Recipe of the Week: Zebra Cake (Azerbaijan) Week 2

New Internationalist - 12 hours 15 min ago
Feathering the top of this cake results in a delicate cobweb pattern, which means this would be a great cake to make for Hallowe'en.
Categories: Netted News

Democracy has come to life in Parliament Square

New Internationalist - 16 hours 19 min ago
The farcical police brutality towards Occupy Democracy is a sign the authorities are running scared, argues Hannah Martin.
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What's New: Gaza and the West Bank: Israel's two approaches and Palestinians' two bleak choices

Socialist Project - 19 hours 25 min ago
The areas now known as the West Bank and Gaza, despite geographic differences, were once similar in social, cultural and economic terms. But through a long process of one occupation after another, they were set apart and differentiated. Israel's recent incursion in Gaza follows a pattern of harsher policies of suppression, compared to its counterpart to the East, after the two territories were created in 1948.
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What's New: Ottawa Rifles

Socialist Project - October 23, 2014 - 3:30pm
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REVIEW: Fluid Prejudice Re-inks Australian History

Toronto Media Coop - October 23, 2014 - 2:37pm

“The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” – Mark Twain

Unlike most histories from above or below, Fluid Prejudice stands out as one that doesn’t provide a coherent narrative. Instead, it’s a dream-like journey through Australian history, haunted by the violence of colonization. Single-image cartoons jostle with longer stories, and well-known figures sit side-by-side with personal stories. Some characters recur in different forms across stories, shifting from the foreground to the background. This jumble creates a more radical approach to history which leaves questions and contradictions unanswered, rather than offering the reader an easy vantage-point.

Title: Fluid Prejudice
Creators: Sam Wallman, Aaron Manhattan, Safdar Ahmed, Katie Parrish, and others (50 contributors in total)
Editor: Sam Wallman
Published: Self-published in 2014
Page Count: 175 pages
Other Specs: Softcover, black and white interior with colour cover
Purchase: In the Ad Astra Comix online store

While it may be tempting for many white activists to dissociate themselves from Australian racism, the collection doesn’t allow the reader to imagine that they can be outside processes of colonization. In one comic, two environmentalists engaging in direct action query whether this is part of the continuing white colonization of the forest. In another, white Occupy protesters pause to consider the irony of following the chant “Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land” with “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Similarly, we never get to wholly lose identification with the middle-class Australians who are so often the target of activist derision. For example, a comic about the destruction of old growth forests is followed by another in which a man looks at a newly-opened suburb, daydreaming about a home there. While the image hints at typical narratives of suburbia as a site of ecological destruction and bland whiteness, there’s also an element of sympathetic identification.

Australia’s history as a penal colony, too, is treated through a overlapping stories which never quite settle into a single perspective. Fluid Prejudice focuses on stories of escape, with convict William Buckley reappearing several times throughout the collection. Mary Bryant, a transported thief, escapes and is later pardoned. However, the optimism of these stories is balanced by the stark list of different convict occupations in 1847 Tasmania, and the subtle reminders that convicts also played a role in the violence of colonization.

Both cities and the landscape become haunted sites. The Tasmania tiger, hunted to extinction as a part of the effort to impose a European approach to agriculture, reappears throughout the book stalking the supposedly-tamed undergrowth. Within the city, state and social control is undermined by a lesbian beat, working-class resistance to restrictions on free speech, and an underground city of train station platforms and graveyards which remain below the streets. No place is more authentically a site of struggle than others.

Fluid Prejudice rejects the erasure of the violence Australia was built on, but it also highlights moments of solidarity and hope. One comic reminds us that the only known protest against Germany’s persecution of Jewish people following Kristallnacht came from the Australian Aborigines’ league in 1938. In another, people run over rooftops and onto the top of trams as part of attempts to escape police crackdowns on public speech. We’re reminded of a period when unions were more radical, and prepared to down tools to save public space and support other struggles.

As well as these more overtly political stories, many of the notes of optimism and humour in this collection touch on the politics of gender and sexuality: Percy Haynes is followed by a policeman and charged for wearing women’s clothes, only to have the magistrate decide that since women can wear pants, there’s no reason men can’t wear dresses if they choose. Zeki Müren, a Turkish singer, performed in drag in Sydney in 1974 to an enthusiastic crowd of homesick Turkish immigrants.

Part of the beauty of this collection is the inclusion of mundane scenes and lives that would not usually reach the history books. There are fragmentary scenes of an Aboriginal embassy, passengers on a tram, a trip to Healesville sanctuary, even a dumpster. We learn about Rosaleen Norten, the witch of King’s Cross, and then about cartoonist Ruby Knight’s mother. Arlene Textaqueen replaces the front cover of conservative newspaper The Australian with responses to the question, ‘Where are you really from?’

Through the combination of explicitly political and more personal stories, resistance is written through many different forms and spaces. This is a helpful alternative to the ‘one true way’ approach to activism, in which a single set of tactics and strategies is the only way to be radical enough (or, conversely, polite enough).

Fluid Prejudice, as we might expect from an alternative history, undermines the myths Australia is built on, from heroic stories of settlers eking out a living in the bush to the ongoing erasure of the violence against Aboriginal people and other marginalized groups. However, it also encourages more critical reflection on our positions as activists and the ways in which we do—or don’t—identify with others within Australian society.



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My Strip Club Bullying Nightmare - October 23, 2014 - 2:28pm
For me, working in a strip club was a lot like "Mean Girls." And when I became a porn star, it only got worse

When I was 18, I began working at a local strip club that had four walls and a stage. It was not fancy, but there was no plywood exposed and the sound booth was top-notch. Part of the reason I am where I am today — a porn star — is I took too easily to that job back then. Or, rather, it took too easily to me. From the first night I was the top earner in that club. It wasn’t ridiculous money. This wasn’t Vegas or Miami or New York. It was Sacramento, California, in a warehouse district. My top earnings only netted me $500-$800 per shift. That’s $500-$800 per day for an 18-year-old, though. Previously, my take home was about $800 in a month, working full-time.

Strip clubs can be shark tanks. They are four tight walls teeming with girls who often had been the hottest in high school and the best at getting attention. Now those girls have grown up and the stakes are higher. There is a cash prize. It is the greatest popularity contest of their lives. Not all of the girls fit this mold, of course. Not even most. But enough do. Enough fit it that they will have their troops when it comes time to run out an enemy. Think “Mean Girls,” with teeth.

At first I was coddled by the other dancers and treated as the new girl. There were encouraging smiles and notes on where to shop, help with names. When the new-girl period expired, though, it became clear that I wasn’t just sailing on beginner’s luck. All too quickly I’d built up a roster of regulars, a game plan and a catchy hook. I knew when to ask for the money.

For the next six months I was bullied. My clothes were stolen, my drinks were spit in, my car was keyed. I was laughed at by a troop of fishnet-clad prom queens from the back of the room every time I stepped onstage. They made sure their comments were loud enough to hear across that distance and above the roar of the DJ. I made sure that they saw me counting the tallies on the dance sheet. I made sure they saw me smile when I was done. Their hate fueled me.

That was most nights. Other nights, I was scared of walking from my car to the entrance in the dark. I would enter the locker room once to drop my bag off and not again until closing time, eyes on the ground as I walked past a row of them perched on the locker bench, glaring and whispering and smacking their gum. All of the extra time on the floor only earned me more money. All of their time in their huddled in groups only earned them less. The cycle continued.

Sometimes I broke. Sometimes I left because I couldn’t take it and sometimes I crumbled to tears because I was more afraid of letting them see me leave than working through staying. Quitting and letting them win seemed to be out of the question. On the worst night, nearly every girl on the shift had agreed to bark when I walked by her. It’s stupid, of course — a grown woman barking as a power play. But I was 18 and it worked. I ran out the back door hysterically crying after four slow hours on a Tuesday night shift. A manager followed me out. He talked me down and talked me through it. He laid out the sort of things that one already knows, but it felt good to hear it out loud from a fellow human.

He said, “Laugh all the way to the bank.”

And then he fired them.

When I was 21, a reporter called me unexpectedly from the periodical issued monthly by Sacramento State University. The story was front page. One of their students had run astray and signed up with a major porn label over the obviously better personal choice of keeping her head down, finishing her undergrad work and trucking on. I was that student. The comments that followed were nothing short of academic obscenity. One student questioned why such an influential publication would even run an article that might open the minds of other impressionable college students to the possibility of following that same rocky course. One said it was surprising I’d even made it that far in school in the first place. A third said I “looked the part” (they had, in all fairness, run a photo of me taken from a porn convention) and a fourth very confidently explained that I’d been molested by an uncle. Others promised that I would regret my entire life and my parents would regret my life, too.

This story ran at a time when one of the questions America was beginning to reassess was whether growing student debt was worth its weight. Starbucks baristas were just beginning to tell their stories about having two master’s degrees and no better job opportunities. The housing market had flattened and consumer spending along with it. I remember reading the article and cringing, then recollecting and laughing instead. Then I laughed harder when it occurred to me that I was quite literally at that time making my way to the bank.

Yet somewhere along the way, “Laughing all the way to the bank” stopped working for me. What began as a short-term job morphed into a career morphed into a life path I identify heavily with. I don’t regret my life. I don’t regret my decision to turn away from the degree I was after and choose this occupation instead. I don’t feel like it has made me something for the worse. Somehow, though, I am constantly finding myself reassuring strangers of this intensely personal feeling.

I have not been molested by an uncle. Not by a single one of them, if you can believe it. Yet strangers every day tag me with this scarlet letter because they can imagine no other circumstance under which I might choose the life I have chosen. Not only is this an insult to me, but it is an insult to all women who have made unconventional personal choices, because the go-to assumption is that a woman who doesn’t fit the mold has very likely been sexually damaged by a man. It is a comfortable way to explain away a disobedient woman. All jokes are fair game against a sex worker. The general attitude appears to be one of “Who do you think you are, porn star?”

There is the added factor of living among fellow porn stars, having working relationships and friendships and romantic relationships with them and now, yes, even families with them. We live on the edge of society, but we live in the center of our bubble. The noise is somewhere out there, where there represents a place hazy and distant — it is a line of picketers whose wall we only need to break through to ascend the stairs to the next convention, a self-appointed savior with her docu crew, a comedian shoving another tired cliché into his failing bit. We hear the things people say and they are often easy to laugh off because they are extreme and all we have to do is look at one another to see that it is not true.

I sometimes wonder how deeply the assumption that the adult performer is somehow a lesser person really runs. Will our aggressor be given a lighter sentence in the event of a murder trial? Will the case be taken less seriously in the event that one of us disappears? Are government employees instructed to give us less service? Are private employees? Does our ballot carry less weight? It is easy to dismiss it as a mindless din in the background, and then some days it becomes less so.

For me, it became less so last week, when I began a first-level comedy class. It almost immediately was clear that I had ventured too far outside of my bubble. I stepped back into that same sense of isolation I remember feeling during the bullying I endured at the strip club a decade ago. The man teaching the class opened with a story about a grocery store he hated. He said, “You know it’s bad, because you walk in and you just feel like it’s a bunch of ex-porn stars shopping there.” The next day he taught us techniques of status and leading with various parts of the body to convey who you are in the world. Finally, he cut the exercise off.

He said, “Enough, one of you is starting to look like a porn star.”

In a sign-off on the last day of the first week, he looked us all over and said, “Don’t worry, if you fail at this, there’s always porn.”

And the fact is, what he’s saying is funny. It is. The lines are delivered seamlessly and the whole class sort of giggles as they do with all of his jokes, funny or not. I see the humor. I see the irony. There is always porn. No one in my industry is claiming to engage in rocket science. There is also always McDonald’s. Or college. There is always a Plan B.

I spent that week trying to figure out why I was cringing so heavily at this teacher’s comments. They were nothing I hadn’t heard before. But I am scared of the potential moment one of the students in the class recognizes who I am, and all of the moments that follow as the teacher continues his monologues peppered with commentary that implies that being what I am is possibly the worst thing on earth.

What scares me is the shared embarrassment between that student and myself as the teacher drones on. The sideways glances to check my reaction every time the nerve is struck. The pitying conversation the student may have privately after class with the teacher, just to make him aware.

“You know, she really is that.”

The reason “Laughing all the way to the bank” doesn’t work anymore is because it was only a Band-Aid for the surface scratches in the first place. I am no longer an 18-year-old who found a relative gold mine in a strip club, who soldiered through the indignities of daily bullying. In place of that, I am a decade older with clear thoughts and goals and values related to who I am. One of those things is a porn star.

Back then I felt I was dealing with an isolated foe, whose reaction to the threat I posed was to steal my clothes. (It is proving too difficult now not to point out how ineffective it actually is to steal a stripper’s clothes in a strip club.) This behavior was not a reaction that influenced other reactions and hatefully targeted an ever-broadening group of people in an open way. When I went home, it stopped. It was targeted bullying, plain and simple.

Accusing a woman of being molested by her uncle is considerably darker. It is this sort of violence of speech that leads to the depersonalization of persons. It is the sort of attitude that leads strangers online to make sexual comments about my infant daughter. Comments that sexualize my infant stem from the assumption that I am less of a human than the speaker is, and so therefore is my child. These are people who push me to the margins of society based on a characteristic they have decided places me beneath them. They have decided that characteristic is funny. It extends that the things that happen at the expense of the people who harbor that characteristic are OK. That these people’s sense of worth is expendable. And perhaps the more insidious thing is when the marginalized group begins to believe it themselves.

Weeks like this past one leave me wishing I were back in the shark tank with the mean girls: when I find myself not performing to the best of my ability because I’m afraid of being judged, when I read comments that dismiss my personhood, my fiancé’s personhood, my mother’s right to be proud of my accomplishments, when others feel that my humanity has faded so much as to give them room to openly sexualize my infant — a shark tank is the first place I fantasize I can run to. A tank is a controlled environment. It is a place with a hierarchy topped by a person who holds the power to finally stand up and say, “OK, get out of here. That’s enough.”

And then when the fantasy is over, I am left with myself. I realize in that moment that the first person who will have to say it, in my case, is me.


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Department of Homeland Security Executes Panty Raid in Kansas City - October 23, 2014 - 2:25pm
What's their job again?

Birdies is a self-described "intimate apparel apothecary and swimwear boutique" located in Downtown Kansas City. They are well-known in the Kansas City arts district, co-hosting an annual fashion show that takes place on the street corner outside the boutique.

Owner Peregrine Honig got quite the surprise this week when two agents from the Department of Homeland Security showed up in her shop:

“They came in and there were two guys” Honig said. “I asked one of them what size he needed and he showed me a badge and took me outside. They told me they were from Homeland Security and we were violating copyright laws.”

What? The Department of Homeland Security enforces copyright law violations? Indeed:

The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (NIPRCC) is a U.S. government center overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The NIPRCC coordinates the U.S. government’s enforcement of intellectual property laws.

Strange as it might seem, the same agency responsible for protecting citizens from real threats of terrorism is also responsible for confiscating a dozen pairs of custom-made panties.

They placed the underwear in an official Homeland Security bag and had Honig sign a statement saying she wouldn’t use the logo.

“We just thought it was something funny we could do,” Honig says of the panties. “But it was so scary.”

Lesson learned. Do NOT design your custom panties too closely to a trademarked logo or you too could be in line for a visit from DHS.

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What's New: Reflections on a violent day in Ottawa

Socialist Project - October 23, 2014 - 1:00pm
I often find it hard to feel empathy for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But when I saw the grim picture of him talking on the phone following the end of his confinement in the locked down House of Commons yesterday, I sensed in him a vulnerability he rarely exhibits. Harper, like his fellow MPs, Parliamentary staff, media, visitors and children in the downstairs daycare, had likely hunkered down behind locked doors.
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Introducing the latest New Internationalist App

New Internationalist - October 23, 2014 - 12:39pm
We've been working hard to produce a beautiful new iOS app, and it's finally ready for use. Read all about it, and sign up to get one month's free access to the magazine.
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Noam Chomsky: The One Big Thing America Needs to Do to Turn Itself Around - October 23, 2014 - 11:47am
We could start by actually living up to our own laws.

The following is the transcript of part 2 of a Democracy Now! interview with Noam Chomsky. 

After world-renowned scholar Noam Chomsky gave a major address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly last week, Amy Goodman interviewed the world-renowned linguist and dissident before an audience of 800 people. Chomsky spoke at an event sponsored by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. “One important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe that’s too much to ask,” Chomsky said.

Below is footage of Chomsky from the United Nations, followed by a transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to MIT professor Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. Last week, he spoke before over 800 people in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly, before ambassadors and the public alike, on the issue of Israel and Palestine. After his speech, I conducted a public interview with Professor Chomsky.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most—the single most important action the United States can take? And what about its role over the years? What is its interest here?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, one important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course, it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe that’s too much to ask, but live up to its own laws. And there are several. And here, incidentally, I have in mind advice to activists also, who I think ought to be organizing and educating in this direction. There are two crucial cases.

One of them is what’s called the Leahy Law. Patrick Leahy, Senator Leahy, introduced legislation called the Leahy Law, which bars sending weapons to any military units which are involved in consistent human rights violations. There isn’t the slightest doubt that the Israeli army is involved in massive human rights violations, which means that all dispatch of U.S. arms to Israel is in violation of U.S. law. I think that’s significant. The U.S. should be called upon by its own citizens to—and by others, to adhere to U.S. law, which also happens to conform to international law in this case, as Amnesty International, for example, for years has been calling for an arms embargo against Israel for this reason. These are all steps that can be taken.

The second is the tax-exempt status that is given to organizations in the United States which are directly involved in the occupation and in significant attacks on human and civil rights within Israel itself, like the Jewish National Fund. Take a look at its charter with the state of Israel, which commits it to acting for the benefit of people of Jewish race, religion and origin within Israel. One of the consequences of that is that by a complex array of laws and administrative practices, the fund pretty much administers about 90 percent of the land of the country, with real consequences for who can live places. They get tax-exempt status also for their activities in the West Bank, which are strictly criminal. I think that’s also straight in violation of U.S. law. Now, those are important things.

And I think the U.S. should be pressured, internationally and domestically, to abandon its virtually unique role—unilateral role in blocking a political settlement for the past 40 years, ever since the first veto in January 1976. That should be a major issue in the media, in convocations like this, in the United Nations, in domestic politics, in government politics and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the media, can you talk about that, and particularly in the United States? And do you think that the opinion in the United States, public opinion, is shifting on this issue?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the role of the—the media are somewhat shifting from uniform support for virtually everything that Israel does to—and, of course, silence about the U.S. role—that’s not just in the case of Israel, that’s innumerable other cases, as well—but is slowly shifting. But nevertheless, about, say, Operation Protective Edge, one can read in news reporting, news reporting in The New York Times, major journal, a criticism of Hamas’s assault on Israel during Protective Edge. Hamas’s assault on Israel—not exactly what happened, but that’s what people are reading, and that’s the way it’s depicted. Israel is—over and over it’s pointed out, "Look, poor Israel is under attack. It has the right of self-defense." Everyone agrees to that. Actually, I agree, too. Everyone has a right of self-defense. But that’s not the question. The question is: Do you have a right of self-defense by force, by violence? The answer is no for anyone, whether it’s an individual or state, unless you have exhausted peaceful means. If you won’t even permit peaceful means, which is the case here, then you have no right of self-defense by violence. But try to find a word about that in the media. All you find is "self-defense." When President Obama rarely says anything about what’s happening, it’s usually, "If my daughters were being attacked by rockets, I would do anything to stop it." He’s referring not to the hundreds of Palestinian children who are being killed and slaughtered, but to the children in the Israeli town of Sderot, which is under attack by Qassam missiles. And remember that Israel knows exactly how to stop those missiles: namely, live up to a ceasefire for the first time, and then they would stop, as in the past, even when Israel didn’t live up to a ceasefire.

That framework—and, of course, the rest of the framework is the United States as an honest broker trying hard to bring the two recalcitrant sides together, doing its best in this noble endeavor—has nothing to do with the case. The U.S. is, as some of the U.S. negotiators have occasionally acknowledged, Israel’s lawyer. If there were serious negotiations going on, they would be led by some neutral party, maybe Brazil, which has some international respect, and they would bring together the two sides—on the one side, Israel and the United States; on the other side, the Palestinians. Now, those would be possible realistic negotiations. But the chances of anyone in the media either—I won’t even say pointing it out, even thinking about it, is minuscule. The indoctrination is so deep that really elementary facts like these—and they are elementary—are almost incomprehensible.

But to get back to your—the last point you mentioned, it’s very important. Opinion in the United States is shifting, not as fast as in most of the world, not as fast as in Europe. It’s not reaching the point where you could get a vote in Congress anything like the British Parliament a couple days ago, but it is changing, mostly among younger people, and changing substantially. I’ll just illustrate with personal experience; Amy has the same experience. Until pretty recently, when I gave talks on these topics, as I’ve been doing for 40 years, I literally had to have police protection, even at my own university, MIT. Police would insist on walking me back to my car because of threats they had picked up. Meetings were broken up, and so on. That’s all gone. Just a couple of days ago I had a talk on these topics at MIT. Meeting wasn’t broken up. No police protection. Maybe 500 or 600 students were there, all enthusiastic, engaged, committed, concerned, wanting to do something about it. That’s happening all over the country. All over the country, Palestinian solidarity is one of the biggest issues on campus—enormous change in the last few years.

That’s the way things tend to change. It often starts with younger people. Gradually it gets to the rest of the population. Efforts of the kind I mentioned, say, trying to get the United States government to live up to its own laws, those could be undertaken on a substantial scale, domestically and with support from international institutions. And that could lead to further changes. I think that the—for example, the two things that I mentioned would have a considerable appeal to much of the American public. Why should they be funding military units that are carrying out massive human rights violations? Why should they be permitting tax exemption? Meaning we pay for it—that’s what a tax exemption means. Why should we be paying, compelled to pay, for violations of fundamental human rights in another country, and even in occupied territories, where it’s criminal? I think that can appeal to the American population and can lead to the kinds of changes we’ve seen in other cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Final question, before we open it up to each of you: Your thoughts on the BDS movement, the boycott, divest, sanctions movement?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, BDS is a set of tactics, right? These are tactics that you employ when you think they’re going to be effective and in ways that you think will be effective. Tactics are not principles. They’re not actions that you undertake no matter what because you think they’re right. Tactics are undertaken, if you’re serious, because you think they’re going to help the victims. That’s how you adjust your tactics, not because I think they’re right in principle, but because I think they will be beneficial. That ought to be second nature to activists.

Also second nature should be a crucial distinction between proposing and advocating. I can propose now that we should all live in peace and love each other. I just proposed it. That’s not a serious proposal. It becomes a serious proposal when it becomes advocacy. It is given—I sketch out a path for getting from here to there. Then it becomes serious. Otherwise, it’s empty words. That’s crucial and related to this.

Well, when you take a look at the BDS movement, which is separate, incidentally, from BDS tactics—let me make that clear. So, when the European Union issued its directive or when the—that I mentioned, or when, say, the Gates Foundation withdraws investment in security operations that are being carried out, not only in the Occupied Territories, but elsewhere, that’s very important. But that’s not the BDS movement. That’s BDS tactics, actually, BD tactics, boycott, divestment tactics. That’s important. The BDS movement itself has been an impetus to these developments, and in many ways a positive one, but I think it has failed and should reflect on its, so far, unwillingness to face what are crucial questions for activists: What’s going to help the victims, and what’s going to harm them? What is a proposal, and what is real advocacy? You have to think that through, and it hasn’t been sufficiently done.

So, if you take a look at the principles of the BDS movement, there are three. They vary slightly in wording, but basically three. One is, actions should be directed against the occupation. That has been extremely successful, in many ways, and it makes sense. It also helps educate the Western populations who are being appealed to to participate, enables—it’s an opening to discuss, investigate and organize about the participation in the occupation. That’s very successful.

A second principle is that BDS actions should be continued until Israel allows the refugees to return. That has had no success, and to the extent that it’s been tried, it’s been negative. It just leads to a backlash. No basis has been laid for it among the population. It is simply interpreted as saying, "Oh, you want to destroy the state of Israel. We’re not going to destroy a state." You cannot undertake actions which you think are principled when in the real world they are going to have a harmful effect on the victims.

There’s a third category having to do with civil rights within Israel, and there are things that could be done here. One of the ones I mentioned, in fact—the tax-free status for U.S. organizations that are engaged in civil rights and human rights violations. And remember, a tax exemption means I pay for it. That’s what a tax exemption is. Well, that’s an action that could be undertaken. Others that have been undertaken have had backlashes which are harmful. And I won’t run through the record, but these are the kinds of questions that always have to be asked when you’re involved in serious activisms, if you care about the victims, not just feeling good, but caring about the victims. That’s critically important.

AMY GOODMAN: MIT professor, world-renowned linguist, dissident, Noam Chomsky, speaking last Tuesday in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly before 800 people in an event hosted by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at

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Memo to Anti-Vaxxer Jenny McCarthy: Research Points to a Very Different Culprit for Autism - October 23, 2014 - 11:35am
Scientists are getting closer to discovering the cause of this increasingly common condition.

Could autism be in the air we breathe? A growing body of research suggests that the answer could be yes, despite dangerous misinformation spread by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who have helped convince many Americans that vaccines are to blame for autism despite a lack of scientific support for this theory.

There are many unanswered questions about causes, but researchers are getting closer to understanding how autism develops. Genetics seems to play a role, and so do environmental factors, but not vaccines, which have been repeatedly shown to be unconnected.

A new study suggests that air toxins may have a significant impact on autism spectrum disorders. In preliminary results, a new University of Pittsburgh study shows that children suffering from autism were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxins during their mothers’ pregnancies and their first two years of life compared with children who weren't. According to the research so far, the correlation has appeared over the past decade. During pregnancy, fetuses are particuarly sensitive to toxins the mother is exposed to, and their brains can develop abnormalities in synaptic connections, which is a possible cause of autism.

Study leader Evelyn Talbott, a Pitt Public Health professor of epidemiology, explained why researchers decided to investigate the connection between austism and pollution: “There were three small studies that came out since 2006 linking ASD, autism spectrum disorders, with air pollution...I scratched my head and said, ‘Nobody’s ever looked at this, and when you don’t look at it, you don’t find anything.’ It is worth looking at it because we know so very little about what causes autism spectrum disorders.”

The children exposed to two substances were up to twice as likley as others to develop autism spectrum disorders. The first is styrene, which is used in plastics, paints and is also a product of gasoline combustion in automobiles. The second, chromium, is produced during the processes used in steel manufacturing and other industries.

This University of Pittsburgh study follows other recent studies which have found possible connections between air pollution and autism, as well as other ailments of the brain. A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center recently showed how exposure to air pollution early in life altered the brains of mice in ways that are linked to autism and schizophrenia in humans.

For a long time, scientists focused on the lungs as the main site of damage to the human body from air pollution. But now researchers are shifting attention to the brain. Some research, such as a recent Harvard University study, has indicated that male fetuses may be more vulnerable to air pollution in the womb than females.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more children than ever before are being diagnosed with autism — as many as one in 88. If air pollution is partly to blame, clearly we need stricter regulation of airborne toxins. Research by economist James K. Boyce of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has shown that air pollution disproportionately impacts the poor and minorities, and that the inequality of exposure to air pollution is even more glaring than income inequality. Air pollution is not only a matter of health, but of social and economic equality in America.

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VIDEO: Robert Reich Reveals the Secretive Tactics of Big Soda—And Why We Must Defeat Them - October 23, 2014 - 10:51am
Big Soda is pulling out the stops in Berkeley to keep Americans obese and unhealthy.

I got a call the other day from a stooge of Big Soda who was doing a “push poll” — trying to get me and all my neighbors to vote against Berkeley’s proposed one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks.

Big Soda is pulling out all the stops — and the money — to prevent the tax, because Big Soda knows that if it fails in Berkeley it can’t pass anywhere.

Yet, just like tobacco, we know a small tax reduces consumption. And just like tobacco, consumption of sugary soft drinks is a huge health problem.

One out of three American kids is obese and at risk of early-onset diabetes. A major culprit is Big Soda. 

Isn’t it time the people stood up against corporate moneyed interests that are determined to prevent us from protecting ourselves and our kids? (Please see the attached video, and share.)

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Is There a Case to Be Made for Eating Vegan Donuts? - October 23, 2014 - 10:10am
Vegan donuts may carry less guilt in eating them, but are they any healthier?

It’s always been funny to me how donut sounds like “do not” as in, you should not eat them, but they’re so good you cannot resist. Or maybe I’m the only one. 

Following the big cupcake boom of 2008, donuts followed suit. Shops selling specialty, artisanal donuts (or doughnuts) popped up in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, tempting the frosting crowd with something a little bit more, well, fried. Because what’s a healthy serving of sugar without some extra grease?  

Krispy Kreme, which has been pumping out glazed donuts since its original conception in North Carolina circa 1937, has become a favorite of donut consumers. You may remember the episode of Sex and the Cityin which Miranda quits Weight Watchers because it is next to a Krispy Kreme shop (only one remains in New York City, in Penn Station).

According to not-so-easy-to-find nutritional information on Krispy Kreme’s website, the standard glazed donut has 190 calories, 100 of those from fat. With 11 grams of fat  (but no trans fats) and a nominal amount of fiber and vitamins, the only redeeming quality to a Krispy Kreme donut is its taste.

But those with a sweet tooth and a health-conscious mindset may want to enjoy a treat a little less guilt-ridden.  Enter the baked, gluten-free and vegan donuts. Babycakes, a vegan, soy- and gluten-free bakeshop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has achieved cult status with those who shy from animal products, and while the sweets are admittedly tasty, choosing a dairy-, egg- and wheat-free donut doesn’t necessarily make it any healthier. Babycakes' website lists its Big Buy Donut (made from rice flour, potato starch, and garbanzo fava bean flour) as having 338.7 calories, 14.82 grams of fat and a negligible amount of fiber and protein. 

With more calories and a higher fat content than the signature Krispy Kreme, are these perceived healthier donuts in fact healthier at all? Even Babycakes’ Lil Guy, a smaller version of the donut, packs 225.8 calories and 9.88 grams of fat, more comparable to a Krispy Kreme but still not a health substitute. 

A recent trip to New York’s acclaimed Doughnut Plant led to a tasting of its famous crème brulee doughseed, served with crisp sugar on top and a creamy custard in the center of a fluffy donut. Divine, of course. The Cinnamon Snail, a vegan food truck which won the 2014 Vendy Cup for being the best food truck in New York, serves a similar donut, albeit vegan. The donut tasted pretty similar to the animal product-packed version and was served warm for a nice touch of comfort.

“It’s a great way to lure people into eating other vegan foods; they venture out of their comfort zone with a delicious-looking donut, regardless of the face that it’s vegan,” said Adam Sobel, chef of the Cinnamon Snail. Often customers who enjoy their sweet desserts will then be more tempted to enjoy something like the truck’s Korean BBQ Seitan, which definitely has more benefits to its meat alternative. 

While nutritional information for both of these tasty donut treats is not easily found via either of their websites, we can probably guess that whether you’re going whole hog (ok, eggs and dairy) version or the slightly deprived version, you’re not getting any health benefits by choosing the “healthier” donut.  Sobel agrees that there’s nothing healthy about deep-fried dough, but it’s definitely better for animals to choose a vegan treat, and hey, next time a donut-lover may even opt for kale. 

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"Counciling T.O.Wards 2014"- Councilor Pasternak- Ward 10

Toronto Media Coop - October 23, 2014 - 10:00am

Councilor Pasternack talks city services, storm preparedness and more

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WATCH: Little Foul-mouthed Princesses Rampantly Drop F-Bomb...For a Damn Good Reason - October 23, 2014 - 10:00am
"F*ck that sexist sh%t!"

If you can't stand the idea of little angelic girls cursing, you better not watch this video. On second thought, maybe you should. Because what the f*ck is so bad about saying f&ck? There are a lot of things more f%cked up than that.

In the clip, six girls aged 6-13 dress up as princesses and liberally drop the f-word to draw attention to the fact that women are still paid 23 percent less than men for the same work and 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted. The point is: Telling girls and women how to dress and how to speak properly is really besides the point. After all, they ask, “What’s more offensive? A little girl saying f*ck or the sexist way society treats girls and women.”

But they say it best. Watch:

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What's New: Spectre of NAFTA Investor-State Challenge Looms over New Brunswick Fracking Moratorium

Socialist Project - October 23, 2014 - 9:30am
On September 22 the people of New Brunswick voted clearly and decisively against fracking. They defeated the incumbent government that was backing (and was backed by) the fracking industry and elected a government that promises to implement a moratorium against fracking.
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All Eyes on Kansas: Battle for Marriage Equality Boils Over, Putting Conservatives on the Defensive - October 23, 2014 - 7:52am
Inside Kansas' struggle for equality in law, politics and religion.

Tom Witt had planned an ambush. The burly director and lobbyist for Equality Kansas who moves and talks more like a Marine drill sergeant than laid-back Kansan, had spent days working to pack a state Senate hearing room with surrogate parents, babies on their laps, their grandparents and doctors. They came because Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, the Committee on Public Health and Welfare’s chair, brought up her bill last January to criminalize yet another practice that didn’t fit the religious right’s vision of family. Her bill primarily targeted same-sex couples that wanted to adopt and raise children.

The powerful senator started by thanking Witt sarcastically for the no-standing-room turnout, which she said would deter her supporters from speaking. She then sat stone-faced as witness after witness testified that their kids and homes were normal and healthy. After the hearing ended, Pilcher-Cook boiled over, and began lecturing the families that they had created children with no connection to biological parents, dooming them to difficult lives. The mothers and fathers yelled back, No, no, no—you’re wrong.

“This is about the whole anti-gay industry in the state,” said Witt, who has seen many discriminatory bills like that one surface in the legislature. The field general of the Kansas equality movement won the day, as Pilcher-Cook's bill died right there—but not the long struggle for statewide acceptance, inclusion and equal rights. That was made clear just 24 hours later.

One day after the surrogacy bill circus died down, across the sprawling capitol in Topeka, Republican Lance Kinzer, the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs chair, abruptly decided to take up another anti-LGBT bill, one that quickly gained national attention and could have had even broader discriminatory repercussions.

It was called a “religious freedom” bill, and would have allowed any state or private employee to refuse to do business with anyone who offended that employee’s religious beliefs. The concept wasn’t new. The bill had been introduced for several years but never got out of committee. But in 2012, GOP Gov. Sam Brownback and like-minded right-wing Republicans led a purge ousting moderate Republican incumbents. They were beaten in low-turnout primaries, in what one local politico called “the night of the long knives.” Only a few hundred votes, equal to a few evangelical congregations voting en masse, ousted the incumbents.

What ensued over the next few weeks shows why Kansas is in the national spotlight this fall as a slate of Democrats and independents, with support from moderate Republicans, threaten the dominance of hard-core social conservatives. These extremists include Brownback and Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose careers have been supported by Koch Industries and Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, and who have created an anti-LGBT framework of laws and policies as wide-ranging as anywhere in the country.

That said, the LGBT equality fight is changing Kansas. The movement's struggle for equal rights and acceptance has been gaining traction in the state’s corporate sector, in public schools and universities, and in some religious institutions. The state’s political leadership has been a stubborn holdout, but that may be evolving as ongoing federal court rulings on same-sex marriage are forcing officials to reexamine discriminatory state policies.

“It’s a fight for the soul of Kansas,” said Brian Davis, a Sunflower State native and a descendent of a line of Methodist ministers who came back to Hutchinson, a hardscrabble city west of wealthier Wichita, where he is running as a Democrat for a Kansas House seat. “The fight all goes back to what they are hearing in their churches, and what they’re interpreting the Bible to tell them is good and right,” he said.

As he campaigned this summer, Davis said, voters slammed doors in his face more than once because of his support for a local anti-discrimination ordinance.

“I’m talking about the survival, the economic survival” of the state, said Sandra Stenzel, another descendent of Kansas settlers and a lesbian who, in 2004, was driven to testify in the state legislature against what became Amendment 1, the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage now being challenged in court. That ban remains despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this month that upheld lower court rulings striking down marriage bans in five states, including neighboring Oklahoma. (A lawsuit challenging that ban was subsequently filed in the federal district court for Kansas and a hearing is expected any day now.)

Stenzel said her career as a successful local economic development official in northwestern Kansas unraveled after she spoke out by telling audiences that bigotry was bad for business. “Unless we want to be fiftieth in education, fiftieth in property tax revenues, first in unwanted pregnancies, we have to bring our kids back,” she said, referring to Kansas today, where outside two major metropolitan areas and towns with universities or military bases, vast swaths wither from depopulation. “We need to stop the discrimination.”

'We Can't Let This Go'

Anti-LGBT discrimination takes many forms in Kansas. Social conservatives paint homosexuality as a mortal threat to mainstream America and a Biblical way of life. At the same time, they have been able to enshrine their beliefs in public institutions through deliberate omissions in state law—not recognizing LGBT individuals and rights—and a willful silence from political leaders, including Democrats, to reverse them.

The religious right preaches that the Bible decrees homosexuality a sin and concludes same-sex marriages will undermine their timeless notion of family. Many Kansas towns have more churches and denominations than supermarkets or banks, and the most vocal anti-LGBT crusaders tend to be Old Testament preachers. They speak of a gay agenda, saying, like Baptist minister Terry Fox, who led the drive for Amendment 1, that overturning the marriage ban in 2014 would lead to polygamy, first cousins marrying, and public schools teaching students to embrace LGBT relationships. At the Kansas Family Policy Council, they call proposals to add LGBT protections to local non-discrimination codes “bathroom bills,” fearing new laws will lead to transgender women putting on bathing suits at public pool dressing rooms next to little girls.

From its top level on down, Kansas has become infused with a toxic strain of anti-LGBT politics. The Brownback administration is filled with people who have spent years on the front lines of the anti-LGBT and anti-abortion movements, and his resume is littered with anti-LGBT actions. While in the U.S. Senate, Brownback spent months blocking a judicial nominee solely because she had once presided over a lesbian commitment ceremony. As governor, while he was circumspect about his support for the religious freedom bill, it was clear to insiders that he pushed hard for the bill until it spurred a wave of national ridicule and indignation. His effort to repeal unneeded state laws in 2012 left sodomy laws on the books, leaving Kansas as one of about a dozen states that still criminalize gay sex. He even tried to stop LGBT activists from bringing rainbow flags to a Statehouse equality rally, claiming the flagpoles could be turned into "dangerous weapons."

The titans of corporate Kansas—David and Charles Koch, the principal owners of Wichita-based Koch Industries and arguably the U.S.’ biggest political donors—have a decidedly poor record on LGBT rights. David Koch has told reporters he supports gay marriage, but the brothers have been among the top backers of a wide range of the most notorious gay-bashing Republican politicians and conservative institutions in the country, including Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, George Allen, Jim DeMint, and the think tank DeMint now runs, the Heritage Foundation.

Koch Industries has donated to the campaigns of anti-LGBT politicians in Kansas, including Kinzer and Pilcher-Cook. In Kansas’ August primary elections, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity supported many right-wing statehouse candidates who took the strongest anti-LGBT positions.

Kansas isn't just home to an actively anti-LGBT governor. Secretary of State Kobach, the former state Republican Party chair, is nationally known for his anti-immigrant views and associations. He is also avowedly anti-LGBT and has compared homosexuality with child sex abuse. Days before this August’s primaries, Kobach’s Prairie Fire PAC sent out gay-baiting mailers targeting moderate Republicans, including a House member ex-judge who opposed the religious freedom bill.

"The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld a $7,000 fine against a Christian photographer for politely refusing to take pictures of a same-sex 'commitment ceremony.' A baker in Colorado is being forced to undergo 'sensitivity training' and bake cakes for gay 'weddings,' in violation of his religious beliefs," Kobach’s mailer read. "Our 1st Amendment religious freedoms have never been in greater danger."

Kansas’ social conservatives, including some Democrats, have created a body of state law where there is no recognition of LGBT individuals or rights, which leads to an absence of legal protections and benefits. Just as Stenzel had no legal recourse when funding for her job was cut, married LGBT couples don’t get to share in the more then 900 benefits given to heterosexual married couples under state law. Political leaders from both parties—for different reasons—do not want to do much about rectifying that omission, or defending LGBT rights. There is no state agency that collects reports of LGBT discrimination, for example, allowing some social conservatives to say they have never heard of a case. Similarly, LGBT couples married out of state cannot change their last names on driver’s licenses, as the state doesn’t recognize those marriages. Likewise, lesbian couples cannot put both their names on hospital birth certificate as parents of their newborns.

The pathway for reversing unequal legal treatment is not straightforward. The Kansas Supreme Court has a precedent of treating rulings by the federal Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as advisory, explained David J. Brown, the lawyer challenging Kansas’ 2005 gay marriage ban and other discriminatory laws. That tradition means early October’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld Tenth Circuit rulings overturning marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma hasn’t yet crossed state lines—because until last week there was no federal lawsuit challenging Kansas’ ban. Instead, Brown’s suit, which was filed in a state court and targets different tiers of state law that treats LGBT Kansans unequally, including its marriage ban, is at an early stage in the process. The result is that for now, discrimination remains embedded in Kansas law.

Last February, after the “religious freedom” bill was fast-tracked for a committee hearing in the Kansas House, Rep. Stephanie Clayton and other moderate Republicans urged their leadership not to take up the bill. They were shown the door, she said, which prompted them to go to House Democrats, whose leader, Paul Davis (no relation to Brian Davis), is running against Brownback and is currently tied in most polls. Kansas Equality’s Witt met with as many Democratic legislators as possible, but later heard that they were told by Davis’ staff to do nothing with the amendments he left on their desks. Clayton said she got the same treatment the evening before the bill came to the House floor—2014’s first major legislation—calling it a sleepless night.

“I was saying, ‘You guys, we have to run amendments. We’ve got to stop this. We can’t let this go,’” Clayton recounted. “They were saying, ‘It’s going to go. It’s going to pass. And if the Republicans want to do this, let’s let them do this.’ Me, being a moderate, I was thinking, ‘I don’t want bad policy to pass. I don’t care about the political implications. I cared about people I represented….Everyone knows someone who is gay.”

As the bill passed the House, Witt could not help but notice that only a handful of legislators, mostly Republican moderates, tried to stop it. A few Democrats also spoke out, but no one who had the legal firepower to counter Republican assertions that the religious freedom measure would do no harm.

“They completely folded. In fact, the House leadership wanted them to fold,” said Ryon Carey, a farmer and part-time political consultant who chairs the Kansas Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus. “Democrats are scared to death of social issues here.”

Neither Gov. Brownback nor legislators Paul Davis, Pilcher-Cook, Kinzer or other Republicans who defended the bill in committee and on the floor responded to multiple requests for comment. Robert Noland, the Kansas Family Policy Council executive director, also did not respond.

Silence and Complicity

In Kansas as elsewhere, reversing anti-LGBT discrimination is as much about changing hearts and minds as about fixing bad laws. Those on the receiving end say it is hard for people who aren’t gay to understand what this second-class status feels like in daily life. It is not the same as being attacked for holding a controversial viewpoint. It’s being judged and violated because of one’s core identity, one’s sexuality. The reminders can be small slights or large slaps, and often arise in surprising moments.

“It’s when your straight friends talk about things that you have no access to—things they don’t even think about,” said Roberta Woodrick. More than 20 years ago, she married her partner, Julia, in a ceremony not recognized by the state, in Lawrence, the university town where both are campus librarians. They flew to California for a legal wedding in 2008, before that state’s voters nullified same-sex marriage. “It’s weird to be married in one place and by the time you fly home, you’re not married anymore,” Julia Woodrick said.

The couple lives in a split-level home in a modern subdivision that could be found in any small American university city. “We’re pretty private people when it comes down to it,” Roberta said. “I’ve often said, if you ask me to list 25 words describing myself, the word lesbian wouldn’t even be in my top 25. I am so many other things.”

As they entered their middle years, the sting of unequal treatment grew sharper. They had to pay thousands of dollars to a lawyer for medical legal directives and wills, so they could be on equal footing with some of the 900-plus benefits granted to traditionally married couples. They feared that if one of them lost their job, the other could not get health insurance offered to traditional spouses. They filed their state taxes separately, because the Brownback administration last fall issued rules requiring LGBT couples to file as individuals, after the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal government could not discriminate against LGBT marriage. 

This backdrop led them to become plaintiffs in the state lawsuit challenging the tax treatment as well as Kansas’ same-sex marriage ban. That suit was filed last December. When the religious discrimination bill hit the House floor weeks later, Roberta said they didn’t know what to think. “We didn’t know whether to be mad or laugh, because, suppose a friend and I—a co-worker—go into a store. Are they going to ask us, ‘Are you a lesbian couple?’ How exactly was this even going to fall out?”

But another of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Michael Nelson, who met his husband at the University of Kansas in the 1970s and is a Unitarian Universalist pastor in Manhattan, Kansas, has another take. “It’s a lack of pain that’s felt. It’s the numbness,” he explained. “It’s kind of like you don’t even consider that as part of something right or wrong. You just have displaced it somewhere in your subconscious, and you don’t access it very often unless you hear of someone killing themselves or being hurt because they are gay.”

“The toll is far more than just the visible things,” said Stephanie Mott, who until recently was Kansas Equality’s board chair. Mott is a transgender woman who now speaks to school nurses and educators, police departments and churches in Kansas and Oklahoma about transgender issues and the harm that comes from anti-LGBT bullying and prejudice.

“We’re talking about suicide. We’re talking about alcohol and substance abuse. People who are just never happy. People going through their whole lives and pretending to be someone who they’re really not,” said Mott. “It’s humanity. It’s dignity. It’s ability. It’s potential. It’s not just the person; it’s everybody that person comes in contact with.” 

The Religious Right’s View

If you talk to the religious freedom bill’s proponents, they will tell you it is devout Christians who are under attack for their core beliefs by many mainstream institutions that embrace LGBT rights, and that they are the ones who need added legal protections.

“Absolutely,” replied U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican who represents a large district in the northwestern part of the state in Congress, when asked if he thought the religious liberty bill was needed. “What you see here is a state that’s very concerned about its way of life... They see a culture that attacks their basic values and in many cases makes fun of them,” he said while walking through Concordia, a farming town, during a parade that drew several thousand people.

Huelskamp, who wrote the 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage while a state senator, said he did not think anti-LGBT discrimination was a problem in Kansas. “I haven’t heard of any documented example of discrimination. But we have a number of documented examples against those who support traditional marriage. And our state constitution is very clear, as it is in 25, 26, other states, that we support marriage between one man and one woman.”

Huelskamp was interviewed in September, soon before the Supreme Court’s October 6 decision not to hear any same-sex marriage cases this term, which effectively upheld rulings overturning five state traditional marriage laws. These rulings are seen as runaway judicial activism by social conservatives like Huelskamp and Fox, the Wichita pastor who led the statewide campaign where voters approved the marriage ban. “It changes the structure of family. It affects everything,” Fox said. “It affects our general philosophy of life, the things that we're taught in the family. The church, for instance, was only a backup up for what mom and dad taught….It’s a Pandora’s box. It’s the overall breakdown of America.”

The federal court rulings also have led social conservatives to fear more local attacks from LGBT Kansans. When Stephanie Clayton, the moderate Republican legislator, spoke to a conservative gathering a few weeks before the religious liberty bill emerged, another GOP legislator “got up and gave his update and said, ‘Well, if we don’t have this bill, than a wedding photographer could be forced to go to a gay strip club for a bachelor party and take pictures.” The examples didn’t stop there, she said. “There was a New Mexico case, where a cake decorator would have been forced to decorate cakes for a wedding they didn’t agree with.”

These fears, which sound like Internet conspiracy theories, persist in Kansas. So too does the pain inflicted on LGBT activists who have to hold their heads high and not overreact as they urge officials at all levels of government to draw new lines against discrimination, such as in housing and the workplace. Huelskamp said he knows of no examples of LGBT discrimination, yet no state agency collects that data. Equality Kansas’ response to that void, which leads to a rhetorical stalemate where both sides talk past each other, has been to push small cities and towns to adopt anti-discrimination ordinances that would include such a record. Lawrence, founded by anti-slavery Bostonians, has such an ordinance.

Neighbor vs. Neighbor

Yet efforts to pass similar local codes in Manhattan, a university city near a military base, or in Salina, a north-central farming hub, or in Hutchinson, a poor ex-manufacturing city, all failed in recent years after campaigns led by the religious right. However, this August, Roeland Park, a middle-class Kansas City suburb, adopted an LGBT ordinance after a long and bitter battle.

“I live with my partner. We pay our taxes. We shop in Roeland Park. We take care of our families. We have the right to be protected just like anyone else, and the City Council finally recognized that,” said Michael Poppa, who described himself as an accidental activist who found himself leading this local campaign.

In June, opponents of the Roeland Park ordinance circulated anonymous flyers that said the measure would allow biological males—now transgender women—into women’s bathrooms and pool changing rooms. In public hearings for residents of the city of about 7,000, activists from national social conservative groups and local churches attacked LGBT Kansans who were sitting just feet away in the classroom-sized City Council chambers.

“I sat there and listened to opponent after opponent get up and speak from the community and tell me why I shouldn’t be protected. Why I shouldn’t have the same rights,” Poppa said. “[F]or that half an hour, it took me back to grade school. I saw the bullies again….I felt every emotion. I was that kid in the corner. The one that nobody wanted to talk to, the one that didn’t matter.”

“It’s hard to vote against equal rights for people,” said City Council president Marek Gliniecki, as he sat in a small office in the municipal building. He said his faith guided him toward a no vote. “I am Catholic. The church for the most part is against this type of legislation….It would be difficult for me as a faithful Catholic to vote for that, as much as I’d like to be a supporter,” he said.

“It’s been more than contentious, it’s been hell,” Gliniecki said in September, a month after the town's mayor cast a tie-breaking vote to adopt the ordinance. “I looked at cities, looked at San Antonio, as a model of trying to protect the church. There are fears that if a church had a fish fry that was open to the public and a gay couple showed up and demanded service, they could sue.” He said he viewed that example as a “serious threat.”    

Religious Freedom

In the Kansas Capitol, these fears—and opposition to LGBT couples adopting children—were targeted in the religious freedom bill’s language. The wording was both vague and specific. It was vague in that its trigger—allowing any public or private employee to cite religious objections as a basis to refuse to serve someone—could apply to a straight interracial couple, not just LGBT individuals. And it was specific by citing precise settings from daily life where that decision to discriminate would be legal. The bill applied to “services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges,” including those who "provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits... related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.” 

This list did not just appear. It is tied to social conservatives’ other obsession: stopping abortion. Kansas is ground zero for America’s anti-abortion movement. Protests outside clinics during the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” led Congress to pass a nationwide buffer zone law for abortion clinics, which the U.S. Supreme Court repealed this year. Kansas' most famous abortion doctor, George Tiller, was murdered in his Wichita church in 2009. Republican Phill Kline, the ex-attorney general, ended up losing his law license for professional misconduct after harassing women seeking abortions at Tiller’s clinic. There are more than 60 different state abortion laws, with hundreds of rules governing Kansas’ three remaining abortion clinics. The religious freedom bill echoed that legal web.

But just as there has been more than one form of family for eons, there is more to modern Kansas than the God-fearing pioneers celebrated in the capitol’s epic murals. The metro areas, Kansas City and Wichita, have service economies and are dotted with corporate offices. Corporate Kansas was proud that Google chose Kansas City as a test site for installing citywide fiber optic broadband. But they cringed when Google put its offices in Kansas City, Missouri, which has anti-discrimination laws and more liberal politics. When the religious liberty bill arrived in the state Senate, another telecom giant, AT&T, decided enough was enough. After the House passed the bill, Jon Stewart ridiculed the state on "The Daily Show." One of the telecom’s top lobbyists, who is gay, pushed AT&T to tell the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which helped put many right-wing House members in office, that AT&T would pull its sponsorship of a large Chamber dinner if it did not publicly oppose the religious discrimination bill.

The Chamber, with other business groups following, soon issued a press release saying the bill was unworkable because it would have allowed employees to defy their employers. The Senate president, Republican Susan Wagle, who is a fervent social conservative, cited those objections and surprised everyone—including Equality Kansas—by announcing that she would not go forward with it.

“When she killed that bill before it went to committee, I was so stunned that I actually broke out in tears, and I am not a guy who cries,” said Witt. “It was so out of left field.”

Fox, who confirmed those details about the Chamber's involvement, put the blame on Brownback, who many Kansas Republicans say is looking toward a second presidential run in 2016. “He dropped the ball on the religious freedom bill,” the minister said. “He could have put pressure on Susan Wagle to quit compromising. The House had already passed it. There were plenty of [yes] votes in the Senate. How do I know? I contacted them.”

Fox said that he and other social conservatives were summoned to the Statehouse after the decision. “We went into a meeting in the governor’s office with her [Wagle] and the governor,” he said. “Their argument was economic. Susan’s was, ‘the Chamber of Commerce.’ Brownback’s was, ‘Well, maybe that’s not an issue that we need to wade into right now.’ What he said so disappointed the conservatives here….I told him in that meeting it was going to hurt him. He was warned."

It might be tempting to say that LGBT Kansans are winning—as Fox does, citing the religious freedom bill’s fate, the failed surrogate parenting bill, the corporate embrace of LGBT rights, public school curriculums teaching diversity and federal courts backing marriage equality. “I hate to concede to Tom Witt’s people. Their side is winning,” he said. “If anything it is the right that’s fighting for survival, not the homosexual people. They’re winning it all.”

But Tom Witt scoffs at that assertion. Social conservatives control state government. Republicans dominate both chambers in the Legislature. If Sam Brownback is re-elected and brings a few new House members with him, he will have enough votes to propose an amendment to the state constitution giving him power to appoint Kansas Supreme Court justices. This July, Republican leaders pledged to revive the religious freedom bill. Right-wingers have all these advantages, Witt said, leaving him no choice but to keep fighting, hard. “This is a stalemate," he said. "We cannot get any of our proactive legislation passed, and they can’t get any of their hate bills. It’s been a stalemate since 2007.”

A Plaid State?

Yet beyond the world of Kansas politics, the state is changing. In 2004, LGBT Kansans like Tom Witt and Sandra Stenzel, who went to the capitol as a successful county economic development officer to testify that a constitutional same-sex marriage ban would be bad for business in rural communities that needed help, did not have any statewide politically active LGBT organization to turn to. Both said that Amendment 1's passage lit that fuse, which has pushed LGBT Kansans—estimated to be 3 percent of the population or 80,000 people—not only to organize, but to deliberately come out of the shadows.

“The visibility is good. We are humanizing ourselves,” said Sandra Meade, who is Kansas Equality’s board chair, the Kansas Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus vice chair, and host of TransTalk, a Kansas City public radio program. “We are getting out there and being more visible. I mean, what family doesn’t have somebody who is gay, or know somebody down the street that’s gay, or somebody at work?”

“I think we have made great progress nationally on gay rights, obviously with marriage equality, and we have made phenomenal progress with transgender rights, but when you get to these deeply red states, like Kansas, where people are so conservative, it’s really hard to get through to these people,” said Meade. “You can sit down and you can talk to them about the science, or you can try to convey the humanity of the issue in front of them, and they simply won’t listen.”

Yet looking forward, it seems wrong to say that Kansas is an unchanging red state. This fall’s election, where a mix of moderate Democrats and Independents are seriously challenging right-wing incumbents, shows that. As Roeland Park’s accidental LGBT activist Michael Poppa said, Kansas is a “plaid” state—with red, blue and purple political threads. The community’s visibility is part of that coloration.

Last year, Mott convened the first statewide conference for transgender Kansans and last month another was held. This September, Topeka held its first Pride celebration and 2,000 people showed up; its organizers only expected 300. Kansas’ cities have liberal churches that welcome LGBT parishioners and conduct marriages, even if the state does not recognize them. Every public high school in Wichita, where Fox and the Kansas Family Policy Council are based, has gay-straight student alliances and half have active chapters, organizer Liz Hamor said. At the University of Kansas in Lawrence, 60-plus students showed up recently to hear Michael Nelson and his husband, Charles Dedmon, talk about their state-based same-sex marriage suit. Half the room raised their hands when asked if they had come out to their families. 

Despite the enduring political and social hurdles LGBT Kansans face, the movement’s leaders are not waiting for the world to change—they are pushing that envelope themselves.

On the last Sunday in September, several hundred LGBT Kansas of every age stood on the steps of Wichita’s old courthouse for a rally and March for Pride weekend. “Hello, I’m Jackie Carter. I’m pastor of the First Metropolitan Community Church,” the tough-minded female minister said, as a handful of anti-LGBT protesters huddled on the sidelines with pamphlets and posters. “No more sermons today…but there are people among us, in this crowd, and people who you will see on the path today, and people down at the Indian Center that will tell you that you are not okay the way you are; that you must do something else in God’s eyes to be worthy—and that is not the truth.”

As Carter and other movement leaders spoke, Witt and a half-dozen teenagers unfurled a 25-foot-long American flag to carry in the parade. Witt had just urged everyone to vote. He would sit at a table all afternoon and help hundreds of people fill out registration forms.

Back in his office the next day, he said he had no alternative but to pursue “scorched earth” political tactics, such as packing the state senate hearing room for Pilcher-Cook’s bill outlawing surrogate parenting contracts. “The LGBT Equality movement has natural allies and not just allies of convenience, but allies of conscience and principle in the women’s movement and in the bigger civil rights movement,” he said. “What you see is a direct result of our tactics.”  

And those tactics show no sign of stopping. A day after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Tenth Circuit rulings overturning same-sex marriage bans in Oklahoma and Utah, Witt turned to e-mail, Facebook and the phone and told Kansas Equality members to start showing up at county courthouses and applying for marriage licenses—even though Brownback announced that day he would enforce the state’s same-sex marriage ban. On Oct. 8, however, a handful of county judges started issuing marriage licenses, defying orders from state court administrators, creating an even more chaotic legal landscape.

“If you said that people are going to get marriage licenses this afternoon in Johnson County, I would have said, ‘You’re out of your mind,’” said David J. Brown, the lawyer challenging several discriminatory state laws including Kansas’ Constitution, adding that this confusion could only be settled by judges stepping in, at either the state Supreme Court or in federal court.

By October 10, the state Supreme Court stepped in, scheduling a hearing on November 6. It cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on Utah and Oklahoma and told state’s attorney generals to be ready to explain why the Kansas ban on same-sex marriage should stand. Meanwhile, the ACLU filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Kansas challenging the marriage ban. A hearing in that court is expected any day now. 

David J. Brown went on to make a larger point that is easily lost in the melee over marriage licenses. Getting a license alone—as all this court action is expected to uphold—was not the same as repealing state laws that allow discrimination to continue, or putting new LGBT protections into law. “The question becomes, really, what is the value of that marriage license and will it be honored anywhere?” he asked. “It’s going to be honored in every state that recognizes same-sex marriage. Ironically, it might not be recognized in the state of Kansas.”

Newlyweds might want driver’s licenses with their married names, but still could be turned away, Brown said, citing just one example. There’s also the question of wider anti-LGBT discrimination in Kansas society, including what he expects would be a backlash from social conservatives if and when the marriage ban is eventually thrown out. That happened in 1967, he said, after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Virginia state law banning interracial marriage. He predicted what that backlash would be for Kansas’ social conservatives in this case.

“In truth, in Kansas the backlash is going to be that religious freedom act,” said Brown. “It’s going to come up in the Legislature again and they will most likely pass it this time.”

This is Part I of a two-part series. In Part II, AlterNet tells the stories of several LGBT Kansans, and how they've persevered despite living in a state where social conservatives still demonize them, and where they're often reminded of their second-class status.

The series was supported by the American Independent Institute.

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PODCAST: Never mind social welfare, what's corporate welfare costing us?

New Internationalist - October 23, 2014 - 4:02am
The latest from the Tax Justice Network, including: replacing the Double Irish tax dodge.
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Science Busts One of the Most Common Myths About Smoking Pot - October 22, 2014 - 6:54pm
A recent study proves what most real-life pot smokers already know.

Moderate cannabis consumption by young people is not positively associated with changes in intelligence quotient (IQ), according to data presented this week at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual congress in Berlin, Germany.

Investigators at the University College of London analyzed data from 2,612 subjects who had their IQ tested at the age of eight and again at age 15. They reported no relationship between cannabis use and lower IQ at age 15 when confounding factors such as subjects’ history of alcohol use and cigarette use were taken into account.

“In particular alcohol use was found to be strongly associated with IQ decline,” the authors wrote in a press release cited by The Washington Post. “No other factors were found to be predictive of IQ change.”

Quoted in the Independent Business Times, the study’s lead author said: “Our findings suggest cannabis may not have a detrimental effect on cognition, once we account for other related factors particularly cigarette and alcohol use. This may suggest that previous research findings showing poorer cognitive performance in cannabis users may have resulted from the lifestyle, behavior and personal history typically associated with cannabis use, rather than cannabis use itself.”

The investigators acknowledged that more chronic marijuana use, defined in the study as a subject’s admission of having consumed cannabis 50 times or more by age 15, was correlated with slightly poorer exam results at the age of 16 — even after controlling for other variables. However, investigators admitted: “It’s hard to know what causes what. Do kids do badly at school because they are smoking weed, or do they smoke weed because they’re doing badly?”

Commenting on the newly presented data, the meeting’s Chair, Guy Goodwin, from the University of Oxford, told BBC News: “This is a potentially important study because it suggests that the current focus on the alleged harms of cannabis may be obscuring the fact that its use is often correlated with that of other even more freely available drugs and possibly lifestyle factors.”

In a recent review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the NIDA Director Nora Volkow alleged that cannabis use, particularly by adolescents, is associated with brain alterations and lower IQ. However, the IQ study cited by Ms. Volkow as the basis of her claim was later questioned in a separate analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That paper suggested that socioeconomics, not subjects’ cannabis use, was responsible for differences in IQ and that the plant’s “true effect [on intelligence quotient] could be zero.”

previous assessment of cannabis use and its potential impact on intelligence quotient in a cohort of young people tracked since birth reported, “[M]arijuana does not have a long-term negative impact on global intelligence.”

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6 Things We Need to Do for Black Men in America - October 22, 2014 - 4:06pm
The president can use executive action to reform several mistaken policies and procedures that stack the deck unfavorably for black men.

The following story first appeared in Colorlines. 

After nearly six years of de facto silence on race, the White House this year swung into the harsh world that men of color inhabit with the unveiling of its “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

When compared to their white peers, black men are nearly half as likely to graduate from high school; earn $6 an hour less in the labor market; are three times as likely to live in poverty and 10 times as likely to have been a victim of homicide—not to mention off-the-charts incarceration rates. This depressing data has been well documented for over a generation and is not in dispute. To describe the totality of what’s going on, Marian Wright-Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund drops the world “school” and simply dubs it “the cradle-to-prison pipeline.”

As the president launched “My Brother’s Keeper” in February, he lamented that the country had become “numb to these statistics” and that all too many Americans “take them as the norm.” He described the White House initiative as having potential to give young men of color “a boundless sense of possibility.”

Though the initiative has since drawn noticeable criticism—for, among other things, its paltry pledge of $200 million in mostly private resources and overlooking black women—the unveiling nonetheless raised hopes that the country was arriving at a turning point. Veteran Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson called it “the kind of targeted public-private initiative that might actually do some good, even without tons of new federal money thrown in.”

Those hopes were strained severely in May, when the White House published My Brother’s Keepers’ six policy recommendations.

Despite the fact that the report places poverty at the top of issues facing young men of color, not one of the six policy recommendations in the document directly addresses poverty itself. Surprisingly, the first proposal for addressing the vast and deep inequities confronted by men of color is “entering school ready to learn.” That’s followed by “reading at grade level by third grade.” True, these steps are important and worthy, but the colossal inequity faced by black men is systemic and widespread, not individual and personal. Systemic problems require systematic remedies.

The hopeful news is that public policy can begin to address the difficulties with which men of color contend without massive new funding. The president can use executive action to reform several mistaken policies and procedures that stack the deck unfavorably for black men. Here are six ideas that didn’t make it into the My Brother’s Keeper recommendations. They would be a good place for the president to start:

1. Make Work Pay for Single Men

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which Congress created in the 1970s and has gradually expanded over the years, is designed to ensure that low-wage workers can make ends meet. By dramatically cutting the taxes owed by low-income households, it manages to keep 10 million people out of poverty.

But the EITC is currently designed to primarily help custodial parents. According to the White House, a childless person working full time and earning minimum wage is eligible only for up to $25 a year in EITC help, and workers under 25 years old are excluded altogether. As the Obama administration has documented, these rules significantly limit the program’s impact among both black and Latino men. 

President Obama has already urged Congress to expand EITC. As with other issues where Congress has refused to budge—immigration, LGBT civil rights and cybersecurity, among them—the White House could explore ways to unilaterally enlarge and retool the EITC program while it waits for Congress to act.

2. Focus Job Training Programs on Black and Latino Men

One way to help remedy the job-skills gap created by incarceration and educational barriers is to focus existing job training programs on black and Latino men.

Currently the federal government spends $18 billion a year on job training. As a report by Congress’ General Accounting Office details, many of the nearly 50 job training initiatives are scattered across nine governmental departments, with most of the money sent to the states in the form of grants to fund uncoordinated efforts at the local level.

One way to better organize this patchwork of programs is to target them on those who need help the most. Some programs, such as those that concentrate on workers with disabilities and on Native American workers, already focus their efforts. But President Obama could issue an executive order asking that priority be given to efforts that are directed at black and Latino men.

3. Focus Federal Grants on Real Anti-Crime Strategies

As the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University points out, crime is committed by a handful of people: just five people out every 100 commit violent crimes. But policies such as “stop-and-frisk” can sweep up nearly 80 out of every 100 young black men in neighborhood-wide dragnets. Due to these stops, young black men who have not committed serious crimes rack up fees and minor citations for things like riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, which in turn expose them to greater risk for jail time in future, random stops.

But a further problem with these “broken window” policing strategies is that they do little to end the actual violent crime epidemic in communities of color. Two proven approaches to reducing crime are direct, peer-led interventions in street violence and policies that pursue the small number of people who are responsible for violent crime, rather than target entire communities. The My Brother’s Keeper report does endorse these approaches and one recommendation calls broadly for their growth. But to get specific, the federal government could spur or even mandate both approaches through restrictions on the way local police departments use grant money.

4. Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Disproportionately applied school discipline is a key driver for both high levels of unemployment and incarceration for black and Latino men. As I’ve written before, students who are suspended are up to five times less likely to graduate.

Here again, the My Brother’s Keeper report identifies the problem and calls for an end to suspensions and expulsions in the early educational years. But there’s a way for the administration to actually achieve that goal. Each year the Department of Education collects detailed information about racial disparities in school discipline. This existing data could be used by the government to compel each of the thousands of schools who receive federal education funds create an action plan and a timetable to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline.

5. Expand Public School Academies for Black Boys

According to a report by the education non-profit ETS, competitive same-sex academies can increase the chances of black boys graduating high school by 60 percent; putting the attainment of high school diplomas on a par with those for white boys. Each year President Obama’s Education Department hands out billions of dollars in grants to the nation’s poorest schools, often with strings attached, to steer school districts to policies that it believes to work. These grants are a potential tool to expand public school opportunities for black boys and scale up now-localized, pilot schools that are already underway.

6. Transform Prisons Into Education Centers

Six out of 10 of the 2.3 million people behind bars are men of color. Lack of educational opportunity is one important reason for why they’re in the criminal justice system: According to the National Education Association, eight of 10 of those behind bars did not finish high school.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a program to fund associate and bachelor degrees in New York’s prisons. The governor points out that it costs $60,000 to incarcerate someone but only $5,000 a year to educate each prisoner, all while “giving a real shot at a second lease on life.” Those who earn degrees in prison are far less likely to come back. The federal government could drive a similar effort on a national scale. And given the fact that the president runs all of the federal government’s prisons, President Obama could begin laying the groundwork right away.

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