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MI-Gov: Hoekstra Trying To Cash In On Terror Scare

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

Apparently, for right-wing Congressman and gubernatorial aspirant Peter Hoekstra, it wasn’t enough for him to sprint from TV camera to TV camera trying to siphon off as much exposure for himself during the recent news flurry surrounding the terror attempt aboard a Detroit-bound flight. He now is seeking to cash in on the aborted attack:

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra was blasted Monday for using an attempted terrorism attack to raise money for his campaign for governor.

A fundraising solicitation Hoekstra’s campaign e-mailed Monday criticized the response by President Barack Obama administration’s to a failed attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it neared landing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The solicitation showed poor judgment, according to a campaign spokesman for Rick Snyder, an Ann Arbor venture capitalist and 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate.

The letter itself, the text of which can be found here, is far from subtle:

For almost a decade I have been a leader on National Security and at the forefront of the war on terror. I understand the real and continuing threat radical jihadists pose to our great state of Michigan and our great Nation.

I have pledged that I will do “everything possible” to prevent these terrorists from coming to Michigan.

But I need your help.

If you agree that we need a Governor who will stand up the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign.

Hoekstra made the decision earlier in 2009 to leave his western Michigan-based seat in the Congress (where he has served for seventeen years) in order to run for Governor of Michigan. He faces an exceptionally competitive primary, which includes not only Snyder, but also state attorney general Mike Cox and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.

The Democratic frontrunner, thus far, is state Lt. Governor John Cherry, although some other Democrats could be competitive (including former Michigan State football coach George Perles), while others are still eyeing the race.


Categories: Politics Tags: , , , , , ,

Johann Hari: As A Dark Year Ends, Remember the Inspirational Peoople of 2009

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

It was a dark year, 2009, sealing a dark decade. It began with the world in economic free-fall and the Gaza Strip being bombed to pieces (again). We watched the vicious crushing of a democratic uprising in Iran, a successful far-right coup in Honduras, and the intensification of the disastrous war in Afghanistan. It all ended at Brokenhagen, where the world’s leaders breezily decided to carry on cooking the planet.

But in the midst of all this there were extraordinary points of light, generated by people who have refused to drink the cheap sedative of despair. The left-wing newsman Wes Nisker said in his final broadcast: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” I want – in the final moments of 2009 – to celebrate the people who, this year, did just that: the men and women who didn’t slump, but realised that the worse the world gets, the harder people of goodwill have to work to put it right.

Inspiration One: Denis Mukwege. The war in the Congo is the worst since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe: it has killed more than 5 million people and counting. As I witnessed when I reported on the war in 2006, the violence has been turned primarily on the country’s women: one favourite tactic is to gang-rape a woman and then shoot her in the vagina. For years these women were simply left to die in the bush. But one man – a soft-spoken Congolese gynaecologist with a gentle smile – decided to do something mad, something impossible. With scarcely any equipment and no funding, he set up a secret clinic for these women.

He was told he would be killed by the militias for undoing their “work”. The threats said his own daughters would be murdered if he didn’t stop. Everyone thought he was mad. But he knew it was the right thing to do. He became the Oscar Schindler of the Congolese mass rapes, saving the lives of tens of thousands of women. In the midst of a moral Chernobyl, he showed that the best human instincts can survive and, in time, prevail. It is rumoured he was number two in the Nobel Committee’s list for the Peace Prize. He should have won.

Inspiration Two: Liu Xiaobo. A year ago, a petition began to circulate in China demanding that its one billion citizens be allowed to think and speak freely. “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes,” it said. As if they were the Irony Police, the Chinese authorities promptly arrested the authors and many of its signatories. One of the most articulate and brave – Liu Xiaobo – was sentenced to 11 years in a re-education camp for “subversion”.

The Chinese authorities believe human rights are a “plot” to weaken China. In fact, China will be immeasurably stronger when it stops persecuting its citizens when they try to develop their minds and defend each other.

Liu is not alone. Hu Jia is in prison for warning about China’s hidden Aids crisis. Huang Qi is in jail for warning that the poor construction of school buildings in Sichuan – because the builders bribed the local authorities – meant hundreds of children died unnecessarily in the earthquake. There is a long list, and for every prisoner, thousands more are too frightened to speak. But these dissidents stand as models of the truly great nation China will be one day, when it stops persecuting these people and starts electing them.

Inspiration Three: Evo Morales and Malalai Joya. Although they were born thousands of miles apart, these two people embody what real democracy can mean. When Evo Morales was a child, the indigenous peoples of Bolivia weren’t even allowed to set foot in the capital’s central square, which was reserved for white people. Today, he is the President, and for the first time in his country’s history, he is diverting the billions raised from the country’s natural resources away from the pockets of US corporations. It is building schools and hospitals for people who had nothing, and poverty is being eradicated in a stunning burst of progress.

Malalai Joya is the youngest woman ever to be elected in Afghanistan, and she was swiftly banned from taking her seat because she kept speaking up for the people who elected her – against the violent fundamentalist warlords our governments have put in charge of the country. They keep trying to murder her, but she says: “I don’t fear death, I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice … I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.”

She and Morales are authentic democrats, in contrast to the parody of it offered by Hamid Karzai and – too often – our own leaders.

Inspiration Four: Amy Goodman and the team at Democracy Now! It’s not hard to despair of the US at the moment, when even the silver-tongued King of Change seems unable to get real healthcare and cuts in warming gases through his corrupt Senate, and he is ramming harder into Afghanistan. A large part of the problem is the atrocious US broadcast media. The TV news is one lengthy blowjob for the powerful, seeing everything from the perspective of the rich, and ridiculing arguments for progress. It serves its owners and its advertisers by poisoning every political debate with death-panel distractions and silence for the things that matter.

But there is one remarkable exception. Broadcasting from a tiny studio in New York, on a budget raised entirely from its viewers, comes Democracy Now! Every day, the hour-long broadcast – hosted by the wonderful Amy Goodman – tells the real news. While the nightly news fills up with junk and gossip, they calmly, cleverly explain what is really happening. For example, while ABC and NBC were fixating on Tiger Woods’ genitals, Democracy Now! was in Copenhagen, explaining how the world’s rainforests were being stiffed. They, at least, can tell the trees from the Woods. It is the best single source for making sense of the world that I know – and it is a model of what the American media could be if it treated its viewers with respect.

Inspiration Five: Peter Tatchell. Long before it was trendy to support gay equality, there was Peter Tatchell, taking huge risks for what was right. As one of the pioneers of direct action to oppose bigotry against gay people, he was never afraid to put his own body in the path of bigots. In 1999, he performed a citizen’s arrest on the murderous Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, and was beaten so badly by his bodyguards he has never recovered. This year, he went to Moscow to defend the gay rights march there from viciously anti-gay police, and was beaten again. This year, he announced he had to withdraw from running as the Green candidate in Oxford East because the damage was so severe.

Almost unbelievably, some people who claim to be on the left have attacked Tatchell because he criticises homophobes who happen to be black, Arab or Asian in exactly the same way he criticises people who are white. (He tried to arrest Tony Blair and Henry Kissinger for war crimes just as surely as he tried to get Mugabe.) But the real racism would be to hold non-white people to lower standards, as if their bigotries were less real or less deadly. A person who chooses to persecute gay people is monstrous and should be stopped – whatever their skin colour, and whatever their culture. Tatchell has dedicated his life to that cause, and he deserves our endless thanks, not dishonest abuse.

What do they all have in common, all these people? When Mukwege built his clinic, they said he’d be dead within a week. When Tatchell said gay people could be equal, they laughed in his face. When Morales and Joya ran for office, they said people like them could never win. They dismiss Liu and Goodman now; but their arguments will win, in time.

They show that when the world gets worse, that’s not a reason to slink away in despair. On the contrary: it’s a reason to work harder and aim higher. As the essayist Rebecca Solnit says: “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” That should be the epitaph for these remarkable people – and for 2009.

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here.

He is also a contrbuting writer for Slate magazine. To read his latest article there, clck here.

You can follow Johann on Twiter at www.twitter.com/johannhari101


Economic Outrage du Jour

December 29th, 2009 admin No comments

Congress caves. Surprise! Not.

Three weeks ago the House of Representatives passed a far-reaching overhaul of financial practices, including a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect consumers from abusive lending practices, establish new trading rules and deal with the threat of too big to fail. It was heralded in some quarters as the biggest reform since the New Deal.

That may well be so, but the legislation goes not nearly far enough. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to regulating complex over-the-counter derivatives. I’ll bet you’re not wondering why. But you’re probably basing your view on mere suspicions about certain people being in the pocket of certain other people. The Wall Street Journal’s  Randal Smith and Sarah N. Lynch confirm it for you:

Lobbying by Wall Street has blunted efforts to step up regulation on derivatives trading by carving out exceptions or leaving the status quo in place.

Derivatives took blame for some of the worst debacles of the financial crisis. But a year after regulators and critics began calling for an overhaul in the way they are traded, some efforts have been shelved and others have been watered down. …

The two main issues concerning regulators were trading and clearing of swaps, which allow investors to bet on or hedge movements in currencies, interest rates and many other things. Swaps generally trade privately, leaving competitors and regulators in the dark about the scope of their risks. In November 2008, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee proposed forcing all derivatives trading onto exchanges, where their prices could be publicly disclosed and margin requirements imposed to insure that participants could make good on their market bets.

When the legislation emerged on relatively close vote from the House on Dec. 11, however, those requirements were diluted or gone altogether.

A lawyer for one big Wall Street dealer said in an interview that the rollback from the first proposals in Congress was the result of an “educational” process by dealers and customers that resulted in “a grudging recognition” that many uses of derivatives didn’t fit such a strict approach. At one point, House agriculture chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said he suspected dealers had dispatched their customers to lobby Capital [sic] Hill.

When the mark-up begins on the Cantwell-McCain bill that would restore the protections of the New Deal’s Glass-Steagall Act, you can expect – at the very least – dilution again to be the order of the day. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a marxist to know why. Senator Dick Durbin said it in April:

And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

Some give themselves fancier names than “bank.” But they still have us by the short hairs. And all it takes for them to maintain their grip is a little “educational” effort among the folks we’re told are elected to represent everybody’s interests.


Categories: Politics Tags: , , , ,

Chris Weigant: Ride The Populist Wave: Restore Glass-Steagall!

December 29th, 2009 admin No comments

Democrats should realize, by this point, that they’re going to have to reposition themselves a bit if they stand any chance in next year’s midterm congressional elections. Fortunately for them, there are two issues out there just begging for exploitation. The first is the Republican Party, who has reportedly decided they are going to run next year on taking something away from voters which Democrats have given them — the healthcare reform bill. And the second is a little-noted bill introduced a few weeks ago by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-OR), John McCain (R-AZ), and Russ Feingold (D-WI), which would bring back a chunk of the banking regulations passed in the Great Depression known as “Glass-Steagall.” Together, these two issues present an opportunity for Democrats to reap some of the populist anger brewing out there in the electorate.

Not that it’s going to be easy to do so. The Republicans, after all, are reacting to a movement (the Tea Partiers) which is routinely labelled “populist” itself. But there is populism and then there is populism. After all, both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin — for very differing reasons — were called “populist” by the media at one time or another during last year’s campaign. Populism is not so much a political stance (as “conservatism” is, for instance) as it is a political tactic. Meaning it can be used equally well by either side of our current American political divide.

Democrats like to think of themselves as the ideological heirs to the capital-P historical Populism from a century ago. Democrats consider themselves the “party of the common man,” but this routine and facile assumption ignores the “anti-bailout” anger in play today — where Democrats are seen as helping out Wall Street and largely ignoring Main Street. Republicans, on the other hand, see themselves as bringing populism into the modern age, in the form of social conservatives and hot-button issues like gay rights or abortion.

Populism, even back in its beginnings, has always had a rather nasty edge to it. Because populists aren’t usually “for” things, as much as they are “against” other things. Historically, one of the main targets of Populism was one which strikes a familiar chord today: elitist Northeastern bankers. Wall Street, in other words. This makes it a good fit for the times, since Wall Street is not exactly beloved right now. Of course, a hundred years ago, this also had an ugly side, as many conflated “elitist bankers” with “Jews.” This type of bigotry has been (so far, and as far as I know) thankfully absent from the populist wave building out there — but there have been plenty of more modern examples of such idiocy as well (such as Auschwitz photos of dead bodies waved at Tea Parties, for instance).

But populism, just because it attracts some rather scary fringe elements to it, should not be ignored by Democrats who feel they can just coast on the coattails of the image of the “common man” Democratic Party in voters’ minds. Voters are notoriously short of memory, and are much more likely to be demanding of Democratic officeholders: “What have you done for me lately?”

Democrats need to get out front on this. If the healthcare bill that the president signs is the best that could have passed Congress, then you’re going to have to defend it forcefully out on the campaign trail next year. Rather than focusing on the “might-have-beens” in the bill, Democrats need to loudly proclaim the good things it contains. Meanwhile, Republicans are going to paint themselves in a corner by campaigning on repealing whatever passes. Because while there is indeed a lengthy list of “might-have-beens” which did not make it into the bill, there are also a lot of very good reforms of the health insurance industry in there as well, and once voters get used to having these reforms, they’re not going to like politicians promising to take such things away.

One of the worst things about the bill hasn’t seemed to arouse much Republican ire yet (although it has raised a lot of ire from both Independents and some Democrats) — the individual mandate. But Republicans are building steam on the issue, so Democrats should expect it to be used against them. The individual mandate isn’t going to be easy for Democrats to tout as a wonderful thing, to twentysomethings who don’t want to buy health insurance. But pretty much everything else in the bill can be proclaimed as a good deal for voters — if Democrats would only make the case for them.

Picture a Democratic candidate at a debate next year with a Republican opponent. Here’s how they could make their case:

“My opponent wants to repeal the historic healthcare act President Obama signed early this year. This means he is against laws which end the insurance industry’s ability to deny you coverage — yes, you! — for ‘pre-existing conditions.’ He wants insurance companies to be able to deny you the benefits you have paid for, by going back to the days when some insurance company bureaucrat could decide that they weren’t going to pay for your daughter’s treatment when she gets leukemia. He wants to go back to the days when insurance companies could tell you ‘well, we’ve spent a million bucks on your operation, now we’re going to stop paying for you at all… oh, and by the way, you’re uninsurable for the rest of your life.’ My opponent stands against all these things, because he is more in tune with the insurance industry’s future earnings than he is concerned about the voters of this great state being able to get health insurance without having to face bankruptcy. Make no mistake about it, when he calls for repealing the healthcare reform act, that is exactly what he stands for.”

Of course, the negotiations between Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on the final bill could help this a lot by front-loading a bunch of the goodies in the healthcare bill so that they take effect right away, instead of in 2013 or 2014. Democrats are going to require some very tangible benefits that voters can already see, or else it’s going to be a much harder sell.

And, while it has more than a hint of “too little, too late,” the White House — and Democrats in general — have done a fairly good job of getting out in front of this, for the past two weeks or so. They have been on a real media blitz, trying to shape the story as “historic reform,” and if they keep it up they can indeed make inroads with voters who have not been paying much attention to the details of the healthcare debate until now. President Obama seems to be leaning on two lines in particular. The first is about the bill, and about his own legacy: “I got 90-95 percent of what I wanted.” While this is hard to argue (since he never laid out exactly what he wanted in any sort of detailed fashion, it’s impossible to fact-check), it does move the focus back to the good things in the bill which the media has largely been ignoring all year long. The second line the president is using is all about his legacy: “Seven presidents have tried this, and seven presidents have failed.” This points out the magnitude of the political victory, which may help Obama himself, but will only help Congresscritters campaign on the broader theme of: “Democrats are getting things done, Republicans only know how to say no.”

But Democrats need a better issue for next year, because believe it or not, healthcare reform is not going to be the biggest issue in the election. Voters are more forward-looking, and will be concentrating on other things as well. Such as jobs and the economy. But while Democrats may pass some sort of window-dressing bill to stimulate both the economy and hiring, there simply is no magic lever they can pull (on Capitol Hill or in the Oval Office) to create jobs. The economy will do what it will — recover, stay flat, or go down again — and Democrats will either pay the price or reap the rewards, accordingly.

But they’ll have a much better chance, no matter where the economy is, if they’re out there fighting the good fight. Which is where Cantwell-McCain-Feingold comes in. It is tailor-made for the anti-Wall-Street rage out there. What it does, in a nutshell, is to move us back a decade. During the Great Depression, regulating banks was all the rage. One of the biggest regulations passed back then was the “Glass-Steagall Act” of 1933 (passed during F.D.R.’s first year in office), which forbade the intermingling of banking and investment firms. This law stayed in place until the 1999, when it was essentially overturned by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This was a modern age, it was argued, and we needed to modernize banking for the 21st century. That old-fashioned Glass-Steagall Act was getting in the way of making lots of money and bringing joy to all. Gramm-Leach-Bliley passed with overwhelming majorities in Congress, and there are plenty of politicians around today (from both parties) who sang its praises back then. What happened, instead of joy-for-all, was a free-for-all — Wall Street taking a decade to “party like it’s 1999.” And we’ve all seen the results of that.

Cantwell-McCain-Feingold would change things back. The bankers are already marshalling their forces against it. Which makes it a perfect political issue to jump on — because, these days, if Wall Street is against it, then almost by definition it must be good. Sure, that oversimplifies things, but the bill itself is pretty simple (the entire text of the legislation itself is about a page and a half long). It even has bipartisan support, to a certain extent.

Democrats need to pick an issue that is seen in the public’s eye as a full frontal attack on Wall Street excess. This bill is absolutely made to fit. “Glass-Steagall was good enough to get our country through the last century, and it is a lot better than the deregulated mess which followed its repeal. Big banks hate the idea, which is another reason I am strongly for Cantwell-McCain-Feingold. Bring back Glass-Steagall!”

Any wave leaves you with two choices: ride with and “surf” the wave, allowing it to buoy you up and carry you far; or have it come crashing down over your head. Democrats are facing a populist wave in the electorate next year. If they realize it, and start acting like they’re responding to it, then they have a chance in next year’s election. The two issues I’ve named are only examples of how to do so — there are other issues out there, which could work out even better politically. Democrats would be a lot better positioned next year if they were seen as donning their armor, mounting their chargers, taking up a lance, and heading full-tilt at Wall Street. But if Democrats ignore the growing Wall Street/Main Street rage and continue to be seen as carrying the water for Wall Street while completely ignoring Main Street’s concerns, then they are going to get swamped by this particular political wave.

 

[Note: The Cantwell-McCain-Feingold bill can be seen, with full details, at the Library of Congress' THOMAS site. The site does not retain search links, so you have to go to their main page and click on "Search by bill number" and enter "S2886" to see it. There is a similar bill in the House as well, which you can see by searching for "HR4375", or you can read a good article on the issues involved from Bloomberg.]

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

More on Health Care


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Randall Amster: Schlock Doctrine: Where, and by Whom, was Your Christmas Made?

December 28th, 2009 admin No comments

Nothing against our friends and neighbors in the Far East, but it seems as if just about everything that came down the chimney for Christmas this year bore a “made in China” label on its underbelly. Even the items that appear to be iconically American in their logos and characters have been shipped here from across the planet. This is the stark reality of globalization.

Children’s toys in particular present a unique ethical conundrum. On the one hand, we want our kids to have stimulating new things to play with and expand their repertoires of dexterity and cognizance. On the other hand, we cannot escape the fact that another kid on the other side of the planet might be toiling in a factory somewhere to make the stuff that potentially enhances our kids’ lives. This is especially the case when nearly every toy — even supposedly “green” ones — seemingly comes from the Middle Kingdom.

Sweatshop labor of course is no secret, but it remains something of an abstraction through the insulation of our lives in the West. That fell apart around here this year, when I noticed that some of the boxes in which our purchases arrived had actual names of people next to the “Made by” category inscribed on them. They also listed factory numbers and product designations in many cases as well, such as “Item #2572 of 32525.” If it’s indeed the case (as Vegan Peace observes) that “the average North American toy maker earns $11 an hour [while] in China, toy workers earn an average of 30 cents an hour,” then someone is obviously making a pretty penny on this system just in the rate of labor exchange alone.

These realities have been thoroughly understood for some time now, as evidenced by this 2005 article in which the complexities of the problem are well documented:

“The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that of the 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries, 61 percent are in Asia. Although we live in an extremely modern age, there is, in fact, child slave labor present in China . Some of these children work in sweatshops. A sweatshop is a workplace where workers are subjected to extreme exploitation, including the lack of a living wages or benefits, poor and dangerous working conditions, and harsh and unnecessary discipline, such as verbal and physical abuse. Sweatshop workers are paid less than their daily expenses, thus they are never able to save any money to invest in their futures. They are trapped in a never-ending cycle.”

Disney products specifically have been singled out in the past for their imbrication in this oppressive system. Wal-Mart, which the United Food and Commercial Workers Union notes is “the largest importer of Chinese goods,” has repeatedly asserted its innocence in such matters, yet speculation continues. Even some Sesame Street products, which discerning parents will often embrace due to the items’ perceived educational qualities and general familiarity, have been implicated in recent years. The full ramifications of this global trade in exploitative toys have not been lost on analysts and activists, including this introduction to a 2008 report from the National Labor Committee:

“In China , the busy toy season is already in full swing as thousands of factories work around the clock churning out millions of holiday toys, which will start arriving in the United States and Europe by September. Like last year and the years before, the American people will spend over $21 billion on 3.6 billion toys this holiday season. At least 85 percent of these toys are made in China by three million mostly young women workers toiling long hours in 8000 factories. And these are only the factories that have export licensees, leaving aside the many smaller subcontract toy plants.”

There are certainly many alternatives for purchasing products with greater ethical standards (the website Vegan Peace, among other sources, provides links to a number of them). But let’s face it — parents are busy, disposable incomes are tight, children need stimulation, time is money, and this is America . In other words, even with the best of intentions, it’s a great challenge to be purists in our parenting. Furthermore, most folks out there don’t give these is sue s a second thought at all, leaving the few making more deliberate choices merely a small drop in a high-volume bucket. Finally, there really isn’t a foolproof, diplomatic way to fully screen out gifts from well-meaning others.

And then, inevitably, the stuff will soon break. I estimate about a one-month shelf life for any new toy given to a child under five. Some items retain functionality with missing buttons and lost pieces, whereas many others wind up in landfills — or, in a feat of wonderful irony, recycled and shipped back to China to be turned into more short-term consumer goods. Thus, in many cases, the things we buy are almost literally garbage.

The most apropos description of this cycle of inherent decrepitude is perhaps the Yiddish word schlock, meaning something “cheap, shoddy, or inferior.” While I would love to claim sole authorship of the ironic phrasing in the title of this piece, it has actually appeared previously in a few places, including in an amusingly caustic critique of Naomi Klein’s persuasive book The Shock Doctrine in which she argues that capitalism foments and (of course) capitalizes upon crises, thus cleverly making a buck both coming (i.e., problem) and going (i.e., solution). Referring to Klein as “the Ann Coulter of Canada — a demagogic sycophant who has parlayed her political shtick into a lucrative business,” this sophomoric article with its sarcastic mien actually almost got it right in the end:

“We Americans and our evil multinationals, it seems, champion a brand of heartless free-market piracy, which robs the good people of the developing world of the fruits of their labor, and forces them to toil in hot, miserable working conditions, just to make our garments and sneakers. Our big multinationals assimilate or obliterate anything in their path towards global domination.”

The author of this 2008 missive likely didn’t intend to validate Klein’s logic. But to critique a thesis one must be able to articulate it cogently, hence arguing for its utility as a point of critical reference. In a similar sense, the lesson of this holiday season may well be that the ethical implications of our choices are so woven into the fabric of ordinary commerce that we almost can’t help but be pulled into orbit around a set of values that most would deem both schlocky and shocking at the same time. And so, in explicating the aesthetic of schlock and its uncritical acceptance among many consumers, perhaps we have uncovered something uniquely “made in America ” after all.

More on Green Living


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Lisa Derrick: Bono Busks for Charity

December 28th, 2009 admin No comments

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Grafton Street in Dublin is a cobblestone walk in the city center with some of the fanciest and funkiest stores in the capital, and lively street culture featuring everyone from opera singers and folkies performing for spare change. I had a great time strolling there just a few weeks ago when I was in Dublin for the Horslips reunion

On Christmas Eve Grafton Street shoppers got a rare thrill — Bono joined songwriters Damien Rice, Mundy and Glen Hansard to busk for the Dublin Simon Community, which benefits the homeless.

U2 will will be benefiting their country in other ways. New legislation which recently passed makes a set tax mandatory for Irish citizens domiciled elsewhere with significant assets in Ireland. The bands members, like many wealthy, have been living outside Ireland as tax exiles.

You can view the video here


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Witnesses: Iranian security forces open fire on anti-government protestors

December 27th, 2009 admin No comments

Iranian security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters in the capital Sunday, killing at least four people in the fiercest clashes in months, opposition Web sites and witnesses said.

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Tom Vander Ark: 10 US education reformers that will impact 2010

December 27th, 2009 admin No comments

1. Arne Duncan is taking advantage of an unbelievably large budget and pushing a tough reform agenda targeting low-income kids and struggling schools. While he’ll have his hands full with reauthorization, he has assembled a top notch team.
2. Joanne Weiss leads the mother of all grant program–Race to the Top–with the same skill and diplomacy she exhibited at New Schools.
3. Jim Shelton and sidekick Shivam Shah run grant programs of historically gigantic proportions: i3, Promise Neighborhoods.
4. Gene Wilhoit is pushing state chiefs, supporting common standards, and asking us all to think hard about the future of learning.
5. Eric Smith, FL Commissioner, is leveraging the progress that Gov. Bush made earlier in this decade; he’s got a lock on phase 1 Race to the Top money
6. Paul Pastorek, LA Superintendent, is a smart outsider and has maintained post-Katrina intensity.
7. Joel Klein, with support of Mayor Bloomberg, is the best urban school leader and continues to expand impact with Education Equality Project.
8. Joe Williams, Democrats for Education Reform, is reframing partisan debate, challenging historical alliances, and pushing an aggressive performance-based agenda
9. David Steiner, NY Commissioner, and his able deputy John King, got more done in the first few weeks than most chiefs do in a lifetime.
10. George Miller will play the most important role in the reauthorization of major federal education bill.

10 reformers to watch in 2010
1. Alex Johnston, ConnCAN, runs the most effective state education advocacy organization and is thinking about expanded impact.
2. Ben Austin, Parent Revolution, crafted a parent empowerment bargain in Los Angeles and is close to gaining the same power for parents of students trapped in low performing schools statewide.
3. Barb O’Brien, CO Lt. Gov., lead the most extensive RttT outreach effort in the country and pushed her state into likely phase 1 winner category.
4. Gerard Robinson, Black Alliance for Educational Options, recently took the reigns from Howard Fuller.
5. Marjorie Scardino, Pearson, leads the most active R&D and acquisition agenda in the sector and has a clear vision of digital learning services to come.
6. Kim Smith, founder of New Schools, will do something interesting next year; so will Andy Rotherham, founder of EdSector.
7. Larry Berger, Wireless Generation, is working on three of the most interesting projects in the sector with a mixture of private and philanthropic capital.
8. Nelson Smith, National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, is leveraging administration interest in charter schools.
9. Susan Patrick, International Association of K-12 Online Learning, will help shape the explosive growth of online learning.
10. [your suggestion here], I’m holding one spot for someone you tell me about; maybe a superintendent, human capital leader, consultant, state chief?

note: this list obviously incorporates Tom’s biases and includes friends, clients, and business partners


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John Brown: "Avatar" and Public Diplomacy

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

Well, by now we all know the plot of Hollywood blockbuster director James Cameron’s Avatar, his latest film, but here’s a good summary:

When his brother is killed in battle, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge’s intentions of driving off the native humanoid “Na’vi” in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix
his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na’vi people with the use of an “avatar” identity. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand – and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora. Written by The Massie
Twins

The simplistic plot of Avatar is straight out of in-fashion politically correct cowboys vs. Indians movies — and the dialogue, if it can be called that, is pedestrian. But its images of Pandora — as so many critics have pointed out — are striking, almost artistic. Visually, Cameron is fascinated by the tension between machines and nature, ironically using ground-breaking computer technology to design an imaginary Garden of Eden.

Yes, like most movies, Avatar is images, not narrative or speech. But let’s not dismiss some of the “lessons” of this movie, condemned by some as leftist, pantheistic, anti-American propaganda. True, subtlety (except in a visual sense) is not one of the strong points of Avatar.

But watching it last Saturday morning at the Uptown Theater (thank God I had a senior citizen discount, given the price of movie tickets these days) near where I live in Washington (the imperial capital was then immobilized by snow, and I had nothing better to do), I reflected — as a former Foreign Service officer (FSO) involved in public diplomacy (PD) for over twenty years, mostly in Eastern Europe during and immediately after the Cold War — about paraplegic Marine Jake Sully’s ventures into Pandora.

To follow Cameron’s comic-book plot, Sully, is, one could say, a Public Diplomacy Foreign Service officer (some in the military would say psy-ops officer). To provide Intel, Sully’s avatar — his public presence in another society — is meant to spy, ever so “invisibly,” on an Enemy. Problem is, he falls in love with the Enemy; he goes native. He becomes, therefore, useless as Intel. He rebels against the Intel world — Colonel Quaritch — and Quaritch can’t wait to eliminate him.

Sure, during the Cold War there supposedly was a “firewall” between covert CIA/military intelligence and the USIA (United States Information Agency) “overt” activities like academic exchanges and artistic presentations (much research, however, needs to be done about this sensitive topic of a so-called “firewall”).

In my own career (1981-2003) as a USIA “press and cultural officer” overseas I was never asked to provide “Intel” to the embassy or headquarters (I was, however, expected — but not forced, unless I wanted not to be promoted — to write reports about whom I met: was that, in fact, “providing ‘Intel’” that the USG food-chain handed over to “other agencies”? No doubt, in a sense, it was: I’m not that naive).

I always could not help wondering if what I was doing — meeting people in other societies who made a difference, talking with them about the United States, and trying to understand them and they understand us — was not (bottom line) a way of secretive powers-that-be in Washington to use a PD officer (in today’s lingo, an “Avatar”) and — far more important — his/her “local contacts” in the hopes of obtaining “Intel.”

Such a conscience-troubling suspicion on my part never reached the point of my becoming a Sully (”going native”), because (ironically) the best and the brightest in East European societies where I had the privilege to serve were looking to the U.S. for information — if not inspiration — about what a free society was, or aspired to be. I would go so far as to say that they didn’t mind being “Intel” material, as they wanted to be heard by what they thought were “heavyweights” in Washington.

In the communist-dominated heart of Europe during the Cold War, the Quaritches were Soviets and Soviet collaborators (up to a point); we American diplomats in the field, or so we told ourselves, were the “good guys” allied with the “natives” and thus had no need to change our identity — but I always doubted about how “good” we in fact were.

I still do, even more than ever, after the US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More on Iraq


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John Brown: "Avatar" and Public Diplomacy

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

Well, by now we all know the plot of Hollywood blockbuster director James Cameron’s Avatar, his latest film, but here’s a good summary:

When his brother is killed in battle, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge’s intentions of driving off the native humanoid “Na’vi” in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix
his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na’vi people with the use of an “avatar” identity. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand – and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora. Written by The Massie
Twins

The simplistic plot of Avatar is straight out of in-fashion politically correct cowboys vs. Indians movies — and the dialogue, if it can be called that, is pedestrian. But its images of Pandora — as so many critics have pointed out — are striking, almost artistic. Visually, Cameron is fascinated by the tension between machines and nature, ironically using ground-breaking computer technology to design an imaginary Garden of Eden.

Yes, like most movies, Avatar is images, not narrative or speech. But let’s not dismiss some of the “lessons” of this movie, condemned by some as leftist, pantheistic, anti-American propaganda. True, subtlety (except in a visual sense) is not one of the strong points of Avatar.

But watching it last Saturday morning at the Uptown Theater (thank God I had a senior citizen discount, given the price of movie tickets these days) near where I live in Washington (the imperial capital was then immobilized by snow, and I had nothing better to do), I reflected — as a former Foreign Service officer (FSO) involved in public diplomacy (PD) for over twenty years, mostly in Eastern Europe during and immediately after the Cold War — about paraplegic Marine Jake Sully’s ventures into Pandora.

To follow Cameron’s comic-book plot, Sully, is, one could say, a Public Diplomacy Foreign Service officer (some in the military would say psy-ops officer). To provide Intel, Sully’s avatar — his public presence in another society — is meant to spy, ever so “invisibly,” on an Enemy. Problem is, he falls in love with the Enemy; he goes native. He becomes, therefore, useless as Intel. He rebels against the Intel world — Colonel Quaritch — and Quaritch can’t wait to eliminate him.

Sure, during the Cold War there supposedly was a “firewall” between covert CIA/military intelligence and the USIA (United States Information Agency) “overt” activities like academic exchanges and artistic presentations (much research, however, needs to be done about this sensitive topic of a so-called “firewall”).

In my own career (1981-2003) as a USIA “press and cultural officer” overseas I was never asked to provide “Intel” to the embassy or headquarters (I was, however, expected — but not forced, unless I wanted not to be promoted — to write reports about whom I met: was that, in fact, “providing ‘Intel’” that the USG food-chain handed over to “other agencies”? No doubt, in a sense, it was: I’m not that naive).

I always could not help wondering if what I was doing — meeting people in other societies who made a difference, talking with them about the United States, and trying to understand them and they understand us — was not (bottom line) a way of secretive powers-that-be in Washington to use a PD officer (in today’s lingo, an “Avatar”) and — far more important — his/her “local contacts” in the hopes of obtaining “Intel.”

Such a conscience-troubling suspicion on my part never reached the point of my becoming a Sully (”going native”), because (ironically) the best and the brightest in East European societies where I had the privilege to serve were looking to the U.S. for information — if not inspiration — about what a free society was, or aspired to be. I would go so far as to say that they didn’t mind being “Intel” material, as they wanted to be heard by what they thought were “heavyweights” in Washington.

In the communist-dominated heart of Europe during the Cold War, the Quaritches were Soviets and Soviet collaborators (up to a point); we American diplomats in the field, or so we told ourselves, were the “good guys” allied with the “natives” and thus had no need to change our identity — but I always doubted about how “good” we in fact were.

I still do, even more than ever, after the US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More on Iraq


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , , ,