The Bullet: The Attack on Democracy and Secularism in India

Socialist Project - 3 hours 49 min ago
There are things. And there are conditions of existence of things. In India, as in all countries of the world, many social problems exist. Close to 700 million Indians do not have access to food that will provide the minimum number of calories required for a healthy life. In other words, there is a massive amount of absolute poverty. And then there are conditions of existence of problems such as poverty.
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Is Penis Worship at the Root of the Bogus Notion of Fetal Personhood?

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 10:09pm
The notion that life begins at conception is a variation on a very ancient—and very sexist—cultural theme.

I’m slow sometimes, but after years of writing about abortion rights it finally occurred to me that “life begins at conception” is one more version of a multimillennial infatuation with the penis as symbol and proof that manliness is next to godliness.

On the surface, conservative Evangelical and Catholic insistence that life begins at conception appears to be aimed at elevating the status of fetus over woman. But just beneath the surface, what it elevates is the status of the penis—and anyone who has one.

What creates the wonder of a new person? Forget about the maturation of germ cells, and the nine-month labor of a woman’s body, and painstaking parental nurture. It’s a sperm, a penile projectile shot forth by the ultimate organ of demi-divinity. Sperm penetrates egg, and voila! A person! A new soul! All the extraordinary and unique value we accord to human life is created instantaneously.

Three Millennia of Penis Worship

Once noticed, the pattern is inescapable. Our ancestors thought that the penis was literally divine. Dharmic cultures worshiped it by whacking stalactites and stalagmites out of caves and air-roots off of trees and carving phallic shapes out of granite by the thousands. Abrahamic cultures took the opposite approach and insisted the penis was so precious and powerful that it couldn’t be seen, even in art, and had to be chiseled off of statues or at least covered with fig leaves.

They also insisted that a man’s magic wand could permanently transform a female from one kind of being to another, from a prized “virgin” into a worthless “whore.” In medieval Catholicism’s recipe for sexual hangups, the prior touch of a penis (or lack thereof) became the most defining aspect of a woman’s identity, economic value and moral virtue. Penis penetrates female, and voila! No longer a whole person! The same magic wand that made her valuable could also do the reverse.

Same Old, Same Old

Fundamentalists who are anchored to the Iron Age by sacred texts and patriarchal traditions still hold to this archaic view, though they may use updated terms like “licked lollypop” or “chewed gum”—and some do offer second chances through “born-again virginity.”

But at least in the West, millennials finally are catching on to how ridiculous the whole virginity thing is. As one Facebook meme put it recently, “I don’t believe in virginity. Why? Because nobody’s penis is important enough to change any part of my identity.”

The idea that a penis can permanently change a woman’s value and the idea that a penis can instantaneously create a new soul both derive from the idea that men uniquely, were made in the image of God and that the penis (circumcised, of course) is the supreme symbol of man’s divinely anointed headship. And once they are packaged together, the idea that life-begins-at-conception starts sounding as transparently male-aggrandizing and silly as the idea of virginity.

No, You Didn’t Build That

Yes, the occasional sperm does end up inside an egg rather than a towel. And yes, sperm-penetrates-egg is a necessary—if insufficient—step in person formation. But the incredible process of making a new person begins long before conception and continues long after. To the trained eye, conception is no more or less magnificent—or critical—than the creation of the egg or the sperm itself, or of the many stages of transformation that come after.

In the subconscious of a patriarchal male or religious institution intent on preserving privilege, the claim that a penis can create a new person—or better yet, a new soul, almost ex nihilo—may flow naturally and logically from man’s god-like qualities and “rightful” dominance. But from an outside vantage the men making such claims seem rather like puffed-up architects who scribble partial plans and then claim they build buildings. Nice fantasy, but in the real world both buildings and people get made one step at a time. Construction is slow and hard and takes teamwork.

Everything’s a Project

In the case of forming a new person, two bodies produce germ cells that independently hold half of a biological blueprint. If each half works well enough and they meet, then a woman’s body starts the structural engineering to determine whether the design actually works. For very good reasons, the answer usually is no; the engineering team rejects the project and dumps it into the porcelain circular file. Most embryonic humans get booted out so fast that nobody even knows they existed. If and when engineering gives the preliminary go-ahead, a woman’s whole body gears up to start building a person. Her circulatory system pumps up blood flow. Her bones and teeth transfer calcium to the construction site. Her digestive system demands enough food for two.

Not only is the process slow and costly—like any construction project, it’s dangerous. Eight hundred American women die every year from pregnancy. Around the world, it’s that many every day. Most of us survive the project, but we do endure nausea and swollen ankles and fatigue, and irreversible wear and tear. When we women choose to incubate a child, which we often do quite gladly, we do so knowing our bodies and lives will never again be the same.

So, patriarchs, love your orgasms all you like, but don’t fall for the weirdly puffed-up idea that they make babies. Penis power is solely limited to fertilizing eggs. And a fertilized egg is a fertilized egg—no less, no more.

Real Fatherhood

Silly-willy worship aside, many men deserve real credit for making children, because they take on the actual parenthood project in a deep and devoted way. Wanting to be good parents of healthy children, they wear condoms till the time is right, put their lives in order, bring home prenatal vitamins and make peanut butter sandwiches in the middle of the night.

When pregnancy ends, they endure labor vicariously (yes, vicarious pain hurts), anxiously awaiting the slimy little creature that will spill out in a puddle of blood. Labor over, they gingerly hold a sweet-smelling, flannel-wrapped burrito and look into eyes that are seeing the world for the first time and fall in love.

Back in the home they have helped to create, they wipe spit-up off shirts and go to work bleary-eyed when illness strikes and a child can’t sleep. In better times, they get down on the rug and play pretend and read stories even though maybe—just once in a while—they’d rather be playing video games or reading the Times. They understand that making something as wonderfully complex as a fully fledged, thriving person takes everything a parent can give for decades, and they give it.

Name It

Conception worship is willy worship. It diminishes fatherhood by trivializing the many other parts of themselves that men can and do bring to the process of creating a new person—heart and mind, labor and love. And it diminishes all of motherhood.

So, if you’re one of the guys who either is or intends to be a real father—please call out posers who think themselves endowed with some divine instrument that can turn an egg into a precious little person. And if you would, while you’re at it, you could do us women a favor by calling out the equally ludicrous conceit that the touch of a penis turns a female from one kind of being into another. Men don’t have magic wands in their pants—just body parts, and exaggerating the power of your dick just makes you one.

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Election '16: Work-Life Issues Have Finally Taken Center Stage

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 6:03pm
Work-life issues may be the breakout issues of the presidential campaign.

Once upon a time, phrases like maternity leave and work-life balance were relegated to the women’s pages of newspapers. But the narrative surrounding work-life issues—including paid family and sick leave, affordable childcare, and flexible and predictable work schedules—is undergoing a radical shift. As the needs of American families become a growing concern to politicians, economists, business owners, and most of all, American families, these former "women’s issues" are becoming a focal point in maintaining and growing our economic prosperity.

In her new book Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict, economist Heather Boushey argues that tending to the needs of families is actually critical to our economic health.

“These issues are important because they’re inseparable from the rest of what we spend all of our time doing,” explains Boushey. “There’s still this idea in many workplaces that people drop off their family and life baggage at the entrance to the office and pick it back up when they leave for the day. That’s not the case and hasn’t been the case for decades now that women have gained access to employment opportunities in the American economy writ large.”

“Instead of fighting this new reality, we should adapt to it like nearly every other country,” says Boushey. “We’re kneecapping our economy’s potential because instead of supporting people when they have to take care of a sick parent, or take care of themselves, or decide to have a child, we’re forcing them out of their jobs and out of the workforce.”

As Boushey details in her book, our current worker protections, including Social Security, the National Labor Standards Act, and the Fair Labor Relations Act, were formulated by Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the 1930s New Deal. They were designed for what was then the typical American middle- or working-class family, with a single wage-earner supporting an entire family and an at-home caregiver to tend the domestic fires. Such policies were revolutionary back then and provide a solid backbone to build on now. But they are clearly no longer enough.

The modern family looks nothing like it did 80 years ago. The bulk of families are either two-parent, two-income or single-parent single-income, with only one-third of today’s children age 14 and under living in a family with a full-time, stay-at-home caregiver. What is today’s typical family? We have married, together but not married, divorced, single by choice, single by circumstances, step-families, multi-generational families, same-sex couples, all in multiple permutations. Policies need to stretch broader and run deeper.

It is not news that for years virtually every other advanced economy in the world has provided its citizens with far more generous social policies when it comes to paid leave, childcare, and other family-friendly issues. But now we do not even have to look across the ocean for examples regarding how such policies might unfold in the United States.

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and even Marco Rubio put forward detailed plans for instituting paid family leave, which is unprecedented in a presidential campaign. Four states have now mandated paid family and medical leave—California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and most recently New York—and Washington State has passed but not yet implemented a stand-alone paid parental leave program. Five states and 26 cities have mandated paid sick days, and San Francisco just became the first U.S. city to approve six weeks of fully paid parental leave. High-profile companies like Amazon, Google, Netflix and Apple proudly flaunt their generous paid leave policies.

“We have a unique opportunity to push for change,” offers Julie Kashen, senior policy adviser for the Make it Work Campaign, a three-year education campaign formed to get work-life policies into the public discussion in the run up to the presidential election. Kashen cites significant grassroots victories in cities and states, momentum in Congress and attention from mainstream figures on up to President Obama as evidence of a shifting and more hospitable landscape around the country. “We wanted to seize a narrow window of opportunity that exists right now: the opportunity to make economic security for women and families the defining issue of this presidential election cycle.”

High-profile think tanks are rallying around work-life issues as well. In 2015, the Center for American Progress released a detailed report, Administering Paid Family and Medical Leave: Learning from International and Domestic Examples, outlining several plans for implementing a national paid family leave program. Sarah Jane Glynn, the CAP director of women’s dconomic policy who authored the report, attributes the heightened attention to these issues to a confluence of factors including decades of groundwork laid by dedicated advocates and the economic recession and tepid recovery, resulting in a lack of faith that the market can do everything on its own. “There has been this very public recognition that there is a place for government intervention,” says Glynn, “when it is something families really need.”

The New American Foundation recently launched a work-family focused program called the Better Life Lab, dedicated to finding and highlighting policy solutions that better fit the way people—male and female—work and live today. Former Washington Post columnist Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, is director of the program.

“We’re at an exciting moment,” explains Schulte, “because it really does feel like we’re beginning to shift out of the 'be nice to women' view to understanding how the way we’ve structured our work is so outdated and out of sync with our modern lives that it’s doing real damage—to families, to communities and to business’ bottom lines. We’re finally getting good and compelling data that shows how policies, structures and practices that support the whole person, men and women—caring for themselves, their families and doing meaningful, productive work—actually produces better work and better workers.”

Granted there is a long way yet to travel, but the signal flags are flying. Work-life issues are no longer discounted as softer “women’s” concerns. They may very well be the breakout issues of the presidential campaign and form a cornerstone of domestic policy in future administrations.

Maybe the public—and our elected officials—finally see that a healthy domestic policy that treats workers well, acknowledges they have families and responsibilities off the job and accommodates those life needs, makes for a healthy economy, a productive nation and a true world power. Stay tuned.

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There's a Cannabis Grow Kit for Kids Called 'My First Grow'

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 5:13pm
Just the thing you needed for your little hemp farmer in the making.

It can be hard to know exactly what your kids have a natural talent for or interest in without giving them the tools to develop their skills. Suspect you’ve got a musical prodigy on your hands? Enroll him in lessons and see where things go. Think you’re raising a budding choreographer? Dance classes it is! Believe your child has a green thumb? Find out just how green it is by gifting her with My First Grow, the cannabis grow kit for kids.

Yes, this a real thing, and no, it’s not a gateway to kindergarteners getting high. My First Grow is a hemp-growing kit. The UK-based company includes a message on its website assuring the weary that “hemp is part of the cannabis family but without the psychoactive properties; perfect for your child’s first grow.” Founder Greg Lonsdale is aware the kits will inspire outrage in some quarters, and he told Vice he developed My First Grow to pushback on misguided panic around all things pot-related.

“My First Grow simply sells hemp seeds,” Lonsdale told the magazine. “Hemp...cannot get you high. Hemp can be used for paper, cardboard, rope, fabrics, paints, oils, varnishes, cosmetics, building materials, and even renewable plastics. It's abundant in nutrients, too. Put simply: It's good for you. It's no more harmful than basil or mint. The problem, however, is fear. Hemp belongs to the cannabis genus, alongside its psychoactive relatives. It is guilty only by association. To me, this is as nonsensical as locking away an innocent person for a crime committed by a family member.

"I started My First Grow to creatively highlight this absurdity," Lonsdale continued. "It was my way of contributing to the recent UK legalization discussions that have been happening regarding cannabis. I understand that the larger debate is mainly concerned with hemp's psychoactive relatives, but it affects hemp, too... Children learn that 'cannabis is bad' at school from a young age—however, they are being denied the full spectrum of information. I believe that everyone, including children, deserves to know the truth about cannabis today if we want half a chance at a legalized tomorrow.”

Based in England, Lonsdale says he will ship My First Grow kits anywhere in the world. Each kit includes a growing cup, a packet of hemp seeds, compressed soil, instructions and a hemp information leaflet. (The kits sell for about $12, though you can get them for about half that if you share a post on Facebook or Twitter via the My First Grow website.) The site warns that growing hemp seeds is illegal in lots of places, and suggests that interested customers "seek legal advice before making a purchase."

Did I mention the kit includes two stickers, one featuring Leafy, the smiling cartoon mascot? That’s him beaming at you below.

To up the entertainment ante, My First Grow has a page dedicated to telling the sad story of hemp, a sort of fairytale in which a few evildoers cause the many lovers of cannabis to live anything but happily ever after.

Once upon a time there was a wonderful plant called Cannabis. The plant had hundreds of brilliant uses and brought lots of joy and happiness to the millions of people who utilised it. 

One day, a gang of nasty businessmen with briefcases and big cigars began spreading naughty rumors about the plant. The nasty businessmen began to use their influential status to frighten the people of the world into thinking that using the wonderful plant was evil and wrong. People started to become scared. [Read the rest of the tale.]

The My First Grow blog has posts illuminating the wonders of hemp and things hemp-related, including essential cannabis-focused readings. If you're in the market for a kit, you can order through the site.

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Inside the Bizarre World of Mormon Porn—Which Is Freaking out the Church and Utah Lawmakers

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 4:47pm
Sites find countless ways to sexualize sacred religious practices, ceremonies and leadership roles.

Utah has declared pornography to be a “public health crisis,” but it isn’t because of Mormon porn addiction; it’s because of porn usage. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t screw around when it comes to members of the church engaging in sexual activity, even if it isn’t consensual.

The advocates for restrictive access to pornography are no match for technology, where anyone with a smartphone can excuse themselves to the men’s room for a self-satisfying afternoon delight. Leaders in the LDS church are paralyzed in the face of First Amendment law and the ease of privacy. All a Mormon masturbator must shoulder is his or her own guilt, and the church plays up the shaming to the extreme.

The market is hungry for young men and women disrobing down to their holy temple garments, before pausing with trepidation as the recognition of the forbidden acts cross their faces. In the LDS Church, God’s chosen priests, the sacred seed bearers, are tasked with rebuilding the lost tribes of Israel. That means spreading their “seed” as liberally as they see fit to the daughters of Zion.

The pornography site MormonGirlz.com features these “seed bearers” calling young virgin women to their offices. Some have been caught kissing other women and are in need of some sort of forced recommitment to heterosexuality. Others are called to temple leaders’ offices for secret sexual rituals. Some of the women even play the role of married Mormon women whose husbands must submit to the “desire of the church” to inseminate their women with this so-called sacred seed. The site finds countless ways to sexualize sacred religious practices, ceremonies and leadership roles.

Utah’s porn usage isn’t quite as overwhelming when compared to the majority of other states in the country. In 2015, the adult site PornHub recorded 16 visits per capita from Utah visitors, half of what Washington, D.C.’s rate. While Utah lawmakers reject LGBT-friendly laws, their citizens are hungry for lesbian pornography. It is the top search term in the state, but it’s also consistent with a majority of states in the country.

Utah’s “health crisis” legislation is primarily ceremonial and places no actual laws or consequences surrounding pornography or access to it. It is, however, 50 percent more likely than other states to search for Mormon pornography on PornHub than any other state. It isn’t just lesbians and watching fellow Mormons get their groove on that satisfies Utah’s taboo desires. They are also known for searching for Hentai pornography, threesomes and anal sex. Perhaps the search traffic is why pornography depicting Mormons is becoming more prevalent.

The site was started by former Mormon Brooke Hunter who met her business partner Legrand Wolf (not his real name), founder of MormonBoyz, when the two attended Brigham Young University. Like most Mormons, Wolf went on his mission trip in his late teens, but the time away from home helped him come to grips with his homosexuality.

MormonBoyz, like it’s sister site, features gay themes mixed with the religious practices. Young men going on their mission trips are alone with other young men and away from home for the first time. Inevitably, it leads to sex. Many of the stories mirror Wolf’s own experience, he told Vice. After months of innuendo and agonizing build-up, Wolf’s sexy French mission “companion” finally initiated sex and the two developed a loving relationship.

Beyond overt Mormon-specific pornography, there is another tactic used to help Mormons who seek to satisfy the itch for female nudity without actual nudity. “Bubbling” photos falls in the gray area of the Mormon porn ban. Photos of women in bathing suits are taken, and graphics strategically placed over them to make them appear as though they might be nude. It is essentially church-sanctioned pornography.

Utah’s greatest problem is more their constraint of an open and healthy sexuality. A 2014  study directed by psychologist Joshua Grubbs, of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio shows a correlation between those who consider themselves to be very religious and those who consider normal sexual behavior is addiction.

“We were surprised that the amount of viewing did not impact the perception of addiction, but strong moral beliefs did,” Grubbs said to Science Daily. “We can help the individual understand what is driving this perception and help individuals better enjoy their faith.”

The Utah Coalition Against Pornography believes that their state’s usage of the sexual content will impair a child’s brain development and that all people should be protected against pornography. They claim that the support of prohibition is entirely founded on the “think of the children” argument. According to PornHub’s data, however, users aren’t 10-year-old children coming home from school and searching for lesbians or MILF’s instead of practicing their multiplication tables. Sixty percent of the users of the site in Utah are in the Millennial Generation.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is on a crusade of his own to stop pornography. “[No] real headway can or will be made in this battle until there is a much deeper, much broader, and, frankly, much more fearful concern about the actual threat of pornography than we presently see in society in general,” he said in a speech.

That’s where the church’s guilt and shame becomes a factor. On a message board for exMormons, an anonymous poster explained his own history of being told he was a porn addict by his church. “Most Mormon ‘porn addicts’ are not addicted at all,” he writes. “The ‘addiction’ is due largely in [part] to the taboo nature of it.” He asserts that some simply have higher sex drives than others, but the church refers to them as addicts.

“I realized this was true when a therapist suggested I attend a non-[Mormon] sexaholics anonymous group,” he said explaining he had been to LDS ones before. “I realized that my ‘addiction’ of 1-7 times/week would get me laughed out of such a meeting.”

“The human body is a beautiful thing and there is nothing wrong with wanting to look at it,” he concludes. “Couples need to decide between themselves, without help from the church, what is acceptable to them and then stay within those limits.”

 

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It’s Time to End Oral Sex Inequality: Why Women Should Get Head, Too

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 4:16pm
Most women have about one-third the number of orgasms men enjoy. Something’s not adding up—or rather, certain someones aren’t going down.

If you are a lesbian with a sexually satisfied partner, thank you for the visit, but you are free to go elsewhere. There’s probably not much you can gain from this article that you don’t already know. As one woman explains, “When two women bump junk, the chance of oral sex being involved is high.” A study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that lesbian women are significantly more likely to experience orgasm than their heterosexual counterparts.

Lesbian women are members of one of the lucky minorities that get to ditch gender expectations of pleasure and performance often associated with traditional intercourse. They’re also incredibly well-versed in the female body and its orgasmic intricacies. My guess is that most of them are unsurprised by the fact that nearly 70 percent of women require direct clitoral stimulation to orgasm, and it seems likely that many look to the tongue as a useful means of delivering it.  

Back in 2014, vlogger Arielle Scarcella decided to ask 500 of her straight-identifying female viewers and 500 lesbian viewers whether they preferred oral sex to penetration. Fifty-five percent of straight women preferred penetration. Just 25 percent of lesbian viewers agreed. In her analysis, Scarcella says, “Straight women are very uncomfortable with the idea of receiving sexual pleasure without giving it at the same time.”

According to the Kinsey Institute, heterosexual women are more likely to be nearly always or always orgasmic when alone than with a partner. When in a partnered environment, women seem much more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts, like oral sex. Men, on the other hand, don’t typically have a problem achieving orgasm through penetrative sex alone. When we apply that information to the fact that the average American woman has about one orgasm for every three a man experiences, it seems like something’s not adding up. Or rather, that certain someones aren’t going down.

Like most terrible trends, we might trace this one back to our formative years. In a study of 71 young adults aged 16-18, researchers found that women were more likely than men to perform oral sex on their partners, even if they didn’t want to. Both male and female subjects said it was a “bigger deal” for men to perform oral sex than it was for women. They said it was “easier” for men to receive oral sex than women. They also noted that cunnilingus was more “distasteful” than fellatio. Given the fact that most sex education focuses on pregnancy and periods in place of pleasure, that doesn’t seem totally surprising. 

In Peggy Orenstein’s book Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, she cites a study of high schoolers that claims the number one reason girls partake in oral sex is to improve their relationships. The research team found that “girls thought of fellatio kind of like homework: a chore to get done, a skill to master, one on which they expected to be evaluated, possibly publicly... Although they took satisfaction in a task well done, the pleasure they described was never physical and never located in their own bodies.” She notes that the girls seemed socialized to see themselves as “learners not yearners” in the context of sexual encounters.

But why?

Orenstein discusses the rise of the word vagina as a sort of punchline. “Snarky references to women’s nethers are the new fag,” she writes. “A way to denigrate masculinity, to ridicule or dominate an opponent… The implication is that everyone shares a secret distaste toward a lady’s parts, or at least a sense that the word vagina itself is a goof.”

She’s right to assert that society hasn’t always held a soft spot for vaginas. While little boys are free to roam around pointing to their “pee-pees,” no such word exists for the prepubescent vagina. As Orenstein once told AlterNet, “There’s nothing between the navel and the knees.” In her book she writes, “Leaving something unnamed makes it quite literally unspeakable.” Maybe one day, we’ll follow in the footsteps of the Swedes, who introduced the word “snippa” to the official dictionary of the Swedish language back in 2006. But for now, baby girls born stateside will have to do without. 

Growing up, the conversation doesn’t seem to get any easier. Tween heartthrob Robert Pattinson didn’t think twice about throwing the snatch under the bus when he told Details magazine, “I really hate vaginas. I’m allergic to vagina.” And the web is a welcome home to even more vaginal hostilities. Just take a look at a Vice article in which the author describes the vulva as “a wound in an otherwise perfect whole.” It’s hard for those on the cusp of sexual maturity not to take that to heart. Hell, it’s hard for those of us well into our sexual maturity not to get a little down about that. It never feels good to be identified as the source of someone else’s disgust. Even worse is when that attitude is internalized and self-applied.

Of course, no one should be coerced into performing a sexual act they aren’t comfortable with. Those who find the vulva so nightmarish (a word borrowed from the Vice article), are free to stay away from them. But we need to remind girls that reciprocity is a big part of sex. If guys aren’t willing to deliver the orgasms they deserve through one of the most reliable means possible, maybe it’s time to examine the blind impulse to do the same for them.

Talk of oral equality won’t find its way to the tip of every tongue, but those who feel compelled to sweep it under the rug might think about the significance of the female sexual experience, and how overlooking it can play into the dangerous tendency to treat womankind as a symptom of man.  

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Indiscriminate Killings by U.S. and Iraq in the Panic to Push Back the Islamic State

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 4:13pm
U.S. air strikes and Iraqi Army artillery “kill us along with ISIL fighters. There is no difference between what they do and the mass killings by ISIL.”

The following is an excerpt from the new book Chaos & Caliphate by Patrick Cockburn (OR Books, 2016): 

It is one of the strangest states ever created. The Islamic State wants to force all humanity to believe in its vision of a religious and social utopia existing in the first days of Islam. Women are to be treated as chattels, forbidden to leave the house unless they are accompanied by a male relative. People deemed to be pagans, like the Yazidis, can be bought and sold as slaves. Punishments such as beheadings, amputations and flogging become the norm. All those not pledging allegiance to the Caliphate declared by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on June 29, 2014 are considered enemies.

IS may be regarded with appalled fascination by most people, but conditions inside its territory remain a frightening mystery to the outside world. This is scarcely surprising, because it imprisons and frequently murders local and foreign journalists who report on its activities. Despite these difficulties, it is possible to build up a picture of what life is inside the Islamic State by interviewing people who have recently lived in Sunni Arab cities like Mosul and Fallujah that are held by IS. The interviewees are necessarily Sunni Arabs living in Iraq, with the exception of some Kurds still living in Mosul, as most Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Shia have already fled or been killed.

A great range of questions need to be answered. Do people support, oppose or have mixed feelings about ISIS rule and, if so, why? What is it like to live in a place where a wife appearing on the street without the niqab, a cloth covering the head and face, will be told to fetch her husband, who will then be given 40 lashes? How do foreign fighters behave? What is the reaction of local people to demands by ISIS that unmarried women should wed its fighters? More prosaically, what do people eat, drink and cook, and how do they obtain electricity? The answers to these and many other questions show instances of savage brutality, but also a picture of the Islamic State battling to provide some basic services and food at low prices.

A crucial early success for the Islamic State came when ISIS-led forces seized the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, on January 3, 2014, and the Iraqi Army failed to win it back. This was the first time that ISIS had ruled a large population centre and it is important to understand how it behaved and how and why this behavior became more extreme as ISIS consolidated its authority. The stories of two men, Abbas (generally known as Abu Mohammed) and Omar Abu Ali, who come from the militant Sunni strongholds of Fallujah and the nearby town of al-Karmah, explain graphically what happened during those first crucial months when ISIS was in power.

Abbas is a 53-year-old Sunni farmer from Fallujah. He recalls the joyous day when ISIS first entered the city: “At the beginning we were so happy and called it ‘the Islamic Conquest’. Most of the people were offering them feasts and warmly welcoming their chief fighters.” ISIS told people that it had come to set up an Islamic state, and at first this was not too onerous. A Sharia Board of Authority was established to resolve local problems. Abbas says that “everything was going well until ISIS also took Mosul. Then restrictions on our people increased. At the mosques, local imams started to be replaced by people from other Arab states or Afghanistan. During the first six months of ISIS rule, the movement had encouraged people to go to the mosque, but after the capture of Mosul it became obligatory and anybody who violated the rule received 40 lashes.” A committee of community leaders protested to ISIS and received an interesting reply: “The answer was that, even at the time of the Prophet Mohammed, laws were not strict at the beginning and alcoholic drinks were allowed in the first three years of Islamic rule.” Only after Islamic rule had become strongly entrenched were stricter rules enforced. So it had been in the seventh century and so it would be 1,400 years later in Fallujah.

Abbas, a conservative-minded community leader with two sons and three daughters in Falluah, says he had no desire to leave the city because all his extended family are there, though daily life is tough and getting tougher. As of February 2015, “people suffer from lack of water and electricity which they get from generators because the public supply only operates three to five hours every two days.” The price of cooking gas has soared to the equivalent of £50 a cylinder, so people have started to use wood for cooking. Communications are difficult because ISIS blew up the mast for mobile phones six months ago, but “some civilians have managed to get satellite internet lines.”

However, it was not the harsh living conditions but two issues affecting his children that led Abbas to leave Falluah hurriedly on January 2, 2015. The first reason for flight was a new conscription law under which every family had to send one of their sons to be an ISIS fighter. Abbas did not want his son Mohamed to be called up. Previously, families could avoid conscription by paying a heavy fine but at the start of this year military service in ISIS-held areas became obligatory. The second issue concerned one of Abbas’ daughters. He says that one day “a foreign fighter on the bazaar checkpoint followed my daughter, who was shopping with her mother, until they reached home. He knocked on the door and asked to meet the head of the house. I welcomed him and asked, ‘How can I help you?’ He said he wanted to ask for my daughter’s hand. I refused his request because it is the custom of our tribe that we cannot give our daughters in marriage to strangers. He was shocked by my answer and later attempted to harass my girls many times. I saw it was better to leave.”

Abbas is now in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) area with his family. He regrets that ISIS did not stick with its original moderate and popular policy before the capture of Mosul, after which it started to impose rules not mentioned in sharia. Abbas says that “we need ISIS to save us from the government but that doesn’t mean that we completely support them.” He recalls how ISIS prohibited cigarettes and hubble-bubble pipes because they might distract people from prayer, in addition to banning Western-style haircuts, T-shirts with English writing on them or images of women. Women are not allowed to leave home unaccompanied by a male relative. Abba says that “all this shocked us and made us leave the city.”

A more cynical view is held by Omar Abu Ali, a 45-year-old Sunni Arab farmer from al-Karmah (also called Garma) 10 miles north-east of Fallujah. He has two sons and three daughters and he says that, when ISIS took over their town last year, “my sons welcomed the rebels, but I wasn’t that optimistic.” The arrival of ISIS did not improve the dire living conditions in al-Kharmah and he did not take too seriously the propaganda about how “the soldiers of Allah would defeat Maliki’s devils.” Still, he agrees that many people in his town were convinced, though his experience is that Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki or ISIS were equally bad for the people of al-Kharmah: “They turn our town into a battlefield and we are the only losers.”

Al Kharmah is close to the front line with Baghdad and endures conditions of semi-siege in which few suppliers can get through. A litre of petrol costs £2.70 and a bag of flour more than £65. Omar tried to buy as much bread as he could store to last his family a week or more “because even the bakeries were suffering from lack of flour.” There was constant bombardment and in February 2015 the last water purification plant in the town was hit, though he is not clear if this was done by artillery or U.S. air strikes: “The town is now in a horrible situation because of lack of water.”

Omar spent five months working for IS, though it is not clear in what capacity, his main purpose being to prevent the conscription of his two sons aged 14 and 16. Rockets and artillery shells rained down on al-Karmah, though Omar says they seldom hit ISIS fighters because they hid in civilian houses or in schools. “The day I left, a school was hit and many children were killed,” he recalls. He says U.S. air strikes and Iraqi Army artillery “kill us along with ISIS fighters. There is no difference between what they do and the mass killings by IS.” Omar had been trying to flee for two months but did not have the money until he managed to sell his furniture. He is now staying outside Arbil, the Kurdish capital, where his sons and daughters work on local farms which “is at least better than staying in al-Kharmah.”

He says the Americans, Iraqi government and ISIS have all brought disaster and lists the wars that have engulfed his home town in the past 10 years. “All of them are killing us,” he says. “We have no friends.”

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What's New: Home To Me

Socialist Project - April 28, 2016 - 4:00pm
Song written, recorded and filmed in Grassy Narrows First Nation.
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John Boehner Calls Ted Cruz ‘Lucifer in the Flesh,’ a ‘Miserable Son of a Bitch’ (Video)

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 3:50pm
The former House Speaker couldn't contain his penchant for profanity while taking aim at Cruz.

John Boehner is hardly one to mince his words; during his time in Congress, the former Speaker of the House frequently made headlines for dropping obscenities and bluntly criticizing his colleagues. During a conversation at Stanford University Wednesday night, the former Speaker of the House could hardly contain his penchant for profanity while taking aim at Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner said bluntly, according to the Stanford Daily. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

So... John Boehner seems to be enjoying the freedoms that come with retirement, eh? https://t.co/T6CjehxeZp

— Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) April 28, 2016

 

any body else think that being lucifer would actually be a step up

— darth!™ (@darth) April 28, 2016

 

In your heart, you know he's Lucifer. pic.twitter.com/JswQLFWTdb

— Bob Schooley (@Rschooley) April 28, 2016

Insisting he would never vote for Cruz, Boehner contrasted his relationship with other Republican candidates, noting that he and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump play golf together and are “texting buddies.”

And while admitting that John Kasich “requires more effort on my behalf than all my friends,” Boehner noted the Ohio governor is “still my friend, and I love him.”

Asked Thursday about being singled out for criticism by his former party leader, Cruz said the former Speaker of the House “allowed his inner Trump to come out,” later adding that Boehner represents “everything wrong and corrupt in Washington.”

“I've never had any substantive conversation with Boehner in any respect," Cruz said at a news conference in Indiana. "So when he says I'm the worst guy he's ever worked with, he's never worked with me. John Boehner's remarks reveal everything that's wrong and corrupt about Washington, everything you're angry with. When John Boehner calls me Lucifer, he's not directing that at me. He's directing it at you."

This isn’t the first time Boehner’s taken aim at Cruz. Last August, the former Ohio congressman referred to Cruz as a “jackass,” later adding “the Bible says, ‘beware of false prophets.’”

Cruz dismissed Boehner’s jackass comment as “a bunch of politicians in Washington bickering like schoolyard children.”

“The speaker is entitled to express whatever views he likes, but I’m not going to respond in kind,” Cruz said.

Watch CNN's coverage of this story:

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Conservatives Crash Congress in Ongoing Effort to Bash Legitimate Palestine Support Groups

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 3:48pm
Another sordid chapter in right-wing campaigns to undermine any efforts to hold Israel to humane standards of conduct.

With help from radical right-wing Republicans and a media echo chamber, the neoconservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has unleashed a politically motivated smear campaign against Muslim-American organizations and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations.

The target is the U.S.-based organization American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), which describes its mission as “educating people about Palestine, its rich cultural and historical heritage and about how the people of Palestine have been living under occupation for decades.” The group has chapters across the country, and it has partnered with a broad array of human rights organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace and the National Lawyers Guild.

Testifying at a joint hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month, the neoconservative ideologue and FDD vice president for research Jonathan Schanzer falsely painted AMP as a tool of Hamas, relying on what he called a “network analysis”—in which he attempted to portray the group's leaders as guilty based on flimsy claims about their past associations. He then used this wrong-headed evaluation to argue that AMP is engineering the BDS movement, and therefore the international human rights campaign is aligned with “terrorism.”

Schanzer builds this case even though he acknowledges that he has no evidence that AMP has done anything unlawful.

Amid the domestic climate of racist incitement against Muslims, Schanzer’s crusade is a transparent attempt to criminalize Muslim charitable giving and Palestine solidarity campaigning. Despite the political nature of his attack, Schanzer is being treated as a neutral expert by some congressional representatives, as well as by at least one journalist for the Times of Israel. The neoconservative Wall Street Journal reporter Bret Stephens, who previously published an article titled “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” quickly piled on, running a column this week that reads like Schanzer’s condensed talking points.

Hatem Bazian, a lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley and current chairman of AMP, told AlterNet that these developments “fit into a long and ongoing strategy of using Islamophobia to drive foreign policy and establishing guilt by association and innuendo targeting individuals who have the courage of constant engagement and critique regarding Palestine. A cluster of neoconservatives is using congressional committees to silence opposition to Israel and defame individuals in civil society.”

Criminalizing Charitable Giving

Schanzer, who trumpets his credentials as a terrorism finance analyst for the United States Department of the Treasury under the George W. Bush administration, rests his entire case on the argument that “at least seven individuals who work for or on behalf of AMP have worked for or on behalf of organizations previously shut down or held civilly liable in the United States for providing financial support to Hamas.”

This claim proves flimsy upon closer examination. One of the key “tainted” organizations named by Schanzer is the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), which used to be the largest Muslim charity in the United States. The accusations against HLF rest on the claim that the group donated to zakat (charitable) committees based in the occupied West Bank and Gaza that were tied to Hamas. Or, as George W. Bush put it in 2002, money from the foundation was used to “indoctrinate children to grow up to be suicide bombers.”

Yet, Bush never produced evidence to back up this claim about the HLF. Furthermore, during the organization’s 2007 trial, Edward Abington, who served as U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem from 1993 to 1997, reportedly testified that USAID “has periodically contributed to the same Zakat Committee named in the indictments, from before the time of the HLF indictment until today.”

In addition, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) observed in 2012 that the zakat committees in question also received funds from “the United Nations, and mainstream charities during the period of the government’s allegations against the Holy Land Foundation.”

As the ACLU noted in a 2009 report, “By the time of the 2007 criminal trial against the charity and five of its leaders, prosecutors no longer claimed HLF provided direct support to Hamas or for violent acts. Nor did the U.S. government allege hat HLF intended to support terrorism or that its funds were actually used for that purpose. Instead, prosecutors admitted all the money went to charitable aid.”

After the first trial ended in a hung jury, five leaders of HLF were eventually convicted in 2008 of criminal counts and handed hefty prison terms, even though, as the ACLU noted, “prosecutors again admitted that all funds went to local charity committees that were never on government watch lists.”

According to Omar Shakir, a Bertha fellow at CCR, the outcome was a “great travesty of American justice. You have individuals engaged in charitable activity, supporting a community affected by years of occupation and dispossession, that are serving decades-long prison sentences for giving to the same charities that USAID and other multilateral organizations were giving to at the same time. This grew out of the hysterical fear mongering of the post-9/11 period and represents a blight on the American justice system.”

Tom Melsheimer, a former federal prosecutor in Dallas, made a similar point to a Texas ABC affiliate in 2009. “To spend millions of dollars in time and expenses to prosecute people who were of no real threat to anyone, under the banner of a terrorism case, is a waste of precious federal resource,” he stated, adding: “I think this case proves that, with enough effort, the federal government can convict nearly anyone.”

Buried within Schanzer's testimony is his admission that "we have seen no evidence of illicit activity" by AMP. Given this lack of evidence, Schanzer is being dangerously reckless with people's lives by by employing dog whistles and innuendo to insinuate their guilt. In fact, if he has no evidence, it is unclear why he delivered a lengthy testimony to congressional representatives.

Rabbi Joseph Berman, government affairs liaison for Jewish Voice for Peace, told AlterNet that the fresh round of attacks citing this old case is “an attempt by a right-wing organization to discredit the legal, non-violent, and righteous movement for Palestinian human rights."

A Politically-Motivated Attack

“This is an Islamophobia campaign,” said Osama Abu-Irshaid, the national policy director for AMP who is personally targeted by Schanzer’s latest campaign. “This is an attempt to criminalize and delegitimize work for Palestine in the United States, using AMP to delegitimize the BDS movement.”

This would not be the first time that Israel supporters embraced such tactics. Shakir noted that Palestine Legal and CCR in 2015 alone recorded “over 240 incidents of suppression using a wide variety of tactics to attack organizations for engaging in first-amendment-protected advocacy for Palestinian rights.”

“This trend is especially pernicious in the climate that we have now where Islamophobia is prevalent and even the faintest myth of ties to terrorism can undermine reputations, destroy careers, and affect the lives of individuals doing nothing more than engaging in constitutional rights,” Shakir added.

For his part, Schanzer is not shy about his efforts to malign BDS. “The overlap of former employees of organizations that provided support to Hamas who now play important roles in AMP speaks volumes about the real agenda of key components of the BDS campaign,” he testified at the hearing.

In levying this attack, Schanzer has plenty of company. Israel announced in February that it is pouring $26 million into a cyber initiative to sabotage BDS and spy on Muslim activists in the U.S. and Europe. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has made attacking BDS a centerpiece of her campaign, and all Republican contenders are angling to demonstrate their support for the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The FDD, meanwhile, has a direct interest in polarizing this climate further. While the organization describes itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan policy institute working to defend free nations against their enemies,” it is in fact aligned with Israel’s Likud government and the militaristic wing of the Republican Party. Founded in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the foundation was described in 2003 by The American Conservative as “an aggressive new neoconservative think tank” that emerged from a former “tightly knit group of billionaire philanthropists conceived of a plan to win American sympathy for Israel’s response to the Palestinian intifada.” As journalist Eli Clifton reported, FDD has received millions in donations from right-wing pro-Israel oligarchs Paul Singer, Sheldon Adelson, and Bernard Marcus.

Schanzer reflects the ethos of his workplace. As journalist Emily Cadei noted in 2014, he and other FDD colleagues had become “go to” hawkish sources on Iran for the New York Times, AP and others.

FDD, however, is certainly not the first organization to attack AMP. The organization is a favorite punching bag for Stephen Emerson, a notoriously anti-Muslim pundit now infamous for conjuring up the myth of Muslim "no go zones."

Notably, Schanzer was co-hosted by Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, which is chaired by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). Poe has falsely insinuated that Obama is not a U.S. citizen and referred to undocumented people as “grasshoppers.” Poe provoked outrage in 2007 when he quoted Civil War Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, on the floor of the House. 

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Drone Wars Produce PTSD Victims on Both Sides

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 2:00pm
In Washington’s drone wars, collateral damage comes home.

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Such is the premise of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky, Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, and Rick Rosenthal’s Drones. In reality, in Washington’s drone wars neither the “good guys” nor the helpless, endangered villagers under those robotic aircraft actually survive the not-so secret drone war that the Obama administration has been waging relentlessly across the Greater Middle East—not, at least, without some kind of collateral damage. In addition to those they kill, Washington’s drones turn out to wound (in ways both physical and psychological) their own operators and the populations who live under their constant surveillance. They leave behind very real victims with all-too-real damage, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder on opposite sides of the globe.

Sometimes I am so sad that my heart wants to explode,” an Afghan man says, speaking directly into the camera. “When your body is intact, your mind is different. You are content. But the moment you are wounded, your soul gets damaged. When your leg is torn off and your gait slows, it also burdens your spirit.” The speaker is an unnamed victim of a February 2010 drone strike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, but he could just as easily be an Iraqi, a Pakistani, a Somali, or a Yemeni. He appears in National Bird, a haunting new documentary film by Sonia Kennebeck about the unexpected and largely unrecorded devastation Washington’s drone wars leave in their wake. In it, the audience hears directly from both drone personnel and their victims.

“I Was Under the Impression That America Was Saving the World”

“When we are in our darkest places and we have a lot to worry about and we feel guilty about our past actions, it’s really tough to describe what that feeling is like,” says Daniel, a whistleblower who took part in drone operations and whose last name is not revealed in National Bird. Speaking of the suicidal feelings that sometimes plagued him while he was involved in killing halfway across the planet, he adds, “Having the image in your head of taking your own life is not a good feeling.”

National Bird is not the first muckraking documentary on Washington’s drone wars. Robert Greenwald’s Unmanned, Tonje Schei’s Drone, and Madiha Tahrir’s Wounds of Waziristan have already shone much-needed light on how drone warfare really works. But as Kennebeck told me, when she set out to make a film about the wages of the newest form of war known to humanity, she wanted those doing the targeting, as well as those they were targeting, to speak for themselves. She wanted them to reveal the psychological impact of sending robot assassins, often operated by “pilots” halfway around the world, into the Greater Middle East to fight Washington’s war on terror. In her film, there’s no narrator, nor experts in suits working for think tanks in Washington, nor retired generals debating the value of drone strikes when it comes to defeating terrorism.

Instead, what you see is far less commonplace: low-level recruits in President Obama’s never-ending drone wars, those Air Force personnel who remotely direct the robotic vehicles to their targets, analyze the information they send back, and relay that information to the pilots who unleash Hellfire missiles that will devastate distant villages. If recent history is any guide, these drones do not just kill terrorists; in their target areas, they also create anxiety, upset, and a desire for revenge in a larger population and so have proven a powerful weapon in spreading terror movements across the Greater Middle East.

These previously faceless but distinctly non-robotic Air Force recruits are the cannon fodder of America’s drone wars. You meet two twenty-somethings: Daniel, a self-described down-and-out homeless kid, every male member of whose family has been in jail on petty charges of one kind or another, and Heather, a small town high school graduate trying to escape rural Pennsylvania. You also meet Lisa, a former Army nurse from California, who initially saw the military as a path to a more meaningful life.

The three of them worked on Air Force bases scattered around the country from California to Virginia. The equipment they handled hovered above war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Pakistan and Yemen (where the U.S. Air Force was supporting assassination missions on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency).

“That is so cool, unmanned aircraft. That’s really bad-ass.” So Heather thought when she first saw recruitment posters for the drone program. “I was under the impression,” she told Kennebeck, “that America was saving the world, like that we were Big Brother and we were helping everyone out.”

Initially, Lisa felt similarly: “When I first got into the military, I mean I was thinking it was a win-win. It was a force for good in the world. I thought I was going to be on the right side of history.”

And that was hardly surprising. After all, you’re talking about the “perfect weapon,” the totally high-tech, “precise” and “surgical,” no-(American)-casualties, sci-fi version of war that Washington has been promoting for years as its answer to al-Qaeda and other terror outfits. President Obama who has personally overseen the drone campaigns—with a “kill list” and “terror Tuesday” meetings at the White House—vividly described his version of such a modern war in a 2013 speech at the National Defense University:

“This is a just war—a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense. We were attacked on 9/11. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces… America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set.”

That distinctly Hollywood vision of America’s drone wars (with a Terminator edge) was the one that had filtered down to the level of Kennebeck’s three drone-team interviewees when they signed on. It looked to them then like a war worth fighting and a life worth leading. Today, as they speak out, their version of such warfare looks nothing like what either Hollywood or Washington might imagine.

“Excuse Me, Sir, Can I Have Your Driver’s License?”

National Bird does more than look at the devastation caused by drones in far away lands and the overwhelming anxiety it produces among those who live under the distant buzzing and constant threat of those robotic aircraft on an almost daily basis. Kennebeck also turns her camera on the men and women who helped make the strikes possible, trying to assess what the impact of their war has been on them. Their raw and unfiltered responses should deeply trouble us all.

Kennebeck’s interviewees are among at least a dozen whistleblowers who have stepped forward, or are preparing to do so, in order to denounce Washington’s drone wars as morally unjustified, as in fact nightmares both for those who fight them and those living in the lands that are on the receiving end. The realities of the day-in, day-out war they fought for years were, as they tell it, deeply destructive and filled with collateral damage of every sort. Worse yet, drone operators turn out to have little real idea about, and almost no confirmation of, whom exactly they’ve blown away.

“It’s so primitive, raw, stripped-down death. This is real. It’s not a joke,” says Heather, an imagery analyst whose job was to look at the streaming video coming in from drones over war zones and interpret the grainy images for senior commanders in the kill chain. “You see someone die because you said it was okay to kill them. I was always shaking. Sometimes I would just go to the bathroom and just sit on the toilet. I mean just sit there in my uniform and just cry.”

Advocates of drone war believe, as do many of its critics, that it minimizes casualties. These Air Force veterans have, however, stepped forward to tell us that such claims simply aren’t true. In a study of what can be known about drone killings, the human rights group Reprieve has confirmed this reality vividly, finding that, in Pakistan, in attempts to take out 41 men, American drones actually killed an estimated 1,147 people (while not all of the 41 targeted figures even died). In other words, this hasn’t proved to be a war on terror, but a war of terror, a reality the drone whistleblowers confirm.

Heather is blunt in her criticism. “Hearing politicians speak about drones being precision weapons [makes it seem like they’re] able to make surgical strikes. To me it’s completely ridiculous, completely ludicrous to make these statements.”

The three whistleblowers point, for instance, to the complete absence of any post-strike verification of who exactly has died. “There’s a bomb. They drop it. It explodes,” Lisa says. “Then what? Does somebody go down and ask for somebody’s driver’s license? Excuse me, sir, can I have your driver’s license, see who you are? Does that happen? I mean, how do we know? How is it possible to know who ends up living or dying?”

After three years as an imagery analyst, after regularly watching unknown people die thousands of miles away on a grainy screen, Heather was diagnosed as suicidal. She estimates—and the experiences of other drone whistleblowers back her up—that alcoholics accounted for a significant percentage of her unit, and that many of her co-workers had similarly suicidal thoughts. Two actually did kill themselves.

As Heather’s grandfather points out, “She had trouble getting the treatment she needed. She had trouble finding a doctor because they didn’t have the right security clearance [and] she could be in violation of the law and could even go to prison for even talking to the wrong therapist about what was bothering her.”

In desperation Heather turned to her mother. "She’d call me up and she’d cry and she’d be upset, but then she couldn’t talk about it," her mother says. "When you hear your daughter talking to you on the phone, you can that tell she is in trouble just by the emotion and inflection and the stress that you can hear in her voice. When you ask her, did you talk to anyone else about it? She’d say no, we’re not allowed to talk to anybody. I have a feeling that if someone wasn’t there for her, she wouldn’t be here right now."

Like Heather, Daniel has so far survived his own drone-war-induced mental health issues, but in his post-drone life he’s run into a formidable enemy: the U.S. government. On August 8, 2014, he estimates that as many as 50 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided his house, seizing documents and his electronics.

“The government suspects that he is a source of information about the [drone] program that the government doesn’t want out there,” says Jesselyn Radack, his lawyer and herself a former Department of Justice whistleblower. “To me, that’s simply an attempt to silence whistleblowers, and it doesn’t surprise me that that happens to the very few people who have been brave enough to speak out against the drone program.”

If that was the intention, however, the raid—and the threat it carries for other whistleblowers—seems not to have had the desired effect. Instead, the number of what might be thought of as defectors from the drone program only seems to be growing. The first to come out was Brandon Bryant, a former camera operator in October 2013. He was followed by Cian Westmoreland, a former radio technician, in November 2014. Last November, Michael Haas and Stephen Lewis, two imagery analysts, joined Westmoreland and Bryant by speaking out at the launch of Tonje Schei’s film Drone. All four of them also published an open letter to President Obama warning him that the drone war was escalating terrorism, not containing it.

And just last month, Chris Aaron, a former counterterrorism analyst for the CIA’s drone program, spoke out on a panel at the University of Nevada Law School. In the relatively near future, Radack recently told Rolling Stone, four more individuals involved in America’s drone wars are planning to offer their insights into how the program works.

Like Heather and Daniel, many of the former drone operators who have gone public are struggling with mental health problems. Some of them are also dealing with substance abuse issues that began as a way to counteract or dull the horrors of the war they were waging and witnessing. "We used to call alcohol drone fuel because it kept the program going. Everyone drank. There was a lot of coke, speed, and that sort of thing," imagery analyst Haas told Rolling Stone. "If the higher ups knew, then they didn't say anything, but I'm pretty sure they must have known. It was everywhere.”

“Imagine If This Was Happening to Us”

In recent months, something has changed for the whistleblowers. There is a new sense of camaraderie among them, as well as with the lawyers defending them and a growing group of activist supporters. Most unexpectedly, they are hearing from the families of victims of drone strikes, thanks to the work of groups like Reprieve in Great Britain.

In mid-April, for instance, when Cian Westmoreland was visiting London, he met with Malik Jalal, a Pakistani tribal leader who claims that he has been targeted by U.S. drones on multiple occasions. Clive Lewis, a member of Parliament and military veteran, released a photo on Facebook of the meeting. “It's possible that one of the two men I'm [standing] between in this picture, Cian Westmoreland, was trying to kill the man on my right, Malik Jalal—at some stage in the past seven years,” Lewis wrote. “Their story is both amazing and terrifying. At once it shows the growing menace and destructive capability of unchecked political and military power juxtaposed with the power of the human spirit and human solidarity."

As that sense of solidarity strengthens and as the distance between the former hunters and the hunted begins to narrow, the whistleblowers are beginning to confront some distinctly uncomfortable questions. “We often hear that drones can see everything by day and by night,” a different drone victim of the February 2010 strike in Uruzgan told filmmaker Kennebeck. “You can see the difference between a needle and an ant but not people? We were sitting in the pickup truck, some even on the bed. Did you not see that there were travelers, women and children?”

When the president and his key officials look at the drone program, they undoubtedly don’t “see” women and children. Instead, they are caught up in a Hollywood-style vision of imminent danger from terrorists and of the kind of salvation that a missile launched from thousands of miles away provides. It is undoubtedly thanks to just this thought process, already deeply embedded in the American way of war, that not a single candidate for president in 2016 has rejected the drone program.

That is exactly what the whistleblowers feel needs to change. “I just want people to know that not everybody is a freaking terrorist and we need to just get out of that mindset. And we just need to see these people as people—families, communities, brothers, mothers, and sisters, because that’s who they are,” says Lisa. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of the door and it was a sunny day and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something would fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”

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How the New York Times Helped Hillary Hide the Hawk

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 1:46pm
Timing is everything when it comes to responsible journalism.

This article was originally published at WhoWhatWhy.org.

Following a rough night in five East Coast primaries, Bernie Sanders’ path to the Democratic nomination is now more narrow and steep than it has ever been. But are these votes truly a referendum on who voters think the best candidate is—or are they merely a reflection of what the corporate media wants Democrats to think?

In our critique of the media, we tend to focus on The New York Times, because it purports to be the gold standard for journalism, and because others look to the paper for coverage guidance. But the same critique could be applied to The Washington Post, Politico, CNN, and most other leading outfits.

In prior articles, we noted how the Timeshelped Clinton walk away with most of the African-American vote—and therefore victory in many states—by essentially hiding Sanders’ comparably far more impressive record on civil rights.

We also noted how it seemed that every little thing the Clinton camp did right was billboarded, while significant victories against great odds by Sanders were minimized.

These are truly the kinds of decisions that determine the “conventional wisdom,” which in turn so often determines outcomes.

But there is more—and it is even more disturbing. Clinton’s principal reason to claim she is so qualified to be president—aside from being First Lady and senator—is her four years as Secretary of State.

What kind of a legacy did she leave? Perhaps her principal role was to push for military engagement—more soldiers in existing conflicts, and new wars altogether. WhoWhatWhy has written about these wars and their dubiousbasis.

Wars are good business for Wall Street, for corporations in general, and for others who have been friendly to her and her campaign.

Why was this never a bigger issue? Why was this not front and center with New York voters, a traditionally liberal group with a strong antipathy toward war and militarism? Certainly Sanders tried to bring up this issue, and doesn’t seem to have succeeded. But mostly, this was a failure of the media, whose job it is to shine a strong spotlight.

And why did The New York Timeswait until two days afterthe New York primary to publish its biggest piece on this, when it could no longer influence that key contest? (It appeared first on its website and later in its Sunday magazine.)

In fact, with the media declaring this probably now a Clinton-Trump race, highlighting her hawkishness turns it from a handicap to a strength. How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawkwas the digital equivalent of a huge front-page story.

What the article makes clear—shockingly clear—is that Hillary Clinton is the most militaristic of anyof the presidential candidates, even more than Ted Cruz.

Was this delay in publication just a case of poor scheduling? Was it to ensure that the paper could not be accused of influencing the primary outcome?

The Times’s editorials had already gotten behind her candidacy (without mentioning her refusal to release transcripts of her Goldman Sachs speeches, or her opposition to a paltry $15 an hour minimum wage). Would running Mark Landler’s critical piece when it mattered have seemed like an implicit rebuke of the paper’s own editorial board or interfered with its influence?

How ironic it is that “liberal” Hillary Clinton has never met a war she did not like, and has never been held responsible for the chaos they caused and the policies she advocated—yet it is Bernie Sanders whose policies are being described as “unrealistic” by the same people who are shielding Clinton from criticism.

What is the purpose of journalism if not to introduce material when it is relevant—and can have an impact? And one that is good for humanity—as opposed to the arms industry.

The Times, Judith Miller et al, have certainly had an impact. Go here for one of WhoWhatWhy’s stories of some of the goriest details.

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Does the First Amendment Justify Corruption?

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 1:38pm
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s Supreme Court corruption appeal will help decide whether the First Amendment protects average Americans or special interests.

A decade ago, if a politician had argued before the Supreme Court that he had a First Amendment right to trade political favors for a Rolex watch, his lawyers may have feared for their professional reputations. But that argument is one basis for ex-Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s appeal of his eleven-count corruption conviction in McDonnell v. United States, which the Court hears in oral arguments on Wednesday.

The case demonstrates how the First Amendment has begun to evolve from a tool to protect Americans with unpopular beliefs into a shield used by corporations and political donors to justify rules-free policymaking and electioneering.

The McDonnell case turns on a question vital for the future of our democracy: Should the First Amendment be read as a blunt instrument that protects the buying of government access, or as a safeguard to ensure that Americans may speak freely and effectively oversee their elected representatives? In recent years, the Court has often decided such questions on a 5-4 vote. Now evenly divided in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the Court may deadlock on this and similar issues in the near term. But the Court’s eventual answer will profoundly impact whether American voters have a meaningful say in the actions of their elected officials.

McDonnell’s bribery charge centered on his receipt of about $175,000 in cash and gifts from businessman Jonnie Williams. Aside from the Rolex, Williams gave McDonnell and his wife several large loans, payments for their daughters’ weddings, and a shopping trip to Bergdorf Goodman. The jury found that in exchange, McDonnell tried to help Williams and his company, Star Scientific, promote a dietary supplement called Anatabloc. Williams had wanted Virginia’s public universities to perform costly studies on Anatabloc that could lead to its approval by the FDA. The governor and his wife directed staff to set up meetings between Williams and state employees, and hosted the launch of Anatabloc at the Governor’s Mansion. At one point, McDonnell had even pulled a bottle of Anatabloc from his pocket and pitched it to the state’s secretary of administration, who controlled the state employee health plans.

At trial, McDonnell claimed that his support for Anatabloc was unrelated to Williams’s gifts. But the jury disagreed. Among other pieces of evidence, jury members learned that six minutes after e-mailing Williams about the status of a $50,000 loan, McDonnell had texted an aide about the proposed Anatabloc studies. The jury heard testimony that Maureen McDonnell told Williams, “The governor says it’s okay for me to help you … but I need you to help me.” The jury convicted McDonnell under several federal laws that punish the exchange of money for official government acts.

McDonnell and his supporters argue that even if he did help with Anatabloc in exchange for Williams’s gifts, the First Amendment protects his conduct—Williams’s gifts were simply buying access to the government, letting him make his case for a project that did not ultimately succeed. McDonnell points to the Supreme Court majority’s holdings in two recent campaign-finance cases—Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC—that narrowed the definition of corruption. In McCutcheon, the Court identified “only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: corruption.” In both McCutcheon and in Citizens United, which invalidated limits on political spending, the Court concluded that “ingratiation and access … are not corruption.

McDonnell’s free-speech argument shows how thoroughly the First Amendment has been reinterpreted in recent years. In the mid-20th century, the amendment often protected dissidents and religious minorities from government persecution. Now, it’s frequently invoked by business interests to accomplish goals such as establishing the right of corporations to spend unlimited amounts in elections, or preventing the government from requiring graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging. Indeed, a 2015 paper by Harvard Law professor John Coates argued that “corporations have begun to displace individuals as the direct beneficiaries of the First Amendment.”

In his appeal, McDonnell asks the Court to continue and build on this trend by holding that his exchange with Williams was protected by the First Amendment. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward formula that dictates how the Court should respond to cases like this, because the First Amendment is not absolute. No serious litigant would argue that the prohibition of laws “abridging the freedom of speech” prevents all government limits on speech or writing. Verbal threats may be punished by the government, even if they are not accompanied by physical action. Likewise, American courts set a page limit on court papers, which applies to a criminal defendant even if he has the means to pay his lawyers to write briefs twice as long as the prosecutors’.

Thus, the Court must decide whether punishing Williams’s gifts to McDonnell serves an interest that overrides any infringement on his free-speech rights. In Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Court has seemed to conclude that that limits on political spending impermissibly infringe on the freedom of speech unless they prevent quid pro quo corruption, by which the Court may simply mean bribery. The Roberts Court has decided that most political spending does not create a threat of bribery, and has promoted the value of completely unencumbered political messaging.

McDonnell’s lawyers hope the Court will further narrow this already myopic view of the First Amendment’s purpose; they argue that the amendment protects an individual’s unfettered right to disseminate a message no matter the means or the consequences. Yet that view ignores the First Amendment’s greater purpose, which is to guarantee a democracy in which elected officials respond to the words and desires of their constituents.

If certain speakers dominate the political debate, and oft re-elected incumbents respond principally to the speech of those few people, the First Amendment cannot do its job of amplifying the voice of average Americans. In other words, McDonnell’s interpretation puts the supremacy of an instrumental right before the edifice it was meant to preserve. If the First Amendment protects a businessman who buys a direct line to the governor that no other Virginian has, is it protecting a democracy in which the people, as a whole, have ultimate control over their collective decision-making?

This trees-versus-forest interpretation of the First Amendment crops up in several cases that examine how our government works, and the outcome will have profound effects on the country’s future. For example, corporations and others seeking to further deregulate campaign financing have claimed a First Amendment right to spend money anonymously for political causes. Plaintiffs in California who supported Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in the state, sought to avoid disclosing their spending in support of the initiative, claiming fears of reprisal by the public, such as boycotts of their businesses. In making this argument, they relied on a 1958 case in which the Supreme Court held that the NAACP did not have to disclose its members to the state of Alabama, citing the members’ fear of threats and hostility. Courts hearing such cases must decide whether to conceive of the First Amendment narrowly, to protect only campaign spenders, or more broadly, to foster the disclosure of information that helps voters accurately assess candidates and ballot questions.

The Court’s decision in McDonnell will decide whether one man goes to prison. But more importantly, it may tell us whether the Court views the First Amendment principally as a means for the powerful to sidestep legal obstacles, or as a fundamental protector of the people’s right to govern themselves. 

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Lawsuit Claims Jessica Alba's Honest Co.'s Organic Infant Formula Isn't Actually Organic

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 1:35pm
The actress' "all-natural" products company is being accused of false labeling—again.

Jessica Alba has long touted her brand, Honest Company, as a non-toxic, organic alternative to bath and home essentials. But a string of lawsuits, including one filed this month by the nonprofit Organic Consumers Association, charges the brand with mislabeling its products and compromising the health of its consumers.

“Honest falsely represented that its 'Organic' Infant Formula is organic by prominently labeling the product packages as 'ORGANIC' and repeatedly representing the product as 'ORGANIC' on its product page on Honest.com, from which Plaintiff and other consumers purchase the product,” the OCA suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, reads.

Jessica Alba's Honest Company accused of false labeling over its "organic" baby formula https://t.co/Xm4qKiZgFP pic.twitter.com/wqsVNjXcv6

— CNNMoney (@CNNMoney) April 27, 2016

“This representation is false," says OCA. "The products are not organic. In fact, the ‘Organic’ Infant Formula contains ingredients that COPA does not permit in organic products.”

The suit lists 11 non-permitted ingredients that are not on the USDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, but are included in the Honest Infant Formula, including sodium selenite, taurine and biotin. It also charges the company with violating California’s Organic Products Act of 2003.

This lawsuit is the latest in a series levied against the company since its launch in 2011. In February of this year, a couple filed a suit with the New York District Court against Honest Company for falsely labeling its products as “natural” and “plant-based,” alleging the products contain synthetic ingredients. In March, a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed Honest Company used sodium lauryl sulfate in its detergent while advertising its products as SLS-free.

And in 2015, a $5 million class-action lawsuit filed with the Northern California District Court charged the company with using “unnatural ingredients.” It also said the company sold ineffective SPF 30 sunscreen that resulted in sun-burned customers calling out the brand on social media.

#Celeb Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. is allegedly full of lies... https://t.co/th4Cvb3s7N pic.twitter.com/oRfsPJYTVu

— Paparazzi NewYork (@newyorkpapaz) April 28, 2016

As with each previous lawsuit, Honest Company defended its products, insisting the “allegations are without merit.” The company told Fortune its products, including the Organic Infant Formula, have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  

“It is also certified USDA Organic by an independent third party, in strict accordance with the National Organic Program,” a representative said. “We are confident this lawsuit will be dismissed.”

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Pushback for Obama: Black Lives Matter Activists Are Not Just 'Yelling'

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 1:18pm
The movement is willing to "sit down and hammer out solutions"—if only leaders were willing to listen.

In his poem, “For My Own Protection,” the late black gay poet Essex Hemphill wrote:

I want to start an organization
to save my life.
If whales, snails, dogs, cats
Chrysler and Nixon can be saved,
the lives of Black men are priceless
and can be saved.
We should be able to save each other.

Hemphill, who died in 1995, could have been writing about the Black Lives Matter movement. Born in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, in just two short years, the nascent civil rights movement demanded Americans pay attention to police violence against African-Americans. It employed the tactic of disruption and direct action to confront institutional racism, and to make household words of the names of black youth who were killed by or died in the custody of police.

Beyond that, the young movement single-handedly changed the discourse of the Democratic presidential race, and forced all of the major candidates to address specific concerns about police violence in African-American communities. Thanks to Black Lives Matter, data on police killings—particularly police killings of African-Americans—is finally being gathered and may influence policy changes.

Given all of the above, it was more than a little disconcerting to hear President Obama characterize the work of the Black Lives Matter movement as “yelling.” At a town-hall meeting in London on Saturday, President Obama offered an indirect critique of the Black Lives Matter movement. In response to a question about whether his administration had done enough to address racial problems, the president praised the Black Lives Matter movement as “really effective in bringing attention to our problems,” but tempered his praise with the criticism that young activists should be more willing to “sit down” with political leaders to hammer out solutions. “You can’t just keep on yelling at them,” he said.

With all due respect to the president, Black Lives Matter activists are hardly just “yelling.”

President Obama added, “You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable and can institutionalize the things you seek, and to engage the other side, and to occasionally take half a loaf that will advance the change you seek …”

Last August, Black Lives Matter activists prepared and publicly offered just such an agenda with the launch of Campaign Zero: a 10-point agenda aimed at creating “a world where the police don’t kill people,” by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability. Campaign Zero actually goes further than the president’s own task force, on issues like diversity training for police officers, body cameras, and demilitarizing police departments.

The president appears to object to Black Lives Matter’s tactics. “You’ve got our attention,” he seems to be saying, “you can stop acting up.” But acting up, defined as acting in a way “different from that which is normal or expected” or “behaving in an unruly, recalcitrant or capricious manner,” is exactly what’s made Black Lives Matter so effective.

In a sense, the Black Lives Matter movement borrows from ACT-UP in its use of tactics of direct confrontation and disruption to draw attention to a crisis. It’s not surprising that Black Lives Matter gets the same kind of criticism ACT-UP received.

Black Lives Matter activists should pay as much attention to that criticism as ACT-UP did—which is to say virtually none—and for the same reasons. Both formed as a response to an urgent threat that wasn’t taken seriously until they started to inconvenience and annoy people into paying attention. We needed ACT-UP at the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, just as much as we needed activists working inside the system. We need the same dynamic now when it comes to reforming our justice system and law enforcement.

Black Lives Matter isn’t just “yelling.” The movement has clearly spelled out the policy solutions it wants elected officials to adopt and advocate. But President Obama misses the point if he thinks that the aim of Black Lives Matter activists is to secure a place “at the table.” The aim of movements like Black Lives Matter isn’t to make deals and settle for incremental changes in exchange for a “place at the table.”

Movements like Black Lives Matter are about speaking truth to power and demanding justice in full measure, not measured out in teaspoons. They create the press to expand the space for those working “at the table” to push for more.

Black Lives Matter activists are not “just yelling.” They are responding, and demanding that others respond, to “the fierce urgency of now”—because lives are at stake.

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Why Did Trump Invent the Rumor That Sanders Was Dropping Out of the Election? Here's One Potential Rationale

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 12:53pm
“I think he’s leaving the race today, by the way,” Trump told an undecided Indiana voter.

Indiana votes on Tuesday, and in preparation for its May 3 primary, Fox News' Greta Van Susteren hosted a town hall with Donald Trump in Indianapolis Wednesday night. During the hour-long event, undecided Indiana voters had the chance to voice their questions to the GOP frontrunner.

“Have you decided who you’re voting for?” Van Susteren asked an 18-year-old first-time voter. 

“I have not. That’s actually why I’m here," the attendee replied. The high school senior explained that he was set to attend Wabash College this fall, a liberal arts college in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Although he had some reservations about Sanders' plans, he wanted to hear Trump's thoughts on making higher education affordable. 

“As we all know, candidate Sanders is offering free college tuition," the undecided voter began.

“I think he’s leaving the race today, by the way,” interrupted Trump, and added, “He’s got some difficulty…”

While Bernie Sanders announced earlier that day that he would be laying off hundreds of staffers, he also explained he would be doing so to focus on winning California's early June primary. Conveniently, Trump praised Sanders’ determination when closed primary states voted, as a means to simultaneously bash Hillary Clinton. However, nearly all the remaining states the two will compete in are open primaries, meaning any voter can vote for any candidate, with the exception of New Jersey—a strong potential reason for Trump to invent the rumor that Sanders is dropping out. 

Watch: Undecided Indiana voter is torn between Sanders and Trump:

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Harriet Tubman Isn't the Only New Woman to Grace U.S. Currency: Here Are the Other 7

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 12:50pm
Meet the other amazing women being honored by the U.S. Treasury.

Abolitionist Harriet Tubman has been getting a lot of press for officially replacing Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. But she’s not the only one changing the face of American currency.

The Treasury Department announced last week that seven other women, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., will be featured in its upcoming redesigns. Five women—Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth—will be highlighted on the back of $10 bill, next to a depiction of the 1913 women’s suffrage procession. Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt will join King on the back of the $5 bill.

The last time a woman was featured on a paper note was in 1886, when first lady Martha Washington was honored on the $1 silver certificate. The first woman was Pocahontas, who graced the $20 bill from 1865 to 1869.

The 1st woman to be featured on US currency was Pocahontas on a $20 bill from 1865-1869 #WomensHistoryMonth #economy pic.twitter.com/pmYKeTSKkI

— NRC, Inc. (@nrc_inc) March 30, 2016

Learn more about the women who made the Treasury’s cut.

1. Susan B. Anthony

(image: Wikipedia)

Born in February 1820, Anthony grew up in a Quaker family in Massachusetts. She became active in women’s suffrage after being denied the opportunity to speak at temperance rallies. Anthony, alongside friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, dedicated her life to canvassing the nation for women’s right to vote, co-founding the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Anthony was also a vocal opponent of slavery.

2. Lucretia Mott

(image: Wikipedia)

Born in Massachusetts in 1793, Lucretia Mott, then a schoolteacher, became involved in the women’s rights movement after discovering she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts. Mott was a key organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. She was also a vocal abolitionist; in 1866, Mott was elected as the first-ever president of the universal suffrage group, the American Equal Rights Association.

3. Alice Paul

(image: Wikipedia)

Born to a New Jersey Quaker family in 1885, Alice Paul became involved in women’s suffrage after joining her mother for meetings of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. As the leader of the National Women’s Party, Paul spearheaded the effort to ratify the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. She also worked to ensure women were included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

4. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

(image: Wikipedia)

Suffragist and abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in New York in 1815. At the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848—which was held at her home—Stanton presented the Declaration of Sentiments. The famous document was modeled after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and is often credited with jumpstarting the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

5. Sojourner Truth

(image: Wikipedia)

Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree, escaped from slavery with her infant daughter in 1826. She became a Methodist in 1843, and the following year joined the Northamptom Association of Education and Industry, an organization that focused on abolition and women’s rights. In 1851, Truth delivered her most famous speech. “Ain’t I a Woman?” which dealt with the intersectionality of women’s rights and black rights.

6. Marian Anderson

(image: Carl Van Vechten/Wikipedia)

Born in Pennsylvania in 1897, Anderson began singing at age three. As a teenager, Anderson was turned away by the Philadelphia Music Academy for being black, though she continued to practice music and eventually earned critical acclaim for her performances. Despite her commercial success, the Daughters of the American Revolution denied Anderson a chance to sing at Constitution Hall in 1939. Later that year, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt — who resigned from DAR over its rejection of Anderson—organized a performance at the Lincoln Memorial, where the singer drew a crowd of 75,000 people.

7. Eleanor Roosevelt

(image: Wikipedia)

One of the nation’s most beloved first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York in 1884. As the longest-serving first lady of the United States, Roosevelt stirred controversy by holding press conferences, writing a syndicated newspaper column and (sometimes) publicly disagreeing with her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt committed her life to fighting for human rights, serving as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and helping draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Could this slew of new female faces on American currency mark a shift in the nation's role models?

“Andrew Jackson is what we used to think of as a great American hero,” Brenda Stevenson, UCLA professor of history and African American studies, told Samantha Masunaga of the Los Angeles Times.

“He stood for the white, male political and economic elite, with great military honor associated with him. ...We have this woman [Tubman] who in many ways is just the complete opposite of Andrew Jackson, and it speaks volumes that we can recognize [Tubman] as this great American hero and image of what it means to be American.”

Thanks to the U.S. Treasury, Tubman will be joined by several other powerful female visionaries who can help her carry the mantle of American social activism into the future.

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#NeverTrump Is a Total Failure: Donald Trump Set to Smash Record for Most Popular GOP Candidate in Modern History

AlterNet.org - April 28, 2016 - 12:46pm
Trump's 10 million votes have already surpassed Romney's and McCain's totals—he's now poised to crush Bush, too.

Despite rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich’s late coming “collusion,” the #NeverTrump movement has proven to be quite impotent in actually stopping Donald Trump.

While Trump exceeded expectations as he swept all five primary contests on Tuesday on his seemingly unstoppable march to clinching the Republican presidential nomination, his detractors continued to peddle false hope that he will be defeated before the general election match-up even as he is now poised to become the most winningest Republican presidential candidate in history.

“Tonight’s results are neither surprising nor decisive,” said Katie Packer, chairwoman of Our Principles PAC, which has already spent more than $16 million opposing Trump. The former Mitt Romney adviser insisted that her group can still stop Trump even as Trump’s dominant performance on Tuesday pushed his current vote totals beyond what Romney received during the entire 2012 primary.

According to Politico, Trump has now earned more than 100,000 more votes than Romney’s 9.8 million votes during the 2012 primary season and tens of thousands more than John McCain’s 9.9 million votes in 2008:

Trump is certain to pass McCain’s total next week in Indiana, but more importantly, he’s positioned to easily pass the modern record-holder George W. Bush—who collected 10.8 million votes in 2000.

That presents an uncomfortable reality for anti-Trump forces: they’re attempting to thwart the candidate who is likely to win more Republican primary votes than any GOP contender in at least the last 36 years, and maybe ever.

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What's New: Beltway Bullshit

Socialist Project - April 28, 2016 - 12:00pm
One of the long-running criticisms of Bernie Sanders is that while his proposals are attractive, they are impractical and lack crucial details. Many liberals have been quick to position Clinton as the expert and pragmatic choice against Sanders's dangerous idealism. His economic policies have drawn particular scorn. Recently, J. W. Mason explained why Sanders’s plans, could, in fact, produce strong growth and employment.
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