Archive for July 12th, 2009

Dean Baker: The Washington Post (a.k.a. Fox on 15th Street) Wants 15 Million People to Be Unemployed

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

The Washington Post, which gained worldwide fame for its effort to sell corporate lobbyists access to its reporters and Obama administration officials, wants 15 million workers in the United States to be unemployed. Of course that is not exactly what they said; the Post argued against another stimulus package. But 15 plus million unemployed workers is the certain effect of the Post’s preferred policy.

We will go through the Post’s logic, but the simple fact that the Post opposes the policy should pretty well establish its usefulness. After all, the Post has a near perfect track record of being completely wrong on the economy at every turn.

Remember back in January of 2008 when the Post told readers that: “There is not yet any proof of a recession, …. Nor is there any consensus that a recession, if one comes, will be severe.”

And then one week later we got the line: “timely, targeted and temporary.” This is a paper that had no space for those warning of the dangers of the stock bubble in the 90s and the housing bubble in the current decade.

In short, given its near perfect track record of being 180 degrees wrong on the economy, the Post’s opposition to more stimulus makes a compelling case for its merits. But, let’s look at the argument.

The Post argues that most of the stimulus has not yet gone out the door, so we should wait to see its full effect. The point that we have not yet seen most of the spending misses the point that it is the rate of spending that matters, not the amount.

The stimulus is currently being spent out at a rate of close to $30 billion a month. This is pretty much its maximum speed. The fact that we will continue to spend out at this rate for the next year and a half doesn’t mean that the impact will be greater in 6 months or 1 year.

Suppose that we would spend out at this rate for the next 10 years. By the Post’s warped logic, we would want to wait 5 years or so to see the impact. Argghhhhhh, can’t the Post find anyone who understands some basic economics?

The Post is also worried about the deficit, telling readers that there is a limited supply of capital in the world and that we are borrowing too much. Actually, for practical purposes there is not a limited supply of capital in the world when the United States and most of the other wealthy countries are seeing double-digit unemployment. We can pretty much spend whatever we want without coming up against resource constraints. (Unemployment — means excess labor supply, get it?)

There is also a really great measure that economists use to determine the relative scarcity of capital. It’s called “interest rates.” At the moment, the interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds is about 3.25 percent. That’s more than 2 percentage points lower than during the days of budget surpluses at the start of the millennium. In other words, the evidence suggests that we have an enormous glut of capital right now, not a shortage.

It is truly a shame that the Post’s editorial writers and so many other people responsible for this entirely preventable economic disaster still have their jobs at a time when millions of hard-working and competent people are unemployed. It will be a great day when this situation is reversed.

More on Wash Post

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Bruce Wilson: BREAKING: Palin Says She’ll Stump For Democrats, Hints at Third Party

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

In a new, exclusive interview with the Washington Times that just hit the press today, Sarah Palin indicates she’s likely to go fully rogue.

The former Republican vice-presidential nominee and heroine to much of the GOP’s base said in an interview she views the electorate as embattled and fatigued by nonstop partisanship, and she is eager to campaign for Republicans, independents and even Democrats who share her values on limited government, strong defense and “energy independence.”

“I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation,” she said over lunch in her downtown office, 40 miles from her now-famous hometown of Wasilla — population 7,000 — where she began her political career.

“People are so tired of the partisan stuff — even my own son is not a Republican,” said Mrs. Palin…

SaraPac, Palin’s official fund-raising PAC effort, has printed an excerpt from a commentary by blogger Tammy Bruce, and also linked to Bruce’s post in which Tammy Bruce writes,

Enter now Sarah Palin with very encouraging comments that lead one to believe that she is indeed planning to do what she must: build an independent conservative movement and take this nation back from the liberals which now control both parties.Thanks liberals, for provoking Sarah into the national scene while vetting that family at the same time.

One thing I will say, the Washington Times with their headline for this exclusive interview reveal an anti-Palin stance. She is, don’t doubt, a threat to every existing political status quo. I hope the Washington Times and their editors realize, sooner than later, that the Palin movement is unstoppable

The true bull moose in the living room is Palin’s dual associations with the Alaska Independence Party and with a related religious movement covered extensively during the fall of 2008 by a small group of writers associated with the blog Talk To Action, by a handful of mainstream media journalists such as Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times, and by a few Alaska politics insiders such as Leah Burton.

While liberal media and bloggers have tended to indulge in speculation that Palin’s resignation was driven by looming scandals, Alaska native Burton, author of a recent book on Palin, Theopalinism: The Face of failed Extremism, wrote a June 6th, 2009 analysis of Palin’s surprise resignation that seems prescient in light of Palin’s latest signals, which include hints that she might break out, in classic “Bull Moose” fashion, to spearhead an independent third party effort.

Burton’s June 6th post outlined likely reasons behind Palin’s resignation from the Alaska governor’s seat:

This is a rallying cry!  She is not kidding when she states that she is not retreating – but advancing.  Once the decision was made by herself and other contributors to her decision as to how to best utilize Palin’s extraordinary popularity to advance the power and resurgence of the GOP, resignation was the ONLY option that makes sense for the following reasons – because she is now free to traverse this country unencumbered by official duties AND:

       1. Excite and ignite her base – a base broader than that solely of the GOP, bringing together extremists, Libertarians, Constitution Party members as well as GOP loyalists – all under one umbrella in a way that no other republican candidate has been able to achieve to date;

       2. Because of her “rock star” popularity she is an invaluable asset to the floundering Republican Party as a fundraiser for the GOP (whether Mitt, Newt, Huckabee or any of the rest of the presidential hopefuls care to admit it through clenched teeth);

       3. They can capitalize on her ability to generate untold numbers of evangelical extremists to register to vote significantly increasing the likelihood for success in local and national elections;

       4. And, while everyone debates over “will she/won’t she” regarding 2012, the GOP strategists are winding her up to let her go on the 2010 campaign trail in an all out effort to dominate local, state and congressional seats – by riling the masses into a pitched fervor through propaganda over Obama = Bad! Using all the scare tactics and fear-mongering popular in GOP campaigns such as Muslim, socialism, debt, non-aggressive defense posture, and the terrorism threat to the safety of our country;

       5. And THEN lastly, it does give her time to consult with the religious ghost-writer assigned from Zondervan [Christian] Publishing to meet her contract obligation for her upcoming book release in Spring of 2010…which is an incredible tool that will have tremendous impact on growing her followers when she does in fact, decide to throw her harpoon into the presidential race of 2012.

Understand this…she is a devout believer in her role in the “Great Commission”.  Therefore, to stay on as a “lame duck” governor really does NOT make sense in terms of furthering the GOP goal of taking back the majority in Congress, and do what they have done best since 1976 – ramp up campaigns from school boards to city councils/assemblies to state legislatures to U.S. Congress – and ultimately 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A few voices in mainstream media, such as The San Fransisco Chronicles’ Willie Brown and The Politico’s Roger Simon (who wrote a piece satirizing the post-resignation media Palin pile-on) have bucked the trend to dismiss Palin’s resignation as self-defeating. And at least one voice, Chris Cillizza writing for the Washington Post, has attached some hard numbers to “The Palin Sympathy Effect”. According to a new Gallup Poll, a majority of Americans feel press coverage of Palin has been unfair.

With reporters building entire edifices of Palin speculation based on Runner’s World photos of Palin preparing to run (quickly ambulate, that is, rather than pursue political office) and amidst the flurry of liberal talk show jokes deriding Palin’s intelligence it’s understandable that many Americans who might not support Sarah Palin’s political views are nonetheless coming to see Palin as a victim. In short, Sarah Palin appears to have manipulated the media with impeccable timing and considerable finesse. First the media, next the nation. Onward, Sarah Palin. Meanwhile, about your witch hunter friends… oh, forget it.

More on Sarah Palin

David Paul: Who Will Win the Next Phase in Iran, Ahmadinejad or Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali Sistani?

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

We have yet to see what the Iranian regime will be prepared to do in the face of real opposition. After all, the leaders of the opposition questioning the election results–Mir Hussein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Hashemi Rafsanjani, and others who have emerged as fellow travelers, including Ali Larijani and Mohammad Khatami–are each deeply routed in the Islamic revolution, and each served as either the leader of the parliament or the President of the Islamic republic.

More to the point, each rose to the top of Iran’s tightly controlled political apparatus, gaining personal power through a political system that excludes ex ante any candidate deemed to be a threat to the ruling regime. Therefore, one can fairly wonder why the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei jumped the gun in declaring a winner, since the system was rigged before the vote. But apparently that was not enough.

Here in the realm of the Great Satan, we tend to view things through our own eyes. So before Michael Jackson, Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin drove Iran from our TV screens, we were fixated on the images of street protests in the wake of the Iranian election. For us, in Iran–as in Florida–the question was, “Who really won the vote.”

But as the images of Tehran have faded, debates over who won have given way to a clear understanding that the integrity of the election in Iran is not the measure of democracy there. At the same time, the Iranian regime is coming to realize that the integrity of the election, or lack thereof–whether perceived or real–may be its undoing.

From the moment the polls closed, when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared the victory of President Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” Khamenei undercut his own credibility as a dispassionate ruler committed to the integrity of the electoral process. While Iranians may have come to accept limitations on what candidates are allowed on the ballot, fundamental Shia principles of fairness and justice demand that the integrity of the process be respected.

Instead of showing patience and respecting the process, Khamenei undermined his own credibility. But more important, he opened the door for the narrative that soon emerged: Those who questioned the results were guilty of apostasy. And in Islam, apostasy is a mortal sin, and such accusations have justified the most extreme incidents of Islamist violence.

Today, even though the demonstrations in the streets have disappeared from cable news, the debate in Iran has been elevated from vote counting and ballots to treason and apostasy. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

The issue is no longer about the election results. The issue now is about the core principal of the Islamic Revolution–velayat-e faqih–that Islamic law requires that power over civil society must lie with the clerical order of Islamic jurists.

This debate is deeply rooted in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. At the time of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini was the most vocal proponent among the senior Shia clerics of velayat-e faqih, while he was opposed at the time by his peer and rival Ayatollah Abul-Qassim Khoi, who disagreed with that interpretation of Islamic law, and dissented from the urge to assert clerical dominion over civil society. While Khomenei won the day and dominated the revolution against the Shah of Iran, velayat-e faqih has never been accepted across the senior Shia clerical order as settled law.

The debate over velayat-e faqih has reemerged as the central issue in Iran. Today, even as the Revolutionary Guard–the Praetorian Guard founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 to defend the clerical regime–is asserting its control over the streets of Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei’s impatience in handling the election may ultimately cost the regime its legitimacy.

A central figure in the debate over velayat-e faqih will be the leading protégé of Ayatollah Khoi, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Iranian cleric who is demonstrating the principals of his mentor in his patient oversight of civil society and the emerging democracy in Iraq. For Iranians in the streets, as well as clerics in the holy city of Qom, Sistani is among the most revered religious figures, and a cleric of greater authority and stature than Ali Khamenei himself.

The irony is that none of the leading actors the Iranian drama, Mousavi, Karroubi, Rafsanjani, Larijani or Khatami have identified themselves with Sistani or opposition to the existing order of clerical dominion over civil society. They are each products of the existing system. And yet the principle of velayat-e faqih is what is at stake and will emerge as the issue at hand.

The prospect of change–counterrevolution by any reasonable definition–in Iran poses real dangers, as any evolution to a more open democratic process and easing of clerical dominance will yet face many hurdles, and may take many years. As Ali Khamenei loses stature due to his mishandling of the post-election period, the winner over the near term may well be President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose ties to the Revolutionary Guard may allow him to assert greater power in Tehran, even as religious and legal arguments are debated in Qom. How the those debates play out in Qom may determine the long-term direction of the Iranian revolution, but how control over the Revolutionary Guard and the military evolves will likely determine whether the opposing camps in the post-election era reach a near-term accommodation, or Iran migrates devolves instead toward a traditional dictatorship.

More on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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Stanley Kutler: Remembering History, Powell, and McNamara

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

By Stanley Kutler

How do we remember history? Time diminishes our memories of details and spear carriers. Thirty-five years ago, as Richard Nixon prepared to resign, we readily recited the real-life cast of all the President’s men: Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Dean, Kleindienst, Colson, Liddy, and Agnew. Today, their memory has all but vanished, except for the few still active in the public arena.
For the Vietnam War, do we remember General William Westmoreland, or do we remember the ironic incantation of “light at the end of the tunnel?” South Vietnam’s General Thieu rests in the ashcan of history. Khe Sanh and Hue are half-century ago battles now reserved for military buffs; more prominent in today’s memory banks is our recognition and trade with Vietnam.
How history plays out is, however, a very real concern for key players. Richard Nixon campaigned for history, beginning with his teary White House farewell on August 9, 1973, and continuing through two decades, with another half dozen books, carefully calibrated appearances, and meting with prominent leaders at home and abroad. He struggled mightily to turn the public loathing of him into admiration for his achievements. He had virtually nothing to say about Watergate; fortunately, he left an enduring gift of his thoughts and words on tape. He was the greatest self-bugger of all.
Public figures understandably fuss over their reputations and how they will be remembered. This week’s news brought to mind memories of two prominent figures of their moment: Colin Powell and Robert McNamara.
Powell certainly is very conscious of his historical reputation. He said on CNN (July 5, 2009) that “history” will have to decide whether George W. Bush’s decision to make war in Iraq was correct. Like the former president, he presents a formidable example of history by amnesia. “A dictator is gone, a despicable regime is gone, the Iraqi people have been given a chance to have a representative form of government living in peace with its neighbors,” Powell said.
If “history” will decide whether Bush (with Powell) made the correct decision, then we have to confront a factual reality. Surely, General Powell knows that he participated in an unprovoked war of aggression, resulting in over 4,000 US combatants, and countless Iraqis. He knows that his UN speech, depicting Saddam Hussein’s menacing weapons of mass destruction, was utterly fictitious, concocted in the White House and Defense Department. Powell undoubtedly has the excuse that he was handed a script, full of errors, lies, and poor judgments. He always has been the “good soldier.” He was chosen for the UN performance ironically for his credibility, and not to say, his loyalty. President Bush, ably seconded by Vice President Richard Cheney, soon launched the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad. They soon marginalized Powell, but he loyally stayed for two more years.
Powell favors history by omission. His and Bush’s rationale rests on proven lies and factual inventions. Powell offered his judgment of the Iraq War, minus the fact of its undeniably dubious raison d’etre. Silent on that fact, Powell proceeded to the standard interpretation for Bush and his followers. That we lied, that we misrepresented the actual facts – that Condoleezza Rice warned of a mushroom cloud over us if we failed to act against Saddam Hussein – are facts easily discarded or ignored. Powell’s interpretation simply forgets that an unnecessarily provoked war brought needless sacrifices of casualties and treasure. We can hope that future historians will use all the facts.
Robert McNamara died in the same week that Powell tried to re-write history. McNamara loyally served John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. For both, he was the principal architect and desk officer of the Vietnam War, and for six years at least, the most vocal advocate of victory by a military solution. (McGeorge Bundy and Walt Whitman Rostow helped with the heavy lifting.) His public utterances, too, promised that “light at the end of the tunnel.”
For an earlier event, the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962, McNamara labored mightily tried to influence our understanding of that history, claiming he helped Kennedy forge a peaceful resolution. But the tapes do not lie: McNamara urged JFK to attack Soviet missile sites. Sheldon Stern, the leading authority on those tapes, has written they “prove conclusively that McNamara was not JFK’s principal ally in ‘trying to keep us out of war,’” as McNamara often said. (
McNamara readily hijacked the truth, and tried to stamp his visions on to recorded history.
Perhaps the McNamara believed a war might gild his reputation. His appetite was insatiable; he got his war, but he lost his reputation.
McNamara proved no stranger to shaving the truth and then offering a wholly different set of facts. The alleged Tonkin Gulf Incident in August 1964 provided a pretext for the greatly expanded American role in Vietnam. The National Security Agency initially reported an attack by North Vietnamese PT boats against American destroyers stationed in the Gulf, often in the North’s territorial waters. But subsequent reports indicated that “incident” might have resulted from a combination of bad weather and nervous radar and sonar operators. McNamara ignored the second report, and the President then portrayed the “incidents” as “deliberate attacks and open aggression on the high seas.”
Johnson ordered retaliatory airstrikes, and on August 5, submitted a resolution to Congress authorizing him to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” Except for the very brave Senators Wayne Morse (D-OR) and Ernest Gruening (D-AK), Congress immediately folded and gave Johnson and McNamara their blank check.
McNamara did not testify truthfully to Senator William Fulbright’s committee about either the “alleged” attack or the lack of American provocation in the Gulf. Johnson headed off growing criticism of the war by enlarging it–just what he thought he needed to avoid Truman’s burden of a limited war in Korea. Johnson also thought he would not be nagged by the question of “who lost Vietnam.”
McNamara used the moment to implement his game plan for counter-insurgency. Eventually, he despaired of the ineffective bombing assault, and finally concluded there could be no American military solution. Johnson eased him out, and into the cushy sinecure of the Presidency of the World Bank. McNamara’s beloved statistics no longer added up and he realized the venture was doomed. But McNamara always found it difficult to grapple with the intractable fallacies underlying the war. It was no game of dominoes, he must have sadly learned. And he kept his silence about what was true for another three decades, and more.
The blame McNamara deservedly receives now must also note that he was at the service of two of our very distinctive Cold Warriors, Kennedy Johnson. McNamara cannot absolve them for their decisions. Similarly, History must remember George W. Bush’s fateful decisions, enabled by Colin Powell. (As nicely articulated by Michael Lind,
McNamara remained unswervingly loyal to Kennedy and Johnson for over thirty years. Finally, toward the end of his life, he admitted the war was a mistake. Rather late, it seems. McNamara planned, implemented, and supported a war that was a total failure. The South Vietnam “domino” fell, but nothing changed geopolitically. There is no Republic of South Vietnam today; officially, there is no Saigon. Our failure must be measured in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and 58,000 American combatants. That is McNamara’s historical burden; that is the truth he never could fully acknowledge for it surely would poison the reputation he hoped penance, and eventually redemption, might bring him. Truth is an elusive commodity for such people.
Powell and McNamara exemplify the ever-loyal, unquestioning subordinate. McNamara self-righteously invoked Dean Acheson’s quiet departure from the New Deal as his model, but Acheson’s silence did not assure him a place at the World Bank. If McNamara had denounced the war, would it have made a difference? What if the very popular Colin Powell had expended some of his political capital and denounced the dubious rationalization for war against Iraq? Perhaps their dramatic gestures would have been wasted. But Archibald Cox’s forceful stand against Nixon in October 1973 is instructive, showing that public resistance to a superior can make a difference.
Justice cannot always be served; but Lincoln reminded us that “we cannot escape history.”
Stanley Kutler is the author of The Wars of Watergate, and other writings.

More on Colin Powell

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Stewart Nusbaumer: The Freeing of Afghan Poppies

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

Kabul, Afghanistan — Well it’s official. Everyone can now relax. The US government is scraping its opium poppy eradication program in Afghanistan.

Convinced that razing the cash crop grown by dirt-poor Afghan farmers is costing badly needed friends along the front lines of the fight against Taliban-led insurgents, U.S. authorities say they are all but abandoning the Bush-era policy of destroying drug crops.

Wait! The Associated Press article US moving away from Afghan drug eradication says “the Bush-era policy of destroying drug crops”? What is the author smoking?

Neither Bush nor Obama has ever had any such program. Ask any journalist, any soldier, any junkie, ask anyone with only a vague idea of what is happening in Afghanistan and they will say this is bunk. No one has been trying to eradicate poppies which is why poppy production continues to go through the drug roof.

When I was in Farah and Helmand Provinces several months ago I was struck by how careful our troops were in not stepping on a single blooming poppy. Actually, their sensitivity for Afghan entrepreneurs and concern for the junkies in the West was quite stunning. Giving me a Vietnam flashback.

When traveling on our tracked vehicles in Vietnam, we had no hesitation to rip right through a farmer’s field. I still remember one farmer. As we approached his property, he came rushing toward our tracked vehicles with arms waving and his brown weathered beaten face pleading as he begged us not to drive through his rice paddies. This of course produced a big yawn from us, and six or so of our tracked vehicles drove straight through his paddies destroying maybe 20 percent of his crop. On our way back, we might have gotten another 20 percent. On the other hand, on the way back he might have gotten us with a mine.

In Vietnam, we didn’t understand the critical importance of the local population. How to get them on our side, if that was possible. Nor did we understand the universal principle that people want to be treated with respect and dignity. Nineteen year old Americans with a rifle in their hands often have trouble with that principle. Nor did we grasp to tear up some poor farmer’s field is a no-brainer, which on your return trip might get your low functioning brains blown to smithereens.

Instead, we were told our job was to kill the enemy, which we did. We did that very well. But that did not, strangely, win the war. We were clueless that factors other than corpses won wars.

In Afghanistan, the US military, and others, have made some progress in understanding the world and understanding war.

Heroin may be a deadly scourge, but there are more pressing concerns, U.S. officials say, and ways to fight drug production without driving Afghan farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

As I said, we have not attacked poppy farmers. That is a myth. We have been engaging in other “ways,” specially, we’ve been doing nothing. But doing nothing turns out not to be cheap, for American taxpayers. It has been costing us $45 million a year! Maybe if they did something, it would be cheaper.

Yet, nothing turns out to be the best policy if the only alternative is to bury or spray or plow-up or blow up Afghan poppy fields and deny subsistence farmers who have seven or so mouths to feed the money to feed those seven or so hungry mouths. But isn’t there a third option? Myth 2: there are only two options on the board of play.

In fact, there is something other than doing nothing which allows the Taliban to rake in $50-plus million through its drug protection racket, or destroying farmers’ livelihood and have his family turn into skeletons? There is a sensible third way.

At this critical juncture when the Associated Press article could have stopped blowing smoke — new policy … break with Bush Administration … no more eradication — the writer nods-off. There is nothing about crop substitution, price supports, and market infrastructure. Not a word about a comprehensive agriculture system that could give Afghan farmers the money they need to feed their families, and give the UN and NATO a significant reduction in poppy cultivation. Poppies that result in more than 90 percent of the world’s illegal heroin and is a bonanza crash crop for the Taliban to buy guns and bombs for this increasingly bloody war. Not a word!

For years we have been hearing about a crop eradication program that does not exist, how many more years will it be before we hear about a crop substitution program that does exist?

More on Afghanistan

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Tim Giago: What do Greenpeace and Russell Means have in Common?

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© 2009 Native Sun News

July 13, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, was filled with ironies.

I was seated at a table in my newspaper office answering questions fired at me by two television documentary specialists from Germany. They had just returned to Rapid City from the Pine Ridge Reservation where they were doing some interviews about how the local Indians feel about Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial carving, etc.

I say the day was filled with ironies because they were just asking me some of the same questions about Mount Rushmore as I had answered for People’s Magazine on the same subject 18 years ago when at that very moment the news hit our newsroom that several Greenpeace activists had just rappelled over the face of Abraham Lincoln and unfurled a 65 foot by 35 foot banner to the right of his face.

The report said that all activists were safely apprehended, removed from the mountain and placed into custody. The twelve individuals that were “apprehended” (not arrested, mind you), were turned over to federal jurisdiction.

I immediately recalled the year that the United States of America celebrated its 200th birthday. The year was 1976. America, as usual, was burying all of its hidden horrors, putting cosmetics on all of its warts, and preparing to make 1976 a birthday celebration to end all birthday celebrations. The National Park Service rangers would have been polishing the faces of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore if they could have found a safe way to do it. They wanted those faces on the “Shrine of Democracy” to shine.

Down the road apiece an activist named Russell Means, an Oglala Lakota, had a different take on things. He announced in a way that only Russell Means could do that the American Indians intended to “blow out the candles on America’s birthday cake.” Holy cow, one would think that he had just announced that he and his followers were about to fire rockets at the face of the four presidents enshrined on Mount Rushmore. Means loved to call this monument, “The Shrine of Hypocrisy.”

As in days of yore, the Greenpeace activists also brought out the really colorful side of the locals. They suggested everything except a mass hanging for the infringers. My goodness, these tree huggers had desecrated a monument that was only second to a statue of Jesus Christ. “Lock them up and throw away the key,” suggested one angry patriot.

Again, my mind drifted back to 1976. Means had made his proclamation and the state law enforcement agencies had gone into a mass panic. The city and county cops, and the state and park cops, went into a wartime mode. They broke out the heavy artillery. They manned the barricades and prepared for the assault of the American Indians.

Many law enforcement agencies were already on semi-alert because Leonard Peltier was on the loose after the shootout at Oglala where two FBI agents were killed. The police had already rehearsed the actions they would take in case of another Indian uprising by stopping every car leaving the Indian reservations and searching them for Peltier. Finally, sick and tired of the harassment, buttons were handed out to many Lakota to wear on their chests or hats that read, “I am not Leonard Peltier.”

After the announcement by Means, the law enforcement panic was on again. The police and state troopers totally overlooked the fact that Indians can be tourists too. The hills were alive with police cars stopping every vehicle containing any individual who resembled an Indian. Natives were frisked, trunks were searched, and Indians were subjected to every indignity imaginable. As one large Lakota man was frisked in Keystone, South Dakota, he was heard to say, “Where in the hell is the ACLU?”

It makes one wonder how Greenpeace pulled off their stunt. I suppose it was because they didn’t look like Indians. In other words, they could pass because they looked just like any white tourist visiting the Shrine of Hypocrisy.

The boast by Russell Means that the Indians would blow out the candles on America’s birthday cake never came to pass, but his very words caused a statewide law enforcement panic that subjected every Indian resident of the state to a form of terror.

It proved once and for all that the “frontier mentality” that was formed in the minds of the early settlers in the 1876 was still alive and well in South Dakota in 1976.
And ironically, it is still alive in 2009.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at

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Kari Henley: Why Americans Are The Worst Vacationers

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

Ahhhh, summer’s here, and with it come trips to the beach, bar-be-ques, fireworks and vacations. Been on a vacation yet this summer? How was it? Did you come back feeling rested and refreshed? Good for you. Or, did you get swept up into a modern ‘American-style’ vacation: unable to forget about work, anxiety about email pile-up, tweeting every moment as it happened, and returning home wiped out, cranky and desperate to get back to the desk and routine? Taking time to unwind is hard enough, and knowing how to unwind properly is another matter.

What has happened to our vacations? We work all year, and save up our hard earned dollars for a getaway, only to spend far more money than we intended, race around, and get annoyed with each other. For families, the trends are mega watt destinations like Disney, Great Wolf Lodges or all inclusive resorts with constant stimulation, plenty of places to burn cash, and little in unstructured relaxation or spontaneous adventure.

Many are not able to take a vacation at all this summer – can’t afford it. Sadly, these are often the times we need it the most. A vacation can be created with very little money; the commodity we are all lacking is time. Whether the job doesn’t allow it, or workers are afraid to leave; Americans take fewer vacations than most other countries, and the ones we do take are getting busier, more expensive and consumer driven. Are we the worst vacationers in the developed world?

Only 14% of Americans took two weeks of vacation last year, and the number of Americans taking family vacations has dropped by a third in the past generation. The price we pay, by not getting away to unwind, is huge on our physical health, relationships, and emotional sense of well being.

Why are we reluctant as a culture, to support taking time off? Are vacations too costly to our GNP? Turns out job stress and burnout is said to cost our country over $300 billion per year. Our European friends have managed to compete in the modern era while continuing to take their month long “holiday”- are they just slackers?

As much as we’d like to think so, the answer is, no. The level of productivity per worker is the same, or slightly higher that ours, despite the fact they work 300 fewer hours per year. Europeans spend half the amount on health care as the US. They are requiring less health care, partly because Europeans are 50% less likely to have heart disease, hypertension or diabetes before age 50 than Americans.

Rethinking the importance of time off yet? Vacations are not just luxuries, or pithy pastimes for the rich. Statistics are showing that other countries who take regular vacations are happier, and live longer than we do. In 1980, people in only 10 other countries lived longer than we do. Now, people in 41 other countries live longer. Wow. That’s a pretty compelling reason to make sure that all Americans are getting some R&R, and that we learn how to truly “get away.”

As a matter of fact, 137 other countries are ahead of us in guaranteeing at least some vacation time. We have none. Zero. No required vacation time or paid holidays. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 28 million Americans — or about a quarter of the work force — don’t get any paid vacation. We are the veritable Ebenezer Scrooge of the world for R&R. At a minimum, every European worker is guaranteed four weeks paid vacation by law; most get six or more.

Fortunately, there is a new bill, called the H.R. 2564: THE PAID VACATION ACT OF 2009, introduced by Congressman Alan Grayson, to offer one week of paid vacation time for companies with over 100 workers, increasing to two weeks after three years, for all employees working at least 25 hours per week. Grayson proposes more vacation will stimulate the economy through fewer sick days, better productivity and happier employees.

Keep in mind seven days is modest, compared to the required 20-30 days of vacation time required in Europe and Australia. Canada and Japan offer 10 days minimum to start. According to an article in Politico, “the United States is dead last among 21 industrial countries when it comes to mandatory R&R.”

John de Graaf is the national coordinator of Take Back Your Time, an organization challenging time poverty and overwork in the U.S. and Canada, and is a frequent speaker on issues of overwork and over-consumption in America. DeGraaf is fighting to make sure this bill is seen, understood, and pushed to pass to President Obama’s desk. He is hosting the first national “Vacation Matters Summit” conference on August 10-12 at Seattle University.

DeGraff states on his site, “A new poll finds that more than two-thirds of Americans support a law that would guarantee paid vacations for workers. The poll found 69% of Americans saying they would support a paid vacation law, with the largest percentage of respondents favoring a law guaranteeing three weeks vacation or more. Take Back Your Time advocates for three weeks paid vacation or more.”

Supposedly, the “idea” for advocating for paid vacation time came to Senator Grayson when we was at Disney World. He said,

“there’s a reason why Disney World is the happiest place on Earth: The people who go there are on vacation.”

He went on to admit that,

“as much as I appreciate this job and as much as I enjoy it, the best days of my life are and always have been the days I’m on vacation.”

I found this rather funny and ironic. While Disney is an amazing place, I am not sure it is the ultimate place for a relaxing vacation. I believe there are two types of vacations these days. One type is to “see-do-buy.” Enchanted by ads with pyramid water slides, entertainment and activities, these vacations clock a mile-a-minute pace, and usually run a hefty bill. They are fun for sure, but I am not convinced they provide the type of deep unwinding our bodies require to combat stress and fatigue. Our family has taken several of these vacations, and by the end, I am ready for a break!

The other type of vacation is just to “be,” with plenty of time to read, sleep, walk, and downshift. The recession is creating an interesting vacation trend this summer- a huge spike in camping trips and visits to National Parks. Cheap, full of fresh air and untold beauty, a trip like this is sure to help gain perspective on what matters, exercise the body, and offer time for more thoughtful conversations than, “Dad, can I have a few more tokens?” A national park, local hike or gazing at scenes of natural beauty, is a key component to unhook our nerves and reset the proverbial clock for any age, single, young couples, families, or retired.

I asked about the difference between consumer vs. natural vacations to Bill Doherty, the Director of the Citizen Professional Center, and Professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. He said,

“Given the trend towards shorter and shorter vacations, it does seem to be the case that American families are packing in more activities into shorter time periods: fly to Disney World, run around for several days, and fly home. That’s different from the traditional long road trips and the trips to the ocean where they family holed up for a couple of weeks. The biggest benefits from family vacations come from down time and family members entertaining themselves, not from crowded entertainment schedules and consumer festivals. It’s kind of like the difference between a family dinner at home and a quick trip to McDonald’s.”

Moral of the story? If you believe vacations should be required, write to your local congressional leaders and express your support. Then, carve out a little sunshine for yourself, spread out a blanket, close your eyes and relax. Think of it as your own personal stimulus package.

Have any good vacations stories to tell? Love to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment below. If you would like to receive regular updates of this weekly post, click on “Become a Fan” at the top. Bon Voyage!

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Alison Rose Levy: Making the Best of the Worst

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

Some people I know are exquisitely sensitive. Every hurt, harm, or horror imprints their impressionable soul(s). Meanwhile others laugh it off, tough it out, shut down, deny, or resolutely move on. How marvelous are the varieties of human resilience.

When I was a kid, I recall seeing a Jules Feiffer cartoon portraying a woman whose hair stood on end as she looked into a closet and pointed with horror at something she saw there. The caption read, “Enid not only expects the worst, but makes the worst of it when it happens.”

I’ve known my share of folks like Enid, and at times, I’ve even been one of the one, savoring each brush stroke in the ghastly drama painted in my mind’s eye as if suffering itself was a work of art. Though urged to “get over it,” or assured that “everything happens for the best,” until I had repainted this picture for each one of my circle of confidantes, I wasn’t complete and ready to move on.

Yet more and more, I’ve wondered: Is that process really helpful or is it making me feel worse? Is my sense that everything is grist for some internal processing mill the royal road to integrating my experience and becoming a better person? Or is it a self-indulgent, energy drain deflecting me from the all important task of co-creating a better world?

I have a friend who considers processing a big waste of time. But nineteen years after a painful episode, it’s as alive for him as if it occurred yesterday. I know someone else who has microscopically gone over a painful loss for four years and isn’t yet done.

What fascinates me is that everyone thinks that their own way of handling the “bad things that happen to good people” is the only way. But as far as I can tell, people have different speeds.

When you’re a “ready to be done with it” type, it’s a pain to hang with a sob sister (or brother.) Or if you’re one who won’t let go until you’ve chewed on every detail, don’t you just love that well-meant advice or insight that’s supposed to undo the horror you feel–but doesn’t?

A friend called me the other day, couldn’t reach me, and left a message. “Wait until I tell you what’s going on,” he said. “You won’t believe it.”

We played phone tag for a few days until we finally spoke.

“So what’s going on?” I asked awaiting the latest and greatest.

“Oh, that, ” he said, “It happened a few days ago. For some reason, it’s not so interesting any more.”

Perhaps time – and/or telling your story–does heal all wounds.

Because in certain cases of “the worst,” telling your story is an essential component of healing. Only that act of revelation will allow you to re-enter the human community, especially when what you’ve experienced is painful, horrific, or shameful in ways that initiate you into a different life experience than the average.

This comes alive in the healing stories in Bernie Siegel, MD’s new book Faith, Hope, and Healing. Bernie Siegel, who is the godfather of the integrative health movement, offers up true, personal stories of people living with cancer. The many voices assembled reveal how “the worst” (a deadly illness)– can become a road to healing, love, recovery, and deeper understanding– “the best.”

As Dina Howard, one of the contributors to this volume writes, “Our reflections are about what we see when we bend over still water, get close to ourselves, and see the truth. .. we can all begin again without the need to physically die, but with the need to eliminate the parts of our lives that are killing us so we can truly live.”

Maybe as creative acts, our stories help that little old phoenix within rise from the ashes of the worst to create a new best. My own hope for our country is that with all of the systemic forces that are not working in our favor, we can get a good look, see the truth, make the needed changes–and live on to create and enjoy the best.

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Gretchen Rubin: The Secret To Happiness: Don’t Care!

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

Candle-flameI’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now.

A friend told me this story, and I’ve never forgotten it, though the following anecdote about G. Gordon Liddy may not, in fact, be true; I’ve never verified it. According to my friend, Liddy once held his hand over a candle flame until his flesh burned. Someone asked, “What’s your secret?” and he replied, “The secret is not to care.”

I think about this phrase constantly: “The secret is not to care.” Because if I don’t want to let certain things make me unhappy, the secret is not to care. (Not to mention not caring about the weird grammar of the phrase.)

Recently a friend explained that although she doesn’t enjoy getting manicures, she has to get them, because her hands must look nice for work (she has a fancy job). The last time I had a manicure was two years ago when my sister got married, and I know that even if I had my friend’s job, I wouldn’t get manicures. I just don’t care, and because I don’t care, I don’t believe that other people care much either.

Another friend is honestly worried because his children don’t have very adventurous tastes in foods. Again, I just don’t care about that, so that worry doesn’t make a difference to me. Of course, I care about things that other people don’t care about.

I think this “secret” is important, because while we can’t exercise complete control over the things we care about, we can take notice, remember that some of our concerns are idiosyncratic, and try to master them where appropriate. Mindfulness! Yikes, mindfulness turns out to be important everywhere I look. (Wondering how mindful you are? I’m not very. Here’s a quiz.)

Often I invoke this phrase, “The secret is not to care,” in a context where I find myself worrying about what other people will think. When I feel myself fussing about something, I ask myself, “Do I really care? Or is the secret not to care?”

I felt myself caring about the fact that my four-year-old often goes to school wearing hideous outfits. She loves to pick out her own clothes and tends to choose eye-popping combinations. I found myself wanting to explain to everyone, “She chose that herself! I didn’t match that shirt with those pants!” Then I realized – the secret is not to care. Why shouldn’t she pick out her own clothes to please herself? Why should I care? I don’t care. And I let it go.

This observation by Samuel Johnson keeps springing to my mind: “Since every man is obliged to promote happiness and virtue, he should be careful not to mislead unwary minds, by appearing to set too high a value upon things by which no real excellence is conferred.”

Accordingly, I’m not “setting too high a value” upon coordinated outfits on a pre-schooler, “by which no real excellence is conferred.” The secret is not to care.

Have you found yourself caring about things you don’t really care about? How do you address it?

* I see on Gimundo that the New Economics Foundation ranked Costa Rica as the world’s happiest country. Interesting.

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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John Lundberg: Maya Angelou’s Elegy For Michael Jackson

July 12th, 2009 admin No comments

Among the many notable moments at Michael Jackson’s funeral was Queen Latifah’s reading of the Maya Angelou poem “We Had Him.” The popular poetess wrote the poem specifically for the occasion (no easy task) and just that morning asked Latifah to perform it, which she did with spirit and elegance.

“We Had Him” is typical of Angelou’s work: inspirational and accessible, confident, and deriving power from its rhythms and repetition. You probably know her popular poem “Phenomenal Woman,” and might remember another occasional poem she wrote, “On the Pulse of the Morning,” which she read at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration.

Here’s a transcript of “We Had Him” (I took a best guess at the line breaks–Angelou may have intended them to fall elsewhere):

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing,
now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips
like a puff of summer wind.

Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace.
Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.
In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time.
No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure.

Though we are many, each of us is achingly alone, piercingly alone.
Only when we confess our confusion can we remember
that he was a gift to us and we did have him.

He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.
Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love,
and survived and did more than that.
He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style.
We had him whether we know who he was or did not know,
he was ours and we were his.
We had him, beautiful, delighting our eyes.

His hat, aslant over his brow, and took a pose on his toes for all of us.
And we laughed and stomped our feet for him.
We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing.
He gave us all he had been given.

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana’s Black Star Square.
In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England

We are missing Michael.
But we do know we had him, and we are the world.

The audience responded well to the poem. What do you think?

I find more poignancy in this quote from her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Michael didn’t seem to have a lot of answers, but for all of his faults, he sang a powerful song.

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