Cost of War
Between 1970 and 1990, the population of Philadelphia shrank by a quarter, dropping from 1.95 to 1.59 million. Like many American cities, it seemed caught in a downward spiral.
Since then – like many American cities – Philadelphia has stabilized. The population now appears to have bottomed out at the millennium, and has been regaining residents over the past decade. But as it rebounds, Philly is becoming a different kind of city.
In the two most recent decades, which comprise the bounce of the city’s population curve, owner-occupied housing dropped even more steeply than in the ’70s and ’80s. Between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of Philly houses and apartments inhabited by owners dropped from 59 to 52, the second-sharpest decline among big U.S. cities during that time.
Meanwhile, renter-occupied housing exploded. More units are rented today in Philadelphia than in 1970, despite 400,000 fewer residents. According to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts, the size of the Philadelphia rental stock has grown by 37,000 since the millennium — a gain of more than 10 percent.
Philadelphia is a concentrated case of a larger trend in American housing: We are increasingly renting instead of buying our homes. Rental household growth is rising at double the rate it has in previous decades. Developers are building more multi-family units than they have in years. Last month, the homeownership rate fell to a 19-year low, down to 64.7 percent from a peak of 69.2 percent in 2004.This is bad news, insofar as it demonstrates that Americans are struggling to buy homes. It’s bad news for the housing industry, whose greenfield development machine has less fuel. But as a long-term development, it signifies an emerging model of American life released from the cult of homeownership. It would make Americans more mobile (as we once were), and more able to adapt to economic changes. Jordan Rappaport, a senior economist at the Kansas City Fed, elucidates some benefits of the shift from single-family to multi-family housing (which is closely related to the owner-renter shift):
It will shift consumer demand away from goods and services that complement large indoor space and a backyard toward goods and services more oriented toward living in an apartment. Similarly, the possible shift toward city living may dampen demand for automobiles, highways and gasoline but increase demand for restaurants, city parks and high-quality public transit.
For the moment, though, Americans are renting across the spectrum of the built environment, in cities (long skewed toward renters), suburbs (shifting in that direction) and exurbs. Wall Street has taken notice: The Blackstone Group, a private equity shop, now owns and rents some 45,000 homes. At one point, the firm’s housing division was spending $150 million a week buying houses to rent.
But academics, politicians and homeowners have long been suspicious of tenants. Increasing the homeownership rate has been a foundational goal of American politics at the federal level for most of the past century. In fact, it’s older than that: Most states had property restrictions on voting well into the 19th century.
“For a man who owns his home acquires with it a new dignity,” Sen. Charles Percy said in 1966. “He begins to take pride in what is his own, and pride in conserving and improving it for his children. He becomes a more steadfast and concerned citizen of his community. He becomes more self-confident and self-reliant. The mere act of becoming a homeowner transforms him. It gives him roots, a sense of belonging, a true stake in his community and well being.” The tax code is engineered to support that viewpoint, however off-key it may sound to the millions of Americans mired in foreclosure proceedings.
“Homeownership and Neighborhood Stability,” a 1996 paper by planning professor William M. Rohe from which the Percy quote comes, offers what might now be seen as the established academic perspective on renters. Rohe and co-author Leslie Stewart found that the homeownership rate does indeed have a positive correlation with various social and economic attributes of a “good” neighborhood. It wasn’t just that homeowners kept the paint fresh and the lawn mowed. Their status led “to greater social interaction within, and psychological identification with, the neighborhood.”
But a significant amount of doubt remains about cause and effect. The increase in “neighborhood stability” (which, per the authors, includes resident tenure, property values, and physical and social conditions) “may be the result of the types of households drawn to homeownership” rather than the experience itself. And since homeownership is closely tied to income, family size, marital status and age, it can be hard to separate those variables. Self-selection, the authors write, is “a confounding factor.”
How might things be changing today, with homeowners under duress and a whole new class of former and future owners thrust into the rental market?
Back in Philly, a recent survey of renters conducted by the city found unexpected levels of social engagement. Planners were surprised by how many renters knew their neighbors, participated in neighborhood events and helped maintain the physical environment through volunteer work.
Philadelphia, however, despite the recent shift toward a renter city, is still more than half homeowners. Of the country’s 10 largest cities, most (running across typical urban typologies) have higher percentages of renters: Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, San Diego and Dallas all have lower homeownership rates than Philly. Nearly seven in 10 New York City units are rented. How does NYC maintain any semblance of community with such a large population of “transient” neighbors? Rent control and stabilization, which cover 1 million New York City apartments.
Most economists don’t like rent-control programs, arguing that they harm the housing stock and drive up prices for newcomers. But a city with rents rising just as rapidly as the renter population risks becoming a kind of deck of cards, shuffled every 12 months when leases expire and landlords target a new stratum of the population. Unfortunately, that’s now a description that could apply to a number of American cities – not just San Francisco and Boston. Even in Houston, famous for its low cost of housing, rent is rising at a record rate. Evictions are up 43 percent in Milwaukee since 2010.
Cities like Philadelphia have already cut property taxes to help longtime homeowners (who, by the way, stand to make a windfall off gentrification) stay put in their neighborhoods. But help for renters remains politically charged, in part because renting is still seen as a transitory stage — a life-step to be tolerated but not encouraged.
But this is not a universal perspective. In Germany, for example, renting is the norm — and people are quite happy with the situation. France, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands have similar renter-owner breakdowns.
Is America moving in that direction? If so, it’s worth asking ourselves why we’d rather not have renters for neighbors — and in the cases where there’s some truth to the stereotype, what we can do about it.
What follows is a look at 10 spots from up to this point in the 2014 cycle. Five of them are good, and five of them have a serious flaw. There are plenty of great and terrible ads that didn't get included. These 10 spots were chosen because each offers a lesson in political messaging, and they are worth learning from.
Let's start with the above commercial, a spot that is almost universally mocked.
• MI-Sen: Terri Lynn Land(R): This may go down as the most memorable ad of the cycle, and not in a good way. Republican Terri Lynn Land decided to counter Democratic attacks that she favors policies that hurt women by ... drinking coffee. Seriously. Land concludes the ad by declaring that as a woman, she may know a little more about women than her Democratic opponent Gary Peters.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz memorably called it "the worst ad of the political process," and it's not hard to see why. The spot is trying to use humor to point out what it thinks is an absurd idea, that a woman could be part of a war on women. Only it's not at all absurd: Peters and his allies have attacked Land for opposing policies like equal pay for women and abortion rights. By saying nothing to counter the attacks in her spot, Land is actually giving them more credibility.
What we can learn: Don't just assume that voters will immediately take your side when you're being attacked, even if you think the attacks are ridiculous. Also, don't spend two-thirds of an ad doing nothing.• AK-Sen: Put Alaska First (D): The Democrats have been running a ton of good ads supporting Sen. Mark Begich, but this one still stands out. It features a cancer survivor describing how she was denied health insurance for a pre-existing condition: Begich took on the insurance companies and got her the insurance she needed.
What we can learn: Ads featuring individual stories about how a candidate helped someone are nothing new, but they can still be incredibly effective. Little stories like these are easy to understand and offer something many voters can relate to.
• CA-33: Wendy Greuel (D): This spot isn't terrible, but it makes the mistake a lot of campaign ads make: It tries to cram far too much into just 30 seconds. Greuel introduces her family and then lays out a long list of priorities in a very short amount of time, making it very hard to remember anything Greuel actually said. Had Greuel focused on one issue or theme, this spot would have done a better job making her stand out. Greuel ended up narrowly losing in the crowded June primary to state Sen. Ted Lieu.
What we can learn: Cramming too many positive ideas into one spot makes it very hard to really remember any of them, or allow the candidate to stand out from the rest of the field.
• VA-08: Don Beyer (D): Here's a good example of how effective it can be to focus on just one idea. Beyer declares his support for a carbon tax, arguing that it's essential to protecting the earth for today's children. Like Greuel, Beyer also ran this spot in a crowded June Democratic primary. While Beyer was always the favorite in large part due to his name recognition and superior resources, spots like this probably helped him stand out from the pack and easily win.
What we can learn: Zeroing in on one issue that's important to the electorate is often a very effective way to get voters to remember you, especially in a crowded race.• AR-Gov: Mike Ross (D): Most of this spot is fine: Ross defends himself from a recent Republican attack on his ethics, before portraying GOP rival Asa Hutchinson as unethical.
However, the ad does one thing really wrong: It repeats the original accusation, with the narrator declaring, "There was never a Justice Department investigation." The big problem with this is it helps keep the original attack in circulation while it's trying to counter it. As Brad Phillips of Mr. Media Training put it in a very good article about these types of "quotes of denial," "The problem is that the defensive-sounding negative word or phrase tends to linger longer in the public memory than the word 'not.'" (See Richard Nixon's "I'm not a crook" for a famous example).
There are better ways to push back on these types of attacks. Had the narrator said something like "Mike Ross is always ethical," it would have been a good way to push back on the GOP attackwithout repeating it. However, viewers who had never seen the Republican ad are likely to start to wonder "What's this I hear about Mike Ross being investigated by the Justice Department?" and people who had seen it are likely to just have the Republicans' accusations reinforced.
What we can learn: When trying to push back on an attack, don't repeat it.• IA-Sen: Joni Ernst (R): Ernst started the Republican primary as a little-known state senator, but this spot helped her get national attention. Ernst declares she grew up castrating hogs on a farm, so she'll know how to cut pork. Ernst then calls for cutting spending. Pretty much all the Republican contenders were talking about cutting spending, but Ernst was the only one who did it memorably: She easily won the GOP nomination.
What we can learn: When talking about an issue that every else is talking about, find some way to make it memorable.• IA-Sen: Bruce Braley (D): Once Ernst won the Republican nomination, her Democratic opponent Bruce Braley had a variety of issues he could have hit her with. In a debate days before the primary Ernst voiced opposition to the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Act, and the minimum wage, and called for privatizing young workers' Social Security.
So Braley immediately attacked her on ... wasteful spending, completely ignoring everything else. To make matters worse, the spot weirdly compares Ernst to a bird. The Ernst team immediately accused Braley of sexism by calling her a chick. Braley has since gotten a new media consultant.
What we can learn: If your opponent has very controversial views, don't attack them on something much more mundane. Also, don't compare your female opponent to a chick.• WI-Gov: Mary Burke (D): Using an opponent's own words against them is nothing new, but Burke does it well in her race against Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The spot features Walker pledging 250,000 new jobs, and saying he "absolutely" wants to be held to it. The narrator then describes the state's poor job growth. The spot seizes on an issue people care about and does a great job hitting Walker for not fulfilling it.
What we can learn: Hire a good opposition research team.• VA-07: Eric Cantor (R): Almost everyone was caught by surprise when then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was unseated in his primary by little-known professor Dave Brat, but Cantor's team actually did see Brat as a threat months before the primary. However, their response may have done a lot more harm than good. Cantor ran a spot accusing Brat of being a liberal adviser to then-Democratic Gov. (and now Sen.) Tim Kaine. The evidence they gave was pretty thin: Brat served on the Council of Economic Advisers when Kaine was trying to raise taxes.
Cantor's team thought this was a good way to disqualify Brat before he could respond. However if anything, all they did was increase Brat's name recognition. The fact that the attack was so weak may have even made Cantor look all the worse. With Cantor so unpopular among voters, his campaign could have at least attempted to raise his approval ratings, but they didn't even try. Instead, all they did was provide Brat with more name recognition.
What we can learn: Always be careful when attacking a little-known opponent, as it can backfire badly.• OK-Sen-B: James Lankford (R): Rep. James Lankford won a surprisingly decisive victory in the June Republican primary against former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon. There were a lot of reasons for Lankford's big win, but ads like this were a part of it. On paper, Lankford's service in the House should have been a liability. Congress is utterly despised and Lankford had taken some votes anathema to the GOP base like raising the debt ceiling. Shannon seemed to offer voters the chance to choose a Washington outsider over an insider. However, Lankford cleverly turned his time in Congress into a positive.
The spot shows Lankford saying good-bye to his family and leaving his Oklahoma home early in the day and driving to the airport, as the narrator describes how Lankford is going to Washington to fight the Obama administration. The ad does a good job depicting Lankford as a real Oklahoman who is leaving home to fight the good fight in Washington, rather than as a creature of the capitol. The narrator also has an effective final line that further turns Lankford's incumbency into an asset: "While other conservatives talk about what they would do, James Lankford is already doing it." It's a good way to remind primary voters that Lankford is already fighting Obama, their common enemy.
What we can learn: It's often better to try and put a positive spin on a potential liability rather than try and pretend it doesn't exist.
With Labor Day here, the campaign ads are going to start flying, and it's quite likely that some of 2014's most remembered ads haven't even been envisioned yet. But there's a lot to learn from these spots, both good and bad.
“What is your father’s name?”
“What is your father’s father’s name?”
“Where was he born?”
“You have Palestinian passport?”
“You have American passport only?”
“You have family in Ramallah?”
“You don’t have family there?”
“Who do you know in Ramallah?”
“You were born in Ramallah but you don’t know anybody there?”
“You JUST TOLD ME you were born in Ramallah.”
A phone call in Hebrew I don’t understand a word of. A hostile glare.
I tell her I’m sorry, that I misheard her, I thought she was asking where my grandfather was born. He was born in Ramallah. I was born in Detroit. I have only an American passport. I am telling her this calmly, but in my mind, I am thinking I am fucked and this would all go so much more smoothly if the Israeli woman with the bad eyebrows behind the counter didn’t know my grandparents were from Palestine. Of course, the irony of the situation does not escape me. Being Palestinian is making it impossible for me to visit Palestine.
This is my first time at the Israeli-controlled border between Palestine and Jordan. I am traveling with 15 young Arab-Americans, mostly Palestinian, to do community service work and connect with our heritage and homeland. We have arrived at the Allenby Bridge anxious & apprehensive, having heard countless stories of harassment by Israeli soldiers, and deeply exhausted from a long weekend of delayed flights, desert nights, and the Dead Sea. Our trip was cancelled due to increased violence in the West Bank, and re-planned after the participants wrote a letter stating their determination and commitment to experience life in occupied Palestine, even if that meant putting ourselves in danger. But despite all this, I am thrilled to be returning to Palestine after months of planning, years of dreaming. Tucked in a corner of my wallet are directions to my grandparents’ homes. Nothing, not even the chills of anxiety the Israelis’ intimidation is sending down my spine, can extinguish the flame that was lit when I decided to return.
She gives me a Visitor Information Form to fill out, sends me to a grid of cold metal benches, separated by thick metal bars from the rest of the people waiting to cross into the West Bank. I don’t know why the Israelis need to know my father’s middle name, the location of my workplace in Michigan, or the address of the second cousin of the brother of the doctor of the shop owner who lived on the same street as the sister of the woman my great-great-grandfather might have met once, but I complete the form. It isn’t long before the rest of my group joins me. And not long after that, interrogation starts.
They take J. first. I am silently praying that she can stay strong, because I know she doesn’t know what to expect. Almost an hour later, she emerges from the tiny room, shaking, wiping tears from her eyes. They yelled at her. Accused her of lying. Told her she could be arrested. She is terrified, but she kept her composure. Already, I am full of this strange but familiar combination of rage and pride, the internal swell and crash of injustice and resistance, of indignity and resilience, of being Palestinian.
They call each of our names. They are the hardest on our boys. A. is shuttled between three different rooms, screamed at and threatened by three different officers. T., who has been leading delegations to Palestine for twenty years, warned us while we were still on the bus leaving Jordan: “Stay calm, don’t let them get to you.” We are trying. We are laughing, joking, and playing games in the waiting area as the minutes tick by, as one by one, we are asked the same questions and the Israelis get the same answers. We wait, and talk, and dream of Palestine. We wait.
A baby-faced boy dressed in olive green, with a rifle slung across his shoulders, chooses to sit in the waiting area with us instead of taking C. to the interrogation rooms. “I’m sorry about this,” I hear him say. “I’m sorry you have to go through this.”
“I don’t even understand why we’re doing this, to be honest.”
“I’m 20. This is only my second week in the IDF.”
I sigh. He’s my age; seems like a sweet kid. But this is Israeli occupation, so because he is Jewish and we are Palestinian, he holds the gun and asks the questions. We can do nothing but wait.
(When it is time for iftar, for Muslims to break their daily fast during Ramadan, Baby Face sneaks N. and R. a bottle of water. We do not see him again.)
They take J. again; the same narrow-eyed woman beckons impatiently. “You know, you’re scaring her,” T. tells her.
The Israeli woman rolls her eyes, turns around. “That’s not us. That’s her personal experience. That’s personal, if someone is scared.”
We have been detained at the Israeli border crossing for hours, interrogated, accused of crimes, lied to, and threatened. There are men with guns casually wandering back and forth. The lines at the gates fill and empty, fill and empty, as we watch, waiting to be granted permission from military occupiers to enter our own homeland. That’s personal.
It is 8:30 by the time my name is called last and frankly, I’m wondering what took them so long. The woman with flat blond hair, the one who made J. cry, beckons me to follow her into a tiny room. I wink at my friends as I leave our waiting area.
She is coldly professional. I am polite. “Have a seat.” “Thank you.”
“This will be quick and easy,” she says. Great.
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“What is the group you are with?”
“What will you be doing?”
“Where will you be staying?”
“Will you be going anywhere else?”
“Will you be going to Ramallah?”
“Will you be going to any refugee camps?”
“Have your leaders told you to say any specific information?”
“Was there anywhere else they said they might go?”
“Who do you know in Israel?”
“What are you doing here?”
My heart is pounding but I smile, answer calmly. Tourism; a Christian youth group; visiting holy sites; Jerusalem; maybe Bethlehem—you know, holy sites—So you’re Christian?—Yes—That’s personal; I don’t know; I don’t know; no; no; not that I know of; nobody; excuse me ma’am but what are YOU doing here? Did your great-grandparents walk this earth? Did your grandfather tell you the exact location of the fig tree he planted as a child? What are YOU doing here? Is this your home, your history? Didn’t think so.
“Are you sure,” she asks, “because the consequences depend on your answers.”
I am dismissed, told to stand outside with three other travelers. The blonde woman mutters to a stern-looking man, who instructs us to cross to the other side of the gate, where we cannot see or hear the other members of our group. He points for us to sit. So we sit. And we wait.
T. wanders back to our side, now with a grey sweatshirt on over the Bedouin-via-China dress she bought in Petra. “I think they’re going to deny our entry.”
I am staring down at a spot on the tile floor, a speck missed by the Black man who pushed the cleaning machine around us earlier. I know how Israel treats its African asylum seekers, and it doesn’t escape my notice that the white, European Israelis hold positions of relative power while every Black person I see has been cleaning. We have been sitting on the same metal bench, separated from the rest of our group, for at least an hour. Nobody has told us what is going on. The Israeli officer, who seems to have nothing to do but sit and watch us, spoke only to tell us not to talk to each other, the note in her voice too harsh not to defy—of course we talk to each other. We make sure she hears us laugh. Every small act of defiance feels like resistance to this occupation.
We are still waiting. T. and J. drift back and forth. They are calling the State Department, the Consulate General, waiting for our paperwork, waiting for what? It’s cold inside the Allenby border crossing, and we are tired. The Israelis eventually offer us cheap snacks. How benevolent, how generous they are.
Since I heard we may be denied entry, I am curled in my metal seat, refusing to let the words settle.
I knew before I boarded a plane to Amman that the Israeli border control could simply decide, for any or no reason, not to let me into Palestine. This is the reason I am careful in everything I do, careful to make sure I am never photographed, that I am un-google-able, that my name is not associated with Palestine solidarity activism in any way. I know they harass activists. They harass everybody. I avoid cameras and journalists. I know I am overly paranoid, but staying as anonymous as possible is just a precaution; it can’t hurt, and it sets my father’s mind at ease, as he worries constantly that even my modest activism will get me in trouble. I knew, but I didn’t think I had much to worry about. I expected questioning; I expected to be detained. This much is standard. To be denied entry is extreme, but not unheard of. So I worry, and I wait.
And I wait. The border crossing is still open, and we see a few families pass, a few single men. We are still separated from the rest of our group and from any access to information about why this is taking so long. There is nothing to do but try to make light of the dread, the weight of anxiety, the uncertainty simmering.
Finally, a young woman with a stud in her nose approaches, holding a stack of passports. N. trails behind her, catches my eye, shakes her head. Mouths the words “we’re not going.”
The Israeli woman clutches the stack of American passports, calls out a few names. Tells them they are going with her to get their luggage. Tells the rest of us to wait for our passports. More officers follow, holding our passports hostage, tell us to collect our bags & that we’re leaving. Not leaving the freezing, hostile border crossing to enter the holy land, but leaving through the door we entered from, leaving back to the no-man’s-land between the West Bank and Jordan. “You’re leaving.”
At this point, deportation doesn’t come as much of a surprise. As the words settle, as yet another thin, blonde Israeli woman approaches with my passport, J. emerges from the other side of the gate, biting her nails.
“We’re banned for five years,” she says.
I stop breathing.
Banned from the place my grandparents were born, that I’ve heard endless stories and seen countless photos of, that I’ve dreamed of returning to. Forbidden to see the holy land for five years, a sentence handed down arbitrarily by bored officers who don’t know and don’t care what this means. They are laughing, flirting, leaning back in their chairs, killing time until they get off work, when they can travel freely wherever they want within historic Palestine. Our devastation is nothing to them.
I collect my bags. Later, in a hotel in Amman, I will find that the Israelis have searched my luggage and neatly folded all of my clothing, arranged my t-shirts and bras. The woman returns my passport, opened to page 9 to reveal a new scar.
Entry Denied. Not one but two ugly rectangular red stamps on a formerly clean page of my passport.
Five hours of waiting, of interrogation, of reassuring each other the border closes soon, they can’t keep us here forever, they just want to scare us, this is normal. Three hours is nothing. Four, average. Five, entry denied.
Banned. From my own homeland. For five years.
Standing on the street waiting for a bus to take us back to Jordan, I unwrap a piece of gum to mask the bitter taste rising in the back of my throat. A man in a plaid blue shirt and jeans lifts a semiautomatic rifle as he sees me move. Clicks the safety off. I snap a photo, trying to be discreet, as he stands with his finger on the trigger. Not discreet enough. He turns his eyes on me.
Suddenly two men appear on either side of me, speaking Hebrew-accented Arabic, switching to English when they see my blank stare. “Get your passport. Come with me. Give me the cell phone.”
I wait. “Why? Can you tell me what the problem is?” As if I don’t know the problem is the photo, the problem is the potential of sharing Israel’s brutality with the world with a click of a button.
“The security guard gonna ask you a few questions.”
I’m too tired to argue, so I let them lead me away, tell them “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to take a photo, it’s just that I’ve just never seen anything like that in America.”
“Okay, erase the photo.”
“You’re holding my phone. You erase the photo.” He does. “Maybe you took a video too?”
“You’re holding my phone. If I took a video, you’d see it there.”
He thanks me, and in some bizarre attempt to ease the tension, casually asks “So, you going back to Jordan?”
Something in me snaps.
Of course I’m going back to Jordan. Where else am I supposed to go? You and your people just TOLD me I had to go back to Jordan. Because of you—
T. grabs my arm, pulls me away; “stay calm, don’t let them get to you,” murmured in my ear for the thousandth time today.
The man thanks me again with a smirk. I can do nothing but stare back at him.
The next few hours are surreal, blurred memory of chaos and calm. We are silent in our devastation as the reality of what has just happened settles; we are shaking with anger, jaws aching from holding back furious tears; we are finally crying, trying to console each other, realizing some of us may never see our elderly grandparents in Palestine again. The Jordanian tour bus wants to charge us $300 for the drive from the Israeli border across no-man’s-land back to Jordan—hardly more than one mile. We need new Jordanian visas to reenter, though we were only out beyond Jordan’s borders for a few hours. The Jordanians check our passports; we wait; they check our luggage; we wait. Chaos and calm. Rage and disbelief. Exile and acceptance.
Eventually, the Jordanian officers show some sympathy, and taxis arrive to take us back to Amman. At some point during the hour’s drive, to break the heaviest silence I have ever felt, H. points out at some distant hills. “Hatha Amman?” Our driver jerks his lead to the left, “la2, Amman hon.” Amman is over there. And on the right, where she pointed? “Hatha Falasteen.” We are so close, separated from home by just a few miles. Minutes away, but it will be years before any of us can return.
In Amman, we flip through Arabic television channels, desperate for news. Though I can’t understand a word of the anchor’s formal Arabic, I recognize images of Palestine. A photo of a teenage boy wearing a baseball cap flashes across the screen, followed by footage of protests. Muhammad Abu Khdeir has been kidnapped and murdered by Jewish settlers. Israeli soldiers are shooting at protestors in Ramallah and Jerusalem. They have begun airstrikes over the Gaza Strip. It is now 3:00 in the morning, and I am exhausted, struggling to understand; struggling to carry the weight of exile, the burden of my Palestinian blood.
As bombs fall over Gaza, and keffiya-clad youth throw stones at their occupiers, my bones ache to be across the border. To be home.Related Stories
Privacy is a privilege. It is rarely enjoyed by women or transgender men and women, queer people or people of color. When you are an Other, you are always in danger of having your body or some other intimate part of yourself exposed in one way or another. A stranger reaches out and touches a pregnant woman’s belly. A man walking down the street offers an opinion on a woman’s appearance or implores her to smile. A group of teenagers driving by as a person of color walks on a sidewalk shout racial slurs, interrupting their quiet.
For most people, privacy is little more than an illusion, one we create so we can feel less vulnerable as we move through the world, so we can believe some parts of ourselves are sacred and free from uninvited scrutiny. The further away you are from living as a white, heterosexual, middle-class man, the less privacy you enjoy – the more likely your illusions of privacy will be shattered when you least expect it.
For celebrities, privacy is utterly nonexistent. You are asked intrusive questions about your personal life. You can be photographed at any moment. Your family is investigated, photographed or harassed daily – parents, children, sometimes even siblings also losing any semblance of privacy simply because you share the same blood or name. Celebrity is, in some ways, an infection that is only marginally beneficial.
We’re not going to cry for celebrities, of course, not really. When you choose that life, you must sacrifice certain dignities for the privilege of fame, of fortune. For the most part, these intrusions or privacy are all in good fun, fodder for gossip magazines and websites – because ... celebrities, they’re just like us! They go to the grocery store! They drink coffee! They wear sweatpants! Celebrities are just like us until they aren’t, until such intrusion involves the celebrity woman’s body, in intimate poses, splayed across the internet for delectation and debauchery and debate.
On Sunday, a user on 4chan made good on a promise made several days ago and leaked nude and otherwise revealing photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Lea Michele, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, Hope Solo and other famous young women. This leak is likely only the beginning. Because there will always be another leak, because there is an insatiable curiosity when it comes to the nude celebrity woman’s body. She puts herself in the public eye and, in turn, we are entitled to see as much of her as we so desire, or so I am sure the justification goes.
It goes without saying that there aren’t many nude photos of men being released. Men are largely free to bare their bodies as they choose without repercussion, unless, as is the case of Dave Franco with Allison Brie and Justin Verlander with Upton, the man happens to be in a picture with a young woman, collateral damage.
It’s not clear what the people who leak these photos hope to achieve beyond financial gain and a moment of notoriety. I suppose such impoverished currency is enough. The why of these questions is hardly relevant. These hackers are not revealing anything the general public does not already know. BREAKING: beneath their clothes, celebrities are naked.
What these people are doing is reminding women that, no matter who they are, they are still women. They are forever vulnerable.
The racy images of these nubile bodies are the biggest story on the internet, and every site that refuses to reprint the images has already left itself absolved while leaving a prurient trail of breadcrumbs. The permanency of such violation is a bitter thing. These leaked images are instantly widely available and they always will be. The images will be downloaded and viewed and shared. These women’s lives and their private choices will be dissected. They are women, so they must be judged.
Revealing nonconsensual nudes of the famous female body is not new. In 1983, Vanessa L Williams was the first black woman crowned as Miss America. She had little time to enjoy her achievement, however, because Penthouse published naked pictures of her, and she was forced to relinquish the crown. Williams has gone on to a successful career in film and television, but her biography will always have this footnote. She will always be reminded of the time someone decided to put her in her place because she had the audacity, as a woman, to rise too far.
Nor is this exploitative exposure of women’s naked bodies an issue that only famous women must deal with. Celebrities are just like us after all. This practice is so pervasive that it even has its own name – revenge porn, nude photos and explicit videos unleashed on the internet, most often by disgruntled ex-lovers. There are websites and online forums dedicated to this pernicious genre. Lives have been, if not ruined, irreparably harmed, because we are a culture that thrives on the hatred of women, of anyone who is Other in some way, of anyone who dares to threaten the status quo.
The Great Celebrity Naked Photo Leak of 2014 – or perhaps we should call it The Great Celebrity Naked Photo Leak of August 2014, given that this happens so often that there won’t be only one this year – is meant to remind women of their place. Don’t get too high and mighty, ladies. Don’t step out of line. Don’t do anything to upset or disappoint men who feel entitled to your time, bodies, affection or attention. Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. You bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you. Your bared body is at once desired and loathed.
This is what we must remember. Women cannot be sexual in certain ways without consequence. Women cannot pose nude or provocatively, whether for a lover or themselves, without consequence. We are never allowed to forget how the rules are different girls. I suppose we should be grateful for this latest reminder.
A new study is challenging the relationship between depression and an imbalance of serotonin levels in the brain, and brings into doubt how depression has been treated in the U.S. over the past 20 years.
Researchers at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center and Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit have bred mice who cannot produce serotonin in their brains, which should theoretically make them chronically depressed. But researchers instead found that the mice showed no signs of depression, but instead acted aggressively and exhibited compulsive personality traits.
This study backs recent research indicating that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, may not be effective in lifting people out of depression. These commonly used antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, and Lexapro, are taken by some 10% of the U.S. population and nearly 25% of women between 40 and 60 years of age. More than 350 million people suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization, and it is the leading cause of disability across the globe.
The study was published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience. Donald Kuhn, the lead author of the study, set out to find what role, if any, serotonin played in depression. To do this, Kuhn and his associates bred mice who lacked the ability to produce serotonin in their brains, and ran a battery of behavioral tests on them. In addition to being compulsive and extremely aggressive, the mice who could not produce serotonin showed no signs of depression-like symptoms. The researchers also found, to their surprise, that under stressful conditions, the serotonin-deficient mice behaved normally.
A subset of the mice who couldn’t produce serotonin were given antidepressant medications and they responded in a similar manner to the drugs as did normal mice. Altogether, the study found that serotonin is not a major player in depression, and science should look elsewhere to identify other factors that might be involved. These results could greatly reshape depression research, the authors say, and shift the focus of the search for depression treatments.
The study joins others in directly challenging the notion that depression is related to lower levels of serotonin in the brain. One study has shown that some two-thirds of those who take SSRIs remain depressed, while another study has even found them clinically insignificant.
Critics of common antidepressants claim they’re not much better than a placebo, yet may still have unwanted side effects.
SSRIs started to become widely used in the 1980s. Their introduction was heralded by the psychiatric community as a new era where safer drugs that directly targeted the causes of depression would become the standard. While SSRIs aren’t more effective than the older antidepressants, such as tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, they are less toxic.
An earlier study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that two out of three patients with depression don’t fully recover using modern antidepressants.
These results “are important because previously it was unclear just how effective (or ineffective) antidepressant medications are in patients seeking treatment in real-world settings,” said James Murrough, a research fellow at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program.Related Stories
5. Larry Flynt Celebrates Hustler Magazine’s 40th birthday, and should really run for President.
I’m not a huge fan of Hustler. But I have to say, I’m pretty impressed by this porn mogul. As he celebrated the 40th birthday of his magazine, Larry Flynt waxed philosophical on free speech and politics: “Many people are confused about what free speech is all about. It is not freedom for the thought you love. It is freedom for the thoughts you hate the most.” Though Flynt, “couldn’t care less who’s in office. It’s who they appoint to the Supreme Court, because those people are appointed for life. And they really make the decisions that affect your everyday life.” One decision, which he laments, for example, was the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which “decided that corporations are people,” and was, “the most ludicrous decision I’ve ever heard of.”
Sorry, but I’m a fanatic of coffee culture: I’ve bought into paying more to know where my coffee comes from, tracing the coffee I buy to a website that tells me about its trip – from my coffee’s home country and farm to my cup, in one of the two coffee shops I visit each day. I was riding the “third wave” of coffee way before I knew the term even existed – to describe an environment that I liked and an intimacy from source to shop, in case you were wondering, which you should.
I’ve tasted a purely brewed pour-over that made me feel like I was in the American midwest, in a rocking chair, with notes of blueberries and glazed cantaloupe; a siphon of a single origin coffee; a cortado cut with just the right proportion of milk; even an espresso in which the crema was so righteous I spooned its holy remnants down to the sweet end. This is what coffee can be – what coffee is – that makes artisanal devotees travel, tithe and tip for what we could never, ever get at Starbucks.
For most people, though, coffee is business – whether Folgers or Sanka, Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, it’s just how they get caffeine at some point in any, or every, given day. And while the Toms Coffee Companies and local coffee shops with fancy interiors but mediocre coffee have carved out a niche among people who fancy themselves better than all that, true specialty coffee is becoming big business, too – helped along by millions of dollars in investments.
For coffee nerds like me, who fear that venture capitalists and coffee missionaries will succeed in converting cup-of-Joe drinkers into religious followers of single-origin coffees and ruin what’s “special” about specialty coffee, it’s time to stop worrying. As first-world consumers, coffee producers and farmers begin to understand the value of the taste of a really great cup of coffee, and the intentional pursuit of that will change what commodity coffee is – its definition, its value and its dominance. We’ll still have specialty, but we’ll gain specialty-as-commodity, too.
I’ve heard all the complaints about how the Starbucksification of coffee didn’t keep artisanal coffee special – but that’s because it wasn’t about artisanal coffee at all. The so-called second wave of coffee expansion was about getting consumers to come to a space to enjoy the ritual of coffee. When Starbucks rose to its dominion, it focused on selling better coffee (not difficult, given its predecessors) rather than the best coffee, along with an environment where consumers could come to enjoy it.
In the third wave, however, we buy coffee based on its origins, its process, its methods – and its evangelists are out to get specific about what separates it from being a standard commodity.
Traditionally, mass production has meant less of all of this. As “the big four” in specialty coffee companies – Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture - attract millions in investments and investor interest (Counter Culture, for instance, remains independent), expanding the number of people who care about what is special, it means we’ll have to grapple with how to expand quality and sustainability while minimizing the environmental impacts of mass, specialty coffee productions.
But mass can mean more in a good way. The oft-emulated Starbucks model isn’t based on “single origin” coffees, perfect slow-pour brewing methods or roasting green beans to pull out their indigenous flavors: it’s about fast, efficient service of coffee (and coffee products) and beans that, when roasted en masse, have a more universal appeal. But if consumers demand single, sustainable sources and a slow pour method – and find it worth paying as much for as some foam-and-syrup filled beverage resembling coffee – then even Starbucks is going to find a way to stop overroasting their mass-market beans.
And as “the big four” take investment money to grow, smaller coffee shops – the young indies – will not only fill the space but expand on it by relying on hyper-local focus, transparency and sustainable initiatives like solar-powered spaces (like Salt Lake City’s Publik Coffee Roasters), minimizing their menus (Culver City, California’s Bar Nine) and even forsaking brick and mortar for a recycled airstream (Seattle’s Slate Coffee).
There’s always another wave coming, and the small artisanal coffee indies will be riding it, too – not just the big four, who are trying to take their current business model to the masses. The real question is: are there enough coffee-curious among us to support the evolution? Will you pay enough to support specialty coffee while it stays sustainable? The ocean these entrepreneurs swim in might not be as smooth as the cold brew they’re serving, but it’s getting a whole lot better.Related Stories
If you want to know what libertarianism is all about, don’t ask a libertarian, because most of them don’t know. A new poll from Pew Research found that only 11% of those surveyed who identified themselves as libertarian were correctly able to identify the very basic meaning of libertarianism as “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government.” Even though that's often an oxymoron, that's what libertarians say, and their followers apparently don't know it.
Weirdly, that same poll found that 41% of libertarians believe that the government should regulate business, 46% of libertarians believe that corporations make too much profit, and 38% of libertarians believe that government aid to the poor is a good thing.
Similarly, of the so-called libertarians polled, 42% believe that police should be able to stop and search people who "look like criminals," and 26% think “homosexuality should be discouraged.”
What happened to limited government and more individual freedoms? Basically, people in America who call themselves libertarians have absolutely no idea what libertarianism is really about.
So, let’s go over it for a second. Back in 1980, David Koch, one half of the Kochtopus, ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate. And the platform that he ran on back in 1980 provides a great summary of what libertarianism is really about.
First, libertarians want to “urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission." In other words, they want to make it as easy as possible for corporations and wealthy billionaires to flood our democracy with corruptive cash and buy even more politicians. They want Citizen’s United on steroids – and then some.
Next up, libertarians “favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.” Instead, they want to privatize healthcare in America, so that their billionaire friends in the healthcare industry can get even richer, while working-class Americans are getting sicker and sicker. In fact, a 2012 analysis by Citigroup found that insurance company stocks would skyrocket if Medicare alone were to be privatized. And Big Pharma would experience a revenue and profit boom, too.
Just look at America’s experiences with Medicare Part D. A report released by the House of Representatives back in July of 2008 found that, two years into the Medicare Part D experiment, American taxpayers were paying up to 30% more for prescriptions under the privatized part of the program. And thanks to Medicare Part D, between 2006 and 2008 alone, drug manufacturers took in an additional $3.7 billion that they wouldn’t have gotten through drug prices under the public Medicaid program.
Meanwhile, the 1980 libertarian platform also says that libertarians “favor the repeal” of an “increasingly oppressive” Social Security system. They want to abolish Social Security, screw over working-class Americans, and take all the money that would go towards Social Security and invest it in Wall Street, so that their wallets can get even bigger. There's over $2.5 trillion sitting in the Social Security Trust Fund right now. Imagine how much money the libertarian banksters could make skimming even a fraction of a percent off the top of that every year.
Similarly, because libertarians want to hold on to their money and get even richer, they also “oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.” They don’t want to have any responsibility for society. Screw society! Naturally, libertarians also think that “all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”
According to Demos, in 2010, tax evasion cost the federal government $305 billion. Imagine what America could have done with that $305 billion. But, if you're rich, you shouldn’t have to pay any taxes under libertarianism.
Next up, libertarians want to repeal laws that affect “the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.” In other words, "Screw the workers! We're the billionaires and we don't give a damn about workers!" According to the 1980 platform, libertarians are also for the “complete separation of education and the state” and think that “government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
Who cares about Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, or Abraham Lincoln’s land-grant colleges? Screw public education! Poor people don't need to know how to read! Only rich people should be going to college, and billionaires can pay for their own kids' education!
And when they’re done attacking public education in America, libertarians want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. After all, pollution can be so profitable. And who cares if a few million people get asthma or die of cancer? They're not rich people! Screw them. A 2010 study found that between 2005 and 2007, around 30,000 hospital trips and emergency-room visits could have been avoided in California alone if federal clean-
air standards had been met. Instead, those visits led to approximately $193 million worth of health care expenses for the American people. Guess who benefited from that $193 million?
Similarly, the 1980 platform makes it clear that libertarians also want to get rid of the Department of Energy, and close down any government agency that’s involved in transportation. No more standards for our roads, no more standards for our railways, no more standards for our airlines. Turn it all over to the billionaires. They can run it all and make a buck while they’re at it!
And libertarians want to privatize our public highways and turn them all into toll roads too. So, if you want to drive to work you have to pay the Koch Brothers!
Libertarians also want to do away with the Food and Drug Administration and the safety standards that agency imposes, so that Big Pharma and Big Ag can make even more money, while you and I are forced to deal with the consequences. Billionaires don’t have to worry if their food is safe. They can own their own farmland, and hire their own cheap labor to work it!
Along those same lines, the 1980 platform says that libertarians want to get rid of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. After all, if a kid is choking to death on some badly made cheapo toy, it's almost certain that it's a poor or working-class kid. One less moocher!
The 1980 libertarian platform also called for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Right. Workers don’t need protections. Employers can just be trusted to keep their employees who are working for minimum wage safe.
Finally, libertarians “oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs,” claiming that these programs are, “privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient.” Or, in other words, turn poverty over to the rich people. After all, they’ve always done such a great job taking care of poor people...
And, while it wasn’t explicitly in the 1980 platform, who can forget that libertarians are also opposed to the Title II of the Civil Rights Act which, “prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment.”
To add insult to injury, they’re also opposed to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex and nationality. Who needs civil rights anyway?
Clearly, Libertarianism is not what most Americans think it is. From wanting to privatize healthcare, to doing away with federal agencies and eliminating minimum wage laws, libertarianism put the interests of billionaires and the wealthy elite first, and the interests of everyone else dead last. And I do mean dead.
Now, ask yourself, is that the America you want to live in? I sure don't...
The calm and quiet of suburban existence has always been interrupted by loud, dirty machines in the form of chainsaws, hedge trimmers, lawn mowers, and string trimmers. But none of the tools of modern landscaping inspires as much animus and contempt as the leaf blower, the four-season tool used by do-it-yourself groundskeepers and professional landscapers alike.
The mind-numbing roar of a typical gasoline-powered, two-stroke leaf blower, at 90 to 102 decibels (dB), is only a small part of the overall damage these machines do to a community. Blasting out air at hurricane-force speeds, leaf blowers disperse allergens, toxins, pollutants and pathogens into the air.
The two-stroke engine is used in leaf blowers because it’s lightweight, inexpensive and relatively powerful. But this engine is an environmental nightmare. Because it doesn’t have a separate lubrication system, like an automobile, the gasoline is combined with oil and the entire mixture is burned.
This makes the typical leaf blower engine notably inefficient; some 30% of the fuel and oil mixture does not thoroughly combust, which causes the engine to discharge an abundance of air toxins, such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons. Nitrous oxides make up more than 7% of the gases that cause global warming and factor in the creation of acid rain. Hydrocarbons are volatile organic compounds that are often carcinogenic and contribute to smog formation. Carbon monoxide is toxic to humans and animals in high concentrations and is part of the chemical mix that forms photochemical smog.
Environmental scientists maintain that the emissions from a single leaf blower over a year’s time are the equivalent of running 80 automobiles 12,500 miles. Still, the two-stroke engine’s emissions may actually be less hazardous than the dust and other particulate matter a leaf blower stirs up.
Leaf blowers don’t just blow away leaves and lawn clippings, their 180- to 200-mph air output blasts away topsoil, microbial life forms, animal waste, allergic fungi, spores, herbicides, pesticides, and even heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead. This toxic cocktail of engine emissions and dust particulates can exacerbate allergies and asthma in children and adults, and aggravate acute pulmonary disorders such as COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema) and pulmonary fibrosis in adults and the elderly. Leaf blower pollutants are so bad the American Lung Association recommends that all individuals avoid them.
And then there’s the noise pollution. A moderate decibel level, like playing music or having a conversation, is about 60 dB; the noise from a car passing 50 feet away is about 70 dB. But leaf blowers can generate four to eight times the noise of a passing car. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that’s enough noise pollution to degrade the quality of life by interfering with communication, thinking and sleep. The EPA says such noise can reduce the accuracy of work and increase an individual’s level of aggravation, even hours after exposure.
The high levels of exhaust, particulate and noise pollution have prompted dozens of municipalities across the U.S. to pass ordinances either restricting the use of leaf blowers or banning them altogether. Most restrictions are seasonal (mostly in the late spring and summer months), while other bans restrict the time of day or days of the week blowers can be used. Some cities, like Los Angeles and Aspen, ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers altogether. Fines vary from as low as $50 to as high as $5,000, depending on the community.
There's one more big flaw in terms of leaf blower function: Especially when used in the summer months to move grass clippings, leaf blowers don't really clean the area, they just move the mess offsite and onto the sidewalk, street, adjacent properties, and into storm drains and the air. So, it's a zero-sum game, giving the home or business owner a pristine driveway or lawn, while the dirt and debris has just been moved elsewhere in the neighborhood. That's not cleaning—it’s one residence making its mess the community’s problem.
Getting a Ban in Place
Still, getting a leaf-blower ban in place is not always easy. Case in point: the Village of Nyack, NY has been mulling over an ordinance for several years, spanning two mayoral administrations. In 2011, the village’s board sent the matter to an environmental committee comprised of some of the village’s residents, which has yet to return a final recommendation to the board.
There has been some push-back against an ordinance from some businesses in Nyack, particularly the area’s landscapers, who claim that illicit companies using leaf blowers will steal their business if they are not permitted to use blowers. The landscapers also claim they would be unfairly punished for using their equipment, while loud tools such as jackhammers would not be banned or regulated. Some elderly and disabled residents, who have purchased electric leaf blowers to help them clear snow from their walkways during the winter, also worry what an all-out leaf-blower ban might mean to them.
“Nyack has to worry about unintended consequences when considering an ordinance,” says Mayor Jennifer Laird White, noting that while the pace of imposing a leaf-blower ordinance might seem slow, the village wants to be thorough and thoughtful in its decision-making process.
But some residents of Nyack say a ban on leaf blowers can't come soon enough. Village resident Matthew Picardi likens the use of blowers on neighboring properties to torture. Picardi says landscapers use leaf blowers as early as 7am and as late as past sunset.
“I have been blown in the face at close range multiple times while walking and biking, leading to coughing and difficulty breathing, and on one occasion nearly knocking me off of my bike,” he says.
Picardi notes that landscapers are rarely mindful in their use of leaf blowers and have mixed their use with the application of liquid compounds used in gardening and lawn care.
“Leaf blowers [are] being used alongside landscapers using chemical sprayers on lawns, potentially making herbicides and pesticides airborne,” he says.
Mayor White says she is not a fan of leaf blowers, and thinks there's reason to believe they're potentially toxic, but says she's seen no definitive testing as to the hazards.
“Unfortunately, this is not like climate change, where there's a wealth of proof to make your case,” she says. “I think, as a village, we've got to approach this from a quality of life aspect.”
The Village of Nyack uses only electric leaf blowers, according to White, and “the department of public works is strongly discouraged from using them,” she says.
Other residents of Nyack wonder whether it would be expensive to clean the village’s tree-lined riverfront park with rakes rather than leaf blowers, possibly raising their taxes. But that probably wouldn't be the case. In a report to the California Air Resources Board, the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water once pit a grandmother with a rake and a broom against a professional landscaper with electric and gas leaf blowers. In three test cycles, the grandmother cleaned the area faster than any of the battery-powered blowers and 80% as fast as the gas-powered leaf blowers. She also did a better job cleaning up the areas, says the report. When a landscaping company did its own tests, it found that it too could do the job faster using rakes.
Health and Welfare Issue
Across the Hudson River from Nyack in Eastchester, NY, advocates for a leaf-blower ban got the medical establishment on their side. Every doctor affiliated with Mt. Sinai Children's Hospital's Environmental Health Center signed on to the proposed restrictions, stating:
"Leaf blowers pose multiple hazards to human health. Children are the most susceptible members of our population to these hazards because they breathe more air per pound of body weight per day than adults and thus inhale more of any pollutants that are thrown into the air by this equipment. Children's vulnerability to the health effects of this equipment is further magnified by the fact that they are passing through the stages of early development, and thus their lungs, ears, eyes, and other organ systems are inherently more sensitive to environmental hazards than the organs of adults."
In other towns that have considered ordinances or bans, opponents have argued that banning the blowers would make landscaping difficult and excessively expensive. Failure to maintain lawns and gardens with leaf blowers, landscapers claim, could result in untidy homes and perhaps even falling property values. However, it hasn’t hurt Carmel and Beverly Hills, the first two California cities to ban the blowers back in the 1970s.
A ban on leaf blowers certainly hasn’t hurt quality of life in Rye, NY, an affluent bedroom community on the New York/Connecticut border, and perhaps not its landscapers either. When the city was considering a trial summer ban on leaf blowers in 2008, landscapers swarmed city council meetings, saying it would hurt their businesses. But Greenwich Time, the newspaper of neighboring Greenwich, CT, reported that a year later, only one landscaper showed up to a council review of the seasonal ban. Rye now bans all gas-powered leaf blowers.
Despite the leaf blower bans that are in place, some landscapers still use them. Some wait until the late afternoon, when code enforcers are not on duty. Others consider the fines they get to be just the cost of doing business, while others simply don't pay the fines. A video by actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr., released a few years back, showed that landscapers still use leaf blowers in Los Angeles despite a ban.
Nyack's Mayor White also worries that a regulation in her village might not solve the problem. "I don't know how we can enforce it," she says, noting that violators might be finished by the time authorities show up for a non-emergency complaint.
Writing this article was difficult, as the writer suffers from ragweed allergies, which were aggravated by three...now four...leaf blowers used nearby. And then there's the noise....
One commenter on Salon got my attention last week during the furor that followed my essay about “white privilege” as a concept that helps us understand both what actually happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and the racially polarized response to those events. In post after post, this person repeatedly tried to strike a middle ground between fundamentally incompatible positions that reflect opposing worldviews, between the idea that white privilege is an immensely significant if largely hidden dynamic that shapes much of American life and the proposition that white privilege is a left-wing fiction. This person’s brave effort to split the difference – or, less charitably, to deflect the question without rejecting it entirely – didn’t work, but I found it instructive.
Before we get to that, let’s review: On one hand we have the idea that white people possess built-in social advantages they often cannot perceive or are reluctant to acknowledge. Among the most basic of these are the right to walk down the street without being seen as a dangerous thug or a mortal threat. From the moment of his or her birth, a white child is dramatically less likely to go to prison, and more likely to go to college, than a child born in an African-American or Latino household. I got an email this week from an African-American teacher who works in a predominantly white suburban school district that spoke to this issue eloquently. She wrote about her students with evident affection, but said she couldn’t help noticing that when they get into trouble – for drugs or drinking or minor property crimes – the issue is handled much differently than it would be in a black urban context, where it might mean incarceration and the end of the student’s academic career. “These suburban neighborhood kids are not perceived as criminals, just adolescents doing stupid stuff,” she writes. “No one blames ‘white culture’ or family pathology.”
Even her white students who get Cs and Ds tend to do OK after graduation, she observes. Many are coaxed, cajoled, prodded or bribed into some college somewhere (my words, not hers) while the odds that an inner-city African-American kid with poor grades will ever get a college diploma are very long indeed. These suburban white kids speak Standard American English not because they studied it but because they’ve been exposed to it every day of their lives. Most have supportive families, adequate resources and reasonably successful adult mentors. They make good impressions in job interviews through a host of unconscious codes: They dress and wear their hair in a style likely to be familiar to the interviewer, and they “know how to speak well.” With this kind of privilege, she concludes, comes “the assumption of competence, the opportunity to prove oneself, or to have a second try after failing or making a poor decision … Knowing that African-Americans frequently are denied the assumption of competence and innocence is one of the most painful parts of being black in this country.”
Now, at least some of the things she mentions can be ascribed to class rather than race, or to the intersection of class and race. I barely mentioned that intersection in my original essay, which was a significant oversight. As a part-time resident of one of the poorest counties in the Northeast (a county that is 96 percent white), I’m aware that there are millions of struggling white people in rural America who have few or none of the advantages this suburban teacher describes, and whose socioeconomic outlook is extremely poor. Those white people aren’t getting any of the benefits of white privilege, but I would argue that they are still afflicted with it. To cut an extremely long story short, white privilege is the reason they tend to vote for the Tea Party, and make common cause against other poor people with bankers and CEOs. It’s a disorder that has undermined all efforts to build economic populism or socialism or any other form of class-based political movement in America. It has distorted not just race relations but every aspect of society, in large part by masquerading as the natural state of affairs and concealing its true nature from those that carry it.
On the other hand – well, it’s difficult to summarize the range of counterattacks my article and numerous others provoked over the past couple of weeks. One popular response is to say that white privilege is just a fancy term for conforming to social norms, obeying the law and working hard, and that black people should try it sometime. There is certainly a conservative quadrant of the African-American community that agrees with this, but the whole idea rests on the argument that we live in a fundamentally race-neutral and equal-opportunity society in which everyone makes his own fate. But African-Americans have conspicuously failed to take advantage of this post-racial paradise, a fact that poses an interpretive challenge. This slides, with uncomfortable ease, to the proposition that something must be wrong with “black culture,” or that there’s something innate about people of African ancestry that tends to make them less successful than others in society and vastly more likely to go to prison.
If you believe that no one utters those kinds of overtly racist statements in public anymore, I can show you some things in my inbox and my Twitter feed that will convince you otherwise. But for those who want to resist the white privilege conversation but also want to avoid coming off like Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens, who pronounced that “subordination to the superior race” was the “natural and normal condition” of black people, there is another path. Dysfunction in the black community is understood as the inevitable result of five decades of failed liberal social engineering, and white privilege as an ass-covering term of art cooked up for political advantage by race-baiters and libtard journalists. (Like me, I suppose, although I strenuously object to the “lib” part.)
That commenter I mentioned at the outset agreed that the Michael Brown shooting appeared to reflect a historical pattern of police violence against African-Americans, but rejected the term “white privilege” as unhelpful. If the problem is that cops treat whites fairly and blacks unfairly, shouldn’t we be talking about “black disprivilege” and how to amend it, instead of implying that white people should be subjected to police brutality too? Discussions of white privilege, this person went on, never pointed toward practical solutions and only served “to make white people feel weird.”
You get an A for effort, my friend, but I have some news for you: White people already feel weird. There could be no better word for the bitter, angry and divisive internal politics of America’s white majority. Isn’t it weird for a group that has long been the wealthiest sector of society and its dominant cultural force to embrace the status of victimhood it claims to find so offensive in others? Isn’t it weird for white people, despite all their economic, social, cultural and educational advantages, to increasingly see themselves as persecuted and oppressed? The intense and exaggerated response from many whites to my article and others like it was weird too, and perhaps revealing; it went way beyond disagreement into what therapists call abreaction, a release of repressed emotion. Discussions of white privilege have touched an exceptionally sensitive nerve.
If white America is weird, that’s partly because whiteness (and blackness too) is a relatively recent historical invention, and an unstable category. Italians, Jews and other immigrants from outside northern Europe did not become unambiguously white until well into the 20th century, following the trail blazed earlier by the Irish, who were viewed by New York’s Anglo elite in the mid-19th century as a bad influence on black people. A neutral observer contemplating white America today, if we can imagine such a thing, might be inclined to wonder whether some psychological trauma were at work, some mechanism of self-retribution for the unpunished crimes of the past. She or he might further be tempted to call that mechanism “white guilt.”
“Every fear hides a wish,” as David Mamet wrote in a play about a homophobic white racist who ends up as the submissive prison lover of an African-American man. If much of white America seems possessed by visions of black violence, black rage and black revenge, the wish that lies beneath those fantasies is for a ritual cleansing that will wipe the historical slate clean and allow us all to start over. This is a species of paranoia, but way down deep, I think I perceive a thin reed of hope. Much of the weirdness, self-hatred and general know-nothing misanthropy of white America, in my view, boils down to a deep-seated desire to be free of the burden of history, a desire not to have to be white anymore.
Recognizing and addressing the reality of white privilege is not the same thing as embracing or indulging white guilt. Quite the opposite: It’s the pathway to liberation from white guilt. That’s a term often flung at white liberals by race-obsessed conservatives, but I suspect they are projecting their own emotional turmoil onto others. For one thing, it’s quite different to say that white people have inherited a historical responsibility than to claim that they must personally atone for the crimes of long-dead slaveholders and Southern sheriffs, or that they should apologize for the accident of their birth. No doubt the patronizing and ineffectual version of liberal white guilt mocked by right-wingers has existed in someone, somewhere. But I have hardly ever encountered it.
Those worst afflicted with white guilt – maybe “white torment” is more accurate — are precisely the people most enraged by the discussion of white privilege. That covers a wide swath of white conservatives, from Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh rightward into the scary fringes of the Internet. Sometimes their racial obsession is obvious and sometimes it’s more coded, but you don’t have to press very hard to get to the conspiratorial and apocalyptic racial theories, the lurid tales of black criminality, sexuality and dysfunction.
They’re like the preacher who insists on knowing all the details of the filth and perversity he inveighs against on Sunday morning. Their focus on African-Americans as a criminal-minded and primitive collective Id is racist and hypocritical, to be sure, not to mention strikingly odd in an era when violent crime in America has fallen to historic lows. But it’s also conflicted and full of longing. They yearn to be free of white privilege and perhaps of whiteness itself, whose benefits were never as great as advertised and have long since been outweighed by its toxic side effects. Since they can’t make it go away by insisting that it does not exist, they dream of its destruction.Related Stories
You probably heard that a U.S. District Court in Texas blocked Republicans from implementing the latest stage of their anti-abortion crusade, which would close reproductive health centers in rural areas and the Rio Grande Valley on Monday. But you may not know how U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel’s ruling threw cold water—the law and the facts—on the anti-abortion side’s overheated rhetoric and arguments, which were led by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor.
Abbott, predictably, said he would appeal. But it’s worth looking at the actual decision, which is plainly written and describes the U.S. Supreme Court precedents protecting abortion, and then cites facts that both sides agreed about pregnancies in Texas.
“The expert’s testimony substantially contradicted each other and, predictably, reached opposite conclusions,” Yeakel wrote. “Such is the nature of expert testimony. Of more value to the law are the parties’ stipulated facts.”
What follows is the law—according to the U.S. Supreme Court—and those facts, showing why closing the state’s few remaining reproductive health clinics would be unconstitutional and would truly hurt women across the large state.
1. The U.S. Supreme Court has said no to harsh barriers. “A law is unconstitutional if it imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion,” Yeakel wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey ruling. That precedent said, “A finding of an undue burden is a shorthand for the conclusion that a state regulation has the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
Yeakel focused on two requirements of the Texas law slated to take effect Monday: that a physician performing or inducing an abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles; and that clinic must meet the minimum state standard for an “ambulatory surgerical center.” (A coalition of reproductive health clinics sued the state, saying those thresholds would force clinics in El Paso and McAllen to close, and the surgery center requirement also threatened all women across Texas.)
2. Texas would be left with seven or eight clinics. That would be the result if the “ambulatory surgical center requirement” took effect, Yeakel said. The “remaining abortion facilities will be located along the I-35 [interstate highway] and I-45 corridors; there will be one facility in Austin, two in Dallas, one in Ft. Worth, two in Houston, and either one or two in San Antonio.”
3. The anti-abortion law, HB2, creates a crisis. “The evidence introduced by the parties at trial reveals the breadth and effect of House Bill 2,” Yeakel wrote. “Texas contains nearly 280,000 square miles, is 10 percent larger than France, and is home to the second highest number of reproductive-age women in the United States. Such women account for approxinately 5.4 million of over 25 million Texas residents. In recent years, the numbers of abortions in Texas has stayed fairly consistent, at approximately 15-16 percent of the reported pregnancy rate, for a total number of approximately 60,000-72,000 legal abortions performed annually.”
4. The law has already shut half the state’s clinics. “Before the enactment of House Bill 2, there were more than 40 licensed abortion facilities providing abortion services throughout Texas,” he wrote. “That number dropped by almost half leading up to and in the wake of enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement that went into effect in late October 2013… If allowed to go into effect the act’s ambulatory-surgical-center requirement will further reduce the number of licensed abortion providers to, at most, eight.”
5. Texas has already left multitudes of women out in the cold. “The number of women of reproductive age living in a county more than 50 miles from a Texas abortion clinic has increased from approximately 800,000 to over 1.6 million,” Yeakel wrote, referring to the part of the law that required abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of a clinic, which took effect last fall. “Women living in a county more than 100 miles from a provider increased from approximately 400,000 to 1,000,000; women living in a county more than 150 miles from a provider increased from approximately 86,000 to 400,000; and the number of women living in a county more than 200 miles from a provider increased from approximately 10,000 to 290,000.”
6. The surgery center requirement would double those figures. “If not enjoined, the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement will further increase those numbers,” he wrote. “After September 1, 2014, approximately 2 million women will live further than 50 miles, 1.3 million further than 100 miles, 900,000 further than 150 miles, and 750,000 further than 200 miles.”
“Even presuming a wide margin of error in these calculations, the inference is straightforward,” Yeakel said, “the cumulative effect of clinic closures and the lessened geographic distribution of abortion services in the wake of the Act’s two major requirements is that a significant number of the reproductive-age female population of Texas will need to travel considerably further in order to exercise its right to a legal previability abortion.”
7. Renovating clinics could cost several million each. The judge also looked at how much it would reproductive health clinics to build surgery centers that would meet the state’s hospital standards. “If a clinic is able to make renovations to comply, those costs will undisputedly approach $1 million and will most likely exceed $1.5 million… The cost of acquiring land and constructing a newly compliant clinic will likely exceed $3 million… Existing clinics, unable to meet the financial burdens imposed by the new regulatory regime, will close as a result.”
8. The state’s claim that women will still get abortions isn’t true. Yeakel really came down hard on the state’s claim that Texas women seeking an abortion will find a way to get one. “At most, eight providers would have to handle the abortion demands of the entire state,” he wrote. “This would result in each facility serving between 7,500 and 10,000 patients per year. Accounting for the seasonal variations on pregnancy rates and a slightly unequal distribution of patients at each clinic, it is forseeable that over 1,200 women per month could be vying for counseling, appointments, and followup visits at some of these facilities. That the state suggests that these seven or eight providers could meet the demands of the entire state stretches credulity.”
9. Travel time and financial hardship are real issues. The ruling went on to affirm that low-income women, and women in rural areas also face hardships if they have to travel to a large city to get an abortion. “The Act’s two requirements erect a particularly high barrier for poor, rural, or disadvantaged women throughout Texas, regardless of the absolute distance they may have to travel to obtain an abortion,” Yeakel wrote. “A woman with means, the freedom and ability to travel, and the desire to obtain an abortion, will always be able to obtain one, in Texas or elsewhere. However, Roe’s [Roe v. Wade] essential holding guarantees to all women, not just those of means, the right to a previability abortion.”Related Stories
To many Americans, Labor Day has become an important way to send off the slower pace of summer and usher in the hustle and bustle of fall. To our nation’s working families, this Labor Day means so much more.
It is an important moment to reflect on the courage of the working people who brought us Labor Day and the many working benefits we enjoy today. It is also a pivotal time to take stock of where our families, our economy, and our democracy are heading.
Today, America finds itself in a position of incredible challenge. Half of all Americans now make less than $15 an hour. Of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in America, eight are service sector jobs that pay $15 an hour or less.
Service sector jobs are the heartbeat of our economy and our communities, from the folks who care for the elderly and our children, to those who cook and serve our food, to those who clean and secure our offices. Moving our economy forward must include making service jobs into good jobs with wages that you can raise a family on.
That’s why this Labor Day, the American people are sparking a new movement, joining together for an economy and democracy that works for everyone.
Fast food workers have joined together to fight for $15 an hour. They have been joined by home care workers who are calling for $15 an hour for all caregivers. Just last week 27,000 Minnesota home care workers joined together in union, determined to raise wages and fight for quality home care for our seniors.
Working people in Seattle fought for and won a $15 minimum wage for 100,000 people, and other cities are poised to do the same. Across our nation adjunct professors, airport workers, security officers, hospital workers, Wal-Mart workers and other service sector workers are standing up and sticking together.
All told, 6.7 million workers have achieved better pay since fast food workers began striking less than two years ago, either through states or cities moving to raise minimum wages or through collective bargaining. These brave workers are building the momentum to raise wages and get our economy roaring again.
Yet the prosperity of our nation and growth of our economy depend not just on economic justice. A vibrant economy cannot exist without vibrant American communities steeped in the fundamental American principles of liberty and justice for all.
The taking of Mike Brown’s life in Ferguson, Missouri only weeks ago reminds us that social and economic justice must go hand in hand for America to thrive. To solve these issues, we need opportunities for all Americans to fully participate in our economy and improve the quality of life for their families.
That’s why we must also fix our broken immigration system and uphold and protect civil rights and democratic participation for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.
We must remember that America is a nation founded on the dreams of immigrants. Today the opportunity to achieve the American dream is jeopardized by a broken immigration system and a Congress that refuses to fix it. The time has come for us to free those immigrants who exemplify the promise of America from the shadows and bring them into the light of our economy and society without fear.
When working people stick together, we have the strength to ensure that both our democracy and our economy continue to grow and progress. When America’s working families rise, America rises.
This Labor Day, we have so much more to celebrate than just the end of summer. So many brave Americans are uniting to raise wages, raise our communities and raise America. Their efforts and successes are shaping up to be the largest, boldest and most inclusive movement by and for working people that modern America has even seen.
I believe in a rising America, where together we can create an economy that works for everyone and a democracy where everyone has a voice.
1. Bill O’Reilly’s 'Achey breaky heart' about Beyoncé videos.
Young women of America, please stop watching Beyoncé videos. It breaks Bill O’Reilly’s heart for some strange reason he has yet to coherently explain.
The good folks at Fox News were mightily confused this week after viewing the pop diva’s performance at the Video Music Awards in which she appeared in front of a huge screen with the word “FEMINIST.” But here's the thing: she seemed to have forgotten her pants. Her pants! How can you be a feminist when you don’t have any pants on? They were stumped.
Later in the week, O’Reilly was chatting away with Dr. Ben Carson about the usual stuff, how black people are to blame for all their own problems, welfare, blah blah blah. It’s very disappointing for O’Reilly; he thought he had already given black people all the moral instructions they need. Because, in the past, there were some really good black people. Why can’t today’s black people be more like black people of the days of old?
“You remember Motown. Do you not?” O’Reilly reminisced. “Wasn't that a fabulous, fabulous music industry, uplifting? You remember Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Weren’t they fabulous athletes — I idolized Willie Mays....”
Awww, thanks for sharing that, Uncle Bill. We’re always up for hearing more about the black people you approve of. Alas, there are fewer and fewer of them. “And what do we have now?” O'Reilly continued. “What do we have now? Gangster rappers, you know, Beyoncé. The most famous, you know, doing these videos that show these kinds of things to young, 9, 10, 11-year-old girls? I mean — and it’s celebrated. It’s celebrated. You know, that’s the big change.”
He was obviously pretty worked up because he was having some trouble stringing those thoughts together into sentences, you know, that's a problem. It's widespread. It's widespread!
Ben Carson said some things, including thanking Bill O’Reilly for his leadership on these issues (yes, leadership). Then Bill O’Reilly, the great civil rights leader, broke in and declared, “It breaks my heart! It really does.”
Stop, stop, we’re weeping, Uncle Bill. Can't stand to see you suffer so.
2. Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly: If women were more focused on getting married, maybe men wouldn’t sexually assault them so much.
Phyllis Schlafly shared some pearls of wisdom with young women on her radio show this week: Stop focusing on your career so much and get hitched. That’ll stop the menfolk from raping.
Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of that?
Wise old Phyllis asked a question she already had an answer for: “What’s the answer for women who worry about male violence?" (Wait, isn't that all women? And all people?) "It’s not to fear all men," Schlafly continued. "It’s to reject the lifestyle of frequent 'hookups,' which is so much promoted on college campuses today, while the women pursue a career and avoid marriage.”
Hell, what are young ladies even going to college for? To selfishly get educated? What’s next? Are they going to selfishly go out and support themselves? And have boyfriends or girlfriends? That is pretty much asking to be raped.
Had enough crazy? Here’s more.
3. Ex-college president says women should be trained not to drink so they can punch their sexual assaulters in the nose accurately.
Direct your letters to Dr. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, former president of George Washington University, and apparent expert on Greek life and women’s drinking habits. While appearing on the Diane Rehm Show, this beacon of higher education said we should not blame the victims of sexual assault. Then he proceeded to blame them.
"One of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave," he said, perhaps thinking he was being clever, or kind of cool for that nose-punch line. "And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard."
Wait, did we miss the part where he said young men should drink less, and stop raping people? We must have.
4. Always wrong on Iraq and everything else, war-loving Bill Kristol says Obama should bomb them faster and more.
The editor of the Weekly Standard does not let the fact that he was dead-wrong about Iraq last time the U.S. invaded the country stand in the way of his desire to mouth off about what we should do there now. He does not like the fact that Obama is taking so long to bomb ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL) in Iraq, even though Obama had already started bombing Iraq when Kristol said this, so, what the hell is he talking about? Does he even know what he is talking about? It appears not.
He was particularly critical of Obama’s speech in which the President said the whole world is “appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL.” Kristol apparently found this statement “appalling" because the President is doing “nothing,” which we suppose is the word in Kristol-speak for launching airstrikes and helping to arm Kurdish militias to fight ISIL. (Although it is not the usual definition of “nothing” as others know it.)
Here’s an example of how Kristol, who no one in their right mind would listen to since he is unfailingly wrong, would handle the problem with ISIS (and possibly every other problem ever, like, say, having to wait too long in a checkout line).
“You know, why don’t we just [bomb]?” he asked military expert Laura Ingraham on her show. “What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?”
Yeah, just bomb. That never hurts anything.
5. Fox News contributor: Can Michael Brown really be considered an “unarmed” teen when he was just so big?
This bit of genius comes from Fox contributor Linda Chavez, who was on the air this week doing her darndest to dismantle what she regarded as the “mantra” about Michael Brown, namely, the "unarmed black teenager shot by a white cop.” She would prefer a different mantra, perhaps something like Ommmm.
What she does not like about the description, “unarmed black teen shot (six times) by a white cop” is this: “We’re talking about an 18-year-old man who is six-foot-four and weighs almost 300 pounds.”
So, our question is this? What exactly is the size cut-off? When does a person become too big to be considered unarmed? When exactly does flesh morph into a weapon?
We know, we know, when the flesh is black.
6. Tea Partier, former presidential hopeful Herman Cain: Obama is plotting to be impeached.
Remember Herman Cain? The Godfather’s Pizza mogul from Georgia who ran for the Republican presidential nomination and made Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich look, well, sane? He’s still kicking. In fact, in his recollection he “damn near won” that nomination, which isn’t how anyone else recollects it... probably because it didn’t happen.
So, the Tea Partier is no stranger to delusional thinking. Cain recently shared a theory with Rick Wiles' End Times radio show. His theory is that Obama is trying to get impeached. It’s all part of his devilish scheme to keep Democrats in power. Kind of counter-intuitive, right? Cain specializes in that. Also, nonsense.
Cain says the way Obama will accomplish this feat is by issuing an executive order that provides undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship. This will cause Hispanic voters to turn out in droves in the midterm election (and vote for Democrats). But even better for Obama, it will force Republicans to impeach him, which he loves. Everyone loves getting impeached. Just ask Bill Clinton. Here’s how Cain figures it:
"The Democrats would love for the media to be obsessed with impeachment proceedings leading up to November because the Democrats do not want the media to be focusing on failed economic policy, no foreign policy, [and] corruption that's going on in all of the various departments."
So, there it is. The whole dastardly plot. You've been warned.Related Stories
Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace that "kings are the slaves of history." And when the "king" in question depends on the patronage of happy customers for his well-being, his monarchy is also a slave to public opinion. Unfortunately for Burger King, which intends to renounce its American status for tax purposes, neither history nor public opinion is on its side.
In fact, if social media is any gauge, the Burger King's American subjects are downright pissed.
Burger King's Facebook page currently features the rather unfortunately-timed slogan, "Chicken Fries Are Back." (Is that as in, too chicken to pay your taxes?), and it has drawn a lot of angry comments about its planned tax move.(All comments are unedited, except as noted.)
A recent status update entitled "Lunch? Brunch? Same difference" drew this comment, presumably directed toward a constituent's Senator:
As a veteran I encourage you to sponsor a bill that shuts down every single Burger King located on an American military installation in the U.S. ... I feel only companies that are headquartered in the U.S. Deserve to be able to conduct business on govt facilities. I find it very up unpatriotic that our service members who risk there lives would have these tax dodging companies located on their bases ...
On a post which advises readers "Be the Chicken Fries you want to be," comments included "I loved the chicken fries but not from some traitorous tax dodging company...Hello Wendy's!!!!"
Other commenters addressed the role of government in Burger King's success and its subsequent display of ingratitude. One wrote:
Burger King's ingredients are trucked in on taxpayer-funded roads. Burger King's meat is made safe by taxpayer-funded beef inspectors. Burger King's workers are paid so little that taxpayer-funded social safety net programs have to pick up their slack. And in return for all of these taxpayer-funded services, Burger King won't even pay the American corporate tax rate. Boycott...
American tax dollars inspect the safety of your "chicken fries" yet you don't want to pay American taxes. I will never spend one penny of my American money in your traitorous stores.
The royal court has clearly heard these rumblings of discontent from the citizenry, because its most recent status update says:
"We hear you. We're not moving, we're just growing and finding ways to serve you better ... both Burger King Corp. and Tim Hortons will continue to operate as independent brands. We'll just be under common ownership. Our headquarters will remain in Miami where we were founded more than 60 years ago and business will continue as usual at our restaurants around the world."
The statement goes on to say that the merger decision "is not tax-driven - it's about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes. We're proud of the heritage of Burger King and will maintain our long-standing commitment to our employees, franchisees and the local communities we serve."
It concludes: "The WHOPPER isn't going anywhere."
That part's certainly true, because there are several "whoppers" in this statement. While it may be true that this merger isn't solely tax-driven, Burger King is the larger of the two corporations, and it was founded in Jacksonville, Florida in 1953. Domiciling the merged company in Canada would result an evasion of American taxes, and that Facebook pledge to "pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes" obscures some key facts, including the fact that this maneuver would allow it to evade U.S. taxes on overseas profits.
And let's not start the discredited argument that it's being forced to move because US corporate tax rates are supposedly too high. The actual rate paid by American corporations, once they're done applying all the loopholes their lobbyists in Washington have designed, their actual rate is at the low end of the global tax spectrum - and this at a time when many corporations are achieving record-breaking profits.
As for Burger King, its 2013 results led to headlines like the Wall Street Journal's "Burger King Profit Rises on Lower Costs," after an increase in profitability of nearly 40 percent. And its performance in the first quarter of this year led USA Today to proclaim that "Burger King cuts costs, serves up tasty profits."
The proposed tax-dodging moves has led several groups (including the Campaign for America's Future and Americans for Tax Fairness) to start a petition drive against Burger King. It has also led to grassroots fury, if the company's Facebook page in any indication. Here are a few of the recent comments to that recent "WHOPPER" of a statement:
burger king crowned king of the tax dodgers! boycott!!!!!
Nice spin. The Burger King Corp. half of the company will remain headquartered in Miami. HOWEVER, the corporate headquarters of the combined company will be based in Canada as a U.S. tax avoidance. A customer exodus to save a few bucks on the tax bill ...
If you move I will unfortunately never be able to eat at any Burger King anywhere. I travel internationally and that will include any other country I go to. Pay American tax. Also, you may want to start paying your employees a living wage as well!
And more commenters joined in the impromptu boycott sentiment:
I was going to come in today to get food (haven't been there in a long time) and heard you guys are being extremely greedy. Never mind. Going to Chipotle instead.
I now consider you to be tax-dodging traitors, and I'll never spend another dime in your establishments. In other words, enjoy Canada, but say good-bye to my business, ya hosers, eh?
Just wanted to say Goodby sorry to see you leave. Our family has spent a lot of days in Burger Kings lines, we were good customers, spent a lot of money but your lost will be another companies gain. I'm sure Wendys or Checkers will be happy to get us ...
To be sure, not every commenter represented lost revenue for Burger King. The handful of right-wingers who consistently trolled these comments clearly aren't going anywhere, and another said rather crudely that "I wouldn't eat the horse meat you serve anyway you dicks."
Well, okay, Burger King won't lose revenue on that guy. But a lot of people are clearly angry, and they're clearly planning to take their business elsewhere.
What's more, the fast-food monarch isn't just losing the serfs and rabble-rousers. Even reliable royalists like Sir Joe of Scarborough are whispering of rebellion. That's right: Conservative talk show host Joe Scarborough endorsed the idea of a Burger King boycott on his morning talk show, saying "I think a lot of Americans are should not go Burger King again if they're going cheat on their taxes."
Another host responded, "Their fries suck."
"They do suck," Scarborough agreed.
That's not the kind of commentary any corporation wants, especially a publicly-traded one. Soon its investors will be beseeching the King of Burgers: Turn back, Sire, before it is too late. Otherwise Burger King may be forced to learn the lesson England's George III was taught in 1776: Americans bend the knee to no foreign monarch, even if he offers chicken fries on the side.
An informal boycott seems to have started already. If Burger King insists on picking a fight with the American people, the response may very well come in the words of one of its own slogans:
Have it your way.
(Here's a petition to the CEO of Burger King: "Keep Burger King American and pay your fair share. If not I'll dine elsewhere.")Related Stories
The US government’s web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be.
As we were reminded again just this week, you can be pulled into the National Security Agency’s database quietly and quickly, and the consequences can be long and enduring. Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information.
This kind of data sharing, however, isn’t limited to the latest from Edward Snowden’s NSA files. It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors.
The watchlist tracks “known” and “suspected” terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the US government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information – including a Facebook or Twitter post – to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.
Of the 680,000 individuals on that FBI master list, roughly 40% have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”, according to the Intercept. These individuals don’t even have a connection – as the government loosely defines it – to a designated terrorist group, but they are still branded as suspected terrorists.
The absurdities don’t end there. Take Dearborn, Michigan, a city with a population under 100,000 that is known for its large Arab American community – and has more watchlisted residents than any other city in America except New York.
These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard – so-called “reasonable suspicion” – in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.
Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard because it requires neither “concrete evidence” nor “irrefutable evidence”. Instead, an official is permitted to consider “reasonable inferences” and “to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience”.
Consider a real world context – actual criminal justice – where an officer needs reasonable suspicion to stop a person in the street and ask him or her a few questions. Courts have controversially held that avoiding eye contact with an officer, traveling alone, and traveling late at night, for example, all amount to reasonable suspicion.
This vague criteria is now being used to label innocent people as terrorism suspects.
Moreover, because the watchlist isn’t limited to known, actual terrorists, an official can watchlist a person if he has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person is a suspected terrorist. It’s a circular logic – individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists – that is ultimately backwards, and must be changed.
The government’s self-mandated surveillance guidance also includes loopholes that permit watchlisting without even showing reasonable suspicion. For example, non-citizens can be watchlisted for being associated with a watchlisted person – even if their relationship with that person is entirely innocuous. Another catch-all exception allows non-citizens to be watchlisted, so long as a source or tipster describes the person as an “extremist”, a “militant”, or in similar terms, and the“context suggests a nexus to terrorism”. The FBI’s definition of “nexus”, in turn, is far more nebulous than they’re letting on.
Because the watchlist designation process is secret, there’s no way of knowing just how many innocent people are added to the list due to these absurdities and loopholes. And yet, history shows that innocent people are inevitably added to the list and suffer life-altering consequences. Life on the master watchlist can trigger enhanced screening at borders and airports; being on the No Fly List, which is a subset of the larger terrorist watchlist, can prevent airline travel altogether. The watchlist can separate family members for months or years, isolate individuals from friends and associates, and ruin employment prospects.
Being branded a terrorism suspect also has far-reaching privacy implications. The watchlist is widely accessible, and government officials routinely collect the biometric data of watchlisted individuals, including their fingerprints and DNA strands. Law enforcement has likewise been directed to gather any and all available evidence when encountering watchlisted individuals, including receipts, business cards, health information and bank statements.
Watchlisting is an awesome power, and if used, must be exercised prudently and transparently.
The standards for inclusion should be appropriately narrow, the evidence relied upon credible and genuine, and the redress and review procedures consistent with basic constitutional requirements of fairness and due process. Instead, watchlisting is being used arbitrarily under a cloud of secrecy.
A watchlist saturated with innocent people diverts attention from real, genuine threats. A watchlist that disproportionately targets Arab and Muslim Americans or other minorities stigmatizes innocent people and alienates them from law enforcement. A watchlist based on poor standards and secret processes raises major constitutional concerns, including the right to travel freely and not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.
Indeed, you can’t help but wonder: are you already on the watchlist?Related Stories
In the last week or so, Michelle Rhee stepped down from StudentsFirst, an education reform organization that she founded four years ago. During her tenure at StudentsFirst, and before then, Rhee meticulously crafted her image as a firebrand who intended to shake up education in the country. Although most of the coverage of Rhee and her departure has focused on her education theatrics, her remarks on the issue of child poverty have been far more troubling.
In debates about education reform, one very common pattern of arguments has emerged. Education reformers like Rhee jump into the forum and confidently proclaim that poor students are failing to acquire good educations because of bad schools and bad teachers. Then, those who actually know things about child poverty respond that poverty, by itself, is a massive impediment to educational attainment because of its damaging effects on human functioning.
On its face, this response should pose no particular problem for education reformers. If they want, they can synthesize these two points by saying that both poverty and bad schools drag down educational attainment, and that we should therefore target both. Under such a synthesis, the reformers would come out in favor of very simple and empirically proven ways (they love data!) to dramatically reduce child poverty, and also make the case for their specific education reforms. But, with few exceptions, they don’t do that.
Instead, would-be reformers like Michelle Rhee totally abandon advocating for poverty reduction in favor of flavorless, politically neutral policies that don’t offend big donors. Generally, the refusal to recognize the role poverty plays in diminishing educational attainment forms three themes. In the first, reformers claim that people who chalk up low educational attainment to poverty are just excuse-making. This is, of course, manifestly absurd: Someone who says educational outcomes are harmed by poverty is not making an excuse out of poverty; they are identifying it as the (or a) cause. To argue such explanations are really excuses is as absurd as saying that Michelle Rhee is using “bad schools” as an excuse for low educational attainment. In other words, the “excuse” gambit is both false and nonsensical.
The second theme is a kind of slick resignation that morphs back into support for old policies that are unrelated to poverty reduction itself. The reformers accept finally that, yes, poverty is an independent problem. They accept that, all else equal, child poverty will absolutely drag down educational attainment. Yet the rhetoric associated with this kind of acknowledgment of poverty doesn’t stick, and reformers are always quick to follow up the concession with the same old solutions they’ve always hawked, which comprises the final theme.
This third theme usually features reformers like Rhee simultaneously admitting what is obvious — child poverty is an independent drag on educational attainment — without having to endorse doing anything about it. Instead, they insist that reforming education is the only way to do anything about poverty to begin with, so the acknowledgment that poverty is an independent harm in terms of education never inspires any direct action to repair it. Instead, only indirect action through education reform is ever advocated. This is convenient for their cause – and their fundraising campaigns — but it’s totally dishonest and harmful to poor kids.
At the very least, education is not the only way to solve child poverty. (In fact, it’s not even clear that it is a way to solve child poverty.) And to determine that, we don’t have to go with gut feelings.
What we know of all the empirical data recording child poverty rates and their changes is that the best, easiest and most efficient way to cut child poverty is through transfer programs. We could cut child poverty in half tomorrow – that’s a 50 percent reduction in poor children — if we wanted to, for little more than 1 percent of the GDP. All it would take is a child allowance, similar to many programs already extant in a slew of countries. Better yet for all the ed-reforming data lovers, we can actually track the rate at which transfers reduce child poverty – and they do so very, very well.
Yet from Michelle Rhee and her celebrated class of reformer compatriots, there’s no word on reducing child poverty head-on. The failure to endorse direct child poverty reduction, even after recognizing it as a serious contributor to educational problems, is either a function of Rhee’s own conservative politics or her abject pandering to her rich, corporate donor base. It’s popular to mock those who remark that education reform is “corporate,” but the organizations emblematic of ed reform are, in fact, funded by extremely wealthy people and corporations – like Wal-Mart. With backers like that in her corner, Rhee can’t ever push child poverty reduction sincerely because it generally means policies that make such donors less rich in order to make poor students less poor.
And this is the ultimate failing of this whole education reform business, really. Through extraordinary amounts of money and carefully collected social, political and cultural capital, they are the most preeminent movement for helping poor children in this country. All national conversations about child poverty happen fully within their court, according to their terms.
Yet, because they are led by people who are either ideologically, or out of convenience due to donors’ preferences, against policies that would dramatically cut child poverty, they are limited in what they can actually accomplish. Despite their rhetoric, (poor) students are never actually placed first, but always second behind the distributive political preferences of the rich. Rhee and those who follow in her wake will drill on trying to squeeze out some marginal gains here and there through school reform, all while ignoring and minimizing powerful, tested solutions so as to make sure people don’t aim at child poverty itself. When you absolutely dominate the national discourse on how best to help poor children, as Rhee and her cohorts have for so long, such a posture is extremely shameful and damaging.Related Stories
On the show this week: On the day of his funeral, the New York Times declared that Michael Brown was "no angel." We look at that and other shoddy reporting from Ferguson. Plus Newsweek spreads farfetched fear about Ebola and African immigrants, and we look at how often union leaders appear on the Sunday chat shows. (Brace yourself.)
Watch the new episode of FAIR TV below:
A United States district court judge has blocked two provisions of Texas’ sweeping antiabortion law in a ruling that declared unconstitutional the requirements that clinics become ambulatory surgical centers and providers obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. According to the decision from Judge Lee Yeakel, each provision presented an unconstitutional burden to Texans’ access to reproductive healthcare.
The combined provisions would have shuttered all but eight clinics in the state. There were 41 abortion providers in the state in 2013, but that number has dropped to 19 in the wake of the omnibus law. Researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that because of the new law, the number of women of reproductive age living more than 200 miles from a provider has increased by nearly 3,000 percent — from 10,000 to 290,000. The ambulatory surgical center requirement would have ballooned that number to nearly 800,000.
Last year, Yeakel found that the admitting privileges requirement was “without a rational basis,” and blocked the provision. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, and the state began enforcing the provision in November. The state intends to immediately appeal the decision and will ”seek immediate relief from the 5th Circuit, which has already upheld HB 2 once,” according to Lauren Bean, a spokesperson for Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
“There was no justification for the medically unnecessary regulations in HB2, no demonstrated problem with safety in our state’s already well-regulated abortion clinics,” NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Heather Busby said in a statement on the decision. “In fact, state records demonstrated the opposite: that abortion is one of the safest outpatient procedures in the state. Yet despite an overwhelming outcry from the public, lawmakers forced the bill through based on lies.”
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, also celebrated the decision, and applauded Yeakel’s recognition that the law served no medical purpose . “We are extremely pleased by Judge Yakel’s ruling today. As he clearly states in his decision, requiring every abortion clinic to turn into a surgical center is excessive and not based on good medicine,” she said in a statement. “It’s an undue burden for women in Texas — and thankfully today the court agreed. The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety.
“Everyone in Texas deserves and needs health care based on medical science and proven standards of care,” she continued. “Whole Woman’s Health already follows our state’s safety requirements and there was never evidence that requirements such as widening our hallways or doorways would make any difference for women’s health.”Related Stories
On Thursday night’s episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert mocked conservatives for living in a world of imagination on the subject of the threat posed by ISIS.
He began by angrily pointing at a photograph of President Barack Obama and saying, “this guy right here needs a hard dose of reality — right, woman who lives in a world of imagination?”
Colbert then cut to a female Fox News personality, who said, “Can I just make a special request from a magic lamp? Can we get, like, Netanyahu and Putin in for, like, 48 hours as head of the United States? I don’t know, you know, I just want somebody to get in here and get it done right.”
“Yes,” Colbert responded, “as long as we’re making shit up, as a conservative, my allegiance is to an ever greater imaginary leader — Ronald Reagan. He is the one we should be pretending is stopping this crisis, and Newt Gingrinch agrees. Yesterday, he posted a lengthy fake speech he imagines Reagan would give if he were still around.”
“And it is exactly what Ronald Reagan would say if he were still alive and somehow still president, serving a ninth term in office at the age of 103,” he continued, before quoting Newt quoting “Reagan”:
“And if Newt knows exactly how Jefferson felt,” Colbert said, “I’m sure he’ll also write a fictional speech that Jefferson would have given in 1984 when Reagan decided to get our Marines the Hell out of Lebanon. Fake Jefferson would have been just as disappointed in Real Reagan as Fake Reagan is in Real Obama. I can only imagine what Newt will imagine fake Obama will have to say about the Middle East policy of President Blue Ivy.”
“Nation,” he concluded, “I too can imagine our way to a better world, because I, like Newt Gingrich, believe we can defeat ISIS with the power of make-believe.”
Watch the entire August 28, 2014 episode of The Colbert Report via Hulu below.