11/30/2007 1:16:12 PM
I don’t have time to watch every presidential debate. When I do happen to catch a debate, the ubiquitous commercials and product placement, the moderator grandstanding, and the softball questions are all mind-numbing.
That’s when the political blog Talking Points Memo is quite helpful. After each debate, the website posts highlights in a 10 minute YouTube video. It’s not unbiased. You don’t get the full picture. But you also don’t wake up two hours later, as you might after the real debate, thinking, “What did I just watch?”
Here’s the latest video from the GOP CNN/YouTube debate on October 28.:
The Republicans unleashed on each other in this one, bickering and throwing personal attacks. One of my favorite parts comes right at the beginning:
Mitt Romney: “Is that what you’re suggesting.”
Rudy Giuliani: “What I’m suggesting is…”
Mitt Romney: “No, no, that’s not answering.”
11/29/2007 5:19:51 PM
It was only a matter of time before those computer-kid Millennials found a way to engage in issues outside their Facebook communities. And they did it without ever leaving their keyboards. The technology blog TechCrunch reported last week on The Point, a social networking site launched in September that allows armchair activists to force change through petitions and ultimatums without risking arrest or discomfort. Users join campaigns—anonymously, if they choose—promising to take action once a certain number of other people agree to do the same. This tipping-point strategy enables safety in numbers, negating the possibility that you’ll be the only one pelting your boss with dead rats from the picket line.
11/27/2007 3:43:00 PM
In emergency and conflict situations, the first wave of relief efforts hinge on meeting life-sustaining needs: food, water, shelter, and medicine. A new podcast series focuses on a crucial addition to the second wave of support: education.
Beyond School Books
, a podcast launched by UNICEF and hosted by Amy Costello, rethinks the role of education in resolving and preventing conflict. Past segments (“When Crises Strike Children: Education as a Human Right and Long-Term Development Tool” and “The War’s Over, Now Where’s Your Homework”) have evoked the insights of guests like Ishmael Beah, an activist, author, and previous child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war, and Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer and special representative of the UN secretary general for children and armed conflict.
Education is no panacea, Coomaraswamy notes in the series. As a tool of power, education can foster as well as resolve conflict. In Sri Lanka, for example, Coosmaraswamy helped analyze school textbooks and found that the content promoted a nationalistic identity that contributed to tensions between ethnic groups. But when deployed carefully and thoughtfully, education may be able to diffuse and even prevent conflict.
According to studies by Population Action International (pdf), throughout the 1990s countries with large populations of young people were three times more likely to engage in civil wars than countries with older populations. Targeting youth is a military tactic, used to recruit fighters, fragment families, and instill terror. Educating these youths would not only bring the myriad familiar benefits of education, but could also curb military recruitment of young people and starve warring parties of their cannon fodder. —Anna Cynar
11/23/2007 3:00:06 PM
In a recent survey by the New York University journalism school, 20 percent of students said that they’d give up the right to vote in the 2008 election in exchange for an iPod Touch. The NYU student newspaper Washington Square News reports that half the students said they’d give up the right to vote forever in exchange for $1 million. —Bennett Gordon
11/21/2007 3:13:15 PM
A line at the upper left-hand corner of the picture reads “Everybody has the right to be beautiful.” The woman standing below is surely that, dressed in beauty-pageant regalia, Atlantic waves meeting Angolan sands behind her. She is Miss Landmine Angola 2007. Showcased in the photograph are the attributes classically aligned with feminine beauty: high cheekbones, full lips, a curvaceous figure. Yet it is what the photograph, shot from the waist up, hides that makes her beauty a thing unparalleled, unusual, both tragic and wonderful. The lower half of her left leg is missing, a testament to her encounter with a landmine. She is one of several women featured in the Miss Landmine Angola project to raise awareness about the world’s plague of landmines and to empower those who have survived them. Learn about the project and see this year’s contestants at Miss-Landmine.org. —Morgan Winters
11/21/2007 2:50:43 PM
As the farm bill writhes in congressional death throes, Reason magazine reports that more than 170,000 deceased farmers received subsidies between 1999 and 2005. The total cost of these post-mortem outlays? More than $1 billion. Though official policy checks off on subsidies for up to two years after a farmer’s death (if the farm is still operational), a substantial portion of the payments were distributed beyond the time limit. The research originated in a July report by the Government Accountability Office (pdf). Then the shrugging commenced. —Michael Rowe
11/19/2007 4:42:45 PM
The Mexican government’s response to the deadly flooding that has displaced tens of thousands from their homes in the state of Tabasco would have been more effective if not for the U.S.-sponsored war on drugs in that country, argues Gregory Berger in the Narco News Bulletin.
Some major media outlets have praised President Felipe Calderon’s response, but Berger counters that more federal troops could have been deployed to help if they weren’t dispersed throughout the country fighting the war on drugs. Berger writes:
Local authorities’ resources are stretched far beyond their capacity, and they are in desperate need of help. 15,000 extra pairs of hands would save many, many lives. Instead, the soldiers that could be there are busy ripping apart the contents of the pickup trucks of poor Indians at checkpoints in Chihuahua, as their superior officers cavort with the real drug traffickers.
In a follow-up post, Berger notes that the Partido Revolucionario Institucional’s “incompetent” response to the massive 1985 earthquake in Mexico City ultimately led to the party losing its decades-long grip on federal power. A similar voter backlash, Berger suggests, could be ignited by the fallout from the Tabasco floods.
For those interested in offering support to humanitarian relief efforts in Tabasco, the American Red Cross is collecting donations, and Realidad Novelada, a Mexican blog that has been monitoring developments in Tabasco, links to a number of other nongovernmental organizations working there. —Jason Ericson
11/16/2007 4:56:41 PM
Paul Krugman is optimistic. “So optimistic,” he says, “that friends have been asking me if I’m feeling alright.” The New York Times columnist and liberal savior has a gleam of excitement in his eyes as he holds forth before a packed, silver-haired audience at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. While America is in a crisis now, he says, “the possibilities for change are once again very great.”
Krugman was in town recently to tout his latest book, The Conscience of a Liberal (Norton). His central point is this: So-called movement conservatives have been winning elections by exploiting Southern whites’ racism. Since grabbing power, they’ve pushed an agenda that promotes economic inequality, helping the mega-rich get mega-richer.
Krugman’s good news is that the times of darkness shall soon draw to an end, and we may see a glorious realignment in the U.S. political system. That is, if a true liberal takes hold of the offices of government. Responsible policy-making could reverse the country’s decline by pushing ambitious social policies that drastically reverse inequality.
Pundits have parsed Krugman’s points and exchanged heated parlays about his prose. The book’s been pretty much reviewed to death, so I’ll spare you any more diluted Krugman-summary in lieu of a few quick thoughts about what’s missing from Krugman’s analysis.
Krugman seems to be talking about a purely political change, not a social change. He looks at the cogs and gears of democracy—who’s in power and what they do with their power. He doesn’t imagine this new glorious revolution as arising, Athena-like, from the split skulls of the citizenry’s discontent. No. He imagines a purely political solution to a purely political problem that just happens to have social side-effects.
So what’s left for citizens to do? Hope. Hope that the Democrats’ presidential nominee is a good one. Hope that the Democratic presidential nominee wins. Hope that the next president does all the great things we hope that he or she will do, like reform the health care system.
Despite the audacious optimism of Krugman’s predictions for America’s future, there’s something disappointing about his myopic focus on politics and policy. The Bush years left us with a host of political problems, to be sure. But the political problems seem inexorably connected to a web of social problems that politics alone cannot fix. How can politics alone restore our faith in the media, how can politics alone resurrect reasoned debate, how can politics alone soothe our disillusioned democracy?
I wish that Krugman would have told another story to the excited crowd, about how they could change the course of the country, about why they mattered—those citizens who gobble up his columns twice a week, week after week. Because in our outpouring of enthusiasm for the progressive sage, there was something more than politics; there was an invigorated sense of civic engagement. To think that mere citizens can have an earth-shifting effect, well, maybe that would be the more audacious optimism. —Brendan Mackie
11/14/2007 9:39:13 AM
In this week’s UtneCast, host Leif Utne talks to Riane Eisler, author of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. Eisler argues that to build a sustainable and socially just economy, people need to start valuing care and caregiving. Also in this episode, Utne.com assistant editor Bennett Gordon reviews the jarring and funny new documentary Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home, which follows a Toronto family for three months as they save every scrap of waste.
Listen to the latest episode here.
UtneCast 38: Riane Eisler on The Real Wealth of Nations / Film: Garbage: Play Now
| Play in Popup
11/13/2007 6:13:12 PM
Could there be a silver lining to Michael Mukasey’s ascension to the helm of the Justice Department?
From Legal Times, via Law.com:
One group eager to work with Mukasey on some internal changes is DOJ Pride, the organization representing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees. Under Gonzales and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, the group was barred from using the department's Great Hall for annual ceremonies. The group wrote to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., about DOJ's refusal to post the group's fliers on bulletin boards or allow internal e-mail messages announcing their events. Under questioning by Feingold, Mukasey said he didn't understand the reasons for such treatment and pledged to end it once in office.
11/13/2007 3:54:08 PM
In a stunning act of political desperation, presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who’s polling somewhere around the margin of error, has released a new campaign ad that sinks to new depths of fear-mongering. “There are consequences to open borders beyond the 20 million aliens who’ve come to take our jobs,” intones a voice straight out of a thrasher flick trailer. The consequences? Fiery death, if the off-screen explosion is any indication.
Much like the classic 1964 Daisy ad that sowed fears of little girls being nuked if voters chose unwisely, this spot ends with a stark (and ludicrous) warning: “Tancredo… before it’s too late.” Scary stuff. Perhaps that's why YouTube has flagged at least one version of the ad as “inappropriate” for children and is requiring visitors to log in before viewing it.
(Thanks to CrooksAndLiars.com for the tip.)
11/13/2007 12:15:28 PM
Gloria Steinem created Ms. as a forum for hitherto unheard female voices. It was the first feminist magazine to enjoy immense popularity, with women across America reading it like the Bible in the 1970s.
After its first issue was published in 1972, network news anchor Harry Reasoner said, "I'll give it six months before they run out of things to say." Thirty-five years later Ms. continues to be a leading national magazine that boasts extensive coverage of issues effecting women internationally. For its 35th anniversary issue, Ms. decided to check in on some of the most pressing concerns of feminists by comparing women in 2007 with their cohorts in 1972.
A few of the results prove to be hopeful and give praise to the women who have fought for equality in the last 35 years:
- In 1972 there were 15 women in Congress; today there are 90.
- In 1972 women owned 4.6 percent of U.S. businesses; by 2006 women owned 40 percent.
- In 1972 women made up 1.4 percent of the military; today they make up 14.6 percent.
But the results also show that women aren’t as liberated today as many like to think:
- In 1972 women earned 59 cents for every dollar men earned; today they still earn only 77 cents to the dollar.
- In the 1970s Virginia Slims tried to sell cigarettes to women by co-opting feminism; today cigarette ads in women's magazines are directed at teenage girls and young women.
- In 1973 the word "cellulite" was popularized by Nicole Ronsard's bestseller; today "cellulite" gets more than 2,150,000 hits on Google, though it still has no medical definition.
11/12/2007 5:11:57 PM
Betsy Ross adeptly hatched our flag from her freedom-loving soul, right? Well, of course, not exactly.
Harvard historian and author of Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (Knopf, 2007) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich looks at America’s most enduring seamstress and her many historical incarnations in Common-Place, the web journal of the American Antiquarian Society.
There is no definitive account of who stitched the first flag or whether Ross was influential in its design, but that’s beside the point. What matters, Ulrich writes, is how we believe and recount Ross’s story. Her legend begat a history that inserted women into the founding myth of America, accuracy be damned.
Ulrich argues that more than a century ago, the retellings of the Ross narrative “broke down boundaries between the supposedly male world of war and politics and the supposedly domestic worlds of women.” Ross was no rabble-rousing suffragette, but her story did much for the political prospects of women “by elevating their devotion to the state.”
Today, the story of Betsy Ross still teaches respect for the flag. “But it also,” Ulrich writes, “demands a role for ordinary people who sustained the patriot cause.” Along with Ben Franklin, Ross is the ultimate democratic figure, illustrating how noble work can shape a nation as much as its leaders. Or at least that’s what we’re taught to think. —Eric Kelsey
For more on history, myths, and how we learn them, take a look back at Utne Reader’s “History Lessons” package in our Sept./Oct. issue:
Can We Handle the Truth?
In the Trenches
11/9/2007 2:53:03 PM
The most crucial factor in determining whether people vote isn’t self-interest—as most Intro Poli-Sci courses would have us believe—but altruism. Greater Good reports on recent research showing that a focus on helping others is “even more influential than people’s age, income, or education level” when it comes to making it to the ballot booth. So what does this mean for 2008 presidential hopefuls or organizations working to increase voter turnout?
It means they’ll have to learn how to make people give a damn... about other people. Campaigners may want to take heed of the findings, discovered in separate studies by political science professors Richard Jankowski of the State University of New York, Fredonia, and James Fowler of the University of California, San Francisco. Jankowski, for instance, tells Greater Good that get-out-the-vote campaigns “can have a small effect.... But on the whole, I don’t see them having much effect until we get at the root cause of what drives people to get politically involved.” So here’s our challenge: Get citizens to see the altruistic potential of politics. —Anna Cynar
11/9/2007 1:44:20 PM
“The current American prison system… is a leviathan unmatched in human history,” writes Glenn C. Loury in the Nov./Dec. issue of Utne Reader. And nowhere has this leviathan grown to more epic proportions than in California, whose prisons currently house 1 in every 200 residents.
In the October issue of In These Times, Sasha Abramsky reports that while the annual cost for California’s prisons has swelled to nearly $10 billion per year, the percentage spent on rehabilitation programs is in decline, tracking what Loury identifies as a national trend away from rehabilitation and toward punishment. Currently, only about 5 percent of California’s inmate spending goes toward rehabilitation. Consequently, the recidivism rate for the state’s parolees is near 70 percent, the worst among all states.
Until the late seventies, Abramsky writes, California maintained “one of the most progressive prison systems in the country, one that emphasized rehabilitation, drug treatment, education, and alternatives to incarceration.” Then three consecutive “tough-on-crime” governorships from 1983-2003 ushered in legislation that has filled prisons and sent rehabilitation programs into freefall.
“There are no rehabilitative programs,” says federal judge Lawrence Karlton, who held hearings with another federal judge in June to discuss prison overcrowding in the state. According to Abramsky, the judges discussed how “overcrowding was making it impossible to deliver constitutionally acceptable levels of medical and mental health care to prisoners.”
“They barely have the ability to house people,” says Karlton. “Where are you going to find the space to meaningfully rehabilitate people?” — Jason Ericson
11/8/2007 3:02:56 PM
Mountains of contradictory statistics, insurance plans, tax brackets, and general wonkery confront anyone who tries to wrap their head around the morass of American health care. The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein makes the nut a little easier to crack by boiling down the data into ten bite-sized reasons why the U.S. healthcare system is floundering.
Here are some choice findings: Even though Americans spend more on healthcare than any other country, our doctors fall behind other nations’ doctors in adopting new electronic filing technologies that can save everybody money. Americans have the second-highest rate of chronic disease in the world, but we can’t get the consistent care to fix the interconnected problems that go along with a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease. And even though we spend the most on healthcare per capita, 16 percent of the population doesn’t even have healthcare. But at least the US healthcare system can help Rudy Giuliani with his prostate. —Brendan Mackie
11/6/2007 5:35:53 PM
The 2007 Farm Bill hit the Senate floor yesterday, and at stake are billions of dollars and the health of millions of Americans. Utne Reader has been gearing up for the fight over the bill for a while now, having published a breakdown of the issues back in March/April 2006. “If you care about wetlands, or advocate for the hungry, or believe in better nutrition for school children, or just want to keep breathing clean air," Scott Carlson wrote, "you should pay attention to the Farm Bill.”
Now the debate is heating up. “This is not just a farm bill,” said Democratic Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “It’s a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it.” Harkin’s strong words haven’t translated into strong actions, though, according to an editorial by Michael Pollan in Sunday’s New York Times. Pollan characterized the current draft of the farm bill as “let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup.”
Critics like Pollan are up in arms over the bloated federal subsidies set up by the bill. The government would continue to pay out heavy subsidies to farmers of corn, wheat, and other commodity crops, while growers of fruits and vegetables, referred to as “specialty crops,” are often left out in the cold.
Committees have tried to mask these subsidies by offering specialty “programs” designed to appease different interest groups. The programs include money for environmental protection, research, and food stamps for the poor. Many of these programs are worthwhile, but as Scott Faber of the Grocery Manufacturers Association told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Just because you’ve rolled horse manure in powdered sugar doesn’t mean you have a doughnut.”
Adding high drama to the debate surrounding the Farm Bill is a total lack of partisan solidarity. Groups as disparate as the anti-tax National Taxpayers Union and Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid have joined in chorus to call for major changes in the federal subsidies. The Bush administration has even threatened to veto the bill, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, for giving undue benefits to “Park Avenue millionaires.”
When the Bush administration is standing up to millionaires, the issue must be important. While debate is still raging in the Senate, now is the time for concerned citizens to contact their representatives and tell them to reform farm subsidies. To find your senator’s phone number and email, click here.
For more information, check out these links:
Utne Reader’s 2006 article on how to reform the Farm Bill:
Michael Pollan’s article from the New York Times:
The San Francisco Chronicle on the politics behind the bill:
National Public Radio gives an overview of the issues:
Willie Nelson talks about the importance of the Farm Bill in Mother Earth News:
The Economist is direly pessimistic about the state of American agriculture:
A proposal by Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar to shake up federal farm subsidies called the Farm Ranch Equity Stewardship and Health FRESH Act of 2007:
11/5/2007 5:10:33 PM
The mafia’s share of Italy’s gross domestic product. From Foreign Policy’s Passport blog:
According to a recently released annual report by Confesercenti, a major business association in Italy, the four main mafia groups in the country together earn about $126 billion a year (more than Italy's largest companies), amounting to an astonishing 7 percent of Italy's GDP.
The other 93 percent? Marcello Mastroianni’s hair. —Brendan Mackie
11/5/2007 4:46:31 PM
The short answer: No.
The longer (and more interesting) answer can be found in Martin Hala’s article, “From ‘big character posters’ to blogs,” in Eurozine. Despite rampant censorship, the Chinese blogosphere is growing and stimulating national debate. Unfortunately, that debate is more focused on water-cooler conversations about the latest movies than it is about letting a thousand flowers of democratic thought bloom. In other words: It’s just like the American blogosphere. —Brendan Mackie
11/5/2007 4:37:05 PM
Not long ago, I learned that George Bush was the first presidential candidate in the era of television to win against a taller candidate. (Kerry was 6’4”, Bush is 6’1”.)
Now I read this from the New Scientist: “To predict who will win next year's race for the White House, or any other election for that matter, you need look no further than the candidates' physical attributes.”
Researchers from Princeton University showed people photos of candidates in a number of major elections. After just .1 seconds, the people were able to pick the winner of the race with 70 percent accuracy.
It all reminds me of this recent video from the Onion News Network:
Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters
UPDATE: ScienCentral News has more information on the study, including a short video interview with one of the researchers.
11/2/2007 11:14:45 AM
The Organic Consumers Association just awarded the dubious honor of “Dumbest Quote of the Week” to Minnesota’s Rep. Collin Peterson. As the chairman of the House of Representatives agricultural committee, Peterson was quoted in the Financial Times saying:
“For whatever reason, people are willing to pay two or three times as much for something that says ‘organic’ or ‘local.’ Far be it from me to understand what that’s about, but that’s reality. And if people are dumb enough to pay that much then hallelujah.”
Digging a bit deeper, nearly half of Peterson’s political contributions come from agribusiness, according to the political watchdog website Open Secrets. Coincidence? I think not.
You can send an email to Peterson through the Organic Consumers Association website, congratulating him on his award.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!