Harvard Debate Team Loses to Prison Debate Team

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 10:53am
Three Harvard debate team members faced off against three men incarcerated for violent crimes.

Three Harvard debate team members faced off against three men incarcerated for violent crimes. This was two weeks ago.

After an hour of fast-moving debate on Friday, the judges rendered their verdict.

The inmates won.

The audience burst into applause. That included about 75 of the prisoners’ fellow students at the Bard Prison Initiative, which offers a rigorous college experience to men at Eastern New York Correctional Facility, in the Catskills.

The prison debate squad v. Harvard debate team was set up to show off Bard College's prison initiative. Pretty successful exhibition.

The prison team had its first debate in spring 2014, beating the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Then, it won against a nationally ranked team from the University of Vermont, and in April lost a rematch against West Point.

Preparing has its challenges. Inmates can’t use the Internet for research. The prison administration must approve requests for books and articles, which can take weeks.

The team they beat said they were caught off guard by how prepared the inmates were. These are men serving time for manslaughter. Our perceptions of their capabilities can be pretty condescending. Judge Mary Nugent led the debate panel.

Ms. Nugent said it might seem tempting to favor the prisoners’ team, but the three judges have to justify their votes to each other based on specific rules and standards.

“We’re all human,” she said. “I don’t think we can ever judge devoid of context or where we are, but the idea they would win out of sympathy is playing into pretty misguided ideas about inmates. Their academic ability is impressive.”

According to Bard their program currently has 300 prison inmates of both genders fully enrolled. They also say the program is cost effective.

The criminal justice system is staggeringly expensive. As a country we spend $212 billion dollars annually to apprehend, try, and incarcerate prisoners. In recent years, the United States has maintained a prison population of more than 2.3 million people, with the average annual cost of over $29,000 per person (in many states, including New York, the cost is much higher). And while America has the longest and most punitive sentencing structures in the modern world, 750,000 inmates are released each year. Nationwide, nearly 68 out of every one hundred prisoners are rearrested within three years of release, and more than half return to prison. Research indicates that these high and expensive rates of recidivism fall to less than 22% if prisons offer significant educational opportunity to incarcerated men and women. Among formerly incarcerated Bard students, less than 2% have returned to prison. The estimated cost per person, per year of the BPI program is a small fraction of the price of continuing incarceration. It saves tax payers money, while increasing public safety.

How about them apples?

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Deficit discussion overshadows economic debate Canada needs

Canadian Dimension - October 5, 2015 - 10:46am

Photo by Kevin Dooley

The Conservatives have promised balanced budgets and have even enshrined them in law. The NDP is also promising balanced budgets, painting itself as “responsible” with government finances.

The Liberals are the only party to break out of the balanced budget consensus, admitting that for a few years they may run small deficits of about $10 billion, or 0.5 per cent of GDP.

The leaders will meet in Calgary to go head-to-head at an event sponsored by the Globe and Mail. But will they break out of the narrow constraints that have thus far defined the conversation on the economy?

Much ado about deficits

A deficit, which occurs when a government spends more than it takes in within a given year, is inherently neither good nor bad.

Deficit spending has long been a tool to deal with economic downturns or invest in the economy — whether usefully on, for example, schools and trains, or wastefully on something like the military.

Beyond this, however, deficits can be politicized and governments that run them can be disciplined by financial markets. In an advanced economy like Canada’s, though, government debt plays an important role as a stable means of absorbing private savings and regulating capital flows.

In addition to who’s running a deficit, the economic situation also matters.

Any new Canadian government will face a low federal debt (as a percentage of GDP), record low interest rates and sound credit ratings. It will also inherit a stagnant economy, along with stagnant incomes for most working people.

In this context, deficit spending makes sense, so how can we push the barriers to it?

The revenue problem

The parliamentary budget officer has found that the government could go into deficit by around $29 billion per year without raising the debt ratio.

But the anti-austerity “debate” has the Liberals posturing cynically and the NDP maintaining an approach of “responsibility at all costs,” and working people have lost ground and cannot push a different agenda.

To some extent the debate is academic. In the long term, two decades of Liberal and Conservative austerity have left Canada with a revenue problem, rather than a spending problem.

As the Broadbent Institute points out, if the federal government took in as much revenue relative to the economy as it did a decade ago (when taxes were already low), it would have an additional $41 billion to spend per year. This is what it means to have a revenue problem.

Drop-in-the-bucket reforms

There is a big gap between the government’s falling revenues and the increasing needs generated by stagnating wages, persistent poverty and rising inequality.

Spending cuts and freezes are one way to fill such a gap, and they have been the preferred method so far. Raising taxes and running deficits, of course, are two other candidates.

While Stephen Harper has doubled down on the Conservative legacy of slow but steady tax and spending cuts, the opposition parties have pledged to reverse some of both.

Most of the tax debate has focused on business, which has seen the greatest tax reductions. The NDP is promising to raise corporate taxes from the current low of 15 per cent to 17 per cent, still below the G7 average of 19 per cent. Each percentage point is forecast to raise $1.8 billion per year. The NDP (like the Conservatives) also says it will lower taxes on small businesses from 11 per cent to 9 per cent.

The Liberals support this measure, at the same time criticizing a blanket cut as playing into the hands of the wealthy, some of whom use “small businesses” as tax shelters.

The major personal income tax change has been the Liberal promise to raise taxes slightly on the wealthiest to pay for lowering them slightly on the upper middle class. In addition, both the Liberals and the NDP plan to scrap income splitting for families, which should return around $2 billion in revenues.

As is clear by now, the tax policy proposals are drops in the bucket when it comes to reversing decades of steady, “starve the beast” cuts.

Tax credit fever

In terms of social spending, the Conservatives have never seen a social problem that couldn’t be solved with a new tax credit.

Seniors in poverty? Single senior tax credit. Unaffordable housing? Home renovation tax credit. These are all band-aid solutions that do nothing to solve the underlying problems rooted in more of society’s wealth going to the top.

In addition, many of these tax credits are non-refundable, which means they additionally favour the wealthy who have the high incomes that allow them to take full advantage of these rebates.

The Liberals have also caught the tax credit bug, proposing to address cash-starved education systems through a tax credit for teachers who buy supplies out of pocket.

Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals, the NDP has promised a large new government-funded social program: national $15-per-day daycare. Here, the NDP is making the biggest break out of the austerity straightjacket. Turning childcare into a guaranteed social benefit and taking it at least partly off the market signals that we value it as a society and we stand ready to take care of each other.

The other big spending plank, shared by all parties, has been infrastructure. Each party has offered billions more over the next few years to repair and build roads, school, transit systems and more.

The promises, however, need scrutiny. How much of the funding has been previously announced? How much of it is back-loaded years down the line? And how much will be pushed into so-called public-private partnerships (P3s)? While favoured by both Liberals and Conservatives, P3s are often more costly for the public and guarantee profits to corporations for what could otherwise be fully public-owned objects.

It’s clear most people don’t subscribe to Harper’s big money agenda. The problem is that the opposition has not been able to get out of the track laid over the past decades.

The campaign has centred on the Conservatives versus the others. Canada has not seen the political polarization between an ever-more comfortable elite and the rest that has slowly occurred across Europe, including the United Kingdom with Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party leadership, and even the United States with the nascent Bernie Sanders campaign. The politics of responsibility that characterized the Third Way of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton is increasingly being rejected even in the English-speaking North.

The economy isn’t controlled from Parliament, but governments can create room for a counterbalance to the power of money. Government can be a lever for working people to get some breathing space. The potential for positive change is great: there are no-brainers like massive green investment in transit or a fully public childcare system, which would also provide good jobs.

Ignition for a different economy

However, changing the balance in favour of people and the environment rather than big money will require taking on elites and their vested interests. It makes a difference whether we produce more oil and cars, or more trams and more wind turbines, but above all the immediate question is about how we can produce goods and services that not only meet the needs of society, but empower working people.

Today’s economic debate will likely stay in a rut well worn by decades of right-wing austerity and its victory in the sphere of ideas. At the same time, inequality and stagnation have created fertile ground to spark new ideas. Who will ignite them?

This article originally appeared on Ricochet.media.

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In conversation with Chris Hedges

Canadian Dimension - October 5, 2015 - 10:41am

Photo by Artemas Liu

We are living in revolutionary times that are ripe for rebellion. So says Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Chris Hedges in his newest book “Wages of Rebellion” in which he explains that a major uprising will soon inevitably erupt in the United States. With increasing environmental destruction, wealth polarization and civil liberty violations- it’s all coming to a tipping point. Chris Hedges explained to Canadian Dimension magazine in Toronto where he sees society and rebellion at this particular historical period.

CD: How likely is it for an uprising to occur in the United States? We’ve seen massive revolutions sweep across the Middle East; in Spain there’s Podemos; Greece has Syriza, but it seems as if people here seem to be uninformed and don’t know what’s happening around them.

CH: Well, they don’t and you need a crisis to trigger usually an uprising, a revolt or revolution. Whether that’s economic, whether that’s catastrophic domestic terrorism, whether that’s effects of climate change. So, you can’t predict how these things play out. Certainly the tinder is there.

It could be that the frustration, which does runs deep throughout the country, could express itself in a kind of right-wing backlash- a call for a more authoritarian state. The military as an institution is venerated beyond any other institution; it’s almost like a religious cult and that’s very dangerous. It could certainly go in ways that are quite disturbing but that the system has seized up. That the system is no longer able to respond to the most basic needs of the citizenry is clear.

One of the engines of the uprisings in places like Baltimore and Ferguson is the fact that after bailing out Wall Street, in the name of austerity you are bleeding these municipalities and cities dry and slashing social service programs; they become more predatory on the poor.

30-40 per cent of municipal revenues in St. Louis County are derived from fines- fines for not cutting the grass on your lawn, fines for having a tail light out. If you have an outstanding warrant- and these people obviously have great difficulty paying these fines- then you go right back into the system; you go right back into the jail. That’s why when you get stopped for a broken tail light, you run, because if you don’t have money and you have an outstanding warrant, it means you’re going right back into the prison system.

We have seen now that the underclass in the United States has just been squeezed by corporate power to a point where it can no longer endure. And of course the corporate state is using lethal force against unarmed men and women of colour and has been for a long time, with impunity. We even filmed the murder of unarmed citizens by police and those police are never charged.

If people are marching, people are responding, if the state continues not to respond, then you will inevitably provoke counter-violence and then the whole configuration is changed. But that something’s coming. The widespread discontent and anger in the United States is, I think undeniable.

CD: You wrote about how we need a new language and that we need to discover new words and ideas to explain reality. What exactly did you mean by this?

CH: Well we live in an interregnum, this period where the old, the ideology of free market capitalism and globalization has been discredited but we don’t yet have the language to describe the new system that we want. In places like Greece or Spain that language is there with Podemos and with Syriza. So, we need to have a vision. If people rise up out of anger and it is just anarchic or chaotic, the state can easily deal with it. If people rise up and have a clear idea of an alternative way of structuring society, then they become much more dangerous to the state.

CD: In the past few years we’ve seen so many laws introduced in the United States and Canada that violate civil liberties such as the 2012 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), Bill C-51, and now most recently Canada has announced it will use hate crime laws against BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) supporters. How unprecedented is this? Have we ever seen so many severe laws introduced in a short period in the history of Canada and the U.S.?

CH: We have had severe laws, but what we’re seeing is that as the corporate state loses its credibility, it uses harsher forms of control in order to retain power. Your anti-terrorism law is as bad or worse than anything in the United States, which is an indication that this is global. The fact that you’ve walked away from Kyoto, the fact that you’ve also militarized your police, all of those corporate assaults including against our education are seeping their way into Canada.

You’re not at the place where we are in the United States but you’re certainly moving in that direction and that’s because the State realizes that it’s going to have to employ harsher forms of coercion in order to maintain power because propaganda is no longer working. People aren’t buying it. And that’s why you’re seeing what you’re seeing in places like Canada and it’s very disturbing because we’re moving to an Orwellian dystopia at a very swift place.

When you have complete surveillance of your citizenry- and we’re the most watched, photographed, monitored, eavesdropped population in human history- you don’t want to give states that kind of power because they’ll use it. When they seek to criminalize an individual or a certain category of people, they have information in which they can charge you with criminal intent, however banal the criminal activity may be. 

That’s what all totalitarian systems do. It’s what Stalin’s communism did, it’s what fascism did and the corporate state is doing the same thing. When you are monitored 24 hours a day by the state, you can’t use the word liberty. That’s the relationship of a master and a slave. If we don’t destroy that internal security apparatus, it’s going to be very hard for us to do anything.

CD: What are the biggest barriers preventing an uprising from happening?

CH: Political consciousness is key; people have to understand power and how it works. And the media has done a great job of locking out the critique of corporate power. Canada’s actually better at allowing it in the mainstream but in the United States it’s almost impossible to get critique in the mainstream.

The entertainment industry, the old Roman bread and circus, the massive sports industries, the celebrity gossip, the constant bombardment of images, these are effective ways of stopping you from thinking.

CD: And yet Freedom House label Canada and the U.S. each year as the freest countries in terms of press freedom.

CH: Well, that’s ridiculous. (Laughs)

CD: You mention in your book that the strangulation of Eric Garner and the shooting of Michael Brown is just lynching by another name. How much has the situation really changed for African Americans since the time of lynching until today?

CH: It’s a continuum. We have to look at the prison system of mass incarceration where we have 25 per cent of the world’s prison population with five per cent of the world’s population. And most of those in prison are poor people of colour. A black body on the streets of a marginal community in the inner city is worth nothing to the corporate state, where it can generate $40,000- $50,000 for the corporate state when it’s locked up behind bars.

There’s been a kind of mutation of racism in America. So King marches in the civil rights movement, you have a kind of legal victory, where the black elite is incorporated into the upper strata of society but for the bottom three quarters of African Americans, life in America is worse today than when King marched in the streets of Selma and Memphis.

And they get it. So Jesse Jackson goes to Ferguson and he’s booed out of Ferguson like Al Sharpton because the black underclass especially the young realize that that black leadership sold them out. And racism expresses itself primarily through economic discrimination. King got that at the end of his life, that if there was not economic justice, there would never be racial justice. While the white liberal class was willing to give blacks a legal victory, they were not willing to give them an economic victory, because they didn’t want to pay for it.

CD: What’s one message you would like readers to take away?

CH: Non-violence is key. We can’t compete with the state in terms of violence or internal security. We have to be transparent. Because as Vaclav Havel says in his 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless: “Those are the most potent weapons we have.” We have to be disciplined, we have to have an alternative political vision and we don’t have any time left.

The reports that come out- in March, we saw carbon emissions every single day of March above 400 ppm (parts per million). That’s the first time since we began as humans recording weather patterns that that’s ever happened. We have to act now, we have to act quickly; if we don’t it’s going to be awful.

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What's New: C51 brothers

Socialist Project - October 5, 2015 - 10:30am
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Robert Reich’s Dire Warning: America’s Free-Market Obsession Is “Poisoning” Our World

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 10:16am
The former labor secretary sounds a clarion call against conservative free-market orthodoxy in his latest book.

In former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s latest book, “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” he tackles a polarizing subject that has long divided liberals and conservatives, and, in recent years, has become increasingly mythological. That subject is the free market, which, as Reich points out in his book, has and will never been free in the sense that so many on the right imagine in their theories.

“Few ideas have more profoundly poisoned the minds of more people than the notion of a ‘free market’ existing somewhere in the universe, into which government ‘intrudes,’” Reich writes, “But the prevailing view, as well as the debate it has spawned, is utterly false. There can be no ‘free market’ without government… Competition in the wild is a contest for survival in which the largest and strongest typically win. Civilization, by contrast, is defined by rules; rules create markets, and governments generate the rules.”

Laws and regulations, whether relating to patents and property or bankruptcy and contracts, help form a stable capitalist market, while a truly “free” market would be akin to the wild (i.e. Social Darwinism). Reich argues that the major problem with the market of today is not that the government has intruded too much, as Republicans generally contend, but that the laws and regulations necessary for a market are tilted in the favor of wealthy individuals and corporations who can buy influence in the political world, rather than average people, i.e “the many,” who cannot. In other words, the free market vs. government debate is largely a pointless distraction from what should be the real debate: Does the market and the rules that establish it work for everyone, or just the few at top who are wealthy enough to shape those rules?

In the United States, the latter seems to be the case. One of the many examples of our unfair economy that Reich points to is America’s bankruptcy laws, which favor wealthy individuals like, erm, Donald Trump, over poor debt-ridden students or homeowners raising a family. As Reich writes of the housing crisis, “The real burden of Wall Street’s near meltdown fell on homeowners… Yet 13 of the bankruptcy code (whose drafting was largely the work of the financial industry) prevents homeowners from declaring bankruptcy on mortgage loans for their primary residence.” As for student loans, filing bankruptcy is quite difficult in the United States, as they are treated differently from other forms of unsecured debt, e.g. medical bills, credit card debt, personal loans, etc. To file for bankruptcy for student loans, one must file a seperate lawsuit, which All Law describes as being “a steep obstacle to overcome.”

The list goes on. Intellectual property laws, for example, have become more generous to corporations over the years, providing lengthy monopolies on sometimes crucial products, like important drugs, and making them less affordable. The massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, like previous trade deals, exposes the length that the American government will go to to protects its corporations. Leaked documents show that the TPP would provide U.S. pharmaceutical companies with extraordinary patent protections and easy extensions around the world (the TPP includes 40 percent of global GDP), which would hit poorer nations like Vietnam the hardest.

One particular sector that has become increasingly monopolistic, Reich warns, is Silicon Valley, thanks largely to these intellectual property laws. Corporations like Google, Apple, and Facebook have armies of litigators that constantly battle over patents that provide them with monopolies on certain products. He writes: “The most valuable intellectual properties are platforms so widely used that everyone else has to use them, too. Think of standard operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows or Google’s Android; Google’s search engine; Amazon’s shopping system; and Facebook’s communication network.” These big tech companies have boosted their spending on lobbying over the years, which may explain why the government has yet to crack down on these massive institutions that largely control entire areas of the internet. In Europe, on the other hand, authorities have started to crack down on this power, and earlier this year, the European Union formerly brought anti-trust charges against Google.

Through political spending and the revolving door, many other sectors, most notably banking, have become increasingly embedded into our political system, which has left our “too big to fail” financial institutions bigger than ever today. The financial crisis fallout, which saw hardly any Wall Street executives face punitive action, reveals the interrelationship between big banks and Washington.

The reality that Reich skillfully paints in “Saving Capitalism” is depressing, but he is optimistic that a populist movement –a nascent version of which can be seen in burgeoning support for Bernie Sanders — could combat a market that has become entirely favorable towards the wealthiest individuals and established corporations. He argues that certain conservatives and progressives who are increasingly antagonistic to crony-capitalist practices could find ways to unite, as we have seen via their joint opposition to the TPP and corporate welfare.

However, in my view, the problem with this is exactly what Reich points out at the beginning, i.e. the free market vs government debate. Conservatives are the very people convinced that an unfettered free market, where the government simply gets out of the way, is the solution. While these two political factions may unite in opposing certain issues, like the TPP, their solutions are very different.

Reich contends that their is “nothing about capitalism that leads inexorably to mounting economic insecurity and widening inequality.” I’m not so convinced. Capitalism, by definition, is the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. When so few own capital, massive inequality is largely inevitable. True, the government can lessen these inequalities and create market rules that also favor the working class, but this was easier to do in the mid-20th century when capital was less mobile. In today’s globalized economy, a corporation can easily shift operations overseas when the rules of the market become less favorable. A kind of solution would be to create international market rules, which could partly be achieved through trade agreements. Reich advocates requiring trade partners to have minimum wages equal to half of their median wages, which would likely create more customers for American exports and economic stability at home.

In one of the most important chapters in the book, “Reinventing the Corporation,” Reich discusses how a return to “stakeholder capitalism,” along with the spread of capital ownership (i.e. worker cooperatives) is an important step towards developing an economy that works for everyone. Creating more democratic corporations, where all stakeholders own shares of the company, is not a new idea, and the one presidential candidate who has long advocated worker ownership is Bernie Sanders. Indeed, number three on his “Agenda for America” is to assist in establishing worker co-ops.

Reich puts forth many other solutions, such as establishing a basic minimum income for all Americans after they turn eighteen (a proposal that libertarian icon F.A. Hayek endorsed), cutting patent lengths, eliminating tax loopholes such as carried interest, cracking down on new monopolies, overturning Citizens United, and more. Clearly there are solutions, but will a government full of politicians who are constantly in need of campaign donations embrace them? Time will tell.

Needless to say, “Saving Capitalism” is one Reich’s finest works, and is required reading for anyone who has hope that a capitalist system can indeed work the many, and not just the few.


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Cop Charged with Felony After Video Shows Him Smashing in Suspect’s Face with a Shotgun

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 10:08am
This isn't the cop's first controversial violent encounter.

Owasso, OK — Owasso police officer, Mike Denton, was fired in 2011 after body cam and surveillance footage showed him stomping on a handcuffed man’s head and then repeatedly elbowing him in the face.

The victim was Brian Spalding.

Spalding’s arrest was caught on all of the officer’s lapel cams and paints a clear picture of excessive force, justifying the city’s response of firing Denton.

However, the Fraternal Order of Police, who argued that Denton was simply “protecting himself” by stomping on a man’s head, nearly breaking both of his arms, and elbowing him. The FOP then filed a grievance which was heard by federal mediator Edward Valverde in March of 2012.

On Sept 22, 2014, keeping his rank and position, and back pay, Denton was reinstated. “He’s put back into the exact same role that he left under, which means that he is a lieutenant over a patrol shift,” Police Chief Scott Chambless told Tulsa World.

The city of Owasso has paid Denton more than $366,000 related to that firing.

Less than a year after being put back on duty, this problem cop was caught on film again. This time, he’s seen ramming the barrel of his shotgun into the face of suspected car thief, Cody Mathews.

According to Tulsa World, 

Cody Mathews, 25, of Glenpool, was arrested by Tulsa police Sunday after he led officers on a 45-minute pursuit that ended in Nowata County, authorities said. He had fled from police who attempted to stop a stolen 2014 Ford F-150 pickup about 7:35 p.m. in the 1000 block of North New Haven Avenue in Tulsa, Tulsa Police Cpl. Greg Smith said earlier this week.

Mathews had been driving dangerously during the chase. He also had a 19-year-old woman in the truck with him who claimed she was forced into the truck. However, he was surrounded by a dozen cops, and his truck was stuck in the mud. The threat he posed at this time had diminished significantly.

Denton is seen on dashcam video walking up to the truck window and ramming the barrel of his rifle into the face of Mathews six times. Mathews is then pulled from the truck and Denton proceeds to dole out even more damage to the man after he’s thrown to the ground.

Cody Mathews is no saint and he deserved to be punished for his criminal activity. However, this punishment is not supposed to come from Mike Denton, whose job is to uphold the law, not inflict pain.

At the end of the dashcam video, Denton can be seen walking by the camera — smiling as he basks in his violent glory.

It now appears that this officer will actually be held accountable for his sadistic actions. On Friday, Nowata County prosecutors charged Denton, 49, with assault and battery with a deadly weapon, a felony, and reckless conduct with a firearm, a misdemeanor.

Tulsa World reports:

Denton used a shotgun to beat Mathews with “unlawful and felonious intent,” prosecutors claim in the charges. He demonstrated a “conscious disregard” for the safety of other law enforcement officers and created a “situation of unreasonable risk” by striking a uniformed Nowata police officer and Mathews with the end of a shotgun, according to the charges.

In considering the criminal counts, Kevin Buchanan, district attorney for Nowata and Washington counties, said he reviewed the Owasso Police Department’s use-of-force policy. He also said the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the investigation, spoke to Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training instructors who teach use of force at CLEET headquarters in Ada.

Only 4 years ago, this officer was caught on video essentially torturing a restrained man, and he was never charged with a crime. Now, after the public has become largely more aware of the problem with police brutality, he was not granted the same privilege.

Perhaps the tide is changing. Perhaps the public demand for police accountability is having an effect. One can certainly hope.


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Krugman: Today's GOP Is Further to the Right than Cheney—Yikes!

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 10:01am
When it comes to energy policy, Republicans are wed to Big Oil.

Here's a sentence no one ever expected to utter: Today's GOP is further to the right than Dick Cheney. That cannot be good.

Paul Krugman opens his Monday column by reminiscing about an intellectually bankrupt report that Vice President Cheney released back in the day as head of the "Cheney task force" on energy. Everyone knew it was bought and paid for by Big Oil, though the administration tried its best to keep the people the task force met a secret.

By today's horrifying GOP standards, however, the report was relatively enlightened. "One whole chapter was devoted to conservation, another to renewable energy, Krugman notes. "By contrast, recent speeches by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — still the most likely Republican presidential nominees — barely address either topic. When it comes to energy policy, the G.O.P. has become fossilized. That is, it’s fossil fuels, and only fossil fuels, all the way."

What the likes of Rubio and Jeb! ignore is that "spectacular progress in wind and solar energy" that has occurred in recent years, Krugman writes. "Why has the right become so hostile to technologies that look more and more like the wave of the future?" 

As he points out, renewable energy is not just "hippie-dippy stuff" anymore. The cost of wind power has dropped sharply, and solar panels are getting better and cheaper at "a startling rate, reminiscent of the progress in microchips that underlies the information technology revolution. As a result, renewables account for essentially all recent growth in electricity generation capacity in advanced countries."

Renewable energy has become enough of an industry that it has become a job creators, employing more and more people as coal jobs disappear. 


So you might expect people like Mr. Rubio, who says he wants to “unleash our energy potential,” and Mr. Bush, who says he wants to “unleash the Energy Revolution,” to embrace wind and solar as engines of jobs and growth. But they don’t. Indeed, they’re less open-minded than Dick Cheney, which is quite an accomplishment. Why?

Part of the answer is surely that promotion of renewable energy is linked in many people’s minds with attempts to limit climate change — and climate denial has become a key part of conservative identity. The truth is that climate impact isn’t the only cost of burning fossil fuels, that fossil-fuel-associated pollutants like particulates and ozone inflict huge, measurable damage and are major reasons to support alternative energy. Furthermore, renewables are getting close to being cost-competitive even in the absence of special incentives (and don’t forget that oil and gas have long been subsidized by the tax code.) But the association with climate science evokes visceral hostility on the right.

Beyond that, you need to follow the money. We used to say that the G.O.P. was the party of Big Energy, but these days it would be more accurate to say that it’s the party of Old Energy. In the 2014 election cycle the oil and gas industry gave 87 percent of its political contributions to Republicans; for coal mining the figure was 96, that’s right, 96 percent. Meanwhile,alternative energy went 56 percent for Democrats.

Big oil keeps desperately trying to prevent the truth from getting out there though, often all too successfully. Deplorably, Krugman points out, Newsweek recently published a Koch-backed op-ed arguing that wind energy costs much more than it seems which was shown to be error-strewn.

Longing for the days of Dick Cheney. Boy, doesn't get much more sobering than that.

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WATCH: John Oliver Takes on the Pro-Gun 'Mental Health' Hypocrisy

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 9:53am
What's the GOP really mean when they shift the discussion away from guns?

Whenever a mass shooting occurs in the United States you can count on the right wing and the gun lobby to try shift the focus of the debate away from guns to mental health. Although mental health is obviously a key ingredient in America's mass shooting epidemic, the idea that it's the most important discussion to have after a shooting doesn't exactly hold up under scrutiny.

John Oliver took this defensive approach to task. “The aftermath of a mass shooting might actually be the worst time to talk about mental health,” said Oliver. “Because, for the record, the vast majority of mentally ill people are non-violent. And the vast majority of gun violence is committed by non-mentally ill people. In fact, mentally ill people are far likelier to be the victim of violence rather than the perpetrators.”

Oliver then tackled the policies surrounding mental health, breaking down how congress has failed to fund the problem which has resulted in millions of mentally ill people behind bars. “If we’re going to constantly use mentally ill people to dodge conversations about gun control, then the very least we owe them is a fucking plan,” said Oliver.

You can watch Oliver's amazing takedown of this political hypocrisy below.

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VIDEO: Watch Three Former U.S. Treasury Sectaries Laugh About Income Inequality

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 9:46am
Hank Paulson, Robert Rubin, and Tim Geithner crack up over the wage gap.

At a recent Milken Institute panel of three former Treasury Secretaries – Hank Paulson, Robert Rubin, and Tim Geithner – hosted by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, the moderator asked the three about income inequality.

Paulson addressed the question, saying he had worked on the issue since he was an executive at Goldman Sachs. At this point, Rubin – another former Treasury Secretary who was also a Wall Street executive – cracked a joke, saying he was working on “increasing it.” This provoked sustained laughter from the audience, as well as all three secretaries, as well as Sandberg.

Watch Sam Seder's coverage of the event:

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Is Drinking Red Wine Good for You?

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 6:00am
Uncorking the health benefits of fermented grapes.

The health benefits of red wine have been debated for some time.

Many believe that a glass each day is a valuable part of a healthy diet, while others think wine is somewhat overrated.

Studies have repeatedly shown that moderate red wine consumption seems to lower the risk of several diseases, including heart disease.

However, there is a fine line between moderate and excessive intake.

What is Red Wine and How is it Made?

Red wine is made by crushing and fermenting dark-colored, whole grapes.

There are many types of red wine, which vary in taste and color. Common varieties include Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet sauvignon, Pinot noir and Zinfandel.

The alcohol content usually ranges from 12 – 15 percent.

Consuming moderate amounts of red wine has been shown to have health benefits. This is mainly due to its high content of powerful antioxidants.

The alcohol in wine is also believed to contribute some of the benefits of moderate wine consumption (1).

Bottom Line: Red wine is made by fermenting dark-colored, whole grapes. It is high in antioxidants, and drinking moderate amounts has been shown to be good for health.

The French Paradox

Red wine is often believed to be responsible for the “French paradox.”

This phrase refers to the observation that the French have low rates of heart disease, despite consuming a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol (2).

Some experts believed that red wine was the dietary agent protecting the French population from the harmful effects of these nutrients.

However, new studies have shown that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat do not cause heart disease when consumed in reasonable amounts (3, 4).

The true reason behind the good health of the French is probably the fact that they eat more whole foods and live overall healthier lifestyles.

Bottom Line: Some people believe that red wine is responsible for the good health of the French population and that it is the main explanation for the French paradox.

Red Wine Contains Powerful Plant Compounds and Antioxidants, Including Resveratrol

Grapes are rich in many antioxidants. These include resveratrol, catechin, epicatechin and proanthocyanidins (5).

These antioxidants, especially resveratrol and proanthocyanidins, are believed to be responsible for the health benefits of red wine.

Proanthocyanidins may reduce oxidative damage in the body. They may also help prevent heart disease and cancer (6, 7, 8).

Resveratrol is found in grape skin. It is produced in some plants, as a response to damage or injury (9).

This antioxidant has been linked with many health benefits, including fighting inflammation and blood clotting, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Resveratrol can also make test animals live longer (10, 11, 12).

However, the resveratrol content of red wine is rather low. You would have to consume several bottles per day to reach the amount used in the animal studies. This is not recommended, for obvious reasons (13, 14).

If you’re drinking wine just for the resveratrol content, then getting it from a supplement may be a better idea.

Bottom Line: The powerful plant compounds in red wine have been linked with many health benefits, including reduced inflammation, lower risk of heart disease and cancer, and extended lifespan.

Red Wine May Lower the Risk of Heart Disease, Stroke and Early Death

Small amounts of red wine are linked to more health benefits than any other alcoholic beverage (5, 15, 16).

There seems to be a J-shaped curve that explains the relationship between wine intake and the risk of heart disease.

People who drink approximately 150 ml (5 oz) of red wine a day seem to be at about a 32 percent lower risk than non-drinkers.

However, higher intake increases the risk of heart disease dramatically (14, 17).

Drinking small amounts of red wine may reduce the risk of heart disease by helping to retain the “good” HDL cholesterol in the blood. Oxidative damage and the oxidation of the “bad” LDL cholesterol may also be reduced by up to 50 percent (18, 19, 20, 21).

Some studies indicate that populations already at a high risk of heart disease, like the elderly, may benefit even more from moderate wine consumption (22).

Furthermore, drinking 1 – 3 glasses of red wine per day, 3 – 4 days of the week, may reduce the risk of stroke in middle-aged men (23, 24).

One study also showed that consuming 2 – 3 glasses of dealcoholized red wine per day may lower blood pressure (25).

Many studies have shown that moderate wine drinkers are at a lower risk of death from heart disease, compared to non-drinkers or beer and spirit drinkers (22, 26, 27,28, 29, 30).

Bottom Line: Drinking 1 – 2 glasses of red wine each day may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, high amounts may increase the risk.

Other Health Benefits of Drinking Red Wine

Red wine has been linked with several other health benefits, many of which are attributed to its potent antioxidants.

Red wine consumption is linked to:

  • Reduced risk of cancer: Studies have shown that moderate wine consumption is linked with a decreased risk of several cancers, including colon, basal cell, ovary and prostate cancers (31, 32, 33, 34).
  • Reduced risk of dementia: Drinking 1 – 3 glasses of wine per day has been linked to a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (35, 36).
  • Reduced risk of depression: A study of middle aged and elderly people showed that those who drank 2 – 7 glasses of wine per week were less likely to become depressed (37, 38).
  • Reduced insulin resistance: Drinking 2 glasses per day of regular or dealcoholized red wine for 4 weeks may reduce insulin resistance (39, 40).
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes in women: Moderate red wine consumption has been linked with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women (41).

It seems clear that moderate amounts of red wine can be good for you. However, there are also some important negative aspects to consider, which are discussed below.

Bottom Line: Moderate red wine consumption may reduce the risk of several cancers, dementia and depression. It may also increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women.

Negative Health Effects of Drinking Too Much Alcohol

While a moderate amount of red wine may provide health benefits, consuming too much alcohol can cause devastating health effects.

These include:

  • Alcohol dependence: Drinking alcohol regularly may become out of control and lead to alcoholism (42).
  • Liver cirrhosis: When more then 30 grams of alcohol (about 2 – 3 glasses of wine) are consumed each day, the risk of developing liver disease increases. End-stage liver disease, called cirrhosis, is life threatening (43).
  • Increased risk of depression: Heavy drinkers are at a much higher risk of depression than moderate or non-drinkers (37, 44).
  • Weight gain: Red wine contains twice the amount of calories as beer and sugary soft drinks. Excessive consumption may therefore contribute to high calorie intake and make you gain weight (45, 46).
  • Increased risk of death and disease: Drinking a lot of wine, even only 1 – 3 days a week, may increase the risk of diabetes in men. High alcohol intake has also been linked with an increased risk of premature death (21, 41, 47).

Bottom Line:An excessive intake of alcoholic beverages may cause alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis and weight gain. It may also increase the risk of depression, disease and premature death.

Should You Drink Red Wine? If Yes, How Much?

If you like drinking red wine, there is no need to worry unless if you are exceeding the recommended amount.

In Europe and America, moderate red wine consumption is considered to be (48, 49):

  • 1 – 1.5 glasses a day for women.
  • 1 – 2 glasses a day for men.

Some sources also recommend having 1 – 2 alcohol-free days each week.

Keep in mind that this refers to total alcohol intake. Drinking this amount of red wine in addition to other alcoholic beverages could easily put you in the range of excessive consumption.

If you have a history of substance abuse, then you should probably avoid wine and any other alcoholic beverage completely. Also be very careful if you have a family history of alcoholism.

Bottom Line: Moderate intake of red wine is defined as 1 – 2 glasses per day. It is also recommended that you have at least 1 – 2 days a week without alcohol.

Take Home Message

Despite red wine being linked with some health benefits, none of them are worthy of encouraging alcohol consumption.

There are many other effective ways to improve your health that don’t require you to consume something that can be harmful (50).

However, if you are already drinking red wine, then there’s no need to stop (unless you’re drinking too much).

As long as you don’t drink more than 1 – 2 glasses per day, then it should only be doing you good.

This story was originally published on Authority Nutrition.



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Here Comes The Big One: ReformCA Files Its California Pot Legalization Initiative

AlterNet.org - October 5, 2015 - 2:19am
The long-anticipated measure from the Golden State's broadest marijuana reform campaign is finally out of the gate.

The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, also known as ReformCA, has filed a draft marijuana legalization initiative initiative with state officials, the group announced Sunday. The long-anticipated move means the campaign best-placed to bring legalization to the Golden State can finally get underway.

The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 would allow people 21 and over to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana and it would set up legal marijuana commerce overseen by a pair of new state agencies, the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs.

"We believe this effort has the most statewide input and consensus, and thus the greatest likelihood of succeeding on the 2016 ballot," ReformCA said. "We engaged in extensive discussions with thousands of stakeholders across California, including community leaders, activists, elected officials, city and county employees and locals."

ReformCA also consulted with the California NAACP, the Latino Voters' Leagues, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and medical, health care and environmental groups. It took part in lengthy discussions with the Drafting Advisory Group, which includes state and national activist and industry groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, the Emerald Growers Association, New Approach, the Harborside Group, and the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation.

"We've filed our proposed initiative language based on the policy priorities and common sense reforms Californians have been asking for for six years now" and the Manatt, Phelps and Phillips Law Firm has created "an elegant policy document," ReformCA said, adding that it was crafted to comport with the guidelines laid down by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy and to complement the statewide medical marijuana regulation scheme approved last month by the legislature. 

A handful of other legalization initiatives have already been filed, and some are approved for signature gathering, but there isn't much sign that any of them have the bucks or the organization to get the job done. It takes some 365,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 elections, a number that means paid signature gathering at a cost that could run a million dollars or more.

And that's just to get on the ballot. With 38 million residents and some of the country's largest media markets, California is an expensive place to run an initiative advertising campaign—as in $10 million or $20 million or more.

There is money out there, and unlike 2010, when Richard Lee's Proposition 19 came up short, both financially and at the polls, the state's already existing legal (medical) marijuana industry looks to be gearing up to help. Earlier this year, Weedmaps.com contributed $2 million toward the cause, with half going to an initiative campaign committee that will spend it on the initiative it likes best. The other half is going to a PAC that will work to elect pro-legalization candidates. Facebook co-founder Sean Parker, who did support Prop 19, says he will probably invest in a legalization initiative, too.

But if, as expected, both the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project get behind the ReformCA initiative—they were a teensy bit nervous last week—that should help open the floodgates and pave the way to getting those signatures and making the ballot.

This is a first draft of the initiative, and the campaign is seeking feedback before filing a final version, but only until midnight Pacific Time this Wednesday. Here's what it will do:

  • Personal Use and Cultivation.Legalizes possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over and allows for personal cultivation of up to 100 square feet and the possession of "the results of lawfully harvested homegrown cannabis."
  • Unlawful Acts.A $100 fine minors possessing or sharing not more than an ounce with other minors; a $500 for adults providing less than an ounce to minors, for minors who possess more than an ounce but less than a pound, for adults who possess more than an ounce, for public consumption, and for smoking up in a moving vehicle; either a misdemeanor or infraction (prosecutor's choice) for possessing more than a pound , selling more than an ounce but less than a pound, growing pot beyond 100 square feet without a license or as a minor; a felony for providing pot to minors under 18, distribution to other states, growing on federal or state protected lands, or engaging in violence.
  • Driving.No measuring metabolites. Instead: "A person shall be deemed to be under the influence of cannabis if, as a result of consuming cannabis, his or her mental or physical abilities are so impaired that he or she is no longer able to drive a vehicle or operate a vessel with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances. This standard shall be the sole standard used in determining driving under the influence allegations."
  • Employment. Does not affect employers' ability to fire employees for marijuana use.
  • Medical Marijuana. With limited exceptions, does "not infringe upon the protections granted under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996," grants business licenses to existing, compliant medical marijuana businesses.
  • Regulated Marijuana Commerce.Establishes the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs to regulate and rule-make; envisions licenses for cultivation, nursery, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, retail, and testing enterprises.
  • Local Control.Cities and counties can ban marijuana commerce, including retail outlets, but not delivery services, but only by popular vote—not by executive or legislative action. This means the default position is "no ban."Localities cannot ban personal cultivation.
  • Taxation.Tax on cultivators of $2 per square foot licensed; production tax paid by first purchaser of $15 an ounce ($5 an ounce for first 500 pounds from small producers); 10% retail sales tax—half to the state and half to the locality.

Remember this is just the draft, but ReformCA is finally out of the gate. California should join the ranks of the legalization states next year, and the Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 is the most likely vehicle. 


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What's New: TPP In Depth

Socialist Project - October 5, 2015 - 2:00am
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is 12-nation (and counting) free trade and corporate rights deal that is being led by the United States but also includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Thailand, The Philippines and South Korea have also expressed interest in joining the talks, which would eclipse the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the ways democracy would be constrained in the interests of multinational corporations.
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The Pope’s Billionaire Entourage: How the 1 Percent Embarrassed Themselves Before the Pontiff

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 6:16pm
Kenneth Langone and his ilk will pay handsomely to hear him speak. They just won't follow his actual teachings.

Many of you know the words: “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” So sayeth Jesus in the New Testament’s Book of Matthew, Chapter 19, Verse 24.

The pope’s visit to the United States last week was a success, with millions turning out to get even a glimpse of him. But some had much better views than others. But if you were taking a close look at and giving a careful listen to some of those surrounding Pope Francis during his visit here in New York last week, you could practically hear joints pop and muscles groan as the superwealthy contorted themselves to thread the needle and purchase their way into the pontiff’s good graces. Camels? These wealthy dromedaries gave a new meaning to Hump Day.

Notwithstanding his encounter with notorious, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, the pope’s visit to the United States last week was a success, with millions turning out to get even a glimpse of him. But some had much better views than others. In fact, since before the Reformation, when the Catholic Church sold indulgences – pre-paid, non-stop tickets to heaven for affluent sinners –there has not often been such a display of ecclesiastic, conspicuous consumption and genuflection.

All of which, of course, is more than ironic when you think about the things Pope Francis has said and written about the rich and poor, some of which he expressed during last week’s papal tour.

Back in November 2013, the pope wrote that, “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few… A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”

Ideas like that got Kenneth Langone, billionaire founder of Home Depot and major political bankroller of New Jersey’s Chris Christie, a little hot under the collar. You may remember that last year he created a stir when he told Politico that he hoped a rise in populist sentiment against the one percent was not working, “because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

A year before, in 2013, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan had enlisted the DIY plutocrat to help raise $175 million to restore the grand and elegant St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, but in an interview Langone gave to the money network CNBC, he said one of his high rolling potential donors was concerned that the pope was being overly critical of market economies as “exclusionary” and attacking a “culture of prosperity… incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”

So Langone complained to Cardinal Dolan, and this is how the cardinal says he replied: “‘Well, Ken, that would be a misunderstanding of the Holy Father’s message. The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people…’ So I said, ‘Ken, thanks for bringing it to my attention. We’ve gotta correct to make sure this gentleman understands the Holy Father’s message properly.’ And then I think he’s gonna say, ‘Oh, OK. If that’s the case, count me in for St. Patrick’s Cathedral.’”

“Oh, OK?” Oh, brother. Wonder how Pope Francis would have responded to that bit of priestly pragmatism? After all, Francis is the one who wrote, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

But sure enough, there in the exclusive crowd at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue Thursday night, hanging out as the Vicar of Christ celebrated Vespers, was Kenneth Langone, soaking it all in. There, too, reportedly, were a couple of other crony capitalists and St. Patrick’s fundraisers – Frank Bisignano, president and CEO of First Data Corp., and Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO of Bank of America.

Bisignano, known as “Wall Street’s Mr. Fix-It” used to work for Citigroup and for Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and reportedly received annual compensation at First Data to the tune of $9.3 million. Moynihan was paid $13 million for 2014, down from $14 million in 2013. Last year, Bank of America, the second largest in the country – but the most hated — made a record-breaking $16.65 billion settlement with the Justice Department to pay up for allegations of unloading toxic mortgage investments during the housing boom. Nice.

But of all the fat cats suddenly in the thrall of the People’s Pope, one was the most impressive. Watching Francis on television Friday afternoon as he met with kids up in East Harlem at Our Lady Queen of Angels primary school, I noticed a well-dressed man hovering near the pontiff. A politician, a government or Vatican official, I wondered? Nope, it was none other than Stephen Schwarzman, head of the giant private equity firm Blackstone.

He was paid a whopping $690 million last year and last week, he and his wife donated $40 million to pay for scholarships to New York City’s Catholic schools. A generous gift for sure, but as Bill Moyers and I wrote in 2012, this is the same Stephen Schwarzman “whose agents in 2006 launched a predatory raid on a travel company in Colorado. His fund bought it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped its entire investment in just seven months — one of the quickest returns on capital ever for such a deal.”

“To celebrate his 60th birthday Mr. Schwarzman rented the Park Avenue Armory here in New York at a cost of $3 million, including a gospel choir led by Patti LaBelle that serenaded him with ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.’ Does he ever — his net worth is estimated at nearly $5 billion.”

As The Wall Street Journal reported, “The Armory’s entrance [was] hung with banners painted to replicate Mr. Schwarzman’s sprawling Park Avenue apartment. A brass band and children clad in military uniforms ushered in guests… The menu included lobster, baked Alaska and a 2004 Louis Jadot Chassagne Montrachet, among other fine wines.”

It must have seemed like Heaven to some. And what makes this billionaire’s proximity to the pope all the more surreal is that just the morning before, Francis had spoken to Congress in reverent tones of two outspoken, radical, New York Catholics; activist and organizer Dorothy Day – co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement — and Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, each of whom embraced poverty, social justice and resistance.

“We believe in an economy based on human needs rather than on the profit motive,” Day wrote, and Merton worried about “the versatile blandishments of money.” Day wished the church’s bounty to be spread among the needy and not spent on cathedrals and ephemera. And Merton wrote, “It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you, try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself.”

Whether the irony struck Stephen Schwarzman is unknown. He himself was probably in too much of a hurry for contemplation. After East Harlem, he rushed off to the White House and that state dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping. His plus-one was Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, the billionaire hedge fund manager who infamously told employees they should be like hyenas stalking wildebeest: “It is good for both the hyenas who are operating in their self-interest and the interest of the greater system… because killing and eating the wildebeest fosters evolution (i.e., the natural process of improvement).”

There you have it. In the Bible – right before the camel and the eye of a needle, Jesus says, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Masters of the Universe like Dalio and Schwarzman prefer the Law of the Jungle, buying proximity to holiness and assuaging guilt with cash, all the while upholding savage nature red in tooth and claw.

By the way, Schwarzman’s wife gave the White House dinner a pass. She had a better deal: an excellent, paid in advance seat at the pope’s mass in Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden.


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The Right Wing's Assault on the Post Office -- Smashing the Myth That It's in Financial Trouble

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 5:24pm
Congress could easily eliminate the worst fiscal problem plaguing the Postal Service.

The Washington Post recently published an article asking if the post office should “be sold to save it.” It begins with an explanation of what the author sees as an unsustainable postal service:

The U.S. Postal Service, which has been losing customers for almost a decade, is still struggling to right itself. Everyone understands its basic problem. The electronic age has pushed first-class mail into an unstoppable decline. To stay afloat, the post office needs to get its costs under control, by closing post offices, eliminating Saturday delivery, downsizing its workforce. To boost revenue, it could offer banking services and sell lots of stuff besides stamps.

It goes on to advocate for privatizing the agency by selling off parts of it to bidders who could then operate it independently.

The problem with the Post's argument starts in its thesis: that the post office is in some sort of deep fiscal hole of its own making – a result of being left behind in the Internet Age and a shrinking consumer base. The truth is that almost all of the postal service's losses can be traced back to a single change in the law made by the Republican Congress in 2006.

That year, the Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA). Under the terms of PAEA, the USPS was forced to “prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in an astonishing ten-year time span” – meaning that it had to put aside billions of dollars to pay for the health benefits of employees it hasn't even hired yet, something that “no other government or private corporation is required to do.”

As consumer advocate Ralph Nader noted in 2011, if “the prepayments required under PAEA were never enacted into law, the USPS would not have a net deficiency of nearly $20 billion, but instead be in the black by at least $1.5 billion.”

Remarkably, even one of the main sponsors of the 2006 legislation now agrees the pre-funding requirement was a bad idea. In 2014, a writer for the Roanoke Times reached out to former congressman Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who today works for the accounting and consulting giant Deloitte. Though Davis agreed that the requirement was unwise, he said it was “the cost of getting the bill through,” noting that the Bush administration wanted to use the revenue to help balance the budget (note that the U.S. Postal Service doesn't actually use taxpayer dollars but does have implicit subsidies such as borrowing at a lower rate).

That's why suggestions like selling off the postal service or ending Saturday service are unnecessary. They fulfill the ideological agenda of those who want to undermine one of America's oldest public institutions, but they don't get at the heart of the actual budgetary problem. As the Office of the Inspector General for the service writes, other than this onerous requirement, it is basically fine:

First, let’s look at current funding levels. The Postal Service has set-aside cash totals of more than $335 billion for its pensions and retiree healthcare, exceeding 83 percent of estimated future payouts. Its pension plans are nearly completely funded and its retiree healthcare liability is 50 percent funded — much better than the rest of the federal government. But getting to this well-funded position has been painful. The Postal Service’s $15 billion debt is a direct result of the mandate that it must pay about $5.6 billion a year for 10 years to prefund the retiree healthcare plan. This requirement has deprived the Postal Service of the opportunity to invest in capital projects and research and development.

Congress has a simple path to eliminating the worst fiscal problem plaguing the post office: end the burdensome prefunding requirements imposed inl 2006. In 2011, 194 members of Congress sponsored legislation to do just that. Four years later, passing the bill is long overdue, especially in light of efforts to use this manufactured crisis to sell off one of America's oldest public institutions altogether.

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Generational Warfare Bites the Dust - Hollywood Abandons the Boomers vs. Millenials Plot Line

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 3:21pm
Four recent films show how young, old and in-between might not get each other, but need each other more than ever.

“Time passes. That’s for sure,” reads the pithy Eileen Myles epigram that launches “Grandma,” Paul Weitz’s latest feature. Based on typical Hollywood fare, it could be hard to tell; unless one happens to be Meryl Streep or Richard Gere, life ends after 60, and if you happen to lack a Y chromosome it would seem to stop at least a decade earlier.

But some of this might be changing. “Grandma,” starring Lily Tomlin, 75, and Nancy Meyers’ “The Intern,” with Robert De Niro, 72, are making serious box office buck, drawing in audiences a third their age. Even odder is that neither film pivots around the trials of getting older or the fruits of late coupledom—rather, both focus on the relationships between those of a certain age and those considerably younger, part of a handful of recent movies eschewing traditional plots to tackle the tensions between traditionalists, baby boomers, Generations X, Y and Z.

Why the shift? Perhaps the fact that now more than ever we are likely to have to deal with those much older and younger than ourselves. Partly due to rising longevity and falling retirement rates, in 2015, for the first time in history, all five generations could potentially share a workspace. For those of Generations X, Y and Z, delayed marriage and childbearing means that it’s not uncommon for a single 32-year-old to socialize with those five to 10 years older, to compete for internships with applicants fresh out of college. We are entering an age of the pan-generational mashup, and we need to learn how to listen.

Widely lauded for cynical character-driven dramas (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Greenberg”), Noah Baumbach released two films in 2015 that seem cheery by comparison, both inviting anyone under 50 to sort out what they have in common. In “While We’re Young,” Gen Xers Josh and Cornelia—played by Ben Stiller, 49, and Naomi Watts, 47—befriend millennial hipster couple Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver, 31, and Amanda Seyfried, 29. All childless, the four bike across Brooklyn, frequent bougie artisanal restaurants and puke into shared ayahuasca buckets. This cozy cultural crochet joining X and Y eventually unravels—Jamie and Darby aren’t nearly as earnest or ebullient as they seemed, and Josh and Cornelia ultimately opt to become parents—but both couples plainly gain more than they lose in the process.

“Mistress America,” Baumbach’s late summer comedy, studies the bond between 30-year old Brooke, played by the unsinkable Greta Gerwig, and Tracy, her soon-to-be stepsister, a college first-year played by Lola Kirke. Brooke and Tracy go dancing, attend spinning class, visit bars that proffer complimentary hot dogs. The climax of the film follows a road trip from Manhattan to suburban Connecticut to beg Brooke’s married ex-fiancé (an amusing Michael Chernus) for a serious loan. In a hatchback packed with college kids and one feckless millennial, the transition from youthful insouciance to settled-down banality couldn’t be more explicit. Inevitably, Brooke and Lola “break up” as friends, and just as inevitably, they get back together, in the film’s final scene sharing Thanksgiving dinner in an East Village diner. Tracy boosts Brooke’s flagging confidence as a dreamer who hasn’t gotten her start yet, and Brooke grants self-conscious Tracy a sense of her own distinct appeal. As said in one of the film’s most memorable voice-overs, “Her beauty was that rare kind that made you want to look more like yourself and not like her.”

“Grandma” and “The Intern” feature an even broader age range—from 5 to 75—poking holes in presumptions of what it means to get old, feel young or (not so) simply grow up. In “Grandma,” a kind of “every-wave” feminism unites Elle, an unorthodox matriarch played by Tomlin, her daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), and teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) when facing an unplanned pregnancy. As Ben, “senior intern” to CEO Jules, played by Anne Hathaway, De Niro becomes a grandfatherly confidant—to his boss, office colleagues and practically everyone else with whom he comes into contact. Though differing markedly in tone, style and budget, both films suggest that getting older can lead to a sense of fearlessness and resilience that the young are missing out on.

Many have dubbed “Grandma” another “abortion film,” in the spirit of “Obvious Child,” but the film’s real focus is on the clashes between the generations already born and blundering. “The gravity of the choice doesn’t elude us,” said Tomlin in an interview at the Sundance Film Festival—and in this film the gravity of the choice brings three generations of women together, quite literally, in a clinic waiting room. At the film’s start, Elle has just broken up with her much younger girlfriend Olivia (played by a very believable Judy Greer), and is soon after visited by her panicked granddaughter. The drama unfolds over the course of a single day, and throughout Tomlin wears her own clothing and drives her own 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer. It’s not surprising that Weitz wrote the role with only Tomlin in mind.

Similarly, it’s hard to imagine “The Intern” with anyone but De Niro, who tempers predictable gentle paternalism with a progressive take on working moms and the glass ceiling in a way that seems surprisingly sincere. But it’s harder to take the cross-generational gusto seriously in a context of unlimited fiscal resources (or springy safety nets) for every character involved. Ben’s enviable Brookyn pad sports a kitchen island and walk-in closet. He’s interning not because he needs the money (it’s never even clarified that he’s paid at all) but because, as confessed in voice-over at the beginning of the film, “There’s a hole in my life, and I need to fill it.” In ways, “The Intern” seems to suggest that the remedy to senior depression is simply to “put ‘em to work!” even if that work involves menial labor and instantaneous deference to employers decades younger than you.

“Grandma” is less utopian about the state of the economy, as Elle’s financial hardships leave her with a ramshackle L.A. bungalow and little else to live on (a mobile of cut-up credit cards twirls above her patio). Reminiscent of the 40 percent of American baby boomers with nothing saved for retirement, Elle’s hard up for cash, and the ensuing hunt for $600 prompts many of the film’s funniest moments: haggling over the value of first-edition feminist tomes at a womyn’s coffee shop, stealing weed from Sage’s boyfriend only to offer it for a price to an old flame (a wizened Sam Elliott).

But Weitz doesn’t shy from the real anguish experienced by a woman at 70. Elle mourns the loss of her life partner, Violet, who has died a year earlier; she rues the literary margins at which her poetry has been cast; she breaks down at the thought of losing Olivia, coldly dubbing her a “footnote” to her life before bawling in the shower alone. It is for this reason—Elle’s very raw and tangible pain—that her undaunted solitary sojourn away from the camera during the film’s final scene turns out so deeply moving.

By contrast, loss occasions only levity in Meyers’ film—a funeral home becomes a spot for a quirky first date between Ben and the office masseuse (a sultry Renee Russo), its innocuous petal-pink walls matched by the petal-pink cheeks of the affluent dearly beloved. Ben’s daily pill regimen suggests that he may have health troubles, but the brief scene in which his blood pressure seems to rocket is played more for laughs than concern. But then again, it’s a Nancy Meyers film; while “Grandma” leaves behind the high of a hand-crafted cocktail (something strong, a little bitter, with a cherry at the bottom), “The Intern” bestows the lingering headache of too many cheap Cosmos (sips syncopated to a soaring string accompaniment).

There are currently more than 100 million adults in the United States over the age of 50, and until this year, baby boomers outnumbered every other generation in the United States. Generation X, the “neglected middle child,” has been compared to a “low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths,” by Paul Taylor, author of “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown.” Millennials and Generation Z seize most current media attention, but often not in a good way, often derided for their detachment from organized religiondependence on social media, or even inability to form enduring romantic bonds.

Baumbach’s recent features engage these subtler gulfs in generational values—how, despite any shared zest for craft beer or Bikram yoga, smaller age differences can be a beast to breach in daily life; when we speak of intergenerational conflicts, we rarely discuss those between people who aren’t so far apart in years that one could be the other’s parent or child. “The Intern” and “Grandma” take a more obvious route, pairing septuagenarians with those decades younger, but thankfully resist full-blown nostalgia for the good old days in which their heroes came of age.

And for each of these cases, there is something to be said for a Hollywood film that shows that there is life after 40—and before 20, and even past 70!—that age may be a matter of fact, yet never the object of pity.


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WATCH: Infuriating Video Exposes Cops Who Think the 1st and 2nd Amendments Are Crimes

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 3:20pm
The entire unconstitutional interaction was captured on video.

Bald Knob, AR — In August, a Bald Knob man was found guilty of “illegally carrying a weapon” after lawfully open carrying his sidearm. Stemming from charges in May, the White County district court ignored Arkansas state law and found Richard Chambless guilty.

“Obviously we are disappointed that we lost here today. Certainly Mr. Chambless was disappointed that he was found guilty, but we believe that once this is appealed, a correct decision will be made and Mr. Chambless will be vindicated and open carry will be allowed in the state of Arkansas,” said Shane Ethridge, Chambless’ attorney after the ruling.

Chambless has since appealed, and his case got the attention of Kaleb White, free speech, and open carry activist from Jonesboro, AR.

Earlier this month, White, 22, and a friend made the two-hour trek from Jonesboro to Bald Knob to conduct a first Amendment and open carry audit of the Bald Knob police department.

The entire unconstitutional interaction was captured on video taken by White.

White and his friend began the audit by legally carrying their sidearms and filming the police station when they were suddenly approached by officer Chester Wright of the Bald Knob police department.

“I’m not playing around! You’ll go to jail! Are you back there taking pictures?” demands Wright as he begins his unlawful detainment.

“Yes I am,” replies White.

At this point, the power-tripping tyrant gets into drill instructor mode and begins ordering the two men around like slaves.

“Walk over to the vehicle, right now!” commands Wright.

“Why?” asks White.

“Because I’m telling you to!” asserts Wright. “Walk to the car until I figure out what you are doing.”

Either Wright did not hear the men say that they were practicing their right to free speech, or he feels that free speech is against the law. Either way, the two men were about to be unlawfully detained.

As White asked the officer if he had reasonable suspicion of them committing a crime, Wright was unable to provide it.

“I have reasonable suspicion,” the officer said.

“Of what crime?” asked White.

“We’ll figure that out here in a minute,” the officer responded.

Eventually, another officer, James Jackson shows up and says, “You guys cannot be on city property with a weapon.”

However, there is nothing in the Arkansas state law that says you can’t be on city property while open carrying.

Jackson then yanks the phone from White’s hands and turns it off. White quickly turned it back on.

The pair is detained several more minutes before being released without any charges or citations.

According to PINAC:

In a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime, White explained that he is a“commissioned officer,” which is essentially a licensed security guard, because he works for an armored truck company.

This allows him to carry a gun into areas where others might not be allowed, like banks or schools, but does not give him arrest powers.

However, in his free time, he conducts open carry audits, which he has been doing about six months now. He recently became a correspondent for a group called Arkansas Judicial Watch.

According to Arkansas Law:

SECTION 2. Arkansas Code § 5-73-120 is amended to read as follows: 30 5-73-120. Carrying a weapon. 31 (a) A person commits the offense of carrying a weapon if he or she 32 possesses a handgun, knife, or club on or about his or her person, in a 33 vehicle occupied by him or her, or otherwise readily available for use with a 34 purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ the handgun, knife, or club as a 35 weapon against a person.

Not one of these factors were true prior to officer Wright detaining the two young men.

White conducted a similar audit in his hometown of Jonesboro, where the police actually understand the law, and he was treated entirely different.

When the Jonesboro police department saw White filming their department and open carrying out in front of the station, they came out and welcomed him. Then they invited White on a ride along, which he accepted.

The difference in treatment from one town to the next illustrates the power and danger of police ignorance. Luckily, White and his friend were released without incident, but the same cannot be said about Richard Chambless, who could be locked in a cage for the very same action.

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WATCH: Infuriating Video Exposes Cops Who Think the 1st and 2nd Amendments are Crimes

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 3:10pm
The entire unconstitutional interaction was captured on video.

Bald Knob, AR — In August, a Bald Knob man was found guilty of “illegally carrying a weapon” after lawfully open carrying his sidearm. Stemming from charges in May, the White County district court ignored Arkansas state law and found Richard Chambless guilty.

“Obviously we are disappointed that we lost here today. Certainly Mr. Chambless was disappointed that he was found guilty, but we believe that once this is appealed, a correct decision will be made and Mr. Chambless will be vindicated and open carry will be allowed in the state of Arkansas,” said Shane Ethridge, Chambless’ attorney after the ruling.

Chambless has since appealed, and his case got the attention of Kaleb White, free speech, and open carry activist from Jonesboro, AR.

Earlier this month, White, 22, and a friend made the two-hour trek from Jonesboro to Bald Knob to conduct a first Amendment and open carry audit of the Bald Knob police department.

The entire unconstitutional interaction was captured on video taken by White.

White and his friend began the audit by legally carrying their sidearms and filming the police station when they were suddenly approached by officer Chester Wright of the Bald Knob police department.

“I’m not playing around! You’ll go to jail! Are you back there taking pictures?” demands Wright as he begins his unlawful detainment.

“Yes I am,” replies White.

At this point, the power-tripping tyrant gets into drill instructor mode and begins ordering the two men around like slaves.

“Walk over to the vehicle, right now!” commands Wright.

“Why?” asks White.

“Because I’m telling you to!” asserts Wright. “Walk to the car until I figure out what you are doing.”

Either Wright did not hear the men say that they were practicing their right to free speech, or he feels that free speech is against the law. Either way, the two men were about to be unlawfully detained.

As White asked the officer if he had reasonable suspicion of them committing a crime, Wright was unable to provide it.

“I have reasonable suspicion,” the officer said.

“Of what crime?” asked White.

“We’ll figure that out here in a minute,” the officer responded.

Eventually, another officer, James Jackson shows up and says, “You guys cannot be on city property with a weapon.”

However, there is nothing in the Arkansas state law that says you can’t be on city property while open carrying.

Jackson then yanks the phone from White’s hands and turns it off. White quickly turned it back on.

The pair is detained several more minutes before being released without any charges or citations.

According to PINAC:

In a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime, White explained that he is a“commissioned officer,” which is essentially a licensed security guard, because he works for an armored truck company.

This allows him to carry a gun into areas where others might not be allowed, like banks or schools, but does not give him arrest powers.

However, in his free time, he conducts open carry audits, which he has been doing about six months now. He recently became a correspondent for a group called Arkansas Judicial Watch.

According to Arkansas Law:

SECTION 2. Arkansas Code § 5-73-120 is amended to read as follows: 30 5-73-120. Carrying a weapon. 31 (a) A person commits the offense of carrying a weapon if he or she 32 possesses a handgun, knife, or club on or about his or her person, in a 33 vehicle occupied by him or her, or otherwise readily available for use with a 34 purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ the handgun, knife, or club as a 35 weapon against a person.

Not one of these factors were true prior to officer Wright detaining the two young men.

White conducted a similar audit in his hometown of Jonesboro, where the police actually understand the law, and he was treated entirely different.

When the Jonesboro police department saw White filming their department and open carrying out in front of the station, they came out and welcomed him. Then they invited White on a ride along, which he accepted.

The difference in treatment from one town to the next illustrates the power and danger of police ignorance. Luckily, White and his friend were released without incident, but the same cannot be said about Richard Chambless, who could be locked in a cage for the very same action.

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Don't Stop With Killing Cadillac Tax – Volkswagen's System of Profiting Off the Sick Must Go Too

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 2:35pm
A Gallup poll last December found a third of Americans putting off care due to cost.

To unpack the hubbub over the fraudulently named “Cadillac tax” let’s lift the covers off the corporate ideology of both the tax and Affordable Care Act it funds, and ask again, why do we continue to cling to a healthcare system premised on profiting off the sick?

Behind the controversy is a fundamental tenet of the ACA over how to shrink skyrocketing healthcare costs, the primary demand of corporate employers alarmed at how much more they pay out every year in health benefits – one reason President Obama talked repeatedly about health costs harming the economy.

But rather than rein in the profiteering and shameful price gouging by the big drug companies, hospitals, insurance companies and other healthcare industry giants, the main cause of ever rising costs, the ACA “wonks” opted instead to put the burden on workers, families, and patients.

The strategy – accelerating cost shifting, more “skin in the game” in their cynical lingo, also had the effect of pressuring people to skip getting the care they need, even as they were required by the law to purchase private insurance and continue to pay premiums for care they too often could not afford to use.

Nurses, more than anyone else, are left to care for the fallout. Patients and families at the epicenter of this calamity, facing bankruptcy or having to choose between going to the doctor or paying for housing, food or other basics due to un-payable medical bills, or undermining their health by delaying needed care due to cost.

A Gallup poll last December found a third of Americans putting off care due to cost, the highest percentage in the history of the poll. Worse still, 22 percent said they are skipping care for serious conditions, such as irregular heartbeats and kidney stones.

As the poll notes, skipping care can lead to much higher overall costs later when conditions deteriorate and are more difficult to treat, not to mention the increased suffering that results.

That’s where the so-called Cadillac tax, a central pillar of this strategy, fits in.

The tax is a hefty 40 percent surcharge on the amount of plans above the cost of $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for family plans. Rightwing rhetoric aside, these plans are not the equivalent of workers wanting yachts, but comprehensive coverage that provides health security for their families usually earned in exchange in lieu of higher wages or other benefits. 

It was always evident that employers would pass the tax on to workers, and no one above the age of three years could possibly believes those employers will generously reward their workers with higher pay in exchange.

Even before the tax is implemented in 2018, the cost shifting is underway in the form of higher co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs, or workers being pushed into bare bones plans with fewer covered services. 

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey reported that 13 percent of large employers have already reduced health coverage and more than half are looking into ways to do so. Since 2010, average deductibles have jumped from $900 a year to $1,300; 20 percent of workers, Kaiser found, have a deductible of $2,000 a year or more.

In addition to its ideological role, the tax has another major role.  Expanding access, the major political selling point for the law, is achieved mainly through the expansion of Medicaid to the most low-income adults, but also by providing taxpayer-funded subsidies to enable the moderate-income uninsured to buy the private insurance that remain pricey even on the ACA market exchanges.

With its projected $87 billion a year in revenues, the Cadillac tax is expected to be a main funding source for the subsidies. Now that Hillary Clinton has joined Bernie Sanders, and the labor movement, among others, in endorsing repeal of the tax, the subsidies, may well be on life support.

Even more people would risk the penalties and choose not to buy insurance, adding to the 33 million who remain uninsured, and political support for the law would likely crater. No wonder those who have long touted the law, which emerged from corporate think tanks and was first planted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, are circling the wagons and scrambling to defend the tax.

And it would bring into sharper focus the still massive failings of a broken, profit-focused system that can only be fixed by enacting a single payer system, most simply achieved by strengthening and expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.

The very reason nurses have rallied behind the candidacy of Sen. Sanders who has not only long called for repeal of the punitive Cadillac tax, but has long been the foremost legislative advocate for Medicare for all. 

As Sanders says, in virtually every campaign stop, the time has come “to end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all. To also say that we need to expand Medicare to every man, woman, and child as a single-payer national healthcare program.”

Nurses will also never stop fighting to finally transform an inhumane system, and reject the cynical machinations to protect it.

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Trevor Noah’s Triumph: His Dazzling Donald Trump Take-Down Was No Rookie Move

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 2:12pm
The end of Noah's first "Daily Show" week gave us no moment of Zen and Noah's best news analysis to date.

Last night marked the culmination of Trevor Noah’s first week on the job, and fittingly, it felt most like a departure from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” For example: There was no Moment Of Zen, which is a crucial artifact of the show under Stewart; there was also a musical guest who actually just played music, a la any number of variety shows, including “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” But there was an incredible opening segment—one that felt like “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” to my surprise.

Oliver’s snagged an audience on HBO not just by being wickedly funny, but by breaking down bigger issues into bite-size jokes; he’s a profane in-class video, tackling any number of snoozeworthy topics like “food waste” and “prescription drug regulation” and making them into shareable hits for the next morning. Jon Stewart, as host, definitely did a bit of that, but his tactic was more to expose hypocrisy and spin (and he did that with aplomb). He usually sent off his correspondents to do the investigative work—which often led them to adopt assumed personas of great ignorance, as they improv-ed the most absurd responses possible to the experts, politicians, and/or idiots they were interviewing.

Noah spent the first few episodes essentially following in Stewart’s model, with the commentary on the news coverage of the UN General Assembly coming mostly from him, while the correspondents went for absurd poses of racial disparity, hotel-room debauchery, or as was the case last night, pumpkin-spice mania. The opening segment, though, on Donald Trump’s rather terrifying similarities to African dictator-presidents, was a kind of mini-lecture—a funny thinkpiece with visual components, perhaps. It’s not just observation; it’s not even just a string of observations. It’s a string of observations with the intention of revealing something new to the audience; it’s analysis, proof, and an argument.

And with Trump, it was marvelous. “Light xenophobia, with just a dash of diplomacy” is what Noah termed Trump’s approach—before joking that the phrase was also the title of Paula Deen’s upcoming cookbook. And then he took the audience on a brief tour of African dictators, while the chyron read, all in caps: “TRUMP AND AFRICAN LEADERS: ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK.” There was something brilliantly and subversively eye-opening about the similarities between Trump’s grandstanding rhetoric and that of Robert Mugabe, or Muammar Gaddafi, or Jacob Zuma—the politics of the robber baron, after all, is not just an American phenomenon. Maybe this is a segment that a “Daily Show” writer has been working on for weeks, and it would have existed for anyone who sat in the host’s chair. But given that the segment kicked off with Zuma—the president of Noah’s home country of South Africa—it’s safe to say that Noah’s perspective on African politics at least influenced the opener.

The rest, I don’t know. Correspondents Jordan Klepper and Roy Wood, Jr. have become indispensible just in the last few days, playing off of each other and Noah with a lot of skill. (Wood’s “sweet potato latte” line delivery was to die for.) Ryan Adams playing Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” was fine, but not terribly interesting—though it meant I did finally listen to a bit of the cover album that everyone seemed to be talking about. And Noah is still adjusting, as is obvious whenever he has to go off-script.

Over the past week, as I’ve written about Noah, two things have become clear: He’s green, and he’s not trying to be just another Jon Stewart. Both of those characteristics require some getting used to for the regular “Daily Show” viewer—and as we’ve seen, it requires some adjustment for Noah, as well. But he certainly brings a zest to the proceedings that weren’t there before—a tension in whether or not he’ll succeed or fail; an uncertainty about just how well his jokes will appeal to his specific and entrenched audience. In a world of slick Jimmy Fallons and Jimmy Kimmels, it’s its own kind of fascinating to watch someone grow into a role—and hopefully, eventually, make it their own.

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Trump Calls Mass Shooters 'Geniuses in a Certain Way'

AlterNet.org - October 4, 2015 - 2:05pm
Comments come days after nine killed at Oregon community college.

Three days after a gunman killed nine people at an Oregon community college and then shot himself dead, the Republican presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump, seemed to accept the inevitability of mass shootings in the US.

In a rare sit-down interview, for broadcast on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Trump told Chuck Todd: “I have to say, no matter what you do, you’re gonna have problems. 

“Because you have sick people. They happen to be intelligent. And, you know, they can be sick as hell and they’re geniuses in a certain way. They are going to be able to break the system.”

The New York real-estate billionaire, who boasts of possessing a concealed carry permit, said he did not see the need for increased firearms regulations after the mass shooting in Oregon.

He amplified the argument in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, saying: “The gun laws have nothing to do with this. This is mental illness.”

At a rally in suburban Nashville on Saturday, Trump mentioned his New York state handgun carry permit and added that anyone who attacked him would be “shocked”, because he would emulate Charles Bronson in the vigilante film Death Wish.

“I’m a very, very big second amendment person,” Trump said in Tennessee. “This is about self-defense, plain and simple.” 

Trump reminisced about the Bronson-starring 1974 film and got people in the crowd to shout out the title in unison. In the movie, an affluent, liberal architect embarks on a vigilante mission after his wife is killed and his daughter raped.

“Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct,” Trump said. 

Speaking to NBC, Trump said those US jurisdictions with “the strongest, the most stringent laws [on gun control] are in almost every case the worst places. It doesn’t seem to work.” 

Instead, at both rally and in the interview, as on the day of the shooting, the Republican frontrunner blamed mental illness for such shootings as that at Umpqua Community College. 

Trump also defended his newly introduced tax plan, which independent economists estimate will cost $12tn over 10 years, by noting his ability to cut costs. He pointed to transportation as one place where he could save money. 

“I look at the cost of a road where they’re gonna spend $600m building a simple road,” said Trump. “And I don’t mean I’m gonna save you a little bit. We’re gonna bring in … you’re gonna build a better road. You’re gonna have a better road for a fraction of the cost.”

Speaking to ABC, Trump also pushed back against those who have said he himself would save a significant amount of money under his tax plan. He claimed instead that the major tax cut in his plan would hurt him financially. Under the current tax code, Trump said, “I have very big deductions, some of them are ridiculous.”

He also hit back when NBC’s Todd pointed to polls which have him losing by a landslide to both vice-president Joe Biden and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in any such general election matchup. 

Trump, who has long touted his poll numbers in the Republican primary, said: “I haven’t focused on Bernie Sanders.” 

He added: “I’ve been a guy that wins most of the time. And if I don’t win, I make it into a win.”

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