Bombs, Shootings, Arson, Death Threats: Writer Details What It's Like to Work at Women's Health Clinic - 8 hours 54 min ago
In a series of tweets posted Sunday night, Bryn Greenwood describes the campaign of terror she experienced while working at a Planned Parenthood.

Over the weekend, the GOP candidates scurried to distance the Republican Party's extreme anti-choice rhetoric from the actions of Robert Lewis Dear, the gunman who murdered three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. With the exception of Mike Huckabee, they also dissembled when asked if the attack constituted domestic terrorism.

In a series of tweets posted Sunday, Bryn Greenwood described the campaign of terror she experienced when she volunteered at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Although the clinic did not perform abortions, the volunteers were subjected to everything from attempted arson to cherrybombs to phone calls calling them "murdering whores," all for the activity of providing low-income women with health care.

"The goal was to make us afraid to come to work, to make us quit, to make us close the clinic. That's terrorism. That's how terrorism works," Greenwood noted. See her tweets below: 

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5 Awful GOP Responses to Planned Parenthood Shooting - 10 hours 13 min ago
From Cruz's claim that the shooter was a woman to rampant victim-blaming, the GOP responds as tastelessly as one would expect.

Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado that left three people dead prompted immediate responses from the Democratic presidential candidates, who offered condolences and reiterated their support for the organization. 

GOP candidates were slower on the draw, presumably needing time to work out the delicate balance between smearing Planned Parenthood as baby killers while expressing sympathy for the Iraq vet and the mother of two who were gunned down.

When the GOP candidates finally commented, it was about as tasteless as you'd expect. They victim-blamed, claimed the killer's motives were unknown (despite reports that he spoke about "baby parts" at the scene), and found a way to heap blame upon both Planned Parenthood and the media. Here are some of their tone-deaf responses.

1. Carly Fiorina

On Fox News Sunday, Carly Fiorina called alleged killer Robert Lewis Dear "deranged' and lamented that the shooting took place on a "holiday weekend," before zeroing in on the real tragedy: the unfair treatment of Carly Fiorina by pro-choice activists and the left. 

Host Chris Wallace asked Fiorina if she saw a link between overheated anti-choice rhetoric and violence by abortion opponents. Fiorina, who at the second GOP debate regaled viewers with a grisly and entirely false story about Planned Parenthood workers yanking the brain out of a "living, kicking" fetus, failed to see how her words might inspire someone to take drastic action. 

“This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing the messenger because they don’t agree with the message,” Fiorina told Wallace. “Anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or opposes the sale of body parts is … this is typical left-wing tactics.”

Fiorina advanced the inflammatory lie that Planned Parenthood makes a profit from trafficking in fetal body parts. In fact, the fetal tissue is turned over for medical research, with the attendant fees used to cover expenses.

2. Ted Cruz

Despite reports that the shooter ranted about "baby parts" at the scene, not to mention his choice of a Planned Parenthood clinic to storm, Ted Cruz saw no reason for anyone to jump to the crazy conclusion that the killer was motivated by anti-choice rhetoric. Instead, Cruz floated his more plausible explanation, telling reporters Sunday that Dear was a "transgendered leftist activist." 

"It’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist," said Cruz, according to the Texas Tribune. "If that’s what he is, I don’t think it’s fair to blame on the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer.” 

The bizarre claim that Dear is transgender rocketed around the right-wing blogosphere after Gateway Pundit allegedly found a voter registration form that marked Dear as female. As Think Progress reports, there is absolutely no evidence Dear identified as a woman, or as a leftist, noting that the form most likely had a typographical error. 

3. Ben Carson

Carson responded to the attack by wishing everyone would be a little more polite. He then politely blamed Planned Parenthood for the shooting. 

Asked if extremist rhetoric emboldens domestic terrorists, Carson argued that "both sides" are to blame for vilifying each other. 

"We get into our separate corners and we hate each other, we want to destroy those with whom we disagree," he told Martha Raddatz on ABC's "This Week." "It comes from both sides. So, you know, there is, there is no saint here in this, in this equation."

Fair point for the next time a pro-choice activist storms an anti-choice rally and murders three people. 

4. Donald Trump

Donald Trump briefly approximated humanness on Chuck Todd's Meet the Press Sunday, calling the shooting "a terrible thing." Seconds later the GOP candidate returned to form, denouncing Planned Parenthood and essentially blaming the organization for making Trump supporters angry. 

"I will tell you there is a tremendous group of people that think it's terrible, all of the videos that they've seen with some of these people from Planned Parenthood talking about it like you're selling parts to a car ... there are a lot of people that are very unhappy about that," Trump said. "I can say that, because I go to rallies…I see a lot of anxiety and I see a lot of dislike for Planned Parenthood. There's no question about that."

5. Huckabee 

Mike Huckabee had the guts to call the shooting an act of domestic terrorism and mass murder. "There's no legitimizing, there's no rationalizing. It was mass murder. It was absolutely unfathomable," he said. 

Huckabee then accused Planned Parenthood, which provides health services to low-income women, of mass murder, engaging in exactly the kind of extreme rhetoric that might convince an unhinged person the group is deserving of violent attack. "And there's no excuse for killing other people, whether it's happening inside the Planned Parenthood headquarters, inside their clinics where many millions of babies die, or whether it's people attacking Planned Parenthood," he said. 

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The Republican Party Is Now America's Largest Hate Group - 12 hours 4 min ago
Led by Donald Trump, the GOP has abandoned its traditional dogwhistles in favor of a more overt approach to racism.

The Republican Party has put down the dogwhistle and picked up a megaphone.

After two Bostonians allegedly beat up a homeless Hispanic man in August, one told police he was inspired by Donald Trump’s message that “all these illegals need to be deported.” In response, Trump explained “that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” Later, he clarified that in no way, of course, does he condone violence. In June, Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and drug-trafficking criminals. “Some, I assume, are good people,” he added.

Last Monday, five people were shot at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis. Three white men have been arrested in connection with the incident. It is important to emphasize that the investigation is in its very early stages, and it has not been confirmed who did this, or why.

It is, however, clear that leading Republicans have engaged in extraordinarily racist and xenophobic rhetoric that incites and legitimates vigilante violence. On Saturday, Trump fans allegedly attacked a Black Lives Matter protester at a Birmingham rally. “Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said.

It’s not that brazen racism is new to the Republican Party. In 1964, Sen. Strom Thurmond — who ran for president on the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket in 1948 — became a Republican in protest of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s passage. That year, he worked hard across the then-solidly-Democratic South to support the Republican candidacy of libertarian and militarist Barry Goldwater, a Civil Rights Act opponent.

In 1968, Richard Nixon ran a television ad stoking fear of black riot and student anti-war protests, unsubtly declaring that freedom from street violence at home was in reality the “first civil right.”

It was in 1990, that Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, as the New York Times recounts, “unveiled a nakedly racial campaign advertisement in which a pair of hands belonging to a white job-seeker crumpled a rejection slip as an announcer explained that the job had been given to an unqualified member of a minority.” And it was in 2002 that incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott strongly suggested that America would have been better had de jure segregation been kept in place.

“I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him,” said Lott, a Mississippian. “We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

What’s remarkable, and hard to imagine happening today, is that Lott was successfully pressured to resign his leadership position.

* * *

The Trump candidacy has combined fears over terrorism, crime and a coming white minority into a spectacular fever dream of dangerous refugees and a criminal threat posed by black people and Hispanic immigrants. That danger, in the right-wing view, is abetted by liberals who criticize police so harshly they are afraid to do their jobs, invite menacing foreigners to live amongst us, and restrain our military because of excessive concern for civilian casualties.

Trump, the white Republican id, has suggested that Muslims be placed on a database and claims, despite it being (or maybe precisely because it is) demonstrably false, that he watched “thousands and thousands of people” in heavily Arab Jersey City “cheering” as “the World Trade Center came tumbling down.”

Ben Carson initially agreed that he too saw this on the news, but generously held back from condemning every single Muslim on earth for it. “I don’t know if, on the basis of that, you can say all Muslims are bad people. I really think that would be a stretch.” He ultimately decided that it had actually been clips from the Middle East that he had seen.

Trump, Carson and neo-McCarthyite Ted Cruz make some very conservative people seem centrist by comparison. These so-called moderate conservatives, after all, claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan, a one-time right-wing challenger to the Republican establishment. Today, mainstream Republican Jeb Bush has suggested that we should prioritize Christian refugees, and Chris Christie has stated that many Black Lives Matter activists “advocate for the murder of police officers.”

It was Trump was who outrageously declared that Syrian refugees could be a “Trojan horse” for terrorism. But every single Republican governor save for Utah’s Gary Herbert has called for barring the refugees from their state.

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, speaking to Chris Hayes this week, warned that Trump is “whipping up hatred to scapegoat a minority religious group, which has some very dangerous historic precedents. It’s the kind of behavior, classic demagoguery, and he’s going to get somebody hurt.”

White supremacist activists, as Evan Osnos reported in the New Yorker, have cheered Trump because he is mainstreaming the sort of xenophobia that is particularly amenable to the current American brand of white supremacy.

* * *

The most brazen anti-black racism is still disallowed in the political mainstream. But the white supremacy that undergirds it has found its voice in xenophobia: Remember the widespread belief, amongst people who may no longer feel comfortable publicly saying the n-word, that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya.

On Sunday, Donald Trump tweeted an incendiary and totally false graphic positing that the vast majority of both whites and blacks are killed by black people. (In fact, the vast majority of white people are killed by white people.) Unsurprisingly, the graphic was first tweeted by a real-life, Hitler-admiring Nazi, according to Little Green Footballs.

As for Carson, he has suggested that the left are “purveyors of hatred” who want to “try to make a race war.” He is beloved most of all for being a black man who tells white people that other black people should blame social welfare programs, and not racism, for their failures. “Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” he declared. “It is slavery, in a way.”

By virtue of his skin color Carson offers bigots a sort of funhouse absolution.

The Black Lives Matter movement, like the Syrian refugee crisis and Latino immigration, are the crucible of the contemporary American white supremacy.

Conservatives profess the existence of the so-called “Ferguson effect,” which posits that crime has spiked because protesters have made police to afraid to do their jobs, but which has no evidence basis in reality. There is also idea of a War Against Police, personified by the Illinois cop believed to be murdered but who actually committed a carefully staged suicide in the face of very serious legal troubles of his own. There was the man who shot and killed two NYPD officers last year. In reality, he was no political militant but rather a man with a history of mental illness whose life was imploding. He shot his ex-girlfriend in Maryland before making his way to New York.

Things in the United States and throughout the world are going pretty terribly for a lot of people, as living wage jobs evaporate, prisons are overflowing, and global warming threatens to wipe out human civilization as we know it. But many find it easier to find an embodied demon to blame, from those who have had their way of life overturned by economic crisis to those who exercising a paranoid grip on their political and economic power.

The explosion of brazen racism on the right is not only dangerous but distracting. Extremist politics, and the reaction to it, crowds out discussion of structural problems like poverty and mass incarceration. Every minute spent reading about Trump’s idiocy is time not taken reflecting upon the fact that 22-percent children lived below the poverty line in 2013, according to USA Today, a situation more than twice as likely to befall children who are black, Hispanic and Native American.

The media and public have limited bandwidth for multiple crises. There now seems to be a widely shared assumption that national security alone must dominate the stage.

“Senator Sanders, you said you wanna rid the planet of ISIS. In the previous date you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change,” reporter John Dickerson asked Sanders in the last Democratic debate. “Do you still believe that?”

The mainstreaming of extremism also allows establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton who have done so much too abet mass impoverishment and imprisonment to jump over the extremely low bar of I don’t remind you of a Nazi.

“I have just one word for Mr. Trump: Basta,” Clinton said recently, hoping that a word of Spanish would paper over her own support for border militarization. “Enough is enough. He’s been trafficking in prejudice and paranoia and it’s bad for our politics and bad for our country.”


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Krugman: How to Stop the Affluent from Trampling on the Poor as They Move Back to Big Cities - 13 hours 21 min ago
The poor and middle class do not have to be pushed out.

Paul Krugman has to admit in Monday's column, New York City is a great place to live, if you can afford it. Great food, great culture—but you have to be able to afford the housing and more and more people can't. And it's not just New York where the wealthy are pooring in. "Urban America reached an inflection point around 15 years ago," he writes. "After decades of decline, central cities began getting richer, more educated, and, yes, whiter. Today our urban cores are providing ever more amenities, but largely to a very affluent minority."

There are a couple of drivers for this phenomenon, Krugman figures: lower crime rates and rising inequality. Increasingly, high earners want to live closer to work and to the attractions of urban life. That is a major change: 

To get a sense of how it used to be, let me quote from a classic 1955 Fortune article titled “How Top Executives Live.” According to that article, the typical executive “gets up early — about 7 a.m.. — eats a large breakfast, and rushes to his office by train or auto. It is not unusual for him, after spending from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. in his office, to hurry home, eat dinner, and crawl into bed with a briefcase full of homework.” Well, by the standards of today’s business elite, that’s actually a very relaxed lifestyle.

And as several recent papers have argued, the modern high earner, with his or her long hours — and, more often than not, a working partner rather than a stay-at-home wife — is willing to pay a lot more than the executives of yore for a central location that cuts commuting time. Hence gentrification. And this is a process that feeds on itself: as more high earners move into urban centers, these centers begin offering amenities: — restaurants, shopping, entertainment — that make them even more attractive.

We’re not just talking about the superrich here, or even the 1 percent. At a guess, we might be talking about the top 10 percent. And for these people, it’s a happy story. But what about all the people, surely a large majority, who are being priced out of America’s urban revival? Does it have to be that way?

Krugman thinks not, and spends the remainder of his column making the case that more housing could be built if only land use restrictions could be gotten out of the way.

And this is part of a broader national story. As Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recently pointed out, national housing prices have risen much faster than construction costs since the 1990s, and land-use restrictions are the most likely culprit. Yes, this is an issue on which you don’t have to be a conservative to believe that we have too much regulation.

While New York City can't do much on its own about rising inequality, local governments do have some power over land use. At least its current mayor understands the need to build more housing that people other than the super rich can afford.


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From the fields of Brazil to the streets of Paris

New Internationalist - 14 hours 4 sec ago
Yesterday's climate demonstrations in Paris were deeply personal for Rafaela Borges.
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What's New: Global climate march 2015

Socialist Project - 19 hours 5 min ago
Hundreds of thousands march around the world – live feed...
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Adult Film Star Stoya and Two Others Accuse Porn Star James Deen of Rape - November 29, 2015 - 8:15pm
Adult film star Stoya made a startling announcement on Twitter about ex-boyfriend and former costar James Deen.

On Saturday afternoon, adult film star Stoya took to Twitter to announce that former costar and ex-boyfriend James Deen had raped her. Other women have since come forward with similar accusations against Deen, including industry veterans Tori Lux and Ashley Fires.

In an essay she wrote for the Daily Beast, Lux recalls an on-set incident that took place between her and Deen in 2011. She writes, "While James wasn’t performing with me that day, he was present on set—and almost immediately after I’d finished my scene he began to antagonize me... I hadn’t even had time to dress myself when he said, with a smirk on his face, 'Tori Lux, would you like to sniff my testicles?' 'Nope,' I replied in a neutral tone. “I’ll repeat myself: Tori Lux, would you like to sniff my testicles?' he asked, more aggressively this time.

"He proceeded to straddle my chest, pinning down my arms with his knees. Then, he raised his hand high above his head, swinging it down and hitting me in the face and head with an open palm. He did this five or six times—hard—before finally getting off of me."

Lux admitted she didn't reach out to police for fear they wouldn't take her seriously. "People—including the police—tend to believe that sex workers have placed themselves in harm’s way, and therefore can’t be assaulted." 

Deen has since defended himself through the social media platform, calling the claims "egregious," "defamatory" and "false."

Amelia McDonell-Parry, editor-in-chief of the Frisky, announced on Twitter that the publication is pulling the plug on the advice column "What Would James Deen Do?" Deen has written a total of 18 articles for the publication.

Porn star Joanna Angel has tweeted her support for Stoya, and introduced the hashtag #solidaritywithstoya to the Twitterverse. Angel happens to be another of Deen's ex-girlfriends.

Stoya and Deen began dating in 2013 and split up the following year. It’s unclear exactly when the breakup occurred or when the alleged rape took place. In the past, Deen has referred to himself as a feminist, telling Elle magazine, “At the end of the day I want everyone to have the respect that they deserve and to respect people's civil liberties and rights."

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L.A. Considers Law to Scan All Cars, Publicly Shame Anyone Who Drives Through a ‘Prostitution Area’ - November 29, 2015 - 6:56pm
To make matters even worse, all the data collected in the process would be a matter of public record.

Los Angeles, CA — A Los Angeles city councilwoman just proposed one of the most chilling uses of license plate scanners ever.

As an ostensible means of deterring prostitution, Nury Martinez, of the LA city council, wants to scan every single license plate, make a list, and mail out a shame letter to every person who drives through an arbitrary area deemed a prostitution zone.

You read that right. For merely driving through a designated area, Martinez proposes publicly shaming any and every motorist by scanning their license plate.

Martinez told CBS Los Angeles, “If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox. But if you are, these letters will discourage you from returning. Soliciting for sex in our neighborhoods is not OK.”

The idea is so Orwellian, so fascist even, that the police themselves have deemed it unconstitutional.

Law enforcement technologist, and working police detective, Nick Selby writes, 

This scheme makes, literally, a state issue out of legal travel to arbitrary places deemed by some — but not by a court, and without due process — to be “related” to crime in general, not to any specific crime.

There isn’t “potential” for abuse here, this is a legislated abuse of technology that is already controversial when it’s used by police for the purpose of seeking stolen vehicles, tracking down fugitives and solving specific crimes.

The process would automate reasonable suspicion, by arbitrarily deeming EVERYONE a ‘John.’ As Selby points out, “Guilt by association would be a higher standard.”

To make matters even worse, all the data collected in the process would be a matter of public record under the Freedom of Information Act. Anyone could walk down to the city council, request a report and publish a list of those who got the letter — due process and actual guilt be damned.

Aside from the public shaming of completely innocent individuals, the domestic problems it would create, have an equally ominous potential. Imagine a married couple whose already rocky relationship is under repair getting one of these letters. The wife’s first thought would most likely not be, “well he must just be a victim of automated reasonable suspicion.”

In his article for Medium, Selby concludes,

Far from serving as, in the words of one proponent, a private “wake-up call,” these letters will surely be the basis of insurance, medical, employment and other decisions, and such a list can be re-sold to public records companies, advertising mailing list companies… To paraphrase @MosheYudkowsky, there would be a chilling effect on commerce in the highlighted area, because who in their right mind would do business at any company located in that area? The list of unintended consequences is long.

This wrong-headed law has, out of the gate, a chilling effect on association and transport.

No non-fascist state should ever allow this to happen.

You can email Nury Martinez at, or call her one of the locations below to voice your concern with her negligent abuse of power.

City Hall

200 N Spring St, Ste 425
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 473-7006

Van Nuys

14410 Sylvan St, Ste 215
Van Nuys, CA 91401
(818) 778-4999

Sun Valley

9300 Laurel Canyon Blvd, 2nd Floor
Sun Valley, CA 91331
(818) 771-0236

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Fox News Host Giggles Through Report on Man Who Died After He Got Stuck in Fiery Chimney - November 29, 2015 - 4:29pm
Kooiman was amused that the rescue team had used jackhammers to remove the man from the chimney.

On Sunday’s edition of Fox & Friends, host Anna Kooiman couldn’t stop laughing about a man who got stuck in a chimney and died

“In an attempted crime-turned-deadly for one suspected burglar,” Kooiman reported with a serious tone which turned to laughter as she read the teleprompter. “The man climbed into a chimney of a rural California home, but he got stuck.”

“An unsuspecting resident returned home, lit a fire in his fireplace,” she continued with a chuckle. “And later decided to call 911 after hearing screams.”

Kooiman was amused that the rescue team had used jackhammers to remove the man from the chimney.

“But it was too late,” she said with laughter slurring her words. “They are still trying to figure out his identity.”

Watch the video below from Fox News’ Fox & Friends, broadcast Nov. 29, 2015.


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Who Should You Believe on Vaccines? Your Doctor -- or Jenny McCarthy? - November 29, 2015 - 4:23pm
There are reams of scientific literature, and then the comfort of conspiracy theory. Why do we favor the latter? Excerpted from "Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories" by Rob Brotherton

Stephanie Messenger is an Australian author of self-published educational books for children, such as Don’t Bully Billy and Sarah Visits a Naturopath. In 2012, she published a book that, according to promotional materials, “takes children on a journey to learn about the ineffectiveness of vaccinations and to know they don’t have to be scared of childhood illnesses, like measles and chicken pox.” The blurb on the back of the book talks about how nowadays we’re bombarded with messages urging us to fear diseases, from people who have “vested interests” in selling “some potion or vaccine.”

Messenger called the book Melanie’s Marvelous Measles. Perhaps she drew inspiration from the beloved British children’s author Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine. Which would be ironic, given Dahl’s own feelings about measles, which he wrote about in 1986.


Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

“Are you feeling alright?” I asked her. “I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead. The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her.

In 1962, when the measles took Olivia’s life, there was no vaccine. Practically everyone caught the measles at some point in childhood. Most recovered without any lasting damage, but it killed around a hundred children in the United Kingdom and more than four hundred in America every year, and put tens of thousands more in the hospital, leaving some blind or brain-damaged. When a vaccine was licensed in the United States a year later, in 1963, the number of people who caught measles plummeted by 98 percent. “In my opinion,” Dahl concluded, “parents who now refuse to have their children immunized are putting the lives of those children at risk.”

Fortunately, we now have a vaccine that protects not only against measles, but against mumps and rubella as well: the combination MMR shot. The World Health Organization estimates that between the years 2000 and 2013, measles vaccination saved more than fifteen million lives around the world. Unfortunately, since the late 1990s, MMR has been the focus of intense debate and fear, often with conspiratorial undertones.


The trouble with MMR started in the United Kingdom. When the vaccine was introduced there, in 1988, it was an immediate success. In the first year, a million children were vaccinated. For the next ten years, uptake of the vaccine remained above 90 percent. Then, in 1998, a doctor called Andrew Wakefield, along with a team of colleagues, published a study that ignited controversy. In the paper, which was published by a highly respected medical journal, The Lancet, Wakefield and colleagues claimed to have found measles virus in the intestines of a handful of autistic children. The paper speculated that the MMR shot may have played a role in causing the children’s autism, but pointed out that the findings were not sufficient to prove the relationship. Regardless, Wakefield took the findings directly to the media. In a press conference held the day before the paper was published, and that many of the paper’s coauthors refused to attend, Wakefield claimed that the danger posed by MMR was so great that the vaccine ought to be immediately withdrawn, and individual measles, mumps, and rubella shots, given a year apart, ought to be used instead. (Wakefield himself, it is worth noting, has never opposed vaccination across the board; in fact, he has maintained that vaccines are an important part of health—just not the combined MMR shot, which he continues to argue is linked to autism.)

Concerned parents are understandably influenced by the media, and there is no better illustration than the panic that followed Wakefield’s alarming announcement. Interest in the story was modest at first. In 1998, the year of Wakefield’s press conference, a handful of news stories reported his claim, and vaccine uptake began to fall slightly. It wasn’t until 2001 that the story began to take on a life of its own. For several years, the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism received more coverage in the British media than any other science story. As fear-mongering coverage peaked between 2001 and   2003, uptake of the vaccine dipped to 80 percent. Some parts of the country, particularly parts of London, had drastically lower vaccination rates.

The falling vaccination rates prompted outbreaks of the diseases that the vaccine prevents—particularly, since it’s so highly contagious, measles. The first outbreak was in Dublin in 2000, where vaccination rates were already lower than in the United Kingdom. Almost sixteen hundred cases of measles were reported. More than a hundred children were admitted to hospital with serious complications, and three died. A thirteen-year-old boy died in England in 2006, becoming the first person to die of measles in England since 1994. In 2008, measles was declared endemic in the United Kingdom for the first time in fourteen years. In 2012 there were more than two thousand cases of measles in England and Wales—mostly affecting children and teenagers whose parents had declined the MMR vaccine years earlier. In 2013, another outbreak in Wales infected more than a thousand people, hospitalizing eighty-eight, and killing a twenty-five-year-old man.

In 2004 it emerged that the entire MMR-autism debate was built on a lie. Investigative journalist Brian Deer uncovered evidence that, before beginning his research, Wakefield had been involved in a patent application for an allegedly safer alternative to the combined MMR vaccine. He had also received a payment in the region of half a million pounds from a personal-injury law firm to conduct the research, and the same law firm had referred parents who believed their children to be vaccine-damaged to Wakefield so he could use the children in his research. But failing to declare a conflict of interest was the least of Wakefield’s wrongdoing. Deer discovered that the study, which involved conducting invasive medical procedures on developmentally challenged children, had not been granted ethical approval. Finally it emerged that Wakefield may have fudged elements of the children’s medical histories to fit his MMR-autism theory, and a co-worker suggested that Wakefield had knowingly reported incorrect test results. Ultimately the paper was retracted, and Wakefield’s license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom was withdrawn.

That all looks pretty bad, I think it’s fair to say, but we shouldn’t necessarily dismiss the hypothesis that MMR somehow causes autism on the basis of Wakefield’s behavior alone. Since his paper was published, dozens of independent, large, well-conducted studies, involving hundreds of thousands of children across several continents, have found no association whatsoever between the MMR vaccine and autism. As Paul Offit, a pediatrician and immunologist, has pointed out, we still don’t know for sure exactly what causes autism, but by now we can say with considerable certainty that vaccines can be crossed off the list of suspects. Despite Wakefield’s study being utterly discredited, and despite the weight of evidence against his claims, concerns about MMR continue to linger, in Britain and elsewhere. It didn’t take long for the panic over MMR to cross the Atlantic, where the anti-vaccination cause was taken up by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and her then-boyfriend Jim Carrey. Along the way, the claims mutated and merged with other fears. A particular concern in the United States was the presence in various vaccines of a mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, which was held by some anti-vaccine activists to be responsible for the increasing prevalence of autism. (Studies have shown this claim to be mistaken, too.) For many concerned parents, the controversy has thrown suspicion on the entire vaccine schedule. According to a 2009 survey, more than one in ten American parents have refused at least one recommended vaccine for their child, and twice as many parents choose to delay certain shots, leaving their child unprotected for longer.

Wakefield remains a polarizing figure, a hero to some and a dangerous quack to others. A recent article, written in the wake of a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in California in December 2014, described Wakefield as the “father of the anti-vaccine movement.” Yet unfounded fears about vaccines predate Andrew Wakefield. In fact, this wasn’t the first time a British doctor had gone to the media with trumped-up claims of vaccine-related harm. An uncannily similar episode had transpired a few decades earlier.


The most common symptom of pertussis is uncontrollable fits of coughing. Because of narrowing of the throat, the struggle to draw a breath sometimes produces a high-pitched whooping noise, hence the disease’s colloquial name, whooping  cough.

The coughing can be violent enough to result in bleeding eyeballs, broken ribs, and hernias. In extreme cases, the coughing can last up to four months, sometimes leading to malnourishment, loss of sight or hearing, or brain damage. But pertussis is most dangerous in infants. Infants don’t whoop. Instead, unable to breathe, they sometimes quietly turn blue and die. The World Health Organization estimates that almost two hundred thousand people die each year from whooping cough around the world, most of them young children in developing countries. Fortunately, we have a vaccine that protects not only against pertussis, but also against diphtheria and tetanus: the DTaP shot, formerly known as DPT. Unfortunately, in the 1970s and ’80s, DPT became the subject of intense debate and fear, often with conspiratorial undertones.

In 1973, a British doctor called John Wilson gave a presentation at an academic conference in which he claimed that the pertussis component of DPT was causing seizures and brain damage in infants. The research was based on a small number of children, and it has since emerged that many of the children were misdiagnosed, and some hadn’t even received the DPT vaccine. Regardless, Wilson took his findings to the media, appearing on prime-time television in a program that contained harrowing images of sick children and claimed that a hundred British children suffered brain damage every year as a result of the DPT vaccine. Uptake of the DPT vaccine fell from around 80 percent at the beginning of the decade to just 31 percent by 1978. This was followed by a pertussis epidemic during 1978 and ’79, in which a hundred thousand cases of whooping cough were reported in England and Wales. It’s estimated that around six hundred children died in the outbreak.

Despite flaws in Wilson’s study, as well as a growing number of studies that found no evidence of the alleged link between DPT and brain damage, by the early eighties the fear had spread to America. In 1982 a documentary called DPT: Vaccine Roulette aired on U.S. television. Like its British precursor, it was full of emotive scenes of children who had allegedly been harmed by the DPT vaccine. The damage was being covered up or ignored by the government and medical establishment, the documentary argued. It stopped short of telling parents outright not to have their children vaccinated, but the implication was clear.

One parent, a woman named Barbara Loe Fisher, watched Vaccine Roulette and came to believe that her own son had been injured by the DPT vaccine. Together with other parents who believed their children had been hurt by vaccines, Fisher formed a group called Dissatisfied Parents Together (or DPT for short). The group still exists, now going by the name National Vaccine Information Center. The change of name reflected the fact that their distrust of vaccines had broadened beyond the DPT shot. Over the years, Fisher’s group, and others like it, has questioned the safety and efficacy of practically every vaccine in use.

Which brings us back to where we started. The May 2, 1998, issue of The Lancetcarried a letter to the editor penned by none other than Barbara Loe Fisher. She referred to a critique of Andrew Wakefield’s research as a “pre-emptive strike by US vaccine policymakers.” Hinting at nefarious motives, she wrote, “it is perhaps understandable that health officials are tempted to discredit innovative clinical research into the biological mechanism of vaccine-associated health problems when they have steadfastly refused to conduct this kind of basic science research themselves.” Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Center later bestowed upon Andrew Wakefield an award for “Courage in Science.”

So the current epidemic of fear over the MMR vaccine is in many ways simply an extension of the vaccine anxiety that blossomed in the 1970s. But it didn’t start there. In fact, people have been worried about the safety of vaccines—and the motives of the people who make and sell them—since the discovery of the very first vaccine.

A pox on you

Common symptoms of smallpox included foul-smelling and excruciatingly painful pus-filled blisters all over the face and body. Open sores inside the mouth poured virus particles into the mouth and throat, meaning that the disease was highly contagious, spread by coughing, sneezing, and even talking. Around one in three infected adults died of the disease, and four out of five children. Those who survived were often left disfigured, or worse—many were blinded, pregnant women miscarried, and children’s growth was stunted.

Smallpox killed more people than any other disease throughout history. As recently as 1967, smallpox killed an estimated two million people around the world in that year alone. The virus shaped the course of history. Battles and wars were won and lost because of outbreaks of smallpox. It killed monarchs and rulers in office. It helped clear the way for the colonization of North and South America by European settlers by killing off millions of the native inhabitants.

Fortunately, you’re not going to catch smallpox. The virus has been eradicated from the wild, thanks to the discovery, two centuries ago, of the world’s first vaccine. Unfortunately, the new practice of vaccination gave rise to the kind of vaccine anxiety and organized anti-vaccine movements that persist to this day.

The vaccine was discovered by Edward Jenner. Jenner was a classic mildly eccentric eighteenth-century English country gentleman. He dabbled in things like fossil collecting, hot air ballooning, and growing oversized vegetables. His interest in smallpox was piqued when, flirting with a milkmaid one afternoon, he learned the folk wisdom that catching cowpox, a disease that caused blisters on cows’ udders, somehow seemed to protect milkmaids and other farm workers against smallpox. In humans, cowpox just caused a few harmless blisters on the hands, but it seemed to somehow offer lifelong immunity to smallpox. Jenner decided to put this folk wisdom to the test. He initially exposed fifteen farm workers who had previously suffered from cowpox to smallpox virus. None became infected. Then, in 1796, he undertook his boldest experiment to date. He deliberately infected a young boy with cowpox, and then exposed him to smallpox. The boy did not get sick. Jenner called the procedure vaccination, derived from the Latin vaccinae meaning “of the cow,” and published his findings in 1798. By 1820, millions of people had been vaccinated in Britain, Europe, and the United States, and the number of people dying from smallpox was cut in half.

Not everyone was impressed. There immediately arose some sporadic opposition to the vaccine. Objections were occasionally raised on religious grounds—to vaccinate oneself, some argued, was to question God’s divine plan. Others objected for economic reasons, or simply out of disgust at a vaccine derived from sick cows, coupled with distrust of the doctors who administered them. By 1800, Jenner was moved to defend his vaccine from detractors, writing “the feeble efforts of a few individuals to depreciate the new practice are sinking fast into contempt.” His optimism was misplaced.

The first truly organized anti-vaccination movements have their origins in the Compulsory Vaccination Acts passed by British Parliament in the 1850s and ’60s. The first law, introduced in 1853, threatened parents who failed to vaccinate their children with fines and imprisonment. The law was widely accepted at first, due in large part to a particularly bad smallpox epidemic that had swept through England the year before, but vaccination rates fell off again when people realized that the law simply wasn’t enforced. Parliament passed a new tougher law in 1867. It was in reaction to these laws that the first dedicated and well-organized anti-vaccination leagues were formed. Critics claimed that the vaccine was at best useless, at worst a scam or a poison. By 1900 there were in the region of two hundred anti-vaccination groups across England. The United States quickly followed suit; American anti-vaccination societies began to spring up in the 1870s.

In 1898, the English critics of vaccination won. The British government gave in, passing a law that allowed so-called conscientious objectors to opt out of vaccinating their children. Objection certificates were made easier to obtain in 1907. Vaccination rates fell, and outbreaks of smallpox rose once again in parts of England. In neighboring Scotland and Ireland, where anti-vaccination movements had not gained as much traction, vaccination continued to be readily accepted, and smallpox continued to decline.


So vaccine anxiety was a side effect of the very first vaccine, and the symptoms have never quite cleared up. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the long-standing unease about vaccines is how little the arguments have changed over the centuries. Jenner’s critics created elaborate cartoons depicting doctors as unfeeling monsters, intent on sacrificing innocent, helpless children. Twenty-first-century anti-vaccinationists write blog posts with titles like “Doctors want power to kill disabled babies.” Nineteenth-century activists claimed that the smallpox vaccine contained “poison of adders, the blood, entrails, and excretion of bats, toads and suckling whelps” and fought for their right to remain “pure and unpolluted.” The modern-day “green our vaccines” movement doesn’t go so far as to say vaccines contain entrails, but they still misconstrue vaccines as containing “toxins” including antifreeze, insect repellent, and spermicide. And, as Paul Offit has pointed out, the current concerns about MMR somehow causing autism are about as plausible, biologically speaking, as the claim, widely reported in the early 1800s, that the smallpox vaccine caused recipients to sprout horns, run about on all fours, and low and squint like cows.

And throughout it all, there have been theories alleging a vast international conspiracy to trump up the dangers of the diseases that vaccines, to hide the truth about vaccine side effects, and to ensure profits for Big Pharma and the government. One nineteenth-century British activist wrote of smallpox, “this infection scare is a sham, fostered, if not got up originally by doctors as a means of raising their own importance and tightening their grasp on the throat of the nation’s common sense which has lain so long paralysed and inert in their clutches.” More than a century later, Barbara Loe Fisher called the HPV vaccine “one of the biggest money making schemes in the history of medicine.”

In some parts of the world, conspiracist fears about vaccines have provoked more drastic measures than simply opting out of vaccination. In parts of Pakistan, local religious leaders have denounced vaccination as an American ploy to sterilize Muslims. According to the BBC, more than sixty polio workers, or their drivers or guards, have been murdered in Pakistan since 2012. (The CIA, it’s worth pointing out, inadvertently fanned the flames of distrust by setting up a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad in 2011, as part of an effort to confirm Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts by having vaccine workers surreptitiously collect DNA samples from Bin Laden’s family members. When the stunningly misguided plan came to light, it put every vaccine worker in the country under suspicion.) Similar killings of polio workers have taken place in Nigeria. Pakistan and Nigeria, not coincidentally, are two of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic.


Of course, not every parent of an unvaccinated child is a raving conspiracy theorist. Some unvaccinated children are too young to have received the vaccine. Others have medical conditions that make vaccination impossible. And many parents who fail to stick to the recommended vaccine schedule do so not out of fear of a Big Pharma conspiracy, but because they lack the time or money for doctor visits, and because they have fallen through the cracks in the health care system. These are the children who rely on “herd immunity”—the protection that comes from most of the people around us being immune to a disease. Parents who consciously choose to deny their children vaccines are putting not only their own child in harm’s way, but other children, too.

And yet it would be a mistake to demonize parents who choose to reject vaccines. They are thoughtful, caring, well intentioned, and often well informed. Thanks to a small but vocal minority of dedicated anti-vaccinists, the Internet is rife with conspiracy-laced misinformation urging us not to trust vaccines. Making matters worse, the media often portrays the controversy with a false sense of balance. Most parents have heard the claims about autism and vaccines, and, according to a recent study, merely reading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories can reduce parents’ willingness to have their children vaccinated.

The science is clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. But conspiracy theories erode our trust in science, allowing controversy to linger long after the questions have been settled.

Excerpted from “Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories” by Rob Brotherton. Published by Bloomsbury USA. Copyright 2015  by Rob Brotherton. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.


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What's New: Another City is Possible

Socialist Project - November 29, 2015 - 2:30pm
Across our community, people are struggling. Our neighbours are choosing between feeding their families and heating their homes. Many in our community have no access to safe and affordable housing, can’t find work, and cannot afford to access key services like transit and child care. Solidarity Halifax, a local, membership-based, anti-capitalist organization, wants something better for the city of Halifax.
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Two Brave Cops Under Attack for Exposing Militarization and Corruption in their Department - November 29, 2015 - 1:01pm
Both whistleblowers now find themselves targeted for prosecution.

Kristin Bantle, a sixteen-year veteran police officer, received notice of her termination from the Steamboat Springs, Colorado Police Department on August 15 – the same day she had her first court appearance on a contrived charge of “attempting to influence a public official.” The convergence of those events was appropriate, given that they constitute official retaliation against Bantle for publicly criticizing the SSPD’s “culture of fear and intimidation” and its “militaristic” approach to law enforcement. Her trial on a fourth-degree felony charge is scheduled to begin on December 1.

Bantle has rejected several proposed plea deals, the terms of which she believes would have prevented her from warning the community about  “a paramilitary police department” for which excessive force is standard operating procedure, and abuse of individual rights is commonplace. She outlined her concerns in a March 25 letter to the Steamboat Springs City Council. She was not the first or only former SSPD officer to go public with concerns about the department. Former Detective Dave Kleiber, who resigned in 2013, had provided an even more detailed critique of the SSPD in a March 9th open letter to city residents.  

Both whistleblowers now find themselves targeted for prosecution. The charges against Bantle, who was removed from her duties as a School Resource Officer last Spring — a few weeks after contacting the City Council — are related to omissions in a job application she filed with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office a few years ago after she had become disillusioned with the SSPD. Kleiber, who now works as a private investigator, learned in July that the County Prosecutor’s Office may prosecute him for alleged perjury during a 2013 criminal trial.

Attorney Charles Feldman, who represents Kleiber, insists that Kleiber’s whistle-blowing is why the “government [is] trying to look back through his disciplinary records and recordings and looking back through anything that they could find regarding his service as law enforcement….I represent people in the military all over the world, and it’s a classic tactic to retaliate against a whistleblower that way.”

In her March 25 letter to the Steamboat Springs City Council, then-Officer Bantle said that one organizational pillar for the SSPD under Chief Joel Rae was “contempt for outsiders.”

“The tone from the Chief is `it’s us against them’ and if you don’t agree with him on an issue then `it’s him against you,’” declared Bantle. Prior to relocating in Steamboat Springs with her husband and two daughters in 2011, Bantle had been employed for more than a decade as a deputy in Mason County, Michigan. She was unprepared for what she has described as the “militaristic” culture of the SSPD.

“One of my first trainings at the SSPD was something called Krav Maga,” a mixed martial arts fighting technique devised by the Israeli military, Bantle explained to the City Council. “I was uncomfortable with the level of force I was being encouraged to use. For example, I was advised to `make a fist to punch people in the face’ as a means of control. I have never struck someone in the face, let alone made a fist to punch people. I have never felt the need to be so aggressive. This tactic is also referred to as `strike first and strike hard.’”

Bantle had previously been trained in less aggressive methods involving “pressure point control techniques” and suggested to Chief Rae that the department should include that approach – and de-escalation tactics – in its training. Rae blithely dismissed that suggestion.

“Even after four excessive force lawsuits the department as a whole has not received de-escalation training,” Bantle lamented in her letter to the City Council. Those lawsuits, in her view, reflected the department’s reliance on “physical violence” in response to any perceived non-cooperation, a “lack of consistent supervision and mentoring,” a “lack of cameras,” and, most importantly, an institutional “`Us against them’ ethos.”

Bantle also expressed frustration regarding a “lack of transparency” and what appeared to be a deeply entrenched misogyny on the part of Chief Rae and his cronies. While some might be tempted to discount that last complaint as the assessment of an ambitious but frustrated female professional, it was made even more vehemently by former Detective Kleiber in his own March 9 “open letter” to the residents of Steamboat Springs.

Kleiber, who had been employed as a police officer for nearly 20 years, criticized Chief Rae for infusing “his values of sexism, intolerance, bigotry, hypocrisy, incompetence and bullying [into] the Police Department.” By “sexism” Kleiber was not referring to trivial slights or the use of verbal stereotypes that might “trigger” hyper-sensitive campus activists, but aggressive contempt for female employees and members of the public at large.

By Kleiber’s account, Rae and his Deputy Chief, Bob Devalle, would use the bizarre epithet “mumboza” as “a derogatory term for females,” and would incessantly evaluate women – especially job applicants — solely on the basis of their sexual desirability. On several occasions, according to Kleiber, Deputy Chief Devalle made denigrating remarks about a female Animal Control and Code Enforcement Officer, “such as, `Poor Girl, God knocked the tits right off her.’” When referring to another woman who worked as director of a victims’ advocacy service, Kleiber reported, Devalle gave theatrical expression to his disbelief that she was involved in a romantic relationship: “I can’t believe anyone would f**k her.”

The “Badge Bros” culture created by Rae and Devalle didn’t direct such derision solely at females.

“A brand new officer’s first experience at the Steamboat Springs Police Department is to be told at a department meeting to `stand up and tell us something about yourself,’” related Kleiber. “Upon starting to speak, the officer is then shouted down by a chorus led by Joel Rae, of `Shut the f**k up, and sit down.’… And thus, the atmosphere is set.”

Chief Rae constantly reminded his officers that they were “at-will” employees who were expected to generate revenue for his department. This was made apparent when he added a “surcharge” to every citation.

“The money from these tickers is then funneled directly back into the Police Department yearly budget,” Kleiber disclosed. “Patrol Officers are given an unofficial quota on the number of tickets they must write to help fill the Police Department’s coffers. Each Officer is then provided an annual performance evaluation, with one area of evaluation being whether they wrote enough tickets or not.”

The ever-escalating police shakedown produced not only a blizzard of spurious citations, but an avalanche of pretext charges, as well: Within two years of Rae’s appointment as chief, 34 local residents were arrested for “obstructing police.”

“This is a criminal charge that is almost never utilized and is commonly referred to as `contempt of cop,’” Kleiber points out.

Another of Rae’s innovative ways to turn harmless people into “criminal offenders” was to require each officer to “complete a `field interview card’ in its entirety upon any contact with any person for any reason,” Kleiber continued. “The information that Joel Rae was requiring his officers to collect went well beyond what they law allowed… [including] home addresses, sex, height, weight, hair color, eye color, race, facial hair, glasses, home phone numbers, cell phone numbers, places of employment, `personal oddities,’ and vehicle description including vehicle ID number and license plates.”

This illegal and unconstitutional policy, predictably, led to routine abuses by patrol officers, and at least one lawsuit.

Steamboat Springs resident Chelsea Blanchette was accosted by a police officer while she was working out at a 24-hour fitness club. Without probable cause or grounds for reasonable suspicion, the officer demanded that Blanchette provide him with the information to complete an “interview card.” When the woman refused to submit to a “field interview” – as she had every right to – the officer assaulted her, then arrested her on a charge of “resisting arrest.” She was briefly detained, then released without an apology.

Blanchette was one of four victims of abuse at the hands of SSPD officers who filed suits against the department within two years of Chief Rae’s installation. Almost exactly one year prior to Blanchette’s experience, John Ferrugia filed a lawsuit after being assaulted and arrested without cause at the same 24-hour health club. David Weaver, the plaintiff in a third suit, was beaten after having his hands cuffed behind his back. He suffered kidney damage as a result of Krav Maga-style “knee strikes.” Another SSPD officer beat Nick Holdridge with a flashlight while the victim’s hands were cuffed behind his back.

“These suits are a clear message that people’s constitutional rights are being violated by the Steamboat Springs Police Department under the leadership of Joel Rae,” observed Kleiber. Significantly, Rae – a Marine Corps veteran who, per Kleiber’s account, sports an incongruous SS tattoo, actually compelled his officers to swear an adulterated oath of office and required them to defy Colorado’s marijuana laws.

“Immediately after Amendment 64 was passed, Joel called a Department meeting,” Kleiber narrated in his letter. “He entered the meeting and declared that every officer’s previous oath of office was now invalid. He then ordered everyone to stand and had a judge administer a new oath of office declaring obedience to `Federal Law’ with the clear message of usurping the will of the Colorado voters and denying individuals their rights as afforded under the State Constitution.”

Chief Rae and Deputy Chief Devalle were placed on “administrative leave” in March, following Kleiber’s disclosures. On July 17, Rae resigned. However, his departure hasn’t ended the campaign of retaliation against the conscientious ex-officers who spoke out against his abusive reign – and Kristin Bantle is bearing the brunt of that attack.

“The basis of the charge is that there was an inconsistency between my statements in my application to the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, and the results of my polygraph test, regarding prior drug use,” Bantle told The Free Thought Project. “If I had been hired by the Sheriff’s Office, and it was discovered that I had been deliberately deceptive, I would have been liable for prosecution. But since they chose not to hire me, that provision doesn’t apply. The timing of the charge, which was filed about two years after I applied, makes it pretty clear that this is all contrived for the purpose of retaliation.”

The same is true, Bantle plausibly contends, regarding her dismissal as a School Resource Officer “three days before graduation,” and her termination last August.

“A complaint had been received about some rough language I used in teaching a self-defense and anti-bullying course,” Bantle recalls. “I did say what was reported, because saying things such as `Get the f**k off me!’ is a legitimate technique in dealing with an assailant.”

There were also concerns about stories Bantle had shared regarding unusual traffic stops and drug raids. For example, she related a stop in which she found a man pleasuring himself with a sex toy, the size and composition of which she described in detail. She shared those gamey anecdotes after students had barraged her with questions about the “weirdest” experiences she had as a patrol officer.

Detective Josh Carrell, a former School Resource Officer with the SSPD, investigated the complaints against Bantle. His report clearly demonstrates that Bantle was well-liked and respected by students or faculty alike, who considered her to be helpful and professional. There were two conspicuous exceptions, both of whom were students whose fathers were employed in local law enforcement. One of them took offense when Bantle said that some police officers inevitably “become corrupted.”

Last June, prior to Bantle’s termination, Steamboat Today reported that “Since Bantle was removed from her [SRO] position, there has been a rally of support for Bantle from teachers, parents, and students.” That support for Bantle has continued as her trial approaches. Buntle’s defense attorney Kris Hammond has represented several clients who have been charged with “attempting to influence a public official” by the Routt County Prosecutor’s Office, which uses that statute as another way to punish people for “contempt of cop.”

Hammond refers to one case in which a client was hit with that charge after supposedly threatening a police officer after being arrested. The prosecutor’s office insisted that this statement wasn’t merely an ill-considered expression of frustration, but an attempt by the detainee to compel the officer to let him go – and thus an illegal effort to “influence” the officer.

On the basis of her previous experience, Hammond is optimistic about Bantle’s chances of victory in court: “I don’t know of one case where this charge has made it past halftime at a trial.”

The obvious intent behind the specious charge isn’t to deal with an actual offense, but to put a whistleblower through the expense and anguish of an entirely unwarranted trial – thereby deterring other officers from developing a conscience.

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5 Reasons Why Modern Wing-Nuts Would've Hated The Founding Fathers - November 29, 2015 - 12:54pm
While the right constantly points to the founding fathers as exemplars of its philosophy, the truth is more nuanced.

If you’re a Democrat (or, for that matter, a progressive of any stripe) the chances are you’ve heard conservatives evoke the founding fathers when dismissing your beliefs on economic issues. The term “socialist” has become such a toxic epithet in our political culture that the two chief candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have spent considerable time confronting the term – with Hillary Clinton correctly pointing out that it doesn’t apply to her center-left views, even as Bernie Sanders valiantly strives to remove its stigma by self-identifying as a “democratic socialist.”

In light of all this, one might be forgiven for assuming that America’s founders were unilaterally right-wing in their economic ideology. After all, if this wasn’t the case, liberals could easily debunk attempts to delegitimize them by simply citing the incontrovertible facts of American history.

Which brings us to the five reasons why liberals can be just as comfortable as conservatives in claiming the founding fathers as their own.

1. The founding fathers constantly disagreed with each other.

It is easy to talk about the founding fathers as if they were a monolithic body, but as records of the Constitutional Convention and The Federalist Papers clearly demonstrate, the men who created this country disagreed on everything from the enumerated powers in each branch of government and the abolition of slavery to, yes, the role that the state should play in regulating economic policy.

Since there are too many examples of the latter to comprehensively discuss in one article, I’ll limit my exploration to one of the most fundamental questions of all — the general welfare clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1), which empowers Congress “[t]o lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence [sic] and general Welfare of the United States.”

When conservatives argue that “general welfare” does not cover left-wing economic policies, they often cite James Madison (from The Federalist No. 41), who argued that it should be construed as narrowly as possible, insisting that “it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases.” Less than four years later, however, Alexander Hamilton argued that the term “general welfare” simply referred to Congress’s power to impose taxes for any program that would serve the broader public interest, pointing out (in his Report on Manufactures) that “it is therefore of necessity left to the discretion of the National Legislature, to pronounce, upon the objects, which concern the general Welfare, and for which under that description, an appropriation of money is requisite and proper.”

While legal and historical scholars disagree to this day as to whether Madison or Hamilton was correct, there is no question that they shared the same basic difference of opinion on economic questions as many Americans today. That said, there is one point on which they would not have disagreed.

2. The Constitution was created because America’s first government was too weak.

Despite their penchant for name-dropping the Constitution as proof that the central government should be as weak as possible, conservatives ignore that the Constitution was actually written because America’s first federal government was tooweak. Signed in 1781, the Articles of Confederation did not allow Congress to impose taxes, impose uniform tariff policies throughout the country, or effectively address the economic concerns of ordinary citizens — in particular, those who had incurred massive debt during the American Revolution and were being hounded by their creditors.

This last detail is especially important, since James Madison himself later wrote that it “contributed more to that uneasiness which produced the Constitution and prepared the mind for a general reform” than any other problem. As a result, the Constitution included protections for citizens facing bankruptcy, explicitly allowed Congress to collect taxes, and in general focused on fixing the problems that had become apparent in the Articles of Confederation.

That said, as Madison admitted in a private letter in 1832, economic powers that didn’t appear in the Constitution weren’t always rejected or not adopted because the federal government wasn’t intended to have them. “Without knowing the reasons for the votes in those cases, no such inference can be sustained,” Madison observed. “The propositions might be disapproved because they were in a bad form or not in order; because they blended other powers with the particular power in question; or because the object had been, or would be, elsewhere provided for.”

3. George Washington created the United States Post Office.

This may not seem like a big deal today, but when President Washington signed the Postal Office Act of 1792, he created what was then the most far-reaching and sophisticated postal service in the Western world. In the process, the post office actively worked to make Americans into better democratic citizens by shaking them out of the provincial mindsets they would otherwise develop from living on farms or in small towns before the Industrial Revolution. As historian Richard R. John explains in his award-winning book on the subject,

“By facilitating the regular transmission of information throughout the length and breadth of the United States, the postal system provided ordinary Americans with information about the wider world that they could obtain in no other way.”


Perhaps just as importantly, the post office allowed the federal government to create thousands of jobs. By the 1830s, more than three-quarters of the entire federal civilian workforce was employed by the post office (roughly 8,700 people), and the postal service was so widely regarded as necessary that other politicians who advocated creating jobs through infrastructure spending could point to it as an example. This brings us to our next point.

4. Thomas Jefferson reduced the federal debt so he could use the anticipated budget surpluses on economic programs that would be described as left-wing today.

As historian Frank Bourgin explains in his book “The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic,” President Jefferson had fought since the beginning of his political career for homesteading policies that would give away free land in the Western territories — which, in an era when land ownership often mattered as much or more than financial worth, could have easily been considered “political gifts” by his opponents. Yet Jefferson did this not only because he hoped to encourage Western settlement, but because he sincerely saw no contradiction between maintaining a “small government” and using the state to economically assist ordinary people.

This is why, when Jefferson succeeded in creating a budget surplus, he quickly proposed that the funds be used to create a top-notch public education system, subsidize scientific and technological innovation, and build transportation and other forms of infrastructure that would strengthen America as a world economic power even as it provided jobs for members of the working class. He even hoped that America would one day embrace taxing the wealthy in order to finance programs that helped the general public:

“We are all the more reconciled to the tax on importations, because it falls exclusively on the rich, and with the equal partitions of interstate estates, constitutes the best agrarian law… Our revenues once liberated by the discharge of the public debt, and its surplus applied to canals, roads, schools, etc., the farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of his country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone, without his being called on to spare a cent from his earnings.”

How was this possible? Well…

5. Thomas Jefferson, despite his small government ideals, was flexible when it came to the important issues of his time.

Jefferson’s economic policies are noteworthy not only because he authored the Declaration of Independence (much as Madison co-authored the Constitution), but because they reveal his willingness to keep an open mind about his earlier ideological assumptions. After all, Jefferson had proclaimed in his first inaugural address that good government should be “wise and frugal” and, though “restrain[ing] men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

While this philosophy may seem irreconcilable with his subsequent policies, Jefferson learned early in his presidency that small government ideals aren’t always practical. This was most famously demonstrated in 1803 when, quite unexpectedly, Napoleon Bonaparte offered to sell the Louisiana Territory (then owned by the French empire) to the United States. Although Jefferson knew that the Constitution didn’t clearly grant him the authority to accept what is now known as the Louisiana Purchase, he believed that the enormous benefit of doubling America’s size (the territory consisted of 827,000 square miles) more than outweighed the ideological objections of those who held to an anti-government philosophy — including his own. “It is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory,” he wrote at the time, “and saying to him when of age, I did this for your good.”

* * *

Although technically not a founding father, Abraham Lincoln is without question one of the most widely beloved Americans to ever occupy the presidency. More importantly, though, he was the first Republican president, which makes it symbolically appropriate to conclude with a quote from his 1861 State of the Union message:

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

This, when all is said and done, is the bottom line. At a time when income inequality continues to grow and an increasing number of Americans are attracted to the economic populism of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, it is important to remember that political liberty is hollow indeed if it isn’t accompanied by economic security. While America’s capitalist economy has made it one of the most prosperous nations the world has ever seen, it has also created conditions that require government intervention on behalf of laborers. If conservatives believe that those policies won’t work, they have the right to say as much. When they do this by trying to claim that the founding fathers would have rejected progressive alternatives as un-American, however, they do a disservice to the country they claim to want to help – and get their facts wrong in the process.


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Robert Reich: Why the High-Tech 'Sharing Economy' Is All About Impoverishing Workers - November 29, 2015 - 12:47pm
This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers.

In this holiday season it’s especially appropriate to acknowledge how many Americans don’t have steady work. 

The so-called “share economy” includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will be in such uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.

Already two-thirds of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.

It eliminates labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime.

And it ends employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

No wonder, according to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.

Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.

What to do?

Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.

We should aim instead for simplicity: Whoever pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.

In addition, to restore some certainty to people’s lives, we need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.

Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you’ve received from all the jobs you’ve taken over the preceding five years. With income insurance, you’d automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.

It’s possible to have a flexible economy and also provide workers some minimal level of security.

A decent society requires no less.

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Protest ban? What protest ban?

New Internationalist - November 29, 2015 - 11:24am
The French government’s attempts to crack down on climate protesters have only made their voices louder, reports Danny Chivers.
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Why the Economic Agenda of the Six Top GOP Candidates Is Truly Frightening - November 29, 2015 - 11:24am
The six top Republican candidates take economic policy into the wilderness.

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Tomgram: Nomi Prins, Welcome to Panem 2016 (Starring Donald Trump But Not Katniss Everdeen)

By Nomi Prins
Posted on November 29, 2015, Printed on November 29, 2015

Here is what’s grimly fascinating in this year’s dystopian carnival of a Republican presidential primary.  When it comes to what can be said in America, all bets are off.  These days, the concept of “beyond the pale” couldn’t look more wan.  All of a sudden, there’s nothing, no matter how jingoistic or xenophobic, extreme or warlike that can’t be expressed in public and with pride by a Republican presidential candidate.  You want torture back in the American playbook?  You’ve got it!  Just elect Donald Trump or Ben Carson -- and our future torturers don’t even need to justify its use in terms of getting crucial information from terror suspects.  Employing good old American-style enhanced interrogation techniques to inflict pain on “them” is fine and dandy in itself.

When it comes to refugees from the grim war zones we had such a hand in creating in the Greater Middle East, if you want the Statue of Liberty to hold a “Christians only” sign, welcome to the worlds of Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz.  Should you prefer a registry for either Syrian refugees or American Muslims and mosque closings aplenty, you’ve got it from Donald Trump (and the closing of any facility “where radicals are being inspired” from Marco Rubio) -- and no matter how much politically correct liberals may complain, Trump’s not walking either of those proposals back far. (Where, by the way, are all those religious freedom types now that mosques are at stake?  Can you imagine the uproar in this country if Bernie Sanders were to call for the shutting down of a few right-wing Christian churches?)

If you have the urge to compare Syrian Muslim refugees to “rabid dogs” and thought you had to keep your mouth shut about it, step into the universe of Ben Carson and speak out!  Should you want to claim that, on September 11, 2001, crowds of thousands of Muslims cheered and tailgated in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers, and that it was all recorded on video that only Donald Trump and maybe Ben Carson saw, then you’re in just the right exceptional nation at just the right moment.  I could go on, but why bother?

In 2016 there is evidently no longer anything, no matter how extreme or offensive, that Donald Trump and the rest of the crew can say to the Republican base that will affect their popularity negatively.  Quite the opposite, such statements, along with the promise to be “tough” on the Islamic State, are now the equivalent of popularity meters.  In a country where public opinion not so long ago seemed down on more boots-on-the-ground interventions in the Greater Middle East, you can’t threaten to send in too many boots and planes these days.  The attacks in Paris and threats of them elsewhere are clearly God’s gift to Republican extremity.  And right now, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his caliphate pals seem to control the electoral fate of politicians in both the United States and Europe.

In the midst of this Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to election 2016, lest you think that the category of extreme and perverse is confined to foreign policy, and refugee or immigrant bashing, climb aboard TomDispatch’s campaign tour bus and let Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, take you on a wild, Hunger-Games-themed ride into the wilderness of Republican economic policy in the ongoing campaign from hell.-- TomDispatch Editor, TomEngelhardt


The American Hunger Games
The Six Top Republican Candidates Take Economic Policy Into the Wilderness

By Nomi Prins

Fact: too many Republican candidates are clogging the political scene. Perhaps what’s needed is an American Hunger Games to cut the field to size. Each candidate could enter the wilderness with one weapon and one undocumented worker and see who wins. Unlike in the fictional Hunger Games for which contestants were plucked from 13 struggling, drab districts in the dystopian country of Panem, in the GOP version, everyone already lives in the Capitol. (Okay, Marco Rubio lives just outside it but is about to enter, and Donald Trump like some gilded President Snow inhabits a universe all his own with accommodations and ego to match.)

The six candidates chosen here (based on composite polling) have remarkably similar, unoriginal, inequality-inducing, trickle-down economic recommendations for the country: reduce taxes (mostly on those who don’t need it), “grow” the economy like a sprouting weed, balance the budget by cutting as yet not-delineated social programs, overthrow Obama’s health-care legacy without breaking up the insurance companies, and (yawn)... well, you get the idea. If these six contenders were indeed Hunger Games tributes, their skills in the American political wilderness would run this way: Ben Carson inspires confusion; Marco Rubio conveys exaggerated humility; Ted Cruz exudes scorn; Jeb Bush can obliterate his personality at a whim; and Carly Fiorina’s sternness could slice granite. This leaves Donald Trump, endowed with the ultimate skill: self-promotion.  As a tribute, he claims to believe that all our problems stem from China and Mexico, as well as Muslim terrorists and refugees (more or less the same thing, of course), and at present he’s leading the Games.

When it comes to economic policy, it seems as if none of them will ever make it out of the Capitol and into the actual world of American reality.  Like Hillary Clinton, blessed by Wall Street’s apparently undying gratitude for her 9/11 heroism, none of the Republican contestants have outlined a plan of any sort to deal with, no less break the financial stronghold of the big banks on our world or reduce disproportionate corporate power over the economy, though in a crisis Cruz would “absolutely not” bail them out again.   Stumbling around in the wilderness, Carson at least offered a series of disjointed, semi-incomprehensible financial suggestions during the last Republican “debate,” when asked why he wouldn’t break banks up. "I don't want to go in and tear anybody down,” he said. “I mean that doesn't help us, but what does help us is to stop tinkering around the edges and fix the problem."

Rubio, already in top Hunger Games form, swears that it’s recent regulations (not legacy elite decisions) that did the dirty deed. “The government made [the banks] big by adding thousands and thousands of pages of regulations," he said of Dodd-Frank legislation (which doesn’t actually alter Wall Street structurally in any way). In fact, in recent decades every major power grab or consolidation in American business, from banks to energy companies, resulted from bipartisan deregulation.

None of these big-money-backed candidates seem particularly concerned that another economic crisis could ever cripple the country, or have evidently even noticed that most Americans have yet to experience the present “recovery.”  None seem to realize that when the Federal Reserve winds down its cheap money policy and banks and companies are left to fend for themselves, more economic hell could break loose in the style of the 2007-2008 meltdown. Jeb Bush recently summed up the general 2016 Republican position on the economy in a single what-me-worry-style sentence: “We shouldn't have another financial crisis.” ‘Nuff said.

In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney’s chances dwindled after he disparaged 47% of the country as so many leeches. Today’s Hunger Gamers have learned from his experience. Optics spell opportunity, so as a group they’re shuffling the usual Republican-brand tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy in with selective recognition of the broader population and promises to kill all loopholes in some future utopian tax bill. None of them, of course, would consider raising the minimum wage to put more money in the pockets of workers before tax-time hits. Even old Henry Ford knew the power of wages when, early in the last century, he strengthened his car empire by doubling the then-prevailing minimum wage for his workers to $5 a day -- enough for them not only to save up and buy his Model-Ts, but also boost productivity.

The present set of Hunger Gamers could invoke Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting ire, or President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s willingness to fund vast national construction projects, or even (to reach into the distant past) President Herbert Hoover’s initial attempts to pass what became, under Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that separated deposit-taking from speculation at banks. But to be realistic, none of them belong to the Republican Party as it once existed.  They all live in an American Panem and so feel no compunctions about promoting the idea that corporations contributing ever less to the federal till would Make America Great Again.

Now, let’s send those six candidates into that wilderness, weapons in hand, one at a time, and while we’re at it, examine their minor differences by checking out their campaign websites to see what kind of games we can expect in a coming Republican era of “good times.”

Ben Carson

If you look through the index of Ben Carson's latest bestseller, A More Perfect Union, you won’t even find the words “economy,” “banks,” or “Wall Street.”  Instead, his campaign slogan, “Heal, Inspire, Revive,” could headline a yoga retreat. His position as the Republican co-frontrunner or runner-up (depending on which polls you look at) relies on his soft-spoken, non-politician persona, not his vague economic ideas that flash by in a chameleon-like fashion.

Yes, he was a brilliant neurosurgeon, but the tenacity and skills required to become a gifted medical practitioner have not translated well into presidential-style economic policies.  To the extent that he has a policy at all, it’s a shopworn version of the twenty-first-century Republican usuals: ratifying a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution “to restore fiscal responsibility,” introducing a flat tax, not raising the minimum wage, yada, yada, yada.  In a Washington Post op-ed last year, he recounted his mother’s days as a “domestic in the homes of wealthy people who were generous to her” and would slip young Carson and his brother “significant monetary incentives” in return for good grades. One even loaned him a luxury convertible. With such employers -- and the incredibly rich are a well-known generous bunch, at least when it comes to supporting Republican presidential candidates (just 158 families have contributed more than half the money to this election so far, mostly to Republicans) -- who needs a government-declared minimum wage?

Regarding taxes, Carson considers the 74,000-page tax code “an abomination.” And who would argue otherwise? But like his various opponents, he's not about to point out that it was largely crafted by the representatives of mega-corporations, not Wal-Mart workers at meet-ups with senators. He’s for a flat tax of 10% with no exemptions for the poor, based on biblical economics 101. Maybe people who don’t produce bumper crops should just pray for a better lot.

He would conveniently cut the official corporate tax rate from 35% (the average effective tax rate is 27.9% but the biggest, brightest companies don’t even approach that amount) to between 15% and 20%, the definition of corporate manna from heaven.  He would also allow companies to bring their foreign profits back to the U.S. completely tax-free if they would even... pretty, pretty please... consider allocating 10% of them to “finance enterprise zones” in major cities. And so it goes in Carsonland.

Best bet on his campaign website: A $25 bumper sticker that says #IAMACHRISTIAN, proof that he’s eager to channel his inner evangelical Katniss.

Donald Trump

Trump actually brought up President Dwight Eisenhower recently, but only for Operation Wetback, his grim Mexican immigrant deportation program. No I-like-Ike mention was made of his funding of the interstate highway system or the way he strengthened banking regulations.

The Donald lists five core positions on his site, including the two economic pillars of his campaign: “U.S.-China trade reform” and “tax reform,” both of which would, of course, “make America great again.” This may already sound a bit repetitively familiar to you, but he wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15% because it “would be 10 percentage points below China’s and 20 points below our current burdensome rate that pushes companies and jobs offshore.”  Given that our biggest companies already pay far less than that “burdensome” rate, can there be any question that lowering it further would produce more generous CEOs and slay dreaded China at the same time?

Like President Snow, Trump would start aggressively and only get more so, economically speaking. He would “attack” the national debt and deficit by eliminating government waste, fraud, and abuse, and “grow” the economy xenophobically by doing in local Mexicans and distant Chinese, and all of this cutting and slashing would, like a Chia Pet, make the economy sprout even as tax revenues were savaged.  Or, even if it isn’t one of his five core positions, he could pull a genuine Snow and get rid of old-fashioned-style government, leaving Americans officially beholden to an oligarch.

In another piece of (black) magic, his campaign website assures readers that cutting the deficit and reducing our debt would also stop China from “blackmail[ing] us with our own Treasury bonds.” No matter that China actually lent us money to run our government and bolster our financial system, and that a thank-you note might be in order (on paper made in China, of course).

When it comes to tax reform, Trump’s “populist” program would remove 75 million households from the income tax rolls and provide them, so he claims, with a simple one-page form to send the IRS, saying “I win.”  Though he would cut the current seven tax brackets to four -- 0%, 10%, 20%, and 25% -- it’s his 15% corporate tax rate that trumps the field. Rubio would only chop it to 25%, Bush to 20%, Cruz to 16%, and Carson... who knows? Various estimates suggest that Trump’s plan would lead to a staggering federal revenue loss (so lucky for us that, in a Trump presidency, the rich would undoubtedly be so grateful that their generosity would soar beyond imagining). The nonpartisan Citizens for Tax Justice computed the cost of his plan at $12 trillion over 10 years.  So don’t expect any Eisenhower-esque national building campaigns (other than that “beautiful” wall on the Mexican border).

Best gimmick on his campaign website: A $15 Trump dog sweater modeled by the saddest damn wiener dog ever. Perhaps its mother was a deported Chihuahua.

Marco Rubio

Rubio’s slogan “a new American century” couldn’t be grander, perhaps to compensate for the lackluster version of economic policy at his campaign website.  It’s certainly not the sort of thing you’d expect from someone aspiring to be president of the world’s largest economy. Despite that, rest assured that he’s had economics and success on his mind 24/7.  After all, Goldman Sachs is now his top contributor and his super PACs are on a run, too, including the rap-inspired “Baby Got Pac” just launched by multimillionaire John Jordan.

And in true Hunger Games fashion -- when the “odds” head in a tribute’s favor, the patrons and gifts begin rolling in -- Rubio just bagged Republican mega-donor billionaire Frank VanderSloot. Mitt Romney’s former national finance co-chairman, VanderSloot joins a growing roster of Rubio billionaires, including hedge-fund moguls Paul Singer and Cliff Asness.

“Marco Rubio is the brightest and most capable candidate," wrote VanderSloot of his new political buddy. Of the others he and his brain trust considered, he added, "Jeb simply does not have the leadership skills necessary to unite the people behind him"; Carson lacks “the international knowledge or skill set"; Cruz and Trump are “simply not electable in a general election" (no billionaire-envy there); and Fiorina, his second choice, “simply isn’t resonating with the voters.”

Rubio’s tax plan, the “cornerstone” of his economic policy, would -- you won’t be surprised to learn -- reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three and eliminate taxes in ways particularly beneficial to the billionaire (especially hedge-fund billionaire) class, including the estate tax and taxes on capital gains and dividends. For the broad population, Rubio includes family tax cuts. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, his plan would be a bargain compared to Trump’s, costing federal government coffers a mere $2.4 trillion or more in receipts over the next decade. As a byproduct, his program is essentially guaranteed to spark a new round of financial speculation, but don’t for a second let the 2007-2008 meltdown cross your mind since, as every Republican knows, with a Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, or Ben Carson in the Oval Office that can’t happen.

Best gimmick on his campaign website: You can “fall into campaign season” by ordering a “Marco Polo” made-in-the-USA shirt for $48 in patriotic red, white, or blue naturally! For a mere $500 extra, you can personally have the honor of buying Rubio a “plane ticket” (perhaps to meet and greet his next billionaire).

Ted Cruz

The Cruz campaign website offers a hodge-podge of semi-incoherent economic salesmanship. His tax plan, or what he likes to call (without the slightest justification) the “next American revolution,” promises to “reignite growth in our economy.” His “simple flat tax” (yep, another of those!) would abolish the Internal Revenue Service as well.  Personal income tax brackets would go from seven to... count ‘em!... one at a 10% rate across the board and the corporate income tax would be replaced by a flat tax of 16%. And it should be taken for granted that the American economy would soar into the stratosphere!

Cruz’s tax code would be so “simple with a capital-S” that it would make Donald Trump’s look complicated. A postcard or phone app would suffice for individual and family filings. There would be no tax on profits earned abroad and it almost goes without saying that Obamacare taxes would die a strangulated death. Loopholes for businesses would apparently go, too.

Cruz claims his simple flat tax will elevate the gross domestic product, increase wages by 12.2%, create nearly five million new jobs, and undoubtedly fill the world with unicorns.  It would also wipe out between $768 billion and $3.6 trillion in federal tax receipts over 10 years.

Best gimmick on his campaign website: For $55 you can get a bad-boy poster of Cruz sporting a Sons of Anarchy look (tattoos, cigarette in mouth, etc.) captioned “Blacklisted and Loving It.”

Jeb Bush

Jeb! has by far the sleekest web page. He and his donor entourage took the “presidential concept” seriously with a look that seems to have been stolen directly from “the Capitol” in the Hunger Games.

Its economic section excoriates the tax code for being “rigged with multiple carve-outs for favored industries.” He blasts Obama’s economic policies for leading to “low growth, crony capitalism, and easy debt.” Yet, under Jeb’s governorship, Florida's debt escalated from $15 billion to more than $23 billion. After his term, the housing-bubble that had inflated the state’s coffers burst big time, and Florida's economy under-performed much of the country during the financial crisis. While homeowners statewide went underwater, he landed a multi-million dollar consultancy gig with... gulp!... Lehman Brothers.

By now, you won’t be shocked to learn that Bush’s plan would cut tax brackets from seven to three: 28%, 25% and 10%, and that he would cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, five points below China’s. (These days, if you’re a Republican, you’ve got to stick it to China.)

While Jeb would not rein in Wall Street (for all the obvious and already well-documented reasons), right now it looks as if he’s not going to have a chance to not rein in anything.  While his PR team maintains “Jeb can fix it,” invigorating his wilting campaign will require more than a bow and arrow and a mockingbird.

Best gimmick on his campaign web page: “The Guaca Bowle” for $75 because who doesn’t need one? (Bush family guac recipe not included.)

Carly Fiorina

Fiorina’s web page doesn’t offer a lot of economic anything. It’s more like a personality infomercial. For her official positions, you need to watch video clips of her TV appearances from CBS This Morning to late night talk shows and -- if you’re starting to get bored -- just imagine Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host of festivities Caesar Flickerman narrating.

Fiorina calls for “zero-based budgeting” because “zero” sounds so much cleverer than “balanced” and touts ad nauseam a three-page tax plan (perhaps the current one in a microscopic font, since we don’t actually know the details). The repetition of simple concepts to the masses seems to be her modus operandi.

Best gimmick on the Carly for America Super PAC website: For only $26 you can get a “Hillary Who?” infant one-piece, the perfect gift for any Republican baby.

How Corporations Really Pay Taxes

Despite the prominence of tax cuts in the policies of the top six Republican candidates, even the venerable Brookings Institution found that they have a minimal effect on economic growth.  In addition, when you consider all the promised corporate cuts, you should know that corporations already don’t contribute much.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2008 and 2012, 26 of the 288 Fortune 500 firms (consistently profitable in those years) managed to pay nothing, nada, zero in federal income tax.  The 288 firms collectively paid an effective federal income tax rate of 19.4%, and a third of them paid an effective rate of less than 10%. Five companies -- Wells Fargo, AT&T, IBM, General Electric, and Verizon -- also bagged over $77 billion of the $364 billion in tax breaks doled out in those years. Extra jobs didn't follow. Think of this crew as the real winners of the American Hunger Games in this period.

For 2014, for instance, Goldman Sachs avoided forking over federal income taxes on almost half of its $6.8 billion in U.S. profits, paying an effective tax rate of 18.6%. Between 2010 and 2012, due to tax breaks associated with executive pay, Fortune 500 companies saved an extra $27 billion in federal and state taxes. That’s a lot of dosh to use for Super PAC support.

In 2012, the Democrats blasted candidate Mitt Romney’s tax plan as a giveaway to the rich. This time around, our six tributes-cum-candidates are taking no such chances.  They’re making sure to throw crumbs to the middle and working classes, even as they offer more caviar to the wealthy and corporations. Depending on the candidate and plan, the overall loss of national revenue will range from an estimated $1.6 trillion (even factoring in growth that may never happen) to $12 trillion, but will be a stunning amount.

Perhaps with such a field of candidates, the classic Hunger Games line will need to be adapted: “Let the games begin and may the oddity of it all be ever in your favor.” Certainly, there has never been a stranger or more unsettling Republican campaign for the presidential nomination or one more filled with economic balderdash and showmanship.  Of course, at some point in 2016, we’ll be at that moment when President Snow says to Katniss Everdeen, "Make no mistake, the game is coming to its end." One of these candidates or a rival Democrat will actually enter the Oval Office and when that happens, both parties will be left with guilt on their hands and all the promises that will have to be fulfilled to repay their super-rich supporters (Bernie aside). And that, of course, is when the real Hunger Games are likely to begin for most Americans.  Those of us in the outer districts can but hope for revolution.



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The World Is on the Verge of the First Human Head Transplant - November 29, 2015 - 11:16am
Sergio Canavero says he will change medical history as soon as 2017 – he even has a volunteer. Can it be done?

Outside a large concrete hospital in Turin, Sergio Canavero speaks in formal Italian, trying to persuade a pair of security guards to let us use the staff car park. It is hot. The guards sit inside a shaded hut and peer out at Canavero, who is 51, short and fit, dressed in T-shirt and sandals, tufts of grey hair around his head giving way to a bald, caramel-coloured dome on top. “Allora,” Canavero begins, explaining to the guards that he used to be employed at the hospital, a surgeon in the neurology department, and is back for a visit.

At the end of his speech, he moves a stiff hand across his neck, a cut-throat gesture that would represent a threat if made by almost anyone else. The guards grin in recognition and wave us through. “I told them I’m the guy who’s going to do the first human head transplant,” Canavero tells me. “Italians are suckers for a celeb.”

Earlier this year, Canavero became famous around the world when he enlarged on plans, long cherished, to remove the heads of two people. One would be alive, with an ailing body (a paraplegic, say), the other newly dead or doomed (perhaps the braindead victim of an accident). After that, as Canavero explained in academic papers and speeches, he planned surgically to attach the first head to the second body, fusing the spinal cords so that the owner of the first head might enjoy the functional use of the second body. In medical terms, it would be a cephalosomatic anastomosis, the first of its kind. It might be best understood as a “body transplant”, but the wider world has tended to settle on the more sensational phrase.

“Head transplantation, body transplantation, whatever,” Canavero says as we walk around the busy hospital. “Technicality!”

He once thought the first head transplant would be performed here, at the hospital in Turin. Canavero arrived as a medical student in the 1980s, and had been employed on its wards for much of his professional life. Then he went and caused “the brouhaha”, as he now calls it – publishing papers on head transplants in the medical journal Surgical Neurology International, giving TED talks in Limassol and Verona, making headlines, becoming that “celeb”. Canavero’s plans were publicly criticised by at least one international church. A medical ethicist writing in Forbes called his proposal “rotten”. And, Canavero says, the Italian medical establishment turned against him.


Last February, he and the hospital that had employed him for so long agreed to rescind his contract. “I’ve become a pariah,” he says, making sure I notice the frosty reception he receives from some of his former colleagues in the neurology department. “You see? No hugs.”

With Italy out of the question as a host nation, he has had to look abroad for somewhere to stage his surgery. He tells me that, after lengthy negotiation, it will take place in China, in the northern city of Harbin. The Harbin Institute of Technology will provide assistance, he says, as will Harbin Medical University, which has made him an honorary professor in anticipation. With the Chinese “providing the hospital and personnel”, his operation will be ready to go sooner than anybody might have expected – as early as Christmas 2017, he thinks. “We are on track. Barring the end of the world, nuclear explosions, meteorites.”

Canavero has a very clear picture of this surgery in action, having outlined it in two TED talks, in a keynote address delivered last summer at an American conference of neurosurgeons, and in a book, Il Cervello Immortale (The Immortal Brain), published next month in Italian and English. He describes it to me in detail: the operating theatre of the near future, where two bodies will be clamped tight in special frames. One will be the anaesthetised patient, the other a braindead donor. Using either “a specially fashioned diamond microtomic snare-blade” or “a nanoknife made of a thin layer of silicon nitride” (he isn’t sure yet), the bodies will be severed at the neck between the C5 and C6 vertebrae.

“I know what squeamish is,” Canavero says when I ask if he’s familiar with the English word. “This is beyond squeamish. This is gory.” He collects vintage American comic books, as well as vintage American slang, with which his speech is coloured: “Right on the money, take a leak, bull!”

Before the anaesthetised patient is decapitated, he or she will have been cooled to 10C. Then, after the cuts, the frames that are clamping the two bodies will begin to separate, their upper parts rotating and taking the two heads with them. The patient’s head will be deposited atop the donor’s body. “They’re not interfaces that will just click together, but…”

Next, a marathon of surgery, somewhere between 36 and 72 hours long and requiring a crew of 150 medics. About 80 of them, Canavero thinks, will need to be surgeons. “At first, it will be expensive,” – around €15m, or £11m, he guesses, admitting that private sponsors are still needed. “Later, as the technique gets perfected, the costs will be slashed.”

In the operating room, those 80 surgeons will relay in and out as expertise dictates. The head-body arteries will be joined first, so that blood recirculates around the brain. As for the other connections required (windpipe, gullet, spine, everything that links a human’s head to the rest), Canavero says he will stand aside until it comes to the spinal cord. Functional neurosurgery, or that relating to movement, is his field.

In order that his patient regains movement in the end, some of the millions of nerves that exist inside the two spinal cords will need to connect. Canavero has novel ideas about ways to “sprout” such connections during the surgery, including delivering small electric shocks to the spinal cord at the point of fusion, and by flushing in a substance called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, something he believes will super-charge the process. Not all the nerves in the spine will need to regrow and join, Canavero thinks, for the patient to regain some movement. Say, 10% or 20% of them.

After the operation, the patient will be kept in a coma for about three weeks, in part to inhibit movement. Then rehab, months of it. Canavero expects this will involve some kind of virtual-reality simulator, to help the patient acclimatise to the unfamiliar body. There might be hypnosis. Afterwards, he anticipates recovery, a press conference and (“Why not?”) a Nobel prize. “For the next 100 years it will be on TV. It will be much more than landing on the moon, I’m pretty sure about that… This will be the greatest revolution in human history. If it pans out as I expect it to.”

One very tangible piece of the plan is in place. At the meeting of American surgeons last summer, Canavero introduced to the stage a man named Valery Spiridonov. A 31-year-old graphic artist from Russia, Spiridonov has severe muscular atrophy and has been a wheelchair user all his life. He’d put together the graphical presentation that accompanied Canavero’s speech. Spiridonov has volunteered, whenever Canavero is ready, to be a test patient: the first guy to go under the microtomic knife.

“I call him Gagarin,” Canavero says.


Head transplants have been attempted before – on Russian puppies in the 1950s, on an American monkey in the 1970s, on hundreds of Chinese mice between 2013 and 2014. The puppies lived less than a week, the monkey just over that. The mice tended to linger about a day. But in all of those cases, proof of concept was the aim, less so patient survival. It is a regrettable truth that very little innovation takes place at the sharp, scalpel end of medicine without a lot of animals getting killed first.

“Heart transplants, kidney transplants: all were based on years and years of animal work,” says Henry Marsh, a senior British neurosurgeon who recently wrote a bestseller about his career, Do No Harm. Many of those who are sceptical about Canavero’s scheme, Marsh among them, have wondered: where are his carcasses?

Canavero tells me he is morally opposed to experiments on animals. “I don’t want to kill any more animals. We’ve killed enough. We don’t need more animal data.”

But if it would help persuade people to follow him in this plan, would he put aside those feelings?

Pointless, he says. “Human anatomy is not the same in monkeys. It’s not the same in rats. You do all manner of animal experiments and you come up with nothing. Ninety-five per cent of all animal experimentation is for nought, goes nowhere.”

But wasn’t it through experimentation on animals that we came to heart transplants, kidney transplants? “I said 95%.”

Canavero believes that the necessary research for his surgery has already been done, anyway. In disparate studies over a century, he says; not just those experiments on puppies, monkeys, mice. Canavero has dug up dusty papers relating to an American woman who in 1902 had her spinal cord severed by a gunshot; also a skier, similarly injured in an accident on the slopes in 2005. In both cases, the patients’ spines were successfully re-fused by surgeons, leading to recovery of limited movement.

I put this to Marsh. “Ancient old papers, people haven’t been looking, all that usual conspiracy crap,” he says. “In science, there have always been a few mavericks who’ve been successful. But surgery of this sort is hugely complicated and requires a large range of expertise. I don’t know that any one individual, however brilliant, could solve all the problems.”

Xiaoping Ren, the Harbin-based doctor who introduced Canavero to the Chinese city he expects will host his operation, agrees that the surgery will be very complex. For two decades, Ren has made his own investigations into head transplants, performing those operations on mice in 2013 and 2014. But, he says, the scale of the project makes a maverick individual such as Canavero all the more important. “It will need a big group,” he says, “and it will need a leader.”

China has poured astonishing amounts of money into medical research in recent years. Western doctors I speak to agree that the country’s apparent involvement makes Canavero’s scheme much more plausible. Michael Sarr, editor of the American medical journal Surgery, had guessed that if Canavero’s transplant were to take place, it would have to be “in China, India, South America or Russia”. When I tell him about Harbin, he says, “China is the wild west, in some respects. The rules there are much less strict than they are elsewhere.”

When I ask Ren about Canavero’s intention to perform the surgery in Harbin in 2017, he laughs nervously. “If he’s ready, I’d be glad to be involved.”

He doesn’t think Canavero will be ready? Ren isn’t sure, but he says that if anybody can make it happen, Canavero can. “Sergio is very insistent.”

Canavero plans to leave his home town for Harbin soon, to embark on two years of intensive work, leading up to Christmas 2017. His wife, Francesca, and their teenage children, Marco and Serena, will stay behind. “I’m giving up everything,” Canavero says. “But what is two years of your life, in return for changing the world?”


Canavero has dreamed of this since he was a schoolboy. He remembers reading in a newspaper about the head transplant attempted on a monkey in America, and immediately thinking about being the first to perform such surgery on a human.

He was poor at the time, his upbringing “rough”. “It steeled me,” he says. Turin was overpopulated in the 1960s and his first years at school took place in a converted grocery shop. “My father told me, ‘Either your grades are good or you go to work.’ I was best in class at the end of elementary school, ottimo. At the end of junior high, eccellente.” At 18, he enrolled at medical school, and within a couple of years was submitting papers to academic journals. “I already had a head transplant in my sights.” In the mid-1980s, he moved to the hospital in Turin and began to train as a functional neurosurgeon.

What did his peers make of him back then?

“I’ve always been a loner,” he says.

But he had friends?

“Of course, from time to time you interacted. I would stick to that word. I interact when I have to learn, then I go my way. You can only go alone on such a path.”

Canavero is aware of his idiosyncrasies. “I’m not normal,” he says as he takes me on a tour of Turin that includes his medical school, his secondary school, his primary school, the building he grew up in. “I have no problem admitting that. Even if I didn’t admit it, you would probably notice, right? You’d sense something?”

Perhaps. In the corridors of a museum, he seizes me by the neck to demonstrate a jiujitsu chokehold. (He is a keen practitioner at his local dojo.) Inside his old medical school, he introduces a former tutor by recalling that, decades earlier, the guy had docked him two marks on an anatomy test. Later, he cheerfully describes winning his wife away from another man, who was taller.

When I ask whose body he would pick, were he to undergo a transplant himself, Canavero considers the question carefully and says: “Have you seen the movie Thor?” Over his decades as a doctor and an academic, he has completed influential studies on central pain syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. But around the same time, he published a book, Donne Scoperte, or Women Uncovered, that outlined his tried-and-tested seduction techniques: “In Italy, when they found out I published that, all hell broke loose.”

Canavero says he put the book together on a whim in the late 1990s, when he was bed-bound with a foot injury. “I’m not really a feminist, so, sorry to the girls.”

Can you see, I say, that it’s this sort of thing that makes it difficult for people to invest faith in you?

“Look. You tell the truth, you make enemies.”

Canavero likes to talk about medical pioneers who were outcasts and fringe-dwellers in their day. Louis Pasteur, he says, was called crazy for suggesting illnesses could be caused by microbes. “And Ignaz Semmelweis, he saved your life, doctors wash their hands because of Semmelweis. Semmelweis ended his life poor, ostracised, shanghaied to an asylum.”

What about those people who fully believed they were pioneering something and then…

“Crashed. Cratered.”


“Of course there will be ideas that crater. The history of mankind is trial and error. But we have to be dreamers. If you don’t dream, you’re not going anywhere. You might call me a bit crazy. A kook. I am! You have to be if you want to change everything.” Society’s challenge, Canavero thinks, is “to tease apart the kooks from the super-kooks. And maybe you can only know that after the caper.”

It is a theory echoed by Spiridonov, the man who’s offered to risk his life to be Canavero’s first patient. “Some people are geniuses and some people are cranks,” Spiridonov says. “And you might never know before the project is finished.”

Spiridonov has been a part of this project for just over two years. In 2013, he was browsing the internet at home when he came across an interview with Canavero. “I always wanted to be in science. In Russia, it’s hard to work in a lab, the environment isn’t good for disabled people. But I always dreamed about being a part of some big scientific research, you know?” It took him no more than 15 minutes on Google to find Canavero’s email address, by which time he’d made a decision.

Spiridonov was the first person to offer himself for trial, Canavero says. “We started chatting on email, then we Skyped. I talked to him more and more, and at a certain point I decided he was the right guy.” There was no psychological testing, no outside assessment? “Valery has one hell of a disease, you know. Spinal muscular atrophy, there’s nothing to assess there. And psychologically – like I said, we talked a lot. He is a strong man.”

Canavero explained to Spiridonov what he could expect post-op. “You’ll be able to walk. I don’t know if you’ll be able to run. Are you happy with that?” Spiridonov said he was. As the Russian put it to me, “I do not wish for something really special for myself after surgery. I wish for an ordinary, normal life. Today I have complications. I face lots of limits. I hope in the future I’ll face less.”

How realistic is that hope? Henry Marsh has misgivings. “Will you be left with a Christopher Reeve situation,” Marsh wonders, “with somebody who is totally paralysed and requires permanent ventilation? Is that a useful achievement?” Ren, in China, says, “It’s hard to give a percentage. Valery is a brave man.” When I ask Michael Sarr, the editor of Surgery, what he thinks of Spiridonov’s chances of survival, he says: “98%, 99%.”

Sarr, based in Minnesota, was a surgeon for 35 years before he retired last spring. He has edited Surgery since the 1990s. When the Italian first submitted papers to Surgery, Sarr recalled, “We didn’t trust him. Thought it was something out of Star Wars. That it was nuts. We blew him off.” Canavero persisted, however, suggesting Sarr look at the old medical studies that had inspired his thinking. Sarr “pulled the papers” and started to warm to Canavero’s proposal.

Sarr can see, as most surgeons can, that the transplanting of one head to another body is possible as an idea. The reattachment of head‑body arteries, muscles, windpipe, gastrointestinal tract, these have become routine surgeries, albeit ones usually carried out in isolation. Reattaching all of them at once, Sarr recognises, “would be a major tour de force. But each of those individually have been done, and though they have their own inherent risk, they work.” Even spinal cord fusion, if the initial cut is clean enough, has succeeded. Sarr has decided to publish a symposium about head transplants in Surgery, broadly in support of Canavero’s theory.

“Granted, I’m retired,” Sarr says, “but what do you have when you die other than your reputation? I’m confident that at least in theory the operation will work. The science is there. I wouldn’t risk my reputation otherwise.” He continues: “Is Sergio Canavero a bit of a showboat? Yeah, he probably is. But you know, you might need a showboat. Somebody’s going to do this. And somebody has to do it first. And let me tell you, he’s taking a risk of his own. If this doesn’t work, he will be considered a charlatan for the rest of his life.”


Canavero and I have been exploring Turin for hours when I suggest we sit down for some food. Canavero hasn’t eaten all day. One of his mottoes, he tells me, is, “Let’s run at walking pace.” He expects to appreciate life in China, “where, as you know, they put up buildings in days”.

Sitting in a cafe, I ask about China’s involvement in all this. Does Canavero, who acknowledges his first choice of location for the procedure would have been in Europe or America, have any misgivings about his benefactor nation? He has said many times that he’s committed to the procedure being open to public view at all stages – scrutinised. I point out that China isn’t famous for that.

“China’s China. The media’s state-controlled. But China will want you to know about this, just to spite the west. There is no question of it being a secret enterprise.” The surgery, he thinks, might even be televised.

He admits, suddenly, that in all likelihood Spiridonov won’t be the first patient to undergo the procedure. “Actually, he will not be the absolute number one. Probably the Chinese will want to do that on a Chinese patient.” Canavero expects it will be somebody with terminal cancer. “Someone with minimal life expectancy, in order to test it, like Apollo 10. Valery will be Apollo 11.”

He says all this so casually. Does he really have no ethical qualms?

“There is no way I’m accepting any sort of criticism about the medical reasons for doing it,” he says. “The only person who can decide to undergo this surgery is the man who will benefit. Not you. Not society. The patient decides.”

If the surgery goes wrong, is there still value in it?

“Absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s say it goes south, why not? I’m totally confident. But when rubber hits the road? Perhaps this goes bonkers? Valuable things will still come out of it.” He points out that the first heart transplant patient died after two weeks. It was still a breakthrough.

If Spiridonov recovers, gets used to his new body and goes on to have children, whose children will they be?

“Not his,” Canavero says. “That’s the only ethical question you might ask. But imagine: you have a child, and this child one day is involved in a car crash, brought to the hospital, declared braindead. There’s nothing that can be done. But now imagine this: I’m the doctor on call. I come down and tell you, ‘For the brain of your child I have no solutions. But if you grant me his or her body, and one day that body, with a new head, will reproduce. And those children will be your grandchildren. Life will not end!’”

This is a great theme of Canavero’s. He started thinking about it when his children were born. “I put two children into this world,” he says. “I promised myself I would do my best to make them live longer.”

Should his surgery work, he sees obvious potential for a future in which the procedure comes to be offered commercially. He thinks it will eventually contribute to human life extension. Those optimists who had their heads put in freezers after their deaths? “This is the breakthrough they’ve been waiting for,” he says.

When it comes to the implications of all this, Canavero doesn’t really consider them to be his problem. Scientifically, “what can be done, will be done”. All Canavero feels obliged to do is encourage people to ponder the implications. If we are to live longer, for instance, what about overpopulation? He guesses we’ll have to think about conquering other planets. When I ask how there’ll be enough bodies to support all the transplants, he says, “Cloning will come into play.”

I must show my exasperation, because he looks at me with concern. “I know it’s hard,” he says. “It’s hard to swallow, I understand that, it’s crazy. Sometimes, when I look at it, I say, ‘Will mankind be able to handle this?’ I don’t know! But society must prepare itself for a major tectonic shift.”

Doesn’t it bother him that so few people believe he’ll even make the initial step?

“Humans are stupid,” he says. “That’s probably why aliens never landed for good – they didn’t want to know us. Scientists are stupid, too. The history of science tells us that anyone who came along with a groundbreaking idea was met with opposition. This is humans being human. Nothing new.”

Canavero shrugs, sanguine. Soon he will go to China. And he cannot help but imagine, deliciously, the people he will prove wrong from there. “When the first head transplant materialises in China,” he says, “all the western experts, all the western journalists who wrote that it was impossible, they’ll have a very hard time. One day I will publish a book full of what they wrote.”

He shows me, holding two fingers an inch apart. “It will be this thick.”

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Details Emerge About Planned Parenthood Shooter: Reclusive and Deranged - November 29, 2015 - 11:03am
Did Planned Parenthood smear videos influence Robert Lewis Dear?

The man suspected of killing three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic was a reclusive figure who was living in a remote trailer 60 miles from the city and “wouldn’t speak unless spoken to”.

Robert Lewis Dear, 57, is the top suspect in a shooting that left three people dead, including police officer Garrett Swasey, and injured nine others. Police said the gunman used a “long gun”, usually a reference to a rifle – potentially an assault weapon – or a shotgun. 

The city of Colorado Springs confirmed his identity on Saturday morning and released a booking photo of the bearded 57-year-old, who is originally from North Carolina. He is suspected of opening fire at the women’s health clinic just before noon on Friday, the beginning of an hours-long standoff with police.


Colorado Springs police lieutenant Catherine Buckley said on Friday it was too early to determine the suspect’s motive.

“We don’t have any information on this individual’s mentality, or his ideas or ideology,” she said. 

However, on Saturday news reports said Dear had reportedly said “no more baby parts” while he was being arrested, citing unnamed law enforcement sources. 

Planned Parenthood has been at the centre of political controversy over videos released by an anti-abortion group which purport to show employees discussing the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing by staff.

The Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers said investigators interviewed Dear and were trying to learn more about him.

James Russell, who lives down the mountain from Dear’s cabin in North Carolina, told the Associated Press that when Lewis spoke with him he would ramble, avoid eye contact and not make sense. Russell said he had not spoken to Lewis about issues such as abortion or religion.Pinterest

Dear’s North Carolina cabin is outside Asheville, though he is also said to have lived in a house in nearby Swannanoa. His neighbor said the cabin had no running water or electricity. 

“If you talked to him, nothing with him was very cognitive – topics all over place,” said Russell.

Colorado’s Park County sheriff’s office said the shooting suspect also had a residence in Hartsel, Colorado. It was closed to public access on Saturday morning.

Dear lived in a trailer parked 50 yards off the highway, on land which he bought for $6000 in 2014. He shared the trailer with a woman who may have been his wife though she rarely left the property, according to Zigmond Post Jr, who lives about a quarter of a mile away.

Post told Reuters that he first met Dear when a pair of dogs escaped from his property and Dear locked them in his yard. Dear was friendly when Post arrived to retrieve the dogs but took the opportunity to complain about Barack Obama. 

“We got the dogs back and everything and as we were getting ready to leave he handed us some anti-Obama pamphlets and told us to look over them,” Post said. 

Post said he did not interact with Dear again until Wednesday, when the two men exchanged pleasantries at the post office. 

“We all live out here because for some reason or another we like our solitude,” Post said. “He seemed like a guy who wouldn’t speak unless spoken to.” 

According to public records, Dear has lived in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and has a record of brushes with the law. In South Carolina in January 2003, he was arrested on two counts of animal cruelty. He was found not guilty by Colleton county court.

In the same county in 2002, Dear faced a misdemeanor charge for “peeping tom, eavesdropping or peeping”. The charges were dismissed at a preliminary hearing. 

Buckley said it took a few hours to establish communication with Dear on Saturday. But by 4pm, police were able to enter the clinic and convince him to surrender.

“We did get officers inside the building,” Buckley said. “They were able to shout to the suspect and make communication with him, and at that point they were able to get him to surrender and he was taken into custody.”

Neighbors who lived beside Dear’s former South Carolina home say he hid food in the woods as if he was a survivalist and said he lived off selling prints of his uncle’s paintings of Southern plantations and the Masters golf tournament.

John Hood said on Saturday that when he moved to Walterboro, Dear was living in a doublewide mobile home next door. 

Hood said that Dear rarely talked to them, and when he did, he tended to offer unsolicited advice such as recommending that Hood put a metal roof on his house so the US government couldn’t spy on him.

“He was really strange and out there, but I never thought he would do any harm,” he said.

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Categories: Netted News

The Bullet: Socialist Wins in Seattle -- Toronto Next?

Socialist Project - November 29, 2015 - 2:00am
The headline in ran: “Meet the Most Important Socialist in America Not Named Bernie Sanders.” It was about the impact of open Socialist, Kshama Sawant, who had just been reelected in a Seattle Council election. The article went on to say, “Sanders isn't the only socialist in the United States making a splash. Kshama Sawant, a member of Seattle's city council since her election in 2013, has a tiny fraction of the name recognition of Sanders.”
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