One Mother's Story: How Overemphasis on Standardized Tests Caused Her 9-Year-Old to Try to Hang Himself

AlterNet.org - August 1, 2016 - 8:00am
There are major costs to corporate-driven "education reform."

“…I received a note from my son's teacher telling me hed failed the FCAT [Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test] by one point. The note said hed have to take a reading class over the summer and retestWe werent alarmed as he only had to score one more point to be promoted

“…a few weeks later his teacher called. [My son] had failed the test, again by ONE point!

“…I didnt tell him, but the next day [he] told me he knew hed failed because if he had passed wed have been told by the school and be celebrating. I liedtold him it takes several days and wed know soon, but he insisted hed failed.

It was dinner time. I called down the hall and asked what he wanted to drink with dinner. No response. I figured he was watching television in his room and hadnt heard. A few moments later I called again. Again, no response.

I can't tell you what it was that came over me, just that it was a sick feeling. I threw the hot pads I had in my hands on the counter and ran down the hall to [his] room, banged on the door and called his name. No response. I threw the door open. There was my perfect, nine-year-old freckled son with a belt around his neck hanging from a post on his bunk bed. His eyes were blank, his lips blue, his face emotionless. I dont know how I had the strength to hoist him up and get the belt off but I did, then collapsed on the floor and held [him] as close to my heart as possible. There were no words. He didnt speak and for the life of me I couldnt either. I was physically unable to form words. I shook as I held him and felt his heart racing.

Id saved [him]! No, not really… I saved him physically, but mentally he was goneThe next 18 months were terrible. It took him six months to make eye contact with me. He secluded himself from friends and family. He didnt laugh for almost a year…”

Her son had to repeat the third grade. That happened five years ago, and she says the damage continues: Currently, [he] could be driving with a learners permit but he refuses. Why? Because 'eighth grade kids don't drive.' If new friends saw him theyd know hed failed a grade... Retention is repetitive and lasts a lifetime. It's never far from his mind, just as seeing him blue and hanging from his bunk bed sticks in mine.

For years, this story was a family secret. A mutual acquaintance, knowing from my Knight-Ridder/Tribune columns that I had repeatedly attacked the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test not just as a waste of time, money and human potential, but as child abuse, gave this mother my email address and suggested she write me. I met with the mother and child personally and can vouch for the fact that they do indeed exist.

If failing to reach the pass-fail cut score by just one point wasn’t within every standardized test’s margin of error; if research hadn’t established that for the young, retention in grade is as traumatic as fear of going blind or of a parent dying; if standardized tests provided timely, useful feedback that helped teachers decide what to do next; if billions of dollars that America’s chronically underfunded public schools need weren’t being diverted to the standardized testing industry and charter promotion; if a generation of test-and-punish schooling had moved the performance needle even a little; if today’s sneaky, corporately driven education “reform” effort wasn’t driven by blind faith in market ideology and an attempt to privatize public schooling; if test manufacturers didn’t publish guidelines for dealing with vomiting, pants-wetting and other evidences of test-taker trauma; if the Finns hadn’t demonstrated conclusively that fear-free schools, cooperation rather than competition, free play, a recess every hour in elementary school, and that letting educators alone could produce world-class test-takers—if, if, if—then I might cut business leaders and politicians responsible for the America’s current education train wreck a little slack.

But all of the above are demonstrably true. And yet we keep subjecting children to the same dangerous nonsense, year after year.

I’ve no doubt that at least some reformers sincerely believe that America’s schools should be privatized, that educators are unduly attached to the status quo, that unions are a serious problem, and that teachers resist change and must be pressured to perform. I’m sure some are sincere in their belief that the Common Core State Standards actually identify core knowledge, that standardized tests can evaluate complex thought processes, that the reforms they’re pushing, although painful, are essential and right, and that teachers can’t be trusted to judge learner performance.

But willful ignorance from an unwillingness to talk to experienced educators is unacceptable.

Given the money and power behind current corporately driven education policy, few tools for resisting are available. Of those tools, refusal to go along is both the moral and most effective choice. Thoughtful, caring parents won’t be bullied by test manufacturer propaganda or threats from those in Washington or state capitols who cling to the quaint notion that test-taking ability is a useful, marketable skill.

Parents, do the right thing for your children, your children’s children, and America: Opt your kids out of standardized tests. Join the Network for Public Education, Save Our Schools.

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Ann Coulter's Insane Blather Is Hilariously Owned by Sally Kohn and Others

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 6:07pm
Kohn and Coulter were among the panelists at a recent underground tragicomic debate.

In an absurd piece of political (and comedic) theater at the Comedy Cellar Underground Debate Series in New York City, right-wing blowhard Ann Coulter, armed with her predictably inflammatory one-liners and signature gesticulations, sat alongside Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain as the pair tried in vain to make the case that American conservatism is better for women than its ideological counterpart.

What started as a discussion about women’s issues quickly derailed into an hours-long exchange on everything from immigration to political correctness to whether or not Hillary Clinton hates America. On the side of logic and reason sat CNN contributor Sally Kohn and Emmy Award-winning journalist Janus Adams, who spent the majority of the debate defending basic freedom of choice and historical facts.

For those uninitiated (lucky you), Coulter touts her own personal brand of ideological absurdity at pretty much any opportunity and sells a lot of books as a result. This evening was no different; at one point, the Adios America author caused an uproar among the panelists and alcohol-fueled audience members when she equated Black Lives Matter with the Ku Klux Klan, arguing that Republican nominee Donald Trump should not have had to disavow KKK Grand Wizard and supporter David Duke if rival Hillary Clinton doesn't have to disavow Al Sharpton and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You have Hillary Clinton actively endorsing Black Lives Matter and seeking the endorsement of Al Sharpton,” Coulter said. “As far as I know, David Duke has never given a speech where people end up getting stabbed in Crown Heights. And yet Hillary Clinton is not asked to disavow Al Sharpton.”

Speaking with Business Insider after the debate, Coulter refused to back down from her Duke/Sharpton comparison. "When Al Sharpton gives a rally you have people die, get mugged, have their cameras smashed, be robbed,” Coulter said. “That never happens at a David Duke event or I’d promise you, I’d know about it. I think I’m being very clear. David Duke gives a speech. Al Sharpton gives a speech, people die. That’s what I’m saying. Those are facts.”

If facts were suddenly important to Coulter after the debate, they had definitely fled the building during it. She blamed young people's propensity to vote for Democrats on "years of Chinese brainwashing” in public schools; praised Trump for his racially charged smearing of the Central Park Five (“they were guilty,” Coulter proclaimed about the exonerated defendants); insisted single women are predominantly liberal and in the absence of a husband, they, “need someone to support them,” and that someone is the U.S. government. 

But her biggest untruth marked a cornerstone of Coulter’s abrasive flavor of conservatism. Explaining to the audience why she loves Trump so much, Coulter argued that the Republican nominee “does not play identity politics.”

“He does not speak to blacks as blacks or Mexicans as Mexicans,” Coulter said as the crowd laughed, later adding “he makes fun of identity politics.”

For Kohn, Coulter’s characterization of Trump as someone who doesn’t play identity politics was “a mischaracterization that borders on a smear, or even a downright lie.” Kohn, whose credentials include landing the number 35 spot on the Advocate’s list of the most influential LGBT people in the media, argued that Trump does indeed play identity politics, “vis-a-vis white men.”

“If you don’t think Donald Trump is explicitly building his campaign on white male identity politics, you haven’t been paying attention,” Kohn said.

“There's a mistake in this country when we think that identity politics are only about women, people of color, or immigrants. Identity politics are also about citizens, and white people, and men,” Kohn said in an interview with AlterNet. “And the Republican Party has practiced identity politics in favor of white citizen men since Nixon.”

But Swain, Coulter’s ideological complement at the table, is not a white citizen man. She’s a black woman and a former Democrat, who supports Trump because she believes, as a true Christian, that he’s the only one for the job. If possible, she’s even more of a right-wing extremist than Coulter: At one point the Vanderbilt University professor told the room, “I would not have aborted my baby if I had had informed consent—if I’d actually known government can’t be trusted to make good decisions for people.”

If that kind of headscratching proclamation seems delusional coming from a woman who has become an avid supporter of “the party of personal responsibility” (so avid she’s willing to align herself with a notorious polemicist like Coulter), Kohn wants you to know that trying to rationalize this rising brand of conservatism is probably a waste of your time.

“Republicans are for smaller government,” Kohn told AlterNet. “Well, except for in the case of reproductive rights, where they want government all up in our business.” They’re the party of Lincoln and the civil rights movement, except they refuse to support Black Lives Matter. They’re the party of the Bill of Rights. But really only the Second Amendment.

And therein lies the paradox, so expertly demonstrated by Coulter and Swain as they vollied back-and-forth sentiments that are, for many of us, hard to rationally process. As the conversation came to a close, a telling moment blindsided the commentators, audience and this reporter.

“Do you think Hillary Clinton doesn’t love America?” Kohn asked Swain as the latter waxed lyrical about Trump’s affinity for this country.

“I think she hates America,” Swain said before launching into a speech about “what President Obama has done” to the country.

Swain’s comments hit at the crux of what drives so many diehard Trump supporters—and really the vast majority of the right-wing blowhards who hijacked the GOP: Hatred for Barack Obama, America’s first black president, and anyone who seeks to promote his policies beyond this administration.

To Kohn, Swain’s suggestion that Obama is somehow out to destroy America speaks to a larger problem within the Republican Party.

“The pattern of suggesting that Barack Obama hates America, that he is in fact un-American, that he has a colonial loyalty, that he may not be Christian, that he may in fact be a Muslim, which is to say 'other,' that he may not be born in the United States—all of these things that these leaders on the right, including Donald Trump, have actively fostered and festered are a way of saying, ‘He is less American than you are, working-class white folks,’” Kohn said.

Trump is the president of people like Coulter and Swain. People who equate the KKK with Black Lives Matter. People who believe the Central Park Five are guilty, no matter what the criminal justice system says. People who think Obama hates America. People who think women who obtain abortions should be punished, or, at least, should punish themselves. And while the panel may not have come to an agreement about whether conservatism is hostile to women (it is), one thing is certain: They’ve earned their candidate. 

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The Global Impact of Air Conditioning: Big and Getting Bigger

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 5:17pm
Globally, 2016 is poised to be another record-breaking year for average temperatures. This means more air conditioning. Much more.

With a heat wave pushing the heat index well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) through much of the U.S., most of us are happy to stay indoors and crank the air conditioning. And if you think it’s hot here, try 124°F in India. Globally, 2016 is poised to be another record-breaking year for average temperatures. This means more air conditioning. Much more.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), Paul Gertler and I examine the enormous global potential for air conditioning. As incomes rise around the world and global temperatures go up, people are buying air conditioners at alarming rates. In China, for example, sales of air conditioners have nearly doubled over the last five years. Each year now more than 60 million air conditioners are sold in China, more than eight times as many as are sold annually in the United States.

This is mostly great news. People are getting richer, and air conditioning brings great relief on hot and humid days. However, air conditioning also uses vast amounts of electricity. A typical room air conditioner, for example, uses 10-20 times as much electricity as a ceiling fan.

Meeting this increased demand for electricity will require billions of dollars of infrastructure investments and result in billions of tons of increased carbon dioxide emissions. A new study by Lawrence Berkeley Lab also points out that more ACs means more refrigerants that are potent greenhouse gases.

Evidence From Mexico

To get an idea of the global impact of higher air conditioner use, we looked at Mexico, a country with highly varied climate ranging from hot and humid tropical to arid deserts to high-altitude plateaus. Average year-round temperatures range from the high 50’s Fahrenheit in the high-altitude plateaus to low 80’s in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Patterns of air conditioning vary widely across Mexico. There is little air conditioning in cool areas of the country; even at high-income levels, penetration never exceeds 10 percent. In hot areas, however, the pattern is very different. Penetration begins low but then increases steadily with income to reach near 80 percent.

As Mexicans grow richer, many more will buy air conditioners. And as average temperatures increase, the reach of air conditioning will be extended, even to the relatively cool areas where saturation is currently low. Our model predicts that near 100 percent of households will have air conditioning in all the warm areas within just a few decades.

Global Air Conditioning Potential

We expect this pattern to hold not only in Mexico but around the world. When you look around, there are a lot of hot places where people are getting richer. In our study, we ranked countries in terms of air conditioning potential. We defined potential as the product of population and cooling degree days (CDDs), a unit used to determine the demand for energy to cool buildings.

Number one on the list is India. India is massive, with four times the population of the United States. It is also extremely hot. Annual CDDs are 3,120, compared to only 882 in the United States. That is, India’s total air conditioning potential is more than 12 times that of the United States.

Mexico ranks #12 but has fewer than half the CDDs experienced by India, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. These countries currently have lower GDP per capita, but our research predicts rapid air conditioning adoption in these countries over the next couple of decades.

Carbon Cliff?

What does all this mean for carbon dioxide emissions? It depends on the pace of technological change, both for cooling equipment and for electricity generation.

Today’s air conditioners use only about half as much electricity now as in 1990, and continued advances in energy efficiency could reduce the energy consumption impacts substantially. Likewise, continued development of solar, wind and other low-carbon sources of electricity generation could mitigate the increases in carbon dioxide emissions.

As an economist, my view is that the best way to get there is a carbon tax. Higher-priced electricity would slow the adoption and use of air conditioning, while spurring innovation in energy efficiency. A carbon tax would also give a boost to renewable generating technologies, increasing their deployment. Low- and middle-income countries are anticipating large increases in energy demand over the next several decades, and carbon legislation along the lines of carbon tax is the most efficient approach to meeting that demand with low-carbon technologies.

Pricing carbon would also lead to broader behavioral changes. Our homes and businesses tend to be very energy-intensive. In part, this reflects the fact that carbon emissions are free. Energy would be more expensive with a price on carbon, so more attention would go to building design. Natural shade, orientation, building materials, insulation and other considerations can have a big impact on energy consumption. We need efficient markets if we are going to stay cool without heating up the planet.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Riding Trump's Wave, Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke Runs for Senate

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 3:03pm
He promises to be a voice for "European Americans," in Louisiana.

Immediately after Donald Trump's acceptance speech, David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and an early Trump supporter, tweeted: "Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders! Fair Trade! Couldn't have said it better!"

On the heels of the Republican Party's Convention, Duke, promising to be a voice for "European Americans," threw his hat into the ring to run for the Louisiana Senate seat vacated by the retiring scandal-plagued David Vitter.

"Thousands of special interest groups stand up for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Jewish-Americans, etc. etc.," he said in a video announcement. "The fact is that European-Americans need at least one man in the United States Senate, one man in the Congress, who will represent their rights and heritage."

As the New Republic's Brian Beutler recently pointed out, "Donald Trump has made people like David Duke feel as if they're no longer on the fringes." Conversely, Duke has spent his career trying to mainstream bigotry and xenophobia.

"David Duke, the neo-Nazi... is the consummate white nationalist opportunist," Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, told me in an email exchange. "With racist ideas Duke helped incubate now getting a primetime slot on a national ticket, Duke has an opportunity to again seize headlines."

Duke told The Daily Beast: "I've said everything that Donald Trump is saying and more, I think Trump is riding a wave of anti-establishment feeling that I've been nurturing for 25 years."

Like Trump, one of Duke's major issues is immigration. Somewhat like Trump, he appears to be running on a platform of mashed-up populism.

"[Duke] said immigrants are performing an 'ethnic cleansing' of white people, whose ancestors founded America," the Washington Examiner reported. "He also said he would try to pass campaign reform to get big money out of politics and enforce anti-trust laws to 'break up anti-American huge media conglomerates'."

Duke said he is "overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I've championed for years." And declared that his "slogan remains 'America first'," a slogan that Trump has borrowed.

"I would say that Duke's decision to run might be an indication of how far Donald Trump's rather blatant cultivation of white nationalist and white supremacist political support has moved the Overton window," Bruce Wilson, co-founder of Talk2Action and a researcher on the deep structure of the religious right, told me.

According to the National Review's David French, the "Overton window" is a conceptdeveloped by the late Joseph Overton, a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.The "window" refers to "the range of acceptable political discourse on any given topic," he said.

Wilson cited the case of James Edwards, who is "a close personal friend and protégé of Duke." Edwards, who is on the boards of the virulently racist American Freedom Party and the Council of Conservative Citizens -- whose website helped inspire Dylann Roof's murder of nine Black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, last year -- "got a press pass to the convention, broadcast from inside the event, and did interviews with US congressmen and other nationally prominent figures," according to Wilson.

Duke's name was injected early on during the GOP's primary campaign when CNN's Jake Tapper asked Trump if he would accept Duke's endorsement. The Donald maintained that he didn't know who Duke was. It took awhile, but Trump later disavowed Duke's support.

Meanwhile, Duke blamed the Jews for Melania Trump's plagiarized Michelle Obama speech. According to Tablet, in a piece entitled "Did a Jewish Neocon Speechwriter Sabotage Melania Trump's Big Speech?," Duke wrote the following anti-Semitic screed on his personal website:

"Israel's Mossad has a motto: it is "By deception Thou Shalt Wage War."

We know the Jewish establishment of both the NeoCon right and Democratic Left despise Donald Trump. Jewish pollster Finkelstein says that Donald Trump is the most unpopular candidate for President among Jews since David Duke's race of 1992!

Nobody could have been so stupid as to make about five or six common quotes out of Michele Obama's Demo convention speech just a few years before and put it [in] Melania Trump's speech and not think it would get exposed!

This is a con job, sabotage, political character assassination plan from the get go!

Also, it seems as though the operative set up Melania, by leaking it to other Jewish media insiders who repeatedly asked her about the speech before she gave it prodding her to suggest that she came up with most of it but was helped a little by the speechwriter.

I would bet a gefilte fish that this was sabotage. I would also bet a bagel it was orchestrated by an Israel Firster who wanted to damage the American Firster."

Duke has run for office before. He was victorious and served one term in the Louisiana State House. He has also made runs -- as both Democrat and Republican -- for president, US senate and US congress.

"Sadly, the rhetoric of white dispossession coming out of the GOP Convention in Ohio last week was disturbingly reminiscent of Duke's previous campaigns for public office," said Burghart. "With those ideas having moved from the margins to the mainstream, Duke sees one more opportunity to seize power, or at least attract a new group of followers to bilk."

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

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Turkish Authorities Are Committing Mass Torture in Crackdown: Amnesty International

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 1:42pm
Meanwhile, reports are emerging that more than 60 school children have been detained for treason.

The global watchdog organization Amnesty International says it has received “credible evidence” that the Turkish state under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is committing mass torture—including rape—in a crackdown following an alleged coup attempt.

“Amnesty International has credible reports that Turkish police in Ankara and Istanbul are holding detainees in stress positions for up to 48 hours, denying them food, water and medical treatment, and verbally abusing and threatening them,” the organization reported on Sunday. “In the worst cases some have been subjected to severe beatings and torture, including rape.”

Basings its findings on anonymous interviews with lawyers, doctors and “a person on duty in a detention facility,” Amnesty International continued: “Detainees are being arbitrarily held, including in informal places of detention. They have been denied access to lawyers and family members and have not been properly informed of the charges against them, undermining their right to a fair trial.”

The organization’s report is harrowing, including the following description of what prisoners are being forced to endure:

Two lawyers in Ankara working on behalf of detainees told Amnesty International that detainees said they witnessed senior military officers in detention being raped with a truncheon or finger by police officers.

A person on duty at the Ankara Police Headquarters sports hall saw a detainee with severe wounds consistent with having been beaten, including a large swelling on his head. The detainee could not stand up or focus his eyes and he eventually lost consciousness. While in some cases detainees were afforded limited medical assistance, police refused to allow this detainee essential medical treatment despite his severe injuries. The interviewee heard one police doctor on duty say: “Let him die. We will say he came to us dead.”

The same interviewee said 650-800 male soldiers were being held in the Ankara police headquarters sports hall. At least 300 of the detainees showed signs of having been beaten. Some detainees had visible bruises, cuts, or broken bones. Around 40 were so badly injured they could not walk. Two were unable to stand. One woman who was also detained in a separate facility there had bruising on her face and torso.

“Reports of abuse including beatings and rape in detention are extremely alarming, especially given the scale of detentions that we have seen in the past week,” said John Dalhuisen, director for Amnesty International’s Europe branch. “The grim details that we have documented are just a snapshot of the abuses that might be happening in places of detention.”

“It is absolutely imperative,” Dalhuisen continued, “that the Turkish authorities halt these abhorrent practices and allow international monitors to visit all these detainees in the places they are being held.”

Last week, Erdoğan announced that he is placing Turkey under a state of emergency, thereby granting himself broad latitude to take unchecked executive action. Invoking this state of emergency, the Turkish government on Saturday dramatically expanded its powers to incarcerate people without charge for up to 30 days.

According to Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director for Human Rights Watch, that decision followed the “mass detentions of soldiers, the suspension from their jobs of more than 50,000 civil servants, including 15,000 teachers, the forced resignation of more than 1,500 university deans, and a purging of the judiciary: 979 judges and prosecutors were detained, about 632 jailed and another 2,745 judges suspended.”

Meanwhile, reports are emerging that Turkish authorities have detained more than 60 school children for treason and issued arrest warrants for at least 42 journalists.

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Constance Wu's Viral Calling Out of Racist Whitewashing for Matt Damon's 'Great Wall'

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 12:50pm
In 2016, it's time for better representation of diverse actors.

If you’re a fan of “Fresh Off the Boat"—the hit ABC show that, despite the fact that we are living in the year 2016, is unique and groundbreaking because it happens to center on an Asian-American family—you may know Constance Wu as the mom character, Jessica Huang. What you should also know is that Wu is very much not feeling Hollywood’s white savior nonsense, erasure of people of color or indefensible racism. A couple of months ago, in an interview with Vulture, Wu basically took the entire film and television industry to task for the pathetic job it does with representation. Throughout the interview, she offers thoughts that are smart, insightful and totally on-point. Seriously, very worth a read.

More recently, Wu took to Twitter to discuss The Great Wall, a new movie that casts Matt Damon in the lead of a story that takes place during the Northern Song dynasty in China. It’s an absurd and insulting casting choice, and a stellar example of whitewashing. Wu pulled not a single punch in her takedown of the film and the thinking that allows it. It’s pure truth, and she is awesome for saying it. 

The original tweet is below, and there’s a transcription beneath, formatted and edited for easy reading.

 

Can we all at least agree that hero-bias & "but it's really hard to finance" are no longer excuses for racism? TRY pic.twitter.com/mvNet5PrtH

— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) July 29, 2016

 

"We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world. It’s not based in fact. Our heroes don't look like Matt Damon. They look like Malala. Gandhi. Mandela. Your big sister when she stood up for you to those bullies that one time.

"Money is the lamest excuse in the history of being human. So is blaming the Chinese investors. (POC's choices can be based on unconscious bias too.) Remember it's not about blaming individuals, which will only lead to soothing their lame "b-but I had good intentions! but...money!" microaggressive excuses. Rather, it's about pointing out the repeatedly implied racist notion that white people are superior to POC and that POC need salvation from our own color via white strength. When you consistently make movies like this, you ARE saying that. YOU ARE. Yes, YOU ARE. YES YOU ARE. Yes, dude, you fucking ARE. Whether you intend to or not.

"We don't need salvation. We like our color and our culture and our own strengths and our own stories. (If we don't, we should.) We don't need you to save us from anything. And we're rrrreally starting to get sick of you telling us, explicitly or implicitly, that we do.

"Think only a huge movie star can sell a movie? That has NEVER been a total guarantee. Why not TRY to be better? If white actors are forgiven for having a box office failure once in a while, why can't a POC sometimes have one? And how COOL would it be if you were the movie that took the "risk" to make a POC as your hero, and you sold the shit out of it?! The whole community would be celebrating! If nothing else, you’d get some mad respect (which is WAY more valuable than money).

"So MAKE that choice. I know that overcoming your own bias and doing something differently takes balls... Well don’t you WANT balls? Look. I know there are lots of POC who honestly don’t care. Who think I’M being crazy. Well excuse me for caring about the images that little girls see, and what that implies to them about their limitations of possibilities.

"If you were a kid, you should care too. Because we WERE those kids. Why do you think it was so nice to see nerdy white kid have a girl fall in love with him? Because you WERE that nerdy white kid who felt unloved. And seeing pictures of it in Hollywood’s stories made it feel possible. That’s why it moved you, that’s why it was a great story. Hollywood is supposed to be about making great stories. So make them."

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Former Fox Staffer Says Ailes Sexually Harassed and 'Psychologically Tortured' Her for 20 Years

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 12:39pm
Disturbing new details in an already disturbing saga.

New allegations by a former Fox News staffer who says she was sexually harassed and “psychologically tortured” by Roger Ailes for more than 20 years reveal a disturbing a pattern of abuse and manipulation inflicted on female employees by the deposed network chief.

In a lengthy interview with New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, Laurie Luhn, a one-time booker for Fox News who began working with Ailes at his media consulting company in 1990, detailed an account of how the media mogul wielded his power and influence to intimidate her into performing sexual acts on him. “He’s a predator,” Luhn told Sherman.

According to Luhn, Ailes seized upon her poor financial situation in the early '90s and brought her on board at his communications firm, providing her with a job and cash while simultaneously demanding she become his “whore.” Ailes allegedly gave Luhn a “uniform” of a black garter and stockings, and made sure she was available to him at any given moment. Their sexual relationship continued for several years, and Luhn followed him from his communications firm to Fox News in the late '90s, in part because of the job opportunity.

Luhn said she was promoted through the ranks at Fox News, where she enjoyed Ailes’ protection within the company. Meanwhile, the abuse continued. In one of the more disturbing details in the New York magazine interview, Ailes even asked Luhn to bring in other young staffers for “one-on-one meetings” with him:

"By 2006, Luhn said, Ailes was regularly demanding phone sex in the office, but the hotel visits had stopped. Instead, said Luhn, Ailes instructed her to recruit young women for him. 'You’re going to find me "Roger’s Angels." You’re going to find me whores,' Luhn recalled Ailes saying on numerous occasions, urging her to send young Fox staffers his way. He had promoted Luhn to director of bookings, which gave her the authority to hire employees. She said she chose women Ailes would be attracted to. 'You're not expected to hire unattractive people,' she said."

Even more disturbing, Luhn said in 2011 she relayed her decades-long account of Ailes’ abuse in a letter to Fox lawyer Dianne Brandi. A source told Sherman that Ailes denied the relationship to Brandi, but told the lawyer to work out a $3.15 million settlement for Luhn. The settlement included a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting her from “from speaking to government authorities like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the FBI.” 

Luhn’s account comes after reports indicate as many as 20 women spoke with lawyers to corroborate claims of Ailes’ sexual harassment. But she’s the first to speak publicly about actually engaging in a sexual relationship with Ailes in exchange for access and career opportunities. She said she was aware that speaking with New York magazine opened the door for litigation, but was adamant to tell her story.

“The truth shall set you free," Luhn told Sherman. "Nothing else matters."

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From the Mothers of the Movement to Michelle Obama’s Speech, Relive the 10 Most Memorable Moments From the DNC

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 11:09am
A video retrospective of the convention's most resonant moments.

Hillary Clinton closed the 2016 Democratic National Convention with her speech accepting the party’s presidential nomination on Thursday evening, capping a historic week in Philadelphia.

Look back on the most memorable moments from the DNC below:

10. Joe Biden unloads on Donald Trump

On Wednesday, the vice president delivered what was perhaps the most cogent critique of GOP nominee Donald Trump presented by any Democrat to date.

“His cynicism is unbounded,” Biden said. “His lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in a phrase I suspect he’s most proud of having made famous, ‘You’re fired!’ Think about that.”

“Think about everything you learned as a child, no matter where you were raised,” he continued. “How can there be pleasure in saying, ‘you’re fired’? He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That’s a bunch of malarkey.”

9. Gabby Giffords returns to the national stage

The former congresswoman, who was shot in the head during a 2011 massacre that resulted in five deaths, walked to the DNC podium without assistance to deliver a call for gun control and her endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

“Speaking is difficult for me,” Giffords said. “But come January, I want to say these two words: ‘Madame President.’ “

8. Anti-Clinton protesters take to the streets

Lingering tensions from the contentious Democratic primary cycle were on display in Philadelphia, as some jilted Sanders voters voiced their continuing opposition to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. As of Thursday morning, the protests had yielded 103 citations and 11 arrests.

March arrives at FDR Park to chants of "Hell no, DNC, we wont vote for Hillary." #DNCinPHL pic.twitter.com/tb6OMtVpy5

— Colin Deppen (@colin_deppen) July 24, 2016

7. Elizabeth Banks mocks Trump

The actress skewered Trump’s Wrestlemania-worthy RNC entrance with an epic walk-out of her own. “You know, I don’t usually say this about Donald Trump, but that was over the top,” she joked.

Banks continued, “Some of you know me from ‘The Hunger Games,’ in which I play Effie Trinket―a cruel, out-of-touch reality TV star who wears insane wigs while delivering long-winded speeches to a violent dystopia. So when I tuned in to Cleveland last week, I was like, ‘Uh, hey―that’s my act!’ ”

6. Bernie Sanders tears up during his brother’s tribute

Democrats abroad delegate Larry Sanders delivered an emotional speech as he cast his vote for his brother during the presidential nomination roll call. Both brothers struggled to hold back tears as Larry Sanders spoke about their late parents.

“I want to read, before this convention, the names of our parents, Eli Sanders and Dorothy Sanders,” he said. “They did not have easy lives, and they died young. They would be immensely proud of their son and his accomplishments. They loved him.”

5. Hecklers interrupt Leon Panetta

Chants of “Lies!” and “No more war!” from the audience forced the former CIA director and defense secretary to pause during his speech on Wednesday. Pro-Panetta delegates responded with “USA!” chants.

Panetta’s association with controversial aspects of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, including drone strikes, made him a contentious choice, among some Democrats, to burnish Clinton’s credentials as secretary of state.

Crowd chants "USA," "no more wars," "lies" interrupt Panetta's DNC speech https://t.co/H9n7JJUntx #DemsInPhilly https://t.co/0Uv5GIWs93

— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 28, 2016

4. Barack Obama does what he does best

The president returned to the platform where he first rose to national prominence as an Illinois state senator in 2004 to present his case for Hillary Clinton—and against Donald Trump. 

“America is already great,” Obama said. “America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump.”

“America, you have vindicated that hope these past eight years,” he concluded. “And now I’m ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen. This year, in this election, I’m asking you to join me—to reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States, and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation.”

3. The Mothers of the Movement speak out

On Tuesday, nine women whose unarmed African-American children were killed by police officers or gun violence took the stage to chants of “Black lives matter!”

Below is the full list of the mothers and their children, via Mic:

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother ofSandra Bland; Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis; Gwen Carr, the mother ofEric Garner; Cleopatra Pendleton, the mother of Hadiya; Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre; Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown; and Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant.

“This isn’t about being politically correct,” said Fulton. “This is about saving our children. That’s why we’re here, tonight, with Hillary Clinton.”

2. Michelle Obama’s heartfelt speech

The first lady showed why her husband might only be the second-best orator in their family with an emotional address that focused on her daughters and the significance of a woman winning a major party’s presidential nomination.

“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said.

“And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she continued. “And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

1. Hillary Clinton makes history

With the conclusion of the roll call vote on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton officially became the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major party. “What an incredible honor that you have given me,” Clinton said Tuesday in a video message to the delegation. “I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet.”

She continued, “If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say: I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”

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Reheating Food Is a No-Brainer, Right? Chances Are You're Doing It Wrong: Here's the Ultimate Guide to Getting It Right

AlterNet.org - July 30, 2016 - 2:30am
Getting it right when it comes to leftovers can be the difference between a quick meal and a sick day.

Among wealthy nations, Americans cook the least and eat the fastest. On average, Americans spend a paltry 30 minutes per day cooking. For some of us, even that sounds like a lot of time in the kitchen.

“Time is the big impediment to most people,” food writer Michael Pollan recently told the Atlantic. “People have less time and even people who have the same amount of time feel like they have less time. We work long hours, some of us work two jobs, and we have longer commute times.”

With his new Netflix series “Cooked” (based on his book of the same name) Pollan is trying to get people more interested in cooking. But for many overworked and exhausted Americans, spending more time in the kitchen is either an unwelcome hassle or a luxury that is frustratingly out of reach.

In the meantime, one area in which the busiest among us can probably use some improvement is reheating leftovers.

Isn't reheating food as easy as popping last night’s dinner into the oven or microwave or just stirring it up in a pan? Actually, it's not that simple. A lot of us are getting sick because we're doing it all wrong. Plus, it's not just reheating food that's a regular concern of public health officials. We're also not cooling down or storing cooked food the right way.

There’s a way to do all of this so that cooked food not only retains its flavor, but doesn't make us sick.

"Improper cooling and reheating are major causes of foodborne illness," says the New York State Department of Health. The DOH was so concerned about the issue that, in 1992, after meeting with regulators, food industry representatives, restaurant owners and food service operators, the New York State Sanitary Code was amended to establish "new requirements call for changes in cooling and reheating potentially hazardous foods."

Potentially hazardous foods (or PHFs, as they are known to food regulators and public health experts) are foods that are susceptible to the growth of bacteria and require two variables for proper handling: time and temperature. PHFs include cooked or raw animal products, like meat, fish and poultry.

"Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow at temperatures between 45 degrees Fahrenheit and 120 degrees Fahrenheit," says New York's health department. "The cooling requirement limits the length of time that potentially hazardous food is in the temperature range at which harmful bacteria can grow."

When it comes to cooling down already cooked PHFs, the agency recommends the following:

Potentially hazardous foods requiring refrigeration must be cooled by an adequate method so that every part of the product is reduced from 120 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours, and from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below within four additional hours.

Foods that need special attention for proper cooling, according to the DOH, include "soups, sauces, gravies, stews, rice, chili, whole turkeys, turkey breasts and whole roast beef." They also recommend measuring food temperatures with a stem thermometer. 

Even defrosting food properly requires a little more thought: Transfer it from the freezer to the fridge—don’t just place it on the countertop where it is suddenly thrust into a room-temperature environment. You can help speed up the cooling process by spreading the food in a thin layer in shallow dishes. To help hot soups cool down faster, just drop in a few ice cubes, if you don't mind thinning it a little bit.

It seems like an awful lot to consider, especially for time-strapped Americans who just want to save leftovers. But putting hot food in the fridge, defrosting food too quickly and not reheating food to the right temperature—all things we probably do because we're in a hurry—is actually costing us more sick days.

The federal government agrees that improper food handling is a regular problem among Americans. “Not cooking food to a safe temperature and leaving food out at an unsafe temperature are the two main causes of foodborne illness,” says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Safe handling of leftovers is very important to reducing foodborne illness.”

In order to limit bacterial growth, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends that food be refrigerated below 5°C/41°F. The agency also recommends that food be cooked to 57°C/135°F. But for PHFs, the temperatures can be much higher.

The NYS DOH has established the following food temperature requirements for PHFs:

Cooking meals ahead of time—making a week's worth of lunches and dinners on Sunday, for example—is a great timesaver, particularly if you're cooking for more people than just yourself. And reheating leftovers is an easy way to avoid wasting food, which is a massive problem (nearly $200 billion in food market value is lost each year due to food waste in the U.S. alone).

But cooling, storing and reheating food requires a little extra thought and care to protect you and your family from foodborne illness. Hopefully someday, Americans will be able to spend more time in the kitchen making delicious fresh meals from scratch and not waste one morsel. But until then, getting it right when it comes to leftovers can be the difference between a quick meal and a sick day.

Happy to Survive, a website about preparedness and off-the-grid, self-reliant living, has produced “The Ultimate Guide for Reheating Food,” an excellent infographic to help you figure out the best way to enjoy your leftovers. Check it out below.

Infographic produced by Happy to Survive.

 

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Blatant Illegal Job Misclassification Causes Stress and Pain

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 5:46pm
Are gig economy workers independent contractors or indentured servants?

What if millions of American workers were being denied health insurance, job security and the most basic legal protections, from overtime pay to workers compensation to the right to join a union? What if tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer revenues—money desperately needed to address everything from crumbling roads to education to health care—were never making it to local, state and federal treasuries? What if thousands of companies were violating the law with impunity?

That is exactly what is happening in the U.S. today, thanks to a rampant practice known as worker misclassification—illegally labeling workers as independent contractors when in fact they are employees under the law. In some cases it’s occurring in plain sight, in others it’s more hidden—but regardless of the circumstances, it is taking an enormous toll on the country.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), workers misclassified as independent contractors can be found in nearly every industry, and the phenomenon has grown considerably with the rise of the gig economy. Uber, the ride-hailing company, has become the poster child for worker misclassification, with numerous lawsuits alleging that Uber wrongly classifies its drivers as independent contractors. But Uber is hardly alone—examples of worker misclassification can be found in scores of new sectors, from housecleaners to technical workers.

Workers misclassified as independent contractors are also legion in established sectors of the economy, notably residential construction, in-home caregiving and the port trucking industry. Conditions for these workers have been compared to indentured servitude, and for good reason. Misclassification enables employers to get away with widespread wage theft and a range of other illegal practices.

In a 2015 report, EPI described the advantages to employers of misclassifying workers. “Employers who misclassify avoid paying payroll taxes and workers’ compensation insurance, are not responsible for providing health insurance, and are able to bypass requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.” If this weren’t enough, the report continues, “misclassified workers are ineligible for unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, minimum wage, and overtime, and are forced to pay the full FICA tax and purchase their own health insurance.”

How do employers get away with such violations? The answer is complex, involving anemic labor laws, lax enforcement of the protections that do exist and the savvy exploitation of both by companies in key industries. While some businesses misclassify their workers out of ignorance, others do it very deliberately, and have spent millions of dollars defending the practice.

A case in point is the port trucking industry, which was deregulated in the 1980s, leading to a proliferation of companies whose business model was predicated on the use of independent contractors. That model has resulted in a workforce of close to 75,000 truck drivers at ports across the country laboring in mostly abysmal conditions. Among the indignities endured by drivers are such neo-Dickensian schemes as negative paychecks—an inconceivable but well-documented occurrence in which drivers labor full time or more, yet actually owe money to the trucking companies they work for due to paycheck deductions for everything from truck payments to insurance to repairs.

In the last several years, port truck drivers and their labor, community and political allies have begun to successfully challenge misclassification, winning a series of legal victories, particularly in California. Every government agency that’s conducted an investigation into the practices of the port trucking industry—from the United States Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board to the California Labor Commissioner and Economic Development Department—has determined that port drivers are employees, not independent contractors. The state’s labor commissioner alone has issued more than 300 decisions on misclassification of drivers in Southern California, and drivers have prevailed in every decision, winning over $35 million in back pay.

How can these successes be replicated and enhanced to end misclassification? Three strategies stand out:

• Litigation: The successful track record in California has proven that misclassification is vulnerable to sustained litigation. An important factor is whether elected and appointed officials are willing to aggressively pursue or support such litigation—if not, the efforts will yield far less favorable results.

• Policy changes: The enactment of policies that clamp down on misclassification, increase penalties and ban law-breaking companies from operating can have significant impact. However, as with litigation, this strategy depends on the presence of lawmakers willing to take on the issue.

• Worker organizing: In Los Angeles, port truck drivers frustrated with the exploitative conditions in their industry have waged a multi-year campaign to expose the practice of misclassification. That effort, which has included multiple strikes, has been supported by a broad coalition of community groups—a potent combination that has played a crucial role in challenging the trucking industry’s “independent contractor” business model.

Taking on misclassification is important not just to workers, but to businesses and taxpayers as well. In the current system, law-abiding companies are forced to compete with low-road operators, creating an uneven playing field. Likewise, the cost to taxpayers in lost revenues from employers that illegally misclassify workers as independent contractors is enormous, cheating government out of resources that could and should be used for the common good.

Reigning in worker misclassification and the abuse of so-called “independent contractors” is one of the more daunting challenges in taking on economic inequality. But any serious plan to address the nation’s economic divide must include an aggressive strategy to take on this costly epidemic.

  

 

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Judging From the Number of Condoms Awaiting Athletes, There’s Going to Be a Lot of Sex at the Summer Olympics

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 5:23pm
The International Olympic Committee is providing a record number of condoms at this year’s events.

More than 10,000 athletes are expected to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Around 450,000 condoms will be waiting for them in Rio’s Olympic Village. That gives each individual roughly 45 opportunities to enjoy safeguarded sex during the 16 days of competition, suggesting that, while sex is not part of every athlete’s game time ritual, Brazil is likely to go down as one of the world’s most sexually satisfied host countries.

It’s not the first time the International Olympic Committee has helped facilitate a few nights of fun for athletes during game time. When former table tennis international champion Matthew Syed traveled to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics, he walked into a sex-heavy set of circumstances. “The Barcelona games were as much about sex as it was about sport. I got laid more often in those two and a half weeks than in the rest of my life up to that point,” he admitted. That year, officials supplied 90,000 condoms to the Olympic Village.

“There's a lot of sex going on at the Olympics,” Hope Solo, American soccer goalkeeper, told online sex toy site Adam & Eve. “I’ve seen people having sex right out in the open, getting down and dirty on the grass, between buildings.”

The Olympic condom count has been on a staggering rise since the ‘80s. During the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, 8,500 condoms were dispatched to the athletes’ village. Sixteen years later, when the games were held in Athens, that number jumped to 130,000. By the time the 2012 Summer Olympics rolled around, 150,000 condoms were sent out.

This year, we’ve made it to a record 450,000 condoms. But that’s not the only thing making history: 100,000 of those packs will contain female condoms, a form of birth control the committee has never offered before. Given the severity of Brazil’s Zika outbreak, it’s not surprising that officials are experimenting with different forms of safe sex. While the virus produces mostly mild symptoms in healthy people, pregnant women can pass it onto the fetus, a circumstance that has been linked to microcephaly. Children born with the condition often have smaller brains and suffer from developmental delay. And though the virus is most commonly transmitted through mosquitos, cases of sexual transmission have surfaced. The Centers for Disease Control recommends those traveling to an area with Zika wear condoms every time they have during vaginal, anal or oral sex, from start to finish. 

As one contributor for Forbes magazine notes, virtually all athletes competing in this year’s summer Olympics are of childbearing age. Considering that 16 Olympians are known to have competed while pregnant, it is possible some female athletes participating in this year’s events could be pregnant without knowing it. According to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, Zika is most harmful to fetuses of women in their first and second trimesters of pregnancy.

Of course, women aren’t the only ones who need to take precautions. Each suspected case of sexual transmission of the virus within the United States has involved a man who traveled to an area with Zika passing it on to his female partner.

For the sexually adventurous athletes who aren’t thinking about pregnancy, things are likely to take a much lighter tone. If stories from years past can offer any insight as to what will go down this August, it’s that sex and sport often come as a pair.

Skier Carrie Sheinberg said two German bobsledders tried to trade her their gold medals for group sex during the 1994 Games. In 2000, javelin athlete Breaux Greer was supposedly “visited” by three women every single day. In 2010, six athletes had an orgy in a whirlpool at a house outside the Village. Eleven-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte estimates that up to 75 percent of Olympians are having sex during the competitions. And that might be a good thing.

In order to test what effect sex has on athletic performance, specialists at online sex toy retailer Adam & Eve tracked the sexual activity of "21 male and female collegiate and national athletes over the course of three weeks." Both masturbatory and partnered sexual activity were "monitored alongside performance in speed, strength and agility exercises."

The study found that "those who partook in sexual activity on a more regular basis prior to testing demonstrated an improved performance on average." Masturbation increased agility by 10 percent and strength by 13 percent. Actual sex saw increases of only 3.1 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.

“These may seem like such nominal improvements that are pretty inconsequential, however at the pinnacle of sport where fractions of a second or a few millimeters are the difference between the color of your medal, any tiny advantage over your competitors is critical,” Olympic coach Mike Young explained on the report. Though these improvements might have more have a lot less to do with the body than the mind.

Athletes who believed that sex boosted their performance were 68 percent more likely to see improvements in their sporting prowess after “fooling around.” Four in 10 of those who thought any form of sex worsened performance saw jumping, power and acceleration abilities diminish after being sexually active.

“Based off of the research findings I'd say athletes need to listen to their conscious,” Young reported. “When it comes to sexual activity and athletic performance it really is a case where an individual's perception is the same as their reality. If they feel like participating in a sexual activity will improve their athletic performance then it more than likely will and they should strategically seek out opportunities to be sexually active. Similarly, if an athlete feels like sexual activity impairs their athletic performance then it probably will and they should avoid it at all costs."

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Customer Sues Trump National Resort After Bedbug-Infested Room Leaves His Body Covered in Sores

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 5:02pm
Claims that the bed bugs left welts and lumps all over his face, neck, arms and torso.

Donald Trump only builds the classiest hotels, resorts and casinos—but you’d still better watch out for bed bug infestations if you stay at one of them.

PalmBeachPost.com reports that New Jersey man Eric Linder has filed a lawsuit against the Trump National Doral Miami luxury resort because he was allegedly bitten by bed bugs while staying there this past March.

Linder says that this wasn’t just a bite or two, either—he claims that the bed bugs left welts and lumps all over his face, neck, arms and torso.

Linder also alleges that the building had a history of bed bug infestations dating back to at least two months before his stay, and he claims that the people running the resort knew this and still kept setting people up with “unsuitable” rooms.

Linder is asking for at least $15,000 in damages.

 

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Are We Witnessing the Death of Representative Democracy?

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 4:50pm
Billionaires now sponsor presidential candidates (or run for president themselves) the way Renaissance popes and princes once patronized artists.

The following is an excerpt from the book Down for the Count by Andrew Gumbel (The New Press, 2016): 

"Imagine a political system in which votes are bought and sold freely in the open market, a system in which it is taken for granted that people will buy all the votes they can afford and use their power to get more money in order to buy more votes, so that a single magnate might easily outvote a whole city. Imagine a situation in which elections have become a mere formality because one or a few individuals are owners of a controlling number of votes. Suppose that nine-tenths of the members of the community are unable to exert any appreciable influence. Suppose, moreover, that the minority is entitled to very little information about what is being done. That is what the political system would be like if it were run the way business is run." —E.E. Schattschneider

Does representative democracy have a future, or is it just a phase we’ve been going through? If by “representative democracy” we mean a system in which a majority of voters holds meaningful sway over policy outcomes, the game in the United States may already be over.

The corrupting influence of money hasn’t just upended the priorities of elected officials, who now spend more time raising funds than talking to constituents or researching the issues they vote on. It hasn’t just made campaigns more expensive, more media-saturated, and more vicious. The scenario that Schattschneider imagined in 1960 has largely come to pass. Magnates do outvote entire cities, at least in those cases—the majority—where media coverage of political campaigns cannot keep up with the relentless flow of money. For many people living in noncompetitive or uncontested districts, elections have indeed become just a formality. Billionaires now sponsor presidential candidates (or run for president themselves) the way Renaissance popes and princes once patronized artists; where those candidates previously had to sway party committees and state delegates to become viable office seekers, now they need to win over an audience of just one. As the Wall Street Journal observed of the record crop of billionaire-backed Republican candidates for 2016, “The life of their candidacies is now divorced from their ability to directly raise money from voters.” Whether money alone can translate into electoral success remains to be seen, but it can certainly catapult presidential candidates over the first hurdle and into the public limelight.

Jimmy Carter has described the United States as an oligarchy, and a widely publicized academic study published in 2014 went a long way toward backing him up. “Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern wrote. “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But . . . if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Journalists like to divide billionaires involved in American politics into simple categories of good and bad, depending on the point of view. Tom Steyer, the San Francisco hedge fund manager, is good if you’re an environmentalist, bad if you think global warming is a hoax. Charles and David Koch, the Wichita industrialists and energy magnates, are good if you’re a Tea Party Republican, brother devils incarnate if you’re a liberal. That coverage, however, is misleading, because the very rich really are different from you and me. Another recent study comparing the political views of America’s top 1 percent with the electorate as a whole found the billionaire class to be far less committed to excellence in public school education (35 percent against 87 percent of all Americans), less committed to public-sector job creation, less committed to providing viable benefits to the unemployed, and less interested in increasing taxes to support universal health care—or for any other purpose. In short, they skew significantly to the right of the average voter and are generally skeptical about the public sector’s power to generate jobs and beneficial social change. They favor tax cuts over programs for the poor, and deficit reduction over government stimulus plans.

At the same time, the super-rich are far more active politically than most of us, taking full advantage of their wealth to contribute to campaigns and to enjoy the access that their money grants. Two-thirds of the top thousand campaign donors in the 2012 cycle favored Republicans, as one would expect given their overall political profile. Financial services was the sector that gave the most—helping to explain why both parties backed away from aggressive Wall Street reform in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse, despite overwhelming public support, and why the Justice Department under Obama failed to prosecute a single top financial executive. Of those thousand top donors (making personal contributions of at least $134,000 each), 40 percent said they had contacted a U.S. senator, 37 percent a member of the House of Representatives, 21 percent a regulatory official, 14 percent someone in the executive branch, and 12 percent a White House official. Most Americans can barely name their representatives, much less recall chatting with them.

The way billionaires wield influence is rarely as crude and sinister as huddling with elected officials over cigars in some darkened room and plotting ways to subvert the public interest. It’s about access and the flow of information. Long before Citizens United launched the money aspect of politics into the stratosphere, the one-term Georgia senator Wyche Fowler explained the basic problem. “The brutal fact that we all agonize over,” he said in the early 1990s, “is that if you get two calls and one is from a constituent who wants to complain about the VA mistreating her father, for the 10th time, and one is from somebody who is going to give you a party and raise $10,000, you call back the contributor. . . . There’s no way to justify it. Except that you rationalize that you have to have money or you can’t campaign. You’re not in the game.”

Nowadays, of course, it’s unlikely that an ordinary constituent would get through to a senator even once, much less ten times. And, in a world where the Koch brothers are planning to raise almost $1 billion for the 2016 election cycle, $10,000 would barely buy a plate at a fund-raising dinner. Still, being in the game is what continues to drive American politics. Elected officials can disregard the public clamor for strict regulation of the derivatives market and still be in the game. But they can’t turn their back on their Wall Street contributors and say the same thing. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page wrote, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

The same imbalance of access and outcomes applies to longer-standing lobbying groups with specific policy interests, like the National Rifle Association (NRA) or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). These groups don’t just lobby for a particular point of view on domestic or foreign affairs; they use their campaign spending as leverage to close down debate before it can even begin. Congressional members aren’t just afraid of losing their NRA or AIPAC funding if they step too far from the approved line—they are also afraid of how relentlessly these groups might back their opponents and flood the airwaves with negative advertising. The consequence is that the Israeli government endures a fraction of the scrutiny in Washington that it does at home, and even modest gun safety measures with broad popular support do not make it through Congress, no matter how many senseless mass shootings hit the headlines. One does not have to be a critic of Israel or of the NRA’s tireless advocacy on behalf of gun manufacturers to see that taking issues off the table in advance and demonizing even the suggestion of discussing them is not a democratic way of conducting public business.

Schattschneider argued that the genius of the American system, at its founding, was that it broke the monopoly stranglehold that economic elites had held over politics for much of the history of Western civilization and opened society up to vigorous competition between the economic and the political spheres. More conservative political theorists like to argue that capitalism and democracy are two sides of the same coin—that what benefits one will inevitably benefit the other. But Schattschneider took a different tack, one that went against Louis Hartz and other thinkers of his time but perhaps resonates more in our post–Citizens United world. “The public interest resides in the no man’s land between government and business,” Schattschneider wrote. “The public likes competitive power systems. It wants both democracy and a high standard of living and thinks it can have both provided it can maintain a dynamic equilibrium between the democratic and capitalist elements.”

America has now lost that equilibrium and is in danger of being unable to recover it. Another political theorist from the baby boom years, Seymour Martin Lipset, wrote a famous paper arguing that middle-class stability, not just overall prosperity, was essential to a successful democracy. Wealth inequality was poison, he said, because it ate at the very core of that achievement: “A society divided between a large impoverished mass and a small favored elite would result either in oligarchy . . . or tyranny.”

The flood of corporate money that has taken over American politics since the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo ruling in 1976 has coincided with a dramatic and continuing spike in exactly the kind of inequality that Lipset was talking about. The top 1 percent of Americans bring in more than 20 percent of the country’s overall income, while the bottom 90 percent bring in less than 50 percent—a disparity unmatched even at the height of the Gilded Age. Between 1979 and 2012, the income of the top fifth of the population increased 48.8 percent in real terms, while the bottom fifth saw a 12.1 percent drop. Every income group except for the top 20 percent has lost ground in the last forty years, regardless of whether the economy has boomed or tanked and regardless, too, of which party has held the presidency or controlled Congress. The gap between rich and poor stopped widening briefly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, only to start growing again with a vengeance, with the top 1 percent snagging more than 90 percent of new income in 2010.

How does this inequality affect political outcomes? How could it not? One recent econometric study found a direct correlation between the political activity of the super-rich and government commitment to quality public education, which billionaires tend to mistrust; conversely, countries with a greater commitment to public education see broader participation in politics across social classes. In other words, the more billionaires influence the political process, the more they are likely to continue influencing it, because the broader electorate can only become more disengaged and ill-informed as a result of the policies they espouse.

The problem can only get worse in a more globalized economy where capital has become mobile in ways that classical economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo never envisaged. Multinational corporations are far more powerful now than they were in the era of the original robber barons because they have the power to bankroll politicians as long as they remain useful and to close down factories and move investments and jobs overseas if they do not. The history of democracy has been largely a history of the empowerment of the working class, but now we live in a world where much of that working class lives in another country, working in sweatshop conditions for minimal wages, with no voice whatsoever in our electoral process—or, often, their own. Where once industry stayed put and could be regulated, now, to a large extent, it regulates us.

That said, the mass electorate in the United States has hardly laid down and died. The 2008 Obama campaign showed that an insurgent candidate with charisma, the right message, and the right digital strategy can still mobilize a vast number of people. The 2016 campaign, meanwhile, has revealed an extraordinary anti-establishiment populism in both parties. The Internet and social media have changed the landscape of political activism more generally, and while it is too soon to say how effective they can be as a mechanism for countering the power of special-interest lobbyists over the long term, there are certainly promising signs. In 2014, the debate over net neutrality—the question of whether telecoms companies can create a tiered system of Internet access to enhance their own profitability at the expense of less powerful online players—was upended in startling fashion after John Oliver roused his audience to action in a segment on the HBO show Last Week Tonight and embarrassed the Federal Communications Commission into distancing itself from the corporate lobbyists—including a number of former FCC commissioners working for companies they once regulated. Obama himself urged the young audience of The Daily Show, Oliver’s alma mater on Comedy Central, to get involved in issues they cared about and not be daunted by “the money . . . the filters and all the polarization” in contemporary politics. “It doesn’t take that much, I guarantee you,” he said on the show in 2015. “If people are engaged, eventually the political system responds. Despite the money, despite the lobbyists, it responds.”

The barriers to sustained, grassroots involvement remain daunting, however, especially the sort of high-minded, fact-driven involvement Obama had in mind. Study after study has shown that the American public in general is dismally ill-informed, and that those who watch Fox News, the Republican Party’s echo chamber and frequent outrage machine, not only learn nothing but actually become less informed the more they watch. A particularly depressing University of Colorado study in 2012 demonstrated that voters will continue to express strong opinions about lightning-rod issues like health care reform or merit pay for teachers—the sort that Fox pundits love to feast on—even after they try and fail to articulate what the substance of those issues are. In other words, the less voters and grassroots political activists know, the more they think they know. That helps explain the surface allure of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, say, but it’s not a strong premise for mass political participation in anything.

The odds of progressive reform in the electoral arena are similarly steep, and for many of the same reasons. The system makes life so comfortable for incumbents they have little motivation to press for change. Many eligible voters are too disaffected to care, while a noisy minority of partisan activists—on both sides of the political aisle—prefers to resort to knee-jerk theories about cheating by the other side, with or without actual evidence, than to come together to demand a fairer system. One potential bright spot is Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, which has placed voting rights front and center, especially with African American audiences whom she needs to keep fired up if she wants to repeat Obama’s victories in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. Among Clinton’s policy prescriptions are automatic voter registration nationwide, an expansion of early voting, and a repeal of lifetime voting bans on ex-felons—all solid ideas, if they ever came to fruition. Unfortunately, the prevailing view in Washington is that election management should be left up to individual states, and while that’s an obstinate and irrational position given the failure of many states to police themselves to a standard worthy of the country’s democratic ideals, it’s unclear what even a sitting president could do to change it. It certainly does no harm that Clinton is throwing down the gauntlet to her Republican rivals and asking, “What part of democracy don’t they understand?” But, for now, it’s little more than campaign grandstanding.

Copyright © 2005, 2016 by Andrew Gumbel. This excerpt originally appeared in Down for the Count: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America, published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.

 

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Never Has a Demagogue Reached This Point in Our Electoral System Before

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 4:03pm
Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein, who helped bring down Nixon, has some choice words for Trump.

Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein joined Twitter Tuesday the only way an iconic journalist would: With an interview. In a Q&A session hosted through the video-sharing app Periscope, Bernstein critiqued Donald Trump’s nomination, calling this election “the Gettysburg of the American cultural wars.”

“Whoever wins this … whoever wins—the country is going to never be the same,” Bernstein told Twitter’s head of news Adam Sharp. “And it’s going to determine the future of our country for generations.”

Juxtaposing Trump with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Bernstein unloaded on the Republican candidate, characterizing Trump’s positions as “nativist,” and based “on bigotry and a bigoted idea of who we are and who we ought to be.”

“We’ve got to look at Donald Trump as unique in our history in terms of being the nominee of a major party for president,” Bernstein said. “Not only because he comes from outside the political system, but because of the views he holds and how extreme they are.”

“They are based on exclusion and it is totally outside the history of presidents of the United States,” Bernstein added.

Bernstein, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon, also argued Trump is an “authoritarian,” who “comes from a tradition of demagoguery.”

“He doesn’t say, we will do this, he doesn’t say, we will do this through our constitutional mechanisms," Bernstein said. “He doesn’t really believe—as we’ve heard—in the constitutional mechanisms."

“Never has a demagogue reached this point in our electoral system before," he added.

On Trump’s Democratic rival, Bernstein, who wrote a biography of HIillary Clinton, described the former Secretary of State as “having a difficult relationship with the truth.” But he also argued that much of the vitriol aimed at her comes from her position in the “crosshairs” of the culture wars, including the war over whether we should elect a female president.

"She is tenacious, she is able, she stands for certain things that she has not wavered from,” Bernstein said, noting Clinton “has been in the forefront of fighting for women’s rights, children’s rights, the rights of girls, as well as adult women.”

“Regardless of whether she wins or not, she has made it possible for a woman to be the president of the United States,” he said.

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Men, Want to Explore Your Bisexual Side? Here's One Way to Start

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 3:58pm
One lifestyle is starting to open itself up to new relationships and taboo forms of sexual expression.

It is said that swinging took off in the U.S. during World War II, when the mortality rate among pilots got so high many formed pacts to help take care of each other’s wives if one were to die. Before shipping out, the men and their wives would get together, where that layer of emotional support was allowed to turn sexual. 

Today, it is estimated that there are as many as 15 million Americans swinging on a regular basis, though most now refer to the scene as “the lifestyle” and those participating in it as “lifestylers.” Sex researcher Katherine Frank defines the modern swinging lifestyle as a “system of erotic relations and a cultural experience as a way of theorizing beyond identity and the binary oppositions of homo/hetero or straight/queer that often underlie discussions of sexual desire, practice and homophobia.” If an open attitude toward a multi-partnered approach to sexual expression constitutes being “sexually free,” then lifestylers would appear to fall into the top tier.  

Still, no lifestyle, even "the lifestyle," is immune to the social environment in which it functions. Many have dubbed the swing scene a hub of heteronormativity and its participants proponents of that system. Couples and single women are accepted at almost all venues, while single men are typically denied entry. Female bisexuality is encouraged, while spikes in same-sex activity among men remain unexpected, and unusual. But that might not be the case for much longer, because according to the group of insiders and experts we spoke with, the lifestyle may be opening up to same sex exploration for men, too.

Saul, who asked us not to use his last name, runs a Manhattan-based party called DDevious Delights. Involved in the scene since 2001, he sees a need for a new kind of event. “All swing clubs accommodate bisexual women,” he says. “Almost none of them accommodate bisexual guys. For that you’d have to go to gay parties. But they’re not gay. So we’re developing that party.”

“I think that people are getting a little more explorative,” he continued. “I think people are less afraid to express their desires, their kink. Years ago, you wouldn’t have had guys coming out and doing this.”

In 1990, just 4.5 percent of men admitted to having had a same-sex encounter. By 2014, that number had nearly doubled. “What we’re seeing is this movement toward more sexual freedom,” Jean Twenge, the author of the study that chronicled the change, told Time.

More research suggests those involved in the lifestyle today are more likely to favor gay marriage, less likely to condemn premarital or teen sex, more likely to reject traditional sex roles in their relationships, and are “less racist, less sexist and less heterosexist than the general population.” That kind of conviviality seems to present itself in the language adopted by self-identified swingers. Many relate to the idea of being “closeted” and the process of “coming out” to friends and family.    

Today’s scene also appears a bit more inviting than in years past. New technology has made locating people and parties a lot easier. Webcams and video chat have paved the way for different forms of play (yes, cyber swinging is now a thing). Most sexually transmitted diseases are now easily controlled, and even HIV can be treated with some success. But perhaps the most fundamental changes stem from the new sexual landscape people have been carving out over the past few decades. Back in 1973, only 11 percent of Americans believed there was no problem with sexual relations between two adults of the same sex. According to survey data, by 2014, 49 percent of people and 63 percent of millennials believed this kind of relationship was “not wrong at all.”

Still, some resent the tags attached to that behavior. Model Paul LaBlanc (a pseudonym) once told AlterNet, “I am often forced to call myself bi, but I rarely find labels appropriate.” It’s true that we’re getting better at introducing different lines of sexuality, and in order to do that, we need to create terms that allow us to define the conversation. But a return to ambiguity might better serve those holding back to dodge unwanted labels. When we blur the lines, we might find that the stigmas attached to them start to lose their significance. And the swing scene has all the right ingredients to nurture that shift. As Joe Kort, sex therapist and author of Is My Husband Gay, Straight, or Bi?: A Guide for Women Concerned about Their Men, explains, “Circumstance takes away meaning.”

According to Kort, it's the stitching of the swing environment that gives guys a pass to act on their same-sex desires. “In swinging situations, there are women involved. And if there are women involved, it doesn’t seem so gay." In fact, women might be part of the engine driving these experiences between men. According to user data, gay male porn is among the most popular genres for female users. If girl-on-girl is the ultimate guy fantasy, then guy-on-guy could be starting to serve that same purpose for some women. “When you do it for the benefit of the group, you share the responsibility with everyone,” Kort points out.

In her book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, Jane Ward writes, “By understanding their same-sex sexual practice as meaningless, accidental, or even necessary, straight white men can perform homosexual contact in heterosexual ways.”

“It’s not like these guys are necessarily kissing and embracing,” explains Kort. Same-sex encounters at the swing club aren’t necessarily about romance or intimacy. Often times, it comes down to a raw sexual act, and knowing you have permission to pursue it.

As Frank noted back in 2008, "Given the experimental attitudes towards sexuality that many lifestylers express, male same-sex activity may be an eventual extension of risk-taking and erotic exploration." There are countless outlets and experiences that can accompany a same-sex encounter. But the swing scene is increasingly providing a specific context to do so. It allows you to be sexual first, and whatever clipping you’d like to accompany that phrase second. For some, that might be just the right format to start feeling around.

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Why ‘Sharknado 4’ Matters: Do Climate Disaster Movies Hurt the Climate Cause?

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 3:42pm
Despite efforts, researchers have paid less attention to how we’re talking about climate change in a larger cultural sense.

Given that 2016 is expected to be the hottest year on record, with several months that not only surpassed old heat records but did so by increasingly large margins, it stands to reason climate change should be an issue we as a nation are rushing to address. But we’re not, exactly. Instead, climate scientists are subject to political attacks and lawsuits, and debate over whether climate change even exists roils the United States Senate. A reasonable person could be left wondering how the hell we got here.

Social scientists have made great strides in determining what factors influence climate denier attitudes and what kinds of messages have the potential to combat denial. Indeed, a burgeoning movement of academics and communicators are taking on the problem of climate denial with gusto, working nonstop to produce empirically based strategies for getting the message out to the public.

Despite these efforts, researchers have paid less attention to how we’re talking about climate change in a larger cultural sense.

Enter “Sharknado.” On July 31, the fourth installment of the “Sharknado” film series airs on SyFy. The low-budget films are a surprise smash hit, breaking records in 2013 with the original “Sharknado.” It’s led to a series of movies and a variety of media spin-offs, including a video game and companion book.

If you’ve missed this cultural phenomenon, worry not: The film’s title tells you most of what you need to know. Major American cities are suddenly beset with waterspouts flinging man-eating sharks—sharknados—through the air at 300 miles per hour, while characters attempt to survive. The plots are predictably ridiculous and the special effects—particularly in the first “Sharknado”—are about what you would expect from a B-movie.

At their heart, however, the “Sharknado” films are stories about climate change, albeit in a way that is scientifically flawed to a comical degree. It’s a genre—climate disaster films—we decided to explore as an emerging mode of communication in society.

Fiction Helps Us Understand Reality

It’s explained in the original “Sharknado” that climate change has created an unusually strong tropical cyclone approaching Southern California. The sequels backed away from that explanation, whether out of a desire to avoid courting political controversy or simply because the creators felt that sharknados needed no explanation, we can’t be sure. But casting climate change as a catalyst for extreme, globally threatening natural disasters is a move characteristic of a small but growing genre of climate disaster films.

With a few notable exceptions (“The Day After Tomorrow” and “Snowpiercer” come to mind), climate disaster films tend to be low-budget, made-for-television creatures. Silly as they may seem, they represent the first drops in what is sure to be a storm of fictional depictions of climate change as the issue gains more traction in the public consciousness. In a very real sense, these films are the product of a society attempting to grapple with a massive social threat unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Climate fiction films are important for their potential impact on the public. Climate change itself is difficult to observe for those not trained in environmental sciences; typically people don’t notice small changes that happen over time, and carbon dioxide emissions are invisible to the naked eye. Meteorological and climatological records are regularly questioned by climate deniers, some of whom hold political office. Even personal experience may not sway opinions: Research suggests that a person’s political leanings can even affect whether he or she perceives unusual weather patterns to be out of the ordinary.

Some scholars hypothesize that this is where fiction comes in. As researcher David Kirby puts it, fiction can serve as a “virtual witnessing tool” that lets us see the scientific process. Literary scholars tout science fiction’s ability to show us futures that have not yet come to pass without having to live through them. Indeed, one of fiction’s power is this ability to let us explore scenarios and situations in a safe way, without real risk to life or property.

Consider, for instance, the prevalence of fiction about nuclear war during the Cold War. These stories were widely credited with helping society envision the future after a nuclear exchange even as political leaders worked to prevent such an event. Books (and later film adaptations) like “Fail-Safe” and “On the Beach” shaped society’s understanding of the consequences of nuclear war. Television shows like the “Twilight Zone” featured stories—and warnings—about nuclear weapons prominently in their plots. President Ronald Reagan even noted in his journal the television movie “The Day After Tomorrow” had a profound effect on him.

Medium for Misinformation?

What does this mean for climate change? Like nuclear war, a future in which humanity has undertaken no effort to combat climate change is one we hope to never see. Can fiction play a role in shaping our attitudes and beliefs about climate change and encourage the public to take the threat seriously before it’s too late?

handful of studies were conducted around the release of “The Day After Tomorrow.” Similar studies were also conducted on the docudrama “The Age of Stupid” and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” But these studies typically examine only blockbuster films and do not address disaster films as a whole.

The studies generally suggest that fictional depictions of climate change can have an effect on audiences—at least in the short term. Seeing clips of these films tends to raise levels of environmental concern and, in some cases, cause people to be more supportive of action to meet the climate threat.

To get a better sense of how fictional disaster films shape environmental attitudes, I (Lauren) conducted an in-depth analysis of 18 disaster films featuring climate change. The results of my research show that most of these films make only tenuous connections between climate change and natural disasters, which affects how people react to them.

Terminology related to climate change and extreme weather is often misused, and it’s not uncommon to see films that use the term “climate change” or “global warming” to refer to completely different phenomena—some of which are physically impossible and could happen in no world. For example, one film uses climate change to discuss a buildup of methane gas in the atmosphere that is predicted to ignite, incinerating all life on Earth.

The results from focus groups I held with participants who watched one of three representative disaster films confirm that these scientifically dubious depictions of climate change dilute any perceived environmental message in climate disaster films. Most participants were unconvinced—often with good reason—that anything shown in the films could happen in the real world and did not see much of an environmental message.

More worrisome is the possibility for climate fiction films to distribute misinformation. Because many films draw on real terminology used by climatologists and atmospheric scientists to add a sense of realism to their films, audiences may find themselves confused where fiction ends and facts begin.

Here to Stay

There is some precedence for these concerns. Research on historical fiction films suggests that people often remember misinformation presented in fictional narratives and then attribute these “facts” to authoritative sources like textbooks. This has been observed even when participants are warned ahead of time that they will be seeing a dramatization of a historical event that contains inaccuracies.

As society struggles to envision a future shaped by climate change, we will continue to produce works of fiction that depict these futures. Climate disaster films are only one facet of this phenomenon, and more are sure to come.

Follow-up studies examining the effects of “The Day After Tomorrow” on public attitudes toward climate change hint at possible changes.

In the short term, audiences were more concerned about climate change after viewing the film and were more willing to take some political action to combat the threat. Long term, the film seemed to clue audiences in to the problems of climate change, and provided something of a cultural script with which to discuss it.

It’s worth noting, however, that “The Day After Tomorrow” was an exception within the larger climate disaster film genre, both in terms of its production value and its (relatively) detailed discussion of climate change. Low-budget films like “Sharknado,” which stray very far afield from climate science, likely pose different possibilities for both misinformation and engagement with climate change. The question, then, is how to best tap into this potential while avoiding the pitfalls.

 

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In a Huge Win for Voting Rights, Federal Appeals Court Blocks North Carolina's Voter Suppression Law

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 3:32pm
Great news for the upcoming elections.

In an extraordinary ruling, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and granted a broad injunction against North Carolina Republicans’ sweeping voter suppression law. Crucially, the appeals court found that the legislation, which created a strict voter ID requirement, ended same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration, was “passed with racially discriminatory intent.” And unlike recent rulings against new voter ID law in Texas and Wisconsin, which only ameliorated the impact of those laws, this decision blocks North Carolina’s entire voter ID measure.

This ruling is an enormous victory for voting rights, and not just because voter ID will no longer be required at the polls. The finding of discriminatory intent is key because it could ultimately serve as future grounds for placing North Carolina back under the Department of Justice’s “preclearance” regime for 10 years. Many states, mostly in the South, that had a history of racial discrimination once had to clear any changes to voting procedures with the Justice Department, and if they were found to restrict minority voting rights, they were disallowed.

But after the Supreme Court gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, several states like North Carolina swiftly passed new voting restrictions that were no longer subject to the Justice Department’s review. However, a separate provision of the VRA allows the courts to reimpose preclearance, which would present a major obstacle if North Carolina Republicans ever try to impose similar restrictions in the future.

Republican legislators could appeal this ruling, either to the entire 4th Circuit Court of Appeals or to the Supreme Court. However, judges appointed by Democratic presidents now dominate the 4th Circuit, and with the Supreme Court ideologically split four-to-four, a likely deadlock would leave the appeals court’s ruling in place. Still, North Carolina’s restrictive voting law has been effectively blocked for the 2016 election, which could have enormous consequences given its status as a key swing state and home to one of 2016’s most important elections for governor and possible a competitive Senate race as well.

See election law scholar Rick Hasen’s coverage for developing details.

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One in Four Women Are Exposed to Nicotine While Pregnant

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 1:55pm
A new study reveals that pregnant women are under-reporting smoking.

More women are smoking during pregnancy than scientists previously thought, according to a recent study in the Journal of Perinatology.

Researchers at the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children's Hospital reviewed the birth records of 700 women who gave birth at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in 2014 and 2015. The women in question self-reported whether or how often they smoked during their pregnancy. Those answers were compared with the results of urine tests that measure nicotine exposure. 

While 9% of the women surveyed reported smoking while pregnant, the urine tests revealed 16.5% had high levels of nicotine exposure, and an additional 7.5% had low-level nicotine exposure, porbably from second hand smoke.  "We have long suspected that smoking status during pregnancy is under-reported," Dr. Jim Greenberg, director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and the senior study author, said in a press release about the study. "Now we know just how many women struggle to quit smoking when they are pregnant."

The deleterious effects of smoking on newborns are well documented. Prenatal nicotine exposure is associated with a 25% increase in premature births, and is linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and birth defects, according to the researchers. It's also associated with the most common causes of infant death.

The study also revealsed the importance of public health efforts to decrease tobacco and e-cigarette use among pregnant minority women. African American women reported tobacco use rates of 7.9 percent, but that number rose to 21.1 percent using specific measurement of nicotine. 

Some have pointed out that given the pressure that pregnant women are under—and the addictiveness of tobacco—it's no wonder some women have trouble quitting and may be reaching for a source of stress relief. As Emily Oster, an economist and the author of Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong--and What You Really Need to Know, wrote in The Atlantic "Pregnancy seemed to be a world of arbitrary rules." Plus, even trusted books and experts were frequently inconsistent: "They didn't always say the same thing, or agree with my doctor, but they tended to provide vague reassurances ("prenatal testing is very safe") or blanket bans ('no amount of alcohol has been proven safe')." 

Even random strangers are compelled to offer their opinions to pregnant women. Comedian and Inside Amy Schumer Head Writer Jessi Klein describes in a recent New York Times Op-Ed how a woman in a grocery store asked if she was having a natural birth, and when Klein replied no, "She turns and scurries away, like a missionary who’s just been told by a particularly stubborn native that she’s very excited to go directly to pagan hell."

In other words, just shaming pregnant women who smoke is not going to do a lot of good. 

Smoking while pregnant is one of the few things both random strangers and experts agree is not good for women or their babies, but this new information about its prevalence is a sign that we need to focus more on public health campaigns and prevention (for women of all backgrounds), rather than a series of confusing and arbitrary rules. 

 

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Top 10 Reasons U.S. Govt. Seems to Be Fine With Blowing Up Children

AlterNet.org - July 29, 2016 - 1:01pm
This latest story of blowing up 85 civilians in their homes has some people confused and concerned. This should help you out.

Is it really necessary for me to explain to you why it’s acceptable, necessary, and admirable for the United States and its minor allies to be blowing up houses, families, men, women, and children in Syria?

This latest story of blowing up 85 civilians in their homes has some people confused and concerned. Let me help you out.

1. Somebody mistook them for ISIS fighters, determined that each of them was a continuing and imminent threat to the United States, verified a near zero possibility of any civilians being hurt in the process, and determined that some more bombing was just the way to advance a cease-fire in Syria. So this was not only an accident, but a series of unfortunate events, mistakes, and miscalculations of such proportions that they’re unlikely ever to all align again for at least a few days to come.

2. This isn’t actually news. That the United States is blowing up civilians by the hundreds in Syria has been endlessly reported and is really of no news value, which is why you don’t hear anybody at presidential conventions or on TV talking about it, and why you shouldn’t talk aboiut it either if you know what’s good for you.

3. Quite a lot of families actually got away without being blown up and are now refugees, which is truly the ideal thing to be in Syria, which is the most totally prepared place for more refugees in the history of the earth, or would be if liberal internationalist do-gooders would provide some aid and stop whining about all the bombs falling.

4. Who gets labeled a “civilian” is pretty arbitrary. The United States has killed thousands of people who clearly were not civilians, and who likely had no loved ones or anyone who would become enraged by their deaths. So why lump particular groups of families into the category of “civilian,” and why just assume that every 3-year-old is a civilian, and then turn around and complain with a straight face when the government labels every 18-year-old male a combatant?

5. Houses do not actually have feelings. Why be so bothered that people are blown up in their houses? I’ll let you in on a little secret: The word “battlefield” hasn’t meant anything that looks like a field for decades. They don’t even have fields in some of these countries that don’t know any better than to get themselves bombed over and over again. These wars are always in houses. Do you want the houses bombed or do you want the doors kicked in? Because when the Marines start kicking in doors and hauling people off to torture camps you whine about that too.

6. People who live in an ISIS territory are responsible for ISIS. Even those who didn’t vote in the most recent ISIS election have a responsibility to get themselves burned alive, and if not then they are responsible for the evil of ISIS and ought to be burned alive by Raytheon missiles which at least make somebody some money in the process for godsake. And if ISIS won’t let people flee its territory, but won’t burn them alive, then it’s time for the international community to step in with efficient burning-alive systems that meet international standards.

7. Donald Trump has sworn he would start killing families. If the U.S. government does not continue its centuries-old practice of killing families, Trump might gain support and endanger us all by creating the new policy of killing families.

8. When airplanes take off from Turkey to commit mass murder in Syria, it helps to bring Turkey back into the community of the rule of law and international respect for human rights, following the recent coup attempt. Keeping U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey serves a similar purpose.

9. Sometimes when you blow people up in their houses, their heads can remain on their bodies. When U.S.-armed moderates behead children, they’re doing it for the goal of moderating the moderation of moderate allies and allied moderates. But when the United States kills directly, it is important that there be a chance of some heads remaining on bodies.

10. Unlike every other country on earth, the United States is not a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so, in the words of the great Thomas Friedman, suck on this.

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