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Man Shoots Teen Girl After She Asks Him to Stop Riding Lawnmower In Her Yard

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 13:18
A dispute over trespassing led to the shooting of a 17-year-old girl in Minnesota, according to authorities.

A Minnesota man who admitted shooting a 17-year-old girl multiple times because she asked him to stop trespassing on his riding lawnmower has been charged with attempted first-degree murder.

According to a criminal complaint obtained by The Associated Press, 40-year-old Chad Pickering shot the 17-year-old girl in the chest, right thigh and left ankle while she was standing on the deck of her Bemidji home on Monday night.

“The victim herself was able to describe what had happened and talk to us and tell us that she’d simply been shot when she stepped out of her house to check on her dogs,” Sheriff Phil Hodapp explained to WCCO.

The teen told investigators that she had asked Pickering not to ride his lawnmower through her yard. She also said that he often carried a pistol with him on the lawnmower.

When the girl later went outside to tie up her barking dog, she saw someone crouching, and then felt three bullets strike her. She said that she could not walk, but was able to pull herself into the house to call 911.

Neighbors saw Pickering run through the teen’s yard, and he was quickly identified to police after the shooting.

Officers who searched his home found a .45-calibre semi-automatic pistol hidden in an air vent, which matched bullet casings found at the crime scene. Officers also noticed fresh grass stains on Pickering’s jeans.

The suspect, however, insisted that he had not seen the gun in about a week. When officers confronted him with the evidence, Pickering reportedly admitted to the shooting.

The criminal complaint said that Pickering told officers he had taken his daughters for a ride on the mower, and then the girl came to his house to ask him to stop trespassing.

Pickering said that he “went to her house, knelt by a pine tree and shot her twice after she came out the front door,” the AP reported.

The victim was stabilized at Bemidji Sanford Hospital, and then was taken to Duluth for additional treatment. She was expected to recover from her wounds.

Pickering was charged with premeditated attempted first-degree murder. He was being held at Beltrami County Jail in lieu of $300,000 bond.

WCCO reported that Pickering had been employed at the Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center as a corrections worker until June 9 of this year.

Watch the video below from WCCO, broadcast July 24, 2014.

 

 

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Texas Gun Nuts’ Scary Ritual: How Hatred of a President Turned Profane

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 13:13
The "open carry" crew is now spouting right-wing conspiracy theories and waving guns in the worst place imaginable.

Three weeks before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a concerned citizen from Dallas named Mrs. Nelle M. Doyle wrote a letter to White House press secretary Pierre Salinger. She was worried about the president’s visit. This is what she wrote:

Although I do not consider myself an ‘alarmist’, I do fervently hope that President kennedy can be dissuaded from appearing in the city of Dallas, Texas as much as I would enjoy hearing and seeing him.

This ‘hoodlum mob’ in Dallas is frenzied and infuriated that their attack on Ambassador Adlai Stephenson on the 24th, backfired on them. I have heard that some of them have said they “have just started.”

No number of policemen, plainclothes men or militia can control the “air” Mr Salinger — it is a dreadful thought but all remember the fate of President McKinley.

These people are crazy, or crazed, and I’m sure that we must realize that their actions in the future are unpredictable.

Unfortunately, her prediction wasn’t alarmist enough as it turned out.

The right-wing hatred for John F. Kennedy was in some ways as extreme as the hatred for Barack Obama and nowhere was it more energized than Dallas in 1963. Three years earlier, right-wingers in the city had signaled their anti-Kennedy zeal by turning on its native son, Lyndon Johnson, after he accepted the nomination for vice president. He and his wife, Lady Bird, were accosted by a shrieking mob of conservative women in front of their hotel armed with signs saying he’d sold out to “Yankee Socialists.” It was downhill from there. Over the next three years the simmer burst into a full boil as various luminaries of the John Birch Society such as millionaire oil man H.L. Hunt and the anti-communist fanatic Gen. Edwin Walker, a zealot so far to the right that he even believed Eisenhower was a communist, fanned the flames of anti-Kennedy hatred.

Walker was at the center of the plot against Adlai Stephenson to which Mrs. Doyle referred in her letter. He had exhorted his followers (some of whom belonged to group that unironically called itself the “National Indignation Convention”) to confront the U.N. ambassador when he came to town and they did, hitting him with signs and spitting in his face before he could be rescued by the police. At the scene he famously asked, “Are these human beings or are these animals?”

It’s estimated about 5,000 of these fliers were distributed all over downtown Dallas in the days leading up to the presidential visit.

The morning of Nov. 22, the Dallas Morning News featured a full-page ad “welcoming” the president to Dallas.  After a preamble in which they proclaimed their fealty to the Constitution and defiantly asserted their right to be conservative, they demanded to be allowed to “address their grievances.”  They posed a long series of “when did you stop beating your wife” questions asking why Kennedy was helping the Communist cause around the world.  Here’s an example:

WHY has Gus Hall, head of the U.S. Communist Party praised almost every one of your policies and announced that the party will endorse and support your re-election in 1964?

WHY have you banned the showing at U.S. military bases of the film “Operation Abolition”–the movie by the House Committee on Un-American Activities exposing Communism in America?

WHY have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists in America, while permitting him to persecute loyal Americans who criticize you, your administration, and your leadership?

WHY has the Foreign Policy of the United States degenerated to the point that the C.I.A. is arranging coups and having staunch Anti-Communists Allies of the U.S. bloodily exterminated.

WHY have you scrapped the Monroe Doctrine in favor of the “Spirit of Moscow”?

MR. KENNEDY, as citizens of the United States of America, we DEMAND answers to these questions, and we want them NOW.

You get the drift. And you probably recognize the tone. The subject may have changed somewhat but the arrogant attitude combined with the aggrieved victimization is a hallmark of right-wing politics even today.

As we all know, later that day the president was gunned down in Dealey Plaza. The entire world was shocked and traumatized by that event and the course of history was changed.

So why bring this up today? That was a long time ago and we’ve moved on from those days, right?  The John Birch Society is a relic of another time.  Anti-communism is still a rallying cry on the right, but without the Soviet threat, it’s lost much of its power.

Unfortunately, the venom, the incoherent conspiracy-mongering, the visceral loathing still exist.  In fact, in one of the most obliviously obtuse acts of sacrilege imaginable, Dealey Plaza is now the regular site of open-carry demonstrations.  That’s right, a group of looney gun proliferation activists meet regularly on the site of one of the most notorious acts of gun violence in the nation’s history to spout right-wing conspiracy theories about the president while ostentatiously waving around deadly weapons.

Travelers from other nations who come to Dealey Plaza to pay their respects are undoubtedly startled to see yahoos carrying guns and passing out extremist literature very much like the literature that was distributed in Dallas in the fall of 1963. In most places in this world such contempt for national hallowed ground would be frowned upon by decent people.  But in America, armed men and women marching around spouting hatred for the president at the very spot where a former president was assassinated is business as usual. We are “free” here to carry guns in public and dare others to argue with us. But that doesn’t make it any less vulgar and profane to do it in a place of national grief — and what should be a monument to right-wing ignominy.

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination, historian Darwin Payne, who was a journalist in Dallas in 1963, said, “You could feel it in the air. When I hear some people express hatred for Obama, it feels the same. But I never have felt we are on the verge of anything like the events I witnessed back then.” Let’s hope he’s right. There are a whole lot of people with a political ax to grind who are wandering around our streets armed to the teeth. As Mrs. Doyle said in her letter, “These people are crazy, or crazed, and I’m sure that we must realize that their actions in the future are unpredictable.”

Here’s the video of the Dealey Plaza open carry event.

 

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Christian Right-Winger Wants to End US Space Program Because the Aliens Are All Going to Hell Anyway

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 11:35
According to Ken Ham, spending money on finding extraterrestrial life is a deliberate rebuke of God.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took those famous first steps on the Moon’s surface, uttering the well-known words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Sunday marked the 45th anniversary of that momentous Apollo 11 mission. The event left some pondering the next steps for U.S. space exploration. Not everyone, however, is so thrilled about the U.S. space program.

On Sunday, Ken Ham, president and founder of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis (best known for debating Bill Nye), wrote a blog post calling for the end of the U.S. space program. Why? Well, according to Ham, who also runs the Creation Museum in Kentucky, there’s no point in spending money on finding extraterrestrial life for a couple of reasons: First, the search is a deliberate rebuke of God; and second because aliens are already damned to hell.

“I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life,” Ham wrote.

“Of course, secularists are desperate to find life in outer space, as they believe that would provide evidence that life can evolve in different locations and given the supposed right conditions!” Ham continued later in the post.

Ham does concede that the Bible does not specifically mention whether or not there is alien life. However, he is skeptical.

“And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel,” Ham wrote. “You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the 'Godman,' to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind.”

“Jesus did not become the ‘GodKlingon’ or the ‘GodMartian’!  Only descendants of Adam can be saved. God’s Son remains the 'Godman' as our Savior,” Ham continues. “In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word). To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.”

Ham bluntly rejects the notion of discovery, condemning scientists’ desire to explore our universe and potentially discover other intelligent life-forms, which may give clues to the origins of life.

“The answers to life’s questions will not be found in imaginary aliens but in the revelation of the Creator through the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to die on a Cross to redeem mankind from sin and death that our ancestor, Adam, introduced,” he wrote.

The universe, as Neil deGrasse Tyson demonstrated in “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” still holds many mysteries. “It’s OK not to know all the answers,” Tyson said. “It’s better to admit our ignorance, than to believe answers that might be wrong. Pretending to know everything, closes the door to finding out what’s really there.”

NASA continuously pushes the boundaries of science, invention and exploration, including putting humans on the moon 45 years ago — an incredible feat for mankind that inspired the world. Watch:

 

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More Than 1,000 New York City Residents Claim to be Victims of Banned NYPD Chokeholds

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 11:34
The NYPD's use of chokeholds, like the one that recently killed Eric Garner, is increasing.

According to the New YorkDaily News, numbers from the Civilian Complaint Review Board reveal that more than 1,000 New York City residents claimed to be victims of NYPD chokeholds in the past five years. The numbers were unveiled as the Board prepares to conduct a study of the allegations.

The Daily Newswrote:

As of July 1, the CCRB had received 58 chokehold complaints against the NYPD this year, but had only substantiated one of them.

Out of the 1,022 chokehold allegations reported between 2009 and 2013, only 462 of the complaints were investigated. Out of that number, just nine were substantiated, according to the CCRB.

There wasn’t enough evidence to prove a chokehold was used in 206 of the cases investigated, officials said.

TheNew York Timesreported that chokehold allegations in the city have increased from a decade ago, despite the fact that NYPD banned the use of the chokehold 20 years ago.

The city’s police commissioner, William J. Bratton, admitted that it appeared a chokehold had been used on Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six who died last Thursday. A video captured of the scene shows NYPD officers alleging that Garner was illegally selling cigarettes. Garner says he’s done nothing wrong, that he’s sick of police harassment and that such harassment “ends today.” Officers proceed to arrest him, while one throws his arm around Garner’s neck from behind. Garner says repeatedly that he can’t breathe before his body goes limp.

“It ends today” became the rallying cry for anti-police brutality protesters. Last weekend, Reverend Al Sharpton rallied more than 300 people to call for justice for Eric Garner. And on Wednesday, protestors held a candlelight vigil for Garner on the eve of his funeral and then marched to the precinct stationhouse where the involved officers were stationed.

Following Garner's death, Bratton announced that all 35,000 officers will undergo retraining while the department reviews its tactics. But a senior police official told theNew York Timesthat one of those tactics they are thinking of increasing is the use of tasers—a practice that has been fatal in the past and is dangerous for people with heart problems.

Perhaps even more egregious is the attitude some cops have taken toward the case. As PolicyMic reported, a look at police officer forums reveals some officers’ defending the NYPD’s handling of Garner. “Harsh words from public figures are good on paper, but they will become meaningless if the attitudes of these police officers don't change,” the author of the piece wrote.

This culture of violence is the outcome of the “broken windows” policing Bratton helped introduce and popularize, says Nick Malinowski, member of New Yorkers Against Bratton, an ad hoc group of parents who have lost children to police violence, activists, social workers, etc., formed after NYC Mayor DeBlasio announced he would bring back Bratton as NYPD Commissioner.

New Yorkers Against Bratton held a press conference outside city hall Monday, demanding that Bratton resign after Garner’s death, and to “move away from this idea that the police officers involved — this was just a bad cop sort of a thing” and understand it as a systemic issue, Malinowski told AlterNet.

Malinowski said the group also demands a federal investigation into NYPD’s culture of brutality, especially as the city’s promises of investigations, reviews and retraining often amount to empty rhetoric.

“Bratton, when he first came in, said that they were doing a unit by unit review of every aspect of the NYPD and they had this new guy they brought in to do the training,” Malinowski said. “Somehow they didn’t uncover all these issues and have to do another review of the department. So I don’t quite understand.… You would think that use of force, which has been an issue with the NYPD forever, would have been something they identified as a problem in a training initiative in the first review of the department.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put his arm around Garner’s neck, has been stripped of his gun and badge while the investigation is underway. A medical examiner is still investigating Garner’s official cause of death.

Sharpton said he intends to meet with Garner’s family to discuss filing a lawsuit against the department. He also plans to meet with the U.S. Department of Justice to talk about the case.

At Garner’s funeral on Wednesday, Sharpton called on New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Bratton to seek justice for Garner.

He said, “Y'all said: 'Give me a chance' … And some of us, even under attack, gave you a chance. You're in city hall now. Now we want you to give justice a chance. We want to see what you're going to do about this.”

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The Christian Theocratic Agenda Imposed on the Bodies of America's Poor Women

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 09:52
Laws around the country, especially in the South, are relegating women to mere child-bearing vessels.

In 1986 Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel portrays a dystopian vision of the U.S. in the “near future”, a country transformed by religious extremists into a totalitarian theocracy, renamed the Republic of Gilead. It’s organizing principle – One Nation, Under One God. The new regime moves quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a hierarchical, exclusively Christian regime of Old Testament-inspired social and religious conservatism.

In a world where environmental pollution has rendered a substantial portion of the population sterile, fertility is a treasured commodity. The small minority of women who are fertile are forced to become de-eroticized baby-making machines, empty childbearing vessels. Their bodies are hidden and their brains are denied. Handmaids are women who have committed gender crimes or otherwise broken social rules and conventions. Because they are fertile they aren’t punished with banishment, instead they are ‘re-educated’ to accept their new role as Handmaids. In Gilead, women are not allowed to use their minds – they’re forbidden from reading, working outside the home, or even spending money.

The book was published during the height of the Reagan era, its condemnation of the political goals of religious conservatives was criticized at the time as unfair and overly paranoid, however events over the past few years now make the novel seem eerily prescient. In a recent interview the author describes the themes she was exploring in the novel:

If you wanted to seize power in the US, abolish liberal democracy and set up a dictatorship, how would you go about it? What would be your cover story? It would not resemble any form of communism or socialism: those would be too unpopular. It might use the name of democracy as an excuse for abolishing liberal democracy: that’s not out of the question, though I didn’t consider it possible in 1985.

Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already. … The deep foundation of the US – so went my thinking – was not the comparatively recent 18th-century Enlightenment structures of the republic, with their talk of equality and their separation of church and state, but the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, which would need only the opportunity of a period of social chaos to reassert itself.

Like any theocracy, this one would select a few passages from the Bible to justify its actions, and it would lean heavily towards the Old Testament, not towards the New. Since ruling classes always make sure they get the best and rarest of desirable goods and services, and as it is one of the axioms of the novel that fertility in the industrialised west has come under threat, the rare and desirable would include fertile women – always on the human wish list, one way or another – and reproductive control. Who shall have babies, who shall claim and raise those babies, who shall be blamed if anything goes wrong with those babies? These are questions with which human beings have busied themselves for a long time.

These questions are definitely ones legislators and judges are busying themselves with today, especially in the southern region, and while we have not officially experienced a Christian-inspired coup to suspend the constitution and take away women’s rights as described in the novel, many states are well on the way to creating Gilead-like conditions, at least with respect to women’s reproductive rights. Over the past three years states have passed severe new restrictions on abortion. In 2011–2013, legislatures in 30 states enacted 205 abortion restrictions—more than the total number enacted in the entire previous decade. The political debate over the Affordable Care Act has enabled anti-choice activists to renew their assault on insurance coverage for certain forms of contraception considered by them to be abortifacients. Though science has refuted these claims, such evidence is apparently irrelevant since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of corporations and certain nonprofits to raise religious freedom objections to their legal obligation to provide such coverage.

In addition to restricting access to abortion and certain form of contraception, states have begun holding women accountable for the outcome of their pregnancies. One woman in Indiana was charged with attempted murder when she survived a suicide attempt while pregnant; another women in Mississippi was indicted for “depraved heart murder” after traces of a cocaine byproduct were found in her stillborn baby’s blood. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has documented hundreds of cases around the country in which women have been detained, arrested and sometimes convicted — on charges as serious as murder — for doing things while pregnant that authorities viewed as dangerous or harmful to their unborn child.

The justification for such actions is almost always cast as concern for the child but behind it is the strong need to control women. The need to control women is framed as adherence to ‘traditional Christian values’ and consequently not an appropriate area for state intervention. This biblical view was expressed most clearly by the Supreme Court of Alabama in a recent decision upholding the conviction of a woman charged with child endangerment for using drugs while pregnant. In ruling that the use of the word ‘child’ in the Alabama statute was meant to apply to an unborn child or fetus, Chief Justice Moore wrote a concurrence to his own majority opinion in order to advance the following argument:

As the gift of God, this right to life is not subject to violation by another’s unilateral choice: “This natural life being, as was before observed, the immediate donation of the great creator, cannot legally be disposed of or destroyed by any individual, neither by the person himself nor by any other of his fellow creatures, merely upon their own authority.” Even the United States Supreme Court has recognized that “‘[t]he right to life and to personal security is not only sacred in the estimation of the common law, but it is inalienable.’”

Under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, states have an obligation to provide to unborn children at any stage of their development the same legal protection from injury and death they provide to persons already born. Because a human life with a full genetic endowment comes into existence at the moment of conception, the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” encompasses the moment of conception. Legal recognition of the unborn as members of the human family derives ultimately from the laws of nature and of nature’s God, Who created human life in His image and protected it with the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Therefore, the interpretation of the word “child” in Alabama’s chemical-endangerment statute, § 26-15- 3.2, Ala. Code 1975, to include all human beings from the moment of conception is fully consistent with these first principles regarding life and law.

In the theocratic male-dominant world of Gilead only women were tested for fertility. If a wife or Handmaid failed to conceive, it was deemed the woman’s fault. In a society where women’s value derived from their ability to bear and raise children, failing to reproduce made one a social pariah. In the novel, suspecting her husband was the source of their fertility problem, the wife conspired with the Handmaid to assist her to become pregnant by another man. In a society where a woman could be hanged for fornication or adultery, better to risk the life of your Handmaid with illicit sex than your own.

Infant mortality is affected by the health and well-being of women before and during pregnancy, the quality of prenatal and delivery care, and the health and care of babies from birth. The infant mortality rate is considered a general measure or indicator of the overall health and well-being of a population, because risk factors such as poverty and access to health care also directly affect the health of infants. Reducing infant deaths requires addressing these multiple factors. Higher rates of these risk factors, contribute to Mississippi having the highest rate of infant deaths in the United States. Alabama is on its heels with the second highest infant mortality rate in the nation. Not surprisingly these statistics don’t reflect racial disparities within states – in Alabama the infant mortality rate for black babies is more than twice the rate for white babies. Tennessee, no slacker in denying access to health care, has the fourth highest rate of infant mortality in the United States. And yet each of these states along with the entire southern region (except Arkansas) has refused to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion, effectively denying access to health care to millions of its poorest and vulnerable residents. In today’s theocratic south, women are held responsible for their birth outcomes, not society or any of the myriad factors commonly understood as social determinants of health.

Tennessee’s new law allowing women to be criminally charged if they use illicit drugs while pregnant went into effect on July 1st. When Tennessee Gov. Haslam signed the lawhe claimed, “The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs.” It’s clear law enforcement intends to use their new tool, but not necessarily to get women into drug treatment. On July 8, Mallory Loyola was the first woman to be arrested and charged with assault when her newborn daughter tested positive for methamphetamine. Mallory was arrested while in the hospital a mere two days after giving birth, too soon for a medical diagnosis the newborn was suffering from any drug-related harm.

Some will say the arrest was necessary to get an addicted mother in treatment for her own good as well as her baby but experts say differently. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology:

Although legal action against women who abuse drugs prenatally is taken with the intent to produce healthy birth outcomes, negative results are frequently cited. Incarceration and the threat of incarceration have proved to be ineffective in reducing the incidence of alcohol or drug abuse. Legally mandated testing and reporting puts the therapeutic relationship between the obstetrician–gynecologist and the patient at risk, potentially placing the physician in an adversarial relationship with the patient

Pregnant women who do not receive treatment for drug dependence cannot be assumed to have rejected treatment. The few drug treatment facilities in the United States accepting pregnant women often do not provide child care, account for the woman’s family responsibilities, or provide treatment that is affordable. As of 2010, only 19 states have drug treatment programs for pregnant women, and only nine give priority access to pregnant women.

The use of the legal system to address perinatal alcohol and substance abuse is inappropriate. Obstetrician–gynecologists should be aware of the reporting requirements related to alcohol and drug abuse within their states. In states that mandate reporting, policy makers, legislators, and physicians should work together to retract punitive legislation and identify and implement evidence-based strategies outside the legal system to address the needs of women with addictions. These approaches should include the development of safe, affordable, available, efficacious, and comprehensive alcohol and drug treatment services for all women, especially pregnant women, and their families.

Criminalizing pregnant women does nothing to empower children but is an effective tool to disempower women and the people, who love, support and depend on them. Given these facts one wonders what interests are served by advancing such regressive and harmful criminal justice policies? As discussed in the following exchange between MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Professor Dorothy Roberts, such practices serve the interests of those who seek to divert attention from the real conditions that pose substantial risks to the health and well-being of millions of children in the United States: parental poverty; inadequate housing; under-resourced schools; food insecurity; no access to health care; family and community violence; environmental hazards; employment insecurity; lack of economic mobility – just to name a few.

Most of these conditions are the result of structural and institutional forces indifferent to individual choices and behaviors. The ugly truth of contemporary life in the United States is significant numbers of people are living at, or near the poverty level and are at risk of falling further down the economic ladder regardless of their personal decisions.

In the Republic of Gilead, there is no need for amniocentesis, ultrasound, or other modern prenatal health detection techniques, since abortion is not a legal option and medical doctors who perform them face capital punishment. In Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi state officials don’t feel the need to address the myriad factors that contribute to infant mortality and unhealthy babies, they can just blame it on their handmaid mothers.

 

 

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5 Global Crises That Show How Barbaric the World Is Despite Our Notions of Progress

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 09:51
War and violence show how little humanity has learned since World War II.

The skin of the supposedly civilized world is showing itself to be thinner than many people would have thought, as violence across the globe—often worsened by our political leaders—is boiling over in ways that question whether government can contain humanity's darkest deeds.

The yardstick to measure today's explosions in needless violence and pain is World War II, where, after the Nazi genocide against Jews and other "undesirables," the Western world supposedly took steps to make sure that level of barbarity would never take place again.

Well, it has, not that the lessons of WWII prevented the Korean War, Vietnam War, or other conflagrations. And it's made all the more vivid by the Internet—as people look on, horrified, the warmongers and bullies are shaping events more than the voices demanding restraint and drawing moral lines that will not be crossed. Consider these five examples.

1. The disproportionate force and bloodshed in Gaza. Albert Camus, the French journalist-turned-philosopher who fought in the Nazi resistance, wrote a series of anti-war essays after WWII dealing with the problem of killing. Its title, Neither Victims Nor Executioners,is precisely the credo Israel has failed to live up to in the current war in Gaza. Hamas' hands aren't clean either, but any fair assessment finds Israel inflicting far more terrible blows.

U.S. mainstream media justifies Israel’s attacks, citing Hamas rockets into Israel, secret tunnels used by Hamas’ military and weapon caches in civilian areas. Meanwhile, there’s been little notice in American media of Israel's ongoing collective punishment of the Palestinians, when there's not a war on. That policy, in Gaza and the West Bank, fuels the cycles of generational violence.

The whole picture is barbaric. Boys seeking refuge on a beach, families in U.N. shelters, hospital patients are killed by Israeli artillery. Meanwhile, up the coast, life goes on in Tel Aviv, where a one-day shutdown of U.S. air flights is seen as an affront, giving Hamas a public relations victory. But in Gaza, as young adults recount on Twitter, they keep hearing drones fly by and then wait for the bombs to land. And they do, with terrible consequences.  

How is anything that’s unfolding here going to lead both sides to disarm and reject war?

2. The missile downing of a Malaysian jet over Ukraine. Eastern Europe has seen bloodbaths through the centuries and the aftermath of the shoot-down, by Russian missiles—no matter who fired them—is not even the worst of it. The political blame-game raises all kinds of big-picture questions, but let’s not get lost in geopolitical chess games. Innocent people were murdered in the sky and then left rotting in fields, while their clothes and bags were picked over by so-called rebels and scavengers. Their bodies were loaded into trains, which sat for days in fly-infested yards, recalling the Nazi transports of prisoners in WWII. American and European officials dithered, doing little to treat the dead with dignity.

Meanwhile, the simmering war continues, with Russia on one side and an American-backed Ukrainian regime on the other. There’s little evidence any of these political leaders have come to their senses, ensuring that more death will come. 

3. Central American children massing on the U.S. border. This is another crisis that resurrects imagery from the hell of World War II, the so-called kinder transports, where Jewish parents in Germany and Austria could send one of their children away by train to exile and safety in England. That terrible choice, splitting up a family as a matter of life and death, is being repeated today in Central America as families send mostly adolescent children to the U.S. border, hoping their chosen child will be smuggled in.

American policymakers, but especially House Republicans, have been truly cold-hearted in their responses. There's marginal sympathy for the kids crossing the border, and no sympathy whatsoever for their parents' unimaginable choice. The denial doesn’t stop there. Even the establishment-defending Washington Post has noted that the child migrant crisis is a direct result of the failed U.S. war on drugs. 

The response to the still-growing child refugee crisis on the Mexican border is appalling. American policymakers are victimizing these already traumatized kids and doubly demonizing their parents, not understanding that they are forced into one of the most heart-breaking choices they will ever face. 

4. Attacks on women and others in ISIS-occupied Iraq. The armed takeover of west-central Iraq by ISIS has become last month’s news. But as ISIS installs its version of an Islamic caliphate, or fundamentalist religious government, over its conquered territory, the victims of its barbarism are also receding from view.

It's hard to know what to believe in Western media accounts that sensationalize "enemy" crimes and ignore our government's role in creating these crises. On NPR's Fresh Air on Thursday, Human Rights Watch's Letta Taylor compared the targeting, round ups and expulsion of Christians to the way Nazi Germany treated Jews in the 1930s. She said that ISIS has conducted sweeps for ex-Iraqi soldiers and government workers and executed hundreds; but she also said the Iraqi government also has launched mass killings.

There have been many press reports that under ISIS women have to follow strict Islamic law. The U.K. Guardian reports that women around Mosul also may be facing a fatwa, or religious order, to undergo female genital cutting. They hedge a bit, saying social media reports speculate that fatwa could be from an earlier incarnation of ISIS. But there’s little doubt that under ISIS, women are seeing their lives shrink under the veil, enduring forced marriages, work restrictions and possibly genital mutilation.

5. The failure of governments to stop the bleeding. Is it naïve to demand that governments and political leaders who have a hand in creating these crises change their tune and stop the warfare, murder, violence, repression and indifference? It's stunning, really, to consider that the same political leaders who are driving these conflicts or allowing them to grow are also in charge of ending them.

But that's the reality of governments today—and maybe power brokers in any era. One wonders what terrible prices have to be paid before all this barbarity and evil can be staunched.

Senior U.S. and Israeli diplomats express frustration that Hamas isn’t accepting their cease fire—but Hamas was never a part of negotiating that offer with the U.S. and Egypt. It seemed intended to fail, to give Israel cover for its invasion. Hamas tunnels into Israel aren’t a new threat, either, honest Israelis will tell you, just newly reported in mainstream U.S. media to justify the latest war.

And on and on it goes. There’s the botched U.S. diplomacy and covert meddling in Ukraine, which is matched by Russia’s actions. The same out-of-control cycle spins again in Iraq. It's spinning at the Mexican border, where tens of thousands of children wait, praying that politicians, who don’t want them and don’t want to understand them, will let them stay.

As the 21st century unfolds, the skin of Western civilization is far thinner than many people would like to think. And so are the ranks of the politically powerful who would be willing to stand up for Camus' anti-war credo, that people and institutions should become neither victims nor executioners.  

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The Chilling Reason Our Government Wants to Erase These Americans from History

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 08:51
Most of those held in Communications Management Units, which imprison people linked terrorist activity, are Muslims.

Andy Stepanian is one of the kindest humans I’ve ever met.

An activist publicist, Andy draws attention to Americans imprisoned for their beliefs. He is straitlaced and gentle, and the only time he ever declined to buy me dinner was when I offended his veganism by eating chicken fingers. But Andy is also a felon. As one of the SHAC7, he spent three years locked in a cage for urging people to employ militant protest techniques against the animal-testing corporation Huntingdon Life Sciences. He spent his last six months in prison in a Communications Management Unit (CMU).

CMUs exist to cut off prisoners from the outside world. The prisoners’ every word is recorded. They are strip-searched before and after each visit from loved ones (in case they write messages on their body). Letters are severely restricted; phone calls are limited to two 15-minute calls a week. CMU prisoners may spend decades without hugging their wives or children.

Like Guantanamo Bay, the CMU is a child of the war on terror. In 2006 and 2008, respectively, the Bureau of Prisons, under the directorship of Harley Lappin, created two secret units: one in Terre Haute, IN, and the other in Marion, IL. The bureau’s stated purpose was “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates.” But as at Guantanamo, Muslims were the real targets. Muslims make up roughly 70 percent of the prisoners in CMUs but only 6 percent of the federal prison population. The CMUs are part of a philosophy that makes Muslim synonymous with terrorist, that views “terrorists” as both contagious and superhuman—so dangerous that they must be subject to ultimate control.

Andy was the rare white CMU prisoner. Guards told him he was there as a “balancer.” CMUs are another reflection of the double standard to which the United States holds Muslims. Acts of speech, travel or association that would be A-OK for a Christian are enough to get a Muslim branded a terrorist.

Shifa Sadequee, 2014. Photo Credit: Molly Crabapple

CMU prisoner Shifa Sadequee was kidnapped by U.S. forces in Bangladesh at the age of 19, allegedly tortured and rendered to the United States. He spent three years in solitary awaiting his trial for terrorism. His crimes? He played paintball and took video footage of U.S. monuments. The former activity was labeled “paramilitary training”; the latter, “casing videos” for an attack. The judge sentenced him to 17 years.

Pharmacist Tarek Mehanna should be called a dissident—but that’s not a label America allows Muslims. A scathing critic of U.S. foreign policy, Mehanna believed Muslims under attack in their own countries had the right to armed self-defense. He translated and subtitled some jihadi materials and briefly traveled to Yemen. Nothing he did would have been looked at askance if he were a Tea Party member speaking about fellow gun enthusiasts. But as a Muslim Mehanna was convicted of material support for terrorism. His sentence? Seventeen years.

At his sentencing, Mehanna delivered a chilling, eloquent statement about resisting oppression: “In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, I’m the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the U.S. military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for ‘conspiring to kill and maim’ in those countries…

“The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ‘killing Americans.’ But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.”

Tarek Mehanna, 2014. Photo Credit: Molly Crabapple

Mehanna is in a CMU for speech. Few American free speech defenders noticed.

While most Americans were rightly nauseated by the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden, they gave less thought to the brutal surveillance that Muslim communities have suffered since 9/11. Mosques, student associations and even restaurants were monitored throughout the country. Informants tried to rope the naive or the mentally ill into expressing support for jihad. If an agent was able to pressure an unstable young man into driving a car or buying some backpacks, he could arrest him for assisting terrorism. The agent would receive professional accolades for making the arrest; the young man, decades in jail. For the untold cash it poured into spying on Muslims, the FBI seldom discovered a plot that it did not concoct itself.

Shahawar Siraj, 2014. Photo Credit: Molly Crabapple

CMU prisoner Shahawar Matin Siraj had no explosives or concrete plan of attack, but that did not prevent a judge from sentencing him to 30 years for plotting to bomb New York’s Herald Square. The informant who befriended him, and then goaded him into the plan, was paid $100,000 by the NYPD.

Imprisonment is erasure. The state locks a person in a cage—without context, without community, without love. He becomes not human but a widget passing through a system of absolute control. The CMU enacts a double erasure: it represents the ultimate scission of the prisoner from his non-prison self. You are in a box. You are no one. You belong to us.

Andy is working on a documentary about CMUs. He asked me to draw pictures of some prisoners. Drawing is slow, deliberate. It is an antidote to forgetting men the state wants the world to forget.

One night I worked on a portrait of Ghassan Elashi. A former vice president of an internet company, Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison for running the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. Through charitable organizations in Gaza, Holy Land allegedly funneled money to Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

Ghassan Elashi, 2014. Photo Credit: Molly Crabapple

Andy invited Elashi’s daughter, Noor, to my studio. She brought a photograph of her father. I was unable to draw him from life, as the USP Marion is not easy to visit. The three of us stayed up late into the night, me rendering Noor’s father’s eyes in careful watercolor, Andy filming us as she watched me draw.

Noor is a stylishly dressed young writer who sidelines as a baker of gluten-free cupcakes. But when she talks about her father, her voice grows cold with pain. She remembers how FBI agents threw him to the floor when they raided their home. She remembers prison guards screaming at her young brother, who has Down syndrome, when he tried to hug his dad (she and her brother were subsequently denied visits for months). She remembers how her father was barred from making phone calls for writing his name on a yoga mat.

She does not believe for a moment that her father deliberately funneled funds to Hamas.

Noor’s situation shows how CMUs rip apart not only prisoners’ lives but also the lives of their families and community. Noor is still fighting for her dad.

In “Counterpunch,” Noor wrote, “My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights.”

Noor’s words point to one of the war on terror’s most insidious legacies. The war on terror flattened Muslims into bogeymen. They could no longer be troubled young men. Nor could they be political dissidents, heads of charities or defenders of human rights. Dissent was equated with terrorism.

In making a fetish of the word “freedom,” America revoked the freedom of so many within her borders. Civil liberties defenders must remember that Muslims are not a separate class of people. Attacks on Muslims’ rights are attacks on human rights.

 

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: We'll Have to ‘Sink Lower’ Before Congress Takes Action to Save the Planet

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 08:12
Tyson takes on climate deniers and challenges scientists to speak up before it's too late.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a force. A respected astrophysicist with a custom space-theme wardrobe who moonlights as a late-night television guest, the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, a living meme, and in his current star turn, host of the hit series “Cosmos,” a reboot of the Carl Sagan original, he’s also, without doubt, a sizable thorn in the side of the religious right.

What he is not, Tyson tells Salon, is an advocate. He trusts, instead, that science will speak for itself. But insofar as science has a human vessel, Tyson’s inarguably embraced the role. And so long as the science demands it, he’s never been one to shy away from controversy, be it demoting Pluto from its planetary status, or more recently, representing the emerging consensus on climate change as it comes under attack from religious and industry forces.

Tyson didn’t write the script for “Cosmos” — that was the work of Ann Druyan, who told my colleague Andrew O’Hehir that she’s surprised critics talk about the show “as if Neil has had something to do with its inception or its writing.” But she acknowledges, too, that part of getting the message across is having the right messenger, and Tyson’s certainly risen to the occasion. He articulated his own take on climate-change deniers — “people, if they begin to lose their wealth, they change their mind real fast, I’ve found, particularly in a capitalist culture” — during an appearance as Chris Hayes’ much-vaunted guest on MSNBC. By now, he’s become invested in this specific iteration of the culture wars to the point that Fox News saw fit to take him and his “white liberal nerd” admirers down a few pegs.

If climate-change-denying politicians can couch their false claims by asserting, “I’m not a scientist,” Tyson has the opposite task: He is a scientist, but he’s not a climate scientist; he can speak with authority on the tenets of settled science — whether climate change is happening — but has less to say about what we should do to mitigate its effects, and can only speculate with the rest of us about whether we’ll be successful.

After watching him engage with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa on global political issues at New York’s Beacon Theatre in June for a live recording of his StarTalk podcast, Salon followed up with Tyson to learn more about how he positions himself: as an educator, as a highly visible minority in a STEM field who’s spoken, in the past, of the societal barriers that stood in his way, and as a cultural icon who, while putting the science first, is still aware of how many retweets he gets from his 2 million-plus followers.

Oh, and while he’s not a policy guy, he does have some ideas about how to solve the world’s problems. Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, is below.

Lindsay Abrams: Through “Cosmos” and in recent comments you’ve made, you’ve become something of a spokesperson for the effort to fight climate change and especially to fight climate-change deniers. But you’ve also said you won’t debate deniers or creationists because the science should speak for itself. Where do you draw the line between education and advocacy?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: People, I think, may occasionally think of me as an advocate, but in my mind, I’m not. I’m just trying to get people as fully informed as they can be so that they can make the most informed decisions they can based on their own principles or philosophies or mission statement. What concerns me is that I see people making decisions, particularly decisions that might affect policy or governance, that are partly informed, or misinformed, or under-informed. And so I think there’s value as an educator, and especially as a scientist, to get as much of that information out there for people to respond to. And then I just go home and they do with it what they want, whether they reject it or embrace it or whatever. But I don’t have the energy, the interest or the urges to debate people on any topic at all. It’s just not due as an educator.

LA: Do you think that scientists should play any role in helping to shape policy or in leading calls to action from the public? Or is that just not the domain of scientists and educators?

NDT: There’s a long, storied history of scientists as advocates, scientists as major social/cultural spokespeople. And a lot of that stemmed from the Cold War where the major Cold War weaponry was completely traceable to the brain efforts of physicists — basically the Nuclear Age. So what you had were physicists who knew everything there was to know about these bombs and felt that it was not the way the world should go. And so you had these sort of “physics pacifists,” if you will, who were quite outspoken — Einstein was among them. Even though you can see in his equation the foundation of the energy derived from those bombs: E=MC². So I would say that during the entire Cold War there was a long and distinguished train of scientists who were quite visible and quite outspoken about their views on war, weaponry and this sort of thing.

In modern times, I find it odd that people turn to me to comment on these other matters. I’m an astrophysicist. But there are people who are climate scientists. I think more climate scientists should step up to the plate and serve that same corresponding role that the physicists played during the Cold War, and if they want, to empower lawmakers and the citizenry to make informed decisions about the future of the country. So I think it should happen more than it has happened. But, like I said, many of these issues are not directly at the center of my professional expertise and we have others for whom it is. So in the way that nuclear physicists stood up, I think we should have climate scientists standing up.

With any issue that comes up, when we have an emergent scientific truth, we can’t just sit back and watch people debate a scientific truth — they should be debating the politics that would follow from the emergent scientific truth. That’s really what the debates should be about, but they haven’t been. And I’m disturbed by that, because I don’t know what kind of democracy that is, if you’re gonna run around cherry-picking the results of science, of emergent scientific consensus because it conflicts with your philosophy and you want to be responsible for the governance of the nation, which involves thoughtful planning for the future of our health and our wealth, the state of the economy, all of the above.

LA: We talk about science with a capital S, as something that’s “true whether or not you believe in it” — especially settled science. And I’m wondering if that’s where some of the pushback might come from, because scientists do get things wrong sometimes, or scientific thinking changes.

NDT: So unfortunately that sentence — which I have uttered, and I think some people even have put on t-shirts, with my name on it — to fully understand what it means requires some qualification. In science, when you perform experiments and observations, and when the experiments and observations begin to agree with one another, and they’re conducted by different people — people who are competitive with one another, people who are not even necessarily in your field but do something that relates to your field — you start seeing a trend. And when that trend is consistent and persistent, no matter who’s doing the experiment, no matter where the experiment is being done, no matter whether the groups were competitive or not, you have an emergent scientific truth. That truth is true whether or not you believe in it.

On the frontier of science, stuff is wrong all the time. I mean, if I have an experiment — what typically happens is, if it’s an interesting result that nobody expected, the press will come, and then they’ll write about it and maybe my host institution will send out a press release which will feed this… state. And the press will say “New results: scientists say…” and then they say cholesterol is good for you. And then a few weeks later, cholesterol is bad for you. And the public is wondering, what the hell is going on? Do scientists even know what they’re doing? How come they don’t agree? Well, on the frontier, we don’t agree. That’s what the frontier means. That’s why there is a frontier; that’s the whole point of the frontier. If we all agreed on it, it would just be in the textbooks and we’d move on.

So people often confuse the raggedy, bleeding edge of scientific research with the established truths that consensus of observation and experiment reveal. And so that’s the whole, full explanation for that one sentence, which is hard to put into one quip. So, Earth is going around the Sun, whether or not you believe that’s true: that has been experimentally, observationally identified and demonstrated and we’ve moved on to the next question. The Sun is going around the center of the galaxy. Earlier people didn’t know that or they doubted it, some people thought we were the center of the galaxy — that was an active area of research. The evidence mounts and we learn that the Sun — in fact, there was a whole debate on this, back in 1920, to be precise — and we concluded, after better data became available, that the Sun is just orbiting the center of the galaxy, in much the same way the Earth is orbiting the Sun. And now that’s a closed issue and we’re on to other questions. So I think people are confusing the bleeding edge of science with established science, and somehow thinking that all science is like the bleeding edge, where that’s not true.

LA: It sounds like a lot of that is a communications problem and probably a lot of it is the media’s fault. But that has to make you worry about the power you have as a scientist, when you can slap a headline on something and say “Scientists say…”

NDT: Yeah, so, the press wants to be out ahead of any results, right? And it’s only an interesting headline if what the scientists found was different than what people were thinking or expecting that preceded it. So I understand that urge, but what the press doesn’t say is: “this result still needs to be verified by other experiments.” Something isn’t true because one scientist has one result from their one experiment. And I think not enough of the press recognizes this, and they need to, otherwise they’re giving a distorted view of what science is and how it works in the hearts and minds of the public.

LA: At the Beacon last month, you spoke a bit about the importance of STEM literacy. Obviously not everyone is going to go into the math, science and engineering fields, but do you have a conception of what every responsible citizen should know? Is it enough to watch “Cosmos” and get the basic concepts, or is there another level of understanding the public needs?

NDT: Excellent question. So I have an unorthodox definition of science literacy, and I’m trying to get more people to think about it in this way. I think typically when we think of science literacy, it’s “do you know what causes the seasons?” or what the DNA molecule is, or how our internal combustion engine works or what the Big Bang is or “what is evolution?” And this is chalked up as evidence of whether you’re scientifically literate or not. And while that’s an aspect of it, I think what’s more important than even that is how is your brain wired for thought, for inquiry and for curiosity.

If you are curious, and you want to learn more about something, and you question what it is you see in search of answers that would support or deny what you see, that to me is science literacy. And so it’s, how do you approach someone who makes a statement to you? Do you say “Oh, that’s great, that’s gotta be true! Tell me more” or is it “Well, why is that true? How did you come to arrive at that conclusion? What are the consequences of it? How does it affect others, how does it affect me, how does it affect civilization or culture?” To me, the capacity to even know to ask those questions is at the center of what it is to be scientifically literate.

Now, given that, we don’t want a whole world where everybody is a STEM professional; that would be boring. There would be no artists and comedians and poets, and novelists and journalists and the rest of what fleshes out what we call civilization. But at a minimum, I think everyone should be scientifically literate, no matter their profession, because here’s what could happen: Suppose we’re going into space in a big way and we’re tapping a whole generation of STEM professionals, but you’re not a STEM professional; you say “I want to become a lawyer” and so you go to law school. But then there are people worrying about who owns the rights to asteroid mining, and then you say, “Well, I understand asteroids, and I know what they are and I know what they’re made of and maybe I want to be that lawyer.”

And all of a sudden, society begins to participate on the moving frontier of STEM professionals. Artists will say, “Take me to the far side of the moon because there is a new sculpting series that I want to start and I need the inspiration that that would bring me.” Or there’s a new story that could be told about the crew of seven that was alone with one another on a generational ship. It’s a source of creativity among artists as well as others who flesh out, like I said, what we come to define civilization to be. And then everyone’s a participant.

LA: There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about science being under attack, and it seems like that could be the kind of thing that could help people become more aware of what’s going on, and maybe less hostile toward science. Or would you argue that that kind of scientific literacy would just be a way to get people to have science more involved in their lives than it otherwise would be?

NDT: Yeah, that’s a perceptive question and comment. I would say that the reason people even think that they can attack science is because they think science is this thing, this edifice. And when they choose to walk up to it, that’s when they address it and they query it, without realizing that science is so fundamentally all around us, in everything we do and say and think about. And one of the messages of “Cosmos” was how thoroughly dependent we are on science and its cousin, technology. And once you recognize that, you’re not going to say, “Today I’m not going to do science” or “I didn’t do well in science in school so I’m just going to ignore it.” It’s all around us and it invites you to embrace it. That will make you a more informed citizen of a democracy, where you elect people who will govern your lives with laws that they pass. You want them to be enlightened and informed, as enlightened and as informed as is humanly possible.

LA: After the Beacon event, you mentioned a time you got into a trouble for something you tweeted about education, that seems similar to what you’re saying now — that good teachers need to engender a love of learning. Why do you think that was so controversial?

NDT: What was controversial was that I said, “Why is it that you’re more likely to hear a teacher say ‘These students don’t want to learn’ than a teacher say ‘I suck at my job.’”

Some people said “he’s clearly never taught” but clearly they’ve never read my CV: it has all my teaching experiences clear and explicit there and it goes very far back. So, yes, it’s a strong tweet, and I just don’t ever want a teacher to put the blame of a student not learning on the student. You’re not there to just put up a lesson plan and hope that they follow it. You are if you’re a college professor, because people are paying big money to attend the school, and if they flunk out, it’s not your problem. But in the public schools, I think we should measure teachers by how much improvement their efforts bring about in the progress of students. Not by how many straight-A students they might put forth as a display of the excellence of their educational talent. A straight-A student gets straight As because the teaching talent of the teacher is irrelevant. That’s what straight As means. It means you got an A in every class you took — and that’s only possible if the variation in the teaching skills in the teachers of each of those classes is irrelevant to you.

You perform no matter how good or bad the teacher is. So the least illuminating student you can put on display at your school are the straight-A students. The one who is the greatest display of whether or not you’re a good teacher is the student who was flunking but is now maybe getting a C. Or the student who was getting a C and now is getting a B+ because of your intervention as teacher, because of your effort to think about how that student learns relative to someone else.

Now, that’s hard, particularly in big cities, especially in New York, where you might have 34 kids in a class. It may even be impossible to find the right key for every student. But the reason they’re not learning is not because they don’t want to learn; it’s because the system has not allowed you the time to find the key to every one of the students. And so the answer should not be “they don’t learn because they don’t want to learn,” it should be “they want to learn but the system does not allow me the time to figure out what their formula is.” And by the way, it’s something called individualized learning; it’s not a new educational concept. They need much smaller classes to enable that. But who I was indicting is those people who say that students don’t want to learn.

I spend every day of my life that I reach the public asking myself first “What are the receptors that exist in the audience I’m about to address?” Is it culture, is it sports, is it food, is it entertainment, is it movies? And I spend some effort of my life acquainting myself with all of these ancillary elements, so that when I do have a conversation with a person and I’m not reaching them by some traditional way, I access my utility belt that I’ve assembled for myself and say “Oh, this person likes this set of movies; I saw those movies, let’s start there.” And now the person gets excited, their eyes brighten up, and now the receptors are ready to engage in the science, which was my object of the lesson plan. You know, that’s a simplified example of what I’m trying to get across here, but you get the point.

LA: Somewhat related to that, when we talk about people who are going into the sciences — women and minorities are still significantly underrepresented in STEM — do you have thoughts about what we can do to lessen that gap? Or to encourage people who don’t traditionally go into these fields?

NDT: I don’t have a silver bullet there, but I’m thinking long and hard about that problem. And maybe I’ll have a solution or some insights that I could share with people in a couple of years but right now I don’t have deep insights to it. And there are interesting other questions: For example, there are other fields that are predominately women that don’t get the same level of analysis as the fields that are predominantly men. For example — maybe this exists but I haven’t seen it — no one is asking why veterinarians are 85 percent women. There’s no movement to reduce that number so that there’s equal numbers of men. And veterinary school is harder to get into than medical school in terms of percentage of applicants they accept. So, I wonder if the answer to that is more broadly, deeply embedded in society than just pointing to the cultural climate in one branch of science versus another.

You know, the NBA is 80 percent black — are we saying we have to reduce that number so that the blacks in the NBA are the same percent as in the population, so that there’s room for white people to play? Are we saying that? Well, we’re not. Why not? Well, there’s some expectation that there is equal opportunity for everyone, so if you can believe there’s equal opportunity, then things just shake out however they do and no one complains about it. So the challenge will be to ask, do women and minorities have an equal opportunity to study in the sciences? And if so, does that mean that that will ultimately become half women? And 12 percent black, or whatever the number is in the United States. If there are other fields where there is equal opportunity and we don’t recover the numbers that we have in society, and no one is studying why that’s the case, then that will make these other questions harder to address, is my point. So, I don’t have an answer; these are the questions that I’m posing to myself as I continue to think about the problem.

LA: So you need to figure out why this is happening before you can find a solution.

NDT: I think what would be interesting would be to go around society and look at fields that are dominated by some demographic well out of numbers to their proportion of the population. So, veterinary medicine: 85 percent women. Nursing: 95 percent women. Men could be nurses, but they’re not, so what’s going on there? Again, the NBA. You just go around and look at the list. Then you have particle physics or whatever that’s 85 percent men. So what’s the difference between particle physics and veterinary medicine? Are there opportunities that are in one place and not the other? Do we believe men have equal access to veterinary medicine? Is there discrimination against men in that field? If not, then what is attracting the women to it? Whatever that is that’s attracting the women to it, does that not exist in particle physics? And if it did exist, would it? So, I’m just saying, these are a zillion questions that are coursing through my head.

LA: To talk a bit again about climate change — not so much from a climate scientist perspective but in a general sense — in “Cosmos” you talk about the promise of green energy, but there’s also a lot of discussion lately about it being too late at this point to make meaningful change, and of people feeling discouraged. Do you think we have what it takes as a society to reverse course?

NDT: In my read of history, when things get very bad, people tend to come into agreement about what next steps they need to take and there’s less arguing. For example, in 1939, 1940 there were nationalists in America who didn’t want to engage in the war in Europe. There were strong debates in Congress and the executive branch — and then we get attacked at Pearl Harbor, and at that point everyone is aligned. And we, at the time, had the tenth or something largest army in the world — something much lower than other countries that were actively engaged in this war — but once all of our pistons were aligned, we built a military machine that tipped the balance of power in the world over a four-year period. We felt threatened, we felt down, we felt like we had to act as one.

So I’ve seen this country do that. On multiple occasions: We did it for Sputnik. If someone wants to fly over your country in the air, there’s a law, you need permission to allow them to do that. But if they’re above the air, they’re in space where there is no law that controls that — so there was Sputnik, launched in 1957, flying over the United States. A Soviet piece of hardware, launched on a vessel that would otherwise be used to carry intercontinental ballistic missiles. We freaked out. All of our pistons became aligned, and within 12 years of Sputnik going up, we are walking on the moon. We alluded to that in “Cosmos,” with reference to Kennedy’s speech about doing things not because it’s easy but because it’s hard.

So I think maybe we have to sink lower before the pistons of Congress and the electorate align to take meaningful action, to protect the planet going forward. And this idea about being too late, well that’s defeatist of course. That’s saying, “Well, okay, we don’t know what to do so therefore let’s do nothing.” By the way, I can imagine — I mean, I’m making this up, but it’s not far-fetched to imagine that someone invents some CO² scrubbing device — “scrubbing” is the word they use in the industry — where air blows in one on side and there’s some thing inside that just takes CO² and makes solid bricks out of it and it’s very effective, like the buried limestone of the cliffs of Dover. And then if you have that you can continue with industry. Because we’ve now removed the CO² that we put in, keeping Earth in equilibrium.

I mean that’s an interesting option; why isn’t anybody thinking of that? And by the way, that’s an entire world outside of my professional expertise. That’s engineering and climate and air and chemistry. So, people should know by now that if Kennedy says — before we have any spacecraft that can fly a human being without killing them — “let’s go to the moon before the decade is out,” and we go to the moon, well I remember that go-getter attitude; I’m old enough to remember that. It meant anything was possible, or at least was within technological reach — the laws of physics do prevent some things from ever happening, but technologically, there’s no limit.

LA: Because you do have this public platform and people are listening to you, are there other issues that you would want to bring to the public’s attention or that you think more attention should be paid to, be they social, political or environmental?

NDT: Yeah, people like dividing up all the problems and creating movements surrounding each one. And I think at the end of the day what we’re really missing maybe is widespread, rampant curiosity. The kind of curiosity that children have. We need more of that in adults. Because if you’re curious, then you’ll say, “Oh, I wonder why that works that way.” You didn’t have to take a class in it, your own curiosity forces you to go to Wikipedia, or get a book on it, or rent a video. And that curiosity grows the knowledge base of everyone.

I’ve tweeted multiple times on the concept and idea of curiosity and those, by the way, are some of my heavily retweeted tweets. One of them was comparing the curiosity of children to the curiosity of the adults raising them. And I was worried that if an adult loses curiosity then they won’t even see it in their children and they’ll squash it because they’ll interpret it as a destructive force in the household, when all the kid is doing is exploring what’s in the drawers or what happens if you drop a glass on the kitchen floor — things that are definitely destructive to your house but are the manifestation of just kids being curious. I was in New York the day before yesterday, and it had just rained so there were puddles in the walkway. And there was a little girl with boots and a little umbrella over her shoulder, and she’s walking straight towards the puddle. And I said, “Oh, this will be fun, I bet she jumps in with two feet.” And the mother says “No, don’t jump in the puddle, walk around it.” And I said, “There it is! There is a little bit of curiosity being squashed.”

Because what happens if you jump in the puddle? You get to — you’re losing the experiment on what a splash zone will look like and how big is the splash based on how hard you jumped in it and could you clear the puddle, based on having jumped in it? And then you learn the puddle is there because there’s a slight depression in the pavement, and so water collects where it’s a slightly low point compared to other points, that’s why it didn’t roll down the hill. There’s a whole experiment there that the kid would have done but did not because the parent didn’t want to clean the clothes.

So I promise on this: If all people were curious, that would just solve everything, I think. Almost everything. It’ll solve so much of what today we identify as problems that need separate solutions.

 

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Can You Guess Which American City Is Ranked Unhappiest?

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 08:01
Hint: Its residents are willing to trade happiness for better wages and lower housing costs.

It’s official: New York City has been voted the unhappiest city in America according to a new working study released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled, "Unhappy Cities," NBCreported.

The study collected data in a Centers for Disease Control and Protection survey based on a questionnaire, asking those surveyed, "How satisfied are you with your life?" The results were then ranked and adjusted according to income, housing prices, age, sex and race. 

New York took the crown as the most miserable metropolitan area with a population over one million followed by Pittsburgh, Louisville, Milwaukee and Detroit. 

Reasons for unhappiness include rent increases, cold temperatures and stress. Even still, researchers found such factors didn’t prevent people from relocating to unhappy cities in pursuit of job opportunities. The findings suggest Americans are willing to forgo happiness in exchange for a better income and low-cost housing, study co-author Joshua Gottlieb explained.

“Our research indicates that people care about more than happiness alone, so other factors may encourage them to stay in a city despite their unhappiness," Gottlieb said. "They may move to a less happy city because it provides a more fulfilling job, or has other attributes that enrich their lives in other ways. It suggests that people have deeper preferences than hedonic pleasure, and can consciously make complicated tradeoffs."

Interestingly, the study determined that newer residents of cities appeared to be as unhappy as longer-term residents, suggesting happiness trends are constant over time.

So just which cities were ranked the happiest? Virginia cities took the top spots with Richmond-Petersburg named the happiest metropolitan city followed by Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, which goes to show that money doesn't always buy happiness. 

10 Happiest Metropolitan Areas With a Population Greater Than 1 Million

1. Richmond-Petersburg, VA
2. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, VA
3. Washington, DC
4. Raleigh-Durham, NC
5. Atlanta, GA
6. Houston, TX
7. Jacksonville, FL
8. Nashville, TN
9. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, FL
10. Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, NJ

10 Unhappiest Metropolitan Areas With a Population Greater Than 1 Million

1. New York, NY
2. Pittsburgh, PA
3. Louisville, KY
4. Milwaukee, WI
5. Detroit, MI
6. Indianapolis, IN
7. St. Louis, MO
8. Las Vegas, NV
9. Buffalo, NY
10. Philadelphia, PA

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Palestinians Have a Right to Defend Themselves -- Why Is This Obvious Truth Suppressed?

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 07:17
Amid the dire crisis in Gaza, the failure of the international community to respond has left the Palestinians with no choice.

If Israel insists, as the Bosnian Serbs did in Sarajevo, on using the weapons of industrial warfare against a helpless civilian population then that population has an inherent right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The international community will have to either act to immediately halt Israeli attacks and lift the blockade of Gaza or acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to use weapons to defend themselves.

No nation, including any in the Muslim world, appears willing to intervene to protect the Palestinians. No world body, including the United Nations, appears willing or able to pressure Israel through sanctions to conform to the norms of international law. And the longer we in the world community fail to act, the worse the spiral of violence will become.

Israel does not have the right to drop 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on Gaza. It does not have the right to pound Gaza with heavy artillery and with shells lobbed from gunboats. It does not have the right to send in mechanized ground units or to target hospitals, schools and mosques, along with Gaza’s water and electrical systems. It does not have the right to displace over 100,000 people from their homes. The entire occupation, under which Israel has nearly complete control of the sea, the air and the borders of Gaza, is illegal.

Violence, even when employed in self-defense, is a curse. It empowers the ruthless and punishes the innocent. It leaves in its aftermath horrific emotional and physical scars. But, as I learned in Sarajevo during the 1990s Bosnian War, when forces bent on your annihilation attack you relentlessly, and when no one comes to your aid, you must aid yourself. When Sarajevo was being hit with 2,000 shells a day and under heavy sniper fire in the summer of 1995 no one among the suffering Bosnians spoke to me about wanting to mount nonviolent resistance. No one among them saw the U.N.-imposed arms embargo against the Bosnian government as rational, given the rain of sniper fire and the 90-millimeter tank rounds and 155-millimeter howitzer shells that were exploding day and night in the city. The Bosnians were reduced, like the Palestinians in Gaza, to smuggling in light weapons through clandestine tunnels. Their enemies, the Serbs—like the Israelis in the current conflict—were constantly trying to blow up tunnels. The Bosnian forces in Sarajevo, with their meager weapons, desperately attempted to hold the trench lines that circled the city. And it is much the same in Gaza. It was only repeated NATO airstrikes in the fall of 1995 that prevented the Bosnian-held areas from being overrun by advancing Serbian forces. The Palestinians cannot count on a similar intervention.

The number of dead in Gaza resulting from the Israeli assault has topped 650, and about 80 percent have been civilians. The number of wounded Palestinians is over 4,000 and a substantial fraction of these victims are children. At what point do the numbers of dead and wounded justify self-defense? 5,000? 10,000? 20,000? At what point do Palestinians have the elemental right to protect their families and their homes?

Article 51 does not answer these specific questions, but the International Court of Justice does in the case of Nicaragua v. United States. The court ruled in that case that a state must endure an armed attack before it can resort to self-defense. The definition of an armed attack, in addition to being “action by regular armed forces across an international border,” includes sending or sponsoring armed bands, mercenaries or irregulars that commit acts of force against another state. The court held that any state under attack must first request outside assistance before undertaking armed self-defense. According to U.N. Charter Article 51, a state’s right to self-defense ends when the Security Council meets the terms of the article by “tak[ing] the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

The failure of the international community to respond has left the Palestinians with no choice. The United States, since Israel’s establishment in 1948, has vetoed in the U.N. Security Council more than 40 resolutions that sought to curb Israel’s lust for occupation and violence against the Palestinians. And it has ignored the few successful resolutions aimed at safeguarding Palestinian rights, such as Security Council Resolution 465, passed in 1980.

Resolution 465 stated that the “Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 is applicable to the Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem.” The resolution went on to warn Israel that “all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Israel, as an occupying power, is in direct violation of Article III of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. This convention lays out the minimum standards for the protection of civilians in a conflict that is not international in scope. Article 3(1) states that those who take no active role in hostilities must be treated humanely, without discrimination, regardless of racial, social, religious or economic distinctions. The article prohibits certain acts commonly carried out against noncombatants in regions of armed conflict, including murder, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture. It prohibits the taking of hostages as well as sentences given without adequate due process of law. Article 3(2) mandates care for the sick and wounded.

Israel has not only violated the tenets of Article III but has amply fulfilled the conditions of an aggressor state as defined by Article 51. But for Israel, as for the United States, international law holds little importance. The U.S. ignored the verdict of the international court in Nicaragua v. United States and, along with Israel, does not accept the jurisdiction of the tribunal. It does not matter how many Palestinians are killed or wounded, how many Palestinian homes are demolished, how dire the poverty becomes in Gaza or the West Bank, how many years Gaza is under a blockade or how many settlements go up on Palestinian territory. Israel, with our protection, can act with impunity.

The unanimous U.S. Senate vote in support of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the media’s slavish parroting of Israeli propaganda and the Obama administration’s mindless repetition of pro-Israeli clichés have turned us into cheerleaders for Israeli war crimes. We fund and abet these crimes with $3.1 billion a year in military aid to Israel. We are responsible for the slaughter. No one in the establishment, including our most liberal senator, Bernie Sanders, dares defy the Israel lobby. And since we refuse to act to make peace and justice possible we should not wonder why the Palestinians carry out armed resistance.

The Palestinians will reject, as long as possible, any cease-fire that does not include a lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. They have lost hope that foreign governments will save them. They know their fate rests in their own hands. The revolt in Gaza is an act of solidarity with the world outside its walls. It is an attempt to assert in the face of overwhelming odds and barbaric conditions the humanity and agency of the Palestinian people. There is little in life that Palestinians can choose, but they can choose how to die. And many Palestinians, especially young men trapped in overcrowded hovels where they have no work and little dignity, will risk immediate death to defy the slow, humiliating death of occupation.

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8 Things Straight People Get Wrong About Gay Men

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:57
Gay men aren't only interested in sex and they don't want to date your gay best friend.

Acceptance of gay people doesn't end with acceptance. It also includes post-acceptance sensitivity and awareness. Unfortunately, just because someone's heart is in the right place, doesn't mean his or her foot will be, too. Here are eight common straights-on-gays misconceptions that can lead to inserting it directly into one's mouth, which must be as awkward and uncomfortable for them as the gaffes are for us.

1. We're all either "tops" or "bottoms."

I never imagined that anyone who isn't gay would even care who's a "top" and who's a "bottom," or that they might not realize that some guys are versatile and others don't enjoy anal sex at all. Then a straight woman recently inquired about the assigned sexual positions of a gay couple in our vicinity. I cringed, not so much at the question itself as the possibility that straight people might be as curious about it as gay guys on Grindr are. She immediately tried to qualify and excuse her curiosity by citing her plethora of gay friends, but the damage had been done to my peace of mind.

What about other straight people? While they're assuming we're all either one or the other, are they actually trying to figure out which one? Some questions are simply better left unasked.

2. Finding a great gay guy is easier than finding a great straight one.

Don't be fooled by all the fun you have with us when the drinks are flowing and the music is playing. I'd like to say gay men are more highly evolved than our straight counterparts, and that there's a surplus of quality gay men running around towns, but if that were true, so many of us wouldn't be single. Still, the theory persists among straight women that if straight men embraced more supposedly gay qualities, they'd be better men for it. Be careful what you wish for. I, for one, wouldn't wish some of the men I've dated on anyone, women included.

Not only do we not all enjoy doing all of the things many straight women assume we do (shopping, dancing, talking about our feelings), we're often just as defective as the men they wish were more like us. Ladies, we're all in the same boat: Most men, regardless of sexual persuasion, are not innately monogamous boyfriend material. Perhaps if straight women spent some time on Grindr, they'd get it. They should just enjoy our platonic company and be glad they don't have to go home with us.

3. When a woman jokingly says "What a shame/waste" to a gay man, or talks about "converting" us, we should take it as a compliment.

I used to get that all the time in Buenos Aires' mixed "gay-friendly" clubs, and I could never figure out if the women who said it meant a shame for them or a shame in general. Why does it have to be a shame at all? The world shames us enough as it is. There's no need for a female admirer to compound that shame just because she won't be getting lucky (at least not with one of us) tonight.

4. 1 gay man + 1 gay man = 1 potential couple.

They say straight men and women can't be friends. Hollywood even offered a movie (1989's When Harry Met Sally...) based on that point. Gay guys, however, can. Don't automatically assume that the friend I introduce you to, or the one I hung out with the other night is my new love interest — or should be.

5. We'd be perfect for your other gay friend (or your son).

There are plenty of gay fish in the sea (especially waters as deep as New York City or any metropolitan area with a significant gay population), and mutual attraction between two men requires more than simply both being gay. I was flattered the time a woman at Bowery Bar in NYC declared me a perfect match for her son and went so far as to leave him a voice mail raving about me. Despite her tipsy enthusiasm, though, I knew I'd never have to meet him. What self-respecting 20-something gay man would agree to be set up by his mother?

Unfortunately, I did end up meeting Felipe, the guy my friend Hollie prematurely pegged as my soulmate because, in her eyes, since we were both sassy and gay, we were destined to live happily ever after. The party where Felipe and I met face to face for the first (and only) time nearly ended in fisticuffs because we mixed like fire and gasoline. The moral of this story: If sparks are going to fly between two gay men, let them fly on their own.

6. If we think a man is attractive, we want to sleep with him.

Sometimes a handsome guy is just a handsome guy. So relax, boys, and stop assuming we're going to hit on you. It's entirely possible, even likely, that you aren't our type, and not just because you aren't gay.

7. We all sit around wondering who is and isn't gay.

The celebrity guessing game can be fun, but just because some gay activists are on the outing warpath doesn't mean all of us are. And hey, ladies: There's no need to always point out that the guy we've both been eyeing across a crowded room, or your latest hot boyfriend, isn't gay. Like the "Top or bottom?" thing, it probably hasn't even crossed my mind.

8. Being gay is all about being gay.

There's so much more to our lives than just being gay, so if you're straight, the next time you're around a gay guy, feel free not to bring it up.

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Bank of America and Other Megabanks Say They Want to Make Nice With Poor People: Don't Buy It

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:48
The poor need financial services, but not from a predatory industry.

How do we hate thee, Bank of America? Let us count the ways.

We hate thee for thy mortgage misdeeds, foreclosure frauds and grotesque fees. For unnecessarily kicking people out of their homes, extorting money from military families through predatory loan rates, and treating thy customers like garbage.

For basically being too-big-to-fail/too-big-to-jail blight on the economy and society thou hast proven to be, time and again.

Bank of America has earned itself the worst reputation of any big lender in the U.S., and that is no small feat. The megabank has incurred so many legal costs for its various frauds and abuses, to the tune of billions, its profits have seen a dip. Whatever is a big bank to do?

Under increasing pressure from regulators and widely despised by the public, Bank of America now wants us to believe hat it will make nice with poor people. In a recent reportin the New York Times, we learn that BofA and other giant banks are trying to launder their public images by talking about offering low-fee services to people who have been left out of the banking system. BofA has launched a banking account it claims is intended to prevent troubled customers from running up fees for overdrawing their balances.

That’s very interesting, because so far, its accounts have been designed to do the opposite, which is why a lot of poor people don’t have bank accounts in the first place.

BofA’s public campaign showing us its touchy-feely side involves asking low-income people to create collages representing their emotions about money. One image shows a woman who appears to be naked wearing nothing but words like “power,” “want” and “desire” scrawled across her skin.

Other banks like JPMorgan, are following suit with lower-cost prepaid debit cards, checking accounts and whatnot. As the Times points out, it’s a bit difficult to start cheering:

"It is hard not to be skeptical, particularly because the banks, most recently in the subprime housing crisis, have traditionally wrung vast profits from some of these same customers, who paid steep rates for loans and high fees on basic checking accounts.”

You can say that again.

So here’s the real deal. Under the scrutiny of regulators, these banks have gotten cautious, so they’re trotting out a couple of products that are somewhat less rapacious than their normal fare (nonsensical fees still apply, they’re just lower). We’re guessing that the minute the regulators turn the other way, many of these targeted low-income customers will find themselves hit by some unexpected fee hikes that will send them right back where they came from, the land of the unbanked.

That’s how things roll in the oliogopoly that is the American banking system, where customers have the illusion of choice, but in reality face an industry dominated by a few gigantic players who decide how much abuse they can get away with at any given time. Bank of America is sort of like the lead dog in a small pack of rabid animals constantly scouring the landscape for prey. Whatever it signals, the rest will do, and the most vulnerable customers will be ripped, chewed and spit out.  

According to Mehrsa Baradaran, an assistant law professor at the University of Georgia, more than one out of four Americans either don’t have a bank account or do have one, but primarily rely on unscrupulous check-cashing storefronts, payday lenders, title lenders, or pawnshops to survive. In her view, the best option for them would be to do their banking through the U.S. postal system. Elizabeth Warren, and many other progressives, have gotten on board with this idea.

Sounds kind of odd, until you consider that the post office comes with several advantages and an infrastructure that makes it uniquely suited to this role. For example, it has branches in many low-income neighborhoods that were long ago abandoned by private banks. Also, people have a sense of familiarity and comfort with the postal service that they will never have with the likes of BofA or JPMorgan. Post offices already offer financial services like money orders, and postal banks could add things like savings accounts, debit cards and even simple loans, without relying on a profit model that takes advantage of people.

This is not a new idea. Baradaran notes that in 1910, President William Howard Taft created a government-backed postal savings system for recent immigrants and the poor, which lasted until 1967. Unfortunately, times changed as private banks got bigger and more powerful, and the poor were pretty much thrown to the financial wolves:

“By the 1990s, there were essentially two forms of banking: regulated and insured mainstream banks to serve the needs of the wealthy and middle class, and a Wild West of unregulated payday lenders and check-cashing joints that answer the needs of the poor — at a price.”

In a world in which cash is increasingly becoming obsolete, the poor urgently need financial services. But believing that giant banks operating in oligopolistic conditions and thinking of little beyond profit maximization are the answer is nothing more than a fairy tale. One that ends badly for those who can least afford to lose.

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Open Letter by 50 Israeli Army Reservists on Why They Refuse to Fight in Gaza

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:35
Fifty reservists express opposition to the Israeli military apparatus, the war in Gaza and the conscription law.

Whenever the Israeli army drafts the reserves—which are made up of ex-soldiers—there are dissenters, resisters, and AWOLers among the troops called to war. Now that Israel has sent troops to Gaza again and reserves are being summoned to service, dozens are refusing to take part.

We are more than 50 Israelis who were once soldiers and now declare our refusal to be part of the reserves. We oppose the Israeli Army and the conscription law. Partly, that’s because we revile the current military operation. But most of the signers below are women and would not have fought in combat. For us, the army is flawed for reasons far broader than “Operation Protective Edge,” or even the occupation. We rue the militarization of Israel and the army’s discriminatory policies.

One example is the way women are often relegated to low-ranking secretarial positions. Another is the screening system that discriminates against Mizrachi (Jews whose families originate in Arab countries) by keeping them from being fairly represented inside the army’s most prestigious units. In Israeli society, one’s unit and position determine much of one’s professional path in the civilian afterlife.

To us, the current military operation and the way militarization affects Israeli society are inseparable. In Israel, war is not merely politics by other means—it replaces politics. Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard.

This petition, long in the making, has a special urgency because of the brutal military operation now taking place in our name. And although combat soldiers are generally the ones prosecuting today’s war, their work would not be possible without the many administrative roles in which most of us served. So if there is a reason to oppose combat operations in Gaza, there is also a reason to oppose the Israeli military apparatus as a whole. That is the message of this petition:

*      *      *

We were soldiers in a wide variety of units and positions in the Israeli military—a fact we now regret, because, in our service, we found that troops who operate in the occupied territories aren’t the only ones enforcing the mechanisms of control over Palestinian lives. In truth, the entire military is implicated. For that reason, we now refuse to participate in our reserve duties, and we support all those who resist being called to service.

The Israeli Army, a fundamental part of Israelis’ lives, is also the power that rules over the Palestinians living in the territories occupied in 1967. As long as it exists in its current structure, its language and mindset control us: We divide the world into good and evil according to the military’s categories; the military serves as the leading authority on who is valued more and who less in society—who is more responsible for the occupation, who is allowed to vocalize their resistance to it and who isn’t, and how they are allowed to do it. The military plays a central role in every action plan and proposal discussed in the national conversation, which explains the absence of any real argument about non-military solutions to the conflicts Israel has been locked in with its neighbors.

The Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are deprived of civil rights and human rights. They live under a different legal system from their Jewish neighbors. This is not exclusively the fault of soldiers who operate in these territories. Those troops are, therefore, not the only ones obligated to refuse. Many of us served in logistical and bureaucratic support roles; there, we found that the entire military helps implement the oppression of the Palestinians.

Many soldiers who serve in non-combat roles decline to resist because they believe their actions, often routine and banal, are remote from the violent results elsewhere. And actions that aren’t banal—for example, decisions about the life or death of Palestinians made in offices many kilometers away from the West Bank—are classified, and so it’s difficult to have a public debate about them. Unfortunately, we did not always refuse to perform the tasks we were charged with, and in that way we, too, contributed to the violent actions of the military.

During our time in the army, we witnessed (or participated in) the military’s discriminatory behavior: the structural discrimination against women, which begins with the initial screening and assignment of roles; the sexual harassment that was a daily reality for some of us; the immigration absorption centers that depend on uniformed military assistance. Some of us also saw firsthand how the bureaucracy deliberately funnels technical students into technical positions, without giving them the opportunity to serve in other roles. We were placed into training courses among people who looked and sounded like us, rather than the mixing and socializing that the army claims to do.

The military tries to present itself as an institution that enables social mobility—a stepping-stone into Israeli society. In reality, it perpetuates segregation. We believe it is not accidental that those who come from middle- and high- income families land in elite intelligence units, and from there often go to work for high-paying technology companies. We think it is not accidental that when soldiers from a firearm maintenance or quartermaster unit desert or leave the military, often driven by the need to financially support their families, they are called “draft-dodgers.” The military enshrines an image of the “good Israeli,” who in reality derives his power by subjugating others. The central place of the military in Israeli society, and this ideal image it creates, work together to erase the cultures and struggles of the Mizrachi, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Russians, Druze, the Ultra-Orthodox, Bedouins, and women.

We all participated, on one level or another, in this ideology and took part in the game of the "good Israeli” that serves the military loyally. Mostly our service did advance our positions in universities and the labor market. We made connections and benefited from the warm embrace of the Israeli consensus. But for the above reasons, these benefits were not worth the costs.

By law, some of us are still registered as part of the reserved forces (others have managed to win exemptions or have been granted them upon their release), and the military keeps our names and personal information, as well as the legal option to order us to “service.” But we will not participate—in any way.

There are many reasons people refuse to serve in the Israeli Army. Even we have differences in background and motivation about why we’ve written this letter. Nevertheless, against attacks on those who resist conscription, we support the resisters: the high school students who wrote a refusal declaration letter, the Ultra orthodox protesting the new conscription law, the Druze refusers, and all those whose conscience, personal situation, or economic well-being do not allow them to serve. Under the guise of a conversation about equality, these people are forced to pay the price. No more.

Yael Even Or

Efrat Even Tzur

Tal Aberman

Klil Agassi

Ofri Ilany

Eran Efrati

Dalit Baum

Roi Basha

Liat Bolzman

Lior Ben-Eliahu

Peleg Bar-Sapir

Moran Barir

Yotam Gidron

Maya Guttman

Gal Gvili

Namer Golan

Nirith Ben Horin

Uri Gordon

Yonatan N. Gez

Bosmat Gal

Or Glicklich

Erez Garnai

Diana Dolev

Sharon Dolev

Ariel Handel

Shira Hertzanu

Erez Wohl

Imri Havivi

Gal Chen

Shir Cohen

Gal Katz

Menachem Livne

Amir Livne Bar-on

Gilad Liberman

Dafna Lichtman

Yael Meiry

Amit Meyer

Maya Michaeli

Orian Michaeli

Shira Makin

Chen Misgav

Naama Nagar

Inbal Sinai

Kela Sappir

Shachaf Polakow

Avner Fitterman

Tom Pessah

Nadav Frankovitz

Tamar Kedem

Amnon Keren

Eyal Rozenberg

Guy Ron-Gilboa

Noa Shauer

Avi Shavit

Jen Shuka

Chen Tamir

The petition for Israeli soldiers and reservists is located at Lo-Meshartot.org.

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Why 2014 Is a Major Election Year for Marijuana Reform

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 15:35
Voters nationwide could radically alter marijuana policy this November.

Voters in several states and municipalities nationwide will head to the polls this November and decide whether or not to radically alter the way many parts of America deal with pot.
 
Voters in three states – Alaska, Florida, and Oregon – will decide on statewide measures seeking to legalize marijuana use and commerce. In addition, voters in the District of Columbia and in various other cities will decide on municipal measures seeking to depenalize the plant’s possession and consumption by adults.
 
Statewide Proposals:

Alaska

Come November, Colorado and Washington may no longer be the only places in the United States where marijuana is legal for purchase by anyone over the age of 21. Alaska voters on November 4th will decide on Measure 2: “An Act to tax and regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana.” The ballot initiative seeks to allow for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults while simultaneously regulating and taxing the commercial production and retail sales of the plant. 
 
Under the proposal, a person age 21 or older may legally possess or transfer without remuneration up to one ounce of cannabis. Adults would also be permitted to cultivate up to six marijuana plants (only three of which may be mature at any one time) for non-commercial purposes. Commercial cannabis enterprises will be subject to oversight by the state Department of Commerce, which has up to nine months following the measure’s passage to adopt rules to allow for the licensed production and retail sale of the plant.
 
As is the case in Colorado and Washington, public consumption will remain a violation – albeit a noncriminal one – under state law.  Local governments will also possess authority under the law to enact moratoriums on commercial cannabis enterprises if they desire to do so. (Both Colorado and Washington impose similar local controls.)
 
According to a statewide Public Policy Polling survey, Alaska voters "think (that) marijuana should be legally allowed for recreational use, that stores should be allowed to sell it, and that its sales should be taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol" by a margin of 55 to 39 percent. This majority support is hardly surprising. Alaska’s high court has allowed for the private possession and cultivation of small quantities of cannabis since the mid-1970s, and in 1998, 58 percent of voters approved ballot language permitting qualified patients to grow and use the plant.

Florida

Sunshine State voters will decide this November on Amendment 2, which seeks to permit for the physician-authorized possession and state-licensed distribution of cannabis. Because the proposal seeks to amend the state constitution, support from over 60 percent of state voters is necessary for the amendment to become law.
 
If passed, the amendment would allow for a physician to recommend cannabis therapy to any patient at his or her discretion. However, neither qualified patients (nor their designated caregivers) would be permitted to cultivate cannabis. Rather, the proposal authorizes the state Department of Health to determine rules within six-months following the act’s passage for the registration of ‘Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers’ (dispensaries), which would be authorized to cultivate, process, and sell medicinal cannabis and other related products. If regulators not begin registering these facilities within this time frame, “any Florida citizen shall have standing to seek judicial relief to compel compliance with the Department’s constitutional duties,” the measure states.
 
Despite coordinated opposition by the Florida Sheriff’s Association, former Reagan anti-drug aide Carlton Turner (who once infamously claimed that marijuana smoking leads to homosexuality and “therefore to AIDS”), and gambling mogul Sheldon Anderson (who recently donated $2.5 million to defeat the measure), public support for Amendment 2 remains high. According to a May 2014 Quinnipiac University poll, 88 percent of Florida voters support the medical use of marijuana when authorized by a physician. 
 
Oregon

Like Alaska’s Measure 2, Oregon’s initiative (Initiative Petition 53) similarly seeks to authorize both the personal use of cannabis as well as the plant’s retail production and sale. Under the plan, adults who engage in the non-commercial cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis for personal use (up to four marijuana plants and eight ounces of usable marijuana at a given time) will not be subject to taxation or commercial regulations. Commercial producers and retailers will require state licensing (available at a $1,000 per year annual fee), but retail sales will not be subject to special taxes or fees, as is the case presently in Colorado and Washington.

Will the second time be the charm for Oregon? Possibly. Although a broader, less funded measure gained only 47 percent of the vote in 2012, recent statewide polling on the issue finds that a slight majority of Oregonians (51 percent) support legalizing pot for recreational purposes. 
 
Municipal Measures:

District of Columbia

Earlier this month, proponents of a District initiative to permit the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by those age 21 or older turned in 57,000 signatures to the DC Board of Elections. The number is more the twice the total of signatures from registered voters necessary to place the measure on the 2014 electoral ballot. District of Columbia election officials have until mid-August to certify the measure for the ballot.
 
The proposed measure (Initiative Measure 71) seeks to remove all criminal and civil penalties pertaining to the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants (no more than three mature at any one time). Adults who engage in the not-for-profit transfer of cannabis or who possess marijuana related paraphernalia will also no longer be subject to penalty. The measure further states, “[N]o district government agency or office shall limit or refuse to provide any facility service, program or benefit to any person based upon or by reason of conduct that is made lawful by this subsection.”
 
Though supported by a solid majority of District voters, the measure still faces an uphill battle. Even if approved by voters this fall, members of the DC City Council still possess the authority to amend the measure. Members of Congress could also thwart the process since all District regulations are subject to Congressional review prior to their implementation.  Finally, pending Congressional legislation that seeks to prevent DC from imposing any laws reducing the regions marijuana penalties also remains pending in the US House of Representatives.
 
Other municipal measures

Voters in numerous other cities will have the opportunity in November to decide on local measures seeking to depenalize marijuana. In Michigan, local activists are gathering signatures for municipal measures in over a dozen cities, including Saginaw and East Lansing, which would eliminate local laws outlawing the simple possession of marijuana by adults. (Voters in Detroit and five other Michigan cities have already approved similar citizens’ initiatives in recent years.) In Maine, voters in the cities of Lewiston, South Portland, and York will vote on similar measures. (Nearly 70 percent of Portland voters approved a similar proposal last year.) Reform groups are contemplating 2016 statewide campaigns in both states.
 
Finally, in New Mexico, activists are seeking to place a pair of depenalization measures on the municipal ballots in Albuquerque and in Santa Fe. If enacted, the proposals would amend local laws to reduce the penalty for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana (and/or marijuana-associated paraphernalia) to a civil infraction punishable by no more than a $25 fine.

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The Most Harrowing, Heart-Breaking Dispatches from Palestinians in Gaza

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 12:54
Palestinians in Gaza are using social media to connect with the outside world they are cut off from.

As Israeli forces bombard the Gaza Strip by air, land, and sea, some 1.8 million Palestinians are largely stuck inside their homes, shaken by relentless explosions, wondering if and when their turn to die will come. When death does strike, international media will recalculate the tally of the dead, dropping names if those in question are old or children, but otherwise leave untold the stories of their time alive on the crowded sliver of land they called home. Isolated and with nowhere to flee, many Palestinians in Gaza use social media to make an otherwise-impossible connection with the outside world, carving out virtual space for their existence while their physical surroundings implode in their midst.

"I tweet, therefore I am,” writes 24-year-old Muhammed Suliman. Under the bombs, tweets are a way for Muhammed to notify himself and others that he has survived the offensive thus far.

I read names of victims killed yesterday. I hope I won't recognize any. I don't. I close my eyes to sleep. A missile fall. A blast. A tweet.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 14, 2014

When Israel began its latest large-scale aerial offensive on Gaza on July 7, Muhammad switched from mostly Arabic-language tweets to exclusively English, and started contributing to online discourse on the conflict as a commentator. These early tweets leave out the first person, discussing the situation in general. But on the third day of the assault, as the death toll passes 70, something in Muhammed’s tone changes. His Twitter feed becomes a sort of diary, a poetic outpouring in the face of fear, a human response reflecting the uncertainty of survival.

I sit near a window, next to my wife who finally fell asleep. I hear drones buzzing overhead coupled with birds chirping. I anticipate a blast

The blast has come. Sooner than I thought. War experience enables you to expect next blast. I extend my hand to my wife, and she takes it.

Muhammed’s tweets become a narration of his life and the lives and deaths of other Palestinians in Gaza. His feed reads like a nail-biting and heart-pumping novel, or a collection of visceral haikus, only this isn’t literature but a compressed report of Muhammed’s observations, thoughts, and feelings. Real apocalyptic scenes squeezed through the filter of social media.

Petrified, my ears buzz and don't seem to recover. Leila's stomach starts hurting. Each blast sounds louder and more horrifying. Death nears

I've lost my words. Bombs rain down on my area. Behind the dining table, Leila and I sit close to each other. Death is what we are tweeting.

On other days, Muhammed’s fears subside or at least are allowed to be morphed into dark comedy. The World Cup, which is about to start its semi-final matches as the air offensive begins, provides a distraction for the bombs, something to think about besides impending death. Until a beach cafe full of soccer fans is bombed by Israel, killing eight, seemingly all civilians.

Israel's bombardment of Gaza is similar to Germany thrashing Brazil in the semi finals. Think of Palestinian violence as Brazil's one goal.

8 killed while watching the World Cup semi final. They surely ruled out the possibility of being targeted. We're not a threat, they thought.

Muhammed tweets stories that are only reported otherwise in international media as numbers, the only notable exceptions being the above and the case of four children being bombed on a beach, which he tweets about as well. 

Anas, 17, posts on Facebook, 'I'm too tired, shell our home so I can get some sleep.' A while later, his home is shelled. He sleeps forever.

Yasser receives a call from IDF. Evacuate in ten minutes. He wasn't home though. His family was. Hysterically, he phoned home. No one picked

Amir, 12, and Mohammed. 10, want to buy yogurt. Things are calm, they tell their mom. They leave the house. A blast is heard. They're dead.

I look at pictures of brothers Amir and Mohammed wrapped in white shroud stained with their blood. I feel dizzy. War is a nightmare.

In a hospital room, dad cries in agony over the body of his baby son. Holding him in his hands, he tearfully cries: Wake up, I got you a toy

Group of children go to the sea, escaping the bombs. They swim and play, mindless of Israeli warships off shore. Missiles hit them. Four die

Even through all this terror, Muhammed remains free of bloodlust. His humility and gentleness is astounding. When the first Israeli dies on the 10th day, after nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed, Muhammed tweets about it. He is not one to “blame both sides” — the conflict is not a balanced one and there is a clear oppressor and oppressed — but he values all human life.

Some Israelis wish me death. I might die. But I wish no death unto you. I want us both to live. Live together as equals in this country.

The terrifying truth is that Muhammed may in fact die, and the only way for his followers to know that he is still alive is to wait for his next tweet. Tweeting about death here is not overly fatalistic or hypothetical. Death is a very real possibility. A shadow looming over life. Muhammed’s death would be felt deeply not only by his family and friends and acquaintances, but by his followers on Twitter.

I look forward to surviving. If I don't, remember that I wasn't Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield. I was at home.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 20, 2014

Another social media user offers a window into the mind of a creative child trapped in the center of bombardment. Muhammad Qareeqe is a talented 13-year-old Palestinian artist from the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, and like many other kids his age around the world, he’s obsessed with Facebook. Prior to the current offensive, he’d post several times a day, promoting his art and showing off his boyhood cuteness, a kind of Gazan Justin Bieber with a paintbrush. 

Last time Israeli warplanes carried out a prolonged attack on Gaza, Muhammad was 11. The time before that, he was 9. He was born during the Second Intifada. Through the wars and in the face of the economic blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007, Muhammad has developed a seemingly innate talent for painting and drawing. He has also developed a thousands-strong fan base inside and outside of Gaza via social media. 

Most days during the last period of calm, Muhammad would start his day with a warm “good morning” Facebook post and end it with a goodnight post, along with pictures of himself being cute, garnering scores of likes. In between, he’d usually post smiley-face-heavy updates on his latest work or random thoughts on life. But ever since the bombs started falling in Gaza and didn’t stop, his social media presence has changed.

He posts a picture he drew of an Israeli warplane bombing a Palestinian house. “This is a scene from Gaza,” he says. “Bombing for ‘security.’ The homes of citizens. Targets for the world’s most despicable army.”

Another post says simply: “Patience, patience. Perseverance, perseverance.”

“I drew this because the bombing doesn’t have mercy on trees or humans, or even birds,” Muhammad writes in a post of his drawing of a fallen sparrow.

 

As hospitals and morgues overflow, Muhammad provides a distraction for himself and other children whose lives and psychological well-beings are at risk under the bombs. He gives an art lesson to the neighborhood boys and girls and posts about it on Facebook. In the pictures he includes of the session, his features seem to have changed—his smile not quite what it used to be, his hair curly and wild where it had before been carefully tamed. His arms with a tinge of muscle. As if he’s grown.

On the tenth day of the offensive, Israeli troops begin a large-scale ground operation in Gaza. The death toll spikes, nearly doubling in just 72 hours. Late Saturday and overnight, myriad warplanes buzz over Muhammad’s own Shajaiyeh neighborhood, spewing explosives every few seconds. Small arms fire can be heard in the distance as militants face off with soldiers. Muhammad's goodnight post is that of an orange sky lit not by sunlight but by Israeli bombs. “#Here_is_Shajaiyeh,” the post says. No goodnight wishes. There is nothing good about this night, which a Norwegian doctor at a nearby hospital has called “a real massacre” and “the worst night of my life.

Muhammad survives the night, though at least 66 Palestinians, more than a dozen of them children, do not. He and his family flee Shajaiyeh for central Gaza City in the morning, Facebook users find out as he posts again: “We survived death, though our hearts are dying longingly. We are now in central Gaza City without electricity or any of life’s necessities.” 

And later: “I can’t respond to your messages. What I saw today is making conversation impossible.”

Both Muhammads continue to tell their stories online as the bombs fall around them and the death toll surpasses 600. Their existences have been marked. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the victims’ stories remain largely untold or unacknowledged. The steadfast, raised voices of survivors therefore become all the more profound. Through social media, many young Palestinians — smart and talented and artistic people like Muhammad Qareeqe and Muhammed Suliman — are making their stories available, reminding themselves and others they are still alive.

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Whole Foods' Yogurt Is A Sugary Mess

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 11:16
A new test reveals Whole Foods' yogurt has more than five times the sugar listed on their label.

Whole Foods has stringent guidelines for anything placed on its shelves such as no products with high-fructose corn syrup or artificial colors. But according to a recent Consumer Reports test, Whole Foods has falsely advertised the amount of sugar in its 8-ounce Greek yogurt.

Through a series of tests, Consumer Reports found Whole Foods 365 Every Day Value Plain Fat-Free Greek Yogurt contained more than triple, and sometimes five times more, the 2 grams of sugar listed on its label. After analyzing six samples from six different lots they found “an average of 11.4 grams per serving.”

Even though all yogurts, including plain, contain the naturally occurring sugar lactose, it still didn't make sense. The yogurt lists 16 grams of carbohydrates per serving on its package and lactose “provides the vast majority of carbs in yogurt.” They concluded?  The numbers don't "add up.”

This isn't the first time Whole Foods' yogurts have been fact checked. In another test, Good Housekeeping said Whole Foods' yogurt's calcium content sounded too good to be true. In their own test they discovered the 365 Nonfat Greek Yogurt contained nearly 100 milligrams less than its purported calcium content, from 600 to 500 milligrams. Still, they added, it's within the legal 20% margin of allowance.

Whole Foods was understandly thrown off by Consumer Reports' findings and told them: “We are working with our vendor to understand the testing results you have provided. They are not consistent with testing results we have relied upon from reputable third ­party labs. We take this issue seriously and are investigating the matter, and will of course take corrective action if any is warranted.”

 

 

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NRA Floats Idea of Kids Needing to Show Gun Proficiency to Advance to the Next Grade

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:21
NRA: "What if instead of gun-free zones, we had gun-required zones?"

A new commentary video from the National Rifle Association suggests we can live up to the Founding Fathers' ideals by creating "gun-required zones," and making gun training for children "necessary to advance to the next grade."

In a July 21 NRA News video titled "Everyone Gets A Gun," NRA News commentator Billy Johnson said, "We don't have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy" that is based on "the assumption that we need to protect people from guns" and "that guns are bad or dangerous."

Instead Johnson wondered what gun policies the United States would have "if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns -- that guns make people's lives better." Johnson then made the following recommendations that would "encourage" and might "reward" people "to keep and bear arms at all times."

  • Johnson wondered, "What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?"
  • He imagined a compulsory education system that would require children to become proficient with firearms, just like "reading and writing," even "if they didn't want to learn" in order to advance in school: "Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we'd give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn't matter if a child's parents weren't good at it. We'd find them a mentor. It wouldn't matter if they didn't want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade."
  • Like "education, healthcare, food, [and] retirement," Johnson suggested that gun ownership be subject to a government subsidies, either through "government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition."

According to Johnson, "Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech." While acknowledging that his ideas may be seen as "ridiculous," -- even by "Second Amendment advocates" -- he argued his proposal "does justice to [the Founding Fathers] intentions."

Johnson's video was published as part of the NRA's recent efforts to appeal to a younger and more diverseaudience through its NRA News Commentator program and millennial-oriented NRA Freestyle online television network. The commentary videos have frequently featured bizarre and offensive content:

  • A July 18 commentary referenced the Holocaust to promote the baseless fear that the government will confiscate lawfully held private firearms.
  • A July 7 commentary claimed that laws regulating gun ownership are "equally as unconstitutional" as Jim Crow laws.
  • A June 30 commentary insisted that the media stop calling a man who used a gun to injure or kill 11 of his 19 victims during a May 23 rampage in Isla Vista, California, a "gunman" or "shooter" because several other people were killed and injured by means other than a gun during the attack.
  • A May 30 commentary warned viewers of a "trick" where media figures "race to label anything with a gun as a shooting, because they know how much more attention they are going to get with that word."

Full transcript of Johnson's July 21 commentary:

JOHNSON: As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let's be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.

As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.

As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.

The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it's common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.

But we don't spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don't have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns -- that guns make people's lives better. Let's consider that for a minute.

Gun policy driven by people's need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?

Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we'd give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn't matter if a child's parents weren't good at it. We'd find them a mentor. It wouldn't matter if they didn't want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.

Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That's why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can't fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need. 

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8 Surprising Celebrities Outraged by Israel's Assault on Gaza

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:07
The growing number of stars speaking out signals that mainstream American opinion is shifting on Israel.

Hollywood is not known as a bastion of pro-Palestinian sentiment. There has not been any hugely successful mainstream, major motion picture that accurately depicts the plight of Palestinians. Actress Vanessa Redgrave was harshly condemned for her remarks that criticized Israel in the 1970s.

But that may be changing. Since Israel’s most recent assault on the Gaza Strip began 15 days ago, a growing number of celebrities in the television and movie business and other fields have spoken out, mostly on social media, about Israeli attacks. Their missives have been amplified by their audiences who retweet and share the critical messages.

The images of dead Palestinian civilians, including many innocent men, women and children, is badly damaging Israel’s largely positive image in the United States. And while the U.S. government is still staunchly supporting the attack on Gaza, which has killed more than 600 people, the growing number of celebrities speaking out in protest may signal that mainstream American opinion is shifting--albeit slowly--towards more sympathy for Palestine. That could have an important impact on discourse and U.S. policy towards Israel in the long-run.

Here’s a rundown of 8 celebrities who have recently expressed outrage or skepticism at the Israeli assault.

1. Selena Gomez. The 22-year-old actress and singer has appeared in popular movies for children like Spy Kids and was a guest star on the TV show Hannah Montana. She also attracted attention for dating pop star Justin Bieber.

On July 18th, she attracted attention for a starkly different reason: an Instagram post that read:“It’s about humanity. Pray for Gaza.” A firestorm erupted around her, with celebrity news site TMZ asking whether Gomez was “pro-Hamas.” Unlike other stars--Rihanna and NBA player Dwight Howard--she did not delete her message, though she followed up on it with another Instagram post that read: “And of course to be clear, I am not picking any sides. I am praying for peace and humanity for all!”

2. Jon Stewart.While the “Daily Show” host hasn’t exactly expressed outright criticism of Israel’s attack, his episode last week addressed the notion that the people of Gaza should evacuate to safety. “Evacuate to where? Have you fucking seen Gaza? Israel blocked this border, Egypt blocked this border. What, are you supposed to swim for it?”

Stewart followed up on that segment with another one this week that pointed out the deeply contentious nature of criticizing Israel. In the segment, right after Stewart mentioned Israel, “Daily Show” correspondents started screaming at him and attacking him, with one calling him a “self-hating Jew.”

3. Rob Schneider. This movie star and comedian has sent out messages on Twitter deploring the impact that Israel’s assault has had on the civilians in Gaza. “The ugly inhuman siege of Gaza has had it's deadliest day today,” he wrote on July 20. The next day, he said: “To not be outraged at the killing of children is to risk your very soul. #Gaza.”

4. Rosie O’Donnell.The big news about Rosie is that she’s returning to ABC’s “The View.” But her return to the limelight hasn’t meant that she has stepped away from voicing political opinions.

On July 22, she retweeted a message sent by this reporter broadcasting an act of civil disobedience carried out by Jewish New Yorkers outraged at Israel’s attacks on Gaza. She also sent out a few of her own messages on Gaza the same day. One linked to an interview where Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, who told ABC: “It’s nothing short of a massacre, a deliberate massacre. War crimes committed daily. But now there is a deliberate shelling and bombing and destruction of whole areas, of residential areas.”

Another said: “thank u jonathan demme,” with a link to that Oscar-winning director’s comments criticizing Israel.

5. Mia Farrow. This mega-celebrity is everywhere. She’s a UNICEF ambassador, was named as one of the most influential people in the world by TIME and has been in numerous films.

She has broadcast many messages of support for the people of Gaza since the operation began through her Twitter account. Most of them document the civilian toll the assault on Gaza is taking. “Ambulances are supposed to be protected in conflict zones but Israel has hit 10 and bombed 2 hospitals,” one message sent yesterday read.

6. Mark Ruffalo.This actor appeared in the movie The Avengers in 2012, playing the Marvel Comics character The Hulk, and has played roles in many other films. He’s also a well-known activist who particularly focuses on the harmful effects of fracking. But he’s also speaking out on Palestine.

On July 17, he tweeted: “Israel destroys el-Wafa hospital as staff evacuates all patientshttp://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/hospital-evacuate-patients.html …” In response to criticism of that post, he doubled-down: “Sorry, I thought blowing up Hospitals was something that all human beings could agree was off limits.”

7. John Cusack.This actor has never shied away from politics--and Gaza is no exception. On July 19th, he tweeted this resolute message: “I have been to Israel and Palestine &bombing civilians is not self defense.”

8. Anthony Bourdain. The celebrity chef and foodie first visited the Gaza Strip last year for his CNN show, and the result was a deeply humanizing portrait of the Palestinian people and their food and culture. He has since followed up on that with statements in support of Palestine.

One of the most devastating attacks in Gaza occurred last week, when four Palestinian boys playing soccer on a beach were killed by an Israeli strike. The New York Times’ Tyler Hicks published a widely-circulated photo of a Palestinian rescuring an injured civilian while one of the dead boys lay on the beach. Bourdain tweeted that photo and said: “Maybe it’s the fact that I walked on that beach—and have a small child that makes this photo so devastating.  #Gaza.”

Or maybe, it's just being a human being.

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Rich Urban Mom Addicts Get Sobriety Coaches; Poor Moms Get Jail

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:36
In America, addiction is judged through the lens of class.

Sobriety coaches rake in big bucks to keep 1 percenters off their substance of choice. A-listers are so busy, after all, and treatment centers are both time-consuming and detrimental to privacy. Even when the wealthy do benefit from these centers, their newfound sobriety often doesn’t outlast the first weekend home alone.

Enter one of the most lucrative jobs in the therapy business.

If you’re a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan, a trust-fund baby, or perhaps a Wall Streeter with a problem, your sobriety coach will accompany you to social events, sometimes posing as a yoga teacher or life coach, to keep you from popping a pill or snorting a line. She will pry the drink out of your fingers at weddings and polo matches. She will even move into your house to keep you from falling off the wagon.

A recent report in the New York Times, “Mothers Find a Helping Hand in Sobriety Coaches,” profiled wealthy Manhattan moms addicted to prescription painkillers and cocaine who finally got clean with the help of a paid personal sobriety trainer.

Citing the difficulties of being an urban mom striving to be thin, rich and successful, the Times story applauds these well-heeled women who have kicked the habit with the aid of a high-priced babysitter. Unlike the Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who comes for free, a $1,000-a-day pricetag for a coach is not unusual. Terms like the “new Pilates instructor” or the “new fashion statement” are often used to describe these gold-plated companions. The company Sober Champion offers to “stay with you 24/7, helping protect your investment in yourself. Just like a full-time guardian angel.”

The report features the tale of Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choos and mother of a toddler, who battled a serious coke habit unsuccessfully until she found recovery coach Martin Freeman, whom she keeps on retainer in case she needs to be talked out of a late-night craving.

The Times cheers these women for finding their guardian angels and kicking the habit. But what happens to moms with addictions in less affluent circumstances?

In Tennessee, 26-year-old Mallory Loyola, a meth addict, recently became the first person arrested under a new state law that classifies taking illegal drugs while pregnant as an assault. Instead of recovering from childbirth and receiving proper medical care, Loyola was hauled off to jail, where she was later released on bond.

If her baby had died, Loyola could have been charged with homicide under the law. 

Tennessee is not the only place where this madness is happening. Over-zealous Alabama prosecutors are also slapping drug-addicted mothers with criminal charges. If you were a pregnant mom with a drug problem, would you want to go to the doctor to care for yourself and your pregnancy if you feared criminal charges? I’m guessing no, so both you and your fetus will not receive proper care.

If you’re a rich mom, addiction is a health issue. If you’re poor, rural, or a person of color, addiction is a crime. Women at the lower rungs of the economic ladder can have their children taken away if they are found to be using drugs or are charged with child endangerment. They are branded as bad people who do not deserve our sympathy. The social stigma and fear of losing custody of their children will keep many of these women from getting the help they need. Many will wind up in prison, with their families ripped apart and their chances of getting a job, education, or decent housing destroyed.

Does Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo fame fear a visit from social services or cops after announcing that she is the coke-addicted mother of a toddler? Very doubtful. And she certainly doesn't have to worry about prison.

The number of women incarcerated in the U.S. has skyrocketed by over 800 percent over the last three decades, and two-thirds of them are locked up for nonviolent offenses, many of which are drug-related. The correctional system was never set up for substance abuse treatment. Many addicted women can still get access to drugs while incarcerated, and medical care is often notoriously bad. No sobriety coaches to be found.

This is just another example of America, the land of inequality, where a two-tiered justice system and wildly divergent social standards create a situation in which the same behavior will earn you either draconian punishment or gentle pampering, depending on the size of your bank account.

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Clueless Rich Kids on the Rise: How Millennial Aristocrats Will Destroy Our Future

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:32
Today's wealthy are far more likely to have inherited their fortunes. Here's why that's going to doom our politics.

Prevailing neoliberal ideology, which perverts capitalism as an economic system into capitalism as an unyielding political ideology, lurks in the shadows of almost every major issue in America, though nowhere is its influence more obvious or profound than in the spiraling rise of income and wealth inequality today.

When Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” was first released in English, it followed the Culture War Playbook to perfection: First came the triumphant plaudits from like-minded thinkers, followed shortly by the hasty rebuttals of their ideological opponents, followed themselves by a torrent of commentary from pundits left and right who skimmed the book before adding their own two cents. Soon, there was the predictable “unskewing” by the right, after which came the fact-checking of the “unskewers” on the left… at which point the whole process had reached its inevitable conclusion. High-traffic angles fully juiced, our treadmill news cycle moved on to the next plank in our bitter, pointless culture clash, what author William Gibson has termed our “cold civil war.”

So it goes.

What’s so interesting about this Kabuki dance is just how few commentators at the time bothered to note that Piketty’s findings were never particularly controversial or groundbreaking. Piketty’s book became such a sensation on the left precisely because it gave weight to what anyone with a pair of eyes in the real world (i.e., not Lower Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or Silicon Valley) can already plainly see: Wealth inequality grows each and every day, while the middle class keeps getting pummeled by this Glorious Free Enterprise System. What used to be good, stable jobs are converted into temp positions or contract work — automated, downsized or simply eliminated entirely, they’re replaced in the labor market by the worst-paying, most utterly dehumanizing low-wage gigs that our much ballyhooed “job creators” can imagine and implement.

The consequences for our democracy and our economy are perilous and unlikely to be easily remedied.

Whether or not one is generally convinced by Piketty’s thesis that r > g (or more plainly, that capital tends to grow at a faster rate than income without some form of outside intervention), it should be plain that in our system, the stage has been uniquely well-set for the unbridled expansion of wealth that his book describes. When the effective tax rates are lower for capital gains than for the incomes of the less affluent; when political processes are legally corrupted and circumvented for a price; when regulatory agencies are gutted, stalled, or simply staffed with careerists eager to make their way through the revolving door — this is not a political or economic system likely to become less unequal over time.

Will this trend toward inequality continue? According to “U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth,” a recent survey of wealthy Americans that aims to “[shed] light on the direction and purpose of the more than $15 trillion that will be passed across generations in high-net-worth families over the next two decades,” it seems increasingly likely.

The survey, which polled 680 Americans holding at least $3 million in investable assets, unearthed a troubling trend — the birth of a new American aristocracy. As the survey notes, “Nearly three-quarters of those over 69, and 61% of Baby Boomers, were the first generation to accumulate significant wealth. Among the younger Millennial generation, inherited wealth is more common. About two-thirds are from families in which they are the second, third or fourth generation to be wealthy.” Now, it should be noted briefly that this survey relies on self-reporting, which makes these figures somewhat suspect. (More on this in a bit.) But consider two charts: The first shows the highest marginal tax rates on income and capital gains throughout the last hundred years, while the second outlines the estate tax rate during the same period.

(Credit: Catherine Mulbrandon/Visualizing Economics)
(Credit: Heritage Foundation)

It’s hard not to notice that sudden dip in both charts — right around the late ’70s and early ’80s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is when the oldest of the millennial generation’s new aristocrats were being born — into a world with far less taxation on capital gains, high incomes, and most crucially, inheritance.

In the coming years, how will this affect our society’s conception of wealth and the American Dream? How will it affect our politics?

Before we go any further, it should be noted that the wealth of the super-rich is notoriously hard to measure. Oftentimes, these individuals — having gained prominence in society due to their money and stature — have the means and the desire to hide the true extent of their fortunes. This is a big part of the reason that Piketty, along with fellow economists Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman et al., have gained such esteem for their research compiling wealth statistics from the last couple hundred years; it’s the most comprehensive collection of data on privately held wealth ever created. Their work is a departure from the self-reporting that studies like U.S. Trust’s have traditionally relied upon, and so I was curious as to how they might respond to these findings. I reached out to Professor Saez via email to see what he thought of these conclusions — despite their obvious shortcomings. “When this generation leaves its wealth to their children,” he agrees, “then indeed top wealth will become much more aristocratic. It’s possible that the U.S. Trust survey is already picking up this trend. Certainly, absent any significant increase in estate and gift taxation, this trend will accelerate in the near future.”

And right on cue, enter stage left — a fresh new wave of (many wealthy) millennial Congressional candidates. Enthusiastic and idealistic, these young Americans paradoxically promote a style of bland, Washington Consensus politics, what Pennsylvania House candidate (and proud millennial) Nick Troiano has billed “radical centrism.” As a generation generally lauded for our commitment to civil service, noted for our love of structure, and gently mocked for our aversion to risk-seeking, surely we must be the perfect generation to fix America’s broken politics… Right?

Unfortunately, probably not. Our political system, where the cost of running for national office is prohibitively high for candidates of any age, is almost certain to bend further and further toward affluent candidates in coming years. On its own, this is troubling enough as it threatens the credibility and productivity of our democracy. But when considering the political views of affluent millennials — and the rest of the generation more generally — an ominous trend emerges. Consider three graphs from a recent Reason survey, “Millennials: the Politically Unclaimed Generation.” According to every metric Reason examined, the famed liberalism of young Americans fades as soon as their bank accounts grow: 

The darkly comic silver lining here is that millennials aren’t gaining much wealth, so it’s not like we should expect some massive influx of Ayn Rand-loving hipsters in the upcoming years.

But the problem of inherited wealth remains.

Consider two current House Representatives born right on the edge of the millennial generation, Democrats Patrick Murphy (31) and Joseph Kennedy III (33). Their politics are quite divergent, but their individual circumstances are depressingly similar: Both are young white men from wealthy families who attended exclusive private schools starting at an early age. Patrick Murphy is a former Republican who switched parties to defeat conservative wacko Allen West (for which all Americans surely owe him a debt of gratitude). His politics might best be described as “smarmy,” a confusing hodgepodge of positions seemingly intended to appease his right-leaning Florida district. He’s pro-Keystone XL, pro-pointless Benghazi hearings and pro marriage equality. He says he supports “fiscal responsibility,” which is a nice way of saying that he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a center-right politician who wears a donkey pin on his lapel. He’s young enough to surely see the writing on the wall, to sense that the Republican brand is toxic to the majority of his generation.

Joseph Kennedy III’s politics are somewhat less objectionable, which only serves to underscore the deeper problems at play. A fifth generation politician, it seems fair to characterize Kennedy as the poster child of our new American aristocracy. Agreeing with his positions on some issues won’t change the underlying problem — a system that’s far too likely to keep all but the wealthiest voices out of political power.

With a few notable exceptions, the latest batch of millennial candidates aren’t any better. Almost universally children of wealth and privilege, most embrace some token aspects of social liberalism while hurrying to display their fiscally conservative bona fides. They represent the status quo of the affluent, the powerful — the inherited wisdom of a political class that has overseen decades of economic failure for all but the wealthiest among us. When compared with other candidates, most of their positions are uncontroversial — which only makes their grand pronouncements about changing Washington all the more disheartening. If these candidates are in any way representative of the next class of Americans who are both willing and able to run for national office (and I suspect that they are), they should give pause to anyone who thinks that a new generation is coming of age who will rescue our captured politics.

Up until now, Pennsylvania Independent Nick Troiano and Republican Mike Turner have received the bulk of the media’s attention. (Turner recently lost his primary bid despite outspending his opponent 3-1.) Troiano has been in the public eye for a while, most prominently as one of the founders of “The Can Kicks Back,” a tragicomic millennial astroturfing outfit that tried to sell billionaire debt-alarmist Pete Peterson’s ideological vision to young people (slashing entitlement programs so that his gazillionaire buddies won’t be forced to help shoulder the programs’ expanding costs). The Can Kicks Back has been a monumental failure; the group has struggled to stay solvent, characterized as ”nearly broke” by internal emails discovered by Politico reporter Byron Tau last February. But this is America, and kids from upper-class families and cushy private schools always manage to “fail up.” Rather than departing from politics or taking on a more humble role, Troiano has opted to foist his entitlement reform obsession upon the voters of Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional district. As for Mike Turner, at least he was honest about being a Republican: Turner’s campaign went viral recently when Mother Jones ran a story titled “This Millennial Bro Is Running for Congress Using the Family Trust Fund,” which is pretty much everything you need to know about former candidate Mike Turner.

Examining the full slate of the millennials running for Congress this term, a troubling trend emerges. Despite varying slightly on a number of other (mostly social) issues, the majority of these candidates display an almost monomaniacal obsession with “entitlement reform” and balancing the budget, as if that were the only long-term crisis facing young Americans. (It isn’tAt allEven a bit.)

Take Republican Weston Wamp (27), son of former Tennessee Rep. Zach Wamp (who once suggested that states might need to secede if Obamacare were passed). On his official website, “conservative but independent” Weston Wamp promotes “holding the federal government in check” and “promot[ing] free market principles.” He’s careful to skate around most of the social issues that his generation supports, such as marriage equality, climate change and the War on Drugs (and didn’t respond to a request for comment), though he notes his support for the “right to life and the right to bear arms.” According to recent FEC filings, the Wamp campaign has raised over half a million dollars as of this writing, with more than half of that bankroll coming from 110 individuals who contributed the legal maximum of $2,600.

Or consider Andrew Walter (32), Republican candidate for Arizona’s 9th District. A former quarterback for Arizona State and the Oakland Raiders and the founder of a senior secured business lending firm, Walter claims (falsely) that “our national debt is larger than our entire economy.” He then suggests that we “decrease the size of government,” “cut spending,” and that we add a Balanced Budget amendment to the Constitution, which is basically the worst idea ever. Walter has already raised $383,945 (and borrowed $100,000 more); half of that was provided by just 72 individuals who contributed the legal maximum.

How about Elise Stefanik (29), a New York Republican running for the House? A long-time D.C. insider and Harvard grad, Stefanik was raised by a family that owns a flooring company worth upwards of $50 million (per manta.com, h/t DailyKos). A consummate D.C. insider who’s now posing as a local small businesswoman, her campaign site is much more cagey than any of the other candidates I researched for this piece. She resorts to generalities when discussing most issues, but does tout “fiscal responsibility,” stressing the need to “balance the budget and pay down the national debt.” Stefanik has already raised a staggering $836,126 from a wide-ranging group of individuals, companies, PACs and party leadership.

Young Republican candidates Isaac Misiuk (25) and Marilinda Garcia (30) are also convinced of our oncoming debt disaster. At Maine’s 2014 State Republican Convention, Misiuk stated that “we must reduce spending and balance the budget.” Garcia follows much the same script, calling for ”entitlement reform,” the full repeal of Obamacare, and “a balanced budget amendment.” To be fair, unlike the rest of these candidates Garcia and Misiuk are no aristocrats, as is immediately apparent when examining their latest FEC filings. Combined, they raised less than almost every other candidate mentioned in this piece. And yet, the song remains the same.

In an email exchange with Forrest Dunbar, a candidate for Alaska’s 1st Congressional district, Dunbar defended entitlement programs aggressively, despite what he sees as a “dark fatalism” among millennials skeptical that they’ll ever receive those programs’ benefits. Dunbar is particularly critical of recent plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, where “‘serious’ attempts at entitlement reform include the Ryan Budget, which would turn Medicare into a voucher, slash veteran’s healthcare, raise taxes on the middle class… and then turn around and plough those savings into a giant tax cut for the wealthiest people and corporations. If that’s the best Congress can do, then Medicare (and eventually Social Security) are doomed.” New Jersy Congressional candidate Roy Cho agrees, stating in an email that “[m]aking drastic and immediate cuts to so-called entitlements might balance the budget, but it will [...] plunge our economy back into a recession. Spending is certainly a large part of the problem with the dysfunction in Washington, but the bigger problem is that bipartisan cooperation no longer exists between the two parties.”

These few liberal millennials running for Congress this cycle — Wes Neuman (27), Roy Cho (32), Gabriel Rothblatt (31) and Forrest Dunbar (30) — tend to focus on more traditionally left-wing issues such as clean energy, education and campaign finance reform. They’ve also raised a lot less money than their conservative peers, a detail that only confirms the most cynical reading of this emergent political reality. With the exception of New Jersey candidate Roy Cho (who’s raised almost half a million dollars for his campaign — with about a quarter of that coming from 51 donors who gave the legal maximum), the millennial Democrats are tragically underfunded: They’ve raised just under $150,000 combined, or less than any of the Republican candidates besides Maine Congressional hopeful Isaac Misiuk.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that campaign finance reform is featured prominently in the platforms of all four young Democrats running for office. As Cho sees it, we need “real campaign finance reform before the only people who have the means to run for office are those who have never known what it’s like to have to struggle to succeed.” But limiting the influence of money in our elections — if even possible — will not suffice. As long as mainstream politicians from both parties refuse to even consider the drastic, progressive measures that might start reversing our deeply rooted inequality, nothing will change. So it’s not particularly encouraging that common-sense solutions meant to narrow our wealth gap and expand the federal balance sheet — such as implementing a ”Robin Hood Tax” or raising rates for inheritances, gifts, and capital gains — currently exist so far outside the mainstream.

Wealth has always been a feature of American democracy, and perhaps these concerns seem overwrought. But the changing shape of America’s upper class, the $15 trillion projected to flow from the old to the young in the coming decades, is a force too powerful to be ignored or overlooked. As long as the cost of running for office continues to rise, the pool of potential candidates will continue to shrink. We must address this new reality before trust in government erodes beyond repair.

Without political intervention this country will become increasingly aristocratic, and faith in our democracy and her institutions will continue to diminish. That might be an acceptable condition for those affluent individuals who’ve already made their fortunes, who’ve seen their wealth rise to unprecedented heights in recent years.

But for the rest of us? Aristocracy can only spell disaster.

 

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