Cost of War

AlterNet

Syndicate content AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Alternative News and Information.
Updated: 8 min 23 sec ago

Why Oregon Is About to Be the Poster Child for How to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 13:11
25 percent of tax revenues will go to mental health and substance abuse agencies.

At the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Portland last month, the atmosphere was that of a winning NASCAR pit crew during the victory lap. Bullish is too weak a word to characterize the 700 vape pen purveyors and cannabis attorneys in attendance (they’d come from as far as Alabama and India). The vibe was bullish but congenial. Inclusive, not cutthroat. On Day Two, an attendee was doing tai chi in the Portland Convention Center hallway in between speakers.

This was not lost on the producer of the event, 43-year-old Alex Rogers. “Let’s face it, Oregon’s a relaxed place, a collaborative place,” he said. “You can leave your pretentions and hangups at the door and you won’t get kicked when you do business.”

The Oregon business mode, to Rogers, is nothing less than part of  “a cultural transformation. If you’re in the cannabis and hemp industry, you will fail if you’re only about the money with no ethics; no consciousness about this plant.”

But Rogers, perhaps practicing that ethic himself, quickly added that there was another, bottom-line reason for the touchy-feely aura at an event whose entrance fee was $499. “We’re at the point in the cannabis industry’s evolution where even your competitor’s growth is good for you,” he said. 

When not producing one of the traveling ICBC conferences (the next one’s in San Francisco in February), Rogers owns one of Oregon's largest medical marijuana clinics. He told me he has no problems with profit. In fact, Roger’s win-win economic growth curve for legal cannabis is reason number-one why the passage of Oregon’s Measure 91, which will legalize and regulate all forms of cannabis (including hemp) if voters approve it on November 4, matters to my family, even here in New Mexico. It provides a new Green Standard for how to make legalization work for everyone from families to law enforcement to home cultivators. (The measure had a four-point lead in a September poll, though I predict an eight-point margin of victory.)

Drafted by Portland’s Anthony Johnson and his nationally funded New Approach Oregon team, Measure 91 is the best cannabis regulation model in the world to date. In fairness, Colorado had to do it Colorado’s way, and Washington had to do it Washington’s way. The savvy initiative drafters in those states did what they had to do to tear down the drug war Berlin Wall—they had 70 years of drug war lies to deal with. Oregon is benefitting from seeing what can be done better, and I hope the whole world is watching.

There are a number of key reasons why Measure 91 is the new benchmark. The first reason sticks to the economic benefits theme: revenues (including both tax revenue and an immediate $71 million in annual savings in cannabis enforcement) are expected to be $100 million per year, according to a 2012 study by Harvard economist and Cato Institute fellow Jeffrey Miron.

I’m not the only one who thinks Miron’s estimate is conservative, not just because of the industry growth curve Rogers described at the ICBC, but because a single county I followed in California for a year generates $6 billion annually from its wholesale cannabis crop. Add to that total significant ancillary tax revenue from garden stores, farm equipment retailers and local tourism jobs. Colorado, at $25 million in taxes collected alone and counting, is far ahead of projections for its first, cautious year of retail cannabis sales.

Whatever the total on the ground, the Oregon bounty is divvied in a brilliantly conceived way, both to dampen law enforcement opposition and generate real revenue for the state by eliminating the black market for the world’s number-one harvest.

Fifteen percent of tax revenues go to state police, 10 percent to city police, 10 percent to county law enforcement, 40 percent to education (via the state’s Common School Fund), and 25 percent to agencies dealing with mental health and substance abuse. That breakdown has the former U.S. Attorney for Oregon Kris Olsen, former Oregon state Supreme Court Justice William Riggs, Methodist Minister David Bean, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer and the state’s former director of addiction and mental health services Richard Harris speaking in support of the initiative, not to mention pretty much all regional media and the New York Times

The health perspective has been getting a good deal of play in the Beaver State. That’s because “Measure 91 will offer education, prevention and treatment,” for people with substance abuse problems, mental health expert Harris said.

As for what is being legalized: adults can possess up to eight ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants. Producers will be taxed at $35 per ounce of flowers. (Leaves and immature plants are taxed differently.)

In an earlier interview, Graham Boyd, former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Drug Policy Litigation Project, and a fellow who has been involved in cannabis initiatives since 1996, told me that Measure 91 “represents a very strong team of legal minds working on a responsible initiative at a time of growing voter support for our side of the issue.”

That’s why the big boys of drug peace have contributed generously. New Approach has raised $1.5 million both from grassroots efforts and from the usual suspects in successful cannabis regulation campaigns. The late Peter Lewis’ organization and George Soros’ Drug Policy Alliance are both in to the tune of six figures. Opposition has been late and scant, with $150,000 in funding for groups like the state Sherriff’s Association and the Narcotics Enforcement Association; a sign of the times and the strength of the initiative. Indeed, last week one Measure 91 opponent, a county DA named Josh Marquis, told Oregon Public Radio that even he “would not object to a measure that actually said it’s legal to grow, as an adult, say one or two plants at home.” The whole problem is a difference of two plants in a garden? That’s a tepid, and let us hope, a losing strategy.

The truly beneficial reality of the initiative’s nuts and bolts are important, especially as bottom-line arguments for undecided voters who aren’t cannabis aficionados. But for Anthony Johnson, the reason Measure 91 is so important is much more personal. “A good friend of mine in high school had his life ruined by a small cannabis possession arrest,” he told me at the ICBC conference as he manned the booth of the new Oregon Cannabis Industry Association.

Even with Measure 91’s passage, he said, “I’ll continue to work for sensible cannabis laws across the country and across the world until the best policies are in place everywhere. Until no one is judged, let along going to prison for using this plant that’s much safer than alcohol.”

The 37-year-old Johnson will talk to you about the benefits of Measure 91 to Oregon’s tax coffers—he co-wrote the wording. But for him generating revenues for the state from the cannabis and hemp industry is just “the icing on the cake. This is about civil liberties, the best parts of America. About freeing law enforcement to go after dangerous criminals. We’re trying to lead the country to a better future.”

As of the last Gallup poll, close to 60% of Americans nationwide support this valuable crop being snatched from organized crime, and brought into the tax base. Seniors and veterans awakening to the value of aboveground cannabis for economic and health reasons have added to majority support for ending the war on cannabis in once unheard-of places like Kentucky, Texas, Illinois and Florida.

Cannabis legalization (which means its removal from the federal Controlled Substances Act to allow states to regulate it) has, in remarkably rapid fashion, transformed from political liability to campaign rallying cry. Want proof? In California (which will fully legalize cannabis in 2016), cannabis advocates are throwing support to a Republican pro-legalization attorney general candidate over Obama darling but cannabis-silent Kamala Harris, the Democrat.

How did that seemingly counter-intuitive reality come about? Partly through staunch legalization resistance by entrenched California Democrats with strong pharmaceutical company ties. But it’s proved a fragile resistance among the rank and file. Forty percent of Colorado Republicans voted to legalize cannabis in 2012, and this election cycle that awareness is working its way into platforms. Plus, youth turnout, the Holy Grail for Democrats, was up hugely in both Colorado and Washington in the 2012 cannabis legalization elections. That has even traditionally resistant Democratic political camps like the Clintons putting out drug peace feelers.

As a sustainability journalist and solar-powered goat rancher, it is vital to me that the coming cannabis industry (and indeed any industry) prove environmentally sustainable. Unsurprisingly (if you’ve ever spent a minute in Oregon), Measure 91 deals successfully with both of these issues. The home cultivation clause in the initiative is a key one on the sustainability side, to codify the presence of cannabis as part of American outdoor garden, and to prevent big business monopolies and genetic patenting. And the comprehensive addressing of cannabis products like edibles and tinctures pushes cannabis past the final hurdle remaining in front of the true drug peace finish line: social stigma.

 

This is how I characterize that hurdle: most Americans today, even those who have enjoyed cannabis, if they read a news story about a pilot or teacher who was fired simply because cannabis was in her life, accept it, as they wouldn’t had the pilot or teacher been in possession of a more dangerous beer (or prescribed pharmaceutical). Victory in the drug war is a reversal of that assumption. Be thankful when it’s just legal cannabis and not an opiate, not a violent drunk.

Oregon, in Measure 91’s details (there is no “per se” blood intoxication percentage for cannabis included in Measure 91, for instance), permits us to finally begin to address the importance of updated intoxication laws in this medicated era. It does that by leveling the playing field between cannabis and alcohol, and allowing society to create its sobriety laws based on science, rather than rhetoric. The studies so far indicate that’s going to be bad for drinkers and users of pharmaceuticals, and good for responsible cannabis aficionados. Especially if they haven’t ingested cannabis in the hours before they are driving, flying or teaching—the same expectations we have for folks who enjoy alcohol.

Earlier this year, I asked a Eugene-area state legislator named Floyd Prozanksi about the advent of public venues designed to allow cannabis enjoyment alongside Oregon’s famous (and profitable) microbrew market. “We don’t have a free-for-all with alcohol,” he said. “We have open-container laws, and I can foresee licensed establishments providing cannabis access.” 

Imagine not being a criminal for choosing, in responsible adult social situations where a beer would be acceptable, an herb rather than alcohol. That, let us pray, becomes reality on November 4 in the Beaver State. 

But the absolute best part of Measure 91 is the inclusion of an industrial hemp clause mandating that the state agriculture division issue permits to farmers to cultivate cannabis with less than .3% THC. This is needed. Even though Oregon is one of the 19 states totally in accord with federal law if it permits hemp research farms (as Kentucky, Colorado and Vermont have done this year), it denied the only permit application that came before it in 2014. That hurt the crop the state should most be assisting, and put Oregon a year behind other states that want to profit from what, in Canada, is already a billion-dollar industry. In fairness, one of the agriculture division’s explanations for the hemp application denial was that the state needed time to establish a program, which it says it will in time for planting season in the spring.

That single application was brought forth by Portland attorney Courtney Moran on behalf of eastern Oregon farmer Rick Rutherford. Moran said her motivation for the pro bono work was that, “hemp is truly the greatest renewable resource available to mankind.”

Another former Oregon family farmer, Ryan Basile of Silverton, wants to get back to the land with a hemp crop so badly that he filmed a powerful ”Yes on 91” television commercial set against a classic Oregon farm and barn background.

“The hemp clothing you see at the store and the hemp seed you eat comes from abroad,” Basile says in the spot, with a soft-spoken, no-nonsense, I’m-a-rural-Oregonian delivery. “That’s money we can be keeping in Oregon. Farming is a difficult business. With a cash crop like hemp, it can make all the difference.”

Fresh back from visiting four debut Kentucky hemp harvests this week, I know that industrial hemp is going to be even bigger than psychoactive cannabis.You have to start somewhere. Even profitable new (if traditional) crops don’t magically appear in soil. Seems getting said crop in the ground takes more than just farmers, seed and rain. It takes voters, ag bureaucrats and lawyers, too, evidently. With the passage of Measure 91, hemp is going to be healing monoculture-damaged Oregon soil by the thousands of acres while putting family farmers back to work as of 2015. Better still, this is just the birth of an industry that will within twenty years out-earn any other crop in Oregon.

Which brings us back to ICBC producer Rogers’ point on the real dollar value of Oregon’s progressive, un-stressed, optimistic culture. “As a kid activist twenty years ago I used to shout about how hemp can save the planet and people would laugh. Now no one’s laughing. I didn’t realize how right we were. Oregon is ready to capitalize on the truth about this plant.” (Not just Oregon. Washington hemp farmers are poised for a big 2015 as well.)

What we’re seeing in the Pacific Northwest is a future for humanity, if these modes catch on, that isn’t bleak. As a patriot, a father, and a cannabis researcher, I can say with confidence that Measure 91 is part and parcel of that journey to a stronger, safer, healthier America.

 Related Stories

Arrested for Singing? This Is What NYPD Officers Are Doing With Their Time

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:44
Recent videos illustrate what happens when "broken windows" policing is the law of the land.

Two videos released within the last week show the NYPD unnecessarily harassing people in the city’s subway stations. The first video, posted by Vice last Friday, shows a man named A.B. Simmons upset after being stopped by the police. Vice reports that the officers claimed Simmons didn’t swipe his MetroCard at the turnstile. But on the video, you can hear him asking the officers to take his card and see that he swiped it. The officers refuse. The man grows increasingly upset, and officers eventually pepper-spray him before putting him in handcuffs.

Vice reported:

According to Kenneth Montgomery, who witnessed and filmed the encounter, Simmons entered the train station around the same time he did and was waiting on the platform for about 20 minutes before being approached by the first officer. Montgomery told me he saw Simmons swipe in with his Metrocard. …

Simmons apparently told the officers he had bought an unlimited metro card several days before and had swiped it through the turnstile that night. 

 

In another video posted Saturday, officers approach a man named Andrew Kalleen singing and playing guitar in a subway station. After several minutes of confrontation, the officers arrest Kalleen and slam his guitar against the wall. The Huffington Post reports that it is legal to play music in the subway, and an NYPD spokesperson told the media outlet that the video is "under review" but wouldn’t address the reason behind the arrest. Kalleen told the Huffington Post he was charged with loitering. As it reported

Matthew Christian, a street violinist who co-founded BUSK-NY, a group that advocates for street performers, said the police often charge performers with vague offenses like loitering when they can’t find a more convincing justification for arrest.

“This happens so often,” Christian said. “When police officers don’t precisely know the law, they arrest someone over their own refusal to back down, and once the person is brought to the police station and booked, they can’t find anything else to charge them with, so they go mining.”

Both videos illustrate the result of NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s “broken windows” policing theory, which targets low-level crime. The Nationreported that subway arrests are up 300 percent on Bratton’s watch, which Bratton has said he’s proud of. 

On Tuesday, Andrew Kalleen returned to the subway where he was arrested with fellow performers and supporting politicians to rally against the way buskers are treated. According to the Epoch Times, he also filed a complaint. 

 Related Stories

Keene State and the Dangers of Drunken Young White Men

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:13
As the Keene State protests showed, some people feel the freedom to (literally) piss on people. Guess who they are.

Fall is one of my favorite seasons of the year. Perhaps it’s the gorgeous leaves, the steaming mugs of apple cider, or the fact that my fall fashion game is significantly tighter than it is in the warm seasons of the year. It’s also the season of festivals, football and state fairs (my personal favorite). These are all-American forms of entertainment. There is one consistent feature of these shared American amusements that we talk little about – the potential for and frequent enactment of white violence.

This past weekend, students at Keene State College in New Hampshire got, as one student put it, “way out of hand,” as they turned over a car and danced on top of it, threatened an elderly person, threw glass bottles, and popped fireworks. These violent white college kids were so unruly the police had to come in riot gear and bring out tear gas to quell the riots. One white female student reported feeling very unsafe. Why are these white kids so mad that they are terrorizing residents and destroying property? Should we be concerned about the fact that they seemed to really enjoy it? Is that sociopathic?

It would be easy to talk about this Keene State College business as an isolated incident of drunken college students, getting “out of hand.” But that would be politically and culturally irresponsible, since this is after all #FergusonOctober. Several states over from New Hampshire, down in Missouri, citizens exercising First Amendment rights, citizens with righteous anger, who might get a little "out of hand” with an errant glass bottle or two, are met with a much larger show of force: tanks, tear gas, stun grenades. We’ve had no reports of Ferguson protesters threatening old people or threatening to kill the police. And thank God for that, because we would have witnessed a serious amount of bloodshed to go along with our protests if that had occurred.

But beyond #FergusonOctober, any person who has ever lived in a college football town knows exactly what Saturday nights after big games are like. My first academic job was in a college football town. When I arrived, my students instructed me of survival protocol for home games: “Get your food on Thursday night. When you go in the house on Friday evening, don’t come back out till Sunday.” Less a set of racial instructions, these were more pragmatic tips so that I didn’t find myself caught in the middle of town in a traffic jam caused by drunken revelers. Drunken white revelers.

On at least two occasions, one of my good friends, a fellow professor, called to say she had come out to her car on a Saturday night in this college town to find a drunk college kid urinating beside her car. On both occasions, she weighed the benefits of confronting the drunk white guy blocking her access, or simply waiting till he had finished and moved on.

Implicit in her stories was a truth we refuse to tell: These young drunk white men were dangerous. Menacing. And they are made more dangerous precisely because their disrespect for public space and private citizens is seen as mere play, mere college kids having a good time, rather than as a threat.

But what the events in Keene suggest is that white folks often test the bounds and limits of public decency and order with little long-term reprisals. There were some arrests, and some tear gas. But no dead bodies. No stigma about white anger. No come to Jesus meetings about White America’s problem children. No public discourse about these “menaces to society.” As many commentators on Twitter pointed out, there’ll be no articles about the absence of white leadership, or about how white folks just need to learn respect for public property.

How does it feel to be white? Does it feel like freedom? Freedom to piss on people and property with impunity? Freedom to burn shit up and live to tell about it? Freedom to threaten old people and wake up the next morning and chalk it up to drunkenness? License to kill?

This isn’t just about civility. This is, as are most things in this country, about stark and disparate forms of racial treatment. This is about the ways that white threat is largely illegible as  “threat.” This is about the fact that a band of wild, drunken black college kids could not have turned over cars, threatened old people, and shouted about killing the cops and lived.

For instance, this is also black college homecoming season, and my alma mater Howard University canceled the annual free concert at the legendary Yard Fest this year, because there were a few issues with crowd control last year. The Yard Fest is the stuff of hip-hop legend, and it is the annual event that most alumni look most forward to participating in. But as a federally funded entity, Howard is hypervigilant about making sure campus events are models of black respectability. It cannot afford the public scrutiny if the event were to devolve into a cabal like that which occurred at Keene. So it canceled a portion of the event beloved by all of us, because any appreciable amount of black unruliness could be met with an unfavorable and devastating federal response.

It is an institutional example of how powerful systems of white supremacy are, how much those systems hold everyone from the most venerable black institutions to the most vulnerable black youth in their death grips.

In the midst of this, the Keene students have released a video of the positive aspects of the Pumpkin Festival. It’s filled with a merry band of white students throwing back cans of beer, white girls twerking, one token black girl surrounded (a bit uncomfortably) by her white friends, at least one shot of a white girl’s bare behind, and various forms of good ole American college fun, set to a Kanye West soundtrack.

All it takes to redeem whiteness is a four-minute YouTube video. That there is an unself-conscious celebration of booze, sex, hip-hop and partying in this video attests to a particular kind of freedom that white folks have to conceptualize and think of youth  as a time of rebellion, lawlessness and testing the boundaries.

If you’re black, that kind of thinking is dangerous. If you’re black, that kind of thinking will get you killed. And if you’re white, and you do the killing, you will most probably go free.

If we showed black people doing each and every activity in this video, it would be a testament to our lack of civilization, our utter ratchetness, and wretchedness. Black folks know how to have a good time, for sure. But we would never use our good time as a fodder for a racial redemption marketing campaign. No sane black person would ever think that was a good idea.

Can you tell yet that I’m fed up? Fed up with white obliviousness. Fed up with “white” freedom, which seems very much to be euphemism for black terror. Fed up with American injustice. And yet wholly, visually convinced that racial injustice is as American as football, pumpkin patches, drunken white revelers and apple pie.

 

 Related Stories

Nothing's Wrong with Renee Zellweger's Face—Something's Wrong With Us

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 08:21
All the actress did was pull back the curtain on our hypocrisy by letting herself be seen in public past a certain age.

To be a female celebrity is to lose at every turn. Dare to age? Face-shame at best and be out of work at worst. Get noticeable plastic surgery on your face to combat the inevitable aging? At best, you will be mocked for your narcissism and delusional attempts at hanging onto your youth; at worst, you’ll be out of work again.

The continued evolution of our obsession with famous people has birthed a strange phenomenon: the bodies of total strangers are considered collective public property to be casually evaluated, critiqued and discarded.

As disturbing as it may be sometimes to see a public figure physically transform before our eyes, it’s even more troubling to see how effortlessly we rush to say something about that transformation.

“Where did Renee Zellweger’s face go?”

To ask a question like that, as so many did on Tuesday is to cut in all directions, commodifying a woman’s body even as you seemingly seek to champion it.

What did Renee Zellweger do to deserve that kind of knee-jerk reaction? She attended Elle magazine’s 2014 Women in Hollywood event on Monday night to mark her first appearance in a film in more than five years. But no one, it seems, was happy to see her again: instead, on Tuesday morning, the media gatekeepers—includingmany women—were aghast at the appearance of Zellweger’s face, which seemed markedly different since her last memorable red-carpet appearance, which was more than five years ago. The outcry was loud and universal, which is exactly, sadly, the kind of thing a woman in Hollywood has learned to expect anytime she does anything to her appearance.

From fashion blogs to CNN, the horror and disgust was palpable: What kind of monster is this, the world seemed to beg, that would shed her skin so easily, hoping to avert aging and death—or at least the death of her career by physically becoming another person altogether? Heavy Internet-sighers bemoaned how akin Zellweger has become to Jennifer “No One Puts Baby in a Corner” Grey, who infamously cut off her own nose to spite her face, and—like a spooky campfire tale—supposedly never ever worked again.

Yet one trope was notably absent from the Greek chorus of judgment decrying Zellweger’s physical appearance. In all the hand-wringing and all the awfulness aimed at Zellweger, only a few finger-pointers noted that, the public doesn’t just feel entitled to freely comment on celebrity bodies and faces. No, the same public that apparently believes Zellweger did something untoward to her greatest asset (which is, apparently, not her acting chops) is also busy gasping even more loudly should any woman dare to let a wrinkle, a glimmer of cellulite or a bravely untoned abdominal muscle besmirch her appearance.

(Odd how it’s never mentioned that even the legendary Jennifer Grey elected to get plastic surgery only after she turned 30, which is also known as the age when the same women in Hollywood Elle was celebrating on Monday night so often find themselves challenged to find substantive work.)

The famous women who do dare to age at all—and beautifully so—are breathlessly glorified as possessing a talent so exceptional, so perfect, it allowed them to transcend their own decaying forms. Of course Meryl Streep is still working and racking up awardswe say, smiling respectfully every time a younger actress states that her greatest goal is to share the screen with Streep. Of course Jessica Lange is the new face of Marc Jacobswe nod, proud of our own progressive, subversive standards of beauty. We allow ourselves a few exceptional exceptions... if they’re pretty enough and we can believe that they would never sully themselves with a trip to a medical professional.

We expect our celebrity women to truly have it all: beauty, youth, talent, humility and a conscientious disdain for how their appearances figure into their ability to practice their art; unless, of course, it is somehow serving their art. Pity the woman so brazen as to pull back the curtain on these expectations by letting herself be seen in public past a certain age, with or without the help of the medical community.

Pity poor Renee Zellweger, we say, for she is supposed to know when a famous woman no longer meets our standards for unobtainable and effortless beauty. Spare us the sight, we demand, of what our hypocrisy wreaks on our all-too-human idols.

 Related Stories

Research Behind Dr. Oz-Endorsed Diet Supplement Was Bogus, Authors Admit

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 07:02
“America’s doctor” promoted spurious weight-loss products to his audience.

A research paper that touted the weight-loss benefits of an extract from green coffee beans has been retracted by the researchers that published it. Green coffee had been touted as a “miracle” supplement by television host Dr. Mehmet Oz on his eponymous Dr. Oz show.

Retraction Watch, a website that reports on repealed and repudiated scientific research, says the paper’s two authors have now admitted that they are unable to defend their work.

"The sponsors of the study cannot assure the validity of the data so we, Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham, are retracting the paper," the authors conceded on Dove Press, a British site dedicated to the peer reviews of scientific research. The study, titled “Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, linear dose, crossover study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a green coffee bean extract in overweight subjects” was originally published in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy.

Last month, the company behind the study, Applied Food Science, agreed to $3.5 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, after government regulators found that some key data, including research the recorded weight of research participants, was likely cooked. Additionally, the study had a very small sample of only 16 overweight adults. The feds said that the research, sponsored by supplement manufacturer, was "so hopelessly flawed that no reliable conclusions could be drawn from it."

Reportedly, Applied Food Science sold some 500,000 bottles of the green coffee extract supplement.

In May 2012, Dr. Oz heralded the study on his television program, professing that it linked green coffee to weight loss, and said that those who took it lost an average of 18 pounds in six weeks. Apparently the expert nutritionist that praised green coffee one episode of the show, Lindsey Duncan, also had an ulterior motive; he was the CEO of Genesis Pure, a nutritional supplement company that markets green coffee as a weight-loss product. Dr. Oz did not disclose this obvious conflict of interest.

Recent laboratory research by the American Chemical Society into the weight-loss claims made by the marketers of green coffee beans finds that the ingredient that is supposed to spur weight loss, chlorogenic acid, has no such impact. Furthermore, the study showed that it can actually cause fatty deposits in the livers of mice.

While previous medical studies reveal that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance (known collectively as “metabolic syndrome”), the researchers found that mice given chlorogenic acid didn’t lose weight compared to mice who were not given the chemical. In fact, the mice who were fed this ingredient had increased insulin resistance in addition to fattier livers.

Dr. Oz claimed he did his own two-week test on nearly 100 women, which included a control group that was given a placebo. He found that the women who took the supplement lost an average of two pounds, while those taking the placebo lost an average of one pound. Normally, such results would be deemed inconclusive at best, but Dr. Oz cited them as evidence of the efficacy of green coffee extract, declaring “the green coffee bean worked for us” and recommended the supplement to his audience even though “we don’t know much about it.”

Oz’s entanglement in pseudoscience inspired Sen. Claire McCaskill, the chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, to call him to testify and answer questions about his claims. During the testimony, McCaskill chided Oz for abusing his great influence, saying the products he endorses are almost guaranteed to fly off the shelves.

Oz acknowledged to the subcommittee that while there’s no such thing as a “miracle” supplement, and that many he touts wouldn’t pass scientific muster, he insisted he was comfortable recommending them to his fans.

“My job is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” Oz says. ”And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look and I do look everywhere, including alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them."

 Related Stories

I Was Forced From My Home and Am Living In Constant Fear Because of Relentless Death Threats From Male Gamers

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 05:31
This is what happens when you stand up to the misogyny of gaming culture.

They threatened the wrong woman this time. I am the Godzilla of bitches. I have a backbone of pure adamantium, and I’m sick of seeing them abuse my friends.

The misogynists and the bullies and the sadist trolls of patriarchal gaming culture threatened to murder me and rape my corpse, and I did not back down. They tried to target my company’s financial assets and I did not back down. They tried to impersonate me on Twitter in an attempt to professionally discredit me and I did not back down.

The BBC called me “Defiant,” in a caption. I plan to frame and put it on my wall.

Ordinarily, I develop videogames with female characters that aren’t girlfriends, bimbos and sidekicks. I am a software engineer, a popular public speaker and an expert in the Unreal engine. Today, I’m being targeted by a delusional mob called “Gamergate.”

If you don’t know what Gamergate is, my God do I envy you. Gamergate is basically a group of boys who don’t want girls in their videogame clubhouse. Only, instead of throwing rocks, they threaten to rape you. And, if that doesn’t work, they’ll secretly record your conversations and release the lurid details of your sex life in a public circus. From seeing the #gamergate mobs plan this on 8chan.co, it seems like they’re having a lot of fun.

It started two months ago, when my friend Zoe Quinn dated Eron Gjoni. Their relationship ended, as relationships sometimes do. Only, rather than get drunk and play Madden, Eron decided to secretly record everything Zoe said, and released it on a blog he titled "The Zoe Report" in an attempt to destroy her. 

If Zoe had been a man, the blog would have been laughed off as the work of a jilted lover. 

But, no. Instead, a mob formed to destroy her. Ostensibly concerned about ethics, Gamergate was very worried about Gjoni's accusations that Zoe might have had a relationship with a journalist to get favorable reviews of her universally celebrated title, “Depression Quest,” which has been downloaded more than a million times and has helped countless people better understand their depression.

It tells you everything you need to know about Gamergate that this mob went after Zoe and not the journalist.

The Gamergate mob isn’t a new thing, though it’s only recently been named. They targeted my friend Samantha Allen back in July, when she dared criticize Giant Bomb’s decision to remain the only major site in videogames with a 100 percent white, straight and male employee pool.

They ran through their playbook. They targeted her on Twitter, they harassed her. They researched her past. They questioned her personal relationships. They threatened her. And they have done everything possible to try to quash one of the videogame industry's most insightful and powerful voices.

It’s a playbook that works. They used it against Jenn Frank until she quit. They used it against Mattie Brice until she quit. They used it against Leigh Alexander. They used it against Zoe Quinn. And they used it against Anita Sarkeesian who had to cancel a speaking engagement gig this week after a school shooting threat -- and now they used it against me.

What was my crime? 

A fan of my show on 5by5, Isometric, made a meme of some of my Tweets about Gamergaters. 

The meme that started it all.

I loled. I tweeted. And, by Friday I was receiving death threats.

A sampling of the hate I have received.

I have to be honest. A mob telling you they will castrate your husband, make you choke to death on the parts, murder any children you might have and then rape your ass until it bleeds has a way of scaring the hell out of you.

But, you know, because I am the Godzilla of bitches, by Saturday morning I was pissed off. I’m talking Jack Bauer-pissed-off. So, I decided I was going to do everything in my power to stop these fuckers.

Thanks in part to Wil Wheaton, one of my tweets about the death threats went mega viral. The press started calling. I wanted to crawl into a hole, but I pushed through and talked to them. Kotaku ran a story. Re/code ran a story. Polygon ran a story. I was barely sleeping or eating, but I pulled myself together for MSNBC and CNN. The anti-Gamergate movement started to catch fire. Over 100 stories have been written all over the world because I’m sick of these asshats taking out my friends and I’m calling them on their shit.

There’s no easy way to say this. I am a massive target for Gamergate/8chan.co right now and it is having horrible consequences for my life. They tried to hack my company financially on Saturday, taking out our company’s assets. They’ve tried to impersonate me on Twitter in an effort to discredit me. They are making burner accounts to send lies about my private life to prominent journalists. They’ve devastated the metacritic users’ score of my game, Revolution 60, lowering it to 0.3 out of 100.

With all of this, my only hope is that my colleagues in the industry will stand by me -- and recognize the massive target I made myself standing up to these lunatics.

I woke up twice last night to noises in the room, gasping with fear that someone was there to murder me. I can barely function without fear or jumpiness or hesitation. I’ve been driven from my home. My husband says he feels like he’s been shot.

But I have to be honest: I don’t give a fuck. 

I am mad as hell at these people, and I’m not going to let them keep destroying the women I love and respect.

In part, because of the press campaign I’ve done in the last five days against Gamergate, the jig is up. The Entertainment Software Association, the largest trade group in our industry, denounced the movement. Vox ran an editorial about the pattern established with the threats against me, “Angry misogyny is now the primary face of #GamerGate.” And journalistic enterprises like Giant Bomb, which had sat on the sidelines, are finally discussing the issue.

Gamergate, I have one message for you so listen up: When you take your last dying breath, I want you to know this. It was an absolute pleasure knocking you on your ass for the fine women in this field.

 Related Stories

Why Is Big Coal Pretending to Be the Savior of the Developing World?

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 05:19
These countries deserve something much better than the old, dirty energy North America no longer wants.

This story first appeared at EcoWatch.com

There is a growing drumbeat being played by the coal industry around the idea that their product will “save” developing African and Asian regions that are deprived of a reliable energy source or what is known in policy circles as energy poverty.

But I would say these countries deserve something much better than the old, dirty energy that we in North America no longer want.

New global marketing campaigns like “Advanced Energy For Life,” which is sponsored by Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, have projected the fantasy of “clean coal” as the solution for energy poverty. If the developed West with its environmental and health standards would simply get out of the way, Africa and Asia could coal-fire their way to economic prosperity.

The timing is uncanny for this burst of random benevolence on the part the coal industry. After all, the idea of energy poverty is not new, and neither is coal.

Or could it be that as coal is becoming less favorable in places like the U.S., where strict new environmental and health concerns have all but halted any new domestic growth, these companies are looking to hawk their “clean” coal product in new markets.

Call me cynical, but I would say this poor-need-coal concept is a Hail Mary attempt by a dying industry to find the few last markets for a product that nobody seems to want anymore. Markets susceptible to being convinced by sophisticated marketing techniques that coal is somehow “clean.”

First, let’s get one thing straight, there is no such thing as “clean coal.” Mining and burning coal remains one of the most destructive of all human activities. It flattens mountains, poisons rivers and drinking water supplies, pollutes the air, causes severe respiratory illnesses, and is over-heating our planet.

The phrase “clean coal” is no more than a clever bit of marketing—an advertising slogan that cannot honestly define any physical thing. Industry definitions of “clean coal” shift whenever its strategically expedient/convenient.

Big coal continues to hail the promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS)—remember all the commercials during the 2008 Presidential election? Carbon capture, we were told, would “soon” be commercially viable. Except we never reach that horizon. High profile CCS projects like FutureGen continue to struggle, with more than 11 years of promises, hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars spent, and still not a spade in the ground.

And then there is the copycat “clean” coal carbon capture and storage project GreenGen in China, which is supported in part by none other than Peabody Energy, the same company behind the Advanced Energy for Life campaign.

So if coal has been, for all intents and purposes, essentially banned in the U.S., for environment, health and climate concerns. Why is it seen as a solution for other nations in Africa and Asia? Especially when there are cheaper, cleaner, more high tech 21st Century options.

Just as cell phone technology has helped the developing world leapfrog landline telecoms and their costly infrastructure, advanced renewables like distributed solar and wind can help the world’s poor electrify, skipping the the centralized coal-utilities entirely.

The coal industry predictably argues that renewables are still too expensive, and that we have a “moral obligation” to provide “low cost” fossil fuels (read: coal) to lift the developing world out of energy poverty. However, commercially viable carbon capture and storage, and advanced coal gasification remain elusive pipe dreams that will likely be prohibitively expensive if they ever prove to be a workable solution.

None other than the International Energy Agency (IEA), the traditionally conservative Paris-based organization, recently argued that coal is not the best option for Africa and developing Asia.

In its latest Solar Roadmap report, published in September, the IEA made a strong case for solar as the best path out of energy poverty.

“The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, introducing the report.

The report showed how, by 2030, 500 million people with no current access to electricity could enjoy light in their homes with solar photovoltaics, describing the “considerable merits” of both on-grid and off-grid solar.

Provided financing options for the considerable upfront costs of solar, the IEA argues that photovoltaics are already competitive with fossil fuel alternatives.

Compared to coal with carbon capture and advanced coal gasification, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind, and other advanced renewables are already a bargain.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t be for the coal companies or western think tanks to decide what’s best for Africa and developing Asia.

In India, a country with both extreme energy poverty and massive coal deposits, the recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a goal of delivering electricity to all Indian citizens by 2020. Modi’s plan for delivering power to the roughly 300 million that currently live without: mostly solar.

Last year, at a climate and development conference in Ethiopia, delegates from throughout Africa met to discuss economic growth in the face of climate change and energy poverty. One main conclusion from their summary report speaks volumes:

“There is no question of a choice between economic growth and environmental protection. The green economy is about achieving green growth while at the same time protecting our environment.”

Over the past 200 years or so, the Western world has learned so much about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to powering a sustainable economy and planet. Developing nations in Africa and Asia don’t need to learn those lessons all over again.

 Related Stories

Robert Reich: Why I'm Worried About America

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 04:34
We used to understand that leadership required something other than drones and bombs.

We have to get a grip. Ebola is not a crisis in the United States. One person has died and two people are infected with his body fluids.

The real crisis is the hysteria over Ebola that’s being fed by media outlets seeking sensationalism and politicians posturing for the midterm elections.

That hysteria is causing us to lose our heads. Parents have pulled their children out of a middle school after learning the school’s principal had traveled to Zambia. Zambia happens to be in Africa but it has not even had a single case of Ebola.

A teacher at an elementary school has been placed on paid leave because parents were concerned he might have contracted the Ebola virus. When and how? During a recent trip to Dallas for an educational conference.

Are we planning to quarantine Dallas next?

Some politicians from both parties are demanding an end to commercial flights between the United States and several West African countries. But there are no direct flights to the U.S. from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where Ebola is taking its biggest toll.

So do they want to ban all commercial flights that might contain someone from any of these countries, who might have transferred planes? That would cover just about all commercial flights coming from outside the United States.

The most important thing we can do to prevent Ebola from ever becoming a crisis in the United States is to help Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where 10,000 new cases could crop up weekly unless the spread of the virus is slowed soon.  

Isolating these poor nations would only make their situation worse. Does anyone seriously believe we could quarantine hundreds of thousands of infected people a continent away who are infecting others?

The truth is quite the opposite. If the disease is allowed to spread in these places, the entire world could be imperiled.

These nations desperately need medical professionals in the field, more medical resources, isolation facilities, and systems in place to detect early cases.

Even at this stage, that’s not an impossible task. Nigeria is succeeding in checking the spread of the disease. It has not had a new case of Ebola in over a month.

But I’m worried about America. I’m not worried about Ebola. I’m worried about our confidence and courage.

Every time a global crisis arises these days – the drug war in Latin America, terrorism in the Middle East, climate change that’s straining global food and water supplies and threatening many parts of the world with flooding – the knee-jerk response of some Americans is to stop it at our borders. 

As if we have the option. As if we live on another planet.

What’s wrong with us? We never used to blink at taking a leadership role in the world. And we understood leadership often required something other than drones and bombs.

We accepted global leadership not just for humanitarian reasons but also because it was in our own best interest. We knew we couldn’t isolate ourselves from trouble. There was no place to hide.   

After World War II, we rebuilt Europe and Japan. Belatedly, we achieved peace in Kosovo. We almost eradicated polio. We took on tuberculosis, worldwide.

Now even Cuba is doing more on the ground in West Africa than we are. It’s dispatching hundreds of doctors and nurses to the front lines. The first group of 165 arrived in Sierra Leone in the past few days.

Where are we?

We’re not even paying attention to health crises right under our own noses.

More people are killed by stray bullets every day in America than have been killed by Ebola here. More are dying because of poverty and hunger.

More American kids are getting asthma because their homes are located next to major highways. One out of three of our children is obese, at risk of early-onset diabetes.

We’re not even getting a flu shot to all Americans who need one.  

Instead, we bicker. For the last eight months, Republicans have been blocking confirmation of a Surgeon General. 

Why? Because the President’s nominee voiced support for expanded background checks for gun purchases, and the National Rifle Association objected.

We’ve got to get our priorities straight. Media outlets that are exploiting Ebola because they want a sensational story and politicians using it to their own ends ought to be ashamed.

Public fear isn’t something to be played with.

There’s a huge job to be done, here and abroad. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with it.   

 Related Stories

Some People Think CrossFit Is Nutty and That Makes CrossFit Really Angry

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 15:03
Critics question its safety and its culture, but CrossFit’s aggressive response is a tad more worrisome.

You’d be hard pressed to find an article — outside one written by a CrossFit enthusiast — that reviews this exercise phenomenon without asking some real tough questions about its safety, effectiveness, cost, and even the philosophy behind it. Shouldn't all products, whether good or bad, be held up to such scrutiny? Maybe General Motors, Comcast and Apple grudgingly accept this, but CrossFit — both the corporation and its acolytes — can't seem to take criticism in stride. And there’s been a lot of it going around lately.

The New York Times magazine was the latest publication to take issue with CrossFit and other extreme fitness programs, likening them to nothing more than labor camps you pay a king’s ransom to join. “Why not join a roofing crew for a few hours instead? Surely there’s a tunnel somewhere that needs digging,” sniffs Times columnist Heather Havrilesky.

In response, commenters, many of them CrossFitters, swarmed the online version of the article, posting more than 800 messages. Many were sharply critical of Havrilesky’s assessment of the workout routines.

The Times magazine article is only one in a recent wave of brickbats hurled at the sports-fitness brand, which now boasts an estimated 10,000 affiliates. Its critics are as diverse as medical researchers, fitness organizations, sportswriters, and social commentators. They’ve all found a bone to pick with CrossFit, and no, they’re not joining them for a Paleo diet dinner.

Critics and online commenters have likened CrossFit to a cult, insinuating that it’s not much more than a paramilitary, post-apocalyptic wet dream. They’re fitness preppers ready to take on whatever catastrophe awaits mankind. CrossFit’s own website hints at this on its "What is CrossFit?" page: “We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable.”

CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman takes the rhetoric a step further in his CrossFit newsletter, stating “nature, combat and emergency can demand high volumes of work performed quickly for success or for survival.”

The Gospel of CrossFit

In her Times magazine article, Havrilesky describes the austere and formidable environment of the typical CrossFit gym:

"Those stunned by CrossFit’s growing popularity are often surprised, given its high price, to discover its spartan ethos: Each 'box' (its lingo for gym) is often just a big empty room with medicine balls, barbells and wooden boxes stacked along the walls. Workouts rotate daily but tend to involve free weights, sprints and enough squats to cripple Charles Atlas. In keeping with its apocalyptic mission statement, the program encourages camaraderie under duress (CrossFitters coach each other through the pain) and competition (names and scores are scrawled on a wipe board and sometimes posted online)."

A former certified fitness instructor and CrossFit participant, who wished not to be identified for this article, told AlterNet much of the atmosphere she witnessed seem contrived, right down to the grungy workout gear worn by instructors and long-time CrossFitters.

The CrossFit workout is like Navy SEAL physical training taken to an extreme. It’s group exercise, done in classes where the workout itself is a competition. There are typically time trials where participants strive to perform the exercises faster than their workout companions.

“The warmup is usually inadequate. It could be jogging around a little bit in the parking lot followed by a little dynamic stretching, which can cause injury by itself,” says the former fitness instructor, describing a CrossFit gym she attended.

“Good CrossFit instructors,” she said, “will assist in picking appropriate weights for members, but the competitive nature can result in amateurs pushing themselves too far.”

However, the fitness instructor said the CrossFit regimen does have some redeeming qualities. “It’s a good workout,” she says. “The competitive atmosphere makes it fun and motivating. It encourages people to push themselves, but for some it can be too much.”

Aggressive Defense

CrossFit does not take kindly to criticisms about its workout regimen. Recently, it sued the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for publishing a study by Ohio State University researchers, led by Steven Devor, an exercise physiology professor.

In the journal Strength and Conditioning Research, the OSU researchers said that while there were some notably positive results obtained from CrossFit exercises, it hinted that injuries could possibly be an issue.

"Of the 11 subjects who dropped out of the training program [out of 54], two cited time concerns with the remaining nine subjects (16% of total recruited subjects) citing overuse or injury for failing to complete the program and finish follow up testing."

While the study was vey complimentary overall (some even likened it to pure advertising), it touched a raw nerve with CrossFit, which complained that the research was “at best the result of sloppy and scientifically unreliable work, and at worst a complete fabrication.”

In response to the study, CrossFit says it sought out the research participants who said they didn’t complete it because of injury and overuse. CrossFit claims that when they contacted the participants, they denied failing to finish due to injuries. CrossFitfit claimed the researchers were guilty of dropping the ball in following up with them.

In its lawsuit against NSCA and the research team, CrossFit further maintains that the fitness organization, which is one of several groups that certify fitness professionals, was going after the company because it certifies its own instructors. The NSCA, it claimed in the lawsuit, had a vested interest in discrediting CrossFit.

This is a brand that seems highly motivated in protecting its reputation. Media opinion that is deemed hostile to CrossFit is often met head on, and aggressively.

As one commentator on a Gawker forum put it:

"Beware, once you write about Crossfit, the [expletive deleted] PR person will contact you, to let you know it's spelled incorrectly, hence the capital 'f'...also...they'll barrage you w/ testimonials...via Twitter...& every other social media account you own...in 5, 4, 3, 2...."

In December 2013, Outside magazine published an article called “Is CrossFit Killing Us?” It cited the findings of the Ohio State University study and maintained that the competitive nature of the workouts could result in a slew of injuries, from slipped disks to torn rotator cuffs and even more serious conditions such as rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition in which muscle tissue breaks down and is released into the bloodstream.

CrossFit's acolytes attacked the credibility of the writer, Outside and Steven Devor. Writer Warren Cornwall responded to the jousts in a followup article, “Crossing Swords with CrossFit,” in which he wrote about his experience as a target of the wrath of the workout’s legions.

"The CrossFit community went berserk. While many commenters chimed in about their own injuries from workouts, many more criticized both the statistic and the study itself. Lengthy rebuttals appeared in CrossFit Journal—the organization’s newsletter. One of CrossFit’s chief PR people, Russell Berger, rang up the study director, Professor Steven Devor, and grilled him until the scientist refused to talk to him any more. The upshot was a collective pile-on attempting to discredit the study, its directors—and Outside—while spinning public opinion away from the idea that the insanely popular workout program was any more hazardous than jogging in your neighborhood.

"And yet, no one was making up the stories about people getting hurt. So, what was the deal? Was CrossFit inherently dangerous? And if so, were the hordes of newbies with beach-body dreams flocking to CrossFit 'boxes' aware of the risks?"

Devor told Outside that the 16% figure in the Ohio State study is a soft number and never intended to represent global injury rates, and he says CrossFit’s ambush on the study is misguided. “It’s a fricking paragraph in the paper,” said Devor. “There’s no way I will ever do research with that workout again. It’s just not worth it.”

Cornwall continued to fire back in his followup article, stating that it’s understood there is no conclusive data to define injury rates from CrossFit, yet. However, he went on to cite several surveys and other notable sources to help readers make their own judgments about CrossFit’s safety.

CrossFit’s reputation took another unfortunate — and perhaps undeserved — hit when one of its top competitors, Kevin Ogar, severely injured himself during a major CrossFit-style competition in California earlier this year. Ogar was paralyzed from the waist down after he could no longer hold a bar carrying weights over his head during a "snatch" lift and let them plummet to the ground. The barbell then hit Ogar in the back, severing his spine.

While Ogar’s injury is arguably a freak accident that could happen to anybody performing the lift, CrossFitter or not, the tragic event did not help CrossFit’s dubious reputation with the media, as websites such as Deadspin, Buzzfeed and Gawker jumped on the story, prompting CrossFit critics to take to their message boards to question whether the fitness craze was to blame for the accident.

The judgment of whether CrossFit is a beneficial and viable workout is not for this writer to make. Former and current CrossFitters who spoke to us and even the Ohio State study indicate that this high-intensity training has many benefits. Clearly, the rigorous debate over its merits and demerits is being held in the public forum and kinesiologists will likely weigh in on it someday soon. 

The bigger problem is CrossFit's reputation, a creation of its innate aggressiveness and hive survival instinct. It has spilled over as combative rhetoric directed toward the world outside its “boxes." This is a movement that’s past due for an image makeover and perhaps some contemplative meditation.

Editor's note:AlterNet was contacted by CrossFit and has made two minor changes to the article and one explanation, below. We had referred to CrossFit gyms as "franchises" when they are technically "affiliates." They are two legally different business relationships. We also said that Kevin Ogar was competing in a CrossFit competition. The event, the OC Throwdown, was not sanctioned by CrossFit, but marketing and media coverage of the event indicated that the contestants were "CrossFit" competitors who competed in "CrossFit competitions." Last, CrossFit has indicated that our wording "guilty of dropping the ball" in regard to the follow up conducted by the Ohio State University researchers was insufficient. While we stand by our wording, CrossFit points out that its contention was that the researchers were guilty of fabricating injury data. 

 Related Stories

Right-Wing Publication Tries to Claim That Obama Is a Conservative

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 13:14
The president “has bent over backward to protect corporate profits,” says ex-Reagan administration domestic policy aide Bruce Bartlett

President Barack Obama “has governed as a moderate conservative,” former Reagan administration domestic policy aide Bruce Bartlett writes in a new essay for the eclectic American Conservative magazine.

Bartlett, an economic policy expert who left the Republican Party amid disgust with President George W. Bush’s fiscal policies and backed Obama in 2008, contends that a look at Obama’s track record reveals a president who’s basically a liberal Republican of yore. From the beginning of his administration, Bartlett argues, Obama has charted a center-right course on both foreign and domestic policy issues.

Populating his administration with hawks like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama has presided over new military engagements abroad while overseeing a draconian crackdown on national security leaks at home, Bartlett notes.

Meanwhile, Obama has pursued “very conservative” fiscal policies, Bartlett writes, signing a stimulus package that was far smaller than what experts and advisers like Christina Romer found would be necessary to really prime the nation’s economic pump. Moreover, Obama has conducted himself like a deficit hawk, “proposing much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations,” when a deal eluded the two parties. And don’t buy into the the GOP “harping” that Obama hates business, Bartlett cautions. The president, he says, “has bent over backward to protect corporate profits.”

What about the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement? That, too, is evidence of Obama’s conservatism, Bartlett writes. Observing that Obamacare’s market-based approach drew on a model put forth by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Bartlett contrasts Obamacare with a real left-wing alternative like universal Medicare. So why are conservatives so obstinately opposed to a fundamentally conservative health care law? “The only thing is that it was now supported by a Democratic president that Republicans vowed to fight on every single issue,” Bartlett writes.

While Bartlett doesn’t see viscerally anti-Obama conservatives as likely to acknowledge the president’s conservatism, he concludes that philosopher and activist Cornel West “nailed it” when he recently declared that Obama has given the country “a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

Read Barlett’s essay here.

 

My Father Was Killed by a Computer, Says 7-Year-Old Afghan Child

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 12:56
If Imal were a white American kid, this drone strike tragedy would not have befallen his father.

Imal, a 7 year old Afghan student in the 2nd grade, came to visit us in Kabul.

As Imal grew up, he kept asking his mother where his father was. His mother finally told Imal that his father had been killed by a drone when he was still a baby.

If you could see Imal in this video, you would want to hug Imal immediately.

If Imal were a white American kid, this tragedy would not have befallen his father. Which American would allow any U.S. citizen to be killed by a foreign drone?

Suppose the UK wanted to hunt ‘terrorists’ in the U.S., with their drones, and every Tuesday, David Cameron signed a ‘secret kill list’ like Obama does. Drones operated from Waddington Base in the UK fly over U.S. skies to drop bombs on their targets, and the bombs leave a 7 year old American kid, say, John, fatherless.

John’s father is killed, shattered to charred pieces by a bomb, dropped by a drone, operated by a human, under orders from the Prime Minister /Commander-in-Chief.

“John, we’re sorry that your father happened to be near our ‘terrorist’ target.’ He was collateral damage. It was ‘worth it’ for the sake of UK national security.”

Unfortunately, no U.S. official or military personnel had met with Imal’s widowed mother to apologize.

Raz, Imal’s uncle who brought him to visit us, asked his young nephew,

“Will you bring me some marbles to play with?”

Imal was friendly, like any other 7 year old kid. “Yes!” His voice was a trusting one, eager to be a good friend and playmate.

“Do you also play with walnuts? Tell us how you play with walnuts,” Raz requests.

“We put them in a line, and flick a walnut to hit other walnuts, like playing with marbles,” Imal explains diligently, like he was telling a story we should all be interested in.

“Besides beans, what other food do you like?”

“I also like… potatoes… and meat… …and… rice!” All of us were smiling with the familiar love of Afghan oiled ‘palao’ or ‘Qabuli’ rice.”

Imal knew what my laptop was. He said, “We can look at photos & watch films…”

But, then, it seemed that he took on the understanding of an older person when his voice became serious.

”My father was killed by a computer.”

I wanted to tell Imal that nowadays, it takes children and young people like Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai to tell us adults the plain facts.

When Malala was 16 years old and met with the Obamas at the White House, Malala had told Obama that drones were fueling terrorism.

Do we get it? Drones are employed in the ‘war against terrorism’, but instead, drones fuel terrorism.

How many drone attacks are there in Afghanistan every month, and how many women, children and young men like Imal’s father are killed?

We don’t know. It’s not a transparent strategy.

We would all want to know everything about the possible effects of a drone strategy on our children, especially if our country was the most drone-bombed country in the world, like Afghanistan is.

A Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s ‘Naming the Dead’ report says that fewer than 4% of the people killed by drone attacks in Pakistan have been identified by available records as named members of Al Qaeda. If this is true for drone attack victims in Afghanistan too, then 96% of drone victims in Afghanistan have been innocent civilians like Imal’s father.

In another Bureau of Investigative Journalism report, ‘Tracking drone strikes in Afghanistan’, (July, 2014),the Bureau states that “nobody systematically publishes insurgent and civilian deaths from drones on a strike-by-strike basis. Neither the US nor UK authorities publishes data on the casualties of their drone operations.”

So, we are unable to find out for Imal’s mother if it was a U.S./UK drone that killed her husband, and who the drone operator was.

If Imal were John, could he or his mother sue David Cameron? Stop the drone? Stop the human drone operator? Disable the computer?

We gave Imal a Borderfree blue scarf, and thanked him for coming.

His eyes were bright and cheerful, taking in the photos on the wall, including a poster of Gandhi and Badshah Khan. Badshah Khan was a Pashtun like Imal, and has been called the Frontier Gandhi for his lifelong struggle for nonviolence.

I have been thinking hard about Imal, about whether anyone would hear him, when few among the elites who declare wars and order drone strikes seem to have heard the now famous Malala, not even President Obama.

“I wish to tell the world, ‘We don’t want war. Don’t fight!’”

 Related Stories

13 Most Ugly, Offensive,and Weird Costumes for Halloween 2014

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 08:29
The bad news: Dozens of "Indian Princess" costumes continue to exist. The good news: You can be a sexy lobster instead.

Putting on my judgy face at the Halloween store. Photo Credit: xojane

Putting on my judgy face at the Halloween store.

 

Content note: Some images may not be safe for work.

Ah, Halloween, that time of year when even usually well-adjusted people come up with extraordinarily complex puns and turn them into costumes, when sexy corn becomes a brief and beautiful reality, and when some folks very nearly ruin everything by dressing up in horribly misguided ensembles.

It’s not that Halloween itself is bad. Halloween is a damn good time. Who can hate a holiday that is half about dressing up and half about candy? It’s just that at some point in the past few years, Halloween has turned into a strange meta event in which the certainty that offensive and bizarre costumes will happen somehow feeds their creation.

Thus, the “Ebola containment suit” costume was probably, sadly, inevitable.

“Ebola containment suit” costume Photo Credit: xojane Ha ha ha ha.... oh.

 

Never mind that it explicably has “Ebola” printed on it, as though the costume itself is the virus, or contains the disease ("Get yer Ebola right here!"). It’s kind of like those “sexy” costumes that have the word “sexy” right on them, in case you were confused as to their purpose.

The fact that the copy for this ensemble says, “This will literally be the most ‘viral’ costume of the year,” is enough to wish it dead.

As always, I have spent long hours combing costume sites looking for the oddest selections, the most offensive mass-produced options and the simply, utterly bizarre.

And we’re going to start with the fake private parts of "ladies" as mockingly worn by men.

Fake parts of ladies. Photo Credit: xojane The guy modeling this is also the model for a TON of the most horrible dude-joke costumes and I'm not sure whether I should hate him or feel sorry for him.

Pubic hair. It exists. For as long as human women have been walking upright, most of them have been growing some amount of hair between their legs. I don’t know the whole history of down-there hair removal, but I know that even as American Apparel has tried to revive big ol’ hedges recently, women have been mowing their ladygardens -- and not doing so -- for millenia.

The "Anita Waxin" costume attempts to provoke a thoughtful conversation about hair politics. Or it's just something frat dudes wear to make their bros laugh. Still, I don’t see how pubic hair is all that funny. But I also don’t laugh when someone farts either.

Droopers. Photo Credit: xojane Low-hanging fruit indeed.

The “Droopers” copy explains its premise:

Ever wonder what happens to the girls that work at Hooters? There's no real retirement plan when you're a waitress - you've just gotta keep on working!

Which should put it in the finals for the award for most unintentionally depressing Halloween costume description. Even if you aren’t put off by the “LOL WAITRESSES SO POOR” approach, this is pretty terrible.

Gropin’ Granny.” Photo Credit: xojane Oh, that's it, that was the sound of my last shred of faith in humanity dying.

 

And for the gentleman who wants to cover BOTH the saggy-breast AND unusually-giant-bush bases, we have the “Gropin’ Granny” costume, complete with dramatic nipples and flasher-housecoat.

Elderly women! The lowest-hanging fruit is always good for a laugh. And it’s extra fun because they’re unlikely to defend themselves.

Cherokee princess Photo Credit: xojane WHY DOES THIS CONTINUE TO HAPPEN?

Moving on to the appropriation set: deranged and unsinkable optimist that I am, every October I think, “Surely this will be the year that twenty bazillion ‘new’ ‘Indian Princess’ costumes DON’T get made,” and I’m wrong. There are SO MANY of these costumes.

The URL identifies the example above as a “Cherokee princess” and I can’t decide if it’s more offensive to use the name of an actual tribe to describe a mocking ensemble contained in a plastic bag and hanging on a hook at the Halloween store, or if it’s worse to just assume that "Indians are Indians" and there is no distinction between tribes to be made. They’re probably equally horrible for their own unique reasons.

Even a cursory look through any Halloween costume site reveals literally dozens of these mass-produced costumes on the market -- so many that it’s not that surprising that folks doggedly continue to believe there is nothing gross about dressing up as native cultures that only continue to exist as a result of the strength of those who have fought to preserve them even in the face of devastating abuse and erasure on the part of white Europeans who “discovered” a land hundreds of years back and immediately went to work on destroying the people already living there, a process that, in degrees, continues even today.

Depressing? For sure. Who wants to bring that to a party?

Senorita death. Photo Credit: xojane Skull sold separately.

What did I just say? Day of the Dead celebrations -- with which sugar skulls are directly connected and which this "Senorita Death" (seriously) costume is inspired by -- can be traced back to the Aztecs. As a general rule, if it’s not your culture, it’s usually a good idea not to dress up in it as a costume, because even if you are intending to do so as a somber homage to its origins, it is probably going to come off as cavalier. ESPECIALLY if you do so by dropping $50 on a crap outfit made in a sweatshop in China.

Tighty Whitey Underwear Briefs Costume Photo Credit: xojane I can't.

The “We’re a culture, not a costume” campaign has been often mocked since it first appeared in 2011, which is a shame because the message is totally legit -- these “funny” efforts can have measurable negative effects on people.

And beyond being potentially hurtful, wearing a stereotype as a costume is pure laziness. The “Tighty Whitey Underwear Briefs Costume” is neither funny nor particularly inventive; it just makes fun of a cultural signifier and a racist caricature. “Sagging,” which this costume attempts to mock, is said to have its roots in the prison system, where belts are often not allowed, and the style was later popularized in hip hop. In the 2000s, some parts of the US were actually trying to make sagging illegal, because I guess pants are only safe for the public when they’re around your waist.

I doubt anyone wearing this costume is going to be arrested, unfortunately. Oh, and it also comes in a child version, so your towheaded little scamp can join the offensive party.

And in case you thought things couldn't possibly get worse, there's even a mass-produced "sexy burqa" costume. Whatever your feelings on the burqa as a symbol (and unless you are Muslim or extraordinarily well educated about Islam, your opinion is probably unfairly negatively influenced), the fact remains that Muslim women are entitled to choose how they dress and present themselves in public, and should their personal standards -- and personal safety -- dictate a certain degree of modesty, it’s not acceptable to mock that choice.

Sexy burqa. Photo Credit: xojane I really, really, really can't.

More to the point, the burqa and other Muslim headcoverings are typically a religious choice as well. Muslims in the U.S. are already misunderstood and misrepresented enough on every other day besides Halloween. Turning a burqa -- the purpose of which, in part, is to cover a woman’s body and avoid her being sexualized against her will -- into a sexual garment is so disrespectful it boggles the mind that this costume even exists.

And there are so many other, better sexy costumes. Enjoy a few, as a palate cleanser after the above:

Sexy lobster. Photo Credit: xojane Pinchy!

Sexy Lobster. In fact, there are TWO sexy lobsters, in case this one isn’t meeting your precise babely-crustacean needs.

 

Sexy taco. Photo Credit: xojane

Spicy!

 

Sexy Taco, although I'd argue that ALL tacos are sexy. Will this be 2014's Sexy Hamburger? Time will tell.

Sexy Mr. Peanut. Photo Credit: xojane Salty!

Sexy Mr Peanut. I have nothing bad to say about this. I kind of love it.

 

Sexy droog Photo Credit: xojaneUltra-violent!

Sexy Droog? Actually I don't know if this is hilarious and brilliant or terrible. I'll leave that decision to you.

Vagina hat. Photo Credit: xojane

Or, you could just cut through the bullshit and wear a vagina hat.

This is probably what most men see when they look at women anyway. (Misandry rimshot!)

Did I miss any bizarre or offensive costumes you’ve seen? Let us know your favorites -- or tell us about your painstakingly handcrafted Sexy Something-That-Is-Not-Usually-Sexy costume -- in comments.

Read more from Lesley.

4 Terrible Mistakes We Can't Afford to Make With Ebola

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 07:50
Our response is starting to echo the war on terror. We can't let that happen.

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com   here.

These days, two “wars” are in the headlines: one against the marauding Islamic State and its new caliphate of terror carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria, the other against a marauding disease and potential pandemic, Ebola, spreading across West Africa, with the first cases already reaching the United States and Europe.  Both wars seemed to come out of the blue; both were unpredicted by our vast national security apparatus; both have induced fears bordering on hysteria and, in both cases, those fears have been quickly stirredinto the political stew of an American election year. 

The pundits and experts are already pontificating about the threat of 9/11-likeattacks on the homeland, fretting about how they might be countered, and in the case of Ebola, raising analogies to the anthrax attacks of 2001. As the medical authorities weigh in, the precedent of 9/11 seems not far from their minds. Meanwhile, Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has tried to calm the country down while openly welcoming “new ideas” in the struggle against the disease.  Given the almost instinctive way references and comparisons to terrorism are arising, it’s hard not to worry that any new ideas will turn out to be eerily similar to those that, in the post-9/11 period, defined the war on terror.

The differences between the two “wars” may seem too obvious to belabor, since Ebola is a disease with a medical etiology and scientific remedies, while ISIS is a sentient enemy.  Nevertheless, Ebola does seem to mimic some of the characteristics experts long ago assigned to al-Qaeda and its various wannabe and successor outfits. It lurks in the shadows until it strikes. It threatens the safety of civilians across the United States.  Its root causes lie in the poverty and squalor of distant countries.  Its spread must be stopped at its region of origin -- in this case, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa -- just as both the Bush and Obama administrations were convinced that the fight against al-Qaeda had to be taken militarily to the backlands of the planet from Pakistan’s tribal borderlands to Yemen’s rural areas. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that, while President Obama was sending at least 1,600 military personnel (and the drones and bombers) to fight ISIS, his first response to the Ebola crisis was also to send 3,000 troops into Liberia in what the media has been calling an “Ebola surge” (a reflexive nod to the American troop “surge” in Iraq in 2007). The Obama administration’s second act: to beef up border protections for the screening of people entering the United States (a move whose efficacy has beenquestioned by some medical experts), just as the authorities moved swiftly in the wake of 9/11 to turn airports and borders into massive security zones. The third act was to begin to trace points of contact for those with Ebola, which, while logical and necessary, eerily mimics the way the national security state began to build a picture of terror networks, establish watch lists, and the like.

The next step under consideration for those who might have been exposed to Ebola, quarantine (that is, detention), is controversial among medical experts, but should similarly remind us of where the war on terror went after 9/11: to Guantanamo.  As if the playbook for the post-9/11 response to terrorism were indeed the playbook for Ebola, Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy, questioning Dr. Frieden, noted that, without putting policies of surveillance, containment, and quarantine in place, “we still have a risk.”

While any of these steps individually may prove sensible, the ease with which non-medical authorities seem to be falling into a familiar war on terror-style response to the disease should be examined -- and quickly. If it becomes the default template for Ebola and the country ends up marching down the road to “war” against a disease, matters could be made so much worse.

So perhaps it’s time to refresh our memories about that war on terror template and offer four cautionary lessons about a road that should never be taken again, not in developing a policy against the latest non-state actors, nor in pursuit of the containment of a disease.

Lesson One: Don’t turn the “war” on Ebola into another set of programs that reflect the national security establishment’s well-developed reliance on intelligence, surveillance, and the military.  Looking, for instance, for people complaining about Ebola-like symptoms in private or searching the metadata of citizens for calls to doctors would be a fool’s errand, the equivalent of finding needles in a field full of haystacks.  

And keep in mind that, as far as we can tell, from 9/11 on, despite theoverblown claims of its adherents, the surveillance system they constructed has regularly failed to work as promised. It did not, for instance, stop the Shoe Bomber, the Times Square bomber, or the Boston Marathon bombers. Nor did the intelligence authorities, despite all the money invested since 9/11, prevent the Benghazi attack or the killing of seven CIA agents by a suicide bomber believed to be an American double agent in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009, or predict the rise of ISIS for that matter. Similarly, it is hard to imagine how the usual military might, from drones and special ops teams to those much-discussed boots on the ground, will help solve the problem of Ebola.  

In the post-9/11 era, military solutions have often prevailed, no matter the problem at hand.  Yet, at the end of the day, from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to the air operation in Libya to the CIA’s drone campaigns across tribal backlands, just about no militarized solution has led to anything approximating victory -- and the new war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is already following the same dismal pattern.  Against a virus, the U.S. military is likely to be even less successful at anything more than aiding health workers and officials in disease-ridden areas.

The tools that the national security state has relied on in its war on terror not only didn’t work then (and are highly unlikely to work when it comes to the present Middle Eastern conflict either), but applied to Ebola would undoubtedly prove catastrophic. And yet -- count on it -- they will also prove irresistible in the face of fear of that disease.  They are what the government knows how to do even if, in the war on terror itself, they created a vulnerability so much greater than the sum of its parts, helped foster the growth of jihadist movements globally, and eroded the sense of trust that existed between the government and the American people. 

Lesson Two: Keep public health professionals in charge of what needs to be done. All too often in the war on terror, professionals with areas of expertise were cast aside by the security establishment.  The judicial system, for instance, was left in the lurch when it came to dealing with accused al-Qaeda operatives, while the expertise of those who found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002-2003 was ignored.

Only by trusting our medical professionals will we avoid turning the campaign against Ebola over to the influence of the security state. And only by refusing to militarize the potential crisis, as so many others were in the post-9/11 era, will we avoid the usual set of ensuing disasters.  The key thing here is to keep the Ebola struggle a primarily civilian one.  The more it is left in the hands of doctors and public health experts who know the disease and understand what it means practically to commit the government to keeping people as safe as possible from the spread of the virus, the better.

Lesson Three: Don’t cloak the response to Ebola in secrecy.  The architects of the war on terror invoked secrecy as one of the prime pillars of their new state of being.  From the beginning, the Bush administration cavalierly hid its policies under a shroud of secrecy, claiming that national security demanded that information about what the government was doing should be kept from the American people for their own “safety.”  Although Barack Obama entered the Oval Office proclaiming a “sunshine” presidency, his administration has acted ever more fiercely to keep the actions of both the White House and the national security state under wraps, including, to mention just two examples, its justifications for policies surrounding its drone assassination campaignsand the extent of its warrantless surveillance programs.

As it happened, that wall of secrecy proved endlessly breachable, as leakscame flooding out of that world.  Nonetheless, the urge to recreate such a state of secrecy elsewhere may be all too tempting.  Don’t be surprised if the war on Ebola heads into the shadows, too -- and that’s the last thing the country needs or deserves when it comes to a public health crisis. To date, with medical professionals still at the forefront of those dealing publicly with Ebola, this impulse has yet to truly rise to the surface.  Under their aegis, information about the first Ebola cases to reach this country and the problems involved hasn’t disappeared behind a cloak of secrecy, but don’t count on transparency lasting if things get worse.  Yet keeping important facts about a potential pandemic under wraps is guaranteed to lead to panic and a rapid deterioration of trust between Americans and their government, a relationship already sorely tested in the war on terror years.

Realistically, secrecy and allied tools of the trade would represent a particularly inauspicious starting point for launching a counter-Ebola strategy at a time when it would be crucial for Americans to know about failures as well as successes.  Outbreaks of panic enveloped in hysteria wrapped in ignorance are no way to stop a disease from spreading.

Lesson Four: Don’t apply the “black site” approach to Ebola.  The war on terror was marked by the creation of special prisons or “black sites” beyond the reach of the U.S. justice system for the detention (in the case of Ebola think: isolation and quarantine) of terrorist suspects, places where anything went.  There can, of course, be no question that Ebola patients, once diagnosed with the disease, need to be isolated. Protective gear and isolation units are already being used in treating cases here.

The larger issue of quarantine, however, looms as potentially the first major public policy debate of the Ebola era. Keep an eye on this.  After all, quarantine-style thinking is already imprinted in the government’s way of life, thanks to the war on terror, so moving toward quarantines will seem natural to its officials. 

Quarantine is a phenomenon feared by civil libertarians and others as an overreaction that will prove ineffective when it comes to the spread of the disease.  It stands to punish individuals for their associations, however inadvertent, rather than dealing with them when they actually display signs of the disease. To many, though, it will seem like a quick-fix solution, the Ebola counterpart to Guantanamo, a facility for those who were deemed potential carriers of the disease of terrorism.

The fears a threat of massive quarantines can raise will only make things harder for health officials. So, too, will increasing calls for travel bans for those coming from West African countries, a suggestion reminiscent of sweeping police profiling policies that target groups rather than individuals. Avoiding such bans is not just a matter of preserving civil liberties, but a safety issue as well. Fears of broad quarantines and blanket travel bans could potentially lead affected individuals to become far more secretive about sharing information on the disease and far more deceptive in their travel planning.  It could, that is, spread, not halt the dissemination of Ebola. As Thomas Frieden of the CDC argues, “Right now we know who’s coming in. If we try to eliminate travel, the possibility that some will travel over land, will come from other places, and we don’t know that they’re coming in will mean that we won’t be able to do multiple things. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they leave. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they arrive. We won’t be able, as we do currently, to take a detailed history to see if they were exposed when they arrive.”  In other words, an overly aggressive reaction could actually make medical deterrence exponentially more difficult.

The United States is about to be tested by a disease in ways that could dovetail remarkably well with the war on terror.  In this context, think of Ebola as the universe’s unfair challenge to everything that war bred in our governmental system. As it happens, those things that the U.S. did, often ineffectively and counterproductively, to thwart its enemies, potential enemies, and even its own citizenry will not be an antidote to this “enemy” either. It, too, may be transnational, originate in fragile states, and affect those who come in contact with it, but it cannot be stopped by the methods of the national security state.

Countering Ebola will require a whole new set of protections and priorities, which should emerge from the medical and public health communities. The now sadly underfunded National Institutes of Health and other such organizations have been looking at possible pandemic situations for years. It is imperative that our officials heed the lessons of their research as they have failed to do many times over with their counterparts in public policy in the war on terror years. To once again invoke the powers of the state to address fantasies and fears rather than the realities of a spreading disease would be to recklessly taunt the fates.

Karen J. Greenberg is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days, a TomDispatch regular, and the editor-in-chief of theMorning Brief, a daily round-up of national security news. CNS Legal Fellow Kevin Garnett helped research this article.

Copyright 2014 Karen J. Greenberg

5 Most Extremist GOPers Who Might Be Headed to Congress

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 07:38
Congressional hopeful Glenn Grothman worries that “gals” are running — and ruining — America by leading a “war on men.”

The conventional wisdom is that so-called establishment Republican candidates by and large triumphed over Tea Party radicals this election cycle. But the truth is that those victories were the result of a party establishment that itself has moved far to the right. Even where Tea Party candidates have failed, the Tea Party movement has increasingly remade the “establishment” GOP in its own image.

It is now core doctrine in the GOP to deny the science behind climate change, endorse sweeping abortion bans and engage in anti-government rhetoric reminiscent of the John Birch Society.

As Tea Party icon Michele Bachmann put it last week, while she may be retiring from Congress, she leaves with the knowledge that “even the establishment moved toward embracing the Tea Party’s messaging.”

Here, we look at five Republican congressional candidates who could be heading to the Capitol next year. Some have been labeled “establishment,” some “Tea Party,” but all are emblematic of the party’s strong turn to the right.

1. Joni Ernst

One Iowa conservative pundit has described state Sen. Joni Ernst, now the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, as “the choice of the Republican establishment” who has “been backed by national Republican establishment figures like Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Marco Rubio.”

But in today’s Republican Party, even an “establishment” candidate like Ernst can be just as extreme as a Tea Party insurgent.

Ernst subscribes to the radical, neo-Confederate idea that states can “nullify” federal laws that they deem to be unconstitutional — and even went so far as to suggest that local law enforcement officers can arrest government officials for simply administering federal laws.

In response to a 2012 candidate survey for a group affiliated with former congressman Ron Paul, Ernst pledged to “support legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the unconstitutional health care scheme known as ObamaCare.” In a speech to a Religious Right group the next year, she criticized Congress for passing “laws that the states are considering nullifying.”

As a state senator, Ernst backed resolutions calling on Iowa to defy federal environmental regulations and gun laws. Ernst’s campaign denies that she has ever supported nullification, despite her own statements and positions in favor of the radical ideology.

Not only does Ernst think states should simply be able to void laws they don’t like, but she also wants to abolish the federal minimum wage and eliminate federal agencies such as the Department of Education, the EPA and the IRS. She also came out in favor of a plan, known as the “Fair Tax,” that would scrap the income tax and replace it with a federal sales tax of 23 percent on nearly all goods.

Ernst has also repeatedly floated the idea of impeaching President Obama for becoming a “dictator.”

Her anti-government paranoia even extends to taking on a non-binding United Nations sustainable development agreement, Agenda 21, which she warned will pave the way for the UN to remove Americans from rural lands and force them into cities. She has even disagreedwith the official investigations finding that Iraq did not have WMDs at the time of the 2003 U.S. invasion.

But Ernst does support government intervention when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, sponsoring the Iowa personhood amendment, which would ban abortion in all cases along with common forms of birth control. “I think the provider should be punished, if there were a personhood amendment,” Ernst said, but has since insisted that she thinks the amendment would be purely symbolic.

Ernst has repeatedly denied the science of climate change, arguing that she has “not seen proven proof” of human influence on the climate and dismissed the role of “man-made activities.”

As Ernst’s candidacy shows, the line dividing “establishment Republicans” from fringe right-wing zealots has become so blurred that it has effectively vanished.

2. Thom Tillis

Like Ernst, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is widely considered the choice of the “establishment” and “mainstream” wing of the GOP, while his extremist record shows just how far to the right even the party’s “mainstream” has moved.

In 2007, Tillis blasted government policies that “have redistributed trillions of dollars of wealth,” calling them “reparations” for slavery. The same year, he opposed a resolution apologizing for an 1898 massacre of African Americans in a North Carolina city, explaining that the amendment didn’t sufficiently honor white Republicans.

Tillis supported the repeal of North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act — which allowed death-row inmates to appeal their sentences based on evidence of racial bias — and backed heavily restrictive voting laws designed to weaken the black vote. In a 2012 interview, he lamented that Democrats were gaining ground in North Carolina thanks to growing Latino and African American populations while the “traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable.”

Tillis has said he would support a Personhood Amendment banning abortion in all cases and prohibiting common forms of birth control, and believesthat states have the right to ban contraceptives. In his role as state House speaker, Tillis led attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and to add abortion rights restrictions to a motorcycle safety bill. A Tillis-backed “targeted regulations of abortion providers” (TRAP) bill last year threatened to close all but one of the state’s 16 abortion clinics.

Following a federal court ruling striking down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, Tillis attempted to preserve the ban by teaming up with the founder of one of the country’s leading anti-gay groups. At a 2011 town hall meeting, he suggested that marriage equalitywould lead to “Big Government.” Tillis is also a climate change denialist and suggested that liberals plotted to use climate science “as a Trojan horse for their energy policy.”

Tillis wants to abolish the federal minimum wage, supported the GOP-led federal government shutdown (before reversing himself) and cut jobless benefits so severely that it made North Carolina ineligible to receive federal compensation.

While cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from education spending and blocking the expansion of Medicaid under the guise of fiscal stewardship, Tillis shepherded through a massive tax break to benefit top earners and corporations while effectively raising taxes on the lower 80 percent of taxpayers.

At an event in 2011, he suggested that the government cut public spending by finding “a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance” — specifically by setting disabled people against “these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government.”

He has now pivoted his campaign to focus on addressing the menacing specter of people infected with Ebola coming to Mexico to illegally cross the southern border into the U.S.

3. Jody Hice

Jody Hice entered politics as a Religious Right activist and a conservative talk radio show host, making him part of two worlds that are at the core of the conservative movement. Now, as the frontrunner in an open Georgia House seat, currently held by outgoing far-right Rep. Paul Broun, Hice is set to bring his right-wing agenda to Congress.

Hice made his first foray into politics by trying to convince local governments to erect monuments of the Ten Commandments in public places, which were deemed unconstitutional by, in Hice’s words, “judicial terrorists .” A Christian Nationalist, Hice thinks the founding fathers would support his congressional campaign and has posted on his Facebook page numerous fake quotes from our nation’s founders about the dangers of “Big Government” and the need to mix religion and government.

Hice outlines his political beliefs and fears in his book, “It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America,” in which he claims that abortion rights make the U.S. worse than Nazi Germany; endorses the fringe “nullification” theory; argues that Islam “does not deserve First Amendment protection”; and spells out his worries about gay people trying to “sodomize” children and persecute Christians, fearing that children will be “preyed upon” by gay “recruitment” efforts until they embrace “destructive,” “militant homosexuality.”

In one episode of his radio program, Hice suggested that gay people seek therapy, lamenting that “we are enslaving and entrapping potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals in a lifestyle that frankly they are not.” During another radio commentary, Hice denied that legal discrimination towards gays and lesbains exists, before comparing homosexuality to incest. If anything, according to Hice, it is the Christian community that faces government discrimination as a result of a Satanic plot to “chip away” at “our Christian rights.”

When armed militia groups gathered at the Bundy ranch in Nevada to back a rancher and race-theorist who refused to pay grazing fees for using federal property, Hice praised the groups that were threatening violence against law enforcement officers. He has argued that individuals have the right to have “any, any, any, any weapon that our government and law enforcement possesses,” including “bazookas and missiles,” in order to give citizens a fighting chance in a potential war against the government.

This summer, as thousands of Central American children fleeing violence in their home countries reached the U.S., causing a humanitarian crisis, Hice suggested armed militia groups organize at the southern border.

The GOP nominee blamed mass shootings such as those that occurred at Virginia Tech and in Aurora, Colorado, on abortion rights, the separation of church and state, and the teaching of evolution, and said that the Sandy Hook school shooting was the result of “kicking God out of the public square” with the end of school-organized prayer.

Hice also believes that we are now living in the End Times, worrying that “we have little time” left on earth and citing the appearance of blood moons as proof of imminent cataclysmic, “world-changing events.”

While Hice is worried about the destructive consequences of blood moons, he dismissed climate changeas a “propaganda” tool of the “Radical Environmental Movement” to make people of believe in an “impending environmental disaster due to ‘Global Warming.’”

His theological views also make him skeptical of women running for public office, saying a woman should only do so if she remains “within the authority of her husband.”

4. Glenn Grothman

Wisconsin state senator and anti-Kwanzaa crusader Glenn Grothman is running for an open House seat, from which he hopes to legislate in the same manner as his “soul mate” Rick Santorum.

Not one to hold back, Grothman has lambasted union activists protesting a law targeting labor rights as “slobs” and proposed doing away with the weekend and paid sick leave. So fearful of “Big Government” is Grothman that he also tried to put an end to municipal water disinfection programs.

Grothman opposes abortion rights without exceptions in cases of rape, incest and a woman’s health, even working to make it a felony offense for a doctor to perform an abortion that could save a woman’s life. Grothman successfully passed laws requiring doctors to read scripts meant to discourage women from terminating their pregnancies, which he said was necessary because oftentimes “women are looking for someone to talk them out of it.” He also sponsored a 24-hour waiting period for abortions that only exempts survivors of “forcible rape” who file a police report.

The Republican lawmaker worries that “gals” are running — and ruining — America by leading a “war on men.” He has said the U.S. “is in the process of committing suicide today” as a result of single mothers collecting public benefits and pushed a bill to declare single parenthood “a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect,” calling single parenthood a “choice” and the result of a culture that “encourages a single motherhood lifestyle.”

“I think a lot of women are adopting the single motherhood lifestyle because the government creates a situation in which it is almost preferred,” he said in a 2012 interview with Alan Colmes, adding that he believes women aren’t telling the truth about having unintended pregnancies: “I think people are trained to say that ‘this is a surprise to me,’ because there’s still enough of a stigma that they’re supposed to say this.”

In a similar vein, he defended Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to rescind a pay equity law because, according to Grothman, pay disparities are due to the fact that “money is more important for men.”

Grothman is a sponsor of the Wisconsin Personhood resolution [PDF], which would ban abortion in all cases and many forms of birth control, and his campaign has touted the support of personhood activists.

He once described Planned Parenthood as “probably the most racist organization” in the country, adding that he believes the group targets Asian Americans for abortion. In 2007, he voted against a bill that made sure hospitals provide information about emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors.

He opposes laws protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and once tried to strip a sex education bill of a nondiscrimination provision that he suspected was part of a plot to make kids gay. Grothman also demanded that his state refuse to follow a court order to recognize same-sex marriages, which he feared would “legitimiz[e] illegal and immoral marriages.”

Not content with just opposing gay rights in the U.S., Grothman also defended a Ugandan law that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by sentences including life in prison. He even suggested that “unbelievable” American criticism of Uganda’s law would prompt God to punish the United States.

Although Grothman fears that America might incur God’s wrath for standing up to state-sanctioned violence against gays and lesbians, he is less concerned about climate change, which he says “doesn’t exist.” Grothman told one interviewer: “This environmental stuff, this is the idea that is driven by this global warming thing. Global warming is not man-made and there is barely any global warming at all, there’s been no global warming for the last twelve or thirteen years. I see a shortage of Republicans stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘look, this global warming stuff is not going on.”

5. Zach Dasher

Taking advantage of his family’s new-found reality TV fame, “Duck Dynasty” cousin Zach Dasher is running for U.S. Congress in Louisiana in an election where the top two candidates advance to a runoff vote if no candidate takes over 50 percent of the vote.

Dasher cited the success of “Duck Dynasty” as one of the reasons he entered the race: “Five years ago, I didn’t see an opportunity or window of opportunity to get into this type of venture. But here recently, obviously with the family name and being able to get my message out there, I saw an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

Of his uncle Phil Robertson, who came under fire for making statements in a magazine interview defending Jim Crow and demonizing gays and lesbians, Dasher gushed: “The support of the family means a lot to me. We share a very similar background and philosophy, and our spiritual beliefs are the same as well. They’re going to be a big part of the campaign. I’m going to have Phil as my PR director, since he’s so good with the media.”

Robertson also appears in commercials promoting Dasher’s candidacy, and Dasher has said he agreed with Robertson’s remarks about the gay community. Dasher’s wife wrote in a blog post that just as people should break out of addictions to alcohol and heroin, gay people can “overcome” and “come out of” homosexuality and find “healing.”

One of Dasher’s opponents, Rep. Vince McAllister, is a freshman Republican congressman who said he would retire after he was caught on video kissing a staffer who was not his wife, then changed his mind. Dasher says he is running as an even more conservative candidate than the GOP incumbent, and has received backing from Tea Party and pro-corporate groups such as the Club for Growth and Citizens United.

“My platform begins with God. That’s really what this whole thing is about. In Washington, when we look at what’s going on, we see an erosion away from that platform,” he told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “We see the ruling classes kick God out and in His place they place themselves. That scares me because we didn't send these folks to Washington, D.C. to determine our rights, we sent them there to defend our rights.”

Dasher fears that the federal government “believes that they’re God” and is intent on “gain[ing] control over every aspect of our lives” as part of a plan to create a “culture of dependency.” In a personal podcast, Dasher said the “swift drift away from God will usher in tyranny and death,” warning: “Tyranny will get its foothold — if it already doesn't have it — and in the end, there will be mass carnage and mass death. It's inevitable.”

Dasher blamed the Sandy Hook shooting on atheists, whom he also accused of “brainwashing a generation ” through rap music and ushering in “moral decay” and the erosion of liberty. He said that schools should “arm the teachers,” arguing that laws targeting gun violence actually leave people as “unarmed sitting ducks, waiting for someone to come in and shoot their schools up.” Dasher recently claimed that the Second Amendment was established to allow people to defend themselves against “a tyrannical government,” warning that government officials intend to repeal the amendment in order to eliminate all other freedoms.

 

 Related Stories

Shocking New Report: Superrich Have Grabbed Half the World's Assets

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 05:29
They're eyeing the other half.

According to a new report, the richest one percent have got their mitts on almost half the world's assets. Think that’s the end of the story? Think again. This is only the beginning.

The “Global Annual Wealth Report,” freshly released by investment giant Credit Suisse, analyzes the shocking trend of growing wealth inequality around the world. What the researchers find is that global wealth has increased every year since 2008, and that personal wealth seems to be rising at the fastest rate ever recorded, much of it driven by strong equity markets. But the benefits of this growth have largely been channeled to those who are already affluent. While the restaurant workers in America struggled to achieve wages of $10 an hour for their labor, those invested in equities saw their wealth soar without lifting a finger. So it goes around the world.

The bottom half of the world’s people now own less than 1 percent of total wealth, and they’re struggling to hold onto even that minuscule portion. On the other hand, the wealthiest 10 percent have accumulated a staggering 87 percent of global assets. The top percentile has 48.2 percent of the world wealth. For now.

One of the scary things about the wealth of the supperich is what French economist Thomas Piketty pointed out in his best-selling book, Capital in the 21st Century. Once they’ve got a big chunk of wealth, their share will get bigger even if they sit by and do absolutely nothing. Piketty sums up this economic reality in a simple and horrifying formula: r > g. 

Basically, this means that when rate of return on wealth is greater than the overall rate of growth of the economy, as it has nearly always been throughout history, the rich will grow inevitably richer and the poor poorer unless there is some kind of intervention, like higher taxes on wealth, for example. If r is less than g, the assets of the super-wealthy will erode, but if r is greater than g, you eventually get the explosion of gigantic inherited fortunes and dynasties.

This is happening now: If you look at the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people in America, you see a lot more inherited fortunes in the upper ranks than you did a couple of decades ago, when the policies that held inequality at bay began to get dismantled. In today’s top 10, there are more scions of the Walton family than entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. These people have essentially done nothing of value for society, and yet their undue influence shapes our political landscape with the wave of a wad of cash. 

There have been moments in history when things were not so lopsided. During the post-war period, inequality was contained because governments made sure their rich didn’t accumulate at such alarming rates by doing things like taxing their estates at a high rate. At the same time, they created policies to lift the incomes of the less well-off and allow them to have some basic security. But that’s an exception in history. Most of the time, this kind of intervention did not happen, and so the rich kept gobbling more and accumulating more power to keep it that way until one of two things happened — a revolution or some kind of catastrophe or disruptive event, like a war, shook things up.

As the Credit Suisse report states:

“[Wealth inequality] has been the case throughout most of human history, with wealth ownership often equating with land holdings, and wealth more often acquired via inheritance or conquest rather than talent or hard work. However, a combination of factors caused wealth inequality to trend downwards in high income countries during much of the 20th century, suggesting that a new era had emerged. That downward trend now appears to have stalled, and possibly gone into reverse.”

That’s right. We’re on a turbo-charged ride back to the days of Downton Abbey. Piketty warns that we’re in the early stages of reverting right back to periods of massive inequality, like 19th-century Britain or 18th-century France, where great dynastic fortunes ruled and everybody else fought for scraps.

What the statistics and formulas don’t show is the kind of human suffering that results from this kind of extreme inequality. While the global elite zip around the world in private jets and watch their stock portfolios expand on computer screens from within their gated mansions, the bottom half stays awake at night trying to think of how to pay for medicine for a sick child. The things that give life dignity and meaning, like a quality education, a decent job, and the security of knowing you have a roof over your head and a doctor to care for you when you are ill grow further and further out of reach. Anxiety never leaves because one unforeseen mishap can push you down into poverty, and if you’re already there, you spend much of your time searching, often fruitlessly, for a way out.

But there’s a little bit of anxiety percolating at the top, too. On the June cover of the conservative magazine American Spectator, a cartoon shows an incensed mob looking on as a monocled fatcat is led to a bloody guillotine — a scene evoking the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. The caption reads, “The New Class Warfare: Thomas Piketty’s intellectual cover for confiscation.” In the story that accompanies the image, James Pierson warns of revolution and a growing class of suffering people who want to punish the rich and take away their toys.

That would be one way to address things. Another would be the recognition that inequality is extremely destabilizing and dangerous, and that non-violent interventions are possible, as we saw in America with the New Deal. Things like robust tax reform, unions, regulation, changes in corporate governance and CEO pay, affordable education, jobs programs, expansion of Social Security and universal healthcare.

Or we could just do things the old-fashioned way and wait for a disaster even bigger than the meltdown of 2007-'08. In that case, fasten your seatbelts. This ride could get very rough.

 Related Stories

6 of America's Most Panicky, Misinformed Overreactions to the Ebola Virus

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 16:15
Imagine what would happen if Ebola was a widespread threat?

In the U.S., there’s growing evidence that Ebola can be quarantined. But the same cannot be said about wild overreactions marked by panic, ignorance and intolerance as parents, school boards and others have responded to their fears, rather than to real outbreaks.

"Better safe than sorry” is the commonly heard refrain. But that is a poor excuse for a litany of misinformed overreactions, including some bad behavior that is bound to leave hurtful lasting impacts on the victims of these panic attacks.

Here are a half-dozen of the worst examples, starting with educators who should know better.

1. Geography Taught Here?

Howard Yocum Elementary School, in Maple Shade, New Jersey, is across the river from Philadelphia. It’s 146 miles away from a hospital in Maryland, 782 miles from a hospital in Georgia, and 1,475 miles from a hospital in Texas, where Ebola patients are located. However, when parents and school officials heard that two students from the East African country of Rwanda were enrolled, they lost it—even though Rwanda, which has no Ebola cases, is 2,846 miles from the virus’ epicenter, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa.

The school’s staff told teachers (but not parents) that Rwandan students were coming and not to worry. That lit up the rumor mill, and here’s what parents told Fox News:

  • “I don’t feel comfortable sending my daughter to school with people who could be infected with Ebola.”
  • “Really concerns me. I don’t want to keep my boy out of school.”
  • “Don’t smile in my face and have a secret like that.”
  • “Stay there until all this stuff is resolved. There’s nobody affected here—let’s just keep it that way.”

As a result, the Rwandan children have been “voluntarily” quarantined by their parents for 21 days, which is the Ebola incubation period. “I don’t think it would hurt,” one parent told Fox News. “You have a lot of children that are involved, so I don’t think it would hurt.”

Really? Do they think those two Rwandan kids will return to class free of stigma?

2. Not An Isolated Incident

In Strong Elementary School in Maine, a different unfounded fear unfolded. One teacher was put on a mandatory 21-day leave after attending a conference in Dallas and staying at a hotel 9.5 miles from Texas Health Presbyterian, where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan was treated before he died. Never mind that millions of people live and commute in the city. Ignorant parents and a compliant school board were quick to overreact, bending to the argument that they had not been told a teacher would be in Dallas.

“The decision to place the teacher on leave was made by the MSAD 58 school board Thursday evening, after parents and community members expressed frustration that they were not notified that the teacher would be traveling to Dallas,” Portland’s Press Herald said. “After several discussions with the staff member, out of an abundance of caution, this staff member has been placed on a paid leave of absence for up to 21 days,” the school board’s statement said.

For the record, to date, there have been no Ebola cases in Maine.

3. What’s Missing in Mississippi

More public school paranoia occurred in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, after a rumor surfaced that its middle-school principal, Lee Wannik, was in Nigeria (which, incidentally, has been declared virus-free by international health officials). The rumor, which was wrong, nonetheless prompted dozens of parents to remove their children from school. Wannik was at his brother’s funeral in Zambia, an East-Central African country which is even further from Liberia than Rwanda is.

Again, parents told school officials that they would “rather be safe than sorry,” the local news reported, adding their paranoia grew when Wannik opted to take a voluntary leave and seek medical attention—so as not to be a “distraction.” 

These incidents show there is very little thinking going on when people feel that their lives are endangered, despite all evidence to the contrary. But there have been even more paranoid reactions near areas where Ebola patients have been hospitalized.

4. No Getting Sick In Public

Panic broke out and HazMat teams were dispatched to a Dallas Area Rapid Transit station on Saturday after a woman got off a train and vomited at the platform, leading police to close the station and summon emergency crews. Initially, the media incorrectly reported that she had been on an Ebola watch list, which was later retracted.

A similar reaction occurred at the Pentagon a few days before, when a woman who had been to West Africa became sick and threw up in a parking lot. That led officials there to quarantine a bus on which the woman had been traveling.   

Meanwhile, in New York City, where international airports are screening travelers from West Africa by taking their temperature upon arrival—which doctors say will do little to detect the virus—the New York Post has reported a “hesitancy by health-care providers to examine patients or by laboratory workers to handle [blood] specimens.”

That kind of personal reaction seems to be irrepressible the closer one gets to a perceived threat or possibility of an infected person.

5. Carnival Cruise Nightmare

Now that a Carnival Cruise Line ship has returned to port—with passengers cheering as they disembarked in Galveston, Texas—there have been a string of news reports saying not everybody aboard the ship was panicking when they learned that one passenger was a laboratory supervisor who had handled an Ebola patient’s blood work. That person voluntarily quarantined herself, showed no signs of infection, and subsequently had her blood tested (and taken away by a Coast Guard helicopter). Consistent with what ship's officers said all along, she was found to be clear of Ebola.

However, the British Telegraph quoted many passengers who described an “utter panic,” saying some passengers were crying and feared they might be trapped on a death ship, where infections would spread, or would have to wait for weeks until being cleared to leave. “As word of an Ebola scare spread, so many passengers tried to call home that their mobile signals failed, and the Internet crashed,” the Telegraph said.

The panic deepened when Mexican officials refused to let the ship dock in Cozumel, citing the age-old maritime practice of keeping ships offshore if there is a threat of disease. “I noticed that we were pulling away,” one passenger said. “The captain finally came on and said we couldn’t get permission to port. That’s when everything hit the fan here and we realized we were quarantined.”    

6. Real Ebola Victims, Not Imagined Fears

There are real Ebola victims in the U.S. They include the fiancé and children of Thomas Eric Duncan, who have been quarantined and heavily monitored for weeks after losing Duncan to the virus. As Cliff Weathers reported, those survivors have lost most of their possessions, been forced from their homes and have been treated as pariahs by many neighbors. Duncan's fiancé is very worried about how the children—who have been cleared of any infection—will be treated when they return to school this week.

TheNew York Times also had a striking report on Monday by Helene Cooper, a Pentagon correspondent and native Liberian who described how people in her country are reacting with great inner strength and dignity in the face of a crisis that’s leaving few families untouched. The difference between dealing with a real epidemic and an imagined one is night and day.   

 Related Stories

The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers Are the Most Misinformed

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:40
Authoritarian people have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape factual challenges to their beliefs.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Chris Mooney’s book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.

In June of 2011, Jon Stewart went on air with Fox News’ Chris Wallace and started a major media controversy over the channel’s misinforming of its viewers. “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart asked Wallace. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”

Stewart’s statement was factually accurate, as we’ll see. The next day, however, the fact-checking site PolitiFact weighed in and rated it “false.”In claiming to check Stewart’s “facts,” PolitiFact ironically committed a serious error—and later, doubly ironically, failed to correct it. How’s that for the power of fact checking?

There probably is a small group of media consumers out there somewhere in the world who are more misinformed, overall, than Fox News viewers. But if you only consider mainstream U.S. television news outlets with major audiences (e.g., numbering in the millions), it really is true that Fox viewers are the most misled based on all the available evidence—especially in areas of political controversy. This will come as little surprise to liberals, perhaps, but the evidence for it—evidence in Stewart’s favor—is pretty overwhelming.

My goal here is to explore the underlying causes for this “Fox News effect”—explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle. First, though, let’s begin by surveying the evidence about how misinformed Fox viewers actually are.

Based upon my research, I have located seven separate studies that support Stewart’s claim about Fox, and none that undermine it. Six of these studies were available at the time that PolitFact took on Stewart; one of them is newer.

The studies all take a similar form: These are public opinion surveys that ask citizens about their beliefs on factual but contested issues, and also about their media habits. Inevitably, some significant percentage of citizens are found to be misinformed about the facts, and in a politicized way—but not only that. The surveys also find that those who watch Fox are more likely to be misinformed, their views of reality skewed in a right-wing direction. In some cases, the studies even show that watching more Fox makes the misinformation problem worse.

So with that, here are the studies.

Iraq War

In 2003, a surveyby the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war. For instance, many Americans believed the U.S. had evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been collaborating in some way with Al Qaeda, or was involved in the 9-11 attacks; many also believed that the much touted “weapons of mass destruction” had been found in the country after the U.S. invasion, when they hadn’t. But not everyone was equally misinformed: “The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news,” PIPA reported. “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.” For instance, 80 percent of Fox viewers held at least one of three Iraq-related misperceptions, more than a variety of other types of news consumers, and especially NPR and PBS users. Most strikingly, Fox watchers who paid more attention to the channel were more likely to be misled.

Global Warming

At least two studies have documented that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about this subject.

In a late 2010 survey, Stanford University political scientist Jon Krosnick and visiting scholar Bo MacInnis found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.” Frequent Fox viewers were less likely to say the Earth’s temperature has been rising and less likely to attribute this temperature increase to human activities. In fact, there was a 25 percentage point gap between the most frequent Fox News watchers (60%) and those who watch no Fox News (85%) in whether they think global warming is “caused mostly by things people do or about equally by things people do and natural causes.”

In a much more comprehensive study released in late 2011 (too late for Stewart or for PolitiFact), American University communications scholar Lauren Feldman and her colleagues reported on their analysis of a 2008 national survey, which found that “Fox News viewing manifests a significant, negative association with global warming acceptance.” Viewers of the station were less likely to agree that “most scientists think global warming is happening” and less likely to think global warming is mostly caused by human activities, among other measures.

Health Care

In 2009, an NBC survey found “rampant misinformation” about the healthcare reform bill before Congress — derided on the right as “Obamacare.”It also found that Fox News viewers were much more likely to believe this misinformation than average members of the general public. “72% of self-identified Fox News viewers believe the healthcare plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly,” the survey found.

By contrast, among CNN and MSNBC viewers, only 41 percent believed the illegal immigrant falsehood, 39 percent believed in the threat of a “government takeover” of healthcare (40 percentage points less), 40 percent believed the falsehood about abortion, and 30 percent believed the falsehood about “death panels” (a 45 percent difference!).

In early 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation released another survey on public misperceptions about healthcare reform. The poll asked 10 questions about the newly passed healthcare law and compared the “high scorers”—those that answered 7 or more correct—based on their media habits. The result was that “higher shares of those who report CNN (35 percent) or MSNBC (39 percent) as their primary news source [got] 7 or more right, compared to those that report mainly watching Fox News (25 percent).”

"Ground Zero Mosque” 

In late 2010, two scholars at the Ohio State University studied public misperceptions about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”—and in particular, the prevalence of a series of rumors depicting those seeking to build this Islamic community center and mosque as terrorist sympathizers, anti-American, and so on. All of these rumors had, of course, been dutifully debunked by fact-checking organizations. The result? “People who use Fox News believe more of the rumors we asked about and they believe them more strongly than those who do not.”

The 2010 Election

In late 2010, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) once again singled out Fox in a survey about misinformation during the 2010 election. Out of 11 false claims studied in the survey, PIPA found that “almost daily” Fox News viewers were “significantly more likely than those who never watched it” to believe 9 of them, including the misperceptions that “most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring” (they do), that “it is not clear that President Obama was born in the United States” (he was), that “most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses” (it either saved or created several million), that “most economists have estimated the healthcare law will worsen the deficit” (they have not), and so on.

It is important to note that in this study—by far the most critiqued of the bunch—the examples of misinformation studied were all closely related to prominent issues in the 2010 midterm election, and indeed, were selected precisely because they involved issues that voters said were of greatest importance to them, like healthcare and the economy. That was the main criterion for inclusion, explains PIPA senior research scholar Clay Ramsay. “People said, here’s how I would rank that as an influence on my vote,” says Ramsay, “so everything tested is at least a 5 on a zero-to-10 scale.”

Politifact Swings and Misses

In attempting to fact-check Jon Stewart on the subject of Fox News and misinformation, PolitiFact simply appeared out of its depth. The author of the article in question, Louis Jacobson, only cited two of the studies above--“Iraq War” and “2010 Election”—though six out of seven were available at the time he was writing. And then he suggested that the “2010 Election” study should “carry less weight” due to various methodological objections.

Meanwhile, Jacobson dug up three separate studies that we can dismiss as irrelevant. That’s because these studies did not concern misinformation, but rather, how informed news viewers are about basic political facts like the following: “who the vice president is, who the president of Russia is, whether the Chief Justice is conservative, which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and whether the U.S. has a trade deficit.”

A long list of public opinion studies have shown that too few Americans know the answers to such basic questions. That’s lamentable, but also off point at the moment. These are not politically contested issues, nor are they skewed by an active misinformation campaign. As a result, on such issues many Americans may be ill-informed but liberals and conservatives are nevertheless able to agree.

Jon Stewart was clearly talking about political misinformation. He used the word “misinformed.” And for good reason: Misinformation is by far the bigger torpedo to our national conversation, and to any hope of a functional politics. “It’s one thing to be not informed,” explains David Barker, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied conservative talk-radio listeners and Fox viewers. “It’s another thing to be misinformed, where you’re confident in your incorrectness. That’s the thing that’s really more problematic, democratically speaking—because if you’re confidently wrong, you’re influencing people.”

Thus PolitiFact’s approach was itself deeply uninformed, and underscores just how poorly our mainstream political discourse deals with the problem of systematic right wing misinformation.

Fox and the Republican Brain

The evidence is clear, then—the Politifact-Stewart flap notwithstanding, Fox viewers are the most misinformed. But then comes the truly interesting and important question: Why is that the case?

To answer it, we’ll first need to travel back to the 1950s, and the pioneering work of the Stanford psychologist and cult infiltrator, Leon Festinger.

In his 1957 book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Festinger built on his famous study of a doomsday cult called the Seekers, and other research, to lay out many ramifications of his core idea about why human beings contort the evidence to fit their beliefs, rather than conforming those beliefs to the evidence. That included a prediction about how those who are highly committed to a belief or view should go about seeking information that touches on that powerful conviction.

Festinger suggested that once we’ve settled on a core belief, this ought to shape how we gather information. More specifically, we are likely to try to avoid encountering claims and information that challenge that belief, because these will create cognitive dissonance. Instead, we should go looking for information that affirms the belief. The technical (and less than ideal) term for this phenomenon is “selective exposure”: what it means is that we selectively choose to be exposed to information that is congenial to our beliefs, and to avoid “inconvenient truths” that are uncongenial to them.

If Festinger’s ideas about “selective exposure” are correct, then the problem with Fox News may not solely be that it is actively causing its viewers to be misinformed. It’s very possible that Fox could be imparting misinformation even as politically conservative viewers are also seeking the station out—highly open to it and already convinced about many falsehoods that dovetail with their beliefs. Thus, they would come into the encounter with Fox not only misinformed and predisposed to become more so, but inclined to be very confident about their incorrect beliefs and to impart them to others. In this account, political misinformation on the right would be driven by a kind of feedback loop, with both Fox and its viewers making the problem worse.

Psychologists and political scientists have extensively studied selective exposure, and within the research literature, the findings are often described as mixed. But that’s not quite right. In truth, some early studies seeking to confirm Festinger’s speculation had problems with their designs and often failed—and as a result, explains University of Alabama psychologist William Hart, the field of selective exposure research “stagnated” for several decades. But it has since undergone a dramatic revival—driven, not surprisingly, by the modern explosion of media choices and growing political polarization in the U.S. And thanks to a new wave of better-designed and more rigorous studies, the concept has become well established.

“Selective exposure is the clearest way to look at how people create their own realities, based upon their views of the world,” says Hart. “Everybody knows this happens.”

Indeed, by 2009, Hart and a team of researchers were able to perform a meta-analysis—a statistically rigorous overview of published studies on selective exposure—that pooled together 67 relevant studies, encompassing almost 8,000 individuals. As a result, he found that people overall were nearly twice as likely to consume ideologically congenial information as to consume ideologically inconvenient information—and in certain circumstances, they were even more likely than that.

When are people most likely to seek out self-affirming information? Hart found that they’re most vulnerable to selective exposure if they have defensive goals—for instance, being highly committed to a preexisting view, and especially a view that is tied to a person’s core values. Another defensive motivation identified in Hart’s study was closed-mindedness, which makes a great deal of sense. It is probably part of the definition of being closed-minded, or dogmatic, that you prefer to consume information that agrees with what you already believe.

So who’s closed-minded? Multiple studies have shown that political conservatives—e.g., Fox viewers--tend to have a higher need for closure. Indeed, this includes a group called right-wing authoritarians, who are increasingly prevalent in the Republican Party. This suggests they should also be more likely to select themselves into belief-affirming information streams, like Fox News or right-wing talk radio or the Drudge Report. Indeed, a number of research results support this idea.

In a study of selective exposure during the 2000 election, for instance, Stanford University’s Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues mailed a multimedia informational CD about the two candidates—Bush and Gore—to 600 registered voters and then tracked its use by a sample of 220 of them. As a result, they found that Bush partisans chose to consume more information about Bush than about Gore—but Democrats and liberals didn’t show the same bias toward their own candidate.

Selective exposure has also been directly tested several times in authoritarians. In one case, researchers at Stony Brook University primed more and less authoritarian subjects with thoughts of their own mortality. Afterwards, the authoritarians showed a much stronger preference than non-authoritarians for reading an article that supported their existing view on the death penalty, rather than an article presenting the opposing view or a “balanced” take on the issue. As the authors concluded: “highly authoritarian individuals, when threatened, attempt to reduce anxiety by selectively exposing themselves to attitude-validating information, which leads to ‘stronger’ opinions that are more resistant to attitude change.”

The psychologist Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba has also documented an above average amount of selective exposure in right wing authoritarians. In one case, he gave students a fake self-esteem test, in which they randomly received either above average or below average scores. Then, everyone—the receivers of both low and high scores—was given the opportunity to say whether he or she would like to read a summary of why the test was valid. The result was striking: Students who scored low on authoritarianism wanted to learn about the validity of the test regardless of how they did on it. There was virtually no difference between high and low scorers. But among the authoritarian students, there was a big gap: 73 percent of those who got high self-esteem scores wanted to read about the test’s validity, while only 47 percent of those who got low self-esteem scores did.

Authoritarians, Altemeyer concludes, “maintain their beliefs against challenges by limiting their experiences, and surrounding themselves with sources of information that will tell them they are right.”

The evidence on selective exposure, as well as the clear links between closed-mindedness and authoritarianism, gives good grounds for believing that this phenomenon should be more common and more powerful on the political right. Lest we leap to the conclusion that Fox News is actively misinforming its viewers most of the time—rather than enabling them through its very existence—that’s something to bear in mind.

Disinformation Passing as “News”

None of which is to suggest that Fox isn’t also guilty of actively misinforming viewers. It certainly is.

The litany of misleading Fox segments and snippets is quite extensive—especially on global warming, where it seems that every winter snowstorm is an excuse for more doubt-mongering. No less than Fox’s Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was found to have written, in a 2009 internal staff email exposed by MediaMatters, that the network’s journalists should:

. . . refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.

And global warming is hardly the only issue where Fox actively misinforms its viewers. The polling data here, from the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) are very telling.

PIPA’s study of misinformation in the 2010 election didn’t just show that Fox News viewers were more misinformed than viewers of other channels. It also showed that watching more Fox made believing in nine separate political misperceptions more likely. And that was a unique effect, unlike any observed with the other news channels that were studied. “With all of the other media outlets, the more exposed you were, the less likely you were to have misinformation,” explains PIPA’s director, political psychologist Steven Kull. “While with Fox, the more exposure you had, in most cases, the more misinformation you had. And that is really, in a way, the most powerful factor, because it strongly suggests they were actually getting the information from Fox.”

Indeed, this effect was even present in non-Republicans--another indicator that Fox is probably its cause. As Kull explains, “even if you’re a liberal Democrat, you are affected by the station.” If you watched Fox, you were more likely to believe the nine falsehoods, regardless of your political party affiliation.

In summary, then, the “science” of Fox News clearly shows that its viewers are more misinformed than the viewers of other stations, and are indeed this way for ideological reasons. But these are not necessarily the reasons that liberals may assume. Instead, the Fox “effect” probably occurs both because the station churns out falsehoods that conservatives readily accept—falsehoods that may even seem convincing to some liberals on occasion—but also because conservatives are overwhelmingly inclined to choose to watch Fox to begin with.

At the same time, it’s important to note that they’re also disinclined to watch anything else. Fox keeps constantly in their minds the idea that the rest of the media are “biased” against them, and conservatives duly respond by saying other media aren’t worth watching—it’s just a pack of lies. According to Public Policy Polling’s annual TV News Trust Poll (the 2011 run), 72 percent of conservatives say they trust Fox News, but they also say they strongly distrust NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. Liberals and moderates, in contrast, trust all of these outlets more than they distrust them (though they distrust Fox). This, too, suggests conservative selective exposure.

And there is an even more telling study of “Fox-only” behavior among conservatives, from Stanford’s Shanto Iyengar and Kyu Hahn of Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea. They conducted a classic left-right selective exposure study, giving members of different ideological groups the chance to choose stories from a news stream that provided them with a headline and a news source logo—Fox, CNN, NPR, and the BBC—but nothing else. The experiment was manipulated so that the same headline and story was randomly attributed to different news sources. The result was that Democrats and liberals were definitely less inclined to choose Fox than other sources, but spread their interest across the other outlets when it came to news. But Republicans and conservatives overwhelmingly chose Fox for hard news and even for soft news, and ignored other sources. “The probability that a Republican would select a CNN or NPR report was around 10%,” wrote the authors.

In other words Fox News is both deceiver and enabler simultaneously. First, its existence creates the opportunity for conservatives to exercise their biases, by selecting into the Fox information stream, and also by imbibing Fox-style arguments and claims that can then fuel biased reasoning about politics, science, and whatever else comes up.

But at the same time, it’s also likely that conservatives, tending to be more closed-minded and more authoritarian, have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape from the belief challenges constantly presented by the “liberal media.” Their psychological need for something affirmative is probably stronger than what’s encountered on the opposite side of the aisle—as is their revulsion towards allegedly liberal (but really centrist) media outlets.

And thus we find, at the root of our political dysfunction, a classic nurture-nature mélange. The penchant for selective exposure is rooted in our psychology and our brains. Closed-mindedness and authoritarianism—running stronger in some of us than in others—likely are as well.

But nevertheless, it took the emergence of a station like Fox News before these tendencies could be fully activated—polarizing America not only over politics, but over reality itself.

 Related Stories

Meet the Researcher Who Thinks Cancer Can be Prevented—Even Reversed—Through Diet

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:34
T. Colin Campbell has set off a war with the food industry.

He says the CIA has shown up at his door with questions. Colleagues have warned him not to pursue his controversial research findings. One of his professional organizations considered kicking him out because of his research, and national panels that once wooed him now ignore him.

But in the end, T. Colin Campbell is a consummate researcher. When his findings belied one of his own foundational beliefs about nutrition, Campbell found himself standing alone at a crossroads: continue a respected and tenured academic career at a prestigious school or go public and advocate for scientific findings that counter established tenets of nutrition, contradict government dietary guidelines, are misunderstood by the medical establishment and belie the marketing claims of major food corporations.

Campbell says he chose the truth. In response to a comment that he picked a fight with a billion-dollar industry, Campbell said, “No, it’s a trillion-dollar industry.”

The professor emeritus in nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University said research has proven that consumption of animal products, including meat, fish and dairy, triggers chronic diseases and impaired health and poses a greater risk than heredity or environment. He has linked casein, a protein in milk, with breast cancer. His lifelong professional focus has been cancer and nutrition, and Campbell says that our national and global fight with cancer has targeted the wrong enemy.

Though he is scholarly and genteel, Campbell is not reserved. He's impatient and blunt. He dismisses the Atkins diet, Paleo diet, South Beach diet and high protein diet. He’s not a supporter of celebrity physicians who prescribe diets of wild salmon, expensive grass-fed beef and costly nutritional supplements. He comes down firmly on the side of health for everyone, not just the wealthy who can afford pharmaceutical supplements of questionable health benefit and expensive prescription medications for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

Campbell advocates disease prevention at the end of a fork. He was prominently featured in the award-winning documentary Forks Over Knives, and is the focus of a new documentary Plant Pure Nation, due out in early 2015 and produced by his son Nelson Campbell.

Colin Campbell discounts physicians as reliable sources of nutritional advice for their patients. Physicians, he said, received minimal to no nutritional education in medical school and have not generally conducted investigative laboratory research themselves.

Campbell, however, has spent more than five decades in laboratory research, much of it publicly funded. He’s adamant the public has a right to know his results.  

“Diet can be used to prevent and reverse cancer just like it prevents and reverses heart disease,” he said. “A diet high in animal protein increases the amount of carcinogens going to the cells. It increases the enzyme MFO (mixed function oxidase) that causes increased carcinogenic activity.”

In the lab, Campbell has shown that increasing consumption of animal protein alters MFO and activates cancer while decreasing consumption detoxifies cancer. A high protein diet derived from animal products increases cell replication and increases oxygen free radicals associated with cancer and aging.

“High-protein bars are crazy,” Campbell said. “Plants alone can easily provide all the protein we need.”    

By demeanor and upbringing, Campbell is an unlikely warrior. He grew up on a dairy farm in Virginia convinced of the nutritional value of milk. Early in his academic career as one of the youngest tenured professors at Cornell University, Campbell was researching dietary protein among children in the Philippines and was surprised to see a high correlation between consumption of animal protein and liver cancer. He was further surprised when he read an obscure research paper published by scientists in India linking dairy protein with cancer.

“This was counter to everything we believed,” he said.

The work started a line of inquiry that amassed the scientific foundation for what Campbell calls a “whole-food, plant-based diet: whole foods, no processed foods, only plants, no meat, fish or dairy and no added oils.” He wrote about the diet and his epidemiological studies in his book The China Study. The book, written with his son Thomas Campbell, was published in 2005 and was expected to have a limited audience. It has now sold over a million copies and been translated into 25 languages. Campbell’s sequel, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, came out in 2013 and is a New York Times bestseller.

After 50 years of nutritional biochemical research, Campbell views casein as one of the most relevant chemical carcinogens ever identified. He’s critical of the Komen Foundation for ignoring the research and expanding its marketing income by putting pink ribbons on yogurt containers.

Komen spokeswoman Andrea Rader said, “We focus on studies with humans. What we attempt to do is present scientific evidence. There are no large, peer-reviewed studies” linking casein with human breast cancer.

Some of Campbell’s research is epidemiological and based on animal studies, but that does not make it less compelling, said Mladen Golubic, chief medical director at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Disease Reversal. Golubic suggested the Komen pink ribbon should not go on yogurt but on kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

“Campbell’s research is basic science. It’s very compelling and elegantly done,” Golubic said. “When it comes to human cancer, the data is not as clear. But knowing that not a single nutrient in milk can’t be gotten from plants, there is no reason not to avoid milk.”

Golubic said epidemiological studies like Campbell’s work published in The China Study are not flawed, but are weaker than randomized control clinical trials with human subjects.

There have been no large-scale clinical trials with humans to test the efficacy of the whole-food, plant-based diet for prevention and treatment of cancer; however, a small study at the Cleveland Clinic has shown the whole-food, plant-based diet reversed coronary heart disease among patients.

Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, a dairy industry group, said a claim linking dairy with disease is a misinterpretation.

“The weight of the evidence indicates that a healthy, balanced diet includes fat-free and low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt,” Miller said in a statement. “Researchers have examined the potential of milk and milk products and many of milk’s components (e.g. casein, calcium and vitamin D) to be associated with specific cancers such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. The research overall is inconclusive.”

He claims the science is more conclusive linking dairy consumption with health and prevention of cancer.

Rekha Chaudhary is not so convinced. Program director in hematology and oncology at the University of Cincinnati school of medicine, Chaudhary invited Campbell to present at the school recently to physicians and medical students. She said she invited him because he speaks with the authority of sound scientific research. She credits his research with changing the way she treats her own patients.  

“When a cancer patient used to ask me ‘What about diet? What changes should I make?’ my response was ‘none. Go home and eat some ice cream,’” she said. “That’s not what I say now. I’m a very different doctor now. Dr. Campbell has 57 years researching the effects of nutrition on health, specifically nutrition on cancer. I am now very enthusiastic about the role of nutrition in fighting cancer.”

Chaudhary said she had no instruction in plant-based diets when she was in medical school. That was also the experience of Thomas M. Campbell, co-author of The China Study with his father. After immersing himself in research for the book for several years, Thomas Campbell decided to enter medical school. Although the book was called the "Grand Prix of epidemiology” by the New York Times, it wasn’t influencing medical education in this country.  

“The role of diet in health is one of the most crucial questions of our time, but nutrition is a forgotten science,” Thomas Campbell said.

Now a family practitioner in Rochester, NY and director of the Campbell Institute for Nutrition,” Campbell said, “In 2001, my father asked if I would help with the book. I read thousands of abstracts and studies, and became more interested in nutrition and health. During this period, I completed my transition [away from meat and dairy].”

He entered medical school with this background in nutritional science and was confronted firsthand not only with the total lack of nutritional education but misinformation about nutrition.

“I put my head down and learned. I decided I can’t advance this idea without experiencing the conventional structure of education and work within the system,” he said. “There were times of intense personal irritation, but it was neither the time nor place to educate people.”

He recalls one lecture during his second year of medical school when a question was asked about whether there was any evidence showing heart disease is related to diet.

“People snickered at the idea. A cardiologist said there is a little evidence, but no one would want to follow the [prescribed] diet,” he said. “I held my tongue, but after the lecture I went to the computer lab with another student, pulled up the Ornish and Esselstyn diets [plant-based, whole-food diets] and pointed out that 75 percent of people who start these diets stick with the diets.”

Today, as a physician, he tells his patients, including children, to avoid all animal products.

“I tell them they can get off their medications and reverse their disease,” he said. “I tell them this is absolutely the best diet for kids and adults. The evidence is deep and clearly established for reversing heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. There is also good evidence of its role in kidney stones and gallbladder. For cancer prevention, there is a lot of evidence this diet helps. In terms of reversing cancer, there is a lack of direct evidence, but there is good evidence nutrition likely plays a role.”

What is needed are large-scale, randomized clinical trials, he said.

His book, The Campbell Plan, covers the how-to of the diet and comes out in March 2015 published by Rodale Press.  

Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, said diet is the leading cause of poor health in this country and worldwide. His own research findings are compatible with Campbell’s work.

“The diet Campbell advocates, the whole-food, plant-based diet, really is a healthy diet. It is perhaps the healthiest diet people can achieve. But will everyone adopt it?” he said. “If anyone asks me what is the best diet, it’s reasonable to recommend it, but there are other healthy diets.”

However, even as a supporter of Campbell’s work, Giovannucci said the link between casein and breast cancer may be too reductionist and may not cause other nutritional synergies. Even Campbell says focusing on casein and human health is reductionist, but he adds that laboratory science bears out the link.

“I agree with Campbell when he is speaking broadly and holistically, but I’m not convinced casein is the worst factor in diet,” Giovannucci said. “The worst thing in the western diet is eating too much. Body size.”

Despite that, Giovannucci said there is no nutritional benefit in dairy that is not available from plant sources.

The science is sound showing a plant-based diet is superior to consumption of animal products, Giovannucci said, but public health policy continues to recommend animal consumption.

“Why doesn’t the science translate into public health policy? Because public policy is driven by commercial interests,” he said. “Even well-meaning people like pediatricians continue to recommend dairy.”

While it may be valid to choose milk over sweetened beverages, he said, the research does not support dairy providing strong bones later in life.

“Advocating the benefits of dairy is too simplistic,” he said, noting research shows increased dairy consumption actually correlates with increased risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Research that concludes dairy is beneficial must be questioned, he said, because such “research is shaped by commercial interests.”

Although more randomized controlled clinical trials are needed to study the plant-based diet and disease, Giovannucci said it is unrealistic to insist that epidemiological work like Campbell’s is inconclusive.

If we were to dismiss epidemiological work as inconclusive, we’d still be debating  the health problems associated with smoking, he said.

Miller of the National Dairy Council said research funded by the dairy industry is subject to the same scrutiny all published research goes through as part of the peer-review process. He cited a Tufts University report comparing dairy checkoff-funded obesity research with research done by the National Institutes of Health that concluded industry research was unaffected by its funding. Countering Giovannucci, Miller maintained that research shows consumption of dairy foods improves bone health.

The Cornell Chronicle, published by Cornell University, was slated to publish an article on Campbell’s work this spring. A staffer at the publication sent Campbell a copy of the piece, but it was later spiked with no explanation. Campbell said this is just another example of a university yielding to industry pressure. A spokesman at Cornell declined to comment or issue a statement about the school’s situation with Campbell.

“Cornell is now working hard to discredit me,” Campbell said.

He understood years ago that researching the health benefits of a plant-based diet would challenge the status quo. When he returned to the United States from China following field work for his massive epidemiological study, the CIA turned up at his door.

“They offered me 'assistance' with translation,” he said wryly, speculating that they really wanted access to his collection of blood and urine specimens. He declined the assistance.

Another pioneer in the field of dietary and lifestyle changes, Dean Ornish, said “Dr. Campbell made a very landmark contribution by showing that people in Asia and China who ate a whole-food, plant-based diet had lower rates of the major chronic diseases that afflict not only our country but countries throughout the world” as they adopt the American diet.

As a result, we are seeing the “globalization of chronic diseases,” he said.

Ornish combines his dietary recommendations with other lifestyle recommendations. For the past three and a half years, Medicare has covered the Ornish program, and the doctor said cost savings are significant.

Questioned about the correlation between dairy casein and breast cancer, Ornish said, “There are studies that show a link, but I think the jury is still out to make that definitive.”

However, he said his program combining diet guidelines calling for elimination of meat and dairy with lifestyle changes has shown that progression of early-stage prostate cancer can be arrested and reversed. He expects to see similar results with breast cancer.

“We haven’t studied breast cancer, but we are doing that now, and most things that affect prostate cancer affect breast cancer as well because they are both hormonal diseases to a large extent,” he said.

In his book Whole, Campbell wrote about the effort of key people in the American Society for Nutrition to expel him from membership. The Society did not offer a spokesperson to be interviewed for this article and did not give a written statement about Campbell’s claims.

Today, Campbell divides his time between homes in New York and North Carolina and a rigorous lecture schedule. He is blunt in his assessment of the role of government in public health policy and nutrition, contending government is ignoring science and giving too much weight to corporate research.

A vast, global economy stretches from agriculture, including crops, livestock and agrochemical corporations, to the medical establishment, including hospitals, drug and pharmaceutical companies. That economy, Campbell said, is based on established dietary guidelines calling for consumption of meat and dairy.

“Research shows nutrition can determine if a carcinogenic exposure results in the development of cancer or whether the cancer cells are suppressed. Chemotherapy is really not a good approach. Radiation and surgery are not the best approach. We’ve been on the wrong track,” he said. “The public is being misled with tragic consequences.”

 Related Stories

The Facts About Fearbola

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:19
You'd think we know the difference between the truth claims of science and the tribal claims of culture -- it's tempting, but delusional.

When the young woman in the seat next to me asked the flight attendant for a glass of cabernet, I took it as a sign that projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea would not be part of my trip from PHL to LAX.   I also took it as a reminder that the Ebola irrationality I’ve slammed in others is not as foreign to me as I’d like to believe.

I’d been in Philadelphia for a conference on science communication.  Scientists, social scientists, doctors, journalists and kindred spirits had come together to examine how facts make their way, or don’t, to policy makers and to the public.

Should there be a tax on carbon to reduce greenhouse gases?  How should we handle the conflict between parents who don’t want their kids vaccinated, and the public good of herd immunity? If you think that the quality of decisions like those depends on getting the most knowledge to the most people, then you believe what most scientists believe: it’s called the “knowledge deficit” model.  Explain to people that 97 percent of scientists agree that humans cause global warming, and they’ll realize that the jury on climate change is not still out.  Properly present the earth’s fossil record to people, and they’ll abandon creationism for evolution.  If only the media took the trouble to get the facts out, the myths would melt away.

But as I heard at the conference, cognitive scientists say that the knowledge deficit model is wrong.  Contrary facts don’t change our minds, they just make us dig our heels in harder.  We process information both rationally and emotionally, and our emotional apparatus gets there faster.  We use shortcuts, called heuristics, to deal with the data bombarding us, but those shortcuts are riddled with unconscious biases.  The problem isn’t that people are unaware of the facts.  It’s that awareness isn’t a machine – it’s a neural network, more like a lizard brain than an iPhone.

Our brains aren’t blackboards to write facts on; they’re billboards announcing our identities.  Facts aren’t simply facts – they’re tribal badges, ways to declare who we are.  We locate ourselves in culture not only by where we live, what we do and whom we love, but also by the information we’re willing to authorize as factual.  Trying to get people to change their minds about facts is a misbegotten enterprise because it amounts to forcing them to change their hearts about themselves.  As Yale professor Daniel Kahan, one of the conference’s organizers, has put it, “Don’t make reasoning, free people choose between knowing what’s known and being who they are.”

It’s tempting to think that people who conflate knowledge and identity are Others, not Us.  Our team knows better; we get the difference between the truth claims of science and the tribal claims of culture.  It’s tempting, but it’s delusional. 

That was driven home to me last Friday, on the final morning of the conference. Just before the session began, one of the panelists showed me a distraught message he’d received from a faculty member at Syracuse University.  The night before, I read in the email, Syracuse provost Eric Spina had disinvited Washington Post photojournalist Michel duCille from a workshop at the Newhouse School of Public Communications because he’d been in Liberia three weeks before.  For the 21 days since he’d been in West Africa, which the CDC says is Ebola’s incubation period, duCille had monitored his temperature twice a day.   As far as the experts were concerned, with no symptoms he was in the clear. 

But that didn’t cut it for Syracuse.  The Post story about the rescinded invitation quoted Newhouse dean Lorraine Branham saying this: “And that 21 day thing, some suggest the incubation period should be longer…. We thought it best to proceed with an abundance of caution.”  I had the same reaction to that as the faculty member who’d sent the email, and as Michel duCille, who told the Post: “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

If a student wrote that “some suggest” the CDC is wrong about the incubation period, I know what any good journalism instructor would say:  Who’s the source?  Who’s the “some” doing the suggesting?  Rand Paul?  Some cable news fearmonger?  The CDC isn’t infallible, but they don’t pull numbers out of the air, either; they’re scientists, and their guidelines come from evidence.  “Some suggest” that vaccines cause autism.  Should Syracuse, out of “an abundance of caution,” make inoculations optional?  If a journalism school doesn’t have an obligation to avoid false equivalence between science and paranoia, it might as well fold up its tent.

But by the time I got to the airport, I’d had a change of heart.  What if I were a parent of a Newhouse student?  What if 21 days is just an average?  What’s the harm in delaying the workshop for a week or two?  What if this young woman sitting next to me on the plane is a nurse, or a roommate of a nurse, at Texas Presbyterian?

There’s plenty of Ebola ignorance going around and plenty of political and financial incentives to keep it that way.  I’d like to say that the antidote to my fevered speculations is familiarity with the facts.  But if that were fully true, I’d be more Vulcan than human.  I’d like to believe that my calculations of risk are driven by what science knows about infectious diseases, not by my identities as parent, catastrophist, bureaucrat or disaster-porn addict.  But if I were able to process information independent of my affiliations and afflictions, I’d be an algorithm, not a person.  The next time I try to persuade someone that they’re wrong and science is right, I hope I first take a moment to walk in their shoes, and to feel uncomfortable about how comfortably they fit.