Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Can years of wisdom be boiled down to a slogan?
But she hadn't really answered my question. I'd been hoping for something profound: a life-lesson born of experience. Maybe the notion that old people are wiser - and consequently happier - is a wishful desire to believe there is an upside to ageing. Still, it's the driving force behind numerous recent works in which the old are pestered for advice - most famously the bestseller Tuesdays With Morrie - and also the book that prompted my grandmother-interrogating: Henry Alford's How To Live, a marvellous new memoir-cum-advice guide based on conversations with oldsters.
There are problems, though, with hunting for distilled insights from the old. First, it's horribly self-selecting. As research, Alford read a book entitled 80, comprising interviews with 80 famous 80-year-olds - but all he discovered was famous people's opinions on how to live. Perhaps others approached life similarly, but encountered only mediocrity, and never got interviewed for books? Or perhaps they followed a different approach and were happier, but not famous. ("To read 80 interviews given by primarily affluent white Americans," Alford writes, "is to have the prescription 'Do something that you love' beaten into your head until you're ready to maim a small animal.")
Second, while there's mounting evidence that older is indeed wiser, it may not be the kind of wisdom easily boiled down to a slogan. Except in cases of dementia, a 2008 review of the academic research found, the typical problems of the older brain - slower reactions, declining short-term memory - may be side-effects of something positive. Age widens the focus of attention: older people presented with problem-solving tests go slower, but do better; they weigh more data, consider more possibilities, and place them in a broader context of experience. Is it any wonder that takes longer? The neurobiologist Lawrence Katz defines wisdom as "a dense and rich network of associations developed through a lifetime of experiences". You can't express such wisdom aphoristically: it is, precisely, the wisdom to know that life's too nuanced to be summarised on a fridge magnet.
The crash of 2008 continues to reverberate loudly nationwide—destroying jobs, bankrupting businesses, and displacing homeowners. But already, it has damaged some places much more severely than others. On the other side of the crisis, America's economic landscape will look very different than it does today. What fate will the coming years hold for New York, Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas? Will the suburbs be ineffably changed? Which cities and regions can come back strong? And which will never come back at all?
by Richard Florida
My father was a child of the Great Depression. Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1921 to Italian immigrant parents, he experienced the economic crisis head-on. He took a job working in an eyeglass factory in the city's Ironbound section in 1934, at age 13, combining his wages with those of his father, mother, and six siblings to make a single-family income. When I was growing up, he spoke often of his memories of breadlines, tent cities, and government-issued clothing. At Christmas, he would tell my brother and me how his parents, unable to afford new toys, had wrapped the same toy steam shovel, year after year, and placed it for him under the tree. In my extended family, my uncles occupied a pecking order based on who had grown up in the roughest economic circumstances. My Uncle Walter, who went on to earn a master's degree in chemical engineering and eventually became a senior executive at Colgate-Palmolive, came out on top—not because of his academic or career achievements, but because he grew up with the hardest lot.
The current economic crisis is unlikely to result in the same kind of shared experience. To be sure, the economic contraction is causing pain just about everywhere. In October, less than a month after the financial markets began to melt down, Moody's Investor Services published an assessment of recent economic activity within 381 U.S. metropolitan areas. Three hundred and two were already in deep recession, and 64 more were at risk. Only 15 areas were still expanding. Notable among them were the oil- and natural-resource-rich regions of Texas and Oklahoma, buoyed by energy prices that have since fallen; and the Greater Washington, D.C., region, where government bailouts, the nationalization of financial companies, and fiscal expansion are creating work for lawyers, lobbyists, political scientists, and government contractors.
No place in the United States is likely to escape a long and deep recession. Nonetheless, as the crisis continues to spread outward from New York, through industrial centers like Detroit, and into the Sun Belt, it will undoubtedly settle much more heavily on some places than on others. Some cities and regions will eventually spring back stronger than before. Others may never come back at all. As the crisis deepens, it will permanently and profoundly alter the country's economic landscape. I believe it marks the end of a chapter in American economic history, and indeed, the end of a whole way of life.
Party members in Congress introduce legislation seeking to prevent inmates from being held near their electorates
Congressional Republicans have introduced bills that would bar the government from moving any of the 250 inmates to some of the most prominent military and civilian detention centres in the US, including a "supermax" high-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, which holds at least 16 convicted international terrorists, and a South Carolina naval brig that holds the only enemy combatant jailed in America.
Obama, who signed an executive order during his first week as president to shut the six-year-old facility, has yet to release plans for the suspected terrorists who remain there. Critics say the pre-emptive legislation and media campaigns from Republicans – and at least one Democrat – are intended to defend George Bush's legacy against those who claim the prison has damaged America's standing in the world and has become a recruiting symbol for terrorists.
Last week, 20 Texas Republicans sent a letter to Obama urging him not to send Guantánamo detainees to their state. Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator, aims to keep detainees out of a military prison there, and an Arizona Republican has filed legislation that would prevent detainees from being shipped to federal civilian or military prisons.
"So you don't subscribe to Rush Limbaugh's "I hope he fails" school of thought?" asked interviewer Dan Gilgoff.
"That was a terrible thing to say," Robertson responded. "I mean, he's the president of all the country. If he succeeds, the country succeeds. And if he doesn't, it hurts us all. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally."
After the election, Robertson pronounced himself "remarkably pleased" with Obama and not so happy with President Bush. Robertson told Gilgoff that Obama hasn't been "as skillful" since taking office but that he wants "to give him the benefit of every doubt, and I definitely hope he succeeds."
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF ZIMBABWE:
First, let us begin by saying thank you. Thank you for demonstrating to and for African people and the world the courage and conviction that must be had to be self-determining in the face of insurmountable odds. Odds that would have crushed others with any less will to be free.
The road you chose for national liberation, which was carved through your first and second Chimurengas (armed liberation wars), cut an enduring path for us all to follow.
At this moment in time, when all the enemies of Africa have attempted to circle their wagons around you and crush your right to land and sovereignty, your leadership and the veterans of your struggle have rallied you to unite.
The words of one of Africa's greatest patriots are so fitting to your struggle at this time:
"No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity."
--Patrice Lumumba's last letter, December 1960
Lift the Sanctions Now!
As anti-war, community, political, youth, trade union activists and Pan Africanists along with other people of good conscience of all nationalities inside the U.S. and worldwide, we are declaring our full solidarity with the heroic struggle in Zimbabwe to defend the right to full independence and sovereignty. At the heart of this struggle is the ongoing fight for the control of African land, illegally and brutally stolen beginning in the late 19th century by racist British colonizers led by Cecil Rhodes.
The Lancaster House Agreement--signed by the representatives of the ZANU-ZAPU guerrilla movements and the British government in 1980--promised to legally transfer ownership of the millions of acres of arable land from a handful of very privileged white farmers back to the Zimbabwean people. The British government reneged on this promise while the people of Zimbabwe patiently waited for reparations in the form of land reform to happen. When their patience ran out after waiting 20 years for legal justice, the people had no other recourse but to expropriate the land themselves by any means necessary.
As a result of taking back what is rightfully their birthright: the land, the people of Zimbabwe have had to bear the full brunt of unmitigated ire and disdain on the part of the U.S. and British governments and more recently, the European Union governments. This disdain is reflected in the political demonizing of government leaders, notably President Robert Mugabe, who has defended the Zimbabwean people's right to the land.
Defending the people's right to the land, the fruits of their labor and the country's resources means recognizing the right to self-determination and sovereignty without any imperialist interference. This is President Mugabe's "crime" in the eyes of the imperialist governments and their media. Behind this demonizing of President Mugabe lies the real crime--the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., Britain and other Western countries that have resulted in the collective punishment of the Zimbabwean people.
These cruel sanctions for almost a decade have caused massive unemployment, malnourishment, hyperinflation, deeper poverty, lack of health care and fuel, the deterioration of the infrastructure and much more. A recent cholera epidemic that has claimed the lives of thousands could have been prevented if water purification chemicals had not been banned under the sanctions.
End the Economic Sanctions Now!
Full Land Reform for the Indigenous Zimbabweans!
Respect the Democratically Elected Leadership!
Stop the Demonizing!
Hands Off Zimbabwe!
Sign the Open Letter at http://www.iacenter.org/africa/zimbabweopenletter
By Ladane Nasseri
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country is waiting for the U.S. to show "signs of real change" under the Obama administration, calling it "a necessity" for improving relations between the two countries.
"Is the outlook of the U.S. renewed?" Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Iranian state television broadcast late today. "Is it willing to respect the nation? Is bullying going to disappear?"
The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Iran nearly three decades ago after Iranian militants held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran for 444 days. The two countries are entangled in a dispute over the Persian Gulf country's nuclear program, which the U.S. accuses of being a cover for developing weapons. Iran denies the claim, saying it only seeks to produce electricity for a growing population.
Ahmadinejad, who is critical of the U.S. for what he calls "imperialistic" policies and for seeking to destabilize Iran's cleric-led regime, said last week his government is ready for negotiations based "on mutual respect."
"We are waiting for signs of real change," he said today. "If real change takes place, this will naturally lead to a different relation," between Iran and the U.S.
Like the Nazi high command, Cheney and crew knew the importance of euphemism to lend marketability to their repugnant practices. The word "torture" morphed into the aforementioned "enhanced interrogation techniques," and "secret rendition" transformed the practice of spiriting suspected terrorists to the dark dungeons of cooperative countries that were quite willing to provide cover for some pretty nasty violations of the Geneva Conventions in exchange for cash from the CIA. "Regime change" was the euphemism the American Reich used to put lipstick on a public relations pig--the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation that had nothing whatsoever to do with the event used to justify that invasion. Neither the Germans under Hitler nor the Americans under men like Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted their actions to be tagged with a word like "invasion." Countries that want to be thought of as good guys don't "invade" other countries, after all; the word is just too harsh, too negative, and too reminiscent of bloodthirsty Huns or Visigoths, charging across borders to rape, burn and pillage. So when the Germans stormed into places like the Sudentenland, Czechoslovakia, or Poland, they were merely seeking "liebenschraum," a quite benign quest to secure a little more "living space" for the Master Race, some places where Germans could just stretch out a bit. And when we stormed into Iraq, it surely wasn't something we wanted to bill as an "invasion." Nope, just a little exercise in unilateral "regime change" that didn't involve consulting with the Iraqi people on the matter. And when Congress facilitated the Bush Administration's assault on the Bill of Rights, they didn't package that bill as the "Spying on Americans Act of 2001," or the "Library Surveillance Program." Nope, it was the "Patriot Act," and who but a traitorous non-patriot could raise objection to such a good-sounding thing.
George Orwell warned about this kind of misuse of language in his famous essay, "Politics and the English Language," and in 1984, his novel about how totalitarianism manipulates both fear and language to assert powers that soon become total, hence the word for such regimes, whether of the left or the right. Communism as practiced in the Soviet Union suppressed free speech, and engaged in relentless spying on its own citizens, thus silencing dissent and stifling much-needed reform. People disappeared and they were held (or executed) without recourse to legal protections. And, on the right side of the totalitarian spectrum, the Nazis in Germany and the Fascists in Spain and Italy held power through the ruthless application of state terror, suppression of dissent, suspension of a free press and abrogation of the legal rights of their citizens.
The award for "Most destructive effect on public discourse by a single person" for the 2000s, so far, goes to Dick "no doubt" Cheney. ("Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." Cheney, speech to national VFW Convention, August 26, 2002.) Of course, this is a career-achievement award, not limited to this one event.
My nominee for the winner in the 1990s would be Elizabeth "Betsy" McCaughey. At various stages in her career she has been a banker, a Republican politician, and a staffer at conservative think tanks, but she entered the public stage in the mid-1990s in the guise of a dispassionate, independent researcher who considered it her duty to inform the public about the dire threats it faced. Come to think of it, that is more or less the guise Cheney took in warning about the threat from Iraq.
In McCaughey's case, the equivalent of weapons of mass destruction was the original Clinton Health Reform plan. In 1994 she wrote a cover story in the New Republic "revealing" a number of hidden dangers in the Clinton plan that less careful analysts had somehow missed. Unfortunately for McCaughey, most of what she wrote was false. Unfortunately for the Clintons, most of what she claimed was echoed uncritically and became part of the conventional wisdom of why the bill couldn't pass.
After the jump, a passage from my 1995 Atlantic article "A Triumph of Misinformation" about McCaughey's article and its effects. More on this topic in my 1996 book Breaking the News -- and especially about why sloppy press coverage did as much to thwart health-care reform under the Clintons as it did to bring on the Iraq war under Cheney and Bush.
Why bring this up now? Because McCaughey has sprung up again to "reveal" another hidden danger in another Democratic administration's plans. Buried inside the new stimulus bill, she has discovered, are new big-brother tactics similar to those she warned against years ago. In a recent Bloomberg.com opinion column she wrote:
For what is wrong with her "analysis" this time, check out this in The Washington Monthly, which also has a chronology of how the (right wing) press -- led by Fox, Limbaugh, and Drudge -- is again picking up flatly disprovable lies. (Eg, the "new" bureaucracy she warns about already exists, and was established under GW Bush.)One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective....Hospitals and doctors that are not "meaningful users" of the new system will face penalties. "Meaningful user" isn't defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose "more stringent measures of meaningful use over time" (511, 518, 540-541)
By Renee Feltz
In 2004, antiwar activists pushed bright red booklets titled "Houston We Have a Problem" under the doors of hotel rooms where Halliburton shareholders rested before the company's annual meeting. The booklets were alternative annual reports that detailed how Halliburton and its then subsidiary, KBR, overcharged taxpayers for services in Iraq, was under investigation for corruption and had used political connections to win no-bid and cost-plus contracts. Those contracts now total more than $30 billion.
The report's author, Pratap Chatterjee of Corpwatch, a corporate watch-dog group, compiles years of reporting on Halliburton/KBR's corporate malfeasance in Halliburton's Army: How a Well- Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. More than a laundry list of wrongdoings, the book shows how the symbol of a failed Iraq reconstruction effort achieved so little with so much money. As we move on from the Bush administration, this book helps to understand what really happened.
Halliburton subsidiary KBR won the bulk of contracts in Iraq before it was spun off in 2007. The Texas-based company began building military bases during the Vietnam War, when President Lyndon B. Johnson favored it in exchange for hefty campaign donations. KBR co-founder George Brown claimed LBJ described the deals as a "joint venture," in which, "I'm going to take care of the politics and you're going to take care of the business side of it."
By 2003, Halliburton/KBR had a seat at the table when Pentagon officials planned the invasion of Iraq. When Congress approved the invasion in October 2002, the company's managers were already hard at work building military bases. Chatterjee recounts how Halliburton/ KBR's proposal to fix the Iraqi oil fields damaged by Saddam Hussein was never put up for bid.
Many of these contracts were costplus, which meant the government covered all expenses and guaranteed profits of two to seven percent. This was in addition to contracts to construct military bases, as well as basic services such as purchasing and serving food. These latter contracts fell under the military doctrine called Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), which allows civilian contractors to replace soldiers for kitchen duty and work done off the battlefield.
All of the contracts were won with minimal lobbying since Halliburton's ex-CEO, Dick Cheney, was Vice President. Even when accusations of overcharging surfaced in 2004, Chatterjee notes the company's annual lobbying budget was just $300,000.
WASHINGTON - In the waning days of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney launched a last-ditch campaign to persuade his boss to pardon Lewis (Scooter) Libby - and was furious when President George W. Bush wouldn't budge.
Sources close to Cheney told the Daily News the former vice president repeatedly pressed Bush to pardon Libby, arguing his ex-chief of staff and longtime alter ego deserved a full exoneration - even though Bush had already kept Libby out of jail by commuting his 30-month prison sentence.
"He tried to make it happen right up until the very end," one Cheney associate said.
In multiple conversations, both in person and over the telephone, Cheney tried to get Bush to change his mind. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the federal probe of who leaked covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the press.
Several sources confirmed Cheney refused to take no for an answer. "He went to the mat and came back and back and back at Bush," a Cheney defender said. "He was still trying the day before Obama was sworn in."
I have a plan to get NBC out of last place in the ratings. I'm promising blockbuster audience and international buzz. As a once disgruntled ex-employee, I now just want to be positive and help NBC, which needs all the free advice it can get.
Here's my idea: A series of NBC News prime-time specials featuring spectacular ambushes of big-time criminals lured into what they expect to be pleasurable surroundings. But, with hidden cameras whirring, the startled villain is dramatically confronted with the evidence of his massive crimes as millions of viewers look on in scorn and righteous amusement.
If it sounds familiar, it's because NBC News has scored huge ratings with its "To Catch a Predator" sleaze-fest - in which potential sex offenders by the bushel were lured via the Internet to what they thought would be sex with kids and instead got caught by NBC cameras and cops in hiding.
But my proposal doesn't involve sex abusers. I'm talking about men who've launched illegal war, mass murder, torture, dictatorship. And they're household names.
Before you laugh off my proposal for "To Catch a War Criminal," check out last week's New York Times report by Brian Stelter: "On Trail of War Criminals, NBC News Is Criticized."
NBC is already at work - "To Catch a Predator"-style - on a two-bit version of my idea, and not surprisingly, they may be screwing it up. For over a year, a camera crew has been on the trail of alleged war criminals; in December, an NBC producer confronted a Maryland foreign language professor, who NBC sources accuse of war crimes in Rwanda.
But there are problems - as often happens when you leave the "news" to NBC. Human Rights Watch questions the evidence against the professor, who's been seeking asylum in the US. A journalistic ethicist questions NBC's close relations with Rwanda's government.
So here's my advice: Go big. Go after superstars and only well-documented, slam-dunk cases of war crimes. Coming to NBC next week: "To Catch a Cheney." Next month: "To Catch a Kissinger."
How do you lure such big names to an NBC News lair for their ambush interview? You simply invite them.