail out banks in an effort to keep liquidity in the banking sector, largely so that lending could continue at a time when businesses needed as much help as they could get. However, in a financial crisis when the economy is in recession, it is counter-intuitive for a bank to lend money to customers who might get into further trouble. So the bail out didn’t work in stimulating the economy the way it was intended. The autopilot ‘internal’ risk function kicked in and prevented it from doing so.
Some could argue that the ‘risk’ function within banking, while acting to protect institutions, may have actually negatively impacted the speed of recovery. While we have all sorts of classifications around risk within the business environment today (operational, legal, socio-political, financial and market) the greatest risk we potentially face in the banking sector is actually none of these. Our risk “compass” needs to be re-tuned in the light of customer behavioral shift.
Industry Reputational Risk
Bankers often talk about the ‘trust’ consumers have in banking as a defining characteristic of why customers give us their money instead of simply keeping it under a mattress. It’s also why many bankers have difficulty understanding why customers of today seem perfectly happy to give money to the likes of PayPal, M-PESA, Lending Club or Zopa. The fact is trust in banking is stubbornly stuck in the doldrums, largely as a result of the whole sub-prime, CDO debacle.
So will trust return? This is a big theme this year. We are essentially dealing with reputational risk. Not for an individual brand or institution, but the collective reputation of the industry as a whole.
That’s the regulator’s job…
To assume we can fix this problem is to ascertain that we can have a coordinated approach to restoring consumer confidence as an industry. There are a few issues with this, namely that we generally leave such broader issues to the regulators. After all, what can one bank do about this on it’s own?
The problem with this approach is that regulators can only regulate, they can’t make us do good things for our customers. Despite strong regulation, 11 banks (Including the Big 4) are facing class action in Australia by customers over fees. Despite toughening regulation in the United States, the “Move Your Money” campaign continues to live on to this day. It is also why peer-to-peer lending networks are flourishing, why Mint and Blippy are garnering the trust of millions, and why PayPal is the world’s leading online payment network. Customers are moving on, plainly because the industry is no longer differentiated by a reputation built on trust.
Let’s face it – regulation is not going to restore trust. The only two things that will fix this gap is building transparency and delivering great service at the coal face.
Restoring trust requires us to be un-bank-like…
I’ve heard many banks talk about service and being more transparent, but the reality is this is a tough target. When we look at service as a sector we see costs and those costs have to be justified – the question always will be; will an increase in service bring more revenue or simply translate to costs? When we look at transparency, this is counter-intuitive for banks. We have spent our entire existence finding ways to hide margin, fees, and to justify those elements as part of the banking ‘system’ in order to return EPS.
The problem is if you screw up with customers today when they’re standing in the branch in a lengthy queue during their lunch break, they are just as likely to start Tweeting or shouting out to friends on Facebook about how “hopeless bank ABC is in the city branch today, this queue is massive!”
How do banks respond to such communications?
Most ignore these Tweets as inconsequential – does that restore trust?
Some respond positively to the tweet, explaining how sorry they are and what they are doing to resolve it…
Unfortunately, some Respond negatively; I’m sorry the customer feels this way, but this is not what we are like – really, some people are just never happy!
The only of these responses that will work positively to rebuild trust in the sector is to suck it up, respond positively, and figure how to create a better service culture or resolve the process problems that created them. You can’t do that if you aren’t listening.
Excellence is trustworthy
When you build a great service environment, then there is no need to worry about being transparent. Customers these days will pay a premium for great service. If service is not your thing, then be transparent about that, but explain you don’t charge as much as those other banks and that is the benefit of your bank. If, however, you want to keep fully loaded fee structures in place, then you’ll have to be transparent about the cost of delivering great service. If you aren’t delivering great service, and you are still leveraging fees like it was the 90s, you’ll find out that this strategy doesn’t work – just ask the big 4 banks in Australia. NAB, thus far, is the only bank to positively respond to this pressure by taking a new, transparent stance on fees.
There are some simple steps to take that will bring rapid improvements:
Simplify bank language through a plain-language initiative – refer Centre for Plain Language and Whitney Quesenbery
Make it easy to find the best phone numbers to speak to the right area of the bank on your website, circumvent IVR menu trees where possible. Citi in the US does this pretty well.
Mystery shop, not competitors, but the most common processes in your multi-channel environment and see where these need to be drastically simplified, and use Observational Field Studies to see how customers work in real-world settings.
Put a social media listening post in place and respond positively and openly at every opportunity – check out Gatorade’s Mission Control
Review the biggest complaints you get in the call centre, and try to fix those customer journeys proactively. We call these Torch Points…
Building trust starts with creating great customer journeys that improve service levels and demonstrate a willingness to be transparent. We can’t rebuild trust without these elements. The biggest risk today, is simply that I don’t trust you enough to give you my money.
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Bank 2.0: How Customer Behavior and Technology Will Change the Future of Financial Services
by Brett King
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“If you’ve never failed… you’ve never lived” is a popular video on YouTube describing the failures of people like Thomas Edison, once called “too stupid to learn” by his teacher and Walt Disney, who was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination.” Not every idea succeeds, and indeed, some of America’s most triumphant inventors, artists and entrepreneurs have most likely failed at some point in their lives. But without risk and the possibility of failure, there can be no Innovation and no success. That is precisely one of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation” imperatives: No Risk, No Innovation.
The success rate when it comes to innovation is very slim. In fact, just 1 in 100 new product entries succeed in the grocery business, according to a study by allbusiness.com. For every innovative product that comes out of the NPD process, there are plenty of ideas that don’t work out — deemed as failures. What’s important is that companies have a tolerance for failure and encourage risk taking. Fear of failure can kill innovation. Never punish for failed ideas. Instead, learn from them how to improve in the future. Establish a level of trust so your team won’t be afraid to think outside the box. To build a successful culture of Innovation, encourage everyone on your New Product Development team to take risks!
“Robert’s Rules of Innovation” gives five simple steps for encouraging initiative and Innovation. Here are some tips:
1. Profiles in Risk: Clearly communicate the risk profile you are asking your people to adopt and state why it is important to the organization’s success.
2. Failure Management: Never allow an unsuccessful risk to hamper a team member’s opportunities and advancement.
3. Key Learnings Process: Establish a formalized, non-accusatory process for harvesting key learnings from unsuccessful risks. Distribute these lessons learned.
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Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival
by Robert F. Brands, Martin J. Kleinman
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Argentina’s giant Aconcagua, at 22,834 feet the highest mountain in the world outside Asia, is one of the famed “Seven Summits” and, as such, a coveted peak. If one ascends via the ruta normal, summit day involves scaling the notorious Canaletta, one of the most physically demanding challenges in all of climbing. With the South American mountaineering season starting soon, I thought it would be beneficial to share my own experience on that beast with prospective climbers. My advice: Be prepared!
CAMP BERLIN, 19,300 FEET: Suddenly it’s morning, clear and cloudless for the first time in a week. I dress warmly with every piece of clothing I have — the temperature is below zero and may drop as we move higher. By 11 a.m. we have reached the 21,000-ft. mark — Independencia — a bombed-out shell of an old hut serving no other purpose than to mark altitude. As we approach, I’m moving slowly — a laborious three breaths per step. A once-dull headache has blossomed into something seeming more serious.
I’m intrigued by a group of Russian climbers using the hut as shelter against the wind. They are attempting to light cigarettes! I can barely breathe, yet they want to smoke. How can there be enough oxygen to light a match, let alone sustain burning tobacco? The paradox quickly becomes too complicated — I write it off as a hallucination from oxygen deprivation.
After a quick break for hydration, we slog on. From Independencia, we traverse a long snowfield, then up steep snow to the base of the Canaletta at 22,100 feet. Thinking it has taken maybe an hour from Independencia, I begin to get excited. But when I look at my watch, despair sets in. It is already 2:30 p.m. Time is passing so quickly. I wonder if we will have enough, providing I have the strength, to get up what is called, even by Everest veterans, one of the toughest physical experiences in all of climbing.
I had been forewarned, but no warning can give adequate preparation for this monster. The Canaletta is simply the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted, both mentally and physically. It is 800 vertical feet of loose scree and boulders — a kind of hell up near heaven, if that makes sense. Three steps up, then a slide or two back, or a fall on my face — over and over, like trying to climb a down escalator. It’s now five to 10 gasps between strides, like sprinting 50 yards with each step.
The key is not to look at the top, seemingly a stone’s throw away but, malevolently, not getting any closer. My brain is hypoxic, depleted of oxygen, and playing tricks on me. For a while, I feel as if I’m watching myself from 10 yards away, struggling pathetically in some kind of ghastly slow motion, to ascend this stupid rock gully. What’s the point, I begin to wonder?
Another three-hour blur of suffering and I’m within 50 feet of the top. There is no concept of time. I just know I have to put one foot in front of the other and soon I’ll be standing on the highest patch of ground outside of Central Asia. In fact, at that moment I’ll probably be the highest human on earth because it’s January, winter in the northern hemisphere, when Himalayan expeditions rarely climb. My guides will tell me it takes a full 20 minutes to cover that last 50 feet. Finally, at 5:30 p.m., I see the famous aluminum cross commemorating lost climbers.
Rarely does one comprehend, at the moment, a defining experience, but I did. I’d spent two years preparing, and nearly a month on the mountain suffering, for this one and I tried to savor it. First, I snapped off a full roll of film on the summit, taking in a surreal view. Next, I picked up some souvenir rocks. Just as I was getting used to the dream-like state, my guides tell me we must leave–in three hours we must descend what has taken nine hours to climb. If we don’t get back to the tents before dark, we risk losing our way and freezing to death in the rapidly cooling night air.
It’s easy to see why more people die on descent than ascent. Increasingly feeble, I literally stumble down the Canaletta in a semi-drunken stupor. I’m so tired I just want to crumble to the ground and sleep but my guides, in language not fit for print, urge me on. By 9 p.m., I’m safely back at Camp Berlin, incredibly tired but grinning ear-to-ear. I can assure you, I’m no Sir Edmund Hillary, but on that particular night you would have had a hard time have convincing me otherwise.
There is little doubt that 2010 will be a bad year for Democrats, with many Democratic incumbents likely to lose to Republican challengers in both House and Senate races. The real question is how bad it will be–will enough Democratic incumbents lose to shift control of the House (and possibly Senate) to the Republicans.
While many things are working against Democratic incumbents this year, the public’s tendency to be risk averse may make the difference in allowing some incumbents to win campaigns that they might otherwise have lost. In a recent paper, David Eckles and I show that voters who are more risk averse are more likely to vote for incumbent House members, even when controlling for a number of other factors. The general idea here is that voters will be less sure about what a challenger will actually do once in office, so if a voter is averse to risk-taking, this will make them more willing to support the incumbent even when the challenger appears to be a pretty good alternative. People treat consumer products similarly. For example, one study found that 40% of experimental subjects preferred their “incumbent” skin lotion brand to a “challenger” brand, even though they recognized that the “challenger” brand was superior.
In our analysis of vote decisions in 2008 House races, we find that risk aversion is such an influential force, that it often causes voters to vote for the incumbent even though they recognize that the challenger’s ideology is significantly closer to their own. Since the vast majority of citizens are generally averse to taking risks, this constitutes a significant advantage for any incumbent candidate.
Of course, many polls are showing that citizens seem to prefer the Republican challenger in their House and Senate races in spite of this risk aversion. The question is whether voters will act more risk averse when they actually go to cast their ballots than they do when they express a vote preference to pollsters. To gain some insight on this question, I looked back at the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which was conducted by YouGov/Polimetrix (disclosure: I was part of a team that sponsored the module to the 2008 CCES that I analyze here). The CCES includes both a pre- and post-election survey of the same voters; therefore, I am able to compare whom a voter said they preferred in October to who they actually reported voting for in November. The chart below shows the percentage of respondents that ended up voting for the incumbent House candidate depending on whether they said in the pre-election survey that they preferred the challenger, the incumbent, or if they were undecided. Overall, those who had settled on a candidate in October almost always stuck with that choice. About 94% of those who planned on voting for the incumbent did so while only 5% who planned on voting for the challenger changed their minds and voted for the incumbent. Those who were undecided in October split their votes almost evenly between the incumbent and the challenger.
The next chart shows how voters broke down when it came to their orientation toward risk. To classify voters as more or less averse, we used a question that asked respondents if they would take a hypothetical job offer under different conditions; see the paper or this post for more details. More risk neutral voters are shown on the left and more risk averse voters are shown on the right. For the most part, both groups stuck with whichever candidate they had expressed a preference for in the pre-election survey. However, those who were undecided in October broke differently depending on their level of risk aversion. Undecided risk neutral voters broke overwhelmingly for the challenger while a majority of undecided risk averse voters ended up voting for the incumbent.
What can this analysis tell us about this year’s midterm elections? Ultimately, the fact that the smaller group of undecided risk neutral voters (we classified 28% of voters as risk neutral) broke more heavily against the incumbent canceled out with the smaller break toward the incumbent among the larger group of risk averse voters (we classified 72% of voters as risk averse). If the 2010 congressional elections go like they did in 2008, then undecided voters may break relatively evenly for the incumbent and challenger and pre-election polls should prove relatively accurate. However, these findings do suggest a potential strategy for Democratic incumbents* in tight races. Endangered incumbents may benefit from characterizing their challengers as “risky,” with the aim of capitalizing on the risk averse tendencies that most voters have. Such a strategy may help these incumbents win over a large share of late deciding risk averse voters.
* Appealing to risk aversion is a strategy that either party’s incumbents should benefit from. However, there are few endangered Republican incumbents in this election cycle, which makes this a particularly pertinent strategy for Democratic incumbents in 2010.
Today, September 28, 2010, EcoAmerica is hosting an important environmental conference, America The Best, in Washington, DC, for a small group of specialists in environmental communication to see what ideas emerge. Because of the number of distinguished participants, I compressed my ideas to 4 pages. I have written about these issues at length in the journal Environmental Communication, No. 1, 2010, but since a 4-page version has a chance of actually being read, I thought I would send it out beyond the conference participants to see if it can get some discussion started on a national level.
An understanding of communication is necessary, as the communication failures of the Obama administration have made clear. The environmental movement as a whole shares such failures, which is why the conference is being held. The importance of communication in politics has not been recognized sufficiently by environmentalists, and by progressives in general.
When a huge number of Americans hear mainly from anti-environmental conservatives all day every day, they put pressure on their representatives in Congress. That effects voting on legislation. It is getting late to act on global warming. If the Republicans take over Congress it may be too late. The fate of the planet hangs in the balance. Here are a few pages to begin a conversation that should be engaged immediately.
These notes are about ideas that have to change in the wider public and how to change them. They are not about short-term slogans.
Notes on Environmental Communication
Some Brain Basics
We think with our brains We think using conceptual systems that are physical. They use brain circuitry, structured to characterize frames and metaphors. All language is made meaningful by activating these frame-circuits.
Activation of a frame-circuit makes its synapses stronger. Just listening to or using language that activates a frame-circuit strengthens that frame-circuit.
Negating a frame activates that frame. Using conservative language to argue against conservatives just reinforces conservative framings. Environmental language must avoid activating anti-environmental frames and anti-environmental language.
For example, defending science activates the idea the science needs defending and so is questionable. Go on offense, not on defense.
All Politics is Mora The system of concepts used in political discourse is grounded in conceptions of what is moral. Every political leader claims he or she is doing what is right, not what is wrong. But Conservative and Progressive moral systems differ profoundly (see The Political Mind and Moral Politics). Parts of the conservative moral system contradict environmental values — Man over Nature, Laissez-faire markets, personal not social responsibility, etc. Environmental values derive from a moral system centered on empathy and social responsibility.
Biconceptualism Many, if not most, people have two contradictory moral systems, applied to different issues. They may be progressive on some issues, conservative on others. The brain makes this possible via mutual inhibition — activating a moral system strengthens it and inhibits, and hence weakens, the other.
This means that one should talk using the positive language of an environmental (and hence progressive) moral system, and avoid the language of the anti-environmental (radically conservative) moral system.
Political bi-conceptuals include something like 15 to 20 percent of the voting population. It is crucial to think of them all the time.
Moral Versus Merely Factual Arguments Facts matter. But for their importance to be communicated at all, they must be framed in moral terms. Facts by themselves are not meaningful to most people. Just arguing the science of global warming is not effective. If done defensively, it can be self-defeating.
The Conservative Communication System Over the past 40 years, conservatives have built an effective communications system better than anything progressives have. It consists of a prior understanding of the conservative moral system, dozens of think tanks working from that system, talented framing professionals, training institutes that train tens of thousands of conservatives a year to think and talk from a radical conservative perspective, a system of trained spokespeople, and booking agencies to book their spokespeople on radio, tv, and in venues like civic groups, colleges, corporations, etc., and more recently, a blogging community. The result is that, throughout the country, millions of people hear consistent messages day after day. The environmental community has not built such an effective system, and does not have the long-term framing needed to go with it. Just running ads doesn’t compete with an effective communication system!
Language Changes Brains
Language is crucial, because language activates frame-circuits and hence can change brains. Most brain change is slow, long-term, and requires constant repetition. Some brain change is fast — mostly in the case of trauma. The recent environmental disasters have been opportunities for fast brain change. The environmental community was not able to take advantage of those opportunities.
Long-term versus Short-term Messaging The conservative message system has been activating the conservative moral system in the brains of listeners for over 30 years. Their anti-environmental messages have been affecting brains for a very long time, and in recent years their messaging has been very effective.
Such long-term, morally-based, anti-environmental messaging cannot be countered effectively by short-term messages and mere ads.
Disaster Messaging When environmental messaging has failed and faces a communication disaster like the present one, the response has been “disaster messaging” — an ad campaign to “get the facts out there” and be bipartisan. This fails because (1) without the moral language and ideas behind them, the facts by themselves don’t register, and (2) attempts to be bipartisan do not activate the environmental moral system in bi-conceptual brains, and may even hurt if the messages use conservative language.
Why Conservatives Message Better In business school, they studied marketing, and marketing professors study cognitive science to learn how the mind really works. Progressives tend to study political science, law, economics, and public policy, which assume Enlightenment Reason, which is not how the brain really works. Those fields get reason wrong and thus give conservatives a big advantage.
Needed Long-term Messages In order to decide on short-term messaging, one has to have a very good idea of the long-term ideas that are necessary to make sense of and to integrate short-term messages. The long term-ideas that have to be understood and accepted by the broad public are mostly are moral in character. Here are some of those ideas.
We Are Part of Nature The term “environment” provides a misleading image, as if the “environment” were outside of us, around us, not inside us and part of us. The reality is that we are not separate from our environment. This is obvious from air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat — but also what we experience of nature, since experience is physical, part of our bodies and brains.
Nature Nurtures Us We cannot exist without all that we get from nature. Human beings are who we are because of Nature as it exists. Nature nurtures and shapes us.
The Greatest Moral Issue of Our Time Nature as we know it is being destroyed by human action. The issue of global warming is the issue of the destruction, or the saving, of Nature as we know it, at least where optimal conditions still occur such as clean air, abundant water, available food, mild climate, disaster-free life, extensive habitable regions, animals that share nature with us and that we are linked to through evolution, and our biological and ethical connections to the living world.
Children and Grandchildren Will our children and grandchildren be able to know nature as we know it? Only if we stop global warming.
We All Own The Air Support the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR ACT now. Every adult citizen gets a significant financial dividend as the carbon pollution is cleaned up. There are only a couple of thousand distribution points for carbon fuels in America, and they are already monitored. To sell polluting fuels, each company would have to by dumping permits for the pollution to be dumped into the air. The number of permits would be reduced each year, cleaning the air and producing a market in permits. The permit money would go, three-quarters to adult citizens equally, and one-quarter to alternative fuel development and repairing previous environmental destruction. Most people will make money, even if fuel prices go up. That money will be spent and will create jobs all over the nation. The bill is 39 pages long. Read it.
The Global Economic Crisis Is The Same As the Global Environmental Crisis. Tom Friedman has expressed this in economic metaphors: Both of crises arose from Underestimating Risks, Privatizing Profits, and Socializing Losses. Both are consequences of human greed in a Greed-Is-Good economic system.
Systemic Causation and Risk Every language represents direct causation in its grammar. No language in the world represents systemic causation in its grammar. Yet both the global economy and global ecology are systemic in nature, with large-scale overall causes, positive and negative feedback loops, and so on. Systemic causation must be taught; it does not arise naturally as a concept. We must learn to think in systemic terms. Systemic risk is different from local risk.
The Cost of Doing Business Dumping pollution, blowing off mountain tops, leaving pipelines in the ocean, letting fertilizer run off — these are all “externalizations of costs;” that is, they increase profits by harming nature. Businesses should not be allowed to externalize costs. A moral business should not destroy Nature. Oil companies are in the business of destroying nature.
Cost-Benefit Analysis The use of cost-benefit analysis is inherently anti-ecological. The mathematics works by a formula: The integral (or sum) over time of a local environmental benefit minus the corresponding local business cost, times the following factor: e to the minus discount (interest) rate times time. Since money is worth less in the future than in the present because of compound interest, any environmental benefits go down exponentially relative to business costs and soon approach zero. Since nature should continue indefinitely, while business is transitory, the mathematics itself has a hidden anti-ecological bias.
Energy Saved Is Worth Far More than Energy Used Energy savings are multiplicative. Suppose you insulate your house. Next year you will use X barrels of of oil less to heat it. That means X barrels of oil not needed to be extracted. But each year after that, again you will not need X barrels of oil. Thus, the savings are multiplicative: you keep not needing oil year after year.
When it is claimed that business “needs” dirty energy (fossil and nuclear fuels), the possible multiplicative savings from conservation and alternative fuels –that is from not needing dirty fuels — is usually not factored in.
Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has observed that, via conservation alone, we could save 23 times all the energy we get yearly from coal. Even if he is only ten percent right, it would mean that coal is not needed as an energy source.
Distributed, clean, capital-lite energy is more efficient, profitable, and moral than centralized, dirty, capital-intensive energy (like coal mines and plants, oil wells and refineries, huge dams, nuclear power plants, natural gas fracking, etc.). This is crucial to developing countries as well as developed countries.
Political Action is More Important than Symbolic Action It was nice of Jimmy Carter to put solar cells on the White House, and Michelle Obama’s White House organic garden is a fine gesture as well. But neither of those has changed much. A presidential order putting solar cells on all military and government facilities, and having all military and government agencies require fuel-efficient vehicles, would change a lot. Buying senators is more effective than buying new light bulbs. Effective communication can “buy” political leaders by changing what voters hear. Ecological moral action is fundamentally political action.
Effective communication and education constitute political action Whatever changes brains on a massive scale in an ecological direction will result in material change.
Business is central to the effort Business can save, and hence make, a lot money by going green and developing green technology.
Food It is important to move from mostly oil-based food (using pesticides, fertilizers, global transportation) to sun-based food (local and organic) and from huge, centralized, unhealthy, polluting feedlots to small local operations.
Ecological development creates jobs and prosperity People want to live, and business want to locate, in places that are ecologically attractive and responsible, and the conversion to such values means new businesses will thrive.
Ecological Education is the Most Essential Form of Education The saving of Nature depends on It. Our economic future depends on it.
Women’s Education is one the most important ecological issues Population control depends on it.
True Morality is Ecological Morality The saving of Nature depends on it.
Several years ago I was invited to a charitable conference called the Glocal Forum. The Forum was a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of international intercity relations in pursuit of a new balance between global and local forces. At the conference I met a man who was approachable, genuine, handsome, charismatic, giving, down-to-earth, intelligent, and witty. He had introduced himself solely as “Tim”, so I had no idea the weight his full name carried. I just new I really liked his character and felt that I would buy ice from him in Antarctica if he said it was for a good cause. I soon found out why I thought so highly of this man named “Tim”….
(Story from When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out)
Some of the greatest moments in sports are those defined by the supreme effort put forth by competitors who take every personal risk imaginable to advance the cause, who empty themselves of all energy and capacity, and then somehow find a reservoir of will that propels them beyond fatigue, pain, fear or exhaustion to achieve more than anyone ever thought possible.
Vince Lombardi captured the popular notion of this type of effort–of what it means to “leave everything on the field”–when he said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle–victorious.”
The best known examples of this type of effort are held out as nearly superhuman feats. Michael Jordan, drained and dehydrated with severe flu, carrying his team to victory in a crucial game five of the ’97 NBA Finals. Kerri Strug, unable to walk due to torn tendons in her ankle, sealing gold for Team U.S.A. in gymnastics with an unforgettably daring vault and landing at the Atlanta Olympics. Tiger Woods, playing with a bum knee and a broken leg, willing his way to win a sudden death playoff to take the 2008 U.S. Open.
Though not as well known as these feats, at Special Olympics, where athletes with intellectual disabilities compete for respect and acceptance off the field as much as victory on it, these types of heroic, risky, all-out-effort performances happen as well.
Think of Alexi Rogov, a Russian speed skater who competed in the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. He was halfway through his race when he caught an edge and hit the ice, landing so hard and so awkwardly that he sliced through his Achilles tendon. Despite excruciating pain, he got up, and found within himself the will to continue the race and finish. Later, from his bed after surgery, Alexi said that stopping was not an option. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” he told me matter-of-factly.
What is it that propels this type of effort? What enables these athletes to summon this type of bravery–to give the performance of a lifetime when they seemingly have nothing left in the tank to give? What pushes them to say, “It’s worth the risk”?
There is a range of characteristics that fuel such accomplishments, but the common denominator, I think, is desire. The desire to go out on the field despite realizing that the odds are against you. Knowing that you are in some way broken, vulnerable, less able than your competition, but nonetheless relentlessly willing to try. It is a desire that fuels the body in pain or the heart depleted that is unafraid of losing and unwilling to live with not having tried. It is the desire that comes from not caring how you look as you hobble along, struggling to complete a race on one skate, but caring deeply about how you’d feel if you didn’t finish.
Over the years I’ve learned that some of these awe-inspiring performances come from the most unlikely competitors. And the most incredible one I ever witnessed, one that outdid Jordan and Tiger and all of them, came from a Special Olympics athlete in a wheelchair. His physical challenges were significant: he couldn’t communicate verbally, couldn’t feed himself, couldn’t perform even basic manual tasks without Herculean effort. And yet he gave a performance that would have made even Lombardi redefine what it meant to be victorious.
The setting was the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland. At these games, Special Olympics globally unveiled the Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), designed for people with significant limitations who don’t yet possess the physical skills necessary to participate in traditional Olympic-type sports.
Examples of MATP activities include the beanbag lift, the ball kick and the log roll. As you might expect, the focus is less on competition and more on training, progress and participation. MATP is designed to give individuals with substantial challenges the opportunity to participate in Special Olympics, while reminding whole communities that no limitation is too great to suppress the desire of the human spirit.
Nonetheless, one might not expect MATP to be a compelling spectator sport. But how wrong! While the activities undertaken are, by themselves, fairly unremarkable, the displays of courage, grit, determination are anything but.
As chairman of Special Olympics, I confess that I was nervous about how the public would respond to an event showcasing the abilities of MATP athletes. However, at those World Games in Ireland, the public caught on quickly to the idea that there was something happening at the MATP venue that was worth seeing. Word spread and lines to get into the venue steadily increased. By the end of the second day there was a two hour wait to get inside. But by the time I went, on the third day of the games, the place was packed to the rafters with over fifteen hundred spectators, while hundreds more waited to get in.
In the crowd that day was President of Ireland Mary McAleese, and as she took her seat, out came the first participant, Irish himself, using a wheelchair and clearly of extremely limited mobility. His activity was the beanbag lift, where the goal is to move a bag across a tray attached to his motorized wheelchair. Grasp the beanbag, lift it, move it from one side to the other.
The crowd hushed as his name was announced and he was readied by his coach so that his hand was positioned on the tray within reaching distance of the beanbag. The coach whispered a word of encouragement in his ear, and then stepped aside as the clock started to time his performance.
The first minute passed in silence as he tried to get his fingers to grasp the beanbag. Fifteen hundred people emotionally pulled for this young mean as he struggled to accomplish something most of us take for granted thousands of times every day as we reach for a cup of coffee, or the phone, or a pen.
Halfway through the second minute, the silence was broken by a spectator who yelled out, like the golf fan who can’t contain his excitement after a putt, “Come on now!” Other people began to murmur with encouragement.
By the third minute, he still hadn’t managed it, but the crowd picked up its volume with every inch of progress made by his uncooperative fingers. And when he finally grasped the beanbag, after three full minutes of concentration and effort, the auditorium erupted.
For the next fifteen minutes, while he labored to move the object from one side of the tray to the other, the crowd didn’t let up. As the spectators willed him on, he willed on his body, until finally, after eighteen minutes had expired on the clock, he had completed the exercise. As he dropped the beanbag on its target, the noise from the crowd was deafening, and the look on his face was one of total exhaustion, total exhilaration.
Never before had I seen a person risk more, expend more, or leave more of himself on the court than this young man that morning. The courage and confidence he displayed in showing up in front of a crowd that included the president of his country, to perform a task that any one of those watching could have done in three seconds, was hard to fathom.
He didn’t know how the crowd would react. They could have pitied him, cringed at the time it took for him to complete his activity, felt embarrassed for him. But despite all the risks, he wanted his chance, he was ready to compete, he had a desire that could not be stopped.
All he could do was give it everything he had, and as a result, there was no pity, no averted eyes, no embarrassment. On the contrary, he had his moment and he claimed it. No one could doubt that he or she had been in the presence of a champion. We were inspired by him, uplifted by the fact that he possessed the courage and desire to risk everything to accomplish what he set out to do.
There is a saying that sports don’t build character, they reveal it. For Special Olympics, the revelation can often be as much about the spectator as it is about the athlete. In this case, my experience that day in Ireland revealed something within me that I was often reluctant to admit, which was that even after a lifetime of involvement in Special Olympics, there was a part of me that was always apprehensive in telling the story of our movement. What would others think? Would they be silently dismissive of our athletes and our work? Would they judge us as (at worst) irrelevant or (at best) nice but unimportant? There was something in me that was always fearful of other people’s opinions.
But in the eighteen minutes it took that athlete to complete his activity, I was changed. I arrived that day anxious and apprehensive about what others would think, but I left after that heroic performance worried no more. The power in the room wasn’t in the shouts of the crowd; it wasn’t in the long lines outside the venue; it wasn’t even in the presence of the president of the country. It was in the athlete himself. He didn’t worry. He wasn’t deterred by a lifetime’s worth of struggle. He didn’t stay home because of fear of being judged.
He was brave, willing, real. He went within, found his strength, felt no limits, embraced all risk.
I try to take his energy to my family, to my colleagues, to those I meet. Sometimes I still wonder whether others are judging me and my message. But when I feel that, I remind myself of that performance in Ireland. I know if this courageous Irishman can stick his neck out to life’s greatest risks, then I certainly can as well. It may take eighteen minutes or eighteen days or eighteen years–but somehow, I know the strength of the human spirit will win.
Motivational Weight Management Tip
My experience of working with the Biggest Loser contestants and Symtrimics has inspired me to leave motivational diet, health, and wellness tips at the end of all of my blogs. These tools will be driven from the actual advice shared in my weekly motivational Transformation Talks. This week’s tip: When you hit a bad patch on your road to better health, don’t harp on it or feel you’ve completely failed. Look at all the things you DID do well that day or week and then take stock of what you can improve. You’ll see that there is still a lot you have accomplished and your setback can be good lessons for the future.
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Things didn’t go exactly as I planned in the 1994 Olympics. But I can say that I truly cherish the memories and the friendships I forged with my fellow Olympians. I’m still honored that Prince Albert of Monaco invited me to come watch his competition at those games, and even more honored when he agreed to be a contributor of what has become my best-selling book. Prince Albert shared with me that despite all he has done as a ruler for Monaco, it is his experience an Olympian that has most shaped his life.
Prince Albert IIRisk(Story from When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out)
“On deck, a bobsled team that is new to the Olympic track…Monaco! And surprisingly, holding the reins is Monaco’s own Prince Albert II.”
I think my bobsledding surprised many people–or “troubled many people” may be a more appropriate phrase. I know most everyone envisioned me sitting on a royal throne rather than in the driver’s seat of an Olympic bobsled. Quite frankly, those closest to me were likely more comfortable with that “royal” picture as well.
As I visualized the undulating turns and dips that I would soon encounter, watched by a quarter of the world’s population, my nerves began to dance and my pulse quickened. Soon I would be experiencing that tingly feeling I had before every bobsled run.
It was that same tingly sensation I would feel many years later, when confronted with the daunting task of speaking in front of over eight hundred dignitaries at the United Nations. But the years I spent testing my nerves at the top of various bobsled tracks around the world gave me the strength and bravado that I would need to conquer my fears.
I found myself hating my internal reactions to the danger, but somehow craving it at the same time. That danger always brought on a feeling of uncertainty, where I questioned if I was actually up to the challenge. There were even times when I wondered if I would survive the run. But deep down, I knew if I could get past my own fears and second thoughts and stick my neck out, I would grow physically and mentally at the same time. It’s the greatest challenge, and subsequently, the greatest reward, to surmount our own fears.
As I stood at the top of the Olympic run, I thought back to the first Olympics I had the opportunity to attend–the 1980 games in Lake Placid, New York. After seeing the exhilaration of the bobsled event up close and personal, I knew I had to feel the sensation of whipping down the icy course at speeds of up to ninety miles an hour. I wasn’t the reckless type, but I was always looking for new challenges in life, and bobsledding seemed the perfect outlet.
The very first time I clambered into a four-man bobsled as a passenger, in 1984, I was enveloped with the power and vibrations of the sled. My driver had just explained that we would be pulling four to five g’s, and my stomach surged as the sled rocked around the sharp turns. After that first thrilling ride, I wanted to push the limits of my adrenaline level and feel what it was like to be in control of that 1,680 pound sled as it plummeted down the track. So in 1986, I convinced one of my daredevil friends to go through bobsledding school with me. I had been frustrated by the fact that I had not really gone anywhere in other sports growing up, and for a bobsledder, twenty-seven years old wasn’t too late to start.
When I first signed up for the training, the thought of walking into the Olympic opening ceremonies carrying my country’s flag hadn’t even entered my mind. But when my coach eventually approached me about trying to qualify for the Olympics, it didn’t take long for my look of shock to morph into a childish grin. It wasn’t going to be an easy path, but I was more than eager to take it on.
Eleven months later I was standing at the top of the bobsled run of the 1988 Calgary Olympics, with a large “1″ plastered on my sled. Not only was I actually competing in the Olympic Games, but my team was going to be the first to go. To calm my nerves, I tried to put everything in perspective, and realized that I had nothing to lose. I knew I had to rely on the instincts and feelings I had developed through facing endless other challenges. As soon as I pushed out of the start, I would officially become an Olympian–a title no one could ever take away from me. It wasn’t something I was born into, but something I had taken a risk to do and developed myself.
This rush would invigorate me into steering my teammates through four more Olympic Games: Albertville, France, in 1992; Lillehammer, Norway, 1994; Nagano, Japan, 1998; and Salt Lake City, U.S.A., 2002. It created a high-voltage charge in my life that still pulses within me to this day.
My experiences in sport have continually helped me accept new and exciting adventures. Whether I was traveling across hundreds of hazardous miles of icecap to the North Pole, or making a terrifying speech in front of five hundred influential people, it always came back to those moments at the top of the track. Recalling my bobsled runs reminds me that I’m up for any challenge. The intent is still the same: conquer those fires in the pit of my stomach and get across the finish line. Those risks I took in sport have prepared me to reach all my goals throughout the rest of my life.
I certainly can’t say there weren’t fears involved. But I wasn’t going to let my reservations hold me back from the feelings of elation that always flooded through me after I’d tackled those fears.
No, my life wouldn’t have ended if I’d never climbed into that first bobsled…but I honestly don’t believe I’d be the same person if I hadn’t.
Motivational Weight Management Tip
My experience of working with the Biggest Loser contestants and Symtrimics has inspired me to leave motivational diet, health, and wellness tips at the end of all of my blogs. These tools will be driven from the actual advice shared in my weekly motivational Transformation Talks. This week’s tip: In your weight loss and diet regimen, go beyond what you think is possible. Many times we believe we’re giving 100 percent, but we still have fuel left in the tank. Today, try to push yourself a bit further than what you consider your maximum. Every task you do today, ask yourself if you could give just a little bit more. If you’re going to take the time to improve your health, why not put your whole heart and soul into it and do it right this time.
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