Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Ben Carson's Idea of a Tithe-Like Tax Plan Scares Me - October 3, 2015 - 6:19pm
“You’re arguing with a politician as though facts matter to what a politician says."

ile astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson largely refused to rip Ben Carson during Friday’s episode of Real Time, he did admit to feeling uncomfortable with one of the Republican candidate’s proposals.

“He basically is saying, ‘I want you to pay 10 percent,'” Impact Strategies CEO Angela Rye explained to host Bill Maher. “So his new tax plan is for everyone to pay 10 percent because that’s what you do in church.”

“You know what spooks me a little bit about that?” deGrasse Tyson interjected, before adding that it was Carson’s use of religious doctrine as the basis for an economic platform.

Carson first mentioned the 10-percent flat tax idea this past May, openly stating that it was based on tithing. However, the plan was quickly criticized by economists.

At one point in the discussion, deGrasse Tyson chided Maher for describing the former John Hopkins neurosurgeon as a “smart stupid person.”

“Maybe he’s smarter than you think, because he’s rising in the polls, so it’s working,” the Star Talk host said. “You’re arguing with a politician as though facts matter to what a politician says.”

DeGrasse Tyson said it was a “luxury” for Maher to criticize Carson when the host was not running for office.

“I don’t beat politicians on the head. You know what I do? I’m an educator,” deGrasse Tyson explained. “So my task is to educate the electorate.”

“And the rest of us are a*sholes if we’re not running for president?” Maher asked.

“Maybe you should be attacking the people who are voting for him,” deGrasse Tyson countered.

Watch the discussion, as posted online on Friday, below.

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Why the Media Judged Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham's Book Deals So Differently - October 3, 2015 - 6:06pm
Schumer's lauded for leaning in "like a boss" while Dunham was pilloried for thinking she was worth millions — why?

Yesterday, news broke that Amy Schumer had returned a $1 million book advance, with interest, to HarperCollins in order to hold out for and successfully negotiate a new book deal worth $8-$10 million with Gallery Books.

The working title for the book of essays is “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo,” The Hollywood Reporterconfirmed. According to The New York Times, “Some of the sample essays explored heavy themes like her father’s illness and alcoholism and a traumatic sexual experience, according to publishing executives.” The sale’s official announcement on publishing news website Publishers Marketplace described it as “a collection of comedic essays about her life, ranging “from the raunchy to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing” (via Jennifer Sinsheimer on Twitter).

The news of Schumer’s cunning negotiating earned her almost universal praise across the internet. As Erin Cook put it at Marie Claire Australia, “In this instance, Schumer managed to lean in so far that her nose nearly touched the ground. Sheryl Sandberg would be proud.”

John “Roman” Romaniello, co-author with Adam Bornstein of “Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha,” gives insight into similar negotiations that helped them land a seven-figure, two book deal with HarperOne:

The first publisher we met with offered us a $400,000 “preempt” (preemptive offer).  This is an “exploding offer” that you have a short time to consider and that usually prevents you from meeting with other publishers. We considered it but decided to turn it down. (We’ll cover the “why” of both events later on in this post.)

The gambit (and gamble) paid off. Our proposal — and, I have to imagine, our refusal of the preempt — made quite a splash. Publishers who hadn’t seemed interested the week before suddenly clamored to set up meetings.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story to me, though, is that nobody seems to be questioning whether Schumer’s advance is outsize, as happened with Lena Dunham’s reported $3.7 million book advance for “Not That Kind of Girl.” Instead, Schumer’s business savvy is what’s playing a starring role in most news stories, with headlines like Vulture’s “Amy Schumer Canceled a Book Deal Only to Get an Even Better One — Like a Goddamn Boss.” As Megan Reynolds wrote at The Frisky, “Like everything in life, there’s a lesson here, but this one is clear and strong and true: know your worth. Understand your value. Don’t be afraid to take charge of whatever the fuck it is you want to do, and understand that whatever they’re offering you, you’re probably worth more than that. Follow Amy’s lead. It will be worth your time.”

I’d venture that Schumer’s strategy of believing her book was worth more and making sure she got a higher figure—one that, not incidentally, has made headlines and generated further buzz for the book—is part of what will drive people to want to read it, in part to see whether it holds up to the hype, and in part, perhaps to find out what she’s gone through that’s made her so tenacious.

Clearly, she took the project very seriously, and didn’t want to risk any chance of the content of her proposal being leaked, as Dunham’s was. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Secrecy surrounding the project was tight. Editors had to go to the offices of Schumer’s book agent David Kuhn to read the proposal. Eight publishers bid on the project.”

Flavorwire highlighted the different treatment Dunham received, including having her book proposal posted on Gawker (before being taken down at the behest of Dunham’s lawyer) vs. that of actor and comedian Aziz Ansari, for “Modern Romance,” strongly suggesting that gender played a role in the pre-publication press around the deals, much of it questioning Dunham’s writings’ worth while offering praise, or at least neutrality, for Ansari.

When Dunham’s deal was announced, numerousarticles crunched the numbers, wondering if Random House would likely earn back enough to cover the large advance. But with Schumer’s deal, that seems almost beside the point. If Gallery Books thinks she’s worth $8-$10 million, then, to put it simply, she is. Even her former publisher isn’t up in arms about missing out on the chance to work with her. Michael Morrison, publisher and president of HarperCollins, told The New York Times, “I can’t say that I was surprised that Amy decided to cancel our contract. Amy is driven, hysterical and really has her pulse on the culture. She deserves all her success and is obviously smart; she knew that delaying her book would reap huge benefits when the time was right.”

Obviously, the rest of us are not going to be following Schumer’s footsteps in terms of bargaining in the millions, but perhaps the praise for Schumer’s financial wisdom stems in part from our desire to similarly stand up for ourselves, especially for women who may see her as a role model. A new study, Women in the Workplace, by & McKinsey and Company of 118 companies and almost 30,000 employees found that these types of workplace negotiations often go down very differently depending on the worker’s gender. “When a woman asserts herself, she is often called ‘aggressive,’ ‘ambitious,’ or ‘out for herself.’ When a man does the same, he is seen as ‘confident’ and ‘strong.’ As a result of this double standard, women can face penalties in the workplace like missing out on hiring or advancement opportunities and salary increases.” These accusations—which, in this instance, aggressive, ambitious and out for oneself are in this instance—haven’t been hurled against Schumer regarding her book, as far as I can tell.

The study echoes what wealth coach Barbara Stanny, author of “Secrets of Six-Figure Women,” wrote in anarticle on salary negotiation: “In my experience, when you value yourself, people automatically put a higher value on you too.” Therefore, it makes sense that, especially since we don’t have any of Schumer’s written work to go on, her decision to get as much as she can while she’s in the spotlight is being so roundly applauded.


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5 Right-Wing Idiocies this Week: O'Reilly's Dangerous Gun Violence Delusion - October 3, 2015 - 4:48pm
Fox News dished out some extra crazy talk this week.

The week began with an attempted massacre of Planned Parenthood in Congress and ended with another horrific mass shooting in Oregon. Conservatives grilled the head of the organization that provides healthcare to poor women as if she were a criminal, and then threw up their hands saying nothing can be done about gun violence. Poor healthcare and random gun deaths are just the price you pay for freedom, they say. Or as Jeb Bush so brilliantly articulated: "Stuff happens." Here are five low-lights from the week that was: 

1.  Bill O’Reilly: We can’t do anything about gun violence. I really can't think of a single thing.

In the wake of another sickening mass shooting, Papa Bear O’Reilly had this sage advice for his flock: Be sad and do nothing. Do not delude yourselves that there is something that can be done, because there is nothing.  Because freedom. And guns. That's the American way.

O’Reilly seemed most concerned that these shootings might be hurting America’s reputation in the world. Here is Papa’s hollow sounding sadness:

This is another black mark for all Americans. People around the world must wonder what's going on in the land of the free. And it is our freedom that allows insane individuals to kill so many people. Guns are legal in America under the Second Amendment. Tonight, President Obama delivered an impassioned anti-gun remark speech, which we'll discuss later.

Then he went on to discuss it anyway, mostly his gambit to nip any discussion about gun control in the bud:

The mass murder today could not have been prevented by any legislation in my opinion. Roseburg, Oregon is about as normal as it gets. A rural area that enjoys the stunning nature Oregon provides, and a relatively simple lifestyle centered on family and community. I worked in Oregon, I visited Roseburg. It's a calm place. But it's also gun country, as hunting is big in the area and the rural setting means folks must protect themselves with firearms, as police protection is far away for many people.

Really, people must protect themselves with firearms? Are you sure about that Papa Bill?

It pains me to report stories like this because I know how much personal damage is caused to the people and families affected by murder. The country itself takes a massive hit whenever this kind of thing happens. Thirty-two people killed at Virginia Tech, 27 slain at Sandy Hook. Thirteen murdered at Ft. Hood, 13 dead in Binghamton, New York, 12 murdered in Aurora, Colorado, the same number at the Navy Yard in Washington. Charleston, South Carolina just last June, nine shot dead in a church. There is no rational explanation for all the carnage, none. And no public policy will stop it.

So, this is progress, if in a microscopic way. The small admission that there just might be a problem with gun violence, and that other countries don't seem to have this porblem. But we can’t solve it. It’s too hard. Or too distasteful and would hurt our backers. So why bother? And anyway, we don’t really want to. 

2. Jeb Bush’s deep and consoling thought on Oregon shooting: ‘Stuff happens.’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush reportedly told a South Carolina crowd on Friday that gun control is not the answer to reducing gun deaths in the U.S. because "stuff happens."

"I had this challenge as governor. Look, stuff happens,” Bush shrugged in response to a question of whether the time is right for some sensible gun control. “There's always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do." 

Asked later if he wanted to rephrase or clarify his remark, if he perhaps spoke too cavalierly, was mistaken or misquoted, Bush doubled down:

"No, it wasn't a mistake, I said exactly what I said. Explain to me what I said wrong. Things happen all the time. Things. Is that better?"

So irritating for him, to have to try to use more sensitive language. Stuff! Things! This political correctness thing is so out of control, it’s oppressive!

3. Sean Hannity is hopping mad that the president ‘politicized’ the shootings.

The Oregon community college shootings were horrible, but what really had Sean Hannity angry was that President Obama spoke about them, and had the audacity to suggest there might be something we can do to prevent such tragedies. How dare he!

“I was really disgusted with the president’s comments tonight,” Hannity said angrily on his show, “His race to politicize this.”

Hannity and his idiotic guest, former cop turned right-wing personality Bo Dietl, proceeded to not politicize the tragedy at all by talking about how wrong any sort of gun control arguments might be, and how the president is the only one who is politicizing it. “When the president said today, ‘This is a political choice we’ve got to make, that we make to allow this to happen,’ that is a gross lie by this president!” Hannity sputtered. He then unpolitically advocated putting armed guards in schools to keep kids safe. See, Mr. President, that’s how un-politics are done!

Also, unpolitically, Hannity brought up the rumor that the shooter might have been a Muslim terrorist. Nope, no politics anywhere to be seen on apolitical Hannity's show.

4. Dr. Ben Carson, man of science, is not so sure about gravity.

Former pediatric neurosurgeon, top-tier Republican hopeful Dr. Ben Carson has taken his hilarious science denial act on the road, and he’s testing it out on lucky crowds all over this great country. Carson has previously expressed doubts about the Big Bang, evolution (which he speculates might be from the devil—ha ha! Stop Dr. Carson, you’re making our stomachs hurt from too much laughter), climate change, vaccine science and the biological roots of sexuality. This week, he free-associated on the weighty topic of gravity while on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. And frankly, he’s not so sure about it.

“Gravity, where did it come from? I mean, there are so many things,” he said, in a riff on his skepticism regarding the ‘Big Bang’ theory vs. Biblical creation. “I don’t denigrate the people who say ‘Eh, eh, whatever, somehow it happened.’ I don’t denigrate them. I just don’t have that much faith.”

This semi-coherent aseemblage of sort-of sentences issued forth when an audience member asked him if he really does not believe in climate change. Carson responded that, of course climate is changing, “At any point in time, temperatures go up and down. When that stops happening, that’s when there is big trouble.” That’s about as unscientific as you can be on that topic since, of course, he is confusing weather with climate, a rookie mistake.

Carson went on to say that of course, we should take care of the environment, and there is “no reason to make it a political issue,” forgetting perhaps that the issue has been politicized by right-wing science deniers and ignoramuses. So, yeah. WTF is he talking about?

5. Republican Congressman: Planned Parenthood is not necessary, because as a guy with great health insurance from the taxpayers, I don't need it.

During this week’s Planned Parenthood hearings, the tin-eared award goes to Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman, a Republican congressman from Minnesota who told the CEO of the women’s healthcare provider that he just does not find her organization necessary. As a man enjoying great government-funded health insurance, he has plenty of other options. Bully for him.

When I look at cities around me that have a Planned Parenthood clinic … usually in those cities, as a guy, I could go to many clinics locally that have all the machines that one would need, all these clinics as far as I know take Medicaid dollars, so you could go to any of those clinics to get any medical service you could. . . . I guess what I’m getting at is if Planned Parenthood disappeared tomorrow in those towns, there would still be three or four or five clinics or hospitals providing all the … medical care you would want.

Grothman's general outlook on Medicaid is almost as dim as his view of Planned Parenthood. He has then claimed in the past that people who use the public safety net are fleecing taxpayers by living high on the hog, and not having to pay deductibles like those with private insurance do.

Women and poor people have all the luck! 





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Secrets of the GOP Science War: How Spin-Masters and Pundits Confuse Conservatives About Facts - October 3, 2015 - 3:32pm
Conservatives have become much less trusting of science. A cynical right-wing campaign is behind that

When scientists announced the discovery of water on Mars recently, Rush Limbaugh drew the obvious conclusion: It was all part of a conspiratorial plot:

LIMBAUGH: If there was once all that water on Mars, and there is a lot of water here on earth, what’s going to happen to our ocean? How did the water vanish?

My point is, they’re presenting all this stuff to you as fact just like they’re presenting everything involving global warming as scientific fact. It`s nothing but wild guesses. It’s nothing but based on computer models which is the result of data input that who knows if it’s legit or not.

That’s to be expected from Limbaugh, I suppose. If you’re a huckster by trade, the truth is your enemy—and not just the truth, but the very possibility of truth. The veryexistence of science is a threat to you. So naturally, if you’ve got as much time to fill as Limbaugh does, you engage in war on science. But the real problem isn’t Rush Limbaugh, it’s the way that the entirety of the GOP adapts to him in various different ways—especially those who are deemed “sensible” in the world of bipartisan consensus, whose job it is to make plausible excuses for their sorry party.

Case in point: GOP strategist Liz Mair, who back in March was abruptly fired after just one day as a Scott Walker online strategist, in response to outrage over an earlier set of tweets critical of Iowa during a January forum. After her firing, Mair fired off a long tweet storm clarifying her views, which she did again—with a more critical edge—just after Walker left the race a few weeks ago. In short, if there’s anyone working inside the GOP likely to be honestly critical of its problems, it’s Mair. Which presumably is why MSNBC likes having her on. But Limbaugh’s anti-science conspiracism clearly illuminates the limits of such critical honesty.

Thus, when Chris Matthews played that clip of Limbaugh and opened up a discussion on “Hardball” on Sept. 29 [transcript], Mair didn’t come to Limbaugh’s defense, but she did find a way to confuse matters further, taking the heat off the science-fearing, science-hating GOP base and blame-shifting to society at large. Before she spoke up, Jonathan Chait made a sensible point:

CHAIT: So, conservatives, in general, have grown more and more distrustful in polls of science over the course of the last four decades. They used to be more trusting of science than liberals now, they’re much less. And specifically with global warming, what they have is a conspiracy theory. They don’t have an alternative scientific theory.

So it fell to Mair to obfuscate, to undo that degree of clarity. “Science has worked for mankind across the board,” Matthews said. “When did it become the enemy of the hard right?” And Mair responded:

MAIR: I don’t think it’s just the enemy of the hard right. I actually think that we’re in a period in society where there are a lot of people who are very skeptical of discovery and science in general. I mean, when we had the debate about vaccines, right, and we were looking at the resurgence of awful illnesses because people weren’t having their kids vaccinated, a lot of that was center centered in very, very liberal enclaves of California. I think unfortunate —

MATTHEWS: They were afraid to get their kids vaccinated —

MAIR: They believe it’s going to give them autism, right?

I think we’ve reached a place in society, and maybe Rush Limbaugh’s comments are manifestation of this, where a lot of people just don’t prioritize discovery or science anymore. I mean, remember in the 2012 election how much Newt Gingrich was derided for all of his talk about moon bases and space exploration, right?

So as Mair is framing things, “a lot of people just don’t prioritize discovery or science anymore,” and they’re all over the map ideologically. She says that “maybe Rush Limbaugh’s comments are manifestation of this” [my emphasis], and maybe they’re not, I guess. “Who knows?” as Rush himself would say.

But there are a two major flaws in her argument. First, there’s actual data supporting Chait’s claim that conservatives alone have become much less trusting of science, and it’s not very scientific of Mair to just ignore that data, because she doesn’t like it, and try to counter it with anecdotes.

2012 paper by Gordon Gauchat in the American Sociological Review, using data from the 1974 to 2010 General Social Survey—the gold standard for public opinion research—found that “group differences in trust in science are largely stable over the period, except for respondents identifying as conservative. Conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates, and ended the period with the lowest.”

There’s also much broader evidence that liberalism is correlated with one of the “big five” personality traits, “openness to experience,” as discussed by Chris Mooney in his 2012 book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality” and in my review of it. Thus, to the extent that science involves prioritizing discovery, Mair is arguing against an impressive range of data.

Second, both of Mair’s anecdotes misrepresent the actual stories of what was going. In California, elected Democrats didn’t indulge the anti-vaxxers, they pushed back, and passed a law requiring all schoolchildren to be vaccinated—over GOP opposition, by the way. As for Gingrich’s space-talk in 2012, folks weren’t laughing at the idea of space exploration, they were laughing at Gingrich’s snake oil routine and his pretense of being a serious thoughtful leader.

The real stories surrounding both anecdotes are illuminating, so let’s take a closer look at each in turn. First off, while it’s true that a lot of anti-vaccine sentiment was seen in liberal enclaves around Hollywood, as the Hollywood Reporter explained in detail last year, the reasons cited weren’t that those not vaccinating their children “just don’t prioritize discovery or science.” It was much more complicated than that:

Today, on the Westside, those who abstain from vaccinating their kids see refusal through their own socio-anthropological lens. “They’re well intended — the people that only want to do the best for their child. They want only natural products, organic foods, attachment parenting, family beds,” says Dr. Lisa Stern, a Santa Monica pediatrician. Observes Dr. Neal Baer, a trained pediatrician and veteran TV writer-producer (ER) who wrote an episode of Law & Order: SVU about the public health consequences of vaccine refusal, “It’s about not wanting to have anything that isn’t ‘natural’ in your child — this whole notion of the natural and holistic versus the scientific.”

Baer’s framing of “the natural and holistic versus the scientific” reflects a broader cultural construct, but it’s inaccurate. Using products of scientific discovery without adequate risk-assessment is more properly described as “the technocratic” approach, rather than “the scientific,” or even as “the techno-corporate.” Determining where “the scientific” leaves off and “the technocratic” or “the techno-corporate” begins may not be so easy to discern. The story continued:

According to those on both sides of the issue, this demographic is unafraid to take on the medical establishment. “They are not intimidated by the authority of the doctor,” says Brendan Nyhan, Ph.D, a political scientist at Dartmouth who has studied parents who are vaccine skeptics. “Educated, high-income people are more likely to feel confident in standing up to doctors or seeking out ones who are more favorable to alternative schedules and selective vaccination.”

So, the irony here is that some of what’s motivating anti-vaxxers is actually a personalwillingness to discover, however flawed their execution might be, which may then be taken advantage of by people with various different agendas. In short, it’s nothing like the clear-cut, simplistic picture casually tossed out by Mair.

But what was remarkably clear-cut was what happened once the issue entered the public policy realm: Democratic politicians overwhelmingly looked to the science, while Republicans ignored and fought against it. A bill that would ban personal, religious exemptions for vaccinations, co-written by a pediatrician in the state Senate, Richard Pan, was passed by the state Legislature with strong Democratic support, and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. In the California Senate, Legiscan–which tracks legislation in all 50 states—identified the bill on the political spectrum as “Strong Partisan Bill (Democrat 27-2).” The overall vote on its third reading was 46-31, so a substantial majority of Republicans opposed it. In the California Assembly, just a handful of Democrats abstained (3) or voted no (5), while just two Republicans voted for the bill. An effort to overturn the law through the referendum process, just filed in late September, was led by former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, and former member of the anti-immigration Minuteman organization, who placed third in California’s open primary governor’s race in 2014.

Collectively, what all this shows is how differently organized liberals and conservatives respond when questions are raised involving science. Liberal Democrats could haveplayed to the anti-vaxxer fears of parents, the same way that conservative Republicans have played to the anti-science fears of their base, but overwhelminglythey chose not to.

Mair’s second anecdotal example is even more misleading. Again, here’s what she said:

I think we’ve reached a place in society, and maybe Rush Limbaugh’s comments are manifestation of this, where a lot of people just don’t prioritize discovery or science anymore. I mean, remember in the 2012 election how much Newt Gingrich was derided for all of his talk about moon bases and space exploration, right?

But what did those with actual knowledge of space technology have to say back then, when Gingrich promised a permanent lunar base by 2020, along with “the first continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars”? Were they all gung-ho in support of Newt? Well, not exactly. The problem was a lack of realism on Newt’s part, both about what it would take technologically and financially. Not to mention what it would take legally and constitutionally: Gingrich also promised that the American colony could eventually become a state—a direct violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, as was noted at the time.

Although space exploration was anything but a new concern of Newt’s, he had never delivered much of anything in the past, so his pronouncements in advance of the Florida primary drew a lot of skepticism from industry experts, as the Daily News reported (“Newt Gingrich’s moon base plan a ‘cheap trick’ to get votes, space experts say”):

“It’s a gimmick,” said Howard Chipman, CEO of Aurora Aerospace, a facility near Tampa that offers astronaut training. “It’s a cheap trick to get some Florida voters because of all of the space jobs here.”

Chipman said that while the idea of a lunar colony is laudable, the project would cost billions upon billions more than American taxpayers are willing to pay.

“Bush promised for us to go to the moon. The politicians promise to make goals but they don’t back it up with funding and resources to back the task,” he added….

Frank DiBello, CEO of Space Florida, the state’s economic development agency for the aerospace industry, said Gingrich’s timeline is “a little implausible,” noting the technology to support long duration space flights to Mars does not exist.

As the Guardian’s science correspondent Alok Jha noted, the problem wasn’t science, it was money. “In 2004, President George Bush called for a return to the moon, followed by Mars expeditions. NASA duly came up with the Constellation programmme,” but neither Bush nor the Congress ever came close to funding it. Its timeline was instructive, though, for placing Gingrich’s grandiose handwaving in perspective:

Two years later [2006], the space agency unveiled plans to build a permanent moon base within 20 years [2026], which could be used as a launch site for future missions to Mars….

NASA’s plan was that, by 2020, four-person crews would make week-long trips while power supplies, rovers and living quarters were being built on the lunar surface. In the mid-2020s, when the base was fully-built, people would stay for up to six months at a time to prepare for longer journeys to Mars. By the end of the decade pressurized roving vehicles could take people on long exploratory trips across the lunar surface.

So, six years later, Gingrich was proposing to get a full-time moon colony up and running six years earlier than NASA had projected in 2006? A delivery schedule cut by 60 percent? Paid for… how, exactly? Sorry, Liz, but folks weren’t laughing at the idea of exploration. They were laughing at Newt’s P.T. Barnum-style of pandering about it.

Newt, of course, had a long history of proposing grandiose techno-schemes to make himself seem like a “visionary.” At the time, Mother Jones dredged up some examples, mostly from his first book, “Window of Opportunity,” published in 1984. These included ideas like cutting the food stamp budget to buy space shuttles (“Food stamps crowded out space shuttles”); cutting farm subsidies and sending farmers to space (“If we’d spent as much on space as we’ve spent on farm programs, we could have taken all the extra farmers and put them on space stations working for a living in orbiting factories”); and mining the moon (“The moon is an enormous natural resource, possessed of more than enough minerals and materials to provide everything a self-replicating system needs”); not to mention using mirrors to create man-made climate change…and fight crime!

The problem with Newt’s schemes is that almost all of them were harebrained. So, when he became speaker of the House, one of his top agenda items was getting rid of folks knowledgeable enough to see through his BS. I’ve told this story several times before (here and here, for example), so I’ll cut to the chase. When Gingrich was riding high in late 2011, Bruce Bartlett, a top economic adviser to presidents Reagan and Bush I, wrote a piece titled “Gingrich and the Destruction of Congressional Expertise,” where he explained:

Because Mr Gingrich does know more than most politicians, the main obstacles to his grandiose schemes have always been Congress’ professional staff members, many among the leading authorities anywhere in their areas of expertise.

To remove this obstacle, Mr Gingrich did everything in his power to dismantle Congressional institutions that employed people with the knowledge, training and experience to know a harebrained idea when they saw it.

On becoming speaker, Gingrich slashed the professional staffs of the House committees, and completely abolished two congressional agencies, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The OTA is what concerns us here, because it was the worldwide model agency for in-depth evaluation of scientific and technological questions: the best BS-detecting government agency on the planet. Naturally Gingrich wanted it dead, because invention alone is only one part of science. It’s not nearly enough to just brainstorm ideas, you’ve got to winnow out the ones with the best chance of standing the test of time.

That’s the thing about science. It really does depend on imagination. As Einstein said,it is more important than knowledge. Yet, at the same time, imagination has to pass the test of nature: It has to prove itself in the real world. The very rigor of this test helps to invigorate the scientific imagination. And so, the truly imaginative, truly daring thinkers welcome the testing of their ideas.

That is what liberals have done. They created the OTA in the first place, in 1972, after 40 years of almost uninterrupted control of the House. Conservatives destroyed it in 1995, within a year of taking it over for the first time since 1954. And our country has been much poorer for it ever since—much poorer, and more filled with foolishness. There’s the massive, flamboyant foolishness of figures like Limbaugh and Gingrich (and more recently, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina), which shapes the grand outlines of one mass delusion after another. And then there’s the infill foolishness of operatives like Liz Mair, working overtime to obfuscate the most basic of fundamental facts.

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Richard Dawkins & Bill Maher Still Baffled Why So Many Liberals Think They're Bigots -- Here's Why - October 3, 2015 - 1:19pm
Their moral libertarianism and attacks on Islam don't make them edgy "truth tellers".

Bill Maher and his good friend, Richard Dawkins, sat down on his show Real Time Friday night for the fifth time in almost eight seasons. Their discussion, per usual, was an agreeable, tedious mix of self-victimization and indignation about why so many on the left - specifically the Twitter left - think their obsession with "radical Islam" makes them bigots.

"It's so dumb, because all the people who are accused of being Islamophobes like you and me and Sam [Harris], we're liberals." Maher said perplexed. "When I was a child in my home, I was seven and my parents said 'we're for Kennedy, we're for him letting black people go to college in the south" Maher fumed, as Dawkins nodded enthusiastically along with Maher's notoriously sycophantic audience. 

"Why don't liberals love us?", they ask. "We're so goddamn liberal but for some reason our critiques of Islam are seen as hateful". And while Maher is correct that he's generally good on taxes and calling out Republican bigotry, this doesn't give him a free pass on his rank Islamophobia (a term he thinks is "meaningless".)  

Firstly, no one thinks "Islam is a protected species" as Maher put it. This is a typical strawman New Athiest employ. Dawkins doesn't go after "all religions" equally. Quite the opposite, he has said that Islam is uniquely sinister, referring to it as "unmitigated evil", on numerous occasions. Accusations of bigotry against Dawkins, therefore, are not selective in favor of Islam, they are a reaction to his selective, repeated highlighting of it - fair or not. Secondly, this position is dripping with libertarian false equivalency. The "I criticize all religions equally" is the close cousin to "I criticize all races equally" -- a principle that sounds cute in theory but willfully ignores the burden of history and imperialism.

To the Mahers and the Dawkins of the world, the connection between America's wars in the Middle East is cosmetic at best, and "silly  liberal" relativism, at worst. That President Obama - who Maher gave $1 million to in 2012 - has bombed seven Muslim countries in as many years is seen as irrelevant. Western panic and outrage over "women in beekeepers suits" (what Maher calls burkas) is entirely divorced from the convenient "civilizing mission" of America's wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. America is always the reluctant warrior who is forced to bomb, occupy, and invade those hot-headed Muslims, the inverse - that Muslims may become radicalized because of our bombing, occupying and invasions - is never truly entertained much less factored in. It was fitting that around the time their self-indulgent interview was being recorded, the US was shelling a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 19 - including three children.

Never mind this. To them, religion is seen in a historical and political vacuum in the same way crime and economic hardship is to libertarians. A moral and cultural failing separate from material forces. To them, it's the year zero, and radical religion is an ideology that must be attacked as such, rather than viewed, at least in part, as the logical byproduct of years of colonial aggression. Just last week CENTCOM spokesman Steve Warren said, after Russia had bombed a CIA-armed rebel group, that he "didn't know" if the U.S. was aligned with al Qaeda in Syria. A recently declassified DIA report casually suggested that the U.S. support Salafist elements in Syria as a means of undermining the Assad government. The US, just last week, reinforced its support for radical Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia as they continue their war of aggression in Yemen. America doesn't just incidently create radical Islamists with its bombings, it continues to fund, arm, and protect them.

What say they of this? Almost nothing. Maher and his loyal band of Twitter partisans have little to say about colonialism, and when it's brought up, as Glenn Greenwald did to him in 2013, it's dismissed as irrelevant. It's excuse-making, end of story. 

The ignoring of these power dynamics is dripping with the same type of reductionist handwringing one sees among the right's obsession with "black on black" crime. It's an appeal to objective standards that willfully ignores that history did not begin in 1970 and Islam's relationship with the United States isn't limited to light panel chats with Aspen Institute-vetted token Muslims. Without directly addressing American empire and its relationship to radical Islam their analysis will invariably be superficial. Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins have walked into a game between a Division III college football team and the New England Patriots and feel good about themselves for calling holding on both sides. In a very limited, morally O.C.D. way, they're correct, both sides are technically in violation given the rules of the game. But without addressing these rules or the broader power asymmetry at work, they're party to a farce, a rigged discourse that mistakes "consistency" for fairness and posturing for principle. In doing so, they help prop up a fundamentally uneven relationship between the west and the Muslim world that in effect, if not in intent, spreads bigotry every time it ignores this imbalance.

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What's New: Some Clarity

Socialist Project - October 3, 2015 - 1:00pm
Will the debate on the euro ever be free of the curse of the Front National? Without doubt, everything seems set on condemning it to this association, especially in an era when all kinds of confusion and hysteria mix together to the extent that it is impossible to have even the slightest rational debate. But what are we to say when some of the advocates of euro exit add to the intellectual mayhem, identifying themselves as of the Left but then calling for improbable alliances with the far Right?
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Justin Bieber Channels His Faith in Jesus to Debunk the Big Bang Theory - October 3, 2015 - 11:36am
It's over guys, mystery solved.

It is typically intriguing of Justin Bieber to choose cosmology for his first foray into scientific debunking, when many feel he could provide a more elegant rebuke to Darwinism. Either way, it’s bad news for Cern (Twitter followers: 1.24 million) as Justin (Twitter followers: 68 million) finally starts using his power for good – in this case, to explain how ludicrous the so-called origins of the universe are.

“I’m the type of dude who always wants to figure it out,” explains the What Do U Mean hitmaker. “Science makes a lot of sense,” he concedes. Or does he? “Then I start thinking — wait, the ‘big bang’. For a ‘big bang’ to create all this is more wild to think about than thinking about there being a God. Imagine putting a bunch of gold into a box, shaking up the box, and out comes a Rolex. It’s so preposterous once people start saying it.”

Word. I think I read somewhere that the watchmaker was blind, but maybe we need to accept that he was just wearing really limited-edition Wayfarers.

Anyway, where was I? Or rather, where was Justin? The answer to that, he’ll have you know, is “in a good place”. In case you have been preoccupied with the various fripperies of the news pages, you won’t have failed to notice that the world is being gifted Bieber 3.0 at present, with the star anxious to use all media appearances to declare the coming of his third age. First he was a teen pop sensation; then he was a bad boy; now he is at a point in his evolution – and I don’t mean to use a curse-word there – where he is no longer going to hide the fact that Jesus is his salvation.

Consequently, Justin has granted a lengthy interview to a mag called Complex – which seems anything but – where he ruminates on Christianity. Or what we might more accurately call Christianity featuring Justin Bieber. Before you get turned off, Justin is keen to differentiate himself from the more unpalatable adherents of the faith. “I think that with Christians,” he explains, “they’ve left such a bad taste in people’s mouths.”

What he is offering, it seems, is a Bieber version of that old standard. And the bravery of his position doesn’t escape him. “I think that people, as soon as they start hearing me saying I’m a Christian, they’re like, ‘Whoa, Justin, back up, take a step back.’ Also, I do not want to shove this down anyone’s throat. I just wanna honestly live like Jesus. Not be Jesus — I could never — I don’t want that to come across weird.”

You never could, Justin. Anyone who can tour the Anne Frank Museum and write in the guest book “Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber” could never come across weird.

In a sense, Justin is disestablishing himself – and perhaps his Beliebers, too. “Like I said,” reasons Justin. “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.”

ARE YOU LISTENING, DAWKINS? Answer that and stay fashionable.

As for other highlights of this landmark interview … Well, there’s Bieber’s reverence for his own renaissance-man accomplishments – “I was the only person in my school who was skateboarding and on the basketball team.”

And at this moment in America’s social history, it is necessary – however painful – to hear another heartrending story of excessive police force. Justin takes time to revisit the occasion last year on which he was arrested for late night drag-racing in a Lamborghini in Miami, an apparent injustice upon which we’ll slap the hashtag #BieberNightlifeMatters. According to Justin, the officer in question went way too far when he asked him to put his hands on the Lamborghini roof.

His thoughts that night were like so many young men of his age, it seems: “I felt it, dude. Oh right, they’re trying to get me now at any cost.” As for his 24 hours of incarceration following the incident, most likely there will be those of you who imagine that a night in the cells with the real crims was a testing experience for a 21-year-old pop brat rapidly coming to the understanding that cool is not for sale. But honestly, Justin can’t tell you how wrong you are. According to the singer, his fellow inmates were yelling: “Bieber! We love you! Aye! Keep your head up, bro!” Of course they were. I’ve seen Miami Vice. I know what goes on. “It was kind of funny to hear that,” recalls a self-deprecating Justin, “especially from cats in jail.”

So there you have it. He touches all – from his 68 million Beliebers to guys who’ll literally get arrested for criminal assault and battery just to tell him how much Boyfriend spoke to them. The Justin Bieber Rapture is upon us: let us pray we all get swept up.

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What's New: Corridors of Resistance: Stopping oil and gas pipelines

Socialist Project - October 3, 2015 - 2:00am
The Unist’ot’en camp in North-Western British Columbia, Canada, is front and centre in a global battle for climate and energy justice. Since 2011 they have been maintaining a check-point controlling access through their territory to stop government and industry plans to build several gas and oil pipelines through their territory.
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Maher: Why the GOP Loves a Fake Capitalist Jesus, Not the Real Socialist One (VIDEO) - October 3, 2015 - 12:03am
They got it all backwards.

Bill Maher took some time out on Friday night's Real Time to point out the modern GOP was currently worshiping a totally fantastical Jesus. One who's contemptuous of the poor, greedy, and less about values and more about maximizing shareholder value. 

To do this he created Supply Side Jesus who wears a suit and believes in small government. He's closer to Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli than the biblical Jesus - a point Maher drove home by quoting a series of bible quotes that would be entirely foreign to the current Republican party. 

"He'd love to help the less fortunate," Maher said about Supply Side Jesus, "but he has investors to think about. Like the time [he] performed a miracle, creating a bounty of fishes and gave them all to the 1% so they could trickle down to the takers."

Watch the clip below:

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Congress May Be About to Pass a Bill That Will Address America's Incarceration Nightmare - October 2, 2015 - 6:14pm
What is arguably the most comprehensive effort yet to tackle mass incarceration at the federal level rolled out with bipartisan support Thursday.

A bipartisan group of senators including heavyweights like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin rolled out comprehensive legislation Thursday aimed at reducing prison sentences for some drug offenders and seeking to curb recidivism by bolstering re-entry programs for prisoners. The legislation would, however, also expand mandatory minimum sentences in some for some non-drug offenses.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is also cosponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

It is arguably the most sweeping legislation to roll back drug war excesses yet, and it represents "small government" conservatives cooperating with liberals and civil rights advocates—a remarkable step in this era of poisoned partisan relations in Washington. If passed, it would free some currently serving prisoners, as well as cut sentences for future offenders.

The bill narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening ways defendants with minimal non-felony criminal histories can avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves "cooperation incentives" to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins. 

In addition to reducing prison terms for certain offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.

According to a summary provided by Sen. Grassley's office, the bill:

· Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

· Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant’s criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.

· Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.

· Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.

· Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively

· Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

· Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records

· Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

"This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade," Grassley said. "This bill is an important component in my ongoing effort as Judiciary Committee chairman to ensure access to justice for both the victims and the accused."

"The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth," said Durbin. "Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done.

"Crafting criminal justice reform in this Congress is like a Rubik’s cube, but this group of Republicans and Democrats worked hard to come up with a fair and balanced package that will make a real difference," said Schumer. "This bill would make much needed reforms to sentencing for non-violent offenders, resulting in a much fairer criminal justice system. I’m hopeful that we can continue moving the ball forward in a bipartisan way to make the reforms our system needs." 

"For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential," said Booker. "Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong." 

Although the bill doesn't move completely away from the resort to mandatory minimums, it is still garnering general support among the civil rights, drug reform, and criminal justice reform communities.  

"The legislation is recognition from leadership in both parties that the war on drugs has failed and that the harsh sentencing laws that appealed to lawmakers in the 80s and 90s have had disastrous consequences – especially for communities of color," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "There are things we like about the bill and things we don't, and much more action is needed to tackle mass incarceration, but this is a worthy compromise."

"In an age of intense partisan conflict, it’s heartening to see lawmakers across the spectrum working together on restoring justice in this country," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "We could reduce the impact that drug prohibition has on people of color and for so many others who have been victims of unreasonable and ineffective drug prohibition laws. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this is a considerable step in the right direction."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights was also on board.

"Today marks a unique moment in our history and an important step forward in making long overdue reforms to our justice system," said Wade Henderson, the group's CEO. "This bill represents the most robust bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform in years. "This harmonic convergence of left and right – of civil rights and small government advocates – represents a coalition of conscience that can carry this legislation to the White House. We applaud the effort and look forward to working with the cosponsors on this legislation."

Now, the bill has to actually get through Congress. Given the high-powered and bipartisan support in the Senate, prospects look good there, but whether the Republican-controlled House will be willing to sign on remains to be seen. 

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Monsanto's Migraine: Big Fiascoes Facing the World's Biggest Seed Company - October 2, 2015 - 4:02pm
The problems are piling up at the company's front door.

Monsanto has been reeling from a number of setbacks around the globe. Here's a look at some of the main reasons that 2015 has been a giant headache for the biotech giant. But that headache could find some reilef if the U.S. Senate hands them a legislative victory that would keep American consumers in the dark about what's in their food.

Roundup Probably Causes Cancer

In March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization's cancer arm, said that the controversial herbicide glyphosate — the main ingredient in Monsanto's popular weedkiller Roundup — is "probably carcinogenic to humans." IARC noted, "Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides." Used by home gardeners, public park gardeners and farmers, and applied to more than 150 food and non-food crops, Roundup is the Monsantot's leading product and the world's most-produced weedkiller.

In June, France banned Roundup. French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal said, "France must be on the offensive with regards to the banning of pesticides." She added, "I have asked garden centers to stop putting Monsanto's Roundup on sale" in self-service aisles. And earlier this month, California issued a notice of intent to list glyphosate as a carcinogen. “As far as I’m aware, this is the first regulatory agency in the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen,” said Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “So this is a very big deal.”

Big news! California EPA Moves to Label Monsanto's Roundup 'Carcinogenic' #BanRoundup

— Center 4 Food Safety (@TrueFoodNow) September 6, 2015

In April, U.S. citizens filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto, claiming that the company is guilty of false advertising by claiming that glyphosate targets an enzyme only found in plants and not in humans or animals. The plaintiffs argue that the targeted enzyme, EPSP synthase, is found in the microbiota that reside in human and non-human animal intestines. In addition to its potential cancer-causing properties, Roundup has been linked to a host of other health issues, environmental problems and the record decline of monarch butterflies.

And in September, another of the company's herbicides got slammed when a French appeals court confirmed that Monsanto was guilty of chemical poisoning, upholding a 2012 ruling in favor of Paul Francois, whose lawyers claimed the company's Lasso weedkiller gave the cereal farmer neurological problems, including memory loss and headaches.

Tweet Backfires

Monsanto would probably love to forget one of their recent tweets that tried to put out the glyphosate-fueled public image fire. A day before the cancer-listing announcement by California's EPA, Monsanto posted a tweet, asking if people has questions about glyphosate with a link to a FAQ page:

Do you have questions about glyphosate? We’re answering the most common questions here:

— Monsanto Company (@MonsantoCo) September 3, 2015

The tweet wasn't the PR success that the company had hoped for. Instead of helping to alleviate consumer fears about the chemical, the tweet became a target for the Monsanto-hating Twitterati:

@MonsantoCo can u drink a glass of some on TV so we can see what happens? U like conducting experiments on us. Try it on your self first.

— Raul Duke (@GoForBronze) September 3, 2015

@MonsantoCo how much exposure do I need to guarantee I get cancer?

— Tom Pratt (@TomDLPratt) September 3, 2015

@MonsantoCo if I drink more than a few glasses, my tummy hurts. Can you help?

— Tom Payne (@areasonablefee) September 3, 2015

@MonsantoCo yes I do have questions about Roundup, like when will you stop killing your fellow man along with soil and water?#MakeItRight

— Lisa Canning (@LisCanning) September 9, 2015

@MonsantoCo new pub: honeybee navigation affected by traces of #glyphosate,negative consequences 4 colony foraging

— Klaus Riede (@KlausRiede) September 5, 2015

Anyone want 2 ask @MonsantoCo why shoving known carcinogens down ppl throats world-over? Money, ya think? #Roundup #glyphosate #cancer #GMOs

— Positively Joan (@PositivelyJoan) September 18, 2015

@PositivelyJoan @MonsantoCo HR1599 is the Deny Americans Right to Know Act If #GMO food is safe label it. No #DarkAct

— bob mcree (@zeus_bob) September 18, 2015

EU Nations Ban GMOs

In addition to the glyphosate backlash, Monsanto has had to deal with several EU countries who have said no to the company's GM crops. A new European Union law signed in March allows individual member countries to be excluded from any GM cultivation approval request. European opposition to GMOs has been strong: Unlike in the Americas and Asia, where GMO crops are widely grown, only Monsanto's pest-resistant MON810, a GMO maize, is grown in Europe. Several nations have taken advantage of the new exclusion law: Scotland, Germany, Latvia, Greece, France and recently, Northern Ireland, have all invoked it.

In August, Scotland became the first EU nation to ban the growing of genetically modified crops by requesting to be excluded by Monsanto's application to grow GMO crops across the EU. “Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment — and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status,” said Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead.

Germany cited strong resistance from farmers and the public when it made its opt-out request. “Germany has committed a true act of food democracy by listening to the majority of its citizens that oppose GMO cultivation and support more sustainable, resilient organic food production that doesn’t perpetuate the overuse of toxic herbicides,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology director at environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth. “We are hopeful that more members of the EU will follow suit and that the U.S. Congress will protect our basic right to know what we are feeding our families by requiring mandatory GMO labeling.”

#Germany initiates a move to stop growing #GMO crops. #Deutschland

— GMO Inside (@GMOInside) August 26, 2015

Soon after Germany's decision, Latvia and Greece announced that they too are taking advantage of the EU law. France, too, is using the opt-out law to ensure the country's GMO ban remains in place.

Breaking: Europe is rejecting Monsanto's GMOs, 2 more countries Greece & Latvia Just Say No!

— food_democracy (@food_democracy) September 2, 2015

While anti-GMO activists warn of the dangers that genetically modified foods pose to health and the environment, the Big Food industry and many scientists argue that GMOs are safe and can help feed a skyrocketing human population. Monsanto told Reuters: "We regret that some countries are deviating from a science-based approach to innovation in agriculture and have elected to prohibit the cultivation of a successful GM product on arbitrary political grounds.” There is a significant political dimension as well: Newswire reported that the GMO opt-out law "directly confronts U.S. free trade deal supported by EU, under which the Union should open its doors widely for the U.S. GM industry." It remains to be seen how the opt-out law will play out in the long run.

But for now, could the GMO resistance in Europe be working? Following the announcements by Latvia and Greece, EurActiv, an online news service covering EU affairs, reported that Monsanto "said it had no immediate plans to request approvals for any new GM seeds in Europe."

The GMO Debate Rages On

The debate over genetically modified foods is complex, and not without its contradictions. While the anti-GMO movement appears to gaining steam, GMO foods have been a big part of the U.S. food system for many years. The vast majority of several key crops grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, including soy (93 percent), corn (93 percent) and canola (90 percent). As Morgan Clendaniel, editor of Co.Exist, points out, "Many crops are genetically modified so frequently, it’s nearly impossible to find non-GMO versions." He adds that, althought 80 percent of all packaged food sold in America contain GMOs, consumers are kept in the dark, because the U.S. is "one of the few places in the developed world that doesn’t require food producers to disclose whether or not their ingredients have any modifications."

One scientist who has been sharply critical of GM crops is David Williams, a cellular biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. He says that "inserted genes can be transformed by several different means, and it can happen generations later," which can result in potentially toxic plants. In addition, faulty monitoring of GM field tests presents another danger. For example, from 2008 to 2014, only 39 of the 133 GM crop field trials in India were properly monitored, "leaving the rest for unknown risks and possible health hazards."

But within the scientific community, Dr. Williams is in the minority, In fact, as science writer David H. Freeman notes in Scientific American, "The vast major it of the research on genetically modified crops suggests that they are safe to eat." David Zilberman, an agricultural and environmental economist at the University of California at Berkeley (who Freeman describes as "one of the few researchers considered credible by both agricultural chemical companies and their critics") says that the use of GM crops "has increased farmer safety by allowing them to use less pesticide. It has raised the output of corn, cotton and soy by 20 to 30 percent, allowing some people to survive who would not have without it. If it were more widely adopted around the world, the price [of food] would go lower, and fewer people would die of hunger.”

The European Food Safety Authority said it will issue its scientific opinion on the GM crops by the end of 2017. For now, the GMO debate — filled with a host of pros and cons — rages on. But beyond the health and environmental threats that Monsanto's products may pose, some worry that about the how control of the global food system is increasingly concentrated in a few biotech and agriculture megacorps like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Pioneer and DuPont. "Beating in the heart of every good capitalist is the heart of a monopolist," says Neil Harl, an agricultural economist at Iowa State. "So we have to have rules, we have to have the economic police on the beat. Or we end up with concentration and that means higher prices."

GMO Labeling Law: SAFE or DARK?

While Monsanto has been taking a beating lately, the company is crossing its fingers for a huge victory in the Congress. Any day now, the U.S. Senate could take up H.R. 1599, the misleadingly named "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling (SAFE) Act," which would make federal GMO labeling voluntary, while prohibiting states from labeling GMOs — even though it goes against the vast majority of the public wants.

According to a New York Times poll that, 93 percent of Americans want GMO foods to labeled as such, with three-quarters of survey respondents expressing concern about GMOs in food. The industry-backed bill, which opponents have nicknamed the "Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act" has already passed the House of Representatives and, if passed, could overturn democratically enacted state laws.

"The bill is a sweeping attack on states’ rights to self-govern on the issue of GMO labeling, and on consumers’ right to know if their food has been genetically engineered," warn Alexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie Cummins of the nonprofit Organic Consumers Association. "If the Dark Act becomes law, there will never be GMO labels, safety testing of GMOs, protections for farmers from GMO contamination or regulations of pesticide promoting GMO crops to protect human health, the environment or endangered pollinators."

Going to Market

It remains to be seen how Monsanto will be impacted by the persticide and GMO backlash. Since the onslaught of bad news for Monsanto started in the spring, the company's stock price has plummeted from a February high of $125.46 to $87.61 as of September 21. This decline follows a first quarter decline of 34 percent that analysts have tied to the cut back on Monsanto's GMO corn by South American farmers.

Still, Roundup remains one of the world's most widely used weed killers and the most popular weedkiller in the U.S. The global market for glyphosate is expected to reach $8.79 billion by 2019 (up from $5.46 billion in 2012). In addition, Transparency Market Research reported that "Monsanto Company, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont have been shifting their focus to develop integrated weed management systems, in order to reduce reliance on single dominant herbicide such as glyphosate."

"Stocks in the fertilizer space have struggled all year long," said TheStreet's Bryan Ashenberg and Bob Lang of Trifecta Stocks, noting that Monsanto in particular "has been hit hard" and their "performance has been dreadful." Perhaps a sign of that economic reality is the fact that last month Monsanto dropped its $46.5 billion hostile bid for rival Syngenta, the world's biggest pesticide company. To many Monsanto-watchers, this development may have been the company's biggest setback of the year.

However, the Ratings Team at TheStreet sees things differently and rated Monsanto as a buy, saying "The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, growth in earnings per share, increase in net income, expanding profit margins and notable return on equity." But that review holds little value for those who value health, the environment and the fate of world's food supply more that a "notable return on equity."


How Monsanto Could Get Even Bigger and More Powerful

Will Monsanto Launch Another 'Sneak Attack' in Congress?

Low Levels of Exposure to Monsanto's Roundup May Cause Kidney and Liver Damage

Categories: Netted News

WATCH: Esquire's Charlie Pierce on Oregon Massacre: 'One of Our Political Parties is Completely Insane' - October 2, 2015 - 3:59pm
"We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction."

Esquire political blogger Charlie Pierce appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell to discuss the shooting massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Earlier President Obama was visibly exasperated as he discussed America's collective failure to effect better gun control.

"We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction," President Obama said. "When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seat belt laws because we know it saves lives. The notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom, our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations. Doesn't make sense."

It was evident that Obama was being nostalgic in talking about regulations that have been enacted in the past. None of them would stand a chance of being passed under the current intransigent congressional regime.

Charlie Pierce made that reality abundantly clear.

"I've been doing the politics blog only since the fall of 2011," Charlie Pierce said. "This I think is the fourth one of these I had to write about. I was struck by the last bit by the president, where he talked about other things where you react to. The fact remains we only allow ourselves two political parties in this country. And one of our political parties is completely insane. [emphasis added] It's the party that when we have mine disasters, blocks mine regulations. It's the party that says when we want to fix our roads, you can't have an infrastructure bill. You can't raise the gas tax. It's the party that when some people have floods, like New Jersey, marks Chris Christie lousy because he accepted help from the federal government. And we have the same party who has somewhere between three and 600 people running for president, none of whom will do anything about the problem of mass shootings in America."

In an irony of ironies, the sheriff of the county where the massacre occurred, Douglas County, wrote a defiant letter to Vice President Biden after the Sandy Hook school massacrestating he would obey no gun control laws he deemed unconstitutional. When will Americans snap?


He thinks we have a party that is not sane by ewillies

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What the Hell Is Wrong With America? 7 Myths That Prop Up Mass Shooting Culture - October 2, 2015 - 3:50pm
Deep layers of denial perpetuate gun violence.

When is America going to wake up and realize that as long as we as a society allow easy access to guns, we are complicit in mass killings?

Tragedies like the Umpqua Community College carnage are not inevitable facts of life in America.They are a consequence of a society that doesn’t want to take a hard look at the roots and causes of violence, and understands that you don’t make deadly force widely and readily available to human beings. 

Another gun-wielding young guy has left a trail of death, mayhem, injuries and maimed lives in a murderous spree, this time at a rural community college. The unfolding media coverage has featured residents of Roseburg, Ore., saying they didn’t think that could happen there. Others have replied that violence in America is just like violence anywhere else. Pro-gun advocates say the tragedy could have been stopped if students were armed. (Some were nearby but said they didn’t want to intervene because they feared getting shot by SWAT teams.) On the political front, almost everyone has expressed sympathy for victims but predicted that, yet again, Congress will not act to end easy access to guns.

These reactions reveal what is deeply wrong with America, from myths about where violence occurs to ignoring the ways in which traumatized people act out. Let’s start with the myths that perpetuate the cycle of gun violence:

1. It can’t happen here. Yes, it can. Crime and violence in small towns are everyday occurrences in America. Just walk into any county courthouse when they are arraigning that week’s docket of people charged with misdemeanors and felonies and look at police affidavits. You will find episode after episode of violence, with guns playing a big role in their worst instances. That’s why there are approximately 30,000 gun deaths annually in the United States, a number that rivals car crash fatalities in recent years.

2. We’re like other countries. No, we’re not. Not when it comes to guns, violence and gun-related deaths. With the exception of Chile, the U.S. has four times as many gun-related murders as the two next most violent countries in the developed world. That’s what the Washington Post reported after 2012’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. “According to data compiled by the United Nations, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third [place],” it said. “The U.S. gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries on this chart. That means that Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.” 

3. We think we understand human nature. No, as a country, we don’t. When you give people access to tools, whether guns or social media, people will use them: rationally or irrationally, thoughtfully or in a rage. This is true for people at every level of psychological development, especially people who are aggrieved or traumatized. Gun death statistics underscore this fact about human nature. The largest percentage of people killed by guns in America are between ages 15 and 25, when youths are impulsive and not psychologically mature. They use guns because they have access. An American under age 25 is killed by a gun “every 70 minutes,” a February 2014 report by The Center for American Progress said. It’s no surprise that the Oregon killer easily got his hands on a gun and wrote about his troubles on social media. To expect otherwise is naïve.

4. There’s denial atop denial. It piles on. Too many Americans are in denial that access to guns exacerbates violence. They’re in denial about the extent of gun tragedies, from murders to severe injuries in domestic disputes and crime. Many politicians are in denial, fearing the National Rifle Association and ignoring pleas by police and mayors to toughen gun laws. With the exception of mass killings of innocents at schools and public places, like movie theatres, do you hear outrage over daily gun-related death tolls? No, you don’t. People go back to their lives. Nor does the nation really want to face the source of its violent cultural DNA. Take the Black Lives Matter protests. They’ve been belittled by Republicans and make many Democrats nervous when participants talk about how the historic and outsized use of force against black Americans is real, unnecessary and still happening. Americans cannot avoid the media coverage of tragedies like the Umpqua College killings, but a great many don’t want to confront the historic pattern, the deeper causes or the controversial but sensible solutions. 

5. Denial empowers America’s gun cults. Americans don’t want to raise the question most feared by gun nuts, which is: "Why are all your guns necessary?" We haven’t been a frontier-exploring and slave-owning society for many generations. The U.S. isn’t filled with settlers whose fortunes depend on the ethnic cleansing of native Americans or labor of slaves, which is where America’s dependence on guns began. Nor is the country filled with subsistence farmers and multitudes who must hunt to eat. But somehow, Americans don’t question right-wingers’ twisted belief that the Second Amendment gives them a right to have any gun, anywhere. Their fetish that protecting gun rights is more integral to being free than protecting the lives of innocent gun violence victims is sick, but it goes unanswered.

6. There is no political solution. Of course there is a political solution. Guns don’t grow on trees. They are not part of nature. They are man-made, just as laws that govern society are, and they could change if there were sufficient political will. President Obama is right that most Republicans and many rural state Democrats either like the fact that Americans are armed to the teeth and oppose gun controls or are afraid of battling the NRA when they seek re-election. As Obama said, there is something very twisted when mass killings are being accepted as normal or are somehow a price that Americans must pay to be free.  

7. Americans are avoiding reality. There are choices being made. Americans don’t have to ignore the reality of ongoing gun violence. They don’t have to pretend that mass shootings could never happen where they live. Or that American societal violence is like the violence in other western nations when it’s not. Or the nonsense that individual freedom is tied to owning guns or that nothing can be done politically.

Americans need to see the reality of human nature and gun violence for what it is. People will use whatever tools are at their disposal — including guns — whether in moments of passion or rage or to commit premeditated mass murder. To assume that every mass shooter is mentally ill or insane, and somehow better screening by someone somewhere might have stopped a tragedy, is no solution.

If you know anything about human nature, you don’t tempt fate — you don’t make guns available en masse as if they were just another home appliance. You take guns out of wide circulation and only license their use in strict circumstances.


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New Book: America Was Built On Slavery And It Was Much Worse Than You Might Imagine - October 2, 2015 - 3:28pm
Slaves as money. A breeding industry. Founding fathers of white supremacy.

This August, when Hillary Clinton met with Black Lives Matter protesters, they told her that ongoing violence and prejudice against blacks was part of a long historic continuum where, for example, today’s prison system descended from the old Southern plantations. Slavery, Clinton replied, was the “original sin... that America has not recovered from.”

But how much do modern Americans really know about slavery in colonial America? In the genocide of Native Americans? In the War of Independence or the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights? Or afterward for decades until the Civil War? Chances are, not very much. Not that slaves, for example, were money in the antebellum South—currency and credit—which led to the enforced, systematic break-up of black families in generation after generation. There was no national currency, and little silver or gold, but there was paper tied to slaves bought on credit whose offspring were seen as a dividend that grew over time.

That’s just one of the riveting and revolting details from a new book, The American Slave Coast: A History of The Slave Breeding Industry, by Ned and Constance Sublette. They trace other telling details that are not found in traditional American history books, where slavery is usually described as an amoral but cheap labor system. For example, have you read about the rivalry between Virginia and South Carolina, which had competing slave economies?

Virginia was the epicenter of a slave breeding industry, in which enslaved women were expected to be constantly pregnant, were sold off if they didn't produce children, and sometimes were force-mated to achieve that end. The offspring were sold to newer settlers and those migrating west. Charleston, South Carolina, in contrast, was colonial America’s slave importing and exporting port. In the late seventeenth century, Carolina exported captured native Americans as slaves to Caribbean plantation islands, gradually replacing them with imported laborers. As the South was emptied of native Americans and American plantations grew, South Carolina became the major slave importer in the colonies and in the early republic. Virginia eventually won out when Congress, at President Thomas Jefferson's urging, banned slave importation as of January 1, 1808—protectionism, say the Sublettes, for Virginia's slave-breeding industry, and sold to the public as protection against the alleged terrorism of "French negroes" from Haiti. After that, a new interstate slave trade grew, propelled by territories and new states that wanted slavery, and by the breeders who wanted new markets. Thus, the slave-breeding economy spread south and west, driving the expansion of the U.S. into new territories.

Slavery, as the Sublettes describe it, wasn’t a sidebar to early American history and a new nation’s growth. It was front and center—protected by law and prejudice, custom and greed. The enslaved were unloaded, sold, and taken (women’s necks tied with rope, men’s necks put in chains) via major roads, steamboats, and passing through cities and villages to their destination. Newspapers, owned by Benjamin Franklin, sold advertising for buying and selling slaves. All of this unfolded in full sight, with prosperous settlers assuming that slaves were a necessity for daily living and accumulating wealth. For generations, the property value of slaves was the largest asset in America.

The authors, Ned and Constance Sublette, are not traditional scholars, but gifted cultural historians. Ned Sublette, who was born in Lubbock, Texas, and lived in Natchitoches, Louisiana as a boy, was trained as a musician and created the record company Qbadisc  in the 1990s—featuring top Cuban artists long before Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club. His book Cuba and Its Music is considered by many to be the most authoritative on the island’s unique mix of African and European traditions and musical heritage. He realized that the conditions of different forms of slavery—French, Spanish, American—accounted for key differences between Afro-Latin and African-American culture. His second book, The World That Made New Orleans, deconstructs how successive waves of slave importation, under Spanish, French and then American rule, created that city’s music. But throughout his research, working with his wife, Constance, the Sublettes realized that the history of slavery—especially its most vicious form that took hold in North America—was largely untold, unknown, and explained much about the violence, racism and exploitation that is at the core of U.S. history. The American Slave Coast is the result of 15 years of inquiry.

It’s an epic volume—668 pages before footnotes and citations—and a lot to digest. But if Americans are ever to come to terms with the anti-black violence that endures today, it is necessary to understand the roots of an economy and culture that has needed and feared Africans. For example, take Jefferson and America’s founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Most Americans know that slaves had no rights. Or they know that the slave-owning Jefferson cynically wrote, “All men are created equal” in the Declaration, and owned slaves and had several slave children. But they probably don’t realize how the Constitution and Bill of Rights enshrined into law an economic system where the major form of property was slaves, and created a government to protect the wealth of that system’s upper class.

Today’s right-wing fetish about the Constitution’s perfection ignores input by prominent Virginians and Carolinians, including many signers of the Declaration of Independence, to protect slave property. As their book points out, the gun-toting militias sanctioned by the Second Amendment were a guarantee that slave owners could hunt and kill escaped slaves and Native Americans. The Sublettes stunningly trace how fear (of slave revolts) and self-interest (protecting slave-tied wealth) played a major role in framing America’s founding documents. But they go further and demonstrate why Jefferson is the the founding theorist of white supremacy in America.

It’s not just that Jefferson owned slaves, including his own children who were 7/8ths white. Nor was it his letters with the leading men of his day—like George Washington—explaining how owning slaves was better than other investments. Nor was it his ugly and racist description of blacks in Notes From The State of Virginia, where in the 1780s he wrote, “Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions… are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.” Mostly, it was Jefferson’s lifelong belief that slaves could not be freed but had to be deported en masse, because sizeable numbers of ex-slaves would take up arms and annihilate slave-owning whites. These prejudices, fears and draconian remedies reverberate today—such as Donald Trump’s bid to deport 11 million migrants. 

The American Slave Coast starts with the horrible truth that America—unlike the French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean—was a slave-breeding society from colonial times through emancipation. There was no path to freedom for slaves, because, say the Sublettes, "no escape from the asset column could be permitted." Black families were intentionally broken up as part of creating an economic system for a new nation. As Ned Sublette said, “Writing this book revolutionized our understanding of our history.” Constance Sublette adds, “No matter how bad you thought slavery was, it was worse than that.”       


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From Columbine to Umpqua, It's Not Just Bullets We're Dodging - October 2, 2015 - 3:15pm
There's been a multi-trillion dollar drive to short-circuit deliberation and dialogue.

Once again, we've heard that the gunman was deranged. Once again, we've heard that gun control is imperative. What we aren't hearing is that Americans, for many more years and with greater intensity than inhabitants of other countries, have been groped and goosed and pummeled by a sophisticated, multi-trillion dollar drive to short-circuit deliberation and dialogue in order to spur the self-centered impulse buying that is ruining our civil society.

This campaign isn't partisan or avowedly ideological. It isn't malevolent as often as it's mindless in civic-republican, non-market terms. As Daniel Greenwood and I arguedin The Atlantic two years ago (and as you can hear me arguing on NPR, it's driven by fiduciaries and managers of anonymous, ever-shifting whorls of shareholders pursuing maximum profit and market share. They're civically mindless even when they're trading on fear and rage by pushing violent video games, guns, and devices to forestall armed home invasion, all in their increasingly financialized rush to bypass our brains and hearts on the way to our lower viscera and wallets.

What we also aren't hearing from political leaders or business leaders, let alone from our Supreme Court, especially since the disastrous Citizens United ruling, is that these anonymous whorls are overwhelming our already-weakened capacity as citizens to deliberate about how best to regulate them. Freedom of speech means little if the invaders have megaphones while most citizens have laryngitis from straining to be heard. (Recall that Occupy protestors were denied megaphones and, soon enough, disbanded by militarized police.)

Growing numbers of Americans are responding to the unending tsunami of titillation, unsubtle intimidation, and destruction of their political and economic options with heart-breakingly impulsive, socially corrosive and self-destructive behavior that includes not only the shootings but road rage, sale-day rampages, gladatorialization in sports, degrading and sadistic entertainment, sexual assaults, bullying, and, in futile response, the militarization of police, mass incarceration, intrusive surveillance, and new toleration of torture.

It began innocently enough. I think of a moment in 1972 when I first heard the anodyne jingle, "You deserve a break today. So get up and get away -- to McDonald's," on a transistor radio while sitting -- in a McDonald's, as it happened! -- in leafy Natick, Massachusetts. The message worked and seemed utterly harmless because it was playing off of lots of thick but voluntary social discipline. But countless other, increasingly sophisticated efforts were underway to dissolve that social strength, and just when declining remuneration and protection of work were also dissolving it in favor of lotteries and vapid escapes.

Twenty years later, in Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin Barber noted that the tsunami was prompting violent reactions of a less libertarian, more communally organized sort abroad. "They're fanatics, crazed and murderous," we thought then. 

But look at us now, another 20 years on. The relentless, ever-more intimate dissolution of social discipline and comity has subjected Americans of all creeds and colors to levels violence and anarchy that we thought only racism, religious fanaticism, and "mental illness" could generate.

The truth, as I learned while covering such shootings as the Long Island Railroad massacre of 1993, is that the deranged are sometimes attuned more acutely to signals being sent subliminally by powerful social engines than are those of us who can still filter them out.

Hunger for something better isn't restricted only to the insane. A liberal capitalist republic has to rely on its citizens to uphold voluntarily certain republican virtues and beliefs that neither the liberal state nor markets themselves do much to nourish or defend. The liberal state can't do it because it's not supposed to judge too harshly between one way of life and another. Markets can't do it because their very genius is to approach investors and consumers as narrowly self-interested actors in market exchanges.

That leaves republican citizen-leadership to be nourished all the more intensively somehow, in what we call civil-society -- the very schools, colleges, churches, civic associations, sports programs, that markets and our market-conquered government are handing over increasingly to markets alone, in ways reported every day in these pages.

For those of us not yet too ill to bear these sicknesses and their cures, the cure begins in recognizing that a more vigorous, truly republican government, far from being our enemy, is our only protection and guide to navigating these tsunamis. In the American republic, the enemy hasn't been government censors but the commercial sensors that are groping and grouping us. 

A bought government isn't far behind them, of course, and maybe only a new politics that's more global than national can deflect or even channel the riptides. But, for starters, those of us who miss ordered republican liberty should stop imagining that we can reconcile it with knee-jerk obedience to every whim and riptide of the casino-like financed, consumer-bamboozling juggernaut that is dissolving republican virtues and sovereignty before our eyes, under our feet, and, yes, in our lower viscera.

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Cops Rupture Handcuffed Man’s Spleen, Laugh at Him, Take Pics as He Lay Dying and Begging - October 2, 2015 - 2:52pm
A police sergeant and an officer were finally fired 14 months after surveillance video emerged.

Orlando, FL — A police sergeant and an officer were finally fired 14 months after surveillance video caught the officer violently kneeing a handcuffed man. After rupturing the man’s spleen, the officers ignored his pleas for medical attention for nearly two hours while laughing at him off-camera and later lying to investigators regarding the incident.

On August 12, 2014, Robert Liese was arrested for a $60 bar tab that he was unable to pay. While loading Liese into his patrol car, Orlando police officer Peter Delio allegedly kicked the handcuffed man in the stomach. Upset and injured after Delio left him handcuffed inside a jail cell, Liese headbutted the glass window on his cell door.

According to surveillance video, Officer Delio immediately entered Liese’s cell and kneed the handcuffed man in the abdomen so hard that it ruptured his spleen. Easily picking up Liese like a ragdoll, Delio ordered him to stop resisting even though Liese was clearly immobilized from the pain and not attempting to resist. After dragging Liese out of the cell, Delio moved him to another holding area and placed leg restraints on him.

For nearly two hours, Liese remained on the floor of his cell in restraints writhing in pain and begging for medical attention 35 times. Instead of calling paramedics, several cops could be heard in the video mocking and laughing at Liese off-camera. When Sgt. William Faulkner eventually went into the cell to check on Liese, the police sergeant failed to report that Liese had requested medical care and later lied to internal affairs officers investigating the incident.

After an hour and 50 minutes of suffering from internal injuries, Liese was rescued when paramedics finally arrived and began treating him. Requiring emergency surgery, Liese was rushed to a hospital where surgeons removed his ruptured spleen.

Upon reviewing the footage of the incident, Police Chief John Mina asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an investigation into his men. Initially, Delio was suspended for a week without pay in December. But in March, Delio was arrested and charged with felony battery.

On Wednesday, the Orlando Police Department terminated Sgt. Faulkner and Officer Delio 14 months after nearly killing a restrained man. The department accused both cops of failing to treat the detainee “humanely and with regard to their legal rights.” Faulkner was also accused of writing false reports and lying to internal affairs investigators.

“Sgt. Faulkner blatantly ignored Liese’s repeated pleas for medical assistance,” his termination letter stated. “Liese was obviously in a great amount of pain and distress. This put Liese at medical risk.”

In his report, Faulkner falsely stated that he had asked Liese if he needed medical attention, but Liese refused. According to the video, Faulkner did not even bother asking Liese if he required medical assistance yet Liese begged him several times.

“I need medical attention, please,” Liese repeated.

According to their termination letters, Faulkner and Delio both lied to the internal affairs officers investigating the incident. Delio told investigators that he heard screaming from the cell but did not know it was coming from Liese, even though he was the only prisoner in that cell. Faulkner attempted to cover up his role in the abuse by falsely informing investigators that Liese never requested medical attention, even though the camera recorded him asking 35 times.

“While on the ground, Liese can be heard and seen through the audio/video writhing in pain crying out for medical attention 35 times over the next 1 hour and 50 minutes,” wrote Deputy Chief Robert Anzueto in Delio’s termination letter. “The conduct outlined in the investigation cannot be tolerated by an employee of the Orlando Police Department and undermines the employee’s credibility as a law enforcement officer.”

After almost dying at the hands of these sadistic cops, Liese filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Orlando Police Department. The case is still pending.

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Pope Francis Hung Out Privately With Gay Friends Before Accidentally Shaking Hands With Kim Davis - October 2, 2015 - 2:48pm
Pope Francis personally arranged the brief visit by email ahead of his visit to the United States.

Pope Francis held a private meeting with a longtime friend who is gay one day before meeting briefly with anti-LGBT county clerk Kim Davis in a reception line.

Yayo Grassi, who has known the pope for more than 50 years, brought his longtime partner and several friends to the Sept. 23 meeting at the Vatican Embassy, reported CNN.

Pope Francis personally arranged the brief visit by email ahead of his visit to the United States, said Grassi — who had been a student in the pontiff’s literature and psychology classes in 1964-1965 at Inmaculada Concepcion high school in Argentina.

Grassi, who lives in Washington, D.C., told CNN that Pope Francis has known for many years that he is gay, but he had never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship.

“He has never been judgmental,” Grassi said. “He has never said anything negative.”

The Vatican sought to downplay the significance of the pope’s meeting with Davis, who was jailed six days last month on contempt of court after she refused to follow court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A senior Vatican official said Pope Francis met briefly with Davis along with several dozen other guests who had been invited by the Vatican ambassador to meet with the pontiff.

Pope Francis did not know the details of Davis’ situation and did not offer conditional support to the defiant county clerk, the official said.

Grassi, however, said the pope contacted him three weeks before the visit and invited him to meet with him.

“He called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,” Grassi told CNN.

The Vatican made an oblique reference to Grassi in its statement distancing the pope from Davis.

“The only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“That was me,” Grassi said.


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Take That NRA: Australia Shows That Smart Gun Policies Can Make a Big Difference - October 2, 2015 - 2:44pm
Australia got rid of rifles and shotguns and saw their suicide and homicide rates plunge.

While conservatives are busying trying to shutdown any debate on gun control following the 45th school shooting this year by yelling about Chicago’s murder rates— apparently unaware that Chicago is the third largest city in the country but not even in the top five cities with the highest murder rate per capita — and reflexively decrying any mention of gun control as a “gun grab,” what if we just entertained their wildest conspiracy theories for just a bit?

A 2015 study found that when guns are used to kill people in the United States, they are overwhelmingly used for murder rather than self-defense. That study found that in 2012, there were only 259 justifiable homicides, or what is commonly referred to as self-defense, compared to 8,342 criminal firearm homicides. In 2008-2012, the report says, guns were used in 42,419 criminal homicides and only 1,108 justifiable homicides.

So if Americans aren’t using their guns for self-defense, does it make sense to do away with the charade of “sensible gun restrictions” talk and just get real about banning at least some guns outright?

Of course, America is awash in guns with approximately one gun for every U.S. citizen, but would examining Australia’s model on guns, as President Obama has suggested, be instructive for our gun violence crisis?

“When Australia had a mass killing … it was just so shocking the entire country said, ‘Well, we’re going to completely change our gun laws,’ and they did. And it hasn’t happened since,” the president recently told comedian Marc Maron.

So let’s put obvious cultural differences aside and examine the claim.

On April 29, 1996, a a 28-year-old man went on a murderous rampage with a rifle in the former Australian colonial town of Port Arthur, Tasmania, killing 35 people and injuring 23 more before eventually being apprehended.

Shocked by the horrific magnitude of the massacre, Australian lawmakers passed sweeping new gun laws in a matter of days — 12 to be exact.

The National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program, as the package of legislation was called, prohibited the sale of shotguns as well as semiautomatic and self-loading rifles. Waiting periods and safety courses became mandatory for new gun owners and limits on the sale of ammunition were imposed.

Most importantly, perhaps, the legislation allocated $250 million for a gun buyback program, allowing for newly outlawed rifles and shotgun to be destroyed by the Australian government. Ultimately more than 640,000 firearms were either purchased by the Australian government or voluntarily handed in.

So did the confiscation work?

A 2012 study estimated  260,000 illegal guns were still in circulation Down Under, and a more recent report from Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp (I can sense the eye rolls) found that 37,000 new gun licenses were issued in the last five years, reportedly resulting in no increased gun related crimes.

Of course, under Australia’s reformed gun regulatory scheme, a licensed firearm owner is required to be reevaluated every five years and if authorities discovery any “reliable evidence” of a mental or physical barrier to responsible gun ownership, the license is revoked.

In the years after the Port Arthur massacre, gun-related homicides decreased 7.5 percent per year while suicide by gun dropped by a whopping 80 percent until the the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia fell by more than 50 percent in the decade following the attacks.

Pretty remarkable statistics.

Of course, mass shootings haven’t been eliminated in Australia. In 2011 three people were killed and three were wounded in the Hectorville siege and last year three people (including the gunman) were killed during the Sydney hostage crisis. But compare those numbers to the 112 people killed during the 13 mass shootings in the 18 years prior to the passage of Australia’s National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program.


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Flush With Cash, Right-Wing Extremists Train the Future Zealots of Pro-Israel Campus Activism - October 2, 2015 - 1:28pm
McCarthyist tactics meet Internet technology.

The following is part two of a four-part investigation. (Read part one here.)

When David Horowitz appeared in Rancho Palos Verdes, California for his lavish annual West Coast Retreat on March 6, it less than two months ahead of the launch of the shadowy Canary Mission website. Speaking before hundreds of ultra-conservatives, Horowitz set the tone for the weeks to come: “It’s kind of obvious [that] the Jews are the canaries in the mine,” Horowitz proclaimed. “The canaries were taken by miners, as you know, into the mines, and when the canary died you knew there was gas in the mine and you’d better get out. So the Jews are there to identify the threat.”

Horowitz described for the assembled activists what he saw as the greatest threats to Jews. The danger, he said, started with the Muslim Students Association (MSA), a campus group he described as “a recruitment organization for the Muslim Brotherhood” with secret ties to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign through her aide, Huma Abedin, whom he called “a Muslim Brotherhood operative.” According to Horowitz, the MSA and another student group composed largely of Arab and Muslim-Americans, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), were behind a supposed epidemic of anti-Semitism that had put Jewish college students at risk across America.

Funded to the tune of $10 million by right-wing foundations, the David Horowitz Freedom Center is a key financial conduit to extreme anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic organizations. Among those who have received funding through the Horowitz Freedom Center is Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller, an aggressively self-promoting Islamophobic Zionist who was named in a recent FBI reportas an ideological catalyst of far-right extremism, has spent much of this year waging court battles to allow her to purchase advertisements on public buses and subways that read, “Islamic Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran.” (In order to keep Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” ad campaign out of the city, Washington DC’s Transit Authority banned all political advertising).

More than perhaps any other conservative activist, Horowitz has revived the tactics most familiar to the late Senator Joseph McCarthy in order to undermine progressive political movements. “McCarthy was right about the presence of Communists posing as liberals…virtually all of McCarthy’s victims were Communists (and lied about being Communists),” Horowitz wrote in “Left Illusions,” a book-length defense of McCarthyism. His error-laden book, “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” amounts to a blacklist of left-wing and liberal professors who supposedly “say they want to kill white people,” “support Osama bin Laden,” “advocate killing ordinary Americans,” and “defend pedophilia,” according to Horowitz. Horowitz’s website, Discover The Networks, published dossiers of progressive public figures and linked them to “Jihad” and the Muslim Brotherhood. His lurid allegations of a dark alliance between American progressives and radical Islamists have formed the basis for the tactics he is now using to demonize the Palestine solidarity movement. And his extreme “Jew Hatred on Campus” initiative has received promotion from Canary Mission.

Horowitz is a former radical leftist who emerged as a leading conservative organizer during the Reagan era. A former Stalinist raised without any connection to Jewish religion by Communist academics blacklisted by McCarthy, Horowitz became an ardent promoter of the North Korean Communist regime before turning hard right. His dogmatism was unaffected by his conversion. His transformation, meanwhile, has been wildly profitable, earning him millions of dollars from conservative donors including the Koch brothers. He showed little interest in the Middle East or Israel before the terrorist attacks of September 11. Afterward, Horowitz likened his deceased father to Mohammed Atta, one of the suicidal hijackers. In the post-9/11 era, Horowitz has focused his energy on whipping up the conservative movement with Islamophobia through campus-based initiatives like “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” where he attempted to explain how “the Left is in league with Islamofascists.” His Islamophobia campaigns have gained him and his groups millions more dollars from right-wing funders, some of which he funneled to the Dutch neo-fascist politician Geert Wilders. Despite his self-proclaimed fervent devotion to Israel, Horowitz has never bothered to visit the country.

Early this year, Horowitz introduced an initiative that would join the smear tactics that had earned him so much notoriety -- and money -- with the campaign to crush BDS. Calling it “Jew Hatred on Campus,” Horowitz introduced a project that aimed to blacklist colleges with “the worst anti-Semitic activity” while painting Students for Justice in Palestine as a hate group. At the same time, Horowitz’s organization plastered campuses with posters depicting a public execution by Hamas of prisoners accused of spying for Israel’s security services. The posters read: “Students For Justice in Palestine #JewHaters.” (Horowitz only took credit for the campaign after the posters ignited a furor).

One of Horowitz’s chief funders, the Boston-based tech baron Robert Shillman, also helps bankroll Pamela Geller’s Islamophobic poster campaign and her deliberately provocative road show. A trustee at his alma mater of Northeastern University, Shillman has attempted to leverage his multi-million dollar donations to pressure the school into banning its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Through his Shillman Fellowship, he has sponsored the careers of many of the zealots nurtured in Horowitz’s hothouse.

One of the most prolific Shillman-backed writers is Ben Shapiro, a would-be pundit and founder of the far-right online outlet called Truth Revolt, which is operated and funded through the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The website’s stated aim is to “unmask leftists in the media for who they are, destroy their credibility with the American public, and devastate their funding bases.” It has become a center for attacks on student BDS activists and liberal pro-Israel students, publishing material by right-wing students being groomed by the Israel lobby for advocacy careers.

Back in 2003, when he was still a student at UCLA, Shapiro called for the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. “If you believe that the Jewish state has a right to exist, then you must allow Israel to transfer the Palestinians and the Israeli-Arabs from Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Israel proper,” Shapiro wrote. More recently, Shapiro dedicated a column to a theme he would return to repeatedly in his tirades against the Black Lives Matter movement: “The racism of the black community.”

While other conservative organizers have attempted to recruit minorities into the ranks of the Republican Party, Horowitz has instead provided a sympathetic forum at his FrontPageMag for Jared Taylor, a leading white nationalist who argues that blacks and Latinos are genetically inferior to whites. Horowitz has editorialized that African-Americans owe white America a debt of gratitude for ending slavery and granting them “the most thoroughly protected rights anywhere.” This year, as protests against police brutality erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, Horowitz declared that “there’s no community in America that’s more racist than the black community.”

At his West Coast Retreat last March, Horowitz announced his “guerrilla campaign” against Palestine solidarity activism on campus. Complaining that conservatives too often shy from “very dirty warfare,” he declared that “negative advertising works. By focusing the conversation on their negatives, it takes attention away from ours.”

Our request for comment on Horowitz’s activity did not receive a response. An email to Elizabeth Ruiz, David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Assistant to the President, regarding the organization’s involvement in Canary Mission was not returned.

Canary Mission has partly relied on misinformation churned out by the myriad websites associated with Howoritz’s Freedom Center. More importantly, Horowitz has had a direct hand in backing many of the campus activists spying on their classmates, labeling them as terrorist sympathizers and smearing even pro-Israel students who disagree with their slash-and-burn style as anti-Semites. The Center for Constitutional Rights documented over 70 accusations of anti-Semitism in 2014 by pro-Israel forces on campus “based solely on speech critical of Israeli policy.”

Grooming the Zealots

The pro-Israel lobby has invested heavily in the career of Daniel Mael

Featured at David Horowitz’s West Coast Retreat alongside fellow activists on a panel titled “The War on Campus” was one of the most assiduously groomed, reliably confrontational zealots in the country. Daniel Mael, a recent graduate of Brandeis University, wreaked havoc during his time at the traditionally Jewish institution. A member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi, Mael provoked highly publicized feuds with college classmates, aggressively rebuking them for any criticism of Israel’s right-wing government. Heavily funded pro-Israel groups have supported Mael’s exploits, but his smears of fellow Brandeis students were met with scrutiny from the university’s administration. He retaliated by leveling personal accusations at Brandeis faculty members, receiving reams of positive coverage from right-wing media.

Having attacked the authors of this report through social media postings and online commentaries, Mael would not respond to our questions.

After two years at Washington University, where he played for the school’s baseball team and began participating in pro-Israel activism, Mael transferred to Brandeis, citing his desire for more “access to more Orthodox [Jewish] infrastructure,” according to the Boston Forward. He immediately made his presence felt on the traditionally Jewish campus, siccing himself on students and faculty he considered anti-Israel and anti-Jewish, including liberal pro-Israel students from the campus wing of J Street.

Last year, Mael gained access to the archives of “Concerned,” a private listserv that had been set up by Brandeis faculty during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He then provided emailed exchanges between the listserv’s professors to Charles Jacobs, a founder of CAMERA and the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance, who promptly accused the faculty members of “hate speech” and anti-Semitism for their criticisms of Israel. Mael’s friend, a fellow pro-Israel activist named Chloe Valdary, reproduced carefully selected excerpts from the list at the right-wing Daily Caller, presenting them as evidence of their resentment of “conservatives, Jews, Christians, and anyone who views America as a force for good in this world.” The salacious reports ultimately prompted Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence to issue a public letter denouncing the “Concerned” members.

One of the faculty members targeted by Mael, Brandeis Professor of Computer Science Harry Mairson, remarked, "I have an odd admiration for Mael, even if I’m repulsed by his politics.  Every college student is looking for their niche, and he’s found his — a youthful, shameless ambition, [pro-Israel super lawyer Alan] Dershowitz in larval form. He’ll probably end up as a big shot at AIPAC."

According to Aya Abdelaziz, a recent Brandeis graduate who helped lead the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, Mael once attempted to stage a mock lynching of a mannequin in the center of campus to dramatize the human rights record of Iran, where gay men have been publicly executed, and to promote the comparatively gay-friendly atmosphere of Israel. Shocked classmates told Abdelaziz that before bringing the crane, rope and gay dummy onto campus, Mael attempted to pressure Brandeis’s Muslim Students Association and the school’s LGBT club into endorsing his stunt.

“When the students refused his demands and erupted in outrage about the hanging, [Mael] went after them personally, confronting them and calling them anti-Semitic and accusing Jewish students of being self-hating,” Abdelaziz recalled to us. “It was something few on campus had ever dealt with before. It was crazy and very hurtful.”

Mael’s antics were consistent with directives outlined in the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “Jew Hatred on Campus” guidebook. “To highlight Israel’s comparatively stellar record on human rights,” the 35-page pamphlet reads, “we encourage you to hold a mock hanging, mock stoning or mock whipping on your campus.” The pamphlet assures student agitators, “The Freedom Center will provide you with the materials to carry out these protests.”

“Mael was involved with painting SJP and everyone involved with us as terror sympathizers,” Abdelaziz said. “He was keeping constant tabs on my Facebook statuses and profile pictures.”

(Full disclosure: One of the writers of this article, Max Blumenthal, had an encounter with Mael. Blumenthal spoke at Brandeis March 4, 2014, where he received a warm and respectful reception his book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. A few students expressed their differences, but did so in civil terms, and stayed after the event to debate. At the time, Mael was away with fellow student activists at AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington DC. Before he left town, however, Mael had plastered the campus with crudely made fliers painting Blumenthal as “anti-Semitic” and demanding that the school cancel his appearance.)

Mael has hardly limited his antagonism to anti-Zionists, non-Zionists and BDS campaigners. In fact, he seems to have focused much of his energy on targeting students involved with J Street U, the campus arm of the liberal pro-Israel organization, J Street. When he was a student at Washington University, Mael attacked Elisabeth Housman, a former J Street U National Co-chair who led Washington University’s chapter of the group at the time. He accused her of “anti-Semitism” simply because she organized a screening of Five Broken Cameras, an Oscar-nominated documentary that showcases Palestinian non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation.

“I always regarded and treated him as a potential ally in my pro-Israel activism, until he made it clear that he had no interest in working together, preferring instead to demonize me and my J Street U peers,” Housman told us. “He works through intimidation and manipulation - to put it mildly - which just was not conducive to what my peers and I were working to accomplish in promoting US political leadership to achieve a two-state solution."

After transferring from Washington University in St. Louis to Brandeis, Mael continued his ugly confrontations with fellow students, leading to charges of harassment and negative publicity for the university. In November 2013, a former Israeli military spokesperson Barak Raz visited Brandeis on a hasbara tour. During his lecture, Raz claimed that no checkpoints existed in the West Bank, prompting Eli Philip, an Israeli-American J Street U member, to protest that Palestinian freedom of movement was routinely obstructed by checkpoints like Qalandia, which separates the West Bank from occupied East Jerusalem.

Almost immediately, Philip became the target of Mael’s wrath. Mael excoriated him for airing his disagreements with Israeli policy in public, accused him of rupturing Jewish unity, and circulated petitions on campus calling on him to apologize. Philip claimed that Mael routinely sat in the back of J Street U meetings, feverishly jotting notes for files he kept on his adversaries. When Philip filed a harassment complaint against Mael with university administrators, Mael went to the Emergency Committee for Israel, a pro-Netanyahu lobbying group in Washington funded by the neoconservative casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The Emergency Committee hired an attorney at Covington and Burling, a major corporate law firm, to threaten to sue Brandeis, which intimidated the university into dropping the charges against Mael. As soon as Mael was in the clear, a neoconservative activist and Wall Street Journal editorial writer, Sohrab Ahmari, conducted an interview with him glorifying his bravery for attacking his classmates and his university. “The problem: Mr. Mael is a pro-Israel man of the right on a campus increasingly hostile to conservatism and the Jewish state. The other problem: The Brandeis administration, as at so many colleges, is more committed to shielding students’ political sensitivities from ‘harassment’ than challenging their minds.”

The following Spring, Mael targeted Talia Lepson, a Jewish student who was among the leaders of the Brandeis chapter of J Street U. Mael accused Lepson of berating him at the center of campus, calling him a “shitbag” and claiming, “Jews hate you.” Though Mael’s account of the incident remained unsubstantiated, he quickly relayed his story to his neoconservative allies, prompting a flurry of articles on right-wing websitesaccusing Lepson of harassing and threatening Mael, who was painted as a blameless honor student and pro-Israel victim-hero. He told the neocon Free Beacon that Lepson was guilty of “hate speech.” The Free Beacon concluded, “The incident also appears to run against Brandeis’s own code of civility…”

But was Mael telling the truth? According to four Brandeis students who stated they had witnessed the incident, his version was a fabrication. “Talia saw Daniel Mael, said a brief hello to him, and continued walking towards upper campus, exchanging no further words with or about Mael,” the statement read, signed by the four witnesses who were present during the alleged incident. “No one else in the group had any interaction with Mael. Talia never called Mael a ‘shit bag,’ nor did she say that ‘Jews hate him.’ As a witness in the situation, I can unequivocally state that these assertions have no basis in reality and are fictitious.”

Perhaps no incident crystallized the toxic role that Mael played on campus so much as the campaign he waged against an African-American classmate named Khadijah Lynch. Lynch had become a regular participant in the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted nationwide after a spate of police killings of unarmed black men. In December 2014, after the police officer who had choked Eric Garner to death in New York City was cleared of all wrongdoing, Lynch’s simmering anger rose to the surface on her personal Twitter account. Later that month, a mentally deranged African-American man murdered two NYPD officers in Brooklyn, prompting conservative pundits and politicians to blame Black Lives Matter protesters, claiming that the movement had cultivated an atmosphere that endangered cops.

Lynch took to Twitter in anger, declaring, "I have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today." She added, "lmao, all i just really dont have sympathy for the cops who were shot. i hate this racist fucking country."

At the time, Lynch had only 81 Twitter followers. Her comments -- as raw and impulsive as they were – might easily have passed unnoticed. But to Mael there was a problem with Lynch that went beyond her remark. She happened to be the undergraduate representative for Brandeis’s African and Afro-American studies department as well as a student senate candidate backed by the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

When Mael took to TruthRevoltto sensationalize Lynch’s comments about the murdered NYPD officers, the story spread rapidly in conservative and mainstream media. Reports in the Boston Globe, Inside Higher Ed, and the usual suspects in right-wing media, including Fox News, which hosted Mael on air, prompted a wave of denunciations and demands for harsh punishment. A Facebook Page titled “Expel Khadijah Lynch from Brandeis” became a repository for right-wing bile. Meanwhile, Lynch’s email inbox was suddenly flooded with threats and racist tirades.

“Fucking nigger bitch,” an emailer named Philip Barnett wrote Lynch on December 21. “I hope you get shot, raped and butchered.”

“If you ever get a job I will post your tweets to every public venue implicating your employer, [y]ou will be a liability and you will be fired…” promised an emailer named Cody G. “If you don't want to stand behind our police, then feel free to stand in front of them you animal.”

“You are just a Hypocrite Racist Bitch!” someone named Marshall Brinson wrote to Lynch. “Get Out of Our Country!”

Lynch was ultimately forced to resign as the undergraduate representative of Brandeis’s African and Afro-American Studies Department, which issued a statement distancing itself from her Twitter remarks. She was unwilling to discuss her interactions with Mael on the record with us, citing her fear of being targeted all over again. “It’s been hard for me to go to class and continue being a normal student,” was all Lynch would say.

"I’ll take the white supremacists any day”

Chloe Valdary (R) with anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali at a gala for the pro-Israel group CAMERA

Seated next to Mael on Horowitz’s “Jew Hatred On Campus” panel last March was another zealous student activist who also represents one of the Israel lobby’s special projects. Chloe Valdary, an African-American Christian Zionist, has emerged as one of the most vehement -- and heavily promoted -- activists against Palestine solidarity on campus.

A recent graduate of the University of New Orleans, Valdary has received favorable profiles from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the neoconservative Tablet Magazine, and the Times of Israel, a digital news publication that has hosted Canary Mission’s paid advertisements on its site. Although she has remained conspicuously silent about Canary Mission, Valdary has been involved in similar intimidation campaigns against academics who have voiced support for Palestinian rights. In the wake of Canary Mission’s public launch this May, Valdary urged her followers to call for the University of Missouri to cancel an honors course on Zionism, which was scheduled for the upcoming Fall semester. The call to censor the course, echoed by Horowitz’s FrontPageMag, was based on claims that the course’s prospective instructor, Professor George P. Smith, had been critical of Israel’s occupation in the past. “Settlements undermine peace process,” ran the headline on one of his articles.

Valdary has proven adept at using racial identity politics, making her a key asset to the almost uniformly white pro-Israel lobby. Her “letter from an angry black woman” accusing the Students for Justice in Palestine of having “pilfered” the civil rights struggle for a “repugnant agenda” was widely disseminated. In the Horowitz-run TruthRevolt, Valdary denounced the critically acclaimed production at the Metropolitan Opera of John Adams’ “The Death of Leon Klinghoffer,” depicting the murder by Palestinian militants of a disabled Jewish man on a cruise ship in the context of the Palestinians’ grievances, to the lynching of a black man by white supremacists. And in a video produced by Aish, which appears to play a direct role in administering Canary Mission, Valdary called Islamic extremism “the New Racism,” casting its most ardent opponents as modern day MLK’s.

During her college years, Valdary received thousands of dollars in funding from CAMERA, a right-wing advocacy organization that brands itself as a media watchdog. AIPAC, the political core of the Israel lobby, paid for Valdary to attend its annual conference in Washington in 2012, and afterward sent her to Israel on an all-expenses paid tour, which she described as “life-changing.” But even before her visit, Valdary was a hardcore advocate of what she calls a “Jewish one-state solution” -- of total Jewish dominion over all of historic Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. She has claimed that Arabs are the real occupiers of Palestine and that they had historically “subjugated” Jews, who represent the authentic indigenous people of the region.

Valdary’s far right Zionism may be a product of her affiliation with the Intercontinental Church of God, a tiny denomination founded by the late TV evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong. Max Valdary, Chloe’s father, is a minister in the congregation. On the Jewish holiday of Sukkot this year, he delivered what he titled “An Uncle Tom Sermon,” praising Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom slave character as a model Christian.

"When I read about this man, this Uncle Tom,” the elder Valdary proclaimed, “I don’t see weakness, I see strength…for those who call us Uncle Toms, for those who call us weak, who call us pushovers, they’re doing it because they see Christ in us. Smile! Rejoice!”

Intercontinental Church of God congregants imitate aspects of traditional Jewish worship and adopt their own biblical-based vision of Jewish history that bears resemblance to fire and brimstone sermons. “‘You are the sons and daughters of former slaves in Egypt, of warrior poets, and kings who slayed giants, and queens filled with courage, and prophets and dreamers,” Valdary bellowed out to a rally of 100 or so right-wing Zionists in New York City. ‘Rise, Zion, rise!’”

Valdary’s mentor, Pastor Dumisani Washington, has delivered anti-Arab diatribes before mostly white audiences at numerous pro-Israel campus organizations, including a group within Columbia University’s Hillel. Washington is a pastor of The Congregation of Zion, a small evangelical church inspired by Hebrew Roots theology. This relatively new theological trend claims that modern Christianity has strayed from its origins in First Century AD Rome, when Jesus supposedly adhered to traditional Jewish practices. For her part, Valdary observes the Hebrew calendar, including the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holidays, within a distinctly Christian framework. Her theology emphasizes the importance of a religiously exclusive Jewish state in all of historic Palestine.

Pastor Washington’s organization, the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI), which has previously employed Valdary, claims its mission is to “strengthen solidarity with the Jewish state among Black Americans and other communities of color.” Yet IBSI has little record of organizing outside the mostly white audiences cultivated by top-heavy, pro-Israel lobbying organizations. Washington also works as the “Diversity Outreach Coordinator” for Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a Christian Zionist group founded by the ultra-conservative Republican Pastor John Hagee, who once hosted a mock slave auction to raise money for evangelical high school students.

IBSI appears to owe its existence to the need to provide an almost entirely white, billionaire-backed movement with a veneer of diversity and a dash of black history. As IBSI’s mission statement explains, the group aims to “expose the hypocrisy of anti-Israel Arab Islamists (such as Hamas) who condone and benefit from the trafficking and sale of African slaves, while feigning solidarity with Black people.”

Despite their appeals to fellow African-Americans, Washington and Valdary are unlikely to win many over with their vehement condemnations of the black-led protests against police violence. In a video produced by the right-wing Jewish radio jock Dennis Prager, Valdary proclaimed that the black protesters at  Ferguson and their white progressive allies are a greater threat to the United States than the Ku Klux Klan. “I’ll take the white supremacists any day [over black rioters],” she declared. “First, there are very few of them and they have no power. Second, I can easily prove them wrong. But how do I shake off the condescenders, the patronizers?”

For his part, Washington has repeatedly taken to Twitter to inveigh against the protests in Ferguson and other cities against police brutality. In one instance, Washington promoted an editorial published by American Renaissance, an openly white nationalistorganization whose founders consider blacks to be genetically inferior. “Most blacks are unable to speak English well,” the piece read. “They cannot conjugate verbs…[Blacks] show a complete lack of empathy and are unable to conceal a morality based on the satisfaction of immediate, base needs.”

When later asked on Twitter why he promoted this racist screed, Washington deflected the question with personal attacks. Valdary, for her part, has described an author of this article, Blumenthal, as an anti-Semite in commentary co-authored by Daniel Mael. She responded to questions about Canary Mission with deflections. “I am so beyond you,” she wrote. Her Twitter cover features an Israeli soldier holding an automatic rifle above a caption that reads, “Nice Jewish Boy.”

Despite their penchant for embarrassing gaffes, Valdary and Washington maintain their value to the pro-Israel lobby through their sheer presence. As Morton Klein, president of the far-right Zionist Organization of America, said of Valdary to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Because so many prominent black leaders are hostile to Israel, it makes it even more powerful to have someone who’s black supporting Israel.”

Upon graduating this year, Valdary’s pro-Israel fervor was rewarded with an editorial fellowship, now reporting directly to Bret Stephens, the editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page, who suggested on the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima that the US should also nuke Iran. There, she would work alongside WSJ assistant books editor Jessica Kasmer Jacobs, the daughter of Charles Jacobs, who first promoted Valdary through his pro-Israel outfit.

Mael joined Valdary in New York City, where he went to work for the Gatestone Institute, a neoconservative online media outfit funded by the heiress Nina Rosenwald who extensively finances the Islamophobia industry and serves as a board member at CAMERA.

Meanwhile, another budding activist was dispatched to Boston for a special project. He was at least as ideologically extreme as Valdary and Mael, and even more aggressive.

The “Fighting Jew”

 Elliot Hamilton has vowed that Palestine solidarity campaigners “will be faced with the humiliating force that is the pro-Israel community.”

On a CAMERA-sponsored trip to Israel this June, a young man named Elliott Hamilton visited the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. When he came across a group of parked United Nations peacekeeper vehicles, Hamilton fantasized about vandalizing them. “Surprised I didn’t slash the tires before ditching [the UN truck],” Hamilton mused on Twitter.

Though not as prominent as Mael and Valdary, who each earned profiles in pro-Israel publications, Hamilton was at least as belligerent during his time at Pitzer College in California, from which he recently graduated. “Canary Mission definitely fits his personality and that of the all the various organizations he’s affiliated with,” a former classmate of Hamilton’s told us. “It goes perfectly with his history of trying to excommunicate people and target pro-Palestine activists.” (Hamilton refusedto reply to questions we sent him about Canary Mission. He has an extensive record of leveling invective against both authors on Twitter.).

Hamilton has been among the activists featured in Horowitz’s “Jew Hatred on Campus” initiative. At Horowitz’s West Coast retreat this year, Hamilton delivered a frenetic, almost hyper-ventilating performance that blended denunciations of pro-Palestine evildoers with unsubstantiated tales of anti-Semitic persecution on American college campuses. As he built his jeremiad to a shrieking conclusion, the self-styled “Fighting Jew” demanded an iron fist to hammer what he called “a cancer, festering, metastasizing on our campus.”  

“If someone’s attacking you, you don’t wait for the punch to come to you. If someone’s gonna strike you, you block the strike and then you counter!” Hamilton boomed. Affecting the menacing tone of a hardboiled action film vigilante, Hamilton pledged that Students for Justice in Palestine “will be faced with the humiliating force that is the pro-Israel community.”

In the same speech, Hamilton mentioned that he had been consulting with his “really good friend” Frank Luntz on crafting his language to appeal to moderates on campus. One of the most widely recognized Republican public relations consultants and pollsters, Luntz earned renown in 1996 when he crafted a memo for Newt Gingrich, the Republican speaker of the House, called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” Luntz went on to get lucrative contracts with Enron, ExxonMobil and, later, the financial industry, which hired him to help undermine the Occupy Wall Street movement. He has been a regular presence on Fox News. In 2010, Luntz produced a 116-page manual on hasbara for the The Israel Project. Throughout the document, Luntz urges activists to lead attacks on their enemies by “start[ing] with empathy for both sides first,” feigning humility and concern for Palestinian children before attacking opponents as sympathizers of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Despite his admiration for a self-styled PR wizard like Luntz, Hamilton has not learned to emulate Luntz’s nuance. Hamilton claims he suffered from “bullying in Hebrew school” and “the question of identity in an interfaith family.” His sense of Jewish belonging, he says, stabilized only after he thrust himself into full-time Israel advocacy. At Pitzer College, Hamilton joined the strongly pro-Israel fraternity AEPiand began gravitating towards the local chapter of Chabad, a messianic ultra-Orthodox group that is closely affiliated with the settler movement in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Hamilton also kept close ties with Armageddon-ready Christian Zionists. He was filmed cheering on evangelicals as they danced a hora at the Christians United For Israel summit held in the midst of Israel’s war in Gaza in July 2014.

Back at Pitzer, Hamilton quit Hillel, the leading Jewish organization on American college campuses, rejecting the group’s refusal to boycott liberal Jewish supporters of Israel. Hamilton founded Claremont Students for Israel, a CAMERA-backed activist group that was well to the right of the three pre-existing pro-Israel clubs on campus. And like Mael, he attacked Jewish classmates who criticized Israel.

According to a former classmate of Hamilton’s who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, Hamilton “has a history of obnoxious ad hominem attacks.”

In one instance, Hamilton lashed out at a Jewish classmate who posted on her Facebook wall a fact sheet on Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. “Stop being an anti-Semitic Jew and actually support your people’s right to self-determination instead of acting as an apologist for Jew-hating terror,” Hamilton demanded. “Try not to be more of a disgrace to the Jewish community than you have been already.”

In April, Hamilton delivered his final address as a campus pro-Israel advocate. Speaking before an audience convened in partnership between his Claremont Students for Israel and Horowitz’s “Jew Hatred on Campus” initiative, Hamilton took aim at liberal Jews. “It’s the self-proclaimed liberal zealots who revise Zionism’s history in order to fit a ridiculous narrative that perpetuates Jew-hatred,” he proclaimed. ‘Even Jews have taken part in this anti-Zionist blacklist, using their Jewish identity as a justification for acquiring a moral high ground.”

At the end of his speech he triumphantly announced that he had just been hired by Charles Jacobs, the ultra-Zionist founder of CAMERA and co-founder with Daniel Pipes of the blacklisting website, Campus Watch.

This May, Hamilton began work at Jacobs’ Boston-based lobbying outfit, which calls itself Americans for Peace and Tolerance. There, he would learn at the knee of one of the pioneers in blacklisting Palestine solidarity activists, a figure whose dossiers have formed a substantial part of Canary Mission’s glossary.

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Mass Shootings Aren’t Natural Disasters: The Twisted Logic of 'Gun Control' in America - October 2, 2015 - 12:56pm
Yet another man has used a deadly weapon to commit a monstrosity. Sooner or later, we have to actually do something.

It’s hurricane season and all along the east coast residents are girding themselves for major weather. Every once in a while a major storm makes landfall and property is destroyed and lives are lost. One hopes that doesn’t happen this year. But natural disasters are a fact of life people just learn to live with. Tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, major floods and fires are considered to be acts of God and while we try to mitigate the damage everyone knows that we cannot stop them.  It’s just the way it is.

In America, gun violence is just another natural disaster. Like an earthquake for which you can never really be prepared, most people have come to see a mass killing like that which happened in Oregon yesterday as being unpreventable. We might as well try to stop the sun from coming up in the morning. All we can do is try to comfort the survivors and help people cope with the aftermath. On any given day we could personally be the victims of gun violence or turn on our TVs and computers and witness some kind of mass shooting, horrifying domestic dispute that ends in carnage, accidents or criminal activity. And that’s normal.

To the rest of the world, this is simply insane. Elsewhere they treat gun violence like a public health threat and limit the public’s exposure to it through strict gun regulation. Different cultures have slightly different approaches but there is no other developed country in the world that treats gun violence as if it were a simple fact of life they must live with.

But the fact that Americans accept this, doesn’t mean they want it to be this way. The polling shows that majorities of Americans support common sense gun regulations of the kind which are proven to work in other countries. The problem is that the political system is corrupted by the pro-gun lobbying groups which not only insist that society has no right to regulate their killing toys, they ensures that it has no ability to do it. Once again it has to be noted that after a disturbed young man went into an elementary school and gunned down 20 tiny first graders and 6 adults, everyone was so shocked that it was assumed that something would have to change. It was unthinkable that it wouldn’t.

But it didn’t.

I wrote about why in my last piece about gun carnage, after a disgruntled employee shot two former co-workers on live TV. We can thank one man who runs one powerful lobbying group, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. According to the Frontline documentary “Gunned Down” it was clear that the NRA was thrown by the Newtown massacre and there was personal pressure on board members to accede to some kind of gun safety regulation to appease the national sense of horror over the event. At the very least, they thought it would be wise for the organization to keep a low profile in the aftermath. But without telling anyone LaPierre staged a press conference in Washington DC and came out swinging. He said in no uncertain terms that there would be no compromise, no negotiation. He doubled down on the vacuous, insincere NRA logic that the reason those tiny children were gunned down in their 1st grade classrooms was the fact that there weren’t enough guns there. He infamously declared:

“The only way — the only way — to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun… What if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday, he’d been confronted by qualified armed security?

“Our children— we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.”

The best they can do is to say that if we had sharp-shooters stationed in classrooms all over the country we could maybe cut the death toll. There would still be dead kids, of course. Maybe even more would die. But it is simply inconceivable to them that we might seek ways to end this violence in the first place. They say the world is full of monsters and predators. But just as we cannot hold back the tides it is impossible to keep deadly weapons out of their hands.

LaPierre gave no quarter after Newtown and the results speak for themselves. The bill the president pushed as hard as he could died in the Congress. And that, I believe, was the watershed that convinced Americans that we were impotent to deal with the problem. If the NRA is so powerful that it could single-handedly derail some very minor regulation in the wake of a massacre of babies then it just seemed hopeless. (And politicians wonder why people have lost faith in government.)

Yesterday, President Obama made yet another in a long line of impassioned speeches exhorting the congress to enact legislation to require a simple universal background check. He asked the press to show charts and graphs that illustrate the vast difference in deaths from firearms and terrorism, the latter problem of which we seem prepared to do absolutely anything to prevent and the former absolutely nothing. The difference is dramatic.

But the truth is that even national security will not deter gun-rights zealots from their rigid adherence to their cause.  Recall that in December of 2001, as Attorney General John Ashcroft was rounding up American and foreign Muslims by the hundreds, he refused to allow the FBI to check records to see if any of them had bought guns. This would have violated their 2nd Amendment rights, you see. The New York Times reported:

[I]t is in keeping with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s strong support of gun rights and his longstanding opposition to the government’s use of background check records. In 1998, as a senator from Missouri, Mr. Ashcroft voted for an amendment to the Brady gun-control law to destroy such records immediately after checking the background of a prospective gun buyer. That amendment was defeated…

The Justice Department’s action has frustrated some F.B.I. and other law enforcement officials who say it puts the department at odds with its own priorities. Even as the department is instituting tough new measures to detain individuals suspected of links to terrorism, they say, it is being unusually solicitous of foreigners’ gun rights.

There is literally no reason the gun proliferation activists and the NRA will allow the common sense gun regulation that exists everywhere else in the developed world.

There are many fine people working to bring some sanity to American gun laws. In fact, one of the saddest consequences of all this gun violence is that each time a new mass killing takes place you see that more family members from previous horrific events have been radicalized by the government’s inability to deal with this problem. And one cannot give up hope. But the world’s worst terrorist attack couldn’t budge them. The wanton killing of 20 little six-year-olds merely motivated them to strengthen their resistance. Constant gun violence in work places and churches and movie theatres and schoolrooms has only caused them to redouble their efforts to put more and more guns into society. It’s hard to even imagine what could possibly make a difference at this point.

So Americans now carry on as if it’s as normal for average citizens to be randomly gunned down in a classroom or during a prayer meeting as it is for a tornado to tear through a small town in Oklahoma or wildfires to burn through the forest. All they can do is watch in horror and be grateful it hasn’t happened to them. Not yet anyway.

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