What's New: Russians rally against Moscow role in Ukraine

Socialist Project - 4 hours 30 min ago
Thousands of Russians have rallied in Moscow in protest against the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, in the first major anti-war rally since the standoff between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels started last year. Russian and Ukrainian flags were seen flying in the crowd, as banners read "We are together", "Putin, I'm sick of your lies" and "I don't want a war with Ukraine."
Categories: Netted News

The American Family Is a Myth: Why Our National Moral Panic Must Stop

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 8:25pm
As a kid, I thought I'd be married with three kids by now. But now I see "family" as something totally different.

In about two months, I turn 34. The other day I remembered that I was supposed to be on baby No. 3 by now. My 22-year-old self thought 24 was a great age to meet a partner, date for two years, get married at 26, play for two more years, have a first baby at 28, a second at 31, and a third at 34, a boy first, and then two girls, spaced evenly apart. I think of this, of how absurd it feels as I sit at a computer in an empty home, with far simpler goals – going on more dates in my 30s than I did in my 20s, for instance. Every other day I shift from wondering whether I even really like children to having my ovaries scream as I see yet another precious baby born to a Facebook friend.

For now, my mother has started borrowing other people’s grandchildren. She shares them with her friends.

In the midst of this, I find myself frowning at a recent New York Times story that declares that marriage is disappearing. More than 40 percent of new mothers are unmarried.  And the rate of white single-parent households now equals the rate of black single-parent households in 1965 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued an infamous report declaring black communities to be caught in “a tangle of pathology.” To solve the problem of emasculated men and domineering women, he proposed creating pipelines for African-American men to get good jobs, in order to assume their rightful place at the head of black families.

Isabel Sawhill, echoing Moynihan, writes, “The decline in marriage and the growth of childbearing outside of marriage is partly a result of the limited economic prospects of those at the bottom. We should provide more education and job opportunities for unskilled men in particular, but the evidence that these policies will restore stable families is sketchy.”

She tries to steer a middle ground between a liberal agenda that proposes new ways for governments to support families – for instance, the paid maternity leave the Obama administration now supports — and a conservative agenda that sees the decline of marriage as a cultural and moral problem. Frankly, I find these episodic moral panics, even the ones that appear in Sawhill’s subdued and pragmatic tones, to be tiresome, repetitive and lacking in creativity.

We don’t need more rules to police parents of unconventional families. We need better options for what families can look like in the first place.

I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with my dissertation adviser more than a decade ago, wherein he told me, “As black America goes so goes America. The things we experience always happen about 50 years before America experiences them. Marriage rates will continue to go down, not up,” he told me. To my more conservative 20-something self, it was remarkable that he leveled these charges as mere observation rather than indictment.

He was right, it seems. And what 50 years ago we understood to be a pathology in black families, is now framed as an invitation to rethink our ethics around parenting and families.

Still, irresponsible parenting is not the problem. Sawhill’s call for more “responsibility” doesn’t take into account the extensive ways that our societal structure only rewards one type of family configuration – - heteronormative, middle class, property-owning and generally white.

In the fourth grade or so, we received an in-class assignment to make a family tree. It began with our immediate family — mother, father, brothers and sisters. I took the worksheet and could only fill out two names, mine and my mother’s. I hated the worksheet because I learned then that my grandmother, aunts, uncles and beloved cousins, who were more like big brothers, were not considered “immediate family,” though they were the family that I ate Sunday meals with, spent holidays with and loved. I was ashamed and embarrassed that my worksheet looked so bare, compared to those of my mostly white classmates.  I didn’t tell my mother about the worksheet, but I remember a few years later that she mentioned in passing a conflict at work, something about her co-workers with larger families. In telling me the story, in which apparently our family structure had been called into question, my mother simply looked at me and remarked: “You and me – we are a family.”

I grew up under the specter of Moynihan and his figurations of black pathology. Born to a single teen mom, I made it my entire goal up until age 18 to make it to college without becoming a teen mother. Then my goal was to graduate college, without becoming a mother or before I could financially support my offspring. Like my Crunk Feminist Collective colleague Robin Boylorn writes, “For most of my life not getting pregnant has been a tremendous accomplishment.  The hallmark of my success as a girl, and my mother’s greatest accomplishment as a parent, was getting me through school without having a baby.” For this working-class black girl, that desire “not to be a statistic” and not to struggle like my mom struggled, that desire not to “get on welfare,” made me an unrepentant good girl in the worst of ways, uncomfortable with my own sexual and romantic desires and unwilling to explore them.

I cloaked my middle-class aspirations and the respectability policing that come with them in the language of evangelical Christian purity, hoping that in following all the rules, God would grant me not only multiple degrees and career success, but eventually a wonderful man and a couple of kids.

I wonder what I might have done differently, but I also wonder if working-class black girls who aspire to middle-class stability have many other options outside of near perfection.  Working-class folks know that Americans have serious disdain for poor mothers. We don’t really believe poor people should have the right to have children and we certainly don’t believe poor folks need to have the sexual pleasures that come along with making them. Even though Sawhill attempts to make allowances for planning a working-class family, for most people planning a family means that you wait until you are solidly middle class in order to have one. What I knew as a working-class black girl was that routine sexual exploration could have derailed all of these goals.

But having spent most of my young adult life trying to make it into the middle class, which also meant making sure I didn’t have a baby, now I’m supposed to spend the remainder of my young adulthood trying to figure out how to have one. Perhaps I planned too well.

For black women, there are no guarantees that after putting your career first, partners will automatically come later. Most professional women who want to marry do marry, no matter the race, but we also tend to partner past prime child-bearing age. So I find myself at times “waiting to exhale,” knowing that the next three or four years will make a big difference in how my family life will look long-term.

It seems to me that the decline of marriage means not that we need to parent more responsibly but rather that we should build families more creatively.

If I don’t have children or I don’t ever partner long-term, am I destined to be a woman without a family? What does it mean that I might need a “Golden Girls”-type arrangement with my homegirls by age 45?

And what do we – professional, overachieving chicks – do with the sense of failure? On most days, being a feminist both helps and affirms the rightness of my quest to think more expansively about what it means to build community and family.

But there is often still that gnawing, nagging feeling that if I just hold on a bit longer, the (beautiful) man will come, and the baby – just one, no more than two – might come, too. How to hold a desire for this version of a life and a fierce and intense commitment to my life of independence and scholarly solitude is not something I’ve figured out.

Culturally, marriage has become the most readily accessible, mass-marketed Tupperware container in which we hold and transport notions of love, family and aspiration. Those of us reaching for other kinds of containers often come up short.

What increasing rates of divorce and increasing choices to not marry tell us is that microwaveable marriages no longer feel automatically healthy or worth it. Folks want real substantive, sustainable and creative relationships.

Last week, I explored with my feminist theory students what polyamorous relationships might look like, what it might mean to consider that we can’t get all we need from one person. They – young feminists – only balked, the incredulity palpable, their eyes trained on me as if attempting to stab me, killer of their dreams.

Though I am not “poly” as some of my folks might say, I do take some pages from the playbook of poly folks, queer folks and black folks, namely that I think very expansively about chosen family and kinship networks. The challenge is that even though we toss around terms like chosen family, we still don’t feel ultimate responsibility to each other. Unlike marriages or formal partnerships, where couples make housing, living and financial decisions together, we still have not created societal structures and language around helping groups of friends who have opted to become chosen family to do the same.

Do I freeze my eggs or don’t I? Do I move closer to my friends or don’t I? Do I hit up that old, kinda all right bf and ask for a sperm donation or don’t I? Do I want kids ever? When I do want them will I be able to have them? Do I want a husband? Does he have to live with me?  These questions all swirl in the back of my mind as I grind through an academic and activist life, trying to create economic possibilities for myself that were a dream for my mother and wholly out of reach for my grandmother.

On those days when the family I planned so hard to have seems wholly out of reach for me, when for yet another year I must mark a tax form, “family of one,” I choose to remember my mama’s moxie: “You and me – we are a family.”

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Categories: Netted News

Florida Officer Tases 62-Year-Old Woman In the Back Just for the Hell of It

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 8:17pm
No charges have been brought and the officer is currently on paid leave.

After police arrived on the scene of her Tallahassee, Florida, neighborhood, 62-year-old Viola Young asked them why they were there. Told to turn around, Young did so and walked away.

While walking away, at just about 2:31 in this video shot by a local resident, the officer brutally uses his stun gun to tase Young in the back. Immediately, she falls flat on her face. It's brutal.

No charges have been brought and the officer is currently on paid leave.

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Categories: Netted News

16-Year-Old Jailed Without Trial for 3 Years After Being Accused of Stealing a Backpack

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 2:35pm
Kalief Browder did not go home for 33 months, even though he was never convicted.

We look at the incredible story of how a 16-year-old high school sophomore from the Bronx ended up spending nearly three years locked up at the Rikers jail in New York City after he says he was falsely accused of stealing a backpack. Kalief Browder never pleaded guilty and was never convicted. Browder maintained his innocence and requested a trial, but was only offered plea deals while the trial was repeatedly delayed. Near the end of his time in jail, the judge offered to sentence him to time served if he entered a guilty plea, and warned him he could face 15 years in prison if he was convicted. But Browder still refused to accept the deal, and was only released when the case was dismissed. During this time, Browder spent nearly 800 days in solitary confinement, a juvenile imprisonment practice that the New York Department of Corrections has now banned. We are joined by reporter and author Jennifer Gonnerman, who recounts Browder’s story in the current issue of The New Yorker. We also speak with Browder’s current attorney, Paul Prestia, who has filed a lawsuit against the City of New York, the New York City Police Department, the Bronx District Attorney, and the Department of Corrections, on Browder’s behalf.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Last week, the New York City Department of Corrections announced it will stop using solitary confinement to punish adolescents held in its troubled Rikers Island jail complex, the second-largest jail system in the country. But a federal prosecutor said the city’s reforms were moving too slowly to address a, quote, "culture of violence," and warned he may file a civil lawsuit over conditions for teenagers held in Rikers. New York is one of only two states nationwide that automatically charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we look at the incredible story of a 16-year-old high school sophomore who was jailed at Rikers Island for nearly three years after he refused to plead guilty to a crime he said he did not commit. It was May 15, 2010, when Kalief Browder was walking home from a party with his friends in the Bronx and was stopped by police based on a tip that he had robbed someone weeks earlier. He told HuffPost Live what happened next.

KALIEF BROWDER: They had searched me, and the guy actually said—at first he said I robbed him. I didn’t have anything on me. And that’s when—

MARC LAMONT HILL: When you say "nothing," you mean no weapon and none of his property.

KALIEF BROWDER: No weapon, no money, anything he said that I allegedly robbed him for. So the guy actually changed up his story and said that I actually tried to rob him. But then another police officer came, and they said that I robbed him two weeks prior. And then they said, "We’re going to take you to the precinct, and most likely we’re going to let you go home." But then, I never went home.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kalief Browder did not go home for 33 months, even though he was never convicted. For nearly 800 days of that time, he was held in solitary confinement. He maintained his innocence and requested a trial, but was only offered plea deals while the trial was repeatedly delayed. Near the end of his time in jail, the judge offered to sentence him to time served if he entered a guilty plea, and told him he could face 15 years in prison if he was convicted. He refused to accept the deal and was only released when the case was dismissed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Jennifer Gonnerman, reporter, author, contributing editor at New York magazine. She recounts Kalief Browder’s story in the current issue of The New Yorker in a piece headlined, "Before the Law: A boy was accused of taking a backpack. The courts took the next three years of his life." Jennifer Gonnerman has long chronicled problems with the criminal justice system. Her book, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, tells the story of a woman who spent 16 years in prison for a first-time offense under New York’s Rockefeller drug laws.

And we’re joined by Kalief Browder’s current attorney, Paul Prestia, who has filed a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD—the New York Police Department—Bronx district attorney and the Department of Corrections on Browder’s behalf. Prestia is also a former assistant prosecutor in Brooklyn.

Jennifer Gonnerman, Paul Prestia, welcome to Democracy Now! Jennifer, tell us Kalief’s story.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Well, you did a pretty good job of setting it up, and it was terrific that we got to hear Kalief’s voice describing what happened. But just to recap a bit, May 2010, he’s coming home from a party late one night in the Bronx, walking with his friend down the street, and a police car pulls up. There’s somebody in the back seat who points him out, saying, you know—accusing him of a robbery that had happened one or two weeks earlier. He says, "I didn’t do it." They take—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, first, he actually says, "I didn’t steal anything tonight. Look at my pockets."

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: And they went back and checked with the guy, and they said, "Oh, oh, this happened a couple weeks ago."

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right, so there was, from the beginning, it sounded like, at least the way Kalief tells it, some confusion about the dates, which is significant. And he goes into the precinct thinking, "I’m just"—and he’s in the holding cell, thinking, "I’m just going to be here for a couple hours. We’ll clear up this misunderstanding." And, as you said, he ended up doing almost three years on Rikers Island, for many reasons, but the system sort of completely failed him in every possible way. There was no speedy trial. And during that time, he was locked up in the adolescent jail on Rikers Island.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain Rikers.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Sure, sure. You know, when we talk about Rikers Island, it’s a jail complex. There’s 10 different jails there. And I think a lot of people get confused between prison and jail. A prison is where you go after you’ve been convicted and sentenced. A jail is where you go while you’re waiting for your case to go through the court. On Rikers Island, 85 percent of the people locked up there are legally innocent. They have not been convicted of a crime yet, and they may never be convicted of a crime. They’re there waiting to find out whether they’re guilty or innocent and what their fate is going to be. And so, Kalief was one of those people. So, despite the fact that he was not convicted of a crime, he endured the punishment anyway.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But he ended up basically in Rikers because he couldn’t make bail, right? Because it was a relatively minor charge, the judge ended up giving him bail time but releasing his co-defendant, as well. Could you explain why that happened?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Yeah, sure. So, from the beginning of the case, there were two co-defendants. And Kalief’s co-defendant, the other friend, was released from day one, and so he got to wait at home while the case went through the system. And Kalief’s bail was set at $3,000 because he was already on probation in a prior case. So, he had a mark against him, and that mark sort of chased him for the next three years. Ultimately, they filed a violation of probation against him, which meant that he was remanded. So even though the bail was $3,000, it was out of the reach of his family. Even if they had spent time fundraising from everybody they knew, ultimately it didn’t matter because he was remanded. There was no bail set for three years. So he was held without bail while this case sort of crawled through the court system.

PAUL PRESTIA: Well, and just to clarify—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, Paul Prestia, yes?

PAUL PRESTIA: Just to clarify on that prior conviction, that was a youthful offender adjudication, so that, theoretically, was sealed from his record. So, while he was convicted, he was 16 at the time, and that conviction was sealed from his record—not something that should have been used against him, but perhaps an anomaly because he was on probation at the same time.

In any event, as Jen pointed out—I would have titled her piece—and it was an excellent piece, obviously—I spoke with her in depth while she was writing the article. I would have titled it "The Criminal Justice System Deconstructed." And I can go through all of those aspects with you, but I know that—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you particularly about this whole issue of people being held in jail, in essence, to pressure them to plead out, because we often see the criminal justice system on television as these trials, these dramatic trials, but I’ve always felt that the essence of the criminal justice system in America, 95 percent of the cases, are the plea bargains.

PAUL PRESTIA: Absolutely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: People being pressured not to go to trial, but to plead guilty. And if you could talk about how that’s used time and—over and over again to get defendants to plead out?

PAUL PRESTIA: Well, I don’t know if it’s a tactic per se. I don’t know if it’s something intentional per se, that the District Attorney’s Office—a technique that the District Attorney’s Office uses to—

AMY GOODMAN: And you were a prosecutor—

PAUL PRESTIA: I was.

AMY GOODMAN: —so you probably did it all the time.

PAUL PRESTIA: I’m familiar with all of these things, Amy. I know how it goes, for sure. But I think it’s understood that if someone’s—it’s just common sense. If someone’s in jail and they’re desperate to get out, they’re more inclined to take a plea. It’s just human nature to do anything, to find any way to get out of that jail, especially if you’ve spent some time in solitary.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s what is so amazing about Kalief, when the Bronx judge is replaced by a Brooklyn judge, and she begins to see what he’s been through and says, "You will be out today. After two-and-a-half years, just plea. You face 15 years in jail if you go to trial," and he said, "No." I mean, all the other prisoners said, "Are you crazy?" to him. This is a kid. He said, "I’m innocent. I’m not going to say I was guilty."

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: I mean, it’s incredible. Obviously, the longer you’re incarcerated in jail, the greater the pressure to plead, right? And for somebody like Kalief, who was in one of the worst jails—he was in the adolescent jail in Rikers Island, which the U.S. Attorney’s Office recently put out a blistering report about the horrific conditions there. On top of that, he spent most of his time in solitary confinement. So it just ratchets up the pressure more and more and more. You know, he could not have been under greater pressure to plead. And yet, despite all that, he just said, that day, to the judge—the judge, you know, made that offer, and he said, "I’m all right. I didn’t do it. I’m all right." And the judge says, "You’re all right?" I mean, clearly, he was not all right. But he said, "I’m all right," like, "I got this. I could do it." And she said, "You’re all right?" And he said, "I want to go to trial," the same thing he had been saying for three years. But trials rarely happen in the Bronx. And that’s sort of one of the sort of dirty secrets of the whole system.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: To me, one of the most stunning parts of your article is when you list from the court files all of the continuances that occurred in this trial, while he’s waiting, demanding to go to trial. You have from the court file: "June 23, 2011: People not ready, request 1 week." But that one week turns into—looks like three months: "August 24, 2011: People not ready, request 1 day." Then, "November 4, 2011: People not ready, prosecutor on trial, request 2 weeks." Then, "December 2, 2011: Prosecutor on trial, request January 3rd." So each time it was the prosecutors who were delaying the start of a trial.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: That’s true. And then it would—once they asked for a week or two weeks, it would turn into a matter of scheduling. Everybody looks at their calendars, and maybe the prosecutor can’t do it, or maybe the judge can’t do it, or maybe the defense attorney can’t. And it became a sort of logistics game at every court date. But, you know, one or two weeks turning into six weeks, you know, for somebody like Kalief, that’s six more weeks that he’s got to wait.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the role of the prior attorney? Because you weren’t there from the beginning, Paul Prestia.

PAUL PRESTIA: No, I wasn’t. I’ll make that clear.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: His initial—right, right, his initial attorney. And you also tried to find out what that initial attorney, who was appointed by the court, did or did not do.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right, right, right. He was a court-appointed lawyer—it’s called 18-B lawyer in New York City, but a court-appointed lawyer, paid $75 an hour to represent Kalief. And, you know, it’s a system that has been criticized over the years, because in order to make a living, you’ve got to have a lot of cases. And you’re sort of—those lawyers are sort of running around the city all the time. And, you know, so he never visited his client on Rikers Island, which is—

AMY GOODMAN: Never visited his—that means he never visited his client, because he was on Rikers Island the whole time.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: That’s correct. And, you know, as sad as it is, it’s not that uncommon for 18-B lawyers never to make the trip to Rikers Island, because it’s like a half a day, you know, nightmare. You know, they have video conferences in the Bronx, where you can talk to your client face to face. And, you know, I asked him had he ever done that; he said, "I’m pretty sure I did." And then I asked Kalief, did he remember having a videoconference with his lawyer, and he said, "No." So, you know, I don’t know. Paul could probably speak better to this, but—

AMY GOODMAN: What about a speedy trial? I mean, there might be a lot of people watching this around the country and around the world now saying, "Wasn’t a law broken here, that this kid, from when he was 16 years old, was in prison, two of those years in solitary?"

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: I know. You can’t even wrap your brain around it, it’s so crazy, the whole story. So, in New York, you know—so, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial. And in New York, we have something called the "ready rule." So, when these prosecutors, as Juan was reading off the list, say, you know, "We’re not ready, but we can be ready in a week"—so that’s one week charged against them. Yet the court—the next court date is set one month, two months, three months away. So that only counts as one week against the six-month deadline that we have in New York. So, even though he was held for three years, it’s not like there’s three—the three years count against him. It’s every week or two weeks or one day that the prosecutors ask for. So time is moving in two separate ways. There’s sort of the world of the courthouse, where time is moving at a glacial pace, and then there’s Kalief’s life, where every day feels like 10 because he’s trapped in a box in Rikers Island solitary.

PAUL PRESTIA: It’s a figurative clock that stops and starts throughout the case. But, agreed, with Jennifer’s legal analysis, the adjournments were appalling and should have been challenged at some point, in my opinion, by the attorney—

AMY GOODMAN: For a speedy trial.

PAUL PRESTIA: —and should not have been allowed to persist by the judges who oversaw the case.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Kalief’s voice back into this conversation. Kalief Browder told HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont Hill that while he was in solitary confinement at Rikers, the guards often refused to give him his meals.

KALIEF BROWDER: If you say anything that could tick them off any type of way, some of them, whic is a lot of them, what they do is they starve you. They won’t feed you. And it’s already hard in there, because if you get the three trays that you get every day, you’re still hungry, because I guess that’s part of the punishment. So, if they starve you one tray, that could really make an impact on you. And—

MARC LAMONT HILL: How much were you starved?

KALIEF BROWDER: I was starved a lot. I can’t even—I can’t even count.

AMY GOODMAN: Kalief Browder went on to say he was once starved four times in a row—no breakfast, lunch, dinner or breakfast again. Talk about the conditions of solitary confinement and how a kid, a teenager, would end up in solitary confinement for two years.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Sure. I mean, Kalief’s talking about being hungry in jail. And even though he’s talking about one instance, in fact, it was a much sort of broader problem. So, when you’re in solitary confinement, you get three meals a day coming through a slot in the door, because you’re not leaving your cell. And for teenagers locked in solitary—and this is not just Kalief, this is other teenagers have talked about this—there’s not enough food. And once you’re in solitary—you know, when you’re in general population, the regular jail, if you’re not getting enough food, you can maybe get some money in your commissary account and get some snacks and fill up your stomach.

AMY GOODMAN: And his mom did put money in commissary.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Yeah, his mother did look out for him and visited him every week. But here he is, stuck in solitary. He can’t supplement his meal. He’s reduced to begging officers through the cell door: "Can I get an extra piece of bread?" Sometimes they give it, sometimes they laugh at him. And, you know, basically, there’s a 12-hour stretch from dinner to breakfast where all these teenagers are drinking water out of the sink to fill their stomachs. And, you know, when he told me this, at first I thought, well, maybe it’s just him, or maybe it’s a one-off thing. You know, he was talking about meals being skipped. But I’m saying it’s a broader sort of problem. But there was a recent report that came out from Bronx Defenders organization, where they talked about many of their clients with similar complaints. And, you know, for a moment, I thought, "Did we just pick up this kid off the street in the Bronx and drop him in Guantánamo?" I mean, this is the kind of thing that, you know, that you guys cover all the time. It just—it seemed, frankly, almost unbelievable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about the whole issue of his education? I mean, here was a 16-year-old sophomore.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What kind of educational support does Rikers give to 16- and 17-year-olds that it jails?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: You know, the adolescents in the regular jail were supposed to be taken every day to class, to a school that they have there. And they’re taught by Department of Education—you know, it’s a Department of Education-run school. But once a kid was put into solitary, they weren’t being taken out for school anymore. And what they would do is slip a worksheet under the door in the morning, an officer would, or a few, and, "Finish this by Wednesday. Finish this by Thursday." So, Kalief’s sitting there. He’s got nothing to do. He thinks, "Well, I might as well do something. I might as well try to do this." You know, so he’s kind of trying to teach himself how to be a better writer, math, etc. And then Thursday comes—you know, time moving at this incredibly slow pace—and nobody comes to pick up the work. I mean, that didn’t always happen, but it happened often enough. And, I mean, it’s just—you know, it’s a small detail, but it just shows the utter apathy, you know, and lack of concern for everybody in there. So he’s banging on the door. "Where is the correction officer to pick up the work?" You know, he’s trying to improve himself in this absolutely nightmare of a place.

PAUL PRESTIA: I don’t even think "apathy" is the word. It’s just a reckless disregard for any of those kids who sat in solitary. It’s sad, really.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Paul Prestia, the reaction of the prosecutors in the case, and especially when you got involved? What was—didn’t anybody say, "Hey, this is a kid who’s been in jail for close to three years and still has not been brought to trial"?

PAUL PRESTIA: I’m sorry about—I missed your question. What was—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The reaction of the prosecutors that you were dealing with?

PAUL PRESTIA: Well, I didn’t actually deal with the prosecutors, because I took over the case after it got just missed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, after it got dismissed.

PAUL PRESTIA: So, after it got dismissed, Kalief came to see me, and he retained me to represent him in the civil case against the state of New York—against the City of New York, I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: In August, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a reportthat sharply criticized Rikers jail officials for routinely using extreme violence against adolescent prisoners, often in areas without video surveillance cameras. It also condemned the excessive use of solitary confinement for teenagers held there. This is the U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara.

PREET BHARARA: Rikers Island is a broken institution for adolescents. And a broken institution will produce broken people, especially when they are young and fragile with mental illness, as so many of them are. The adolescents in Rikers are walled off from the public. But they are not walled off from the Constitution. Indeed, most of these young men are pretrial detainees, presumed innocent until proven guilty. But whether they are pretrial or convicted, they are entitled to be detained safely and in accordance with their constitutional rights, not consigned to a corrections crucible that seems more inspired byLord of the Flies than any legitimate philosophy of humane detention.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, speaking in August. Last week, he said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had failed to move quickly on reforms called for in the report, and warned his office was ready to file a civil rights lawsuit against the city to force changes. Preet Bharara could conceivably be a possibility for attorney general. Jen Gonnerman?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: You know, this report came out in the course of me reporting this story. It came out in August. And back in April, when I was first interviewing Kalief—I think maybe the very first time I met him—he told me this incredible story that had happened early in his time at Rikers, a few days in, of, late at night, there had been some sort of fight in the dorm. The officers weren’t sure who—

AMY GOODMAN: There were 50 kids in the dorm.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right, 50 kids in the dorm.

AMY GOODMAN: In one room.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Officers weren’t sure who was responsible, so they grabbed whoever they could find, threw them in the hall and, you know, their faces to the wall, and just started kind of trying to figure out who did it and yelling at them and smacking them in the face each time, and really beating some of the kids up. And so, Kalief tells me this incredible story of, you know, leaky noses and sort of swollen eyes. And at the end, the officers say, "OK, you know, we can either take you to the clinic, which means—and if you tell the folks who work at the clinic, the civilian medical staff, what happened, you’re going to end up in solitary. Or you can just go back to bed and pretend nothing happened." So, Kalief and the other guys say, "OK, we’ll go back to bed."

He tells me this incredible story in April. I think, that is—I didn’t doubt him, but I just thought, "Is that like a one-time thing? What is going on on Rikers Island?" I mean, I knew the conditions were very bad in the adolescent jail, but that was a level of brutality that was pretty, you know, hard to wrap your mind around. Then, come August, this report comes out, and I would encourage anybody who’s interested to read this report, because even though government reports are sometimes a little dry, this one is incredible in the level of graphic detail and the way it’s written. It just—

PAUL PRESTIA: And it’s specific to the years 2011 and 2013—

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right.

PAUL PRESTIA: —coincidentally, when Kalief was incarcerated and was in solitary confinement.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: And this story I just described, you know, is told again and again in this report. It certainly wasn’t a one-time occurrence.

PAUL PRESTIA: And it’s clear that—listen, I know that the corrections officers, their jobs can be difficult. That goes without saying. But to create your own code of justice, which is what happens in these jails, and to just mete out punishments to these kids, these young men, who are—as Jennifer pointed out, they’re innocent. They’re awaiting a trial. They’re waiting for their case to be heard. But yet, in those jails—and, I would argue, in my opinion, in those prosecutors’ minds—presumed guilty, a lot of the time.

AMY GOODMAN: Kalief attempted suicide.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that happened several times in Rikers Island. And, you know, it’s totally understandable, considering the conditions. You know, Rikers had—this is hopefully going to change, but there was a lot of teenagers put into solitary. It’s sort of the ultimate management tool, the way they were dealing with unruly population. There was like almost an addiction to solitary confinement. And once in solitary, you know, as study after study shows sort of the incredible impact on one’s mental health, so you can have inmates going in, who didn’t have any mental health problems, coming out a broken person—you know, the paranoia, the lack of trust, the sort of being overwhelmed by stimulation. I mean, Kalief, since he’s been out, you can still see the impact of solitary, even though he’s been home for 16 months. I mean, he, at times—you know, like his brother was telling me, "You know, I’ll invite Kalief to the movies. 'Do you want to go out, do something fun?' And Kalief says, 'Ah, no, I don't want to do that,’" and he’d rather sort of retreat and be in his room at home, door closed, almost recreating the conditions of solitary, and feels more comfortable like that sometimes than out in the world.

PAUL PRESTIA: I’ve spent a lot of time with Kalief. And quite honestly, I don’t see how he could ever be the same after that experience. And the—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What are you hoping, with the lawsuit, to be able to accomplish in terms of the responsibility for what happened?

PAUL PRESTIA: Well, obviously, you know, we’re asking the—we need the city to be accountable, to take accountability, to admit that what happened here was unjust, it was unlawful, it was unconstitutional, and it was wrong. And it was. Nothing they can say can justify Kalief Browder’s ordeal. The police can’t justify it. Corrections can’t justify it. The District Attorney’s Office can’t justify it—in my opinion. There is no way. I’ve gone through everything, everything in this case, from the arrest, where you have a victim whose credibility is highly at issue—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, he had gone back to Mexico, you learned, at the very end.

PAUL PRESTIA: Right.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right. Ultimately, that’s why they agreed—

PAUL PRESTIA: No, no, no. It wasn’t at the very end. I don’t believe it was at the very end.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe he disappeared at the beginning?

PAUL PRESTIA: I suspect it was long before the date of the dismissal. And for—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s why they kept asking for delays.

PAUL PRESTIA: Right, of course, of course. Because if he was available, Amy, he could have been brought in—well, let’s see, the case was first on for trial, in a trial posture, in December of 2010. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, he could have been brought in much—you know, sometime in 2011, at the very least. All they had to do in this trial was bring this victim in and testify as to what happened. And the problem here is, Kalief was innocent. He was always innocent. And they arrested him based on this—a victim, whose credibility was clearly at issue, without any other evidence to go forward on this case, a case that should have never been prosecuted. And then, to add insult to injury, he has to spend those three years in Rikers. And the ironic thing, Amy—and I know you have to continue—is that they accused him of stealing a backpack, right? As you said in your opening. Yet, at the end of the day, they stole Kalief Browder’s innocence.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, and I thank you so much for being with us, Paul Prestia, attorney for Kalief Browder; Jennifer Gonnerman, reporter, author. Her latest story is in The New Yorker. You’ve got to read it. It’s headlined "Before the Law: A boy was accused of taking a backpack. The courts took the next three years of his life." We’ll link to it at democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.

 

Categories: Netted News

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Overprescribed ADHD Drugs?

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 2:24pm
Against all medical guidelines, preschool-aged children are diagnosed with ADHD and treated with stimulants.

The following first appeared on Substance.com:

Thousands of the nation’s poorest children under the age of four are being prescribed stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall for ailments they’re too young to even have. A first-ever CDC study estimates that under the Medicaid healthcare program, doctors have given some 10,000 American toddlers a diagnosis of ADHD and treated them with ADHD drugs that have not been shown to be effective or safe in children that young. The news that amphetamine-based drugs like Adderall and the methylphenidate Ritalin are being used to medicate, at a minimum, one out of every 225 toddlers nationwide outraged some medical professionals when it was first announced in May at the Georgia Mental Health Forum.

“It’s absolutely shocking, and it shouldn’t be happening,” Anita Zervigon-Hakes, a children’s consultant to the Carter Center, which sponsored the forum, told the New York Times.“[Doctors] are just feeling around in the dark. We obviously don’t have our act together for little children.”

Prescribing ADHD drugs to toddlers against the recommendations of experts may be a new practice, but it is part of a much larger trend of prescribing psychoactive drugs to children who are in foster care, juvenile detention or just living in poverty. (The practice also extends to elderly people in nursing homes.) Impulsive, aggressive behavior is common in such settings, and may be a symptom of ADHD or other medical conditions requiring medication.

“I’ve put several three-year-olds on it [as a last resort] and, with the medication, it’s like night and day,” said Max Wiznitzer, MD, a pediatric neurologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospitals. ”These are very challenging children. We’ve made sure they do have ADHD features, that their behavior is occurring in multiple settings, that it’s not due to poor parenting, it’s not due to poor teaching, it’s not some other medical condition.”

Yet critics ask if the practice is doing more harm than good. They say that the high rates of use of these drugs amount to gross overprescribing.

Susanna Visser, who heads ADHD research at the CDC and who presented the report, said, “Families of toddlers with behavioral problems are coming to the doctor’s office for help, and the help they’re getting too often is a prescription for a Class II controlled substance, which has not been established as safe for that young of a child. It puts these children and their developing minds at risk, and their health is at risk.”

Visser was also involved in drafting the American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent guidelines for treating children with ADHD. After concluding that no child under the age of four could be properly diagnosed with ADHD, the group advised against doctors prescribing stimulants for kids aged two or three. Of all the ADHD drugs on the market, only Adderall is FDA approved for children under age six.

In a recent phone conversation, Visser was quick to defend the legitimacy of prescribing stimulants to treat ADHD (within the recommended guidelines), but she also expressed concern that too many doctors may be taking this route instead of pursuing behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be an effective alternative to medication.

“These stimulants for ADHD have known side-effects and health risks for children, and there are some unique risks for preschoolers,” she said. “They’re more likely to be irritable and emotional, [and to experience] elevations of heart rate and blood pressure, which can extend into disrupting their sleep. And these are the short-term effects. We don’t know what the long-term impacts will be.” Other side effects may include growth suppression, insomnia and hallucinations.

The Controversial Rise in ADHD Diagnoses and Drug Treatment

The expansion of both ADHD diagnoses and prescription drugs to two- and three-year-olds is the latest development in a trend that has been on a meteoric rise for several decades. In the 1970s an estimated 1% of American schoolchildren were diagnosed with an attention disorder. By 2013, 11% of children aged 4 to 17 were being diagnosed with ADHD, including one in five boys, and 69% were on an ADHD drug, according to a 2013 CDC report.

A confluence of factors triggered this dramatic uptick. Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs saw a seismic increase in the late 1990s, thanks to the FDA Modernization Act of 1997 lifting restrictions on drug companies marketing to the public. With ads for ADHD drugs on TV and other media, many more parents became aware of the condition, leading them to wonder if their child’s troublesome behavior could be a medical diagnosis treatable with a pill. This legislation also granted Big Pharma permission to promote its studies of “off-label” uses for drugs, leading doctors to engage in much more “off-label” prescribing of drugs for symptoms and conditions not approved by the FDA. 

Together, these liberalizations in industry’s promotion have helped encourage a spike in ADHD diagnoses and drug prescriptions(as well as in the general practice of off-label prescribing). Now if a doctor wants to give Ritalin to a child before he or she is even potty trained, there’s nothing to stop it. Not surprisingly, the number of children prescribed stimulants increased by 700% from 2000 to 2010.

Over the years, many critics have argued not only that ADHD is overdiagnosed but that it may not even be an actual medical condition. In his 2013 book, Back to Normal: Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior Is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder,psychologist Enrico Gnaulati asserts that “we can see shades of all children in the core symptoms of ADHD: distractibility, forgetfulness, problems with follow-through, not listening, talking excessively, fidgetiness, and difficulty waiting one’s turn….A National Institute of Mental Health study even shows that three-quarters of ADHD children outgrow their condition by the time they reach their mid-twenties.”

Similarly, in 2013 New York Times journalist Maggie Koerth-Baker (diagnosed with ADHD herself) wrote about a potential link between the dramatic rise in stimulant drugs in children and the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and standards-based educational reform.

To be clear: Those are correlations, not causal links. But ADHD, education policies, disability protections and advertising freedoms all appear to wink suggestively at one another. From parents’ and teachers’ perspectives, the diagnosis is considered a success if the medication improves kids’ ability to perform on tests and calms them down enough so that they’re not a distraction to others. (In some school districts, an ADHD diagnosis also results in that child’s test score being removed from the school’s official average.) Writ large, [UC Berkeley psychology professor Stephen] Hinshaw says, these incentives conspire to boost the diagnosis of the disorder, regardless of its biological prevalence.”

The Confounding Cofactors of Poverty and Dysfunction

In addition to the 10,000 toddlers being issued stimulants under Medicaid (available to families and individuals who make up to 133% of the poverty line), Visser’s study also shows that 4,000 children with private insurance were being given similar treatment over the same 12-month period.

The glaring disparity between the numbers of diagnoses in the poor group and those in the more affluent one raise questions about the potential link between poverty and an increase in labeling very young kids with ADHD and giving them an unproven pill treatment.

“When you have children living in poverty, they’re exposed to a number of factors that negatively impact their behavior [and] therefore you’re going to see more ADHD diagnosis and treatment,” Visser said. These factors include substance misuse and addiction, domestic violence and parental neglect in the home as well as stress-inducing conditions in their community.

But Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist who specializes in underprivileged youth, argues that the most accurate analysis of these behaviors is not as symptoms of ADHD but as relatively normal responses to stress and even trauma. “In acting out and being hard to control, they’re signaling the chaos in their environment,” she told The New York Times. “If you have a family with [these problems], the kid might look impulsive or aggressive. And the parent might just want a quick fix, and the easiest thing to do is medicate. It’s a travesty.”

The CDC’s Visser believes that the doctors prescribing stimulants to toddlers have the best intentions, although she emphasizes that teaching parents proper communication techniques with their children, along with possibly getting the child into behavioral therapy, is a much preferred method of treatment for these problems (which can’t officially even be called ADHD, since there is no recognized diagnosis for children of that age).

The problem is, many American families have little access to psychological and behavioral treatment.

“We have infrastructure barriers in getting behavioral treatment to families,” Visser said. “If you live in a rural area and there is no child behavior therapist available within 150 miles, and you know that medication treatment is effective, and the child and family are in crisis, you’re going to gravitate toward that treatment.”

In addition, many public and private insurance companies offer only minimal psychological and behavioral therapy, which tends to require an ongoing investment of time and other resources from families.

The idea that social factors, like parental addiction or abuse, and economic ones, like poverty, play a role in the development of ADHD in children throws a wrench into the medical approach to the condition. Recent studies show evidence that ADHD-affected brains arevisibly impaired in the left prefrontal cortex when observed under an MRI scanner. Other studies suggest that ADHD may be a genetic disorder passed down from parent to child. Chemical or genetic interventions may eventually greatly improve the prevention and treatment of ADHD. Many individual children with the condition stand to benefit. But unless non-medical cofactors are addressed, it is unlikely that the condition, and its serious consequences, will be controlled.

From Juvenile Detention Center to Nursing Homes, a Similar Trend

Amphetamines have long been overprescribed and used nonmedically in the US. During and after World War II, the widespread use of uppers like Dexedrine and Benzedrine to treat a variety of symptoms like depression, low energy and weight loss. This led to misuse, which played a role in the class of drugs being classified as a controlled substance in 1970. Similarly, critics of the ADHD diagnosis and treatment point to the widespread nonmedical use of Adderall and other ADHD drugs.

The motive behind administering stimulant medication as a first response (as opposed to behavioral therapy) is no mystery: The drugs can be effective, fast working, easy to take, relatively cheap and manufactured by pharmaceutical companies with large marketing and lobbying budgets. For poorly behaved children living below the poverty line—possibly under the care of parents with addiction, say, and mental illness preventing them from giving adequate care—it’s little wonder that a doctor is more likely to scribble off a prescription than attempt to unravel the complex issues of a difficult home environment.

And for those children with no home at all, a whole rainbow of drugs are often administered blindly by government agencies looking for a quick pacifier. In August, the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections received a scathing audit from the state that chastised the juvenile prisons for administering sleeping pills, powerful anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, all with no basic monitoring of the inmates’ vital signs or even evidence of a mental health diagnosis.

Similarly, children in foster-care homes have been found to be upward of ten times more likely to be prescribed anti-psychotics than children in permanent homes. Medical oversight comes from state and local government agencies, which have been criticized for over-prescribing these medicines without enough engagement with the child patients (some in infancy), and often in doses too large and in combinations considered risky even for adults.

Government agencies aren’t the only ones taking heat for our nation’s drugged up babies; sometimes they’re the ones wagging the finger. Over the past decade, drug companies have paid billions of dollars to federal and state governments to settle lawsuits for marketing psychoactive drugs for illnesses they haven’t been approved to treat.

Similarly, a recent NPR piece revealed that nursing homes across the country are over-medicating their elderly patients with antipsychotics, despite a lack of a relevant diagnosis and the potential for dangerous side-effects.

What nursing homes, foster care, juvenile detention and poorly behaved, academically challenged schoolchildren all have in common is that they present a complicated, and downright depressing, social problem. Lacking the resources to effectively “treat” the social dysfunction that contributes to the symptoms if not the condition itself, officials are addressing that problem with a one-size-fits-all chemical template of a solution. Babies on speed and teenage zombies are apparently the best society can do.

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The Classic Nuclear American Family Is a Myth—And There's Nothing Wrong With That

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 1:29pm
Wringing our hands over the "end of marriage" won't help anything.

In about two months, I turn 34. The other day I remembered that I was supposed to be on baby No. 3 by now. My 22-year-old self thought 24 was a great age to meet a partner, date for two years, get married at 26, play for two more years, have a first baby at 28, a second at 31, and a third at 34, a boy first, and then two girls, spaced evenly apart. I think of this, of how absurd it feels as I sit at a computer in an empty home, with far simpler goals – going on more dates in my 30s than I did in my 20s, for instance. Every other day I shift from wondering whether I even really like children to having my ovaries scream as I see yet another precious baby born to a Facebook friend.

For now, my mother has started borrowing other people’s grandchildren. She shares them with her friends.

In the midst of this, I find myself frowning at a recent New York Times story that declares marriage is disappearing. More than 40 percent of new mothers are unmarried. And the rate of white single-parent households now equals the rate of black single-parent households in 1965 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued an infamous report declaring black communities to be caught in “a tangle of pathology.” To solve the problem of emasculated men and domineering women, he proposed creating pipelines for African-American men to get good jobs, in order to assume their rightful place at the head of black families.

Isabel Sawhill, echoing Moynihan, writes, “The decline in marriage and the growth of childbearing outside of marriage is partly a result of the limited economic prospects of those at the bottom. We should provide more education and job opportunities for unskilled men in particular, but the evidence that these policies will restore stable families is sketchy.”

She tries to steer a middle ground between a liberal agenda that proposes new ways for governments to support families – for instance, the paid maternity leave the Obama administration now supports — and a conservative agenda that sees the decline of marriage as a cultural and moral problem. Frankly, I find these episodic moral panics, even the ones that appear in Sawhill’s subdued and pragmatic tones, to be tiresome, repetitive and lacking in creativity. We don’t need more rules to police parents of unconventional families. We need better options for what families can look like in the first place.

I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with my dissertation adviser more than a decade ago. He told me, “As black America goes so goes America. The things we experience always happen about 50 years before America experiences them. Marriage rates will continue to go down, not up,” he told me. To my more conservative 20-something self, it was remarkable that he leveled these charges as mere observation rather than indictment.

He was right, it seems. And what 50 years ago we understood to be a pathology in black families, is now framed as an invitation to rethink our ethics around parenting and families.

Still, irresponsible parenting is not the problem. Sawhill’s call for more “responsibility” doesn’t take into account the extensive ways that our societal structure only rewards one type of family configuration – heteronormative, middle class, property-owning and generally white.

In the fourth grade or so, we received an in-class assignment to make a family tree. It began with our immediate family — mother, father, brothers and sisters. I took the worksheet and could only fill out two names, mine and my mother’s. I hated the worksheet because I learned then that my grandmother, aunts, uncles and beloved cousins, who were more like big brothers, were not considered “immediate family,” though they were the family I ate Sunday meals with, spent holidays with and loved. I was ashamed and embarrassed that my worksheet looked so bare, compared to those of my mostly white classmates. I didn’t tell my mother about the worksheet, but I remember a few years later she mentioned in passing a conflict at work, something about her co-workers with larger families. In telling me the story, in which apparently our family structure had been called into question, my mother simply looked at me and remarked: “You and me – we are a family.”

I grew up under the specter of Moynihan and his figurations of black pathology. Born to a single teen mom, I made it my entire goal up until age 18 to make it to college without becoming a teen mother. Then my goal was to graduate college, without becoming a mother or before I could financially support my offspring. Like my Crunk Feminist Collective colleague Robin Boylorn writes, “For most of my life not getting pregnant has been a tremendous accomplishment. The hallmark of my success as a girl, and my mother’s greatest accomplishment as a parent, was getting me through school without having a baby.” For this working-class black girl, that desire “not to be a statistic” and not to struggle like my mom struggled, that desire not to “get on welfare,” made me an unrepentant good girl in the worst of ways, uncomfortable with my own sexual and romantic desires and unwilling to explore them.

I cloaked my middle-class aspirations and the respectability policing that come with them in the language of evangelical Christian purity, hoping that in following all the rules, God would grant me not only multiple degrees and career success, but eventually a wonderful man and a couple of kids.

I wonder what I might have done differently, but I also wonder if working-class black girls who aspire to middle-class stability have many other options outside of near perfection. Working-class folks know that Americans have serious disdain for poor mothers. We don’t really believe poor people should have the right to have children and we certainly don’t believe poor folks need to have the sexual pleasures that come along with making them. Even though Sawhill attempts to make allowances for planning a working-class family, for most people planning a family means that you wait until you are solidly middle class in order to have one. What I knew as a working-class black girl was that routine sexual exploration could have derailed all of these goals.

But having spent most of my young adult life trying to make it into the middle class, which also meant making sure I didn’t have a baby, now I’m supposed to spend the remainder of my young adulthood trying to figure out how to have one. Perhaps I planned too well.

For black women, there are no guarantees that after putting your career first, partners will automatically come later. Most professional women who want to marry do marry, no matter the race, but we also tend to partner past prime child-bearing age. So I find myself at times “waiting to exhale,” knowing that the next three or four years will make a big difference in how my family life will look long-term.

It seems to me that the decline of marriage means not that we need to parent more responsibly but rather that we should build families more creatively. If I don’t have children or I don’t ever partner long-term, am I destined to be a woman without a family? What does it mean that I might need a “Golden Girls”-type arrangement with my homegirls by age 45?

And what do we – professional, overachieving chicks – do with the sense of failure? On most days, being a feminist both helps and affirms the rightness of my quest to think more expansively about what it means to build community and family.

But there is often still that gnawing, nagging feeling that if I just hold on a bit longer, the (beautiful) man will come, and the baby – just one, no more than two – might come, too. How to hold a desire for this version of a life and a fierce and intense commitment to my life of independence and scholarly solitude is not something I’ve figured out.

Culturally, marriage has become the most readily accessible, mass-marketed Tupperware container in which we hold and transport notions of love, family and aspiration. Those of us reaching for other kinds of containers often come up short.

What increasing rates of divorce and increasing choices to not marry tell us is that microwaveable marriages no longer feel automatically healthy or worth it. Folks want real substantive, sustainable and creative relationships.

Last week, I explored with my feminist theory students what polyamorous relationships might look like, what it might mean to consider that we can’t get all we need from one person. They – young feminists – only balked, the incredulity palpable, their eyes trained on me as if attempting to stab me, killer of their dreams.

Though I am not “poly” as some of my folks might say, I do take some pages from the playbook of poly folks, queer folks and black folks, namely that I think very expansively about chosen family and kinship networks. The challenge is that even though we toss around terms like chosen family, we still don’t feel ultimate responsibility to each other. Unlike marriages or formal partnerships, where couples make housing, living and financial decisions together, we still have not created societal structures and language around helping groups of friends who have opted to become chosen family to do the same.

Do I freeze my eggs or don’t I? Do I move closer to my friends or don’t I? Do I hit up that old, kinda all right bf and ask for a sperm donation or don’t I? Do I want kids ever? When I do want them will I be able to have them? Do I want a husband? Does he have to live with me?  These questions all swirl in the back of my mind as I grind through an academic and activist life, trying to create economic possibilities for myself that were a dream for my mother and wholly out of reach for my grandmother.

On those days when the family I planned so hard to have seems wholly out of reach for me, when for yet another year I must mark a tax form, “family of one,” I choose to remember my mama’s moxie: “You and me – we are a family.”

 

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Cop Cleared After Shooting Unarmed Man Complying With Order to Remove Hands From Waistband

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 1:05pm
Twenty-year-old Dillon Taylor was fatally shot after a Salt Lake City police officer ordered him to get his hands out of his pants.

Prosecutors cleared the Salt Lake City police officer who shot an unarmed man last month outside a convenience store, saying his actions were justified because he felt threatened.

But the family of 20-year-old Dillon Taylor said went into the confrontation with a “biased viewpoint” and expecting to shoot.

“Why do officers have this mind-set?” Kelly Fowler, an attorney for the family, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “When you’re a hammer, all you’re going to see is nails.”

Officers were called the evening of Aug. 11 to a 7-Eleven, where witnesses reported seeing a man waving a gun around.

Taylor, his cousin and brother closely matched the descriptions provided by a 911 caller, investigators said, and police said the three men were “making a scene” on their way to the store.

Polices ordered them to raise their hands, but investigators said Taylor continued walking away from them with his hands in his waistband.

Body-camera video shows Officer Bron Cruz following Taylor with his gun drawn, repeatedly screaming at him to “get (his) hands out” of his pants.

Taylor turns around, hands still tucked in his waistband, says “nah, fool,” and walks backward for a few feet, the video shows.

Cruz again orders him to get his hands out, and Taylor complies and pulls up his T-shirt – which police are trained to perceive as part of a possible weapon draw.

That’s when Cruz quickly shoots him twice, in the chest and abdomen.

“Officer Cruz’s belief that Dillon Taylor was armed with a gun and intended to use it against the officers was reinforced by Dillon’s actions and the acts of others,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled on Tuesday. “By the time Dillon drew his hands from his waistband, Officer Cruz’s belief that Dillon was presenting a weapon [and ... would use the weapon against officers] was reasonable.”

Cruz called for backup after spotting the three men as they approached vehicle stopped at a red light near the 7-Eleven, prosecutors said.

The officer said Taylor talked to the driver while the other two men were “throwing their hands in the air, kinda making a big scene.”

But Fowler, the family’s attorney, told The Salt Lake Tribune the officer inaccurately perceived their gestures as confrontational, “some punks crossing the street, causing problems.”

The attorney said the men were actually greeting a friend with a “friendly sort of wave.”

Cruz and two other officers who arrived at the scene waited until the men left the convenience store because they did not want to confront a possibly armed suspect inside.

Police learned after Taylor’s fatal shooting that none of the three men had a weapon.

“He was digging at something,” Cruz told prosecutors. “He was manipulating something. I knew there was a gun in those pants.”

The officer told prosecutors he did not want to shoot Taylor in the back, and he was “scared to death” when Taylor turned around and took his hands out of the waistband of his pants.

“The last thought I had go through my mind when I pulled the trigger … was that ‘I was too late. I was too late,’ and because of that I was gonna get killed,” Cruz said.

Taylor was wearing headphones during the incident, his cousin and brother said, but prosecutors said they were unable to determine whether they were in his ears or playing music at the time.

But prosecutors said that shouldn’t matter, because body cam video shows Taylor looking directly at Cruz as the officer points a gun at him.

Fowler said officers gave conflicting orders to the three men during the encounter, which lasted about 20 seconds before the shooting.

“His brother and cousin [said they] were confused,” Fowler told the newspaper. “They had all these officers yelling at them, ‘Put your hands up!’ ‘Get on the ground.’ Where’s the time to comply?”

Taylor’s blood-alcohol content at the time of his death was 0.18, more than twice the legal limit for driving.

He was wanted on an outstanding warrant and wrote about his fear of returning to jail in a series of Facebook posts in the days before he was killed.

“I feel my time is coming soon, my nightmears are telling me,” Taylor posted on Aug. 7. “im gonna have warrants out for my arrest soon … ill die before I go do a lot of time in a cell.”

“I finely realize I hit rock bottom,” he posted on Aug. 9. “im homeless I havnt slept in two days … as I walk thrw this vally of shadow of death I am fearing evil. its about my time soon.”

Prosecutors said they weren’t sure if Taylor might have wanted police to kill him.

“Maybe, maybe not,” said Gill, the district attorney.

Taylor’s family did not agree with the district attorney’s decision in the case, saying the shooting could not be justified because he was not armed.

But Gill said no actual threat was necessary to justify the shooting – only a reasonably perceived threat.

“Nothing that Mr. Taylor did assisted in de-escalating the situation,” Gill said. “If anything, it escalated things.”

Watch body camera video from the incident posted online by The Salt Lake Tribune:

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Weight Loss Secrets of Our Ancestors

Operation Maple YouTube - October 1, 2014 - 12:45pm
Weight Loss Secrets of Our Ancestors
SUBSCRIBE and check out our other videos! http://www.operationmaple.com http://www.facebook.com/operationmaple http://twitter.com/#!/operationmaple. From: OperationMaple Views: 13 2 ratings Time: 03:05 More in People & Blogs
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The Climate Change Solution in Women's Bodies

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 12:39pm
Empowering women to make reproductive choices that work for them might just help reduce man-made climate change.

Several years ago, Bill Gates keynoted a breakfast for Seattle-based Climate Solutions, a nonprofit focused on advancing the clean energy economy and driving practical, profitable solutions to climate change. Gates opened his speech with an equation. To paraphrase: Our carbon problem = persons x services x the energy intensity of services x the carbon intensity of energy. The number of people is growing, Gates observed, and we all want more services. While Americans arguably consume too many goods and services, billions of people currently living in dire poverty need more. He then spent the rest of the time discussing the last two factors in the equation.

Recently, Robert Engelman and Samuel Codjoe at Grist published an article titled, “Hey, UN: Climate Change and Population are related.” They pointed out the fact that the United Nations would soon be hosting back-to-back conferences about population and climate change respectively, and they lamented that neither conference would likely address the concerns of the other. “That will be a missed opportunity,” they said, “because scientific research increasingly affirms that the two issues are linked in many ways.”

Engleman and Codjoe are not the only ones asking for a more open conversation about the relationship between family planning, population, and climate change. Articles at the Huffington Post and New York Times also call for an increased focus on this nexus, both as a climate resilience strategy and a means of reducing atmospheric carbon. The Aspen Institute has estimated that voluntary family planning for all who want it could provide 8-15 percent of needed carbon reductions. David Wheeler and Dan Hammer at the Center for Global Development argue that putting climate dollars into family planning programs (to make up expected shortfalls) compares favorably to many investments in low carbon technologies.

It doesn’t take scientific research or the brain of Bill Gates to figure out that our impacts grow as our numbers grow--that gains in the efficiency of, say, air conditioners or cars can be swamped by the growing number of air conditioned houses and cars on the road. Analysis of population trajectories and effects seems like an obvious and necessary part of the climate dialogue. But in recent decades public talk about population has been taboo, even among people who are keenly aware of the issues. If we are to foster a broader conversation about global warming, one that includes discussion of population, it is important to remember why the topic has been largely off limits for so long.

During much of history, male dominated governments and patriarchal religions have treated a woman’s childbearing capacity as means to a societal or economic end. During the Iron Age, when the Bible and Koran were written, females, including daughters and wives as well as slaves, were literally chattel. To writers of these texts, a woman’s primary value lay in her ability to produce offspring of known lineage for her husband and his family. Martin Luther, father of the Protestant Reformation, echoed this sentiment: "Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children . . . If woman grows weary and, at last, dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it." Some Christian leaders echo it still. America’s Quiverfull movement, as exemplified by the Duggar family, is a striking example.

As culture evolved, nation-state superseded kin and creed in terms of who or what might lay claim to a woman’s uterus. To this day, authorities sometimes exhort or coerce women to bear children as a service not only to husband and deity, but to country. Leaders may decide they want more workers, for example, or cannon fodder. Pronatalist policies are most common when leaders feel threatened by the economic or military strength of a neighboring region.

In the 20th Century, a peak of pronatalist coercion occurred under Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, whose government (1965-1989) outlawed contraception, banned most abortion, and sometimes enforced these rules via mandatory gynecological exams. The movie 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Daysis a gut wrenching window into the lives of two young college friends under Ceausescu’s regime. Quasi-religious, quasi-political entities including Muslim theocracies and the Vatican also may pressure or coerce constituents to increase the birthrate. In August, after Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei expressed alarm over declining birthrates, the national parliament responded by banning surgical procedures to prevent pregnancy.

Since modern contraception first was developed, governments have also used intimidation, coercion, and force on the other side of the equation. China’s one child rule is a well-known example, as is India’s early attempt to set and meet population targets with enticements including transistor radios and cash incentives and, when those failed, deceit. Less known is the fact that in the 1990’s Peru’s government sanctioned the coerced sterilization of close to 350,000 poor and indigenous women. In the United States, poor and minority women and inmates have been sterilized without free and full consent, or, sometimes, when they were too young to give consent. This is not ancient history; abuses like these have been documented as recently as 2013.

Today, state-of-the-art family planning methods called LARCs (long acting reversible contraceptives) are rapidly growing in popularity. These methods offer women an unprecedented ability to manage their fertility—to have children when they feel ready and only when they feel ready. On the Pill, which is 1960s technology with a few updates, 1 in 11 women gets pregnant each year. With a state-of-the art “fit and forget” method like an IUD or implant, that drops below 1 in 500. Recent research in St. Louis and Colorado showed that when women are offered the method of their choice with no co-pay, most choose one of these LARC methods, and the rates of rapid repeat pregnancy, teen pregnancy, and abortion plummet.

Evidence keeps growing that these better contraceptives transform lives by improving maternal and child health, increasing education opportunities for young women and men, and helping families to thrive financially and psychologically. Based on this evidence, doctors, educators and social service providers are increasingly enthusiastic about these options. But women haven’t forgotten the dark and all too recent history of coercion, especially poor and minority women, and some communities and advocates are wary of the new methods and the enthusiasm. They are especially wary of any enthusiasm for solving societal problems by limiting women’s choices.

What if a woman wants to use a less effective method? What if she doesn’t know what she wants? It may be tempting for a provider to push whatever he or she thinks is best. And in the urgent press to solve enormous problems like poverty, hunger or global warming, it may be tempting to treat a woman’s family planning decisions as a means to a bigger end. It may be tempting, but it is wrong, and it doesn’t work. Yes, governments can force and have forced the birthrate up or down, but only at a high cost in human rights and suffering, and with the added cost of undermining voluntary family planning services.

The good news is that coercive population policies and targets are not only wrongheaded, they are not needed, because hundreds of millions of women wantaccess to better family planning methods that will let them delay, space or limit their childbearing. In developing countries, over 220 million women want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraceptives. In developed countries, removing barriers to top tier long-acting contraceptives like IUD’s and implants dramatically changes the rate of unintended pregnancy. Women have their own reasons for wanting contraceptives they can count on. They want to learn and grow, explore and contribute to the world around them, attain financial independence, and give their children the best possible shot in life. To borrow a phrase from poet Mary Oliver, each woman’s “one wild and precious life” is her own, and so are her reasons and goals for managing the wild and precious gift of her fertility.

This is not to say that health providers should be passive prescribers of whatever a woman might request, or that they should wait for clients to initiate family planning conversations. It’s a provider’s job to be the expert on what technologies are available, including the risks and benefits of each, and it is a provider’s job to raise awkward and difficult topics. Every family planning method has trade-offs and no one method works for all women, and ordinary women rely on their doctors to keep abreast of the options and make recommendations just as they would do in any other field of health.

Also we know that today, even in developed countries, many pregnancies result from inertia, impulse, inebriation or some other factor that gets in the way of thoughtful, intentional life management. (Unfortunately, the fertility default setting is “on,” which means that when we aren’t paying attention or are dragging our feet or can’t decide, pregnancy can be the result. Some of the best modern contraceptives are game-changers precisely because they toggle the default, making protection the default, and pregnancy an active choice.)

By using counseling techniques like “motivational interviewing” or “One Key Question,” providers can help women clarify their own preferences and even crystalize their long term dreams and plans. Since so many births are simply the result of “go-with-the-flow” childbearing, it is important that educators and providers step up the conversations about family planning, opening this sometimes awkward topic in primary care visits, for example. But all of these are client-centered approaches that respect the autonomy, dignity, agency and intelligence of reproductive-age women. With women in the driver’s seat, improvements in care do produce a lower birth rate. But that is very different from providers or governments, even with the best of intentions, trying to force an outside objective. Vyckie Garrison, former leader in the Quiverfull movement, speaks eloquently about what it was like to have her childbearing be part of a social agenda (in her case driven by religion) and how this was abusive.

Human population has grown from two to seven billion in the last 85 years, and policy makers do need to talk about the trajectories and the impact of population on war, food, water, health, fuel, climate, and more. They need to recognize that family planning policies affect a host of other issues—that the question of whether women have reliable, safe, affordable, appealing contraceptive tools is a factor in infant health, family prosperity, education of girls and women, govern ment budgets, and the functioning of our planetary life support system. They need to be mindful about whether public policies or the structure of social services inadvertently nudge people to have more babies. They need to recognize that family planning dollars are an upstream investment with known dividends and that empowering young women to make thoughtful intentional childbearing decisions is a smart, cost effective way to help ensure sustainable abundance for all. And they need to know that even in places like the U.S. and Canada, there’s a lot we can do right now to make a difference.

But as those policies are implemented, it is critical that we not forget how very wrong humanity has gone in the past when the life giving power of a woman’s body became a tool in the hands of men on a righteous mission.

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Teenager Accused of Stabbing 21 at School Is Rejected by Psychiatric Hospitals, Despite Court Order

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 12:27pm
Alex Hribal remains in juvenile prison, his "mental state deteriorating."

In April, 16-year-old Alex Hribal was arrested for going on a stabbing rampage at his high school in Western Pennsylvania. Twenty-one students and staff at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania were injured before an administrator tackled Hribal halting the attack. The administrator told police that Hribal said he still had more people to kill.

Hribal has been sitting in juvenile detention ever since. Last week, his lawyers secured a court order that he be transferred to a psychiatric facility, after a forensic psychologist testified that he is mentally ill and that his mental state is deteriorating. But, so far, at least eight psychiatric facilities have refused to take him, citing security concerns. The latest was a facility called Southwood Psychiatric in Pittsburgh.

"It's a travesty," said Bruce Chambers, the forensic psychologist who examined Hribal for the defense. "The facilities turning him down receive a large part of their revenue from government programs, and make quite a bit of money. But they are so risk-averse that they are not meeting the community's needs."

Chambers also said that these rejections are due to "misconceptions about mental illness."

It raises the question: if psychiatric hospitals don't understand mental illness, who does? Not prisons. As Al Jazeera has reported, U.S. prisons house 10 times more mentally ill people than psychiatric facilities, in extremely inhumane conditions, and many leave prison sicker than when they arrived. 

According to KDKA, Pittsburgh's CBS affiliate, both sides agree that Hribal is mentally ill. “He’s wanted help after this happened," Hribal's lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, told the court last Friday. "He realized there’s something askew in his mind, there’s something wrong. I think he wants to figure out why he did it." Thomassey has also told news outlets the attacks may have been a reaction to bullying, and that mental illness played a role in Hribal's extreme reaction to bullying.

Chambers testified that Hribal shows signs of schizophrenia and depression, that Hribal has said he understands how the Columbine attackers felt, and that he did not expect to survive the knife attack. “He indeed is suffering from mental illness,” Chambers testified. “His affiliation with the Columbine perpetrators was a way for him to act out this pathology.”

The psychologist for the prosecution agreed in part, although he argued that Hribal has an adjustment disorder due to being in a detention facility and is depressed, though not necessarily schizophrenic.

Chambers told AlterNet that members of the commmunity, including family members of victims were present in the courtroom when he testified. "There is not an outcry against the kid," he said. "I believe that the community understands that something is wrong, mentally."

Judge Christopher Feliciani agreed with the defense that Hribal shows signs of severe mental illness and ordered the placement.

After the latest rejection, the judge said: "Counsel for defendant is investigating other options. If a facility is approved, the defendant will be transferred."

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5 Facts About the Creepy Ties Between Pharmaceutical Companies and Doctors

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 12:14pm
Payments from Big Pharma reach hundreds of thousands of doctors.

This story was co-published with the New York Times.

On Tuesday, the federal government released details of payments to doctors by every pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturer in the country. The information is being made public under a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The law mandates disclosure of payments to doctors, dentists, chiropractors, podiatrists and optometrists for things like promotional speaking, consulting, meals, educational items and research.

It's not quite clear what the data will show — in part because the first batch will be incomplete, covering spending for only a few months at the end of 2013 — but we at ProPublica have some good guesses. That's because we have been detailing relationships between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry for the past four years as part of our Dollars for Docs project.

We've aggregated information from the websites of some large drug companies, which publish their payments as a condition of settling federal whistle-blower lawsuits alleging improper marketing or kickbacks. In cooperation with the website Pharmashine, we've added data for 2013, which now covers 17 drug companies accounting for half of United States drug sales that year. (You can look up your doctor using our easy search tool.)

Here are some facts we've learned from the data:

1. Many, many health professionals have relationships with industry.

Below are the approximate numbers of health professionals who received some payment from each company in 2013, excluding research. We based this on the number of unique names, cities and states per company.

CompanyDoctors PaidPfizer142,600AstraZeneca111,200Forest98,900Johnson & Johnson97,000GlaxoSmithKline85,100AbbVie82,900Boehringer Ingelheim82,900Merck81,300Eli Lilly79,000Novartis64,500Amgen50,500Valeant21,200UCB21,200Cephalon*14,600EMD Serono7,900ViiV3,400

Note: Dollars for Docs only includes data for Cephalon from the first six months of 2013.

Dollars for Docs now includes 3.4 million payments since 2009, totaling more than $4 billion, of which $2.5 billion was for research. For 2013 alone, there were 1.2 million payments valued at nearly $1.4 billion.

It's not possible to calculate the exact number of physicians represented, because drug companies haven't used unique identification numbers that cross company lines. But it's clear that the figure is in the hundreds of thousands.

Excluding research payments, the drugmaker Pfizer appeared to have interactions with the most healthcare professionals last year — about 142,600. AstraZeneca came in second with about 111,200. Johnson & Johnson and Forest Labs each had nearly 100,000. There are an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 active doctors in the United States.

"Most physicians that are in private practice are touched in some way" by the industry, said George Dunston, co-founder of Obsidian HDS, the creator of Pharmashine. "You add that up and it's a pretty significant number."

Surveys conducted in 2004 and again in 2009 showed that more than three-quarters of doctors had at least one type of financial relationship with a drug or medical device company. The figure dropped from about 94 percent in 2004 to 84 percent in 2009, said the lead author, Eric Campbell, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of research at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Campbell, who has been critical of physician-pharma ties, says he hasn't conducted a followup survey but suspects that the percentage of doctors receiving payments has probably decreased somewhat since then.

"The old approach was just to try to get as many docs as you can, blanket coverage, and establish relationships," he said. "I think they're being much more targeted and specific."

2. Some doctors have relationships with many companies.

Those who read the fine-print disclosures accompanying medical journal articles know that doctors often have relationships with several companies that compete in a drug category (such as heart drugs or those for schizophrenia). Our data bear that out.

Some highly sought-after key opinion leaders, as they are known in the industry, work for half a dozen or more companies in a given year.

Marc Cohen, chief of cardiology at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, received more than $270,000 last year for speaking or consulting for six companies listed in Dollars for Docs. He is a prolific researcher and author.

In an interview, Dr. Cohen said he works only with companies whose drugs are backed by large clinical studies. "In general terms, the science behind the product is very strong," he said. "These are the companies that I've chosen to work with."

3. The biggest companies aren't always the ones that spend the most. Some smaller drug companies spend big, too.

Consider Forest Labs, a midsize drug company that was acquired in July by Actavis, a larger company based in Dublin. Forest's $3.8 billion in United States drug sales in 2013 placed it on the edge of the top 20 companies, according to IMS Health, a health information company.

Its sales were far lower than those of Novartis and Pfizer, the top two companies by sales last year. Yet Forest easily outspent these competitors on promotional speaking events last year.

Forest spent $32.3 million on paid talks in 2013, compared with $12.7 million for Novartis and $12.6 million for Pfizer.

An Actavis spokesman declined to comment on the company's strategy, but a Forest spokesman said last year that the company spent more on speakers because it didn't use pricey direct-to-consumer TV marketing. It also had more new drugs than its competitors.

Companies with newer drugs or newly approved uses for their existing drugs often seem to spend more. Companies that don't have many new products or have lost patent protection on their drugs, or are about to lose it, tend to pull back.

"A lot of this has to do with where companies are in their development cycle of new products or emerging products, rather than an industry-specific trend," said John Murphy, assistant general counsel at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group.

4. Meals vastly outnumber all other interactions between drug companies and doctors. But they account for a much smaller share of costs.

Food accounted for nearly 50,000 of Amgen's 55,000 payment reports, excluding research, in 2013, or roughly 91 percent. But at a cost of $3.1 million, those meals represented only about 20 percent of its payments. By comparison, the company spent almost double that amount, $6 million, on just 600 physician speakers.

Other companies followed the same pattern; speakers can command $2,000 to $3,000 per engagement, or more.

Given doctors' busy schedules treating patients, mealtimes are often the only time to reach them, said Murphy, PhRMA's lawyer. Company sales representatives bring information — and a meal. "A lot of doctors' offices are closed for lunch," he said. "During patient care hours, we want them to see patients."

Researchers say that whatever the motivation, even small gifts or meals can influence a doctor's perception of a drug and lead to more prescribing of it.

5. From year to year, doctors cycle in and out of relationships with companies.

Massachusetts has required drug and device companies doing business there to publicly report their payments to its licensed health professionals since 2009.

We looked at all of the physicians — about 3,500 of them — who received at least one payment for "bona-fide services," such as speaking or consulting, from 2010 to 2012.

About 60 percent of the doctors received payments in only one of those years. What this suggests is that most speakers and consultants are tapped for a particular task.

Still, some doctors do appear to have long-term roles with companies. About 20 percent of doctors in the data received a payment in all three years. They represented most of the top-earners over the three-year period — and for that matter, the top earners in any given year.

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The Bullet: Students Unfurl the 'Umbrella Revolution' in Hong Kong

Socialist Project - October 1, 2014 - 12:00pm
The largest student demonstrations and occupations in Hong Kong's history is currently unfurling -- what is increasingly being called the 'Umbrella Revolution' in reference to the sea of umbrellas being used as cover against both pepper-spraying riot police and the rays of the sun (the latter a common practice in Northeast Asia).
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5 Most Bizarre Porn Films the 1970s Had to Offer

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 10:43am
A look back at some bizarre porn "classics."

Call us old-fashioned, but lately we miss the simpler times, when pornographic films involved actual cameras and not grainy, night-vision cell phone footage; when images of Japanese teenagers getting penetrated by squid tentacles wasn’t something we could easily Google; when posting “revenge porn” of ex-lovers would never have entered our thoughts because it didn’t exist.

We sometimes wish modern porn was a little more like the glory hole days of the 1970s, when women were afflicted with clitorises in their throats and courageous cheerleaders with fringed bangs could bang their way to financial prosperity. So it’s with a whiff of nostalgia that we present this list of “classic” adult films worth revisiting. Call it a history lesson if you must, since many of these films still impact popular culture 40 years after their release. Just be sure to get off our lawn afterward.

1. Behind the Green Door

Perhaps the first “psychedelic porn” movie, 1972’s Behind the Green Door was the first feature-length adult film from the infamous Mitchell Brothers, and helped to usher in the “Golden Age” of porn (along with Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones, which we’ll get to). In it are scenes involving a trapeze, stylized, slow-motion money shots that last several minutes, interracial sex, and a public orgy. Marilyn Chambers stars as Gloria, a wealthy San Francisco woman who is abducted and “loved as she has never been loved before.” The movie purportedly grossed $25 million, and launched Chambers’ career to stardom, which is fairly amazing because she doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. In 1973, Behind the Green Doorwas chosen as an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival. So, you know, keep at it, artsy XTubers. Someday you too may bone your way to international film acclaim.

Safe for work clip.

2. Debbie Does Dallas

One of the best-known adult films of all time, Debbie Does Dallasis a misnomer, since she never actually does anyone in Dallas (or anyone named Dallas), nor does she even set foot in Dallas. Debbie is trying to raise funds to get to Dallas, however, so she can try out for the “Texas Cowboys” cheerleading squad. Curiously enough, Bambi Woods, the film’s star, did actually try out to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, but she didn’t make the cut. Good thing she had other ambitions. Long story short, Debbie and her cheerleader pals end up screwing pretty much every dude they come across in order to help Debbie reach her goals. Feminism!

The 1978 film was a big commercial success, and it spawned a legion of sequels, spinoffs and parodies, including Debbie Does Dallas Again, Debbie Does Wall Street, Debbie Duz Dishes, and even an off-Broadway musical in 2002, proving yet again that if there’s one thing Debbie does well, it’s get around.

Safe for work trailer.

3. Mona the Virgin Nymph

The first hardcore film to be “known by name and promoted nationwide,” Mona the Virgin Nymph was the 1970 brainchild of Bill Osco. Mona is important because it’s considered to be the first adult film with a plot to screen in American theaters. Its coherent narrative structure and “psychological motivation” (Mona wants to remain a “penis-in-vagina” virgin until she’s married) made it unique. Plus, it had all the sex, obviously. Mona’s (Fifi Watson) forays into oral sex, lesbianism and S&M earned Osco $2 million and helped launch the porn industry we know today (for better or worse). One could say that Mona launched the money shot heard ‘round the world.

No safe-for-work clip, but there are plenty of NSFW ones should you desire to go that route.

4. Deep Throat

Probably the best-known of classic porn films, Deep Throatinvolves the (dare we say sweet?) story of a sexually frustrated woman’s bizarre medical condition: Her clit is in her throat! Her doctor, thankfully, thinks he has the perfect cure for her, and she happily performs oral sex on both the doc and a number of other men. The film even ends with a farewell: "The End. And Deep Throat to you all," which is a pretty great send-off actually, since when does current mainstream porn ever pretend to care about our sexual fulfillment? Way to get deep, Deep Throat.

Deep Throat was hailed by many as the start of “pornographic chic,” or the “first stag film you could see with a date” as Roger Ebert put it. Helping to launch Deep Throat into pop culture stardom even further was Howard Simons of the Washington Post, who chose it as the code name for an informant during Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Safe for work clip.

5. The Devil in Miss Jones

After the success of Deep Throat, director Gerard Damiano went on to make The Devil in Miss Jones, a rather serious and avant-garde adult film that starts with, of all things, a suicide. Georgina Spelvin plays a lonely, bored spinster who offs herself to end her miserable life, finds herself in limbo, fucks her way through limbo, becomes a sex addict (sorry, “the embodiment of lust”), and ultimately winds up in the worst kind of Hell—with a man who has zero sexual interest in her (or anything). And you thought porn had no other ending aside from the money shot!

Devil, like Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat, reached mass audiences and the plot was even artistically compared to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. As a review in Variety put it: "With The Devil in Miss Jones, the hardcore porno feature approaches an art form, one that critics may have a tough time ignoring in the future.”

SFW clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDHyuyhsOTU

Categories: Netted News

How Corporate Executives Are Purchasing Our States—One Governership at a Time

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 10:28am
Corporations are secretly funneling millions into the "dark money" vault of the RGA.

Some people have a myriad of recurring nightmares about being publicly embarrassed, such as rising to give a speech and realizing you know nothing about the topic -- then realizing you're naked.

You might be surprised to learn though, that corporations also have such nightmares. OK, corporations aren't really people, no matter what the Supreme Court fabulists claim, so they can't dream, but their top executives can, and several recently suffered the same chilling hallucination. Only, it wasn't a dream ... it was real.

Perhaps you think that corporations use their campaign donations to buy privileged access to state and national policymakers. Perhaps you even think that their political money actually buys those politicians -- after all, they do deliver the public policies the corporate donors want. Perhaps you think this whole monetized political system is corrupt, anti-democratic, and ... well, stinky.

You would, of course, be right about all of the above. As Lily Tomlin has put it, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

The corporate purchase of Washington is pretty widely reported, but -- keep up now -- the kleptocratic stinkiness fast consuming our statehouses as well. The Republican Governor's Association has devised a layaway purchase plan allowing brand-name corporations to make secret donations of $100,000 or more a year to the RGA in support of the corporate-friendly agenda of various GOP governors. And a lot of execs have been buying.

These are chieftains of brand-name corporate giants who have secretly funneled millions of their shareholders' dollars into the "dark money" vault of the Republican Governors Association. In turn, the RGA channels the political cash into the campaigns of assorted right-wing governors. This underground pipeline has been a dream come true for corporations, for it lets them elect anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-environment governors without having to let their customers or shareholders know they're doing it.

But -- oops! -- the RGA made a coding error in its database of dark money donors. So in September, a mess of the GOP's secret-money corporations were suddenly exposed, standing buck-naked in front of customers, employees, stockholders and others who were startled and angered to learn that the companies they supported were working against their interests.

A lifelong champion of political money reform, Fred Wertheimer, put it this way: "This is a classic example of how corporations are trying to use secret money hidden from the American people to buy influence, and how the Governors Association is selling it,"

Feed the RGA's political-favor-meter with $250,000 a year (as Coca-Cola, the Koch brothers, and others do), and the association cynically anoints your corporation with the ironic title of "Statesman," opening up gubernatorial doors throughout the country. Well, sniff the participants, the money buys nothing but "access" to policymakers. But wait -- when was that access put on the auction block? Shouldn't everyone have access to our public officials? Of course, but call your governor and see if you can even get an office intern to call back.

If you're an RGA corporate "Statesman," however, you could get a tete-a-tete with Rick Perry, the recently indicted governor of Texas, or a private breakfast with Bob McDonnell, the now-convicted former-governor of Virginia. See, membership in the corrupt club has its privileges.

Now let's call the roll of some of the privileged corporate dreamers that were pulling the wool over our eyes, hoping we would slumber in ignorance: Aetna, Aflac, Blue Cross, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Exxon Mobil, Hewlett-Packard, Koch Industries, Microsoft, Novartis, Pfizer, Shell Oil, United Health, Verizon, Walgreens and Wal-Mart.

The corporate donors to this previously secret scheme of plutocratic rule says it's OK, for they also give money to Democrats. Oh, bipartisan corruption -- that makes me feel so much better, how about you?

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Dominant Male Atheist Leaders Seem to Have a Problem with Women

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 10:06am
Many of the most prominent leaders of New Atheism are quick to express sexist ideas.

At first blush, it would seem that an atheist movement would be exactly the sort of thing that would attract many women. After all, much of the oppression of women—from forced veiling to restricting abortion rights—is a direct result of religion. Unsurprisingly, then, feminism has a long tradition of outspoken atheists and religious skeptics within its ranks. Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton preferred “rational ideas based on scientific facts” to “religious superstition.” Major feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoirargued that belief in God exists in part to “repress any impulse toward revolt in the downtrodden female.” Modern feminist writer Katha Pollitt receivedthe “Emperor Has No Clothes” award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2001, where she said that religion is dangerous because “it connects with very terrible social energies that have lain in civilization for a very long time.”

But despite the natural and cozy fit of atheism and feminism, the much-ballyhooed “New Atheism” that was supposed to be a more aggressive, political form of atheism has instead been surprisingly male-dominated. The reason has, in recent years, become quite apparent: Many of the most prominent leaders of the New Atheism are quick to express deeply sexist ideas. Despite their supposed love of science and rationality, many of them are nearly as quick as their religious counterparts to abandon reason in order to justify regressive views about women.

Sam Harris, a prominent atheist author who has previously been criticized for his knee-jerk Islamophobic tendencies, recently came under fire when he added women to the category of people he makes thoughtless generalizations about. Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein interviewed Harris, and during the interview she asked him why most atheists are male. “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women.” He added, “The atheist variable just has this— it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

There was an immediate uproar among female atheists, and understandably so, as Harris didn’t even consider that it could be atheism that has a problem, instead immediately assuming that the problem is women themselves. His reaction to the criticism, which was immediate and probably a bit overwhelming was not, however, a demonstration of the tough “critical posture” he characterized as “instrinsically male.” Harris replied to his critics with a hyper-defensive and tediously long blog posttitled, “I’m Not The Sexist Pig You’re Looking For.” His strategy for disproving accusations of sexism was to engage in more sexist declarations, in the time-honored bigot strategy of saying it’s not bigotry if it’s true.

First, he warmed up with the “women are humorless” gambit, declaring his “estrogen vibe” comment a joke that simply flew over female heads. He then moved on to produce an awesome cornucopia of sexist blather: Women’s value is their service to men. (“I was raised by a single mother. I have two daughters. Most of my editors have been women, and my first, last, and best editor is always my wife.”) Women’s inherent desire to serve rather than lead explains their second-class status. (“For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women…How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20s or 30s to have families?") Putting women on a pedestal is better than treating them like equals. (“I tend to respect women more than men.”) Women who don’t defer to men are bitchy. (“However, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the mixture of contempt and pity my words elicited from this young woman.”)

Needless to say, for women who reject religion because it so frequently portrays women as mentally inferior helpmeets who exist to serve men’s needs, Sam Harris is not offering any hope that atheism will give them a meaningful alternative.

It would be nice to dismiss Harris as an outlier, but sadly, pompous sexism followed up by defensive posturing is the order of the day for the dominant male leadership of the loosely organized world of atheism. In a lengthy investigative piece for Buzzfeed, Mark Oppenheimer demonstrated that the problem extends beyond sexist condescension. Instead, the bros-before-hos attitude of much of atheist leadership is quite likely serving to protect actual sexual predators.

While Oppenheimer focused on a number of prominent sexists in atheism, such as Penn Jillette and now-deceased Christopher Hitchens (who also was a fan of the “women are humorless” trope), he focused most of piece on accusations against prominent skeptic writer Michael Shermer. Oppenheimer quoted two named women accusing Shermer of sexually harassing them. A third named women had a more alarming accusation: That Shermer had taken her to his room while she was too drunk to consent to sex and had sex with her anyway.

The reaction to Oppenheimer’s story was swift and did much to support the claim that the atheist community protects sexual predators, much like the Catholic Church did during the priest pedophilia scandal. Richard Dawkins, possibly the most famous atheist in the world, immediately went on a tear on Twitter, blaming victims for their own rapes if they were drinking. “Officer, it's not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk,” he tweeted, comparing being forced to have sex with the choice to drive drunk.

When called out on it, he doubled down by suggesting that rape victimsare the real predators, out to get men put in jail: “If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don't get drunk.”

For someone who is a supposed rationalist, Dawkins refused to even acknowledge the basic difference between making the choice to break the law and being the victim of a crime. But only for rape, of course. It’s unlikely Dawkins would think it’s your fault if you are standing there minding your own business, while drunk, and someone hits you for no reason. But if the assault occurs with a penis instead of a fist, in Dawkins' mind, suddenly the victim is the person at fault.

Again, this situation is no outlier. Dawkins has spent the past few years using Twitter as a platform to rail against feminists for daring to speak up about sexual harassment and abuse. He not only rushed to Shermer’s defense regarding allegations of sexual assault, but rushed to Harris' defense regarding allegations of sexism, even though Harris’ sexism is so off the charts it becomes downright comical. Dawkins used to cling to the idea that he was an outspoken critic against the oppression of women, but lately he’s more occupied with praising professional anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers.

There are many excellent feminist speakers and writers in the atheist movement, men and women who bring the same critical eye to sexism that they apply to religion. Most of them, however, are mostly known only within atheist circles. People like Dawkins, Shermer and Harris are the public face of atheism. And that public face is one that is defensively and irrationally sexist. It’s not only turning women away from atheism, it’s discrediting the idea that atheists are actually people who argue from a position of rationality. How can they be, when they cling to the ancient, irrational tradition of treating women like they aren’t quite as human as men?

Sadly, this contempt for women coming from the top trickles into the ranks, allowing everyday misogynists who happen not to believe in God feel justified in their hatred of women anyway. Subsequently, there’s a thriving online community of people who live to harass not just women, but female atheists in particular, trying to drum any women out of the movement who want to be included as equals instead of as support staff for the male stars. Feminists like Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina, who upset the image of atheism as a “guy thing," are subject to a relentless drumbeat of abuse through social media by people who prefer an atheism that’s a little more like fundamentalist Christianity, where women know their place.

It’s become so bad that artist Amy Roth created an installationwhere the walls and furniture in an 8 x10 room are completely covered by the abuse women receive online, currently on display at the Center for Inquiry in Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: I shared much of the online abuse I get with her.)

If atheists believed in the afterlife, they would have to assume that Simone de Beauvoir and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are looking down upon us in horror, wondering how the good name of atheism has been so poisoned by rampant sexism. But since they are no longer around to judge us, it’s up to living atheists to strive to be more than a bunch of people who simply don’t believe in God, but stand up to irrationality in all its forms, including sexism. 

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How Fox News Picks and Chooses Who Gets Labeled a 'Terrorist'

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 9:46am
We never hear about domestic, anti-government terrorism when it's committed by non-Muslims.

Fox News is increasingly fixating on the gruesome workplace beheading last week in Moore, Oklahoma by a recent Muslim convert, suspect Alton Nolen. Perhaps sensing a way to once again fan its patented flames of Islamophobia while simultaneously blaming President Obama for being indifferent to the threat of terrorism, Fox is treating the murder as a national story with sweeping political implications.

Sounding the jihadist alarms, Fox News and the right-wing media are eager to label the ghastly crime an act of Islamic terror. Law enforcement officials, however, aren't in the same rush, noting that the attack came immediately after Nolen was fired and stating that they've yet to find a link to terrorism. While that story continues to play out, it's worth noting that an actual act of political terror remains in the news. It's just not a priority for Fox.

On the night of September 16, 31-year-old marksman Eric Frein was allegedly laying in wait outside the Blooming Grove police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania, preparing to assassinate state troopers. Shortly before 11 p.m., Bryon Dickson was shot and killed as he walked towards his patrol car. Moments later, as he approached the barracks to begin his overnight shift, trooper Alex Douglass was shot and seriously wounded by a bullet fired from a .308-caliber rifle.

Described as a "survivalist," Frein disappeared into the Poconos Mountains woods where he's been hiding ever since, eluding law enforcement and its massive manhunt, which includes hundreds of law enforcement officers with assistance from the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Considered "extremely dangerous" and possibly armed with an AK-47, officials were forced to close local schools in fear Frein might attack again. Lots of businesses in the area were ordered to stay dark, and some U.S. mail deliveries were suspended out of fear postmen might be exposed as possible targets for the shooter.

And what was the possible motivation for the killing spree?

"He made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and to commit mass acts of murder," state police commissioner Frank Noonan warned the public at the time. Another official noted the shooter has a "longstanding grudge against law enforcement and government in general" dating back to at least 2006.

A friend was even more explicit.  "He was obviously a big critic of the federal government," a friend name Jack told CNN. (The friend did not give his last name.) "No indications of really any malice towards law enforcement in particular. Most of his aggression was (toward) the federal government."

Sounds like homegrown, anti-government terrorism, right?

"We have a well-trained sniper who hates authority, hates society, hates government, and hates cops enough to plug them from ambush. He's so lethal, so locked and loaded, that communities in the Pocono Mountains feel terrorized," wrote Philadelphia columnist Dick Poleman. "He kept camouflage face paint in his bedroom. He toted the AK-47 on social media. He collected, according to the criminal complaint, "various information concerning foreign embassies.""

But turn on Fox News and you don't hear much about Eric Frein from the channel's high-profile hosts. You don't hear much about the anti-government zealot who murdered a cop, while trying to assassinate two. And you don't hear evening hosts diving into Frein's background trying to figure out what sparked his murderous streak.

There's simply no interest.

In two weeks since the shooting, the Fox programs monitored by Nexis have mentioned Frein's name in just six reports, and most of those were simply news updates that consisted of one or two sentences. Only one segment, which aired on On The Record With Greta Van Susteren, featured an extended conversation about the killing and the subsequent manhunt. In none of the six Fox reports however, were Frein's vocal anti-government leanings mentioned, nor was there any suggestion Frein was a domestic terrorist.

Hosts Neil Cavuto, Bill O'Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity have all ignored the shocking cop-killer story. In general, Fox has provided almost no commentary, no context, and certainly no collective blame for the execution.

By contrast, in the days since the Oklahoma killing, Fox programs monitored by Nexis have flooded the zone with coverage of the beheading, totaling hours and hours of coverage. Most of Fox's reports offered extended, overheated commentary, and most of them dwelled on the fact the killing may have been an act of terror.

Cavuto, O'Reilly, Hannity, and Megyn Kelly have all hosted extensive coverage of the killing, with Kelly and Hannity devoting nearly their entire September 26 and September 29 programs to the Oklahoma story ("Terror In The Heartland"), allowing guests to make all kinds of unproven connections between the crime and Islam and, of course, to politicize the tragic killing.

In other words, on Fox News a Muslim who killed a co-worker in Oklahoma and who remains in police custody represents a much bigger story than a suspected anti-government assassin who killed a cop and remains on the run, eluding hundreds of law enforcement officials while terrorizing a Pennsylvania community.

Note that one of the renewed right-wing talking point this week has been how Obama refuses to acknowledge the looming threat of Islamic terrorism. (His FBI is being "politically correct.") Of course, a similar charge could be made of Fox News and its purposefully blind spot to homegrown, gun-toting, anti-government terrorists. It's a deadly topic that the right-wing media refuse to grapple with

As CNN's Peter Bergen noted earlier this year, since 9/11, "extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology."

If the Pennsylvania ambush was politically motivated, it represented just the latest sad chapter in a long string of recent extremist acts of violence in America. From neo-Nazi killers, to a string of women's health clinic bombings and assaults, as well as bloody assaults on law enforcement from anti-government insurrectionists, acts of extreme right-wing violence continue to terrorize victims in the U.S.

Just this spring in Las Vegas, a premeditated gun rampage unfolded when Jerad Miller and his wife Amada executed two policemen who were on their lunch break. The killers, who months earlier traveled to Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch to join the militia protests against the federal government, reportedly covered the slain officers with cloth that featured the "Don't tread on me" Gadsden flag, which has recently been adopted as a symbol of the Tea Party movement.

That ambush came just two days after Dennis Marx, member of the "sovereign citizen" anti-government movement, tried to lay siege to a courthouse outside of Atlanta. Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don't believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law. The FBI has called the movement "a growing domestic terror threat to law enforcement."  

As mentioned, Greta Van Susteren was the only evening Fox host who addressed the Pennsylvania cop-killing story in any detail. But even she whitewashed the story, omitting any mention of Frein's anti-government bias and his clear embrace of terrorism. Right after the Frein segment ended on her September 22 program, Van Susteren urged viewers to stay tuned for a report about the "nightmare" looming from the threat of jihadist fighters inside the United States.

Note to Greta: Eric Frein represents another type of "nightmare" terror that looms in America. Fox News should stop ignoring that threat.

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Waiting, hoping: a day on the ward

New Internationalist - October 1, 2014 - 9:45am
A Philippines medical centre treating children for cancer is under threat from property developers. Iris Gonzales visits it.
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Hightower: GOP Error Reveals Secret Corporate Donors

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 9:39am
The Republican Governors Association made a coding error in its database of dark money donors.

Some people have a myriad of recurring nightmares about being publicly embarrassed, such as rising to give a speech and realizing you know nothing about the topic -- then realizing you're naked.

You might be surprised to learn though, that corporations also have such nightmares. OK, corporations aren't really people, no matter what the Supreme Court fabulists claim, so they can't dream, but their top executives can, and several recently suffered the same chilling hallucination. Only, it wasn't a dream ... it was real.

Perhaps you think that corporations use their campaign donations to buy privileged access to state and national policymakers. Perhaps you even think that their political money actually buys those politicians -- after all, they do deliver the public policies the corporate donors want. Perhaps you think this whole monetized political system is corrupt, anti-democratic, and ... well, stinky.

You would, of course, be right about all of the above. As Lily Tomlin has put it, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

The corporate purchase of Washington is pretty widely reported, but -- keep up now -- for the kleptocratic stinkiness fast consuming our statehouses as well. The Republican Governors Association has devised a layaway purchase plan allowing brand-name corporations to make secret donations of $100,000 or more a year to the RGA in support of the corporate-friendly agenda of various GOP governors. And a lot of execs have been buying.

These are chieftains of brand-name corporate giants who have secretly funneled millions of their shareholders' dollars into the "dark money" vault of the Republican Governors Association. In turn, the RGA channels the political cash into the campaigns of assorted right-wing governors. This underground pipeline has been a dream come true for corporations, for it lets them elect anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-environment governors without having to let their customers or shareholders know they're doing it.

But -- oops! -- the RGA made a coding error in its database of dark money donors. So in September, a mess of the GOP's secret-money corporations were suddenly exposed, standing buck-naked in front of customers, employees, stockholders and others who were startled and angered to learn that the companies they supported were working against their interests.

A lifelong champion of political money reform, Fred Wertheimer, put it this way: "This is a classic example of how corporations are trying to use secret money hidden from the American people to buy influence, and how the Governors Association is selling it,"

Feed the RGA's political-favor-meter with $250,000 a year (as Coca-Cola, the Koch brothers, and others do), and the association cynically anoints your corporation with the ironic title of "Statesman," opening up gubernatorial doors throughout the country. Well, sniff the participants, the money buys nothing but "access" to policymakers. But wait -- when was that access put on the auction block? Shouldn't everyone have access to our public officials? Of course, but call your governor and see if you can even get an office intern to call back.

If you're an RGA corporate "Statesman," however, you could get a tete-a-tete with Rick Perry, the recently indicted governor of Texas, or a private breakfast with Bob McDonnell, the now-convicted former-governor of Virginia. See, membership in the corrupt club has its privileges.

Now let's call the roll of some of the privileged corporate dreamers that were pulling the wool over our eyes, hoping we would slumber in ignorance: Aetna, Aflac, Blue Cross, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Exxon Mobil, Hewlett-Packard, Koch Industries, Microsoft, Novartis, Pfizer, Shell Oil, United Health, Verizon, Walgreens and Wal-Mart.

The corporate donors to this previously secret scheme of plutocratic rule says it's OK, for they also give money to Democrats. Oh, bipartisan corruption -- that makes me feel so much better, how about you?

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Someone Needs to Tell Maroon 5 There's Nothing Sexy About Sexual Harassment

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 9:30am
The new video featuring singer Adam Levine as a crazed sexual predator isn't edgy; this actually happens every day.

It seems Maroon 5 has been taking the “How to Terrify Women” class at the Robin Thicke School of Music. In the band’s latest song, "Animals," lead singer and “sexiest” creepster alive Adam Levine sings about “preying” on women while promising to “hunt you down” and “eat you alive”. (I don’t think he means this in the good way.)

You might think, given all the international focus on violence against women and sexual assault of late, that one of the biggest musical acts in the world might not be that into writing, releasing and promoting a “hit” that tries to make terrorizing women seem sexy. But instead of considering the message they’re sending to the 3.4 million people who report being stalked in the US alone, the band doubled down and made a video even more disturbing than the song.

In the new music video, Levine stars as a sociopathic stalker who works as a butcher. (At least he’s got a job, eh, ladies?) The famously annoying singer skulks in dark alleys to take pictures of an unsuspecting woman, going as far as breaking into the apartment of his “loved one” and laying next to her as she sleeps. The woman is played by Levine’s new wife, the Victoria’s Secret supermodel Behati Prinsloo.

In between shots of Prinsloo seductively stripping, we’re treated to images of Levine, shirtless, in a meat truck, where he proceeds to play with, punch and hug said meat. (We get it, you like women/meat!) After Levine is rejected by the woman in a nightclub, he fantasizes about having sex with her in a cascade of blood. And who said romance is dead?

I’m sure Levine and his bandmates think they’ve done something edgy, but there is nothing “alternative” about showing women being stalked, hunted, raped or killed because it’s something that happens every day.

What’s particularly disturbing about "Animals" is that the song’s message —that men are animals with no self control — implies there's nothing we can do about issues of sexual violence. If sexual predators are animals, or crazy, it absolves us of social responsibility, because you can’t control an animal, amiright? It’s just in their nature. It's a fairly insulting vision of male sexuality, as well as unfair to actual animals.

Maroon 5’s "Animals" comes on the heels of a Time article from professional provocateur Camille Paglia, who argued, apparently in all seriousness, that a culture that condones and glamorizes violence against women isn’t the problem— “evil” is. “Young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark,” she wrote.

But men aren’t animals, and neither are rapists or stalkers—they’re human beings. Humans we’ve raised, humans who have grown up seeing “sexy” images of battered women, who have been brought up to think that women’s sole purpose is to be available to them. You can call that evil, I suppose, but it’s a man-made wrong no matter what you name it.

Levine sings that “you can run free... but you can’t stay away from me.” But we can. And we probably should.

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6 Reasons Americans Should Stop Obsessing Over the Threat of Terrorist Attacks

AlterNet.org - October 1, 2014 - 8:14am
Dog bites actually killed more Americans last year than terrorism.

With the Middle East grabbing headlines, many Americans are concerned about terrorism. A CNN poll earlier this month found that 53% of Americans are concerned there will be terrorist attacks, up from 39% in 2011. But while fear of terrorism has skyrocketed, the facts are that few Americans are ever injured or killed by an act of terror. Our country has blown the threat of violence from terrorists way out of proportion.

Dog bites actually killed more Americans last year than terrorism, with 32 fatalities from dogs logged by non-profit DogBites.org. Eight fatalities were from domestic terror attacks (according to the University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database) and 16 from attacks overseas (according to the State Department).

Here are the other things that proved more fatal to Americans than terrorism last year:

1. Child Flu Deaths: During the 2012-2013 flu season, the CDC logged 149 pediatric deaths from the ailment.

2. Deaths During Childbirth: Researchers writing in the medical journal Lancet estimated that nearly 800 mothers died during childbirth last year, making our maternal mortality rate three times as high as the United Kingdom's.

3. Workplace Deaths: According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “4,405 workers were killed on the job in 2013...(3.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers)—on average, 85 a week or more than 12 deaths every day.”

4. Ordinary Gun Violence: In 2013, more people died every day from ordinary gun violence than from terrorism—with about 30 people being shot and killed each day, according to Slate. The majority of gun deaths are suicides.

5. Traffic Accidents: Although accident fatalities decreased in 2013, the National Safety Council estimated that 35,200 Americans perished in car accidents last year.

This isn't to say we should ignore the threat of terrorism. But we should keep the scope and danger in perspective. Doing so would allow us to focus on the bigger threats to Americans' well-being, and implement policy—like an expansion of workers' safety oversight, public transit and public health initiatives—that will save lives.

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