WASHINGTON – Buoyant in political victory, President Barack Obama on Wednesday wrapped up a long, rough year in Washington by rejoicing in a rare, bipartisan "season of progress" over tax cuts, national security and civil justice. Halfway through his term, he served notice to his skeptics: "I am persistent."
The president who strode on stage for a news conference cut a remarkably different figure than the Obama who, just seven weeks ago, held a similar event in which he somberly admitted he had taken a "shellacking" in the midterm elections and needed to re-evaluate. This time, Obama was about to jet off to a Hawaiian holiday vacation knowing he had secured the kind of legislative wins that rarely come so bundled as they just did, particularly in a postelection lawmaking session.
Obama spoke on the same day that he found enough allies in both parties to get Senate ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, a vote watched around the world as a test of international security and presidential clout. He also signed landmark legislation to allow gays to serve openly in the military, calling himself overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment.
And that was on top of other achievements, including a hard-fought deal to extend tax cuts and unemployment insurance even as it piled on more debt, a broad food security bill, a trade deal with South Korea and declarations of progress in the widening war in Afghanistan.
"If there's any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it's that we are not doomed to endless gridlock," Obama said. "We've shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together."
That spirit may be fleeting.
Obama was able to get the votes he needed in a lame-duck session in which his party still controlled the House and Senate, retiring or ousted members could act knowing they would no longer face voters, and the potential of a politically devastating tax hike on Jan. 1 forced lawmakers into action. None of those factors will be in play come January when Republicans take control of the House and have a greater voice in the Senate as well.
To a nation long tired of political gamesmanship, Obama used the moment to try to put himself above it — and to challenge both parties to join him. He said voters wanted this "season of progress," promising to stick with that mission and hoping "my Democratic and Republican friends will do the same."
He also did not get all he wanted, losing some fights and swallowing a two-year extension of tax cuts for wealthier people as part of the tax deal.
Obama underscored his agenda ahead, much of it amounting to unfinished promises: deficit reduction, energy innovation, immigration reform, the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, education and research investments, and the biggest item of all: finding ways to create more jobs for millions of hurting Americans.
In the course of questioning, Obama revealed that his position on gay marriage is "constantly evolving." He has opposed such marriages and supported instead civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The president said such civil unions are his baseline — at this point, as he put it.
"This is something that we're going to continue to debate, and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward," he said.
The slow progress on the economy continues to pull down the spirits of the country and threaten to overshadow many of Obama's other successes. Unemployment was measured at 9.8 percent in November, down only slightly from its double-digit high in 2009. Obama sought to broaden the burden of responsibility to Republicans for a faster economic rebound, saying "people are going to be paying attention to what they're doing as well as what I'm doing."
Obama sought to give credit to Congress, and chiefly the Democrats who have been running it, for what he called the most successful post-election period in decades. But he also sought to assert his own role and power, just weeks after his relevancy had been called into question.
"One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck: I am persistent," Obama said. "If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it."
He saved his most emotional appeal for committing anew to the DREAM Act, a measure which would offer a path to legal status for young illegal immigrants who enroll in college or join the military. It died in Congress in the waning days of the session, overwhelmed by Republican opposition. Obama said those young people live in fear of deportation.
"It is heartbreaking," he said. "That can't be who we are."
Obama also promised that deficit reduction would be a major issue in 2011. The midterm elections were seen in part as a reflection of how many Americans are sick of Washington's spending ways, and promises over the years to rein in deficit spending have fallen short of reality when the choices get tough.
"I guarantee you, as soon as the new Congress is sworn in, we're going to have to have a conversation about, how do we start balancing our budget or at least getting to a point that's sustainable when it comes to our deficit and our debt?" he said.
Obama was flying to Hawaii later in the day, joining his wife and the couple's two children for a year-end holiday. When he returns, it will be a few days before a new Congress convenes, with a House controlled by Republicans and a Senate with a shrunken Democratic majority.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Winter flamingo: orange flamingo cleans its feathers
Posted by Naeem at 12:28 AM
Hell on Earth: tourists visit the Danakil Desert in the Afar region of Ethiopia
Posted by Naeem at 12:11 AM
The total lunar eclipse in pictures
Posted by Naeem at 12:05 AM
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
New, Pink, and Rare
Photograph courtesy Karen Gowlett-HolmesUsing its fins to walk, rather than swim, along the ocean floor in an undated picture, the pink handfish is one of nine newly named species described in a recent scientific review of the handfish family.
Only four specimens of the elusive four-inch (ten-centimeter) pink handfish have ever been found, and all of those were collected from areas around the city of Hobart (map), on the Australian island of Tasmania.
Though no one has spotted a living pink handfish since 1999, it's taken till now for scientists to formally identify it as a unique species.
The new-species determinations were made based on a number of factors, including number of vertebrae and fin rays, coloration, the presence of scales and spines, and proportional body measurements, according to review author Daniel Gledhill of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO.
All of the world's 14 known species of handfish are found only in shallow, coastal waters off southeastern Australia, the review notes.
Even among the previously known species, the fish are poorly studied, the review authors add, and little is known about their biology or behavior.
Posted by Naeem at 9:01 PM
Photograph courtesy Barbara VoorhiesWorkers clean a 4,300-year-old clay floor at the Tlacuachero archaeological site in Mexico's Chiapas state (see map) in February 2009.
Mysterious semicircles of holes (center and lower right) in the floor may be dice scoreboards, archaeologist Barbara Voorhies, a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said recently. (Get the full story.)
If so, the circles are the oldest known evidence of games in Mesoamerica, a region that stretches from Mexico to Costa Rica.
In 1988 Voorhies found the buried floor under a mound created by the Chantuto people, foragers who lived along the coast of what's now southern Mexico between about 3,500 to 7,500 years ago.
(See "16 Indian Innovations: From Popcorn to Parkas.")
In 2009 she found another clay floor just below the pictured floor—as well as portions of nine other semicircles. A historical account Voorhies discovered in 2009 revealed that the circles have a "striking similarity" to other Native American gaming boards.
"There's no absolute proof that my interpretation of these strange features [is right]," she said. "But it's a very strong analogy, and that's about as good as it gets for archaeology."
Posted by Naeem at 8:58 PM
Evolution of the Game?
Image courtesy Barbara VoorhiesTarahumara people of northern Mexico used a scoreboard and stick "dice" to play games (as seen in a 1907 illustration). (Read about modern-day Tarahumara barefoot-running skills.)
When Voorhies read the 1907 book Games of the North American Indians, she discovered the Tarahumara scoreboards resembled the strange Chantuto semicircles.
After that, her previous ideas about the Chantuto holes' purpose—for example that they may have been marks left by an animal pen's fenceposts—became "preposterous," she said.
Posted by Naeem at 8:57 PM
Photograph by Chan Kwok Hung, NGPCIn the winning picture in the 2010 National Geographic Photo Contest's "People" category, an Indonesian farmer and his buffalo charge through the mud—"an epic scene" in the words of contest judge Joel Sartore.
Farmers literally put a lot of stock into winning these annual races, which they believe will bring them luck during the upcoming growing season, according to photographer Chan Kwok Hung of Hong Kong.
Sartore, a contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine, said that "peak action, interesting subject matter, and a soft background all combined to make this image a winner."
Photographers from around the world submitted more than 16,000 pictures to the contest, which was open for entries from September 16 until November 30, 2010. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
Posted by Naeem at 8:55 PM
Inter's Moratti says coach situation is a mess
14:26 GMT, Wed 22 Dec 2010
MILAN, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti has again declined to confirm coach Rafael Benitez has been officially sacked but did say the situation was complicated.
"Everything that happened was a bit unexpected, we are considering every point of view."
Widespread media reports have said Benitez is in the process of being removed after just six months in charge of the European and Italian champions given his injury-hit side's poor domestic form and Saturday's shock outburst about a lack of signings.
Former Liverpool boss Benitez, upset no new players were brought in during the close-season, gave Inter an ultimatum after their Club World Cup win that he would speak to his agent about his future if signings did not materialise in January.
Moratti said the comments were "inappropriate", sparking speculation Benitez had been sacked but Inter have made no official comment amid reports they are struggling to agree a severance package despite the coach having only a two-year deal.
When former Inter coach Roberto Mancini was axed in 2008, it took the club several days to officially confirm what every fan knew had been decided at a summit with Moratti.
Former AC Milan coach Leonardo, who left Inter's city rivals after just one season in management in May, has been made favourite by bookmakers to succeed Benitez after Zenit St Petersburg said their boss Luciano Spalletti was staying.
"I haven't had a way of talking to any other coach. I haven't met Leonardo," Moratti added.
The idea of a Milan coach managing their big rivals just a season later may seem alien to many soccer fans but such a move would be nothing new for Italian football with players and managers often swapping between the big clubs.
Former Inter talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic is now excelling at Serie A leaders Milan and they have built up a 13-point advantage over seventh-placed Inter, whose hopes of a sixth straight scudetto look unlikely.
In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport in September, Brazilian Leonardo said he would not be averse to one day coaching Inter having left Milan after falling out with club owner Silvio Berlusconi.
"Me and Moratti have known each other for years," Leonardo said. "Never say never."
Posted by Naeem at 8:52 PM
By BEN FELLER, AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller, Ap White House Correspondent – 2 hrs 13 mins ago
Posted by Naeem at 8:45 PM
Coming at photojournalism from a different angle
Here in the fourth part of a series of posts by guest bloggers, Ciara talks about how and why she has made the leap from words to multimedia.
Phil Coomes | 11:32 UK time, Thursday, 16 December 2010
Ciara Leeming is a Manchester-based journalist with a background in local newspaper reporting who freelances for publications including the Guardian and the Big Issue in the North. After discovering photography a few years ago she joined the online MA in photojournalism and documentary photography at London College of Communication as a stepping stone to working with words, photographs and multimedia. Her recurring subjects include urban regeneration, Roma migrants to the UK and Britain's own Gypsy and traveller communities.
Here in the fourth part of a series of posts by guest bloggers, Ciara talks about how and why she has made the leap from words to multimedia.
"It's funny how quickly the bug can take hold. Until three years ago I'd barely held a camera, yet now here I am, trying to gain a foothold in an industry many say is as good as dead.You can see more of Ciara's work on her website.
"I'm coming at photojournalism from a different angle to many 'emerging' photographers in that I already have the journalism part sorted, having spent the past six years as a staff and freelance writer for newspapers and magazines.
"I attracted a bit of flak when I first picked up a camera - a few photographer mates protested loudly that I was 'yet another scribbler' trying to earn extra cash at their expense. It's an attitude I've never held with: any freelancer worth their salt should be working up their own stories - that's the way I've always operated as a writer.
"Photography, early on, was simply a creative outlet. Quickly though I tired of snapping single images and it was a natural step to start visually documenting my own stories, which often relate to social exclusion. It did not take long for me to be won over.
"Today I almost always sell both words and images: while my first love is definitely photography, I doubt I would survive financially without the writing. Some days this dual identity feels empowering - allowing me to take control of my own projects and giving me something of a unique selling point. At other times it feels like an unsatisfactory compromise with the potential to weaken my overall product.
"I have to flip between two quite different mind-sets while working - deeply involved as an interviewer, yet hanging back and observing as a photographer. The only way to do this is to work slower, so my income has dropped. I increasingly think visually but am still pitching to print editors because I'm unsure how to approach picture desks.
"As I've observed the industry I've noticed several things. There is simultaneously more camaraderie and more backbiting in the photographic community than between writers. There is too much naval gazing - where photographers seem content to produce work which only interests other snappers.
"I feel too many photographers are seduced by the exotic and the foreign, and increasingly believe the most important projects are those close to home. It's more challenging to find visual stories in your own back yard - especially in northern England, with its frequent poor weather and flat light.
"Finally, I've concluded that many who call themselves 'photojournalists' (a term I personally dislike) are sorely lacking in journalistic rigour and thinking.
"I'm most inspired by the kind of photographers for whom the story is everything; the camera just happens to be the tool they've chosen to communicate with. The likes of Ed Kashi, Joseph Rodriguez and Brenda Ann Kenneally are practising the kind of honest, in-depth journalism I aspire to. I love the fact they stick with their subjects for many years.
"Other inspirations include the young American photo cooperative Luceo Images, for the way its members balance personal projects with assignments, and pretty much everything which comes out of London-based agency Panos, whose whole ethos and aesthetic I love.
"This is a hugely exciting - and unsettling - time to be working in the media. It's no coincidence that the photographers I admire most are embracing new forms of online storytelling in the quest to get their work out to a wider audience. It was Ed Kashi's multimedia pieces that first opened my mind to what could be achieved by marrying audio with still photographs and, sometimes, a little video. A weekend of training with UK photofilm producers, Duckrabbit, gave me the basic skills to start to develop my own voice.
"Maybe my odd sideways route into this industry means I have fewer hang-ups than some of my colleagues about what photography should or shouldn't be. For me, multimedia feels like the ideal way for photographers to dig deeper into their stories, to help their subjects' voices be heard and to - hopefully - break out of the photographic 'ghetto'. Those who care more about storytelling than their images are the ones who I think get it.
"The way I operate as a journalist today is poles apart from how I did even two years ago. Instead of taking down interviews in shorthand, I'm now routinely recording audio - which must be transcribed and sometimes edited - and, of course, taking photos. Print stories must still be researched, then pitched and written. Everything is far slower, everything is now personal and self-funded and some is published only on my own website.
"I'm both enthused and a little nervous about what could happen from here, but I'm finally beginning to escape the editorial treadmill and find my own voice."
In the final part of the series tomorrow photographer David Rochkind talks about how he has funded a number of recent projects through grants and ways in which this has altered the resulting body of work.
Posted by Naeem at 8:36 PM
If you are talking about photo journalism, you have to talk about one of the world’s first photographic magazine. Life magazine is more than a century old. The online version is of course young but just as full of riches. From its different sections that cover everything from news to sports, to its Timelines, you can lose yourself here. You can start with Today’s Top Photos and then move on to your section of interest.
Posted by Naeem at 8:32 PM