In our age of anti-heroes and fabulous villains, niceness has often fallen along the wayside as an embodiment of dull virtue, evidence of a distasteful unwillingness to commit to strong emotion or decisive action. It’s no mistake that Steve Carrell’s emerged as a surprisingly significant movie star during this past decade. He’s the one person who can get away with making nice interesting, the end goal of hard-fought battles for control in a world that often takes advantage of or mocks decency. And Carell’s rarely used his core strength to better effect than in Seeking a Friend For the End of the World, a lovely, emotionally precise apocalypse romantic comedy that seems at unfortunate risk of being drowned out by this summer’s louder, cruder entertainments.
Seeking a Friend begins with a news announcement that immediately sets it apart from other movies about the potential end times: “The final mission to save mankind has failed.” Upon hearing that awful pronouncement, Dodge’s (Carell) wife Linda bolts from the car they’ve pulled over to the side of the road to hear the radio report on a last-ditch effort to divert an asteriod that’s headed towards earth with cataclysmic consequences. She, as it turns out with, wants to spend her final month on earth with someone other than her husband.
But Dodge wasn’t harboring a secret yearning?unlike the other guests at a dinner party thrown by his unhappily married friends, a very funny Connie Britton and Rob Corddry, he doesn’t want to have an orgy or try heroin?or an alternate plan. So he goes about his job as an insurance adjustor at an increasingly-depleted office, telling callers “Sorry, sir, I’m afraid that’s not covered under your current policy. Yes, the Armageddon package is extra,” and attending meetings where is boss lets the dwindling staff “know of a few positions in upper management that have become available. Anyone want to be Chief Financial Officer?”
It seems Dodge will continue to wind down the end of his life and everyone else’s with these small acts of decency?he adopts an abandoned dog as his sole act of adventure, and tries, unsuccessfully, to convince his housekeeper to spend more time with her family?until a neighbor he’s never spoken with breaks up with her boyfriend and ends up crying on his fire escape. The real source of her heartache, it turns out, is that she isn’t going to be able to spend her last days with her family. “I missed two planes,” Penny sobs. “I missed them all. The end of the world and I’m still fifteen minutes late.” Along with her woes, Penny brings Dodge’s undelivered mail, which includes a letter from a woman he loved and lost years ago, giving him sudden forward momentum. Penny has a car, and Dodge knows someone with a plane, and they strike a bargain: Penny will help Dodge find his old girlfriend, and he will help her make one last attempt to cross the Atlantic home to England.
What’s striking about their roadtrip is its warmth. When they’re arrested for speeding, another cop lets them out of jail in the morning with an apology and a plea for understanding: his colleague is reacting badly to the end times and trying to restore as much order to his universe as he can. Dodge and Penny stop by a Friendsy’s restaurant where the employees are hilariously, cultishly high and reveling, determined to satisfy as many customers as possible before they close forever. “Everyone’s welcome!” the host tells them. ” A dude brought in a wolf last week.” And they’re brought closer, and Dodge comes entirely out of his shell in an almost worldless sequence when he and Penny run across what appears to be a mass baptism on a gorgeous beach. The scene could have been played for sneers or rank sentiment, but instead, it’s a quiet testament to the power of connection. Who wouldn’t want to spend one last perfect day at the beach with someone they love before the world ends, surrounded by people who are eager to share the small bounties in their possession?
The fact that the end is inevitable liberates Seeking a Friend from the cliched, last-minute heroics that consume so many apocalypse movies. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the world to keep on turning, but those stories are in service of future love and kindness, rather than appreciating what you have. The movie gently pokes fun at that kind of planning when Dodge and Penny stop by to see one of Penny’s old boyfriends, a hyper-prepared survivalist who asks Dodge to convince Penny to stay in his bunker because “Can we restart society without her? Sure, but she deserves to be one of the top-quality females in contention.” Seeking a Friend is a movie about the people who aren’t really in contention, and about the fact that whether you can save the world or not, it’s possible to be the hero of your own life.
by Gwynne Taraska
Ban Ki-moon?s initiative ?Sustainable Energy for All? (SE4ALL) did not receive a strong endorsement in the final draft of the Rio+20 declaration. It should have. Nevertheless, SE4ALL leaves the summit with something that is arguably better: strong support from governments, the private sector, multilateral development banks, and civil society groups. We should continue to support the initiative so that it survives ? and thrives ? after the summit.
SE4ALL, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has three objectives to be achieved by 2030.
1. Ensure universal access to modern energy services.
2. Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
3. Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
The initiative?s High Level Group, chaired by Kandeh Yumkella (Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization) and Charles Holliday (Chairman of Bank of America), has produced a Global Action Agenda to ?to guide efforts undertaken in support of achieving the initiative?s three objectives.? Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is the U.S. representative to the group.
Ban Ki-moon labored for months to put SE4ALL at the center of the Rio agenda. The strategy made sense. Rio was the biggest sustainable development event on the global agenda in the last ten years, and it possibly won?t be duplicated for another ten years. It was the optimal moment to call the world?s attention to the problem of energy poverty. It?s impossible to imagine a fair and effective distribution of global climate mitigation that would be acceptable to the developing world without a robust companion sustainable development agenda. Ban Ki-moon?s process therefore fills a needed gap in the global effort to reconcile climate and development needs.
Unfortunately, SE4ALL didn?t get much support from the Rio text. In the one paragraph on the initiative, the three specific objectives and target date are not mentioned. The paragraph even provides an out to parties who won?t be able to meet its goals, or who won?t try to accomplish them.
129. We note the launching of the initiative by the Secretary General on ?Sustainable Energy for All?, which focus on access to energy, energy efficiency and renewable energies. We are all determined to act to make sustainable energy for all a reality, and through this, help eradicate poverty and lead to sustainable development and global prosperity. We recognize that countries? activities in broader energy-related issues are of great importance and are prioritized according to their specific challenges, capacities and circumstances, including energy mix.
SE4ALL Beyond Rio+20
The good news is that the success of SE4ALL does not rely on the Rio text. In fact, the initiative received an impressive boost from many parties at the summit.
Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation, believes that the final document ?is much, much less important? than a number of initiatives highlighted by the conference, including SE4ALL. He said in the SE4ALL press conference on 21 June 2012: ?UN sets norms, but it is a group of public and private actors that are increasingly carrying out the intent of the world. These new public-private partnerships are the dominant theme and the dominant outcome of what?s happening here in Rio.?
Yumkella then said that when he and his colleagues were drafting the initiative, they had the post-Rio period in mind. ?We were thinking what happens on July 1 after we leave Rio,? he says. The initiative was designed so that there would be ?real action on the ground? after the summit.
Commitments to SE4ALL
On 19 June 2012, the six largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) committed to the aims of Rio+20 and said they will ?support the Sustainable Energy for All initiative and will participate in targeted efforts to attract and channel public and private financial commitments to meet the three objectives.? The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development alone has pledged $8 billion over the next three years for energy efficiency initiatives in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Together, the banks have pledged over $30 billion for SE4ALL?s objectives.
On 21 June 2012, Ban Ki-moon announced that over 50 African, Asian, Small Island States, and Latin American governments are committed to working to achieve the initiative?s objectives. He also announced that investors and corporations pledged over $50 billion and that multilateral development banks, governments, and civil society groups pledged tens of billions.
Here are some examples of government commitments:
Whatever the troubled legacy from Rio, SE4ALL should not be part of it. It should remain at the center of the international development and climate agenda moving forward. We need to focus on promoting the initiative and reaching its targets.
Gwynne Taraska is Research Director at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University.
In March, the federal government cut off funds to Texas’ Women’s Health Program because the state chose to exclude abortion providers from the program in violation of federal law. But even without federal funds, which made up 90 percent of the funding, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced the state would fund the Women’s Health Program on its own.
But to pay for the reduced services provided by the program, the governor announced that the state would cut other health services. Perry directed Tom Suehs, executive commissioner of the state’s Health and Human Services department, to cut $40.1 million in department services to make up the missing federal funds.
Cuts will come by reducing dental services, programs for the elderly, and administrative pay. Even with this money freed up, the Women’s Health Program will not be nearly as strong as it was with federal funding.
The $40.1 million reduction comes on top of cuts that lawmakers cut $73 million from the state’s family planning services budget in 2011. Even before Texas decided to ban Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, women’s clinics around the state were already being forced to greatly reduce services or shut their doors entirely.
Republican lawmakers in states like Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin have spent the last several months introducing and, in some cases, passing laws designed to suppress largely Democratic voters ahead of the general election.
Nowhere have these efforts advanced further than in Florida, where Governor Rick Scott has defied the Department of Justice?s order to cease his highly controversial and ineffective voter roll purge, in which hundreds of eligible voters?including many Latinos and self-idenitified Democrats?have been booted from the rolls.
All of this has succeeded in politicizing the most impregnable institution of democracy: elections.
The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida reports that election supervisors, long considered dull administrative desk jobs with little to no influence on policy, have become hotly contested jobs, attracting political heavyweights in some counties along the state?s West Coast:
? In Sarasota County, three-term county commissioner Jon Thaxton, a Republican, is challenging supervisor Kathy Dent.
? In Manatee County, state Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton developer known for antagonizing Democrats in Tallahassee, is banking that his decade of name recognition will help him succeed retiring supervisor of elections Bob Sweat.
? In Charlotte County, former four-term county commissioner Adam Cummings is looking to unseat first-term incumbent Paul Stamoulis.
? In Hillsborough County, former state Rep. Rich Gloriso, a Republican, passed up an opportunity to run for the state Senate to instead run for supervisor of elections.
The trend is troubling, and could perhaps signal the next front in an ever-expanding political battlefield. Already, a handful of isolated Election Day incidents?most notably Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus? botched 2011 special election in Wisconsin?have stirred controversy.
Twenty-two states will not offer coverage of contraception to women on the same basis as it is offered to men if the Affordable Care Act is overturned. The Progressive States Network put together this map, which shows that no matter how the Supreme Court rules on the law, women in 28 states will have contraceptives covered on the same basis as men’s reproductive care. In the other states, though, women are less lucky:
This November, voters will face ballot questions on a variety of issues. Some initiatives are targeted at denying the rights of working families, women, LGBT people, communities of color, immigrants, and the poor, while others are targeted at implementing better public policy. Ten important issues to watch this November can be found here and here are five more issues to watch:
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Now this is a clever web ad. Being a Democrat in Utah seems like it would be difficult at best but Ryan Combe running for Congress in their First District has some fun with it.
On Friday, Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray signed the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012. The Act establishes a task force to develop a model anti-bullying policy, which will protect sexual orientation and gender identity, to serve as the standard for all D.C. governmental agencies, notably schools. ?This is a very, very important piece of legislation,? said DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. “…We can?t insure that our young people are prepared and they have a world class education that ensures that they?re ready for college or a career if they don?t feel safe, if they don?t feel confident, if they don?t feel able to be themselves because other people are bullying them.” Across the country, 17 states have anti-bullying laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
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