How Airbnb Misled the Public and the Press

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:34pm
The 'sharing economy' favorite provided a snapshot of its operation. Turns out it was photoshopped.

A new report details how the short-term rental service Airbnb misled the public with a recent "transparency initiative" and removed 1000 potentially illegal housing listings before opening its books.

Murray Cox, founder of the website Inside Airbnb and Tom Slee, author of a recent book on the sharing economy, have released a report titled, “How Airbnb’s Data Hid the Facts in New York City” in response to Airbnb’s apparent attempt to be transparent. Cox said he believes the company’s motivation behind the data release “started with elected officials and housing advocates demanding that Airbnb provide data so that the city can understand the impact on the city, rather than relying on corporate marketing and lobbying."

Airbnb billed the data release as “the first time Airbnb has voluntarily shared...data on a wide scale on how its hosts use the online platform,” but the new report shows that the company carried out a purge of over 1,000 listings in the first three weeks of November and pretended the one-time purge represented some kind of trend. Those purged listings were for entire homes and were being rented out by users with at least two sites available. These details would be a major red flag for regulators tasked with preventing the rise of a pseudo-hotel industry.

"In New York State, it is also illegal to rent out entire homes for less than 30 days at a time,” Cox told me, “which is impossible with this category of Airbnb rental. There are also zoning and residential use laws that are being broken.”

A summary of the report at Tom Slee's website lists these major findings:

  • Airbnb purged over 1,000 “Entire Home” listings from its site just days before it prepared a data snapshot of its business.

  • Airbnb used the data snapshot to paint a misleading picture of its business:

    • Airbnb’s message was that only 10% of Entire Homes listings belonged to hosts with multiple listings. The true number had been close to 19% for all of 2015.

    • Airbnb’s message was that “95% of our entire home hosts share only one listing.” The claim was true for less than two weeks of the year.

    • Airbnb’s rosy projections about the future of its business were not objective analyses based on historical trends. The company extrapolated from an artificial and unrepresentative one-time event.

  • Airbnb’s one-time purge was a PR effort, and does not indicate a change of heart:

    • No similar event took place in other cities in North America or elsewhere.

    • Contrary to Airbnb projections, levels of multiple-listing entire homes have already jumped back to 13% of the total, only two months after the purge.

    • Despite claiming it wants to “work with cities,” Airbnb carried out its purge without disclosure or consultation. Airbnb did not kick illegal hosts off the site; many commercial hosts still have listings on the site, but the purge made them appear, briefly, to be single-listing hosts.

In November 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his administration would spend $10 million, over the course of three years, in an effort to rid the city of illegal hotels.

“I see Airbnb's focus on ‘transparency,’ or the appearance of it, is to try and take back control of the conversation, and use data for their own means,” says Cox. “They're also trying to give a little (and I would argue, give nothing) to try and make a push for less regulation (or no regulation). There are already more than 19,000 Entire Home listings in NYC and the majority are illegal; we've just focused our report on the most commercial abusers, and a category that Airbnb appears to have manipulated for a one-off PR event.”

The entire report is available online.

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The GOP Primary Is Officially a Horror Film: Welcome to a World Where Trump & Cruz Are the Last Men Standing

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:34pm
Trump won in dominant fashion and Cruz met expectations as Rubio fell completely apart. This is scary stuff.

I’ve been writing about the Donald Trump phenomenon several times a week for seven months now. As his candidacy evolved from a bizarre spectacle to a serious campaign, it’s become clear that this is a pivotal moment in American politics. It’s not just that we have a shocking demagogue or a profane performer topping the polls in the Republican presidential race. It’s the alarming notion that a crude authoritarian white nationalist is appealing to a very large section of the American people. Even worse is the realization that there is a path for him to actually win the presidency.

Last night he won the New Hampshire primary and he won decisively. His effect on the GOP electorate is already  profound:  

Only 40 percent of New Hampshire Republicans support deporting millions of Latinos, so that’s what passes for good news in all this. They didn’t ask about summary execution or torture or killing terrorist suspects’ families, but it stands to reason that at least the 35 percent who voted for Trump are for it. Those aren’t the kind of issues people easily overlook when they vote for someone.

Most surprisingly, he won substantial support across all classes, educational status, gender and ideology. He is a true frontrunner now and is highly likely to gain support as people see him as actually able to pull it off. After all, he may be crude, but when you strip away the bluster, many of his proposals and promises — particularly when it comes to law and order, immigration and national security — are supported by a whole lot of Republicans.

Last night in his victory speech, Trump proclaimed,

“We’re going to make America great again but we’re going to do it the old fashioned way. We’re going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade. We’re going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It’s not going to happen anymore.”

Essentially, he has promised to kick out foreigners who are here, ban foreigners from coming here and beat foreigners that are “taking so much of our money.” But then, if he and his followers believe real unemployment is possibly above 40 percent as he claimed last night, drastic action would understandably be in order. The number is completely daft, of course. He undoubtedly got it from sources like World Net Daily which commonly flog ridiculous statistics such as that.

Now that it’s been determined that he is not going to implode any time soon, the question of whether anyone can stop him is more urgent than ever. His closest competition in New Hampshire was Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 16 percent of the vote, followed by Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. At this writing Rubio was in 5th place after having admitted that he blew it over the weekend and promising never to do it again. He may not have the chance.

 

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Chomsky Interview: ‘The U.S. Is One of the Most Fundamentalist Countries in the World’

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:14pm
Chomsky says today's Clinton Democrats are yesterday's moderate Republicans.

Like beauty, fundamentalism is in the eye of the beholder. That's according to noted public intellectual and philosophical pot-stirrer Noam Chomsky, who recently remarked that the United States is “one of the most fundamentalist countries in the world” in an interview with The Wire.

Chomsky’s comment was made in relation to his views on the 2016 U.S election cycle, which reflect in his view a combination of widespread anger and distrust of the current system. In particular, Chomsky was referring to Trump’s seemingly anomalous popularity. By seizing on the religious right and adopting his tone of Old Testament proportions, Trump is simply the flouncy-haired litmus for the country’s current state.

“It is a reflection of depression, hopelessness, concern that everything is lost—nothing is in our lives, nothing is in our futures, then at least show your anger,” said Chomsky, who added that Trump’s propagandist strategy was in line with a history of focusing anger on a straw man such as “immigrants, ‘welfare cheats,’ trade unions and all kinds of people who somehow you think are getting what you are not getting.”

Conversely, Bernie Sanders has also managed to find his footing in what Chomsky views as the economy’s current democratic miasma. “The impact of the neoliberal programs of the past generation almost everywhere has been to undermine democratic participation, to impose stagnation or sometimes decline on the majority of the population and to concentrate wealth very narrowly, which of course then in turn affects the political system and how it works.”

Given these conditions, Chomsky believes people's need to feel the Bern reflects a natural response to a global political shift to the right. “Today’s Democrats, Clinton-style Democrats, are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. And the Republicans just went way off the spectrum. They are so dedicated to service to wealth and the corporate sector that they simply cannot get votes on their own programs.”

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WATCH: Johnny Depp Stars as Donald Trump in 'Art of the Deal' Parody

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:10pm
The Ron Howard-directed mockumentary was released after Trump's huge win in New Hampshire.

Funny Or Die has released an ambitious 50-minute biopic titled The Art of the Deal: The Movie, starring Johnny Depp as presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Directed by Ron Howard and also starring Patton Oswalt, the sure-to-be-classic mockumentary—based on Trump's bestselling book—premiered just after the GOP frontrunner's victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Watch the trailer below:

                

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This Is the Establishment's Worst Nightmare: What Bernie & Donald's Stunning New Hampshire Wins Really Mean

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:04pm
One is a Democratic Socialist, the other a xenophobic blowhard—but they've both sent shockwaves through the system.

Groundhog Day came a little late in the 2016 presidential election. On Tuesday night, the voters of New Hampshire collectively saw their shadows and condemned both the Democrats and the Republicans to many more weeks of electoral turmoil. That sound you hear is the Republican and Democratic National Committees freaking the hell out.

Unfortunately for them, there’s not much they can do about the continual refusal of the electorate to provide a speedy conclusion to this most discombobulated of races. In each party, the campaign is being defined by forces that have both everything and nothing in particular to do with the actual candidates running.

If you look at basically any other Western democracy, you shouldn’t be too surprised that Hillary Clinton and the unappetizing mush that is Kasich/Bush/Rubio are having such a rough ride. The world is reeling from tectonic demographic and technological changes, along with the rot of oligarchical rule and continual warfare, all of which have driven the politics of country after country into great upheaval. America is no different. The people backing the National Front in France would likely find much to discuss with some of Donald Trump’s supporters. The members of the Labour Party who made Jeremy Corbyn their leader over the howling objections of the party’s upper echelons would no doubt have a very jolly time commiserating with Bernie Sanders backers.

In all of these cases, the pattern has been much the same: insurgent candidates rise and establishment candidates are left with little idea of how to handle them. In her speech on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton tried to signal that she gets it, saying, “People are angry. And they have every right to be. But I know they’re also hungry. They’re hungry for solutions.”

That’s an almost exact echo of the kind of rhetoric anti-Corbyn forces used against him—”it is not enough to be angry at the world – you have to change the world,” one of his opponents, Yvette Cooper, said in an interview—to no avail.

Clinton is hoping that she doesn’t meet the same fate, and she probably won’t, but the scale of her defeat in New Hampshire was quite a thing to behold. This is where the particulars of who is running begins to matter very much. She lost to Sanders in virtually every demographic category, including women—and the mix of voters who powered her 2008 victories deserted her as well. Young voters went for Sanders by a crushing 84-15 margin. Most damning, 91 percent of Democrats who told pollsters that their top concern was honesty and trustworthiness voted for Sanders. Those are bruising, brutal numbers.

Clinton’s biggest hurdle—beyond the specific hurdle that comes with being a woman and carrying around 25 years of toxic political baggage—is that the very world she occupies is suddenly a deep liability for her. The Clinton who casually took reams of money to shower Goldman Sachs with praise was a woman who likely never assumed that any candidate or voter would hold that against her so vehemently. But that’s what’s happening. She has trouble effectively countering the Sanders message simply because donning his mantle doesn’t track with who she is. One way or another, she’s going to have to figure out a way to overcome that.

Her strategy, if her speech on Tuesday was anything to go by, is to try to widen the scope of the campaign. She dwelled on the racial and social issues that she would clearly like to come to the forefront of the contest now that white people aren’t the only ones doing the voting, and she gave her most effective rebuttal yet to the portrayal of her as a stooge of corporate money, noting that the Citizens United decision that Sanders rails against actually stemmed from a right-wing attack on her.

Whether any of this will work remains to be seen. Clinton’s team sent out a memo on Tuesday claiming that the black and Latino voters who are so crucial in the upcoming Nevada and South Carolina races “know her, trust her and are excited about her candidacy.” That assumption is about to be put to a very strenuous test. Sanders is gearing up to fight her on this turf; he’s even, in a move so cliched it approaches parody, meeting with Al Sharpton in New York City. The prospect of two old white people battling viciously for black and Latino votes is rather ominous. You just know somebody is going to say something terrible.

As for the Republicans—well, the words “Donald Trump, presidential primary winner” are now real. Let that sink in for a second, and then wish the best of luck to anyone trying to figure out how such an unholy mess resolves itself.

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How Elizabeth Warren Helped Sanders Deflate Clinton's Massive Political Apparatus

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm
Clinton has failed Warren’s ‘money-in-politics’ litmus test — and now the Democratic Party is splitting in two.

Several years before Bernie Sanders zoomed towards a virtual tie in national polls with Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren began the discussion about Wall Street's influence in American politics. Warren even declared in 2014 that a portion of President Obama's Omnibus bill "was written by Citigroup lobbyists." Few politicians have directly accused investment banks of writing U.S. laws.

The Massachusetts Senator was able to introduce the topic on a national stage, and even though Sanders has spent his entire career championing the same message, she succeeded in publicizing a sense of urgency. Warren paved the way for Bernie, and in doing so, helped the Sanders campaign undermine Hillary Clinton's enormous political machine; a monstrosity that benefits from the status quo. I explain why Bernie Sanders has already made Clinton's political machine implode in the following YouTube segment.

The Atlantic has a provocative piece by Conor Friedersdorf that all Americans should read titled "Hillary Helps a Bank — and Then It Funnels Millions to the Clintons." Let's just say the article gives some insight into why Hillary Clinton is paid millions for speaking engagements. If you haven't read Friedersdorf's article, then you won't know why there's so much desire to read Clinton's speech transcripts.

Hillary Clinton's political machine, which runs on a peculiar form of "honest graft," as stated by Walter Russel Mead, has been undermined by a political revolution within the Democratic Party, and within American politics.

Nobody has been able to highlight why Bernie Sanders is needed by African Americans, Latinos, and all Democratic voters better than Tim Black in this powerful segment of Tim Black TV. Only Bernie Sanders has harnessed the full power of an electorate disgusted with politicians yet to disclose the transcripts of million dollar speeches. Nothing defines establishment politics better than a Democrat who takes money from the same interest that harm core constituencies of the Democratic Party.

Hillary Clinton has accepted campaign contributions from two major prison lobbyists, Wall Street, and the oil and gas industry, yet promises progressive stances against all these interests.

In fact, Marco Rubio and Clinton take almost the same amount of money from prison lobbyists, as stated in Vice article titled How Private Prisons Are Profiting From Locking Up US Immigrants:

VICE reviewed federal campaign disclosures and found that lobbying firms linked to GEO and CCA have already contributed more than $288,300 to three of the leading candidates. Clinton's Ready for Hillary PAC received $133,246 from lobbying firms linked to GEO and CCA. Rubio's PACs and campaign have taken a total of $133,450 from private prison companies or groups that lobby on their behalf. Bush's campaign and his Right to Rise Super PAC have received $21,700 from lobbying groups affiliated with GEO and CCA.

When Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton take essentially the same funding from GEO and CCA, and Jeb Bush actually receives less money than Clinton and Rubio, establishment politics proves ideology takes a back seat to cash.

Like rival prison gangs, Republicans and Democrats will glare at each other across the yard, but cut lucrative deals when the guards (the American people, in this case) aren't looking.

In 2016, it's Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren's economic message, along with Dr. Cornel West's social message, against America's political establishment. While Warren hasn't officially been picked as Vice President for Bernie Sanders, there's few better than Massachusetts's Senator. Anyone other than Warren or Nina Turner (Terrell Jermaine Starr has a brilliant interview with the Ohio State Senator), and I'd be very disappointed, in addition to the fact that any other choice from Warren or Turner would halt the immense momentum of the campaign.

As for idealism versus pragmatism, it's not pragmatic to use a private server  ("It was sitting there in the basement") for "convenience." Pragmatism, and "getting things done" to both Sanders and Warren means breaking up Too Big to Fail Banks, reinstating Glass-Steagall, ensuring we never again rescue failed corporations (socialist George W. Bush forced nine major banks to "accept partial nationalization" and urged government to own private business in 2008), and solving the conundrum of massive wealth inequality.

On foreign policy, Bernie Sanders offers a change from the usual hawkish rhetoric of both parties, and a choice from the unrealistic prospect of funding perpetual Middle Eastern wars.

While Hillary Clinton advocated sending U.S. ground troops back to the Middle East after the Paris attacks, Bernie Sanders warns against perpetual wars and says "I'll be damned" to more quagmires.

Only several months ago, The Guardian ran an article titled "Hillary Clinton calls for more ground troops as part of hawkish Isis strategy." The former Secretary of State advocated sending American ground troops back to the Middle East, in addition to a no-fly zone against a terrorist group without an air force.

According to The Guardian piece, "Hillary Clinton distanced herself from Barack Obama's strategy for defeating Islamic State extremists on Thursday in a sweeping foreign policy speech that called for greater use of American ground troops and an intensified air campaign."

Yes, progressive Hillary Clinton called for "greater use of American ground troops."

As for Marco Rubio, Cruz, and Trump, their foreign policy will be similar to Clinton's, especially since the former Secretary of State will have a "neocon" foreign policy (and neoconservative advisers, aiming to regain influence) according to leading historians. Also, actress and feminist icon Susan Sarandon highlighted on Twitter the scandal few people are talking about. This controversy is explained in a Mother Jones article titled "Hillary Clinton Oversaw US Arms Deals to Clinton Foundation Donors":

In 2011, the State Department cleared an enormous arms deal: Led by Boeing, a consortium of American defense contractors would deliver $29 billion worth of advanced fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns over the kingdom's troublesome human rights record. In the years before Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, Saudi Arabia had contributed $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, and just two months before the jet deal was finalized, Boeing donated $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to an International Business Times investigation.

First, why is Clinton accepting money from foreign governments? Second, your answer will explain whether you're voting for Clinton, a Republican, or Bernie Sanders in 2016.

In contrast to Clinton's Republican-style foreign policy, Bernie's more rational approach is explained in a CNN article titled "Sen. Bernie Sanders: 'I'll be damned' if Americans lead ISIS fight":

"I'm sitting here wondering where Saudi Arabia is, where Kuwait is, where Qatar is," Sanders said on CNN's "New Day." "I'll be damned if kids in the state of Vermont -- or taxpayers in the state of Vermont — have to defend the royal Saudi family, which is worth hundreds of billions of dollars."

Remember the program opposed by Bernie to arm Syrian rebels? Well, it cost $500 million and according to Time, "...the program, which cost $500 million, has not been found to be effective in combating the terrorist group."

During his Congressional speech protesting the Iraq War (while establishment Democrats sided with Bush), Bernie Sanders presciently stated "Mr. Speaker, in the brief time I have, let me give five reasons why I am opposed to giving the President a blank check to launch a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq and why I will vote against this resolution." 

Sanders passed the biggest foreign policy test of our generation, voting against the Iraq War.

Hillary Clinton failed this test.

Over 500,000 human beings have died from the Iraq War, something that Clinton failed to predict when siding with the Bush administration. She then repeated the same mistake in Libya, advocating a bombing that resulted in civil war and a country becoming a "massive safe haven" for ISIS.

While Sanders correctly foreshadowed the rise of unintended consequences like ISIS, Clinton now simply refers to her Iraq Vote as a  "mistake."

Certain people, however, simply never learn from their mistakes. Even with the knowledge that arming the Syrian rebels "has not been found to be effective" and cost $500 million, CBS News writes that "Hillary Clinton still wouldn't give up on training Syrian rebels."

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WATCH: Cancer Patients Arrested for Protesting the TPP for Threatening Access to Lifesaving Drugs

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm
On World Cancer Day, activists fighting cancer condemned the corporate-friendly mega-deal as a 'death sentence.'

Condemning the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a “death sentence,” two cancer patients last week staged a civil disobedience at the headquarters of the Big Pharma trade group that lobbied to include medical monopolies in the mega-deal.

“The TPP will effectively take some patients backwards in time to the dark ages of cancer treatment," said Zahara Heckscher, a 51-year-old mother and author living with advanced breast cancer who staged the direct action. "It will prevent too many people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses from accessing the new treatments they need to stay alive.” 

On World Cancer Day last Thursday, Heckscher joined with Hannah Lyon, who is described in a press statement as a “29-year-old from California who is in treatment for aggressive cervical cancer.” Wearing shirts that read, “I have cancer. No TPP death sentence,” the two entered the Washington D.C., building that hosts the industry lobby group PhRMA, where they chanted, linked arms and refused to leave.

Surrounded by medical professionals and supporters, the two women were eventually arrested by police, but not before footage of their protest was captured. The video of the action, compiled by the watchdog group Public Citizen, can be seen below.

“I have never spoken in public or engaged in civil disobedience before, but I know at a deeply personal level the life and death stakes for many cancer patients if the TPP is approved,” Lyon said in a statement about the action. “Cancer patients do not have the luxury to wait five or eight years for access to affordable medicines while PhRMA establishes extended monopolies to continue to reap outrageous profits.”

The creative protest was one of many that have been organized around the world opposing the mega-deal between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. International civil society and social movement groups have condemned the accord as a threat to people and the planet, including through its inclusion of secret corporate tribunals that allow multinationals to sue governments over loss of “future profits.”

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned earlier this month that the TPP, negotiated in secret, “will extend pharmaceutical company monopolies and prevent people from accessing life-saving medicines by blocking or delaying the availability of price-lowering generic drugs.”

“Additionally,” MSF continued, “the TPP would dismantle public health safeguards and force developing countries to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies, making it harder for people — and organizations like MSF that serve them — to buy the affordable medicines they need.”

In an article published this week on Common Dreams, Heckscher urged Congress to reject the deal, which is set for a vote this spring or summer. “If ratified, the TPP would lock in monopolies for certain new medicines, biological medicines that help people like me stay alive,” she wrote. “Monopolies allow drug companies to increase prices dramatically, and high prices decrease access. This means that some people with cancer will die because they can’t get the medicine they need.”

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Watch Defense Contractor's Bizarre 1969 Anti-LSD Propaganda Video: Girl Drops Acid, Murders Hot Dog

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm
A 1969 anti-drug film short from Lockheed Aircraft is unintentionally hilarious.

In 1969, the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation wasn't just busy making planes to drop bombs on Vietnamese villagers; it was also making films about young women dropping acid and blowing their minds. Why the military-industrial complex mainstay was making anti-drug propaganda remains something of a mystery, but Lockheed's name is on the video below.

Lockheed grew up to become mega-defense contractor Lockheed Martin after gobbling up competitor Martin Marietta, but not before becoming the recipient of $250 million in corporate welfare—federally guaranteed loans to help it get out from under an earlier $400 million loan from a consortium of banks. Lockheed Martin is now the world's largest defense contractor, but if its 1969 LSD Case Study video is any indication, it should continue to concentrate on its main business, not drug education videos.

The video features a young woman who narrates the tale of her own acid trip. "I was pretty jacked up on marijuana," she explains. "So I decided to try it, and I dropped it."

Her first sense to become impaired was her sense of fashion: "I put on a pair of pink capris and a green and brown blouse," she confesses. "I thought the colors were beautiful."

Okay, so far, so good. Psychedelic blob imagery notwithstanding, the video is still in the realm of the plausible, but then it gets downright bizarre—and unintentionally hilarious.

The young woman goes with a friend to a hot dog stand in San Francisco's Mission District and has a very strange encounter with a speaking hot dog. Sometimes it's really a hot dog, sometimes it's a bearded troll doll on a bun.

You'll have to watch the rest of this exercise in insanity for yourself, but the point Lockheed seems to have been making, inadvertently or not, is, don't take LSD or you might murder a hot dog.

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How Thinking About Your Own Death Affects Your Beliefs About Politics, Race, Religion and More

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm
Contemplating our own mortality may open Pandora’s box.

If death is the final taboo, it might not be for much longer. There has, in recent years, been increasing effort to promote conversations about death and dying, both in the home and in more public settings. For example, death cafes, first launched in Switzerland in 2004, have spread around the world, enabling people to speak about their fears over cake and coffee.

Our reluctance to talk about death is often taken as evidence that we are afraid, and therefore suppress thoughts about it. However, there is little direct evidence to support that we are. So what is a “normal” amount of death anxiety? And how does it manifest itself?

Experimenting with death

Judging by studies using questionnaires, we seem more bothered by the prospect of losing our loved ones than we do about dying ourselves. Such studies also show that we worry more about the dying process – the pain and loneliness involved, for example – than about the end of life itself. In general, when we are asked if we are afraid to die, most of us deny it, and report only mild levels of anxiety. The minority who report high levels of death anxiety are even considered psychologically abnormal – thanatophobic – and recommended for treatment.

On the other hand, our tendency to report only low levels of death anxiety might be a result of our reluctance to admit to our fear, to others and ourselves. Based on this hypothesis, social psychologists have, for almost 30 years now, examined the social and psychological effects of being confronted with our own mortality. In well over 200 experiments, individuals have been instructed to imagine themselves dying.

What’s worse: the death of a loved one or facing our own death? (image: Photographee.eu)

The first study of this kind was conducted on US municipal court judges, who were asked to set bond for an alleged prostitute in a hypothetical scenario. On average, judges who were confronted with their mortality beforehand set a much higher bail than those who were not confronted – $455 versus $50. Since then, many other effects have been found among groups including the general population in many different countries.

Besides making us more punitive, thinking about death also increases our nationalistic bias, makes us more prejudiced against other racial, religious and age groups, and leads to other such parochial attitudes. Taken together, these dozens of studies show that being reminded of death strengthens our ties to the groups we belong to, to the detriment of those who are different from us.

Reminders of death also affect our political and religious beliefs in interesting ways. On the one hand, they polarise us: political liberals become more liberal while conservatives become more conservative. Similarly, religious people tend to assert their beliefs more fervently while nonreligious people disavow more.

On the other hand, these studies have also found that thinking about death tempts us all – religious or otherwise – towards more religious belief in subtle, perhaps unconscious ways. And when the reminder of death is sufficiently powerful and when participants are not mindful of their prior political commitments, liberals as well as conservatives tend to endorse conservative ideas and candidates. Some researchers claim that this could explain the US political shift to the right after 9/11.

What do the results mean?

But why does the prospect of death make us more punitive, conservative and religious? According to many theorists, reminders of death compel us to seek immortality. Many religions offer literal immortality, but our secular affiliations – such as our nation states and ethnic groups – can provide symbolic immortality. These groups and their traditions are a part of who we are, and they outlive us. Defending our cultural norms can boost our sense of belonging and being more punitive against individuals who violate cultural norms – such as prostitutes – is symptom of this.

Consistent with this interpretation, researchers have also found that reminders of death increase our desire for fame and for children, both of which are commonly associated with symbolic immortality. It turns out that we do want to be immortalised through our work and our DNA.

Thinking about death makes us dream of being famous. (image: Andrea Raffin)

When asked, we do not seem, perhaps not even to ourselves, to fear death. Nor would we guess that thinking about death has such widespread effects on our social attitudes. But there are limits to our introspective powers. We are notoriously bad at predicting how we will feel or behave in some future scenario, and we are similarly bad at working out why we feel the way we do, or even why we have behaved a certain way. So, whether we realise it or not, it seems that to bring death to the surface of our minds is to open Pandora’s box.

So what should we make of these new efforts to demystify death and dying through conversation? It is hard to say. Increasing death’s profile in our imaginations, private and public, might make us all more punitive and prejudiced, as the research found. But then perhaps we get these negative effects precisely because we are unaccustomed to thinking and talking about death.

In exposure therapy, carefully exposing patients to the source of their anxiety – an object, an animal, or even a memory – reduces their fear. In the same way, perhaps this most recent taboo-breaking trend will inoculate us psychologically, and make us more robust in the face of death.

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

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The Pentagon Has Fired the First Shot in a New Arms Race — Against 'Russian Aggression'

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm
The Defense Department's message is unambiguous: Russia is a much bigger threat than ISIL.

As the voters of New Hampshire braved the snow to play their part in the great pageant of American democracy on Tuesday, the US secretary of defence was setting out his spending requirements for 2017. And while the television cameras may have preferred the miniature dramas at the likes of Dixville Notch, the reorientation of US defence priorities under the outgoing president may turn out to exert the greater influence – and not in a good way, at least for the future of Europe.

In a speech in Washington last week, previewing his announcement, Ash Carter said he would ask for spending on US military forces in Europe to be quadrupled in the light of “Russian aggression”. The allocation for combating Islamic State, in contrast, is to be increased by 50%. The message is unambiguous: as viewed from the Pentagon, the threat from Russia has become more alarming, suddenly, even than the menace that is Isis.

If this is Pentagon thinking, then it reverses a trend that has remained remarkably consistent throughout Barack Obama’s presidency. Even before he was elected there was trepidation in some European quarters that he would be the first genuinely post-cold war president – too young to remember the second world war, and more global than Atlanticist in outlook. And so it proved.

From his first day in the White House, Obama seemed more interested in almost anywhere than Europe. He began his presidency with an appeal in Cairo addressed to the Muslim world, in an initiative that was frustrated by the Arab spring and its aftermath, but partly rescued by last year’s nuclear agreement with Iran. He had no choice but to address the growing competition from China, and he ended half a century of estrangement from Cuba. But Europe, he left largely to its own devices. When France and the UK intervened in Libya, the US “led from behind”. Most of the US troops remaining in Europe, it was disclosed last year, were to be withdrawn.

Nor was such an approach illogical. Europe was at peace – comparatively, at least. The European Union was chugging along, diverted only briefly (so it might have seemed from the US) by the internal crises of Greece and the euro. Even the unrest in Ukraine, at least in its early stages, was treated by Washington more as a local difficulty than a cold war-style standoff.

Day to day policy was handled (fiercely, but to no great effect) by Victoria Nuland at the state department; Sanctions against Russia were agreed and coordinated with the EU. All the while – despite the urging of the Kiev government – Obama kept the conflict at arm’s length. Congress agitated for weapons to be sent, but Obama wisely resisted. This was not, he thereby implied, America’s fight.

In the last months of his presidency, this detachment is ending. The additional funds for Europe’s defence are earmarked for new bases and weapons stores in Poland and the Baltic states. There will be more training for local Nato troops, more state-of-the-art hardware and more manoeuvres.

Now it is just possible that the extra spending and the capability it will buy are no more than sops to the “frontline” EU countries in the runup to the Nato summit in Warsaw in July, to be quietly forgotten afterwards. More probably, though, they are for real – and if so the timing could hardly be worse. Ditto the implications for Europe’s future.

By planning to increase spending in this way, the US is sending hostile signals to Russia at the very time when there is less reason to do so than for a long time. It is nearly two years since Russia annexed Crimea and 18 months since thedowning of MH17. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has died down; there is no evidence of recent Russian material support for the anti-Kiev rebels, and there is a prospect, at least, that the Minsk-2 agreement could be honoured, with Ukraine (minus Crimea) remaining – albeit uneasily – whole.

In Syria, Russia has signed up to the war against Isis; it has helped orchestrate the only diplomatic process there is, and has acquiesced in principle to the eventual departure of President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow’s continued support is also crucial to the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. The first real prospect of improved Russia-west relations since the ill-fated “reset” of 2009 looks as though it has been scotched almost before it has begun.

Worse still, by attaching the new spending specifically to Poland and the “new” Nato states, the US is sending two more – linked – messages. The first is that Washington is prepared to take direct responsibility for the security of these countries. Not only does this leave them with no incentive whatsoever to normalise relations with their giant neighbour. It will inevitably heighten Russia’s own sense of insecurity, and prompt a new spiral in what we once called the arms race. New nuclear deployments cannot be ruled out.

The second is that once again the EU and the European Nato countries will be able to postpone the self-reliance that must surely come. Obama’s detachment, it seemed, was just starting to have an effect: the understanding that Europe would have to get its defence act together, increase spending, talk seriously to Russia about mutual security, and generally behave like a grownup, seemed finally to be percolating through to Brussels and other European capitals. Now they will be able to revert to their old divided, neglectful ways, confident that whoever becomes the next US president is unlikely to be less Atlanticist than Obama and will surely bail them out, if need be, one last time.

 

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Donald Trump Doubles Down on Extremist Demagoguery in New Hampshire Victory Speech

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm
But the remarkable thing about Trump’s speech is it’s not actually that different from boilerplate Republican nonsense.

A triumphant Donald Trump entered the stage at his New Hampshire primary victory rally to the sounds of “Revolution” by the Beatles, positively bursting with joy that the universe had righted itself and his singular excellence, an excellence that is greater than the excellence of all excellent people who came before him (though he is grateful for all their hard work), has finally been recognized.

“Do we have ground game?” he crowed to the ecstatic crowd. “We learned a lot about ground games in one week,” he added, a bit of snark thrown to the mainstream press that has long been expecting/hoping that Trump’s poll numbers would collapse in the face of more seasoned campaigns putting the baby-kissing, hand-shaking elbow grease.

A lot of corners of the media are still reeling from the shock that a clown like Trump can win anything, much less a prominent Republican primary. The Huffington Post’s front page was bristling with outrage:

But the remarkable thing about Trump’s speech is it’s not actually that different from boilerplate Republican nonsense: Claiming that foreign policy is mostly about belligerence, demanding an end to Obamacare, accusing Democrats of wanting to give away free stuff, pandering to gun nuts, dark suggestions that Obama is lying about the economic turnaround, taking a swipe at Common Core, and implying that foreigners are sneaking over the Mexican border to kill us all with terrorism and heroin.

The main difference is that Trump is just more, well let’s say, boisterous about it.

“I’m going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” he bellowed, before going on to declare that the media is lying about declining unemployment and that it could be as high as 42 percent. The gist of the claim— that Obama and the media are in cahoots to hide the truth about the economy, but your noble Republican candidate will fix it all — is no different from what other GOP candidates are saying. Trump’s just abandoned the pretense of making his arguments sound plausible at all.

On the drug addiction issue that’s so prominent in New Hampshire, Trump promised to fix it all by blaming his favorite scapegoat, Mexico. “We’re going to end it at the southern border,” he declared, suggesting the epidemic is mostly due to “cheap” heroin.

On guns, Trump reached for a common talking point among Republicans, which is that more guns will actually reduce gun violence. He used the Paris attacks, which happened in a city with strict gun control, as an example. Calling the terrorists who shot up the Bataclan “these animals,” he said, “If there were bullets going in the other direction, believe me, it would be a whole different story.”

This notion, that the best way to prevent gun violence is to give every drunk hipster at a rock show a fully loaded weapon, is hardly unique to Trump, even if he uses more colorful language to express it.

If you want to know why Trump is doing so well with Republican voters, this is the answer. He’s not, despite mainstream media narratives suggesting otherwise, all that different from other Republicans. He just heaves bullshit with a bigger shovel.

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Robert Reich: The Big Fat Message Coming Out of New Hampshire

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 10:53am
New Hampshire results challenge the dominance of centrists.

You will hear pundits analyze the New Hampshire primaries and conclude that the political “extremes” are now gaining in American politics – that the Democrats have moved to the left and the Republicans have moved to the right, and the “center” will not hold.

Baloney. The truth is that the putative “center” – where the Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” of the 1990s found refuge, where George W. Bush and his corporate buddies and neoconservative advisers held sway, and where Barack Obama’s Treasury Department granted Wall Street banks huge bailouts but didn’t rescue desperate homeowners – did a job on the rest of America, and is now facing a reckoning.

The “extremes” are not gaining ground. The anti-establishment ground forces of the American people are gaining. Some are so fed up they’re following an authoritarian bigot. Others, more wisely, are signing up for a “political revolution” to take back America from the moneyed interests.

That’s the real choice ahead. 

This was originally published on Robert Reich's blog.

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Cowspiracy: stampeding in the wrong direction?

New Internationalist - February 10, 2016 - 10:50am
There’s much to admire in the documentary but its political framing and a major error threaten to undermine its message, writes Danny Chivers.
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5 New Discoveries That Will Shake Up Our Understanding of Marijuana

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 10:12am
New research shows marijuana may have more uses (and benefits) than we thought.

Contentions that scientists have failed to conduct sufficient research on the health effects of cannabis are unfounded. A keyword search on the National Library of Medicine database reveals nearly 23,000 peer-reviewed papers specific to the marijuana plant, and new scientific discoveries are published almost daily rebuking the federal government’s assertion that the herb is a highly dangerous substance lacking therapeutic efficacy.

Here are five new cannabis-centric studies that warrant mainstream attention. 

1. Pot Use Linked To Better Outcomes In Brain Injury Patients

The use of cannabis is associated with improved outcomes in patients hospitalized with intracerebral hemorrhaging (ICH aka bleeding in the brain). An international team of investigators from Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States evaluated demographic trends and patient outcomes in a cohort of 725 subjects with spontaneous ICH. Researchers reported that cannabis-positive subjects possessed “milder ICH presentation” upon hospitalization and presented “less disability” post-hospitalization as compared to similarly matched patients who tested negative for pot, even after authors adjusted for age and other potentially confounding variables.

The findings are not the first to imply that cannabinoids may possess neuroprotective effects in humans. A 2014 UCLA study previously reported that traumatic brain injury patients who tested positive for the herb upon hospital admission.possessed significantly increased survival rates compared to patients who tested negative for pot. Other studies have indicated cannabis may potentially moderate the progression of certain brain degenerative illness, such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

 2. Rumors of Marijuana's Effect on Sanity Are the Stuff of Myth, Not Reality

Battling the inanity of pot prohibition is enough to drive almost anyone crazy. Smoking pot? Not so much. So concludes a new review published in the February issue of the journal Current Psychiatry Reports questioning the longstanding allegation that cannabis use causes psychosis.
 
Authored by a pair of researchers at the University of Wyoming and NYC’s Columbia University, the paper reviews several recent studies to better determine whether pot contributes to psychotic behavior or is simply correlated with psychiatric disorders. They conclude: “Evidence reviewed here suggests that cannabis does not in itself cause a psychosis disorder. Rather, the evidence leads us to conclude that both early use and heavy use of cannabis are more likely in individuals with a vulnerability to psychosis.”
 
Previous studies have separately questioned claims that a direct link exists between pot use and increased incidences of schizophrenia  or psychosis while others have suggested that certain compounds in cannabis, such as cannabidiol, may be efficacious as an anti-psychotic agent.

3. CBD Oil More Effective Than Conventional Anti-Epileptic Treatments

The administration of cannabis oil extracts high in CBD content significantly reduces seizure frequency in children with intractable epilepsy, according to clinical data published this month in the journal Seizure.

Israeli researchers retrospectively evaluated the effects of CBD oil in a multicenter cohort of 74 patients with intractable epilepsy. Participants in the trial were resistant to conventional epilepsy treatments and were treated with CBD extracts for a period of at least three months. Extracts in the study were provided by a pair of Israeli-licensed growers and were standardized to possess a CBD to THC ratio of 20 to 1. 

Investigators reported: “CBD treatment yielded a significant positive effect on seizure load. Most of the children (89 percent) reported reduction in seizure frequency. … In addition, we observed improvement in behavior and alertness, language, communication, motor skills and sleep.” Their findings mimic those of prior studies  and surveys documenting reduced seizure frequency following CBD administration. 
 
In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted orphan drug status to imported, pharmaceutically standardized CBD extracts for use in state-sponsored clinical trials of subjects with childhood-onset, treatment resistant epilepsy. A review of these trials, published online in December in the journal Lancet Neurology reported that participants’ experienced a median reduction in seizures that approached 40 percent. 
 
4. Older Americans Gravitating Toward Medical Marijuana Treatment

More and more older Americans are turning to medical pot. Research published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence assessed age demographics for medical marijuana participants in eight states with mandatory patient registries. “Among adults, medical marijuana participants tend to be in their 40s and 50s,” the study found. “In several states, individuals in their 50s represented the largest age group of participants.”
 
More than half of all registered cannabis patients in Alaska are 50 years or older, the study reports. In Nevada, 58 percent of patients are over 45. In Vermont, just under half of all registrants are over 55 years of age. In Oregon, 44 percent of patents are over the age of 50.
 
By contrast, less than one percent of medical marijuana registrants are minors.
            
The findings rebut the claims of critics who often allege that most medical cannabis patients are individuals in their late 20s or early 30s. 
 
5. Synthetic THC Kills Leukemia Cells

The administration of FDA-approved synthetic THC (aka dronabinol) induces death in leukemia cell lines and offers a “low-toxic therapy option” for patients with the disease. So says newly published research in the peer-reviewed online journal BMC Cancer. 

German researchers evaluated the impact of dronabinol on leukemia cells. Investigators reported that synthetic THC displayed “remarkable anti-proliferative as well as pro-apoptopic efficacy … in a broad spectrum of acute leukemia cell lines.” These findings “provide a promising rationale for the clinical use of cannabinoids … in distinct entities of acute leukemia,” they concluded.
 
Preclinical data dating back over four decades has consistently documented the ability of various cannabinoids to halt the spread of cancer. However, to date, there exist no controlled human trials replicating these results. 
 
A 2013 case report published in the journal Case Reports in Oncology documents the successful treatment with cannabis extracts in a 14-year-old patient diagnosed with an aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, while population studies report an inverse relationship between cannabis use and the prevalence of various types of cancer, including lung cancerhead and neck cancer, and bladder cancer.
 
In 2011, the website for the U.S. National Cancer Institute, cancer.gov, publically acknowledged the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids, posting, “Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their non-transformed counterparts and may even protect them from cells death. … In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct antitumor effect.” The language was removed from the website a little over a week later.

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Palestinian hunger striker ‘on the verge of death’

New Internationalist - February 10, 2016 - 9:35am
It is now martyrdom or freedom for Mohammed Al-Qeeq, reports Giedre Steikunaite.
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WATCH: Colbert Relishes Candidates' Desperation in New Hampshire

AlterNet.org - February 10, 2016 - 8:21am
Is Bernie Sanders our next openly resentful secretary of state?

Ah, New Hampshire, where stakes are higher than Iowa, explained host Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show." 

"The winners survive and move on to the next primary while the losers are released into the north woods to be hunted by their donors." And as is traditional with New Hampshire, there are some extremely early returns.

Ohio Governor John Kasich and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders got an early boost by winning the hamlet in New Hampshire that is home to the first vote, Dixville Notch. Bernie Sanders eventually won the Democratic vote, while Kasich came in second to Donald Trump on the GOP side. 

In 2008, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama even though he went on to win the nomination. This time, Sanders is leading Clinton by a wide margin, so he could be our next "openly resentful secretary of state," Colbert joked.

"Bernie Sanders hails from neighboring Vermont," said Colbert. "I'm not surprised he won since a large percentage of New Hampshirites cannot tell the difference on a map!" 

The "real" race is on the Republican side — though candidates may have become a little too desperate to prove themselves. Just two days ago, a New Hampshire woman gained notoriety for trying to eat her breakfast at a diner, despite Carly Fiorina campaigning just two feet away. 

An unidentified woman is more interested in her breakfast than Carly Fiorina's campaign stop in Manchester Monday. pic.twitter.com/jckGnIFxKM

— UnionLeader.com (@UnionLeader) February 8, 2016

The poor woman has since been photoshopped into Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks," "The Last Supper" and OJ Simpson's Bronco Chase.  

Unidentified woman ignoring Carly Fiorina's diner campaign stop is new American icon @slate https://t.co/cKdGAcrW28 pic.twitter.com/KsJm7bJa4F

— Lisa Larson-Walker (@lrsnwlkr) February 9, 2016

Carly Fiorina may have had the last laugh on this one, though. After not being invited to the GOP debate last Saturday, the former HP CEO won twice as many votes (4 percent) as Ben Carson (2 percent), who was actually there.

Watch the full segment below:

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#Esganye2k16 social media challenge unites Six Nations Confederacy

Two Row Times - February 10, 2016 - 7:33am

TONAWANDA, N.Y. - The year’s first major Facebook challenge doesn’t involve diving undressed into a pile of snow or having a bucket of ice water poured over our heads — it involves a love of Rotinonhsyón:ni culture expressed by our young leaders ready to share our beautiful women’s dance social songs with the world.

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Participant update: Doug Henhawk

Two Row Times - February 10, 2016 - 7:23am

OHSWEKEN – At first glance Doug Henhawk is kind of an intimidating looking guy, but have a conversation with him and it doesn’t take long to see that he’s not intimidating at all. “Usually people see me and think I’m threatening or something,” said Henhawk, a participant in the 12-week Healthy Roots challenge. “But I’m […]

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Confederacy Council Report

Two Row Times - February 10, 2016 - 7:15am

SIX NATIONS – The first item on the agenda was a meeting requested by Justice Gethin Edwards, with delegates representing the Council. Edwards is known as the judge who, in 2014, ruled that he would not compel the Brant Children’s Aid Society to force a young Six Nations girl to undergo chemotherapy for her acute […]

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