Wednesday, July 7, 2010
In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress approved a magazine designed to win over Arab hearts and minds. In an excerpt from his new book, The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane, Randall Lane describes how Bush officials forbade using photographs of a donkey, in order to avoid any positive reflection of Democrats.
Those of us who were in New York on 9/11in fact, everyone who was in Americacan attest to the overwhelming feeling of needing to do something, anything, to pitch in. In the days and weeks following that awful day, I spent all night feeding rescue workers at Ground Zero, volunteered to give blood that wasn't needed and wrote stories about the heroes and victims. It didn't seem enough. So I put forward the sharpest skill set I had, starting magazines, which put me smack in the middle of the one of the uglier, untold stories of the Bush administration.
As part of a public diplomacy program similar to Radio Free Europe or Voice of America, the State Department had allocated more than $4 million a year to launch a magazine about American culture, which would be translated into Arabic and sold across the Arab world. (A TV station, Al Hurra, and Radio Sawa were launched around the same time.) Other than a corny name, Hi!, the one English word everyone on the planet knows, it was an empty vessel.
The Bush official held up the offending photo, as wholesome as a Norman Rockwell painting, and pointed to a pack mule that, by other names, might be known as a donkey.
To fill it, the State Department hired a highly regarded Washington-based custom media company, TMG, which in turn hired me. Working with a squad of Arab-born Americans, including a smart, opinionated Libyan, a poetic Syrian, and a diligent Palestinian, I would craft America's public face for the part of the world that hated us most, as translated via the cover and substance of a glossy magazine.
As members of opposing political parties, we disagree on a number of important issues. But we must not allow honest disagreement over some issues to interfere with our ability to work together when we do agree.
By far the single most important of these is our current initiative to include substantial reductions in the projected level of American military spending as part of future deficit reduction efforts. For decades, the subject of military expenditures has been glaringly absent from public debate. Yet the Pentagon budget for 2010 is $693 billion -- more than all other discretionary spending programs combined. Even subtracting the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military spending still amounts to over 42% of total spending.
It is irrefutably clear to us that if we do not make substantial cuts in the projected levels of Pentagon spending, we will do substantial damage to our economy and dramatically reduce our quality of life.
We are not talking about cutting the money needed to supply American troops in the field. Once we send our men and women into battle, even in cases where we may have opposed going to war, we have an obligation to make sure that our servicemembers have everything they need. And we are not talking about cutting essential funds for combating terrorism; we must do everything possible to prevent any recurrence of the mass murder of Americans that took place on September 11, 2001.
Immediately after World War II, with much of the world devastated and the Soviet Union becoming increasingly aggressive, America took on the responsibility of protecting virtually every country that asked for it. Sixty-five years later, we continue to play that role long after there is any justification for it, and currently American military spending makes up approximately 44% of all such expenditures worldwide. The nations of Western Europe now collectively have greater resources at their command than we do, yet they continue to depend overwhelmingly on American taxpayers to provide for their defense. According to a recent article in the New York Times, "Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism. Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella."
When our democratic allies are menaced by larger, hostile powers, there is a strong argument to be made for supporting them. But the notion that American taxpayers get some benefit from extending our military might worldwide is deeply flawed. And the idea that as a superpower it is our duty to maintain stability by intervening in civil disorders virtually anywhere in the world often generates anger directed at us and may in the end do more harm than good.
by Karl Frisch
Once again, NBC is holding a wedding contest in which the winning couple will be awarded a wedding aired live on the network's highly-rated Today morning show and an all-expense paid honeymoon.
Unfortunately, Today's "Modern Day Wedding Contest" isn't open to same-sex couples.
In a statement from NBC given to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the network said:
For the TODAY show wedding, the couple must be able to be legally married in New York, which is where the wedding will take place.
But, as GLAAD noted in response:
This is not a valid argument since New York State legally recognizes same-sex marriages licensed in other states. Same-sex couples can now legally obtain marriage licenses in Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington D.C. NBC is mistakenly equating the marriage license with the wedding celebration. Same-sex weddings are entirely legal in New York State. As long as the marriage license is conferred upon the same-sex couple by another state, New York State recognizes the marriage as a fully valid and legal one. NBC's exclusion of same-sex couples from its contest is not motivated by the law, but bias against these couples.
Within minutes of learning that last November's Fort Hood shooter had an Arab name and an Islamic background, commentators at the major media outlets were engaging in wild speculation that the killer's motive was "jihad" and that the murders fell into the category of political terrorism. For many Americans, these reflexive conclusions also confirmed what they'd decided long ago: that Muslims want to do them harm. Although it is more appropriate to try and understand perpetrators of terrorism by their political (rather than religious) identifications and grievances, the tenacity with which interchangeability of the concepts of Islam and terrorism holds on - and is perpetuated in mainstream discourse - is doing damage to the idea that the United States and its people represent the most open, tolerant society the world has to offer.
Awhile back, I attended a conference at Boulder's Naropa University on "Human and Women's Rights in Islam," at which we discussed the most persistent stereotypes about Islam and Muslims held by Westerners generally - and Americans particularly - that demand closer examination. Individually, these misconceptions are the source of grave misunderstandings between individuals. Collectively, they form the basis of a worldview so distorted that it drives some of its proponents to openly and brazenly call for the use of violence against their fellow citizens, including, in the most stunning cases, the president himself (who, although not Muslim, is regularly and pejoratively cast as such by his detractors.)
Let's just be frank. The demonization of Islam as a religion and of its adherents as individuals has reached the level of hysteria within the United States. Although the fear of Muslims is usually cloaked in condescension or indignation, the source of this most recent version of bigotry is transparent and utterly predictable. There must be a nameless, faceless, sinister "other" upon whom we can hang our deepest anxieties and frustrations as a people. This kind of paranoia is not unique, but as its perpetrators on right-wing radio, FOX "News" and the far-right blogosphere can attest, it still works like a charm.
I would offer to Americans that if you've come to believe that it's Islam that's the source of our problems, you might as well pack it up and go home because the terrorists have already won.
I was walking through the neighborhood one afternoon when, on turning a corner, I nearly tripped over a gray squirrel that was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, eating a nut. Startled by my sudden appearance, the squirrel dashed out to the road right in front of an oncoming car.
You don't get to be one of the most widely disseminated mammals in the world equally at home in the woods, a suburban backyard or any city "green space" bigger than a mousepad if you're crushed by every Acme anvil that happens to drop your way.
"When people call me squirrely," said John L. Koprowski, a squirrel expert and professor of wildlife conservation and management at the University of Arizona, "I am flattered by the term."
The Eastern gray tree squirrel, or Sciurus carolinensis, has been so spectacularly successful that it is often considered a pest. The International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the squirrel on its list of the top 100 invasive species. The British and Italians hate gray squirrels for outcompeting their beloved native red squirrels. Manhattanites hate gray squirrels for reminding them of pigeons, and that goes for the black, brown and latte squirrel morphs, too.
Yet researchers who study gray squirrels argue that their subject is far more compelling than most people realize, and that behind the squirrel's success lies a phenomenal elasticity of body, brain and behavior. Squirrels can leap a span 10 times the length of their body, roughly double what the best human long jumper can manage. They can rotate their ankles 180 degrees, and so keep a grip while climbing no matter which way they're facing. Squirrels can learn by watching others cross-phyletically, if need be. In their book "Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide," Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell of the Smithsonian Institution described the safe-pedestrian approach of a gray squirrel eager to traverse a busy avenue near the White House. The squirrel waited on the grass near a crosswalk until people began to cross the street, said the authors, "and then it crossed the street behind them."
In the acuity of their visual system, the sensitivity and deftness with which they can manipulate objects, their sociability, chattiness and willingness to deceive, squirrels turn out to be surprisingly similar to primates.
By Scott Burns
In his bathtub, Napoleon decided to sell the Louisiana Territory.
His goal wasn't lofty. He just needed cash for his various wars. Fortunately, President Thomas Jefferson did have a lofty goal a vision of a coast-to-coast America. So he made the Louisiana Purchase.
The bathtub tidbit comes from "The Epic of America," historian James Truslow Adams' 1931 history of the United States. "The character of our new acquisition to the west of "the river" was not yet well known, but the exploring expeditions of Lewis and Clark in the Northwest and of Zebulon M. Pike in the Southwest had indicated that the prairies and plains were not of much use to settlers, and thus the western half of the country was to retain its reputation as the great American desert until after the Civil War," Adams wrote.
Today, the population center of the United States is well west of "the river." It continues to move further west with each census report, as it has since 1790. Back then it took the Lewis and Clark expedition two years and much hazard to get to the Pacific Ocean from Pittsburgh.
Today, Southwest Airlines flies from Pittsburgh to Seattle three times a day. Each flight covers the 2,483 miles in about 7 hours, including time to change planes in Chicago. And the flight will set you back as little as $244. The average American worker earns that much in two days.
The fare figures to about 10 cents a mile. According to the American Automobile Association that's a bit less than it costs per mile to buy gasoline for the typical American car.
We've come a long way, and gone a great distance.
Today, the greatest hardship on a trip to the Pacific Ocean is the lack of food or a seat that is a tad narrow, but that is hard to complain about when you have a full cash bar, free snacks and flight attendants with a sense of humor.
Steve Penner, a friend in La Jolla, sums it up nicely: "I'll go anywhere Southwest goes. I won't go anywhere else." I share that preference. I only fly other airlines when absolutely necessary.
Arizona's campaign against Mexican immigrants seems to intensify with every passing week. This latest round of escalation, however, has even some proponents of getting tough on illegal immigrants wondering if it's just gone a bit too far.
The state has been at the very epicenter of America's immigration debate ever since the passage of Senate Bill 1070, which allows police the right to detain anyone suspected of being undocumented. In spite of the rapid, loud backlash against the move, from all appearances the laws have only sparked greater emphasis on -- and increased hatred of -- immigrants in public life.
Enter former Republican State Representative Barry Wong, who hopes to win a job atop the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees the state's utilities.
His plan to get elected: promise to cut off electricity, water and gas to all illegal immigrants, even though his idea is completely unenforceable.
"I'm sure there will be criticism about human-rights violations," Wong said, according to the New York Daily News. "Is power or natural gas or any type of utility we regulate, is that a right that people have? It is not a right. It is a service."
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The Rev. Kevin J. Gray was a popular priest who appeared to live humbly, forgoing a car and walking to Mass from another parish where he lived so that a Catholic charity could use his space at the rectory. Parishioners thought he had cancer and admired how he helped immigrants in his largely poor parish in Connecticut.
But after a routine audit of the church's finances turned up discrepancies, authorities began a criminal investigation that they say unraveled a secret double life of male escorts, strip bars and lavish spending on the finest restaurants, luxury hotels and expensive clothing, financed with money stolen from the parish.
"About a million," Gray told authorities without hesitation when asked how much he took from the church account, according to his arrest affidavit.
Gray, former pastor at Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon Parish in Waterbury, was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny, accused of stealing $1.3 million over seven years from the church, police said. He was arraigned Tuesday in Waterbury Superior Court and was being held on $750,000 bond, court officials said.
"Up until this investigation he had an excellent reputation," police Capt. Christopher Corbett said. "The life he was leading in New York City was much different than the life he was leading in Waterbury as a priest. He's certainly an example of someone who was leading a double life."