Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fela Kuti - Music Is The Weapon

Another incredible short music Documentary!

I've mentioned Fela Kuti on this blog at least three times in the last year and a half. So indeed i'm a fan. It was just brought to my attention that this great eye opening documentary was now on line for everyone to see for free. I first saw it over 10 years ago on a VHS tape. Here it is for you now.

"This documentary provides a vivid look at the life, music and travails of Fela Anikulapo Kuti pre-1982 (when the movie was shot). A musical genius, Fela depicts the true image Nigeria,a country flowing with milk and honey, with the majority of its citizens living in poverty. A critic of the national government, he was a victim injustice - numerous beatings, false imprisonment, destruction of property(including but not limited to the burning of his houses and master recordings), and he always rose again! Needless to say that all of what he ranted about, then, are even more prevalent today. This is a 'must-watch' piece by all people who value freedom."

Thanks, Doug.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ramones Rehearsal Video from 1975

The Ramones rehearsing in the loft of their artistic director Arturo Vega in 1975. Vega created The Ramones’ logo...

via DangerousMinds.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Design by This Is My Name

Here’s a lovely video montage illustrating why Black Friday is so freakin’ disgusting awesome. Extreme hysteria at its finest.

What’s wrong with people?

(via DangerousMinds, from TDW)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

post modern slot car track?

found this over at Dangerous Minds a few days ago. Artist Chris Burden put this together. I'm not sure if I'd call it fine art, although it is architecturally, and it looks cool as fuck, I'm just not sure what it is other than that.

Chris Burden's incredible METROPOLIS 2 coming soon to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Education of a President

This was a very interesting piece i read in the New York Times last month, in case you missed it, and before it's totally irrelevant.
TIME TO REFLECT Chitchat is not the president’s specialty, and he does not relish glad-handing.


On a busy afternoon in the West Wing late last month, President Barack Obama seemed relaxed and unhurried as he sat down in a newly reupholstered brown leather chair in the Oval Office. He had just returned from the East Room, where he signed the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 — using eight pens so he could give away as many as possible. The act will be his administration’s last piece of significant economic legislation before voters deliver their verdict on his first two years in office. For all intents and purposes, the first chapter of Obama’s presidency has ended. On Election Day, the next chapter will begin.

As he welcomed me, I told him I liked what he had done with the place. Gone was George W. Bush’s yellow sunburst carpet (it says “optimistic person,” Bush would tell practically anyone who visited), and in its place was a much-derided earth-tone rug with inspirational quotations. The curved walls now had striped tan wallpaper, and the coffee table had been replaced by a walnut-and-mica table that, Obama noted, would resist stains from water glasses. The bust of Winston Churchill was replaced by one of Martin Luther King Jr. The couches were new. He told me he was happy with the redecorating of the office. “I know Arianna doesn’t like it,” he said lightly. “But I like taupe.”

If there was something incongruous about the president of the United States checking out reviews of his décor by Arianna Huffington, well, let’s face it, he has endured worse reviews lately. The president who muscled through Congress perhaps the most ambitious domestic agenda in a generation finds himself vilified by the right, castigated by the left and abandoned by the middle. He heads into the final stretch of the midterm campaign season facing likely repudiation, with voters preparing to give him a Congress that, even if Democrats maintain control, will almost certainly be less friendly to the president than the one he has spent the last two years mud wrestling.

While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong — and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called “a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0” with his new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called “tactical lessons.” He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” He realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise.

Most of all, he has learned that, for all his anti-Washington rhetoric, he has to play by Washington rules if he wants to win in Washington. It is not enough to be supremely sure that he is right if no one else agrees with him. “Given how much stuff was coming at us,” Obama told me, “we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”

That presumes that what he did was the right thing, a matter of considerable debate. The left thinks he did too little; the right too much. But what is striking about Obama’s self-diagnosis is that by his own rendering, the figure of inspiration from 2008 neglected the inspiration after his election. He didn’t stay connected to the people who put him in office in the first place. Instead, he simultaneously disappointed those who considered him the embodiment of a new progressive movement and those who expected him to reach across the aisle to usher in a postpartisan age. On the campaign trail lately, Obama has been confronted by disillusionment — the woman who was “exhausted” defending him, the mother whose son campaigned for him but was now looking for work. Even Shepard Fairey, the artist who made the iconic multihued “Hope” poster, says he’s losing hope.

Perhaps that should have come as no surprise. When Obama secured the Democratic nomination in June 2008, he told an admiring crowd that someday “we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.”

I read that line to Obama and asked how his high-flying rhetoric sounded in these days of low-flying governance. “It sounds ambitious,” he agreed. “But you know what? We’ve made progress on each of those fronts.” He quoted Mario Cuomo’s line about campaigning in poetry and governing in prose. “But the prose and the poetry match up,” he said. “It would be very hard for people to look back and say, You know what, Obama didn’t do what he’s promised. I think they could say, On a bunch of fronts he still has an incomplete. But I keep a checklist of what we committed to doing, and we’ve probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we talked about during the campaign. And I hope as long as I’m president, I’ve got a chance to work on the other 30 percent.”

But save the planet? If you promise to save the planet, might people think you would, you know, actually save the planet? He laughed, before shifting back to hope and inspiration. “I make no apologies for having set high expectations for myself and for the country, because I think we can meet those expectations,” he said. “Now, the one thing that I will say — which I anticipated and can be tough — is the fact that in a big, messy democracy like this, everything takes time. And we’re not a culture that’s built on patience.”

These days, Obama has been seeking guidance in presidential biographies. He is reading, among others, “The Clinton Tapes,” Taylor Branch’s account of his secret interviews with Bill Clinton during the eight years of his presidency. “I was looking over some chronicles of the Clinton years,” Obama told me, “and was reminded that in ’94 — when President Clinton’s poll numbers were lower than mine, and obviously the election ended up being bad for Democrats — unemployment was only 6.6 percent. And I don’t think anybody would suggest that Bill Clinton wasn’t a good communicator or was somebody who couldn’t connect with the American people or didn’t show empathy.”

In the fall of 1994, things were even better than Obama recalls: unemployment was in fact 5.6 percent. If the feel-your-pain president had trouble when the economy was not nearly as bad as it is now, with 9.6 percent unemployment, then maybe the issue for Obama is not that he is too cool or detached, as some pundits say. When the economy is bad, even the most talented of presidents suffer at the polls. “There is an anti-establishment mood,” Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton aide who served as Obama’s first White House chief of staff, told me before he stepped down this month. “We just happen to be here when the music is stopping.”

It would be bad form for the president to anticipate an election result before it happens, but clearly Obama hopes that just as Clinton recovered from his party’s midterm shellacking in 1994 to win re-election two years later, so can he. There was something odd in hearing Obama invoke Clinton. Two years ago, Obama scorned the 42nd president, deriding the small-ball politics and triangulation maneuvers and comparing him unfavorably with Ronald Reagan. Running against Clinton’s wife, Obama was the anti-Clinton. Now he hopes, in a way, to be the second coming of Bill Clinton. Because, in the end, it’s better than being Jimmy Carter.

Last month, I made my way through the West Wing talking not only with Obama but also with nearly two dozen of his advisers — some of whom spoke with permission, others without — hoping to understand how the situation looks to them. The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra: Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history. He prevented another Great Depression while putting in place the foundation for a more stable future. But it required him to do unpopular things that would inevitably cost him.

“He got here, and the expectations for what he could accomplish were very high and probably unrealistic,” Pete Rouse told me. Indeed, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, the masterminds of the 2008 presidential campaign, said they cautioned Obama after his victory to brace himself for a precipitous drop in his popularity given the severity of his challenges. “I told him at some point that at the end of ’10, his approval rating could be low- to mid-30s,” Plouffe told me.

Yet even if the White House saw it coming, this is an administration that feels shellshocked. Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them. They talk about whether it is time to move on. While not in the 30s, Obama’s approval rating in surveys conducted by The New York Times and CBS News had fallen to 45 percent last month from 62 percent when he took office — just a point above where Clinton was before losing Congress in 1994 and three points above where Reagan was before the Republicans lost a couple dozen House seats in 1982. Joel Benenson, Obama’s pollster, pointed out that even at 45 percent, the president’s popularity eclipses that of Congress, the news media, the banks and other forces in American life. “We are in a time when the American public is highly suspect of any institution,” he said, “and President Obama still stands above that.” Obama’s team takes pride that he has fulfilled three of the five major promises he laid out as pillars of his “new foundation” in an April 2009 speech at Georgetown University — health care, education reform and financial reregulation. And they point to decisions to end the combat mission in Iraq while escalating the war in Afghanistan. “History will judge Obama that the first two years were very productive,” Rouse says.

But it is possible to win the inside game and lose the outside game. In their darkest moments, White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed, no matter how many bills he signs. Everything seems to conspire against the idea: an implacable opposition with little if any real interest in collaboration, a news media saturated with triviality and conflict, a culture that demands solutions yesterday, a societal cynicism that holds leadership in low regard. Some White House aides who were ready to carve a new spot on Mount Rushmore for their boss two years ago privately concede now that he cannot be another Abraham Lincoln after all. In this environment, they have increasingly concluded, it may be that every modern president is going to be, at best, average.

“We’re all a lot more cynical now,” one aide told me. The easy answer is to blame the Republicans, and White House aides do that with exuberance. But they are also looking at their own misjudgments, the hubris that led them to think they really could defy the laws of politics. “It’s not that we believed our own press or press releases, but there was definitely a sense at the beginning that we could really change Washington,” another White House official told me. “ ‘Arrogance’ isn’t the right word, but we were overconfident.”

The biggest miscalculation in the minds of most Obama advisers was the assumption that he could bridge a polarized capital and forge genuinely bipartisan coalitions. While Republican leaders resolved to stand against Obama, his early efforts to woo the opposition also struck many as halfhearted. “If anybody thought the Republicans were just going to roll over, we were just terribly mistaken,” former Senator Tom Daschle, a mentor and an outside adviser to Obama, told me. “I’m not sure anybody really thought that, but I think we kind of hoped the Republicans would go away. And obviously they didn’t do that.”

Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the upper chamber and Obama’s ally from Illinois, said the Republicans were to blame for the absence of bipartisanship. “I think his fate was sealed,” Durbin said. “Once the Republicans decided they would close ranks to defeat him, that just made it extremely difficult and dragged it out for a longer period of time. The American people have a limited attention span. Once you convince them there’s a problem, they want a solution.”

Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, though, is among the Democrats who grade Obama harshly for not being more nimble in the face of opposition. “B-plus, A-minus on substantive accomplishments,” he told me, “and a D-plus or C-minus on communication.” The health care legislation is “an incredible achievement” and the stimulus program was “absolutely, unqualifiedly, enormously successful,” in Rendell’s judgment, yet Obama allowed them to be tarnished by critics. “They lost the communications battle on both major initiatives, and they lost it early,” said Rendell, an ardent Hillary Clinton backer who later became an Obama supporter. “We didn’t use the president in either stimulus or health care until we had lost the spin battle.”

That’s a refrain heard inside the White House as well: it’s a communication problem. The first refuge of any politician in trouble is that it’s a communication problem, not a policy problem. If only I explained what I was doing better, the people would be more supportive. Which roughly translates to If only you people paid attention, you wouldn’t be kicking me upside the head. Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, laughed at the ever-ready assumption that all problems stem from poor communication. “I haven’t been at a policy-problem meeting in 20 months,” he noted.

The policy criticism of Obama can be confusing and deeply contradictory — he is a liberal zealot, in the view of the right; a weak accommodationist, in the view of the left. He is an anticapitalist socialist who is too cozy with Wall Street, a weak-on-defense apologist for America who adopted Bush’s unrelenting antiterror tactics at the expense of civil liberties.

“When he talked about being a transformational president, it was about restoring the faith of the American people in our governing institutions,” says Ken Duberstein, the former Reagan White House chief of staff who voted for Obama in 2008. “What we now know is that that did not work. If anything, people are even more dubious about all of our institutions, especially government. So to that extent, the transformational side has not worked. And frankly I would settle these days — forget about transformational, how about a transactional president, somebody people could do business with? It seems there’s an ideological rigidity that the American people did not sense.”

The other side would like more ideological rigidity. Norman Solomon, a leading progressive activist and the president of the Institute for Public Accuracy, said Obama has “totally blown this great opportunity” to reinvent America by being more aggressive on issues like a public health care option. Other liberals feel the same way about gays in the military or the prison at Guántanamo Bay. “It’s been so reflexive since he was elected, to just give ground and give ground,” Solomon told me. “If we don’t call him a wimp, which may be the wrong word, he just seems to be backpedaling.” Solomon added: “It makes people feel angry and perhaps used. People just feel like, Gee, we really believed in this guy, and his rhetoric is so different than the way he’s behaved in office.”

Pummeled from both sides, Obama clearly seems frustrated and, at times, defensive. At a Labor Day event in Milwaukee, he complained that the special interests treat him badly. “They’re not always happy with me,” he told supporters. “They talk about me like a dog — that’s not in my prepared remarks, but it’s true.”

The friendly fire may bother him even more. “Democrats just congenitally tend to see the glass as half empty,” Obama said at a fund-raiser in Greenwich, Conn., last month. “If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particular derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And, gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace. I thought that was going to happen quicker.”

Then again, it is Obama himself, and not just his supporters, who casts his presidency in grandiose terms. As he pleaded with Democrats for patience at another fund-raiser in Washington two weeks later: “It took time to free the slaves. It took time for women to get the vote. It took time for workers to get the right to organize.”

One morning around the 100-day mark in Obama’s administration, the president and his top aides gathered for their morning meeting in the Oval Office. As they waited for David Axelrod, who was running late, someone noted the coming milestone and asked Obama what surprised him most since taking office. “The number of people who don’t pay their taxes,” he answered sardonically.

From the start, Obama has been surprised by all sorts of challenges that have made it hard for him to govern — not just the big problems that he knew about, like the economy and the wars, but also the myriad little ones that hindered his progress, like one nominee after another brought down by unpaid taxes. Obama trusted his judgment and seemed to have assumed that impressive people in his own party must have a certain basic sense of integrity — and that impressive people in the other party must want to work with him.

Four of the five presidents previous to Obama were governors who came to Washington vowing to fix it, only to realize that Washington defies the easy, and often hollow, rhetoric of change. While Obama was a senator when he set off on the campaign trail, he made the same pledges and has encountered the same reality. “The story of the first two years is the inherent conflict between a guy who ran from outside to change Washington, gets here and the situation was even worse than we thought it was,” a senior aide told me. “Here’s a guy who ran as an outsider to change Washington who all of a sudden realized that just to deal with these issues, we were going to have to work with Washington to fix that.”

Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics. When he emerges from the Oval Office during the day, aides say, he sometimes pauses before the split-screen television in the outer reception area, soaks in the cable chatter, then shakes his head and walks away. “He’s still never gotten comfortable here,” a top White House official told me. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.”

But in politics, theater matters, whether it should or not, a lesson Obama keeps relearning, however grudgingly. His decision to redecorate the Oval Office was criticized as an unnecessary luxury in a time of austerity, no matter that it was paid for by private funds. On the campaign trail, he thought it was silly to wear a flag pin, as if that were a measure of his patriotism, until his refusal to wear a flag pin generated distracting criticism and one day he showed up wearing one. Likewise, he thought it was enough to pray in private while living in the White House, and then a poll showed that most Americans weren’t sure he’s Christian; sure enough, a few weeks later, he attended services at St. John’s Church across from Lafayette Square, photographers in tow.

Obama came to office with enormous faith in his own powers of persuasion. He seemed to believe he could overcome divisions if he just sat down with the world’s most recalcitrant figures — whether they be the mullahs in Tehran or the Republicans on Capitol Hill. As it turned out, the candidate who said he would be willing to meet in his first year with some of America’s enemies “without precondition” has met with none of them. And the president who in his State of the Union address this year promised to meet monthly with leaders of both parties in Congress ended up doing so just half as often.

He has yet to fully decide whether he is of Washington or apart from it. During the health care debate, Obama had Emanuel cut deals with the pharmaceutical industry, while Axelrod presented the president as above the old business as usual. “Perhaps we were naïve,” Axelrod told me. “First, he’s always had good relations across party lines. And secondly, I think he believed that in the midst of a crisis you could find partners on the other side of the aisle to help deal with it. I don’t think anyone here expected the degree of partisanship that we confronted.” Emanuel said Republicans adopted a strategy of poisoning the public well. “Part of what they were doing was not just making us grind it out,” he told me. “They were souring the country on the mood of the country.”

Still, Obama plays the partisan game as well. After months of quiet negotiations, some administration officials thought they were close to a package of new financial regulations with Republican support when, to their chagrin, the White House decided to use the issue to wage a high-profile and politically useful battle with Wall Street special interests. At that point, the chances for a deal across party lines collapsed, administration officials said, and Obama was left to rely almost entirely on Democratic votes.

Obama advisers who left the White House recently have been struck how different, and worse, things look from the outside. As he made a round of corporate job interviews after stepping down as White House budget director, Peter Orszag was stunned to discover how deep the gulf between the president and business had become. “I’d thought it was an 8, but it’s more like a 10,” he told me. “And rather than wasting time debating whether it’s legitimate,” he added, referring to his former colleagues, “the key is to recognize that it’s affecting what they do.”

Insulation is a curse of every president, but more than any president since Jimmy Carter, Obama comes across as an introvert, someone who finds extended contact with groups of people outside his immediate circle to be draining. He can rouse a stadium of 80,000 people, but that audience is an impersonal monolith; smaller group settings can be harder for him. Aides have learned that it can be good if he has a few moments after a big East Room event so he can gather his energy again. Unlike Clinton, who never met a rope line he did not want to work, Obama does not relish glad-handing. That’s what he has Vice President Joe Biden for. When Obama addressed the Business Roundtable this year, he left after his speech without much meet-and-greet, leaving his aides frustrated that he had done himself more harm than good. He is not much for chitchat. When he and I sat down, he started our session matter-of-factly: “All right,” he said, “fire away.”

By all accounts, Obama copes with his political troubles with equanimity. “Zen” is the word commonly used in the West Wing. That’s not to say he never loses his temper. He has been known to snap at aides when he feels overscheduled. He cuts off advisers who spout information straight from briefing papers with a testy “I’ve already read that.” He does not like it when aides veer out of their assigned lanes, yet they have learned to show up at meetings with an opinion, because he zeroes in on those who stay silent. He was subdued during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, when he found himself largely powerless. Other presidents took refuge at Camp David, but Michelle Obama has told dinner guests that her husband does not care for it all that much, because he is an urban guy. He blows off steam on the White House basketball court. “Come on, man, you’ve got to make that shot,” he chides aides who play with him.

The most obvious sign of strain is in his hair. “He’ll probably be unhappy with me for saying, but I’ve noticed he’s gotten a little grayer,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told me over the summer. “These kinds of decisions do that to people.” But the stress of the job remains mostly unspoken. “We usually will talk about writing the condolence letters,” Gates added. “But other than that, we don’t dwell on it.” If anything, Obama more often than not bucks up young members of his staff, reminding them that politics, like life, is full of cycles and they will someday be able to tell their children that they were part of something big.

While Clinton made late-night phone calls around Washington to vent or seek advice, Obama rarely reaches outside the tight group of advisers like Emanuel, Axelrod, Rouse, Messina, Plouffe, Gibbs and Jarrett, as well as a handful of personal friends. “He’s opaque even to us,” an aide told me. “Except maybe for a few people in the inner circle, he’s a closed book.” In part because of security, just 15 people have his BlackBerry e-mail address. On long Air Force One flights, he retreats to the conference room and plays spades for hours, maintaining a trash-talking contest all the while, with the same three aides: Reggie Love, his personal assistant; Marvin Nicholson, his trip director; and Pete Souza, his White House photographer. (When I asked if he had an iPad, Obama said, “I have an iReggie, who has my books, my newspapers, my music all in one place.”)

Jarrett attributes Obama’s equilibrium to his upbringing. “He’s really different,” she told me. “It’s rooted in his sense of self and how he grew up with a single mom, living at times on food stamps, working as a community organizer.” As Gibbs put it: “He has a remarkable way of focusing on the big picture and the longer term. It’s not to say that he’s immune from criticism. But he can categorize in his head the difference between what’s a setback, what’s a bump along the way and what’s just noise.”

There is certainly no shortage of noise. But as Obama gets back on the campaign trail, aides have noticed his old spirit again. He particularly enjoys the so-called backyard sessions on the lawns of supporters. “That’s the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time,” an aide said. After one, Obama told the aide, “This reminds me of Iowa on the bus.”

Nostalgia for the good old days of the campaign afflicts any White House in trouble. After all, those were the romantic moments when all was possible, when tens of thousands of people would gather in Grant Park to tear up over the promise of what will be. But in sober moments, Obama understands how selective the memories really are. “The mythology has emerged somehow that we ran this flawless campaign, I never made a mistake, that we were master communicators, everything worked in lock step,” he told me. “And somehow now, as president, things are messy and they don’t always work as planned and people are mad at us. That’s not how I look at stuff, because I remember what the campaign was like. And it was just as messy and just as difficult. And there were all sorts of moments when our supporters lost hope, and it looked like we weren’t going to win. And we’re going through that same period here.”

In covering the last three presidents, I have watched as each has been tested, albeit in very different circumstances — Clinton’s impeachment over false testimony under oath about an affair with a White House intern, Bush’s drive to begin a war that would drag on for years at enormous cost and Obama’s struggle to turn around the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They are starkly variable crises, but some dynamics are familiar: presidents who live and die by polls insist they are not important when they fall; they argue that they are focused on principle, not politics, when it’s almost always a mixture of both; they acknowledge difficulties but say they will pass; they portray themselves as courageous when flying against public opinion; they complain that the news media distort the situation and fuel division; they blame their opponents for practicing the politics of destruction and obstruction.

Talking with Obama and his aides, it’s eerie to hear echoes of Clinton and Bush. Obama says the easy issues never make it to him, only the hard ones; Bush often said the same thing. Obama says our war with terrorists will never end in a surrender ceremony; Bush often said the same thing. Obama says he does not want to kick problems down the road; Bush often said the same thing. In the days leading up to the 1994 midterm elections, Clinton mocked Republicans for promising to balance the budget while cutting taxes, saying, “They’re not serious.” In our conversation, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans.

That is not to say the three men are alike; indeed, they are vastly different. But putting ideology aside, Obama at times seems to be a cross between his two predecessors. Like Clinton, he digs into the intellectual underpinnings of a policy decision, studying briefing books and seeking a range of opinions. Some aides express frustration that he can leave decisions unresolved for too long. But like Bush, once he has made a decision, Obama rarely revisits it. And like Bush, he runs a pretty disciplined operation; he started our interview a half-hour ahead of schedule, just as Bush sometimes did. Clinton, on the other hand, still runs on Clinton Standard Time. Just a few weeks ago, he was more than six hours late for a scheduled interview with another journalist. One constant among all three: It took Clinton and Bush some time to really grow into the presidency, until they wore it comfortably.

As Obama looks to the experiences of Clinton and Reagan, who both rebounded from midterm debacles to win re-election, the lessons differ. In Reagan’s case, the House was already in Democratic hands, so during his first two years, he forged coalitions of Republicans and conservative Democrats. After the opposition was strengthened in the 1982 elections, that was no longer viable, and Reagan began working more with Democratic leaders. Clinton likewise changed course after the 1994 elections, emphasizing more incremental, piece-by-piece change rather than sweeping proposals and pursuing goals like welfare reform and balanced budgets when he could agree with Newt Gingrich’s new majority.

Clinton, though, was more instinctively centrist than Obama is, and his revival owed much to other factors, particularly his leadership after the Oklahoma City bombing and his budget standoff with Gingrich during the partial government shutdown. Some argue Obama might be better off with at least one Republican chamber so he too has a foil as Clinton did. But it is unclear if Obama is as agile a politician as Reagan or Clinton. “He’s no Bill Clinton when it comes to having the ability to move and to wiggle,” says Joe Gaylord, a top Gingrich adviser. “I find rigidity in Obama that comes from his life in liberalism.” Ken Duberstein likewise doubts Obama’s capacity for adjustment. “They’re much better at the art of campaigning than the art of governing,” he said.

Perhaps the more important historical pattern to consider is this one: The last four presidents who failed to win a second term were all challenged in their own party. Lyndon Johnson was driven out of the race in 1968 after nearly losing the New Hampshire primary to Eugene McCarthy. Gerald Ford fended off Reagan in 1976 but went on to lose the general election to Carter, who likewise had to beat a primary challenger four years later, Ted Kennedy, before falling to Reagan. And George H. W. Bush had to overcome Patrick Buchanan before losing to Clinton in 1992.

So it is a high priority for Obama to prevent any intraparty fight in 2012, and to date, despite the fire from the left, no serious challenger appears on the horizon. Putting Hillary Clinton in the cabinet may turn out to be one of Obama’s smartest moves, because it not only eliminated her as a would-be challenger, but it also should presumably squelch the will-she-or-won’t-she speculation that otherwise would have played out for months. (Instead, the guessing game has her replacing Biden on the ticket, however fanciful that might be.)

As the first African-American president, Obama is more aware than most of the limits of looking back. But he also has read enough presidential biographies to know he is not the first to encounter rocky times. “History never precisely repeats itself,” Obama told me. “But there is a pattern in American presidencies — at least modern presidencies. You come in with excitement and fanfare. The other party initially, having been beaten, says it wants to cooperate with you. You start implementing your program as you promised during the campaign. The other party pushes back very hard. It causes a lot of consternation and drama in Washington. People who are already cynical and skeptical about Washington generally look at it and say, This is the same old mess we’ve seen before. The president’s poll numbers drop. And you have to then sort of wrestle back the confidence of the people as the programs that you’ve put in place start bearing fruit.”

To better understand history, and his role in it, Obama invited a group of presidential scholars to dinner in May in the living quarters of the White House. Obama was curious about, among other things, the Tea Party movement. Were there precedents for this sort of backlash against the establishment? What sparked them and how did they shape American politics? The historians recalled the Know-Nothings in the 1850s, the Populists in the 1890s and Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s. “He listened,” the historian H. W. Brands told me. “What he concluded, I don’t know.”

Obama’s conclusions are still being formed. He has learned that “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” as one aide put it. He has trusted his own judgment as he disregarded advisers who told him to scale back health care at various stages. And he has found that his vaunted speaking skills are not enough to change the dynamics of governance. “One of the lessons he has to learn is What is the best form of communication for him with the American people,” the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told me. “He’s so good in front of an audience, and I get the sense that he needs the energy off the audience. And so speaking to television cameras doesn’t really do that.”

As we talked in the Oval Office, Obama acknowledged that the succession of so many costly initiatives, necessary as they may have been, wore on the public. “That accumulation of numbers on the TV screen night in and night out in those first six months I think deeply and legitimately troubled people,” he told me. “They started feeling like: Gosh, here we are tightening our belts, we’re cutting out restaurants, we’re cutting out our gym membership, in some cases we’re not buying new clothes for the kids. And here we’ve got these folks in Washington who just seem to be printing money and spending it like nobody’s business.

“And it reinforced the narrative that the Republicans wanted to promote anyway, which was Obama is not a different kind of Democrat — he’s the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.”

Emanuel told me that the cascading crises in Obama’s early days exacted a lasting toll. “The seeds of his political difficulty today were planted in taking those steps,” he said. White House officials largely agree they should not have let the health care process drag out while waiting for Republican support that would never come. “It’s not what people felt they sent Barack Obama to Washington to do, to be legislator in chief,” a top adviser told me. “It lent itself to the perception that he wasn’t doing anything on the economy.” Plouffe agreed that guilt by association with Democratic lawmakers did not help. “When you swim in those waters, you’re going to be affected by that,” he said. “I do think he’s paid a political price, somewhat, for having to be tied to Congress.”

Still, for all the second-guessing, what you do not hear in the White House is much questioning of the basic elements of the program — Obama aides, liberal and moderate alike, reject complaints from the right that the stimulus did not help the economy or that health care expands government too much, as well as complaints from the left that he should have pushed for a bigger stimulus package or held out for a public health care option. “We asked for more stimulus than we ended up with,” Larry Summers, the outgoing national economics adviser, told me. “But we fought as hard as we could, and I believe we got as much as Congress was ever going to give us at that time.”

And they argue that any mistakes affected things only at the margins. “There’s all this talk in this town — if we had done energy before health care, if we had focused more on small business, if we had done an Oval on the economy instead of Iraq, we would be doing better,” Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director, says. “I don’t believe that. We could always do things differently, and there are plenty of things I wish I had back. But I don’t know they’d change the overall trend.”

Melody Barnes, the president’s domestic-policy adviser, says the biggest problem was that after eight years of Bush, Obama’s supporters were very eager to change everything right away. “The pent-up demand across every issue area — around science, around education, around health care, immigration, you name it — there was a lot of desire to finally get these things done,” she told me. “Every segment of the population had something that was very important to them that they really wanted to put over the finish line.”

Obama is preaching patience in an impatient age. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told me Obama’s problem is that he is not insecure — he always believes he is the smartest person in any room and never feels the sense of panic that makes a good politician run scared all the time, frenetically wooing lawmakers, power brokers, adversaries and voters as if the next election were a week away.

Instead, what you hear Obama aides talking about is that the system is “not on the level.” That’s a phrase commonly used around the West Wing — “it’s not on the level.” By that, they mean the Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems. The challenge, as they see it, is how to rise above a town that can obsess for a week on whether an obscure Agriculture Department official in Georgia should have been fired. At the same time, as Emanuel told me, “We have to play the game.”

As Brands, the historian, put it, “It’ll be really interesting to see if a president who is thinking long term can have an impact on a political system that is almost irredeemably short term in its perspective.”

“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” So Obama told Diane Sawyer of ABC News last January at another low point, just after the Republican Scott Brown captured the Massachusetts Senate seat held for decades by Ted Kennedy, costing Democrats their filibuster-proof control of the upper chamber and jeopardizing the president’s health care plan.

It’s a good line, but it’s one of those things easier said in the first or second year of a presidency. By the third, it starts to become an actual choice. Forks in the road require a president to decide if he will advance ideas that will genuinely change the country even if deeply unpopular or if he will opt instead for a safer route that does not put re-election at risk. Obama aides like to argue that he has already demonstrated willingness to put aside politics by bailing out the banks and automakers, decisions that he saw as critical to preventing greater economic catastrophe (and that ultimately cost taxpayers far less than initially feared).

But would he jeopardize re-election absent an immediate crisis? The choice may confront him soon after the midterms when his bipartisan fiscal commission reports back by Dec. 1 with plans to tame the national deficit with a politically volatile menu of unpalatable options, like scaling back Medicare and Social Security while raising taxes. Obama also anticipates putting immigration reform, another divisive issue fraught with political danger, back on the table. “If the question is, Over the next two years do I take a pass on tough stuff,” he told me, “the answer is no.”

Obama’s aides say they will most likely set up their re-election campaign around next March, roughly the same as when Bush and Clinton incorporated their incumbent campaign operations. They are more optimistic about 2012 than they are about 2010, believing the Tea Party will re-elect Barack Obama by pulling the Republican nominee to the right. They doubt Sarah Palin will run and figure Mitt Romney cannot get the Republican nomination because he enacted his own health care program in Massachusetts. If they had to guess today, some in the White House say that Obama will find himself running against Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor.

With that campaign on the horizon, Obama asked Pete Rouse and Jim Messina to begin thinking about the next phase of his presidency, not just personnel but also priorities and message. Never mind that Rouse was among those who wanted to leave — for years, he has been saying he wanted out of politics but never says no to Obama. Indeed, when Rouse told colleagues he wanted to leave the White House by the end of this year, Messina bet him $400 that he would not. “We’ll see what happens,” Rouse told me when I asked about the bet last month. Then Obama made Rouse interim chief of staff. Rouse initially resisted moving into Rahm Emanuel’s corner suite until colleagues threatened to move his files for him. Messina jokes that Rouse will turn off the Oval Office lights after eight years and before assuming his new job, running Obama’s presidential library.

Rouse is managing a slow-motion White House shuffle. By year’s end, there will be a new chief of staff, a new national-economics adviser, a new budget director, a new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and a new national-security adviser, among others. Axelrod and Messina expect to leave by spring to set up Obama’s re-election effort, and Plouffe will almost certainly come into the White House in a senior role.

“There are a lot of lessons learned in the last two years in terms of how we might improve internal communication, encourage greater accountability without discouraging individual initiative,” said one aide familiar with the discussions led by Rouse and Messina. Obama has been aggravated by friction among his advisers. “He’s a little frustrated with the internal dysfunction,” the aide said. “He doesn’t like confrontation.” But his initial choices to fill open slots have been drawn largely from his administration, suggesting more continuity than change.

Rouse and Messina see areas for possible bipartisan agreement, like reauthorizing the nation’s education laws to include reform measures favored by centrists and conservatives, passing long-pending trade pacts and possibly even producing scaled-back energy legislation. “You’ll hear more about exports and less about public spending,” a senior White House official said. “You’ll hear more about initiative and private sector and less about the Department of Energy. You’ll hear more about government as a financier and less about government as a hirer.”

Obama expressed optimism to me that he could make common cause with Republicans after the midterm elections. “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible,” he said, “either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.”

I asked if there were any Republicans he trusted enough to work with on economic issues. The first name he came up with was Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who initially agreed to serve as Obama’s commerce secretary before changing his mind. But Gregg is retiring. The only other Republican named by Obama was Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who has put together a detailed if politically problematic blueprint for reducing federal spending. The two men are ideologically poles apart, but perhaps Obama sees a bit of himself in a young, substantive policy thinker.

Even if such an alliance emerges, though, the next two years will be mostly about cementing what Obama did in his first two years — and defending it against challenges in Congress and the courts. “Even if I had the exact same Congress, even if we don’t lose a seat in the Senate and we don’t lose a seat in the House, I think the rhythms of the next two years would inevitably be different from the rhythms of the first two years,” Obama told me. “There’s going to be a lot of work in this administration just doing things right and making sure that new laws are stood up in the ways they’re intended.”

As a senior adviser put it, “There’s going to be very little incentive for big things over the next two years unless there’s some sort of crisis.” Yet Obama and his aides still scorn Bill Clinton’s small-bore approach. “It’s fair to assume you’re not going to see school uniforms play a big role in the next two years,” Plouffe told me. “His view is you can’t spend two years playing four-corners.” Before he left, Emanuel told me: “I’m not of the view that you do nothing. I think you’ve got to have an agenda.”

But what sort of agenda? Not as sweeping and not as provocative, say some advisers. “It will have to be limited and focused on the things that are achievable and high priorities for the American people,” Dick Durbin told me. Tom Daschle said Obama would have to reach out to adversaries. “The lessons of the last two years are going to be critical,” he told me. “The key word is ‘inclusion.’ He’s got to find ways to be inclusive.”

Rendell thinks otherwise. “Don’t care so much about bipartisanship if the Republicans continue to refuse to cooperate,” he advised. “Do what you have to do. Fight back.” At the same time, he said, stop moaning about what he inherited: “After the election, I’d say no more pointing back, no more blaming the Bush administration. It’s O.K. to do that during the campaign and then stop. But to do it as much as we do it, it sounds like a broken record. And after two years, you own it.”

Obama will own it for another two years, or six if he can find his way forward. As an author, Obama appreciates the rhythms of a tumultuous story. But who is the protagonist, really? At bottom, this president is still a mystery to many Americans. During the campaign, he sold himself — or the idea of himself — more than any particular policy, and voters filled in the lines as they chose. He was, as he said at the time, the ultimate Rorschach test.

Now the lines are being filled in further. With each choice Obama makes, he further defines himself for better or worse in Americans’ minds. He says he knows where he is going and is gathering momentum despite the hurdles ahead. As he told a group of visitors during the week last spring that Congress passed health care and his administration reached agreement on an arms-control treaty with Russia, “I start slow, but I finish strong.”

He will have to, if the history he is writing is to turn out the way he prefers.

Peter Baker is a White House correspondent for The Times and a contributing writer for the magazine.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Here's a classic poem my wife just passed onto me for the holiday season:

Thanksgiving dinner's sad and thankless
Christmas dinner's dark and blue
When you stop and try to see it
From the turkey's point of view.

Sunday dinner isn't sunny
Easter feasts are just bad luck
When you see it from the viewpoint
Of a chicken or a duck.

Oh how I once loved tuna salad
Pork and lobsters, lamb chops too
'Til I stopped and looked at dinner
From the dinner's point of view.

- From Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Amazing Images From 'National Geographic' Photo Contest

National Geographic is holding its annual Photo Contest, with the deadline for submissions on 30th November. Alan Taylor over at Boston.com has published an excellent selection of some of the entries so far, on his always wonderful The Big Picture.

National Geographic is gathering entries in categories of People, Place and Nature, and is showing some of these on their website  for readers to rate them. Below is a small selection of this year’s entries.

If you would like to submit a photograph for the National Geographic Photo Contest, please check details here.











Via DangerousMinds from Boston.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the fucking BEATLES!
1st show in America.

This mini movie, that you can see for free in it's entirety, is incredible. The entire show from start to end, the film never stops rolling.

The Beatles, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, I am proud to say was the very first album i ever owned. I've always been a fan, and this film whether you love them or not is an incredible piece of history. Not to mention, i was never made so aware in any other video i've seen, of what a bad ass drummer Ringo really was until i saw this. And, for the record, my favorite Beatles album is Abbey Road.

Here's the story from DangerousMinds:
With all the Apple fanboy media attention paid this past week to the fact that the Beatles catalog was finally showing up on iTunes—like this is some kind of big deal to the man on the street—one nifty lil’ bit of news that most certainly was worth perking up for, got left out of a lot of the coverage: Until the end of the year, you can watch, for free on iTunes, the most amazing complete Beatles show you’ve ever seen. A show that was literally their first American concert, shot just two days after their Ed Sullivan TV debut, at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964.

It’s amazing to see this. As the story is told, when they began to play, they had no idea what to expect. Recent concerts in Paris were played to unenthusiastic audiences. The between song banter assumes that the audience is not familiar with certain numbers, although this is seen to be demonstrably untrue, as the band, of course realize. And they are lovin’ it. The energy is palpable, and the entire set is one big 35-minute long adrenaline shot, as exciting to watch today as was then, but the added meta-historical layer of seeing the Beatles do an entire concert the very week they went from being up and comers to the most important musicians of the later half of the 20th century and beyond, is kinda cool, too.

The performance here is way better than the one captured in color at Shea Stadium a year later. That film was more about the insanity of Beatlemania than the music, anyway. Here, musically, they are tight as hell. This has been bootlegged forever, but never seen in good quality like this. Trust me, if you’re a Beatles fan, this will blow your mind… out in a car.

When you go to iTunes, you’ll be confronted with a box of Beatles related information. Click on “Play the Concert.” Do it. Do it now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How Corporate America Is Pushing Us All Off a Cliff
...a letter from Michael Moore


When someone talks about pushing you off a cliff, it's just human nature to be curious about them. Who are these people, you wonder, and why would they want to do such a thing?

That's what I was thinking when corporate whistleblower Wendell Potter revealed that, when "Sicko" was being released in 2007, the health insurance industry's PR firm, APCO Worldwide, discussed their Plan B: "Pushing Michael Moore off a cliff."

But after looking into it, it turns out, it's nothing personal! APCO wants to push everyone off a cliff.

APCO was hatched in 1984 as a subsidiary of the Washington, D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter -- best known for its years of representing the giant tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris. APCO set up fake "grassroots" organizations around the country to do the bidding of Big Tobacco. All of a sudden, "normal, everyday, in-no-way-employed-by-Philip Morris Americans" were popping up everywhere. And it turned out they were outraged -- outraged! -- by exactly the things APCO's clients hated (such as, the government telling tobacco companies what to do). In particular, they were "furious" that regular people had the right to sue big corporations...you know, like Philip Morris. (For details, see the 2000 report "The CALA Files" (PDF) by my friends and colleagues Carl Deal and Joanne Doroshow.)

Right about now you may be wondering: how many Americans get pushed off a cliff by Big Tobacco every year? The answer is 443,000 Americans die every year due to smoking. That's a big cliff.

With this success under their belts, APCO created "The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition." TASSC, funded partly by Exxon, had a leading role in a planned campaign by the fossil fuel industry to create doubt about global warming. The problem for Big Oil speaking out against global warming, according to the campaign's own leaked documents, was that the public could see the "vested interest" that oil companies had in opposing environmental laws. APCO's job was to help conceal those oil company interests.

And boy, have they ever succeeded. Polls now show that, as the world gets hotter, Americans are getting less and less worried about it.

How big is this particular cliff? According to the World Health Organization, climate change contributes -- right now -- to the deaths of 150,000 people every year. By 2030 it may be double that. And after that...well, the sky is literally the limit! I don't think it's crazy to say APCO may rack up even bigger numbers here than they have with tobacco.

With this track record, you can see why, when the health insurance industry wanted to come after "Sicko," they went straight to APCO. The "worst case," as their leaked documents say, was that "Sicko evolves into a sustained populist movement." That simply could not be allowed to happen. Something obviously had to be done.

As Wendell Potter explains, APCO ran their standard playbook, setting up something called "Health Care America." Health Care America, according to Potter, "was received by mainstream reporters, including the New York Times, as a legitimate organization when it was nothing but a front group set up by APCO Worldwide. It was not anything approaching what it was reporting to be: a 'grassroots organization.' It was a sham group."

Health Care America showed up online in 2007 (the year "Sicko" was released) and disappeared quickly by early 2008. You can still find their website archived here. As you'll see, their "moderated forum" allowed normal, everyday, in-no-way-employed-by-the-insurance-industry Americans to speak out. For instance, here's something Nicole felt very strongly about:

"Moore shouldn't be allowed to call his film a 'documentary.' It should be called a political commercial. We need to fix our health care system, but we shouldn’t accept a Hollywood moviemaker’s political views as the starting point."

Here's what Wendell Potter revealed about the insurance industry's media strategy:

"As we would do the media training, we would always have someone refer to him as 'Hollywood entertainer' or 'Hollywood moviemaker Michael Moore.' They don't want you to think that it was a documentary that had some truth."

Thanks for your perspective, "Nicole"!

Now, how big was THAT cliff? A pretty good size -- according to a recent study, 45,000 Americans die every year because they don't have health insurance.

And here we are in 2010. A lesser PR firm might be resting on its laurels at this point, content to sit back and watch hundreds of thousands of people continue to be pushed off the various cliffs they've built. But not APCO! Right now they've taken on their biggest challenge yet: leading a giant, multi-million dollar effort to help Wall Street "earn back the trust of the American people."

We may never know the size of this particular cliff. But we can be sure it's gigantic. According to the New York Times, one of the things Wall Street's recession gave us is "the crippling of the government program that provides life-sustaining antiretroviral drugs to Americans with H.I.V. or AIDS who cannot afford them." Internationally, organizations fighting AIDS and other diseases are "hugely afraid" of cutbacks in funding.

Of course, there are the 101 ways recessions kill quietly. For instance, children's hospitals are seeing a sharp 55% rise in the abuse of babies by parents.

And that's just the previous cliff. If APCO and its Wall Street co-conspirators lull us into turning our backs on them again, we can be sure the next cliff -- the next crash -- will be much bigger.

Anyway, this is all just a way for me to say to APCO: No hard feelings! My getting mad at you would be like a chicken who's still happily pecking away getting mad at McDonald's. Compared to the millions you've already turned into McNuggets, you've actually treated me much, much BETTER! Spying on my family, planting smears and lies about me, privately badgering movie critics to give the film a poor review, scaring Americans into believing they'd be committing a near-act of treason were they to go to the theater and see my movie -- hey, ya done good, health insurance companies of America. And, most important, you stopped the nation from getting true universal health care. Good job!

There's only one problem -- I'm not one of those "liberals" you fund in Congress, the ones who fear your power.

I'm me. And that, sadly, is not good for you.

Yours in good health,
Michael Moore

P.S. It seems to me that APCO's discussion of pushing me off a cliff should legitimately be part of their Wikipedia page. And why not something about their role in Wall Street's new PR offensive? So I'm asking everyone interested to write something up that meets Wikipedia's guidelines and help bring the APCO Worldwide entry up to date. Post it somewhere online and send a tweet about it to @mmflint. I'll award a signed copy of "Sicko" by noon Sunday to the best entry...and then deputize you to post it on Wikipedia for real and make sure APCO's minions don't take it down. Just be sure afterward not to walk near any cliffs!

P.P.S. The late, great comedian Bill Hicks had some thoughts about marketing and the people who do it. [above]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oslo’s All-Electric Car Share Program Just Reached 1,000 Members

Some mornings we here at Inhabitat like to grab a cup of coffee, cozy up on the couch and dream about future days of sharing electric vehicles in our urban havens. But dream no longer – with EV car share programs like the “Cell” in the pipeline, this electrifying dream is becoming a reality. Move About, Oslo, Norway’s EV car share program, has just hit an impressive 1,000 members! An all-electric vehicle phenomena, customers of Move About pay a mere NOK 100 (or $17) for a monthly membership and are given an all-access pass to a fleet of EVs they can take around town for just $17 an hour. As a city already dominated by Think City electric vehicles, Norway is setting an inspiring green model ready to propel the rest of the world towards a more sustainable future.

Move About is able to furnish the needs of all 1,000 of their members with just 80 cars — a less than 10 to 1 ratio! The company also provides memberships beyond the public realm, offering a unique car sharing program for corporations as well. For corporate accounts, a small fleet of vehicles has been setup as an alternative to individual corporate cars, where sometimes just five cars are enough to support a full staff of 150.

The Move About program has been so successful in Oslo that they’ve already expanded to Gothenburg and Copenhagen, further initiating partnership programs in Germany and Austria. A convenient, efficient and eco-friendly solution to seemingly insurmountable traffic issues in urban areas, this is the kind of car share program that every city in the world could have. And for those of us at Inhabitat who know the perils of having too many cars on the road, we can only hope that Move About extends its plans and moves across the Atlantic very soon!

from Inhabitat Via Autoblog Green

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Skatistan" in Afghanistan... An Update

Even though this film was made back in January, it's still incredible to see where this organization has come from. The last time i mentioned this was back in July 2009, Since then it seems as though they are thriving.

Nice work people.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ocean Levels Are Rising Faster Than Ever

Ok, maybe this will make up for yesterday's harshness. Here's another campaign done really incredibly, much more passive, but even more creative perhaps.

from YouTube:
The board respects celestial mechanics (Kepler Rocks!). It's perpendicular to the equator, with an unobstructed exposure to the west. The "waves" start at about 12:00 when the sun crosses the threshold above the board. The challenge was not the sun's azimuth, but altitude, which due to the Earth's tilt requires the scalloped awning's shape to be distorted so the shadow appears correct. Thanks to CBS Outdoor, and PLEASE support the WWF.

Monday, November 15, 2010

10:10 NO Pressure
environmental awareness campaign
gone bad?

Looking through the usual environmental blogs i stumbled upon this video not to long ago. so before you watch it let's just check these two comments: "Some might say that the 10:10 “No Pressure” ad was a resounding success, because it got so much media attention. Others – perhaps those who got it temporarily removed from YouTube – say it’s a grotesque example of shoving environmentalism down people’s throats. Whatever your opinion, blowing up schoolchildren is clearly one way to get noticed."
and then the actual people who put it together made this apology:
Last week, 10:10 made available a short film. Following the initial reaction to the film we removed it from our website and issued an apology on Friday 2 October.

Subsequently there has been negative comment about the film, particularly on blogs, and concern from others working hard to build support for action on climate change. We are very sorry if this has distracted from their efforts.

We are also sorry to our corporate sponsors, delivery partners and board members, who have been implicated in this situation despite having no involvement in the film’s production or release.

We will learn from this mistake. Today I have written to supporters and stakeholders explaining that we will review processes and procedures to make sure it cannot happen again. Responsibility for this process is being taken by the 10:10 board.

The media coverage of the film was not the kind of publicity we wanted for 10:10, nor for the wider movement to reduce carbon emissions.

If people have been in touch with us personally about the film, we will be replying to individual emails over the next few days. Meanwhile our thanks go out to all those who support 10:10 and who work to combat the threat of climate change.

Eugenie Harvey
Director, 10:10 UK
Many will say this is a perfect example of what NOT to do when trying to convince people that there is a problem, i'm certainly not one for gore, but i think it's pretty heavy and makes the point well.

fucking awesome ending.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vermont's Great Green Election Day Victory
-- Kick out the Nuclear Plant

from AlterNet:
By Harvey Wasserman

Vermont has elected a governor pledged to make the state truly green by shutting its decrepit, leaking nuclear plant. And the town closest to that reactor has voted to take it by eminent domain if necessary, a step unprecedented in world history.

In reaction, the nuke's owner (Entergy) has turned tail and put the plant up for sale. (So far, no bidders).

In direct opposition, this post-election week has been marked by radioactive crowing from a dark age industry demanding massive government loan guarantees from "free market" Congressional Republicans. Armed with oceans of unaccountable corporate/billionaire cash, Karl Rove's new nuclear GOP wants to dump Adam Smith and pump public billions into a failed industry that cannot compete. They industry continually points to France's industry as a model. But it's mute to the fact that France's leaky, error-prone nukes are owned, operated and regulated (sort of) by the French government. A national socialist prototype, the EDF/Areva edifice---like its counterpart in Japan---would melt and die in an open market.

The US industry's route to taxpayer billions is set to run through subsidized loan guarantees. In 2005, George W. Bush set aside $18.5 billion in loan giveaways for new construction. Barack Obama delivered $8.33 for two new reactors in Georgia, where ratepayers are being forced to foot the bill IN ADVANCE, even if the plants never open. They've already been forced to eat an additional $100 million in rate hikes. Having barely begun construction, the builders already want $1 billion more.

In Maryland, a French-American consortium has fallen apart allegedly because Constellation Energy did not want to pay fees on its prospective loans. In fact, Constellation ducked because it knows that no new reactor can compete in a deregulated state, where ratepayers are not stuck with buying nuke-generated electricity no matter what the price.

Nonetheless, the national industry is now whining that the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program must be "reformed." The official projected failure rate for these loans is 50%. The history of reactor construction is defined by gargantuan cost overruns, perpetual delays and endemic design and performance failure.

But Obama wants more money for the guarantee fund. The industry's Congressionals (from both parties) want to kill even the most minimal fees, requiring little or no liability from the billionaire builders.

But in Vermont, the election day story was different. Democrat Peter Shumlin was elected governor. As speaker of the Vermont House, Shumlin led the charge to deny the state's sole reactor, Vermont Yankee, an extended operating license.

Thanks to complex, unique arrangements made during an earlier ownership transfer, Vermont has the power to deny Entergy a new permit. On February 24, the state senate voted to do just that.

No American state has successfully forced shut a nuclear plant. Yankee's owners---whoever they might be---are certain to go to court when the current license expires in March, 2012.

The nuclear industry did pour huge chunks of cash into the Vermont election to defeat Shumlin and strip the legislature of its pro-green majority. But it failed. Shumlin will now be governor, and Vermont's lawmakers are firmly committed to shut-down.

Furthermore, the voters of Brattleboro, the largest town in Yankee's near vicinity, voted 2,387 to 1,826 in favor of forcing the state to investigate taking Vermont Yankee by eminent domain to guarantee its shut-down.

The fate of America's aging reactor fleet has become a major national issue. Owners are now talking of running them 80 years and more.

Every operating US nuke was ordered before 1973. With one exception, all have run more than twenty years. Heavy doses of heat and radiation have embrittled metals and weakened concrete throughout. At Yankee, New York's Indian Point, North Anna in Virginia and quite possibly all the rest, underground pipes continually leak radioactive tritium and other lethal isotopes.

In December a confab of industry-owned Congressionals---along with Obama---will meet in Washington to choreograph the assault on taxpayer handouts for new reactors. They will want to highlight the alleged benefits on more nukes. Their efforts will ultimately be futile, says Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service. "But short of simply giving utilities billions of dollars to build new reactors, and then subsidizing the cost of their extraordinarily expensive electricity, it's hard to see what Congress could do to resurrect this deservedly dying industry. And the one thing that might actually help nuclear power—putting a stiff price on carbon—is the one thing that the newly elected climate deniers decidedly will not do. Meanwhile, the growing anti-nuclear movement will fight every effort to provide any taxpayer subsidies" for new reactors.

In Vermont, the focus will be on shutting an old one. "In holding a fire sale for its systemically mismanaged nuke, Entergy is trying to undermine the Vermont senate's overwhelming vote to close Vermont Yankee's in 2012," says Deb Katz of the Citizens Awareness Network. "Governor Shumlin was elected because of his courageous stand to close Vermont Yankee and replace it with a sane and sustainable energy policy. Exit polls found that over 14% of the electorate voted for Shumlin because of his stand on Vermont Yankee. Without those votes he would not be governor today."

With the Green Mountain State's newly elected pro-green governor and legislature, Yankee may be the first domino to fall in a chain of leaky, rickety, increasingly dangerous elder nukes. With them would go a serious premise of a nuclear future.

Stay tuned.

Harvey Wasserman edits the NukeFree.org website. His SOLARTOPIA! is at solartopia.org, along with Pete Seeger singing "The Song for Solartopia."

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/148755/

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Don't Give Up: Sierra Club Leader on How We Can Win the Fight for Clean Energy

from AlterNet / By Don Hazen and Tara Lohan

The Sierra Club's Michael Brune talks about how we can transition to clean energy, and how his million-member organization plans to flex its muscle.

There's no doubt that progressives took a trouncing in the midterm election, and there is ample reason to fear the influx of anti-science GOPers and Tea Party candidates coming into office. In the days following the election, President Obama said he was abandoning a climate bill for the next few years, and disappointed environmentalists by further extending a hand to the natural gas and nuclear industries.

This news comes at the same time the Union of Concerned Scientists released new information warning about the threat of an unprecedented number of wildfires that are the likely result of a warming planet, and the risk of a massive die-off of coral reefs -- our undersea forests -- that are crucial to the ocean ecosystem.

With pressing climate change threats colliding with political stonewalling, what do we do? AlterNet recently sat down with Michael Brune, who took the helm of the Sierra Club earlier this year, after serving as the executive director of Rainforest Action Network for seven years. A new edition of Brune's book, Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal has just been released. Brune gave us his take on what we can do next, how we can continue to prepare for a clean energy future, and how his organization of over a million members, is planning to harness its potential.

Don Hazen: Obviously this election was disappointing on many levels, including environmental issues. On top of that we have this phenomenon of almost the whole Republican party becoming climate deniers. The big question is what happens now -- to the environmental movement, the Sierra Club, the whole issue of climate change?

Michael Brune: I would say, as bad as the election results were, it's not as though we have to give up on climate change or bow down to those conservatives in Congress. Democrats do still hold the White House, one branch of Congress, we do have a lot of champions in Congress, the courts, the State Houses, the White House -- a lot of people who do have power and intellectually agree with the need for greater urgency on this challenge.

There is a lot we can do to stay on the offense and make dramatic progress in the next few years. Even with a realistic, sober analysis of our situation, I can still see ample reason for optimism, which isn't to diminish the challenges we face and it's not to deny the fact that the challenges are steeper now than they were a few weeks ago and they are more daunting then at the beginning of 2010 or last summer.

However, I not only think can we accomplish a lot, I'm confident that we will.

DH: What are some examples of what we can accomplish?

MB: The fight against coal is one of the areas where we should be the most optimistic. The work that the Sierra Club has been doing over the last few years on climate has been to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants. There were 150 new plants that were proposed early in the Bush years -- the Sierra Club and a big movement of grassroots groups have defeated 138 of them! There are a couple dozen more that have been added since then so there are more on the books but we have a plan in place where we think we can defeat 90 percent.

So that's historic -- that's a major change -- it gives us the opportunity to create a major change in how power is produced in the country. Now we are in a situation where the U.S. has an old and outdated fleet of coal-fired power plant -- 78 percent of U.S. coal plants are 30 years or older, 60 percent are 40 years or older. We've got dozens and dozens which were build in the '20s, '30s and '40s that don't have pollution controls, they don't have scrubbers, they don't have effective ways to deal with soot and smog and coal ash -- they consume large amounts of water and create large amounts of water pollution. And the kicker is that they are now being held to higher standards, where as though they have been grandfathered in under the Clear Air Act in 1970 and they were grandfathered in when the Clean Air Act was reauthorized, the administration is going through a series of rule-makings that will force these plants to either be upgraded or retired which creates a big opportunity.

So the Sierra Club, which has been focusing on stopping new plants from being built, will now shift resources to these old plants and our goal is to retire half of the existing coal plants in the country and replace them with clean energy over the next decade. If you think about the impacts of that, politically we'll have a coal industry that is half the size and we'll have solar and wind and efficiency companies that are growing larger and have more power and are more profitable.

DH: There is a scenario, which is not a crazy scenario given that there are 21 Democratic Senate seats open in 2012, that we will have a conservative president and significant control of both Houses. Are your plans still feasible with that kind of opposition?

MB: Even right now we are starting to see big threats coming from folks in Congress in both Houses challenging the EPA's authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act. Over the next few weeks to months to years, we will see a variety of attacks on the EPA -- we'll see lawsuits filed to slow down the EPA and affect the implementation of different rules; we'll see legislative efforts to try to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases; we've already seen bills that will delay the EPA's authority to regulate parts of the Clean Air Act; we'll probably see a national version of Prop 23; we'll see efforts to restrict the funding of the EPA probably; and we'll see personal attacks on Lisa Jackson and deputy administrators. There's going to be a whole lot of heat coming toward the EPA -- we've already seen it and it's only going to intensify.

That's with the current Congress -- so of course if there's a conservative president in a few years one can envision the scenario will intensify and if we had a new EPA head we wouldn't see that much progress. Elections are important, they do matter.

But there is still a lot we can accomplish between now and then. The rule on mercury is going to be finalized and the rule on coal ash is going to be finalized, as important examples. You have coal plants that are already not economical, that are already operating at the margins, whereas wind is getting cheaper, more efficient, more technologically advanced. There is no doubt that we will make continued progress to reduce our dependence on coal, where there is doubt is how far we'll go and how quickly that will happen.

First we have to stop the problem from getting worse -- we can't continue to build new coal plants, then we have to shut the existing ones down, replace them with clean energy and take care of the workers.

Tara Lohan: Given the subsidies for coal and oil right now, how can we get renewables to be competitive?

MB: The subsidies are a foot on the neck for solar and wind companies. Attacking subsidies is one area where we have a sliver of hope that we can work with some conservative members of Congress and address the deficit and level the playing field for a wide variety of energy solutions. We don't know what the posture of the new Congress is going to be but that clearly will be one area where there is bipartisan support for cutting subsidies that really don't contribute to the public good.

TL: Your Beyond Coal Campaign has been really successful. How do we replicate that for other initiatives?

MB: It's bottoms up and a little bit top down, so one of the things that's unique about the Sierra Club is that we have a chapter in every state and a local volunteer group in just about every major city in the country. And the coal fight is very local -- there are plants in communities that are poisoning the people that live around them. A lot of our strategies come from the grassroots and then it is also supported by the national office in terms of our legal team, which has filed hundreds of lawsuits against new and old coal plants.

The growth area where we haven't done our job yet on the coal campaign is that we have to get better as an organization and a movement advocating for the solutions that we want to see. We have to be as sophisticated, as powerful, as creative in helping to fill the market share for clean energy. That is increasingly becoming important -- it's one thing to stop a new plant from being built but when you're arguing for a new plant to be shut down you have to make a plausible case for how you can keep the lights on.

So, the Sierra Club and the entire environmental movement needs to put more resources toward this -- change our budgets and add more staff and volunteers toward the task. To address that at the Club we've just combined our coal and clean energy campaigns so that they are one now, so each campaigner has a mandate for how many megawatts of old dirty power they have to help ensure is retired on a yearly basis, and how many megawatts of clean energy they need to help to get established.

TL: Where are you seeing the most growth in terms of getting renewable energy?

MB: The two areas of real growth are desert Southwest solar facilities, and we are seeing a lot of progress, but not a lot of megawatts yet, for offshore wind on the eastern shore. We are really interested in scaling up offshore wind in the Great Lakes, sited appropriately. What we need to clearly put more attention towards and create grassroots campaigns to support is more distributed generation.

For us, we're really interested in the upper Midwest where states like Wisconsin or Michigan have a lot of old dirty coal plants. The region gets a majority of their power from coal -- 60 percent or more. They have a large manufacturing base, a lot of skilled workers who are out of work, when you are talking about off-shore wind, it has got to be locally sourced, it's not economical to be shipping it from China, so there is a great opportunity to shut down coal plants in the same region and open manufacturing facilities and then site wind farms nearby. There is a set of holistic regional solutions there that can make big progress. We are going to create a new political dynamic when we do that where the clean energy concept isn't just a theoretical concept -- real people, real families will have jobs, and their lives will be impacted by the solutions we're promoting.

TL: One of the great things that I saw come out of the defeat of Prop 23 in California is that people got the connection between the economy and the environment -- that environmental regulations can create jobs and are stimulating, not hurting the state's economy, but it seems we haven't seen that elsewhere in the country as much.

MB: I left San Francisco on Election Day to go to DC, and the reason for that is that the story we have in California is pretty important in the sense that we have the third highest unemployment in the country. Voters in California took a stand for clean energy not in spite of the economic downturn but because of the economic downtown. They are seeing investments in clean energy as a core strategy to engineer an economic recovery.

DH: How does the Sierra Club fit in with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy and those other big groups? Are you all relatively compatible? Are there leadership gatherings and cooperation?

MB: There is an entity called the Green Group, which I think was once the group of eight or 10 but now there are 35 environmental organizations ranging from Audubon, TNC, NRDC, Sierra Club, Green for All, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others -- we meet three times a year. We moved our last meeting down to New Orleans to talk about oil and how we can work together and be more aggressive to reduce our dependence on oil.

It's a collegial, collaborative atmosphere, but we are going to have to evolve and become much more effective as a collection of organizations if we are going to meet the challenges we currently face.

DH: Is there growth in the environmental movement? Are young people apolitical?

MB: There is the potential for growth, I don't see many groups that are exploding in size, but there is not a shortage of activism, really. If you look at the coal work we are doing, it's a huge movement of organizations and individuals -- it's really easy to get into because there are specific places and specific policies. There are coal plants on 60 college campuses across the country and we've just hired an organizer for every one. You've got coal plants that are inside major cities. We don't see a shortage there -- but when it comes to broader national policy issues, it is probably more challenging than it was five or 10 years ago. I think a big reason for that is because there is just a declining confidence among too many activists that when they engage they can make a difference. They believe it more for local issues than for big national changes.

DH: You have the advantage of being able to go hyper-local with your infrastructure or global, while most groups can't.

MB: Yes, and I think one of the challenges we have is to remind people and inspire people and show people when we are making a big difference. We talk about 138 coal plants that have been defeated as a way of thinking about when people do organize and put their energy together for a specific purpose we can do great work. And we can apply that strategic focus toward bigger challenges ahead. Over the next few years as we create a track record of shutting down old facilities, capturing how that is happening and popularizing what actually worked is as important as shutting down the facilities itself because it is necessary to build momentum.

TL: Considering a climate bill has now been pronounced dead in Congress and with the president, how do we approach this issue, which many see as political suicide?

MB: I think that right now we are in a little bit of a trough where people are intimidated or feeling timid in talking about climate change and so they don't want to -- I don't really buy that -- I don't think it is as much of a politically radioactive term as some people will say. I think we should continue to talk about climate change and the Sierra Club will. At the same time it's natural that different people will be inspired by different things. Many people will be inspired to take action because they are concerned about public health, other people are really inspired by clean energy, other people are motivated by national security or economic competitiveness. What I think is most strategic for groups like the Sierra Club is to address all of those values, so we are more interested in telling people how our solutions will help people solve their every day problems instead of engaging in these debates about what's the right words to choose or the right frame.

TL: What about the international community that is waiting for actual legislative change in this country?

MB: I'm not saying that we shouldn't work on climate change, but the international community will have to adjust its expectation. It doesn't look like we are going to produce comprehensive climate legislation in the next couple of years. We need it. But we aren't going to get it. What we will get is bigger reductions in carbon over the next five-10 years than we would have gotten under any of the climate bills that were introduced in the last Congress. By cutting carbon coming from coal and cutting our oil consumption, we'll produce more carbon reductions between now and 2020 than was in any recent bill. I think it's important to note that one single bill coming through Congress wasn't the only way to address climate change in the U.S.

TL: In terms of cutting oil you're talking about fuel efficiency and electric cars. What else?

MB: Yeah, so that's most of it -- 71 percent of oil is used for transportation now and a lot of that is in cars, trucks, SUVs and heavy duty trucks. So it's a combination of electrifying transportation, using hybrids, mode shifting -- shifting freight away from heavy duty trucks to rail or boats -- and electrifying the rail system. Maybe for certain applications moving to compressed natural gas or liquified natural gas and then looking at what role biofuels might play in acting as a replacement for oil for airlines and other long distance uses.

TL: Where are you guys on the natural gas scenario and the idea that gas is a 'bridge fuel' from dirty to clean energy?

MB: We don't think it's a bridge fuel really, because it doesn't get us to a clean energy future. We have to get off coal as quickly as possible. It's the dirtiest fuel and natural gas is cleaner than coal and in some cases cleaner than oil, but it's not clean. As we retire a coal plant we want a mix of efficiency and solar and wind and in some cases geothermal where appropriate and natural gas to fill in the mix. But it's got to be produced right. I spent some time in the Marcellus Shale and in Dimock, Pennsylvania -- it's just awful what is happening there. We have created a natural gas campaign at the Club since I started to address a lot of the concerns that fracking poses to water quality and air quality. To sum it up, we think that natural gas is an improvement in our energy mix, but there is a huge, fat asterisk next to gas that needs to be addressed.

DH: I've been putting together a list of all the reasons why Democrats lost. Is it that right-wing conservatives want to win more?

MB: We don't seem to have the same passion, we have not yet given evidence that we have the same enthusiasm and the depth in our organizing and so we need to reconnect to our base -- we have to lead with our values and not the policy solutions. There is way too much talk about cap and trade or cap and dividend and a lot less talk of the reasons why we are fighting for the things we are fighting for. There is a lot too much talk about the right frame or parts per million and a lot less talk about how we can cut pollution and make people's lives better and improve health and jobs.

But it can be turned around. We are not set in stone. Obama can plant his flag on any number of important issues, like ending mountaintop removal mining.

DH: Is there anything we haven't asked you that you'd like AlterNet readers to know?

MB: Here's what we think is important to do now: We are re-prioritizing, reconnecting to our base and working to build a coalition of progressive organizations to develop a really clear and complete vision for how a clean energy transition will make big improvements in people's lives. I know there is a lot of skepticism and pessimism about what our challenges are as a movement but I think that now is not the time to be timid or depressed; now is really our time to be clear and strategic and bold in the solutions we are advocating for.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet. Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/148794/