What's New: A Renewed Strategic Perspective on Socialist Work in the Labor Movement

Socialist Project - July 24, 2014 - 2:00am
This February, the Solidarity Labor Commission held a two-day retreat at which we reflected on Solidarity's labor work and the rank-and-file union perspective that has guided it for decades. This outline of a renewed strategic perspective is what emerged from our discussions.
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CALLING ALL BANNER MAKERS, PUPPETEERS, RADICAL CHEERLEADERS, THEATRE ACTIVISTS, ETC.

Toronto Media Coop - July 23, 2014 - 10:08pm

Have you heard of the Rebel!Rebuild!Rewild! Action Camp happening this August 18th-20 where a bunch of land defenders, activists and rad folks will be meeting to share skills, camp, hike and have fun? If not, check out our website www.rebelrebuildrewild.noblogs.org, register online or e-mail us at rebelrebuildrewild@riseup.net if you have any questions or want to get involved.

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Rebel! Rebuild! Rewild!

Toronto Media Coop - July 23, 2014 - 10:07pm

Dear eco-warriors, land defenders, guerrilla gardeners, survivalists, nature-lovin’ radicals & free-thinkers,

We live in the midst of a storm of crises – climate change, mass extinction, ocean acidification, peak oil, land theft, and class war, just to name a few. Harper’s vision for Canada is of a vast resource colony, where natural resources are exploited as rapidly as possible, for the profit of the world’s largest corporations. We are called to challenge this vision with a vision of our own.

We welcome you to attend a three-day action camp this Summer, from August 18-20, on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory (50 kilometres North of Ottawa).

Our ambition is that this gathering will strengthen the movement for ecological sanity by providing hands-on, skill-based education on how to campaign effectively against the destruction of the natural world. This camp will be fun, meant to nourish the spirit as well as educate the mind. There will be time for hiking, swimming, and enjoying the splendour of the wild, which is still very much alive and well on this occupied Algonquin Territory.

There will be workshops on direct action, anti-oppression, security culture, decolonization, Indigenous solidarity, and more. We are now accepting submissions for workshops, presentations, talks, and skillshares. Please write us to confirm attendance, submit ideas, and help organize at rebelrebuildrewild(at)riseup(dot)net

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New NDP shadow cabinet sees Eby promoted to housing file (in All)

The Tyee - July 23, 2014 - 8:25pm

More than two-and-a-half months after becoming NDP leader by acclamation, John Horgan put his stamp on the Opposition caucus July 23. Read more ...

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Why 2014 Is a Major Election Year for Marijuana Reform

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 6:35pm
Voters nationwide could radically alter marijuana policy this November.

Voters in several states and municipalities nationwide will head to the polls this November and decide whether or not to radically alter the way many parts of America deal with pot.
 
Voters in three states – Alaska, Florida, and Oregon – will decide on statewide measures seeking to legalize marijuana use and commerce. In addition, voters in the District of Columbia and in various other cities will decide on municipal measures seeking to depenalize the plant’s possession and consumption by adults.
 
Statewide Proposals:

Alaska

Come November, Colorado and Washington may no longer be the only places in the United States where marijuana is legal for purchase by anyone over the age of 21. Alaska voters on November 4th will decide on Measure 2: “An Act to tax and regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana.” The ballot initiative seeks to allow for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults while simultaneously regulating and taxing the commercial production and retail sales of the plant. 
 
Under the proposal, a person age 21 or older may legally possess or transfer without remuneration up to one ounce of cannabis. Adults would also be permitted to cultivate up to six marijuana plants (only three of which may be mature at any one time) for non-commercial purposes. Commercial cannabis enterprises will be subject to oversight by the state Department of Commerce, which has up to nine months following the measure’s passage to adopt rules to allow for the licensed production and retail sale of the plant.
 
As is the case in Colorado and Washington, public consumption will remain a violation – albeit a noncriminal one – under state law.  Local governments will also possess authority under the law to enact moratoriums on commercial cannabis enterprises if they desire to do so. (Both Colorado and Washington impose similar local controls.)
 
According to a statewide Public Policy Polling survey, Alaska voters "think (that) marijuana should be legally allowed for recreational use, that stores should be allowed to sell it, and that its sales should be taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol" by a margin of 55 to 39 percent. This majority support is hardly surprising. Alaska’s high court has allowed for the private possession and cultivation of small quantities of cannabis since the mid-1970s, and in 1998, 58 percent of voters approved ballot language permitting qualified patients to grow and use the plant.

Florida

Sunshine State voters will decide this November on Amendment 2, which seeks to permit for the physician-authorized possession and state-licensed distribution of cannabis. Because the proposal seeks to amend the state constitution, support from over 60 percent of state voters is necessary for the amendment to become law.
 
If passed, the amendment would allow for a physician to recommend cannabis therapy to any patient at his or her discretion. However, neither qualified patients (nor their designated caregivers) would be permitted to cultivate cannabis. Rather, the proposal authorizes the state Department of Health to determine rules within six-months following the act’s passage for the registration of ‘Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers’ (dispensaries), which would be authorized to cultivate, process, and sell medicinal cannabis and other related products. If regulators not begin registering these facilities within this time frame, “any Florida citizen shall have standing to seek judicial relief to compel compliance with the Department’s constitutional duties,” the measure states.
 
Despite coordinated opposition by the Florida Sheriff’s Association, former Reagan anti-drug aide Carlton Turner (who once infamously claimed that marijuana smoking leads to homosexuality and “therefore to AIDS”), and gambling mogul Sheldon Anderson (who recently donated $2.5 million to defeat the measure), public support for Amendment 2 remains high. According to a May 2014 Quinnipiac University poll, 88 percent of Florida voters support the medical use of marijuana when authorized by a physician. 
 
Oregon

Like Alaska’s Measure 2, Oregon’s initiative (Initiative Petition 53) similarly seeks to authorize both the personal use of cannabis as well as the plant’s retail production and sale. Under the plan, adults who engage in the non-commercial cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis for personal use (up to four marijuana plants and eight ounces of usable marijuana at a given time) will not be subject to taxation or commercial regulations. Commercial producers and retailers will require state licensing (available at a $1,000 per year annual fee), but retail sales will not be subject to special taxes or fees, as is the case presently in Colorado and Washington.

Will the second time be the charm for Oregon? Possibly. Although a broader, less funded measure gained only 47 percent of the vote in 2012, recent statewide polling on the issue finds that a slight majority of Oregonians (51 percent) support legalizing pot for recreational purposes. 
 
Municipal Measures:

District of Columbia

Earlier this month, proponents of a District initiative to permit the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by those age 21 or older turned in 57,000 signatures to the DC Board of Elections. The number is more the twice the total of signatures from registered voters necessary to place the measure on the 2014 electoral ballot. District of Columbia election officials have until mid-August to certify the measure for the ballot.
 
The proposed measure (Initiative Measure 71) seeks to remove all criminal and civil penalties pertaining to the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants (no more than three mature at any one time). Adults who engage in the not-for-profit transfer of cannabis or who possess marijuana related paraphernalia will also no longer be subject to penalty. The measure further states, “[N]o district government agency or office shall limit or refuse to provide any facility service, program or benefit to any person based upon or by reason of conduct that is made lawful by this subsection.”
 
Though supported by a solid majority of District voters, the measure still faces an uphill battle. Even if approved by voters this fall, members of the DC City Council still possess the authority to amend the measure. Members of Congress could also thwart the process since all District regulations are subject to Congressional review prior to their implementation.  Finally, pending Congressional legislation that seeks to prevent DC from imposing any laws reducing the regions marijuana penalties also remains pending in the US House of Representatives.
 
Other municipal measures

Voters in numerous other cities will have the opportunity in November to decide on local measures seeking to depenalize marijuana. In Michigan, local activists are gathering signatures for municipal measures in over a dozen cities, including Saginaw and East Lansing, which would eliminate local laws outlawing the simple possession of marijuana by adults. (Voters in Detroit and five other Michigan cities have already approved similar citizens’ initiatives in recent years.) In Maine, voters in the cities of Lewiston, South Portland, and York will vote on similar measures. (Nearly 70 percent of Portland voters approved a similar proposal last year.) Reform groups are contemplating 2016 statewide campaigns in both states.
 
Finally, in New Mexico, activists are seeking to place a pair of depenalization measures on the municipal ballots in Albuquerque and in Santa Fe. If enacted, the proposals would amend local laws to reduce the penalty for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana (and/or marijuana-associated paraphernalia) to a civil infraction punishable by no more than a $25 fine.

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The Most Harrowing, Heart-Breaking Dispatches from Palestinians in Gaza

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 3:54pm
Palestinians in Gaza are using social media to connect with the outside world they are cut off from.

As Israeli forces bombard the Gaza Strip by air, land, and sea, some 1.8 million Palestinians are largely stuck inside their homes, shaken by relentless explosions, wondering if and when their turn to die will come. When death does strike, international media will recalculate the tally of the dead, dropping names if those in question are old or children, but otherwise leave untold the stories of their time alive on the crowded sliver of land they called home. Isolated and with nowhere to flee, many Palestinians in Gaza use social media to make an otherwise-impossible connection with the outside world, carving out virtual space for their existence while their physical surroundings implode in their midst.

"I tweet, therefore I am,” writes 24-year-old Muhammed Suliman. Under the bombs, tweets are a way for Muhammed to notify himself and others that he has survived the offensive thus far.

I read names of victims killed yesterday. I hope I won't recognize any. I don't. I close my eyes to sleep. A missile fall. A blast. A tweet.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 14, 2014

When Israel began its latest large-scale aerial offensive on Gaza on July 7, Muhammad switched from mostly Arabic-language tweets to exclusively English, and started contributing to online discourse on the conflict as a commentator. These early tweets leave out the first person, discussing the situation in general. But on the third day of the assault, as the death toll passes 70, something in Muhammed’s tone changes. His Twitter feed becomes a sort of diary, a poetic outpouring in the face of fear, a human response reflecting the uncertainty of survival.

I sit near a window, next to my wife who finally fell asleep. I hear drones buzzing overhead coupled with birds chirping. I anticipate a blast

The blast has come. Sooner than I thought. War experience enables you to expect next blast. I extend my hand to my wife, and she takes it.

Muhammed’s tweets become a narration of his life and the lives and deaths of other Palestinians in Gaza. His feed reads like a nail-biting and heart-pumping novel, or a collection of visceral haikus, only this isn’t literature but a compressed report of Muhammed’s observations, thoughts, and feelings. Real apocalyptic scenes squeezed through the filter of social media.

Petrified, my ears buzz and don't seem to recover. Leila's stomach starts hurting. Each blast sounds louder and more horrifying. Death nears

I've lost my words. Bombs rain down on my area. Behind the dining table, Leila and I sit close to each other. Death is what we are tweeting.

On other days, Muhammed’s fears subside or at least are allowed to be morphed into dark comedy. The World Cup, which is about to start its semi-final matches as the air offensive begins, provides a distraction for the bombs, something to think about besides impending death. Until a beach cafe full of soccer fans is bombed by Israel, killing eight, seemingly all civilians.

Israel's bombardment of Gaza is similar to Germany thrashing Brazil in the semi finals. Think of Palestinian violence as Brazil's one goal.

8 killed while watching the World Cup semi final. They surely ruled out the possibility of being targeted. We're not a threat, they thought.

Muhammed tweets stories that are only reported otherwise in international media as numbers, the only notable exceptions being the above and the case of four children being bombed on a beach, which he tweets about as well. 

Anas, 17, posts on Facebook, 'I'm too tired, shell our home so I can get some sleep.' A while later, his home is shelled. He sleeps forever.

Yasser receives a call from IDF. Evacuate in ten minutes. He wasn't home though. His family was. Hysterically, he phoned home. No one picked

Amir, 12, and Mohammed. 10, want to buy yogurt. Things are calm, they tell their mom. They leave the house. A blast is heard. They're dead.

I look at pictures of brothers Amir and Mohammed wrapped in white shroud stained with their blood. I feel dizzy. War is a nightmare.

In a hospital room, dad cries in agony over the body of his baby son. Holding him in his hands, he tearfully cries: Wake up, I got you a toy

Group of children go to the sea, escaping the bombs. They swim and play, mindless of Israeli warships off shore. Missiles hit them. Four die

Even through all this terror, Muhammed remains free of bloodlust. His humility and gentleness is astounding. When the first Israeli dies on the 10th day, after nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed, Muhammed tweets about it. He is not one to “blame both sides” — the conflict is not a balanced one and there is a clear oppressor and oppressed — but he values all human life.

Some Israelis wish me death. I might die. But I wish no death unto you. I want us both to live. Live together as equals in this country.

The terrifying truth is that Muhammed may in fact die, and the only way for his followers to know that he is still alive is to wait for his next tweet. Tweeting about death here is not overly fatalistic or hypothetical. Death is a very real possibility. A shadow looming over life. Muhammed’s death would be felt deeply not only by his family and friends and acquaintances, but by his followers on Twitter.

I look forward to surviving. If I don't, remember that I wasn't Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield. I was at home.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 20, 2014

Another social media user offers a window into the mind of a creative child trapped in the center of bombardment. Muhammad Qareeqe is a talented 13-year-old Palestinian artist from the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, and like many other kids his age around the world, he’s obsessed with Facebook. Prior to the current offensive, he’d post several times a day, promoting his art and showing off his boyhood cuteness, a kind of Gazan Justin Bieber with a paintbrush. 

Last time Israeli warplanes carried out a prolonged attack on Gaza, Muhammad was 11. The time before that, he was 9. He was born during the Second Intifada. Through the wars and in the face of the economic blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007, Muhammad has developed a seemingly innate talent for painting and drawing. He has also developed a thousands-strong fan base inside and outside of Gaza via social media. 

Most days during the last period of calm, Muhammad would start his day with a warm “good morning” Facebook post and end it with a goodnight post, along with pictures of himself being cute, garnering scores of likes. In between, he’d usually post smiley-face-heavy updates on his latest work or random thoughts on life. But ever since the bombs started falling in Gaza and didn’t stop, his social media presence has changed.

He posts a picture he drew of an Israeli warplane bombing a Palestinian house. “This is a scene from Gaza,” he says. “Bombing for ‘security.’ The homes of citizens. Targets for the world’s most despicable army.”

Another post says simply: “Patience, patience. Perseverance, perseverance.”

“I drew this because the bombing doesn’t have mercy on trees or humans, or even birds,” Muhammad writes in a post of his drawing of a fallen sparrow.

 

As hospitals and morgues overflow, Muhammad provides a distraction for himself and other children whose lives and psychological well-beings are at risk under the bombs. He gives an art lesson to the neighborhood boys and girls and posts about it on Facebook. In the pictures he includes of the session, his features seem to have changed—his smile not quite what it used to be, his hair curly and wild where it had before been carefully tamed. His arms with a tinge of muscle. As if he’s grown.

On the tenth day of the offensive, Israeli troops begin a large-scale ground operation in Gaza. The death toll spikes, nearly doubling in just 72 hours. Late Saturday and overnight, myriad warplanes buzz over Muhammad’s own Shajaiyeh neighborhood, spewing explosives every few seconds. Small arms fire can be heard in the distance as militants face off with soldiers. Muhammad's goodnight post is that of an orange sky lit not by sunlight but by Israeli bombs. “#Here_is_Shajaiyeh,” the post says. No goodnight wishes. There is nothing good about this night, which a Norwegian doctor at a nearby hospital has called “a real massacre” and “the worst night of my life.

Muhammad survives the night, though at least 66 Palestinians, more than a dozen of them children, do not. He and his family flee Shajaiyeh for central Gaza City in the morning, Facebook users find out as he posts again: “We survived death, though our hearts are dying longingly. We are now in central Gaza City without electricity or any of life’s necessities.” 

And later: “I can’t respond to your messages. What I saw today is making conversation impossible.”

Both Muhammads continue to tell their stories online as the bombs fall around them and the death toll surpasses 600. Their existences have been marked. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the victims’ stories remain largely untold or unacknowledged. The steadfast, raised voices of survivors therefore become all the more profound. Through social media, many young Palestinians — smart and talented and artistic people like Muhammad Qareeqe and Muhammed Suliman — are making their stories available, reminding themselves and others they are still alive.

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Annual Smoke Dance Competition Named for Cherished Dancer

Two Row Times - July 23, 2014 - 3:24pm

The annual smoke dance competition presented by Plank Road One Stop will get underway July 27. In its second year now, organizers have recently named it, with permission from the family, the Lyle Anderson Sr. Memorial Smoke Dance Competition. Anderson passed away suddenly on October 24, 2012 and was a renowned smoke dance competitor and

The post Annual Smoke Dance Competition Named for Cherished Dancer appeared first on Two Row Times.

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Whole Foods' Yogurt Is A Sugary Mess

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 2:16pm
A new test reveals Whole Foods' yogurt has more than five times the sugar listed on their label.

Whole Foods has stringent guidelines for anything placed on its shelves such as no products with high-fructose corn syrup or artificial colors. But according to a recent Consumer Reports test, Whole Foods has falsely advertised the amount of sugar in its 8-ounce Greek yogurt.

Through a series of tests, Consumer Reports found Whole Foods 365 Every Day Value Plain Fat-Free Greek Yogurt contained more than triple, and sometimes five times more, the 2 grams of sugar listed on its label. After analyzing six samples from six different lots they found “an average of 11.4 grams per serving.”

Even though all yogurts, including plain, contain the naturally occurring sugar lactose, it still didn't make sense. The yogurt lists 16 grams of carbohydrates per serving on its package and lactose “provides the vast majority of carbs in yogurt.” They concluded?  The numbers don't "add up.”

This isn't the first time Whole Foods' yogurts have been fact checked. In another test, Good Housekeeping said Whole Foods' yogurt's calcium content sounded too good to be true. In their own test they discovered the 365 Nonfat Greek Yogurt contained nearly 100 milligrams less than its purported calcium content, from 600 to 500 milligrams. Still, they added, it's within the legal 20% margin of allowance.

Whole Foods was understandly thrown off by Consumer Reports' findings and told them: “We are working with our vendor to understand the testing results you have provided. They are not consistent with testing results we have relied upon from reputable third ­party labs. We take this issue seriously and are investigating the matter, and will of course take corrective action if any is warranted.”

 

 

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Queen Cee Awarded Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal

Operation Maple YouTube - July 23, 2014 - 1:27pm
Queen Cee Awarded Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal
SUBSCRIBE and check out our other videos! http://www.operationmaple.com http://www.facebook.com/operationmaple http://twitter.com/#!/operationmaple. From: OperationMaple Views: 24 0 ratings Time: 02:30 More in People & Blogs
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NRA Floats Idea of Kids Needing to Show Gun Proficiency to Advance to the Next Grade

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 1:21pm
NRA: "What if instead of gun-free zones, we had gun-required zones?"

A new commentary video from the National Rifle Association suggests we can live up to the Founding Fathers' ideals by creating "gun-required zones," and making gun training for children "necessary to advance to the next grade."

In a July 21 NRA News video titled "Everyone Gets A Gun," NRA News commentator Billy Johnson said, "We don't have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy" that is based on "the assumption that we need to protect people from guns" and "that guns are bad or dangerous."

Instead Johnson wondered what gun policies the United States would have "if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns -- that guns make people's lives better." Johnson then made the following recommendations that would "encourage" and might "reward" people "to keep and bear arms at all times."

  • Johnson wondered, "What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?"
  • He imagined a compulsory education system that would require children to become proficient with firearms, just like "reading and writing," even "if they didn't want to learn" in order to advance in school: "Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we'd give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn't matter if a child's parents weren't good at it. We'd find them a mentor. It wouldn't matter if they didn't want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade."
  • Like "education, healthcare, food, [and] retirement," Johnson suggested that gun ownership be subject to a government subsidies, either through "government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition."

According to Johnson, "Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech." While acknowledging that his ideas may be seen as "ridiculous," -- even by "Second Amendment advocates" -- he argued his proposal "does justice to [the Founding Fathers] intentions."

Johnson's video was published as part of the NRA's recent efforts to appeal to a younger and more diverseaudience through its NRA News Commentator program and millennial-oriented NRA Freestyle online television network. The commentary videos have frequently featured bizarre and offensive content:

  • A July 18 commentary referenced the Holocaust to promote the baseless fear that the government will confiscate lawfully held private firearms.
  • A July 7 commentary claimed that laws regulating gun ownership are "equally as unconstitutional" as Jim Crow laws.
  • A June 30 commentary insisted that the media stop calling a man who used a gun to injure or kill 11 of his 19 victims during a May 23 rampage in Isla Vista, California, a "gunman" or "shooter" because several other people were killed and injured by means other than a gun during the attack.
  • A May 30 commentary warned viewers of a "trick" where media figures "race to label anything with a gun as a shooting, because they know how much more attention they are going to get with that word."

Full transcript of Johnson's July 21 commentary:

JOHNSON: As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let's be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.

As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.

As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.

The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it's common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.

But we don't spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don't have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns -- that guns make people's lives better. Let's consider that for a minute.

Gun policy driven by people's need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?

Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we'd give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn't matter if a child's parents weren't good at it. We'd find them a mentor. It wouldn't matter if they didn't want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.

Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That's why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can't fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need. 

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8 Surprising Celebrities Outraged by Israel's Assault on Gaza

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 1:07pm
The growing number of stars speaking out signals that mainstream American opinion is shifting on Israel.

Hollywood is not known as a bastion of pro-Palestinian sentiment. There has not been any hugely successful mainstream, major motion picture that accurately depicts the plight of Palestinians. Actress Vanessa Redgrave was harshly condemned for her remarks that criticized Israel in the 1970s.

But that may be changing. Since Israel’s most recent assault on the Gaza Strip began 15 days ago, a growing number of celebrities in the television and movie business and other fields have spoken out, mostly on social media, about Israeli attacks. Their missives have been amplified by their audiences who retweet and share the critical messages.

The images of dead Palestinian civilians, including many innocent men, women and children, is badly damaging Israel’s largely positive image in the United States. And while the U.S. government is still staunchly supporting the attack on Gaza, which has killed more than 600 people, the growing number of celebrities speaking out in protest may signal that mainstream American opinion is shifting--albeit slowly--towards more sympathy for Palestine. That could have an important impact on discourse and U.S. policy towards Israel in the long-run.

Here’s a rundown of 8 celebrities who have recently expressed outrage or skepticism at the Israeli assault.

1. Selena Gomez. The 22-year-old actress and singer has appeared in popular movies for children like Spy Kids and was a guest star on the TV show Hannah Montana. She also attracted attention for dating pop star Justin Bieber.

On July 18th, she attracted attention for a starkly different reason: an Instagram post that read:“It’s about humanity. Pray for Gaza.” A firestorm erupted around her, with celebrity news site TMZ asking whether Gomez was “pro-Hamas.” Unlike other stars--Rihanna and NBA player Dwight Howard--she did not delete her message, though she followed up on it with another Instagram post that read: “And of course to be clear, I am not picking any sides. I am praying for peace and humanity for all!”

2. Jon Stewart.While the “Daily Show” host hasn’t exactly expressed outright criticism of Israel’s attack, his episode last week addressed the notion that the people of Gaza should evacuate to safety. “Evacuate to where? Have you fucking seen Gaza? Israel blocked this border, Egypt blocked this border. What, are you supposed to swim for it?”

Stewart followed up on that segment with another one this week that pointed out the deeply contentious nature of criticizing Israel. In the segment, right after Stewart mentioned Israel, “Daily Show” correspondents started screaming at him and attacking him, with one calling him a “self-hating Jew.”

3. Rob Schneider. This movie star and comedian has sent out messages on Twitter deploring the impact that Israel’s assault has had on the civilians in Gaza. “The ugly inhuman siege of Gaza has had it's deadliest day today,” he wrote on July 20. The next day, he said: “To not be outraged at the killing of children is to risk your very soul. #Gaza.”

4. Rosie O’Donnell.The big news about Rosie is that she’s returning to ABC’s “The View.” But her return to the limelight hasn’t meant that she has stepped away from voicing political opinions.

On July 22, she retweeted a message sent by this reporter broadcasting an act of civil disobedience carried out by Jewish New Yorkers outraged at Israel’s attacks on Gaza. She also sent out a few of her own messages on Gaza the same day. One linked to an interview where Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, who told ABC: “It’s nothing short of a massacre, a deliberate massacre. War crimes committed daily. But now there is a deliberate shelling and bombing and destruction of whole areas, of residential areas.”

Another said: “thank u jonathan demme,” with a link to that Oscar-winning director’s comments criticizing Israel.

5. Mia Farrow. This mega-celebrity is everywhere. She’s a UNICEF ambassador, was named as one of the most influential people in the world by TIME and has been in numerous films.

She has broadcast many messages of support for the people of Gaza since the operation began through her Twitter account. Most of them document the civilian toll the assault on Gaza is taking. “Ambulances are supposed to be protected in conflict zones but Israel has hit 10 and bombed 2 hospitals,” one message sent yesterday read.

6. Mark Ruffalo.This actor appeared in the movie The Avengers in 2012, playing the Marvel Comics character The Hulk, and has played roles in many other films. He’s also a well-known activist who particularly focuses on the harmful effects of fracking. But he’s also speaking out on Palestine.

On July 17, he tweeted: “Israel destroys el-Wafa hospital as staff evacuates all patientshttp://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/hospital-evacuate-patients.html …” In response to criticism of that post, he doubled-down: “Sorry, I thought blowing up Hospitals was something that all human beings could agree was off limits.”

7. John Cusack.This actor has never shied away from politics--and Gaza is no exception. On July 19th, he tweeted this resolute message: “I have been to Israel and Palestine &bombing civilians is not self defense.”

8. Anthony Bourdain. The celebrity chef and foodie first visited the Gaza Strip last year for his CNN show, and the result was a deeply humanizing portrait of the Palestinian people and their food and culture. He has since followed up on that with statements in support of Palestine.

One of the most devastating attacks in Gaza occurred last week, when four Palestinian boys playing soccer on a beach were killed by an Israeli strike. The New York Times’ Tyler Hicks published a widely-circulated photo of a Palestinian rescuring an injured civilian while one of the dead boys lay on the beach. Bourdain tweeted that photo and said: “Maybe it’s the fact that I walked on that beach—and have a small child that makes this photo so devastating.  #Gaza.”

Or maybe, it's just being a human being.

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Grassy Narrows First Nation Demands Ontario Halt Clear-Cut Logging On Their Lands

Toronto Media Coop - July 23, 2014 - 12:39pm

On July 31, members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation will head to the Ontario Legislative Building in Toronto and are calling on supporters to join them “in a walk for clean water and indigenous rights.” Two days before, on July 29, there will be a speaking event with Grassy Narrows Clan Mother Judy Da Silva, Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister, writer and activist Leanne Simpson, and Stephen Lewis. Here's why:

It is shocking that neither Canada nor the province of Ontario have recognized even one case of mercury poisoning in the 50 years since the province allowed 10 tonnes of mercury to be dumped into the Wabigoon River, which provides numerous communities with water and fish. It is even more shocking that this river has never been cleaned up and continues to provide these communities with water and fish.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency advise that any spill larger than 2 tablespoons of mercury should be reported to the state environmental agency, and it is mandatory to call the National Response Center. But just north of the border, tonnes of mercury can be put into river systems with little concern about cleanup, remediation and human health – apparently. Citizens of Grassy Narrows, however, can’t afford to ignore mercury contamination.

Grassy Narrows, or Asubpeechoseewagong in Anishnaabe, is located in Treaty 3 territory in northern Ontario. It is one of the communities still facing the impacts of the Dryden pulp and paper mill’s reckless disposal of mercury more than a half century after the spill.

A 2012 report found that mercury impacted the health of 59% of the 160 people examined in Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations, both of which are located downstream from the paper mill. Even among people between the ages of 21 and 41, 44% of those tested have experienced health impacts from mercury poisoning.

The dangers of mercury poisoning made international headlines from Minamata, Japan, after the Chisso Corporation released large quantities of industrial wastewater into the water supply of a community that relied heavily on fishing to support its economy and local diet. Entire families developed a neurological disorder that impacts muscular coordination and can cause birth defects, now known as Minamata disease.

Japan formally apologized for allowing mercury disposal to devastate community health and the local economy, and Chisso was forced to financially compensate residents suffering from the disease as well as local fishing cooperatives for their losses.

A legacy of abuse – and resistance

Members of Grassy Narrows and White dog have been demanding similar forms of compensation for those diagnosed with some level of Minamata disease. The Mercury Disability Board in Canada, however, rejected 75% of those applicants who were diagnosed with the disease by Japanese experts. While disappointing, this outcome is not surprising to a community with a long history of colonially imposed residential schools, dams and logging – known to exacerbate mercury contamination in water systems.

In the 1990s, the provincial government opened up the region's forests – home to numerous Indigenous communities, including Grassy Narrows – to clear-cut logging. Logging drove away wildlife and impacted trappers’ ability to fish and hunt on their lands, traditional activities which are legally protected through Treaties.

In 2000, three Grassy Narrows trappers – Joseph Fobister, Andrew Keewatin and Willie Keewatin – took legal action against the Province for violating their Aboriginal Treaty Rights. Their case dragged on and the community saw it needed to take stronger action. So in 2002, First Nation members set up what was to become one of the longest Indigenous blockades in Canadian history.

Speaking tours, rallies, educational campaigns and petitions have all helped the community gain widespread support for its court case and blockade. In the meantime, Grassy Nations has successfully forced numerous companies to stay off its territory. Forestry giant Abitibi-Bowater surrendered its forestry license in 2008 and large-scale clear-cuts have stopped, for now. Domtar, the largest office paper producer in North America, and Boise Inc. have committed not to source wood from Grassy Narrows’s traditional territory.

Fighting to Keep Their Forests

But the community’s fight is far from over. The high-profile case known as Keewatin v. Ontario (Natural Resources) was originally closed in 2011 when Ontario Superior Court Justice Sanderson ruled in favor of the community, saying that Aboriginal Treaty rights to hunt and trap supersede the Province’s rights to resources on the Nation’s land. But the Province has continued to develop a 10-year Management Plan for logging in the Whisky Jack Forest where Grassy Narrows is located, in disregard of the ruling.

Strange, right? Yes, but it also made the Province’s next move very clear.

Two years after what seemed like a “win” for Grassy Narrows in the courts, the Province of Ontario appealed the 2011 ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned it, and just last week the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of Ontario. The Province now proceeds with its plans for another decade of clear-cut logging on Grassy Narrows Territory. What does that mean for Grassy?

It means the fight is once again heating up. Now that the case is out of the courts, members of the community have hit the streets. At the end of July, members of Grassy Narrows will take their demands for justice to the Provincial legislature for the 4th biannual River Run – an event in Toronto in which the community has held past speaking engagements alongside high-profile speakers like Lee Maracle, Maude Barlow, Judy Rebick and the late Dr. Masazumi Harada – a Japanese expert on Minamata Disease.

In 2012, the community held a traditional Fish Fry where they invited provincial politicians to taste some of the fish from the Wabigoon River – which, in case they needed a reminder, has yet to be cleaned up. Only two of the invited politicians attended the Fish Fry. One, Kathleen Wynn, then the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, spoke with community members and said publicly that she would visit the community, promising to rebuild Ontario’s relationship with Grassy Narrows.

Now Kathleen Wynn is the Premier of the Province and Grassy Narrows is calling on her to cancel new plans for clear-cut logging on Grassy Narrows territory and to protect the water. The Premier is being given another opportunity to listen to the demands of the community – this time, with even more power and influence to change the Province’s role and take steps towards resolving the situation.

To get involved, lend support or find out more about Grassy Narrows and the upcoming River Run, visit here.

Categories: Netted News

Rich Urban Mom Addicts Get Sobriety Coaches; Poor Moms Get Jail

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 11:36am
In America, addiction is judged through the lens of class.

Sobriety coaches rake in big bucks to keep 1 percenters off their substance of choice. A-listers are so busy, after all, and treatment centers are both time-consuming and detrimental to privacy. Even when the wealthy do benefit from these centers, their newfound sobriety often doesn’t outlast the first weekend home alone.

Enter one of the most lucrative jobs in the therapy business.

If you’re a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan, a trust-fund baby, or perhaps a Wall Streeter with a problem, your sobriety coach will accompany you to social events, sometimes posing as a yoga teacher or life coach, to keep you from popping a pill or snorting a line. She will pry the drink out of your fingers at weddings and polo matches. She will even move into your house to keep you from falling off the wagon.

A recent report in the New York Times, “Mothers Find a Helping Hand in Sobriety Coaches,” profiled wealthy Manhattan moms addicted to prescription painkillers and cocaine who finally got clean with the help of a paid personal sobriety trainer.

Citing the difficulties of being an urban mom striving to be thin, rich and successful, the Times story applauds these well-heeled women who have kicked the habit with the aid of a high-priced babysitter. Unlike the Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who comes for free, a $1,000-a-day pricetag for a coach is not unusual. Terms like the “new Pilates instructor” or the “new fashion statement” are often used to describe these gold-plated companions. The company Sober Champion offers to “stay with you 24/7, helping protect your investment in yourself. Just like a full-time guardian angel.”

The report features the tale of Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choos and mother of a toddler, who battled a serious coke habit unsuccessfully until she found recovery coach Martin Freeman, whom she keeps on retainer in case she needs to be talked out of a late-night craving.

The Times cheers these women for finding their guardian angels and kicking the habit. But what happens to moms with addictions in less affluent circumstances?

In Tennessee, 26-year-old Mallory Loyola, a meth addict, recently became the first person arrested under a new state law that classifies taking illegal drugs while pregnant as an assault. Instead of recovering from childbirth and receiving proper medical care, Loyola was hauled off to jail, where she was later released on bond.

If her baby had died, Loyola could have been charged with homicide under the law. 

Tennessee is not the only place where this madness is happening. Over-zealous Alabama prosecutors are also slapping drug-addicted mothers with criminal charges. If you were a pregnant mom with a drug problem, would you want to go to the doctor to care for yourself and your pregnancy if you feared criminal charges? I’m guessing no, so both you and your fetus will not receive proper care.

If you’re a rich mom, addiction is a health issue. If you’re poor, rural, or a person of color, addiction is a crime. Women at the lower rungs of the economic ladder can have their children taken away if they are found to be using drugs or are charged with child endangerment. They are branded as bad people who do not deserve our sympathy. The social stigma and fear of losing custody of their children will keep many of these women from getting the help they need. Many will wind up in prison, with their families ripped apart and their chances of getting a job, education, or decent housing destroyed.

Does Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo fame fear a visit from social services or cops after announcing that she is the coke-addicted mother of a toddler? Very doubtful. And she certainly doesn't have to worry about prison.

The number of women incarcerated in the U.S. has skyrocketed by over 800 percent over the last three decades, and two-thirds of them are locked up for nonviolent offenses, many of which are drug-related. The correctional system was never set up for substance abuse treatment. Many addicted women can still get access to drugs while incarcerated, and medical care is often notoriously bad. No sobriety coaches to be found.

This is just another example of America, the land of inequality, where a two-tiered justice system and wildly divergent social standards create a situation in which the same behavior will earn you either draconian punishment or gentle pampering, depending on the size of your bank account.

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Clueless Rich Kids on the Rise: How Millennial Aristocrats Will Destroy Our Future

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 11:32am
Today's wealthy are far more likely to have inherited their fortunes. Here's why that's going to doom our politics.

Prevailing neoliberal ideology, which perverts capitalism as an economic system into capitalism as an unyielding political ideology, lurks in the shadows of almost every major issue in America, though nowhere is its influence more obvious or profound than in the spiraling rise of income and wealth inequality today.

When Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” was first released in English, it followed the Culture War Playbook to perfection: First came the triumphant plaudits from like-minded thinkers, followed shortly by the hasty rebuttals of their ideological opponents, followed themselves by a torrent of commentary from pundits left and right who skimmed the book before adding their own two cents. Soon, there was the predictable “unskewing” by the right, after which came the fact-checking of the “unskewers” on the left… at which point the whole process had reached its inevitable conclusion. High-traffic angles fully juiced, our treadmill news cycle moved on to the next plank in our bitter, pointless culture clash, what author William Gibson has termed our “cold civil war.”

So it goes.

What’s so interesting about this Kabuki dance is just how few commentators at the time bothered to note that Piketty’s findings were never particularly controversial or groundbreaking. Piketty’s book became such a sensation on the left precisely because it gave weight to what anyone with a pair of eyes in the real world (i.e., not Lower Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or Silicon Valley) can already plainly see: Wealth inequality grows each and every day, while the middle class keeps getting pummeled by this Glorious Free Enterprise System. What used to be good, stable jobs are converted into temp positions or contract work — automated, downsized or simply eliminated entirely, they’re replaced in the labor market by the worst-paying, most utterly dehumanizing low-wage gigs that our much ballyhooed “job creators” can imagine and implement.

The consequences for our democracy and our economy are perilous and unlikely to be easily remedied.

Whether or not one is generally convinced by Piketty’s thesis that r > g (or more plainly, that capital tends to grow at a faster rate than income without some form of outside intervention), it should be plain that in our system, the stage has been uniquely well-set for the unbridled expansion of wealth that his book describes. When the effective tax rates are lower for capital gains than for the incomes of the less affluent; when political processes are legally corrupted and circumvented for a price; when regulatory agencies are gutted, stalled, or simply staffed with careerists eager to make their way through the revolving door — this is not a political or economic system likely to become less unequal over time.

Will this trend toward inequality continue? According to “U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth,” a recent survey of wealthy Americans that aims to “[shed] light on the direction and purpose of the more than $15 trillion that will be passed across generations in high-net-worth families over the next two decades,” it seems increasingly likely.

The survey, which polled 680 Americans holding at least $3 million in investable assets, unearthed a troubling trend — the birth of a new American aristocracy. As the survey notes, “Nearly three-quarters of those over 69, and 61% of Baby Boomers, were the first generation to accumulate significant wealth. Among the younger Millennial generation, inherited wealth is more common. About two-thirds are from families in which they are the second, third or fourth generation to be wealthy.” Now, it should be noted briefly that this survey relies on self-reporting, which makes these figures somewhat suspect. (More on this in a bit.) But consider two charts: The first shows the highest marginal tax rates on income and capital gains throughout the last hundred years, while the second outlines the estate tax rate during the same period.

(Credit: Catherine Mulbrandon/Visualizing Economics)
(Credit: Heritage Foundation)

It’s hard not to notice that sudden dip in both charts — right around the late ’70s and early ’80s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is when the oldest of the millennial generation’s new aristocrats were being born — into a world with far less taxation on capital gains, high incomes, and most crucially, inheritance.

In the coming years, how will this affect our society’s conception of wealth and the American Dream? How will it affect our politics?

Before we go any further, it should be noted that the wealth of the super-rich is notoriously hard to measure. Oftentimes, these individuals — having gained prominence in society due to their money and stature — have the means and the desire to hide the true extent of their fortunes. This is a big part of the reason that Piketty, along with fellow economists Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman et al., have gained such esteem for their research compiling wealth statistics from the last couple hundred years; it’s the most comprehensive collection of data on privately held wealth ever created. Their work is a departure from the self-reporting that studies like U.S. Trust’s have traditionally relied upon, and so I was curious as to how they might respond to these findings. I reached out to Professor Saez via email to see what he thought of these conclusions — despite their obvious shortcomings. “When this generation leaves its wealth to their children,” he agrees, “then indeed top wealth will become much more aristocratic. It’s possible that the U.S. Trust survey is already picking up this trend. Certainly, absent any significant increase in estate and gift taxation, this trend will accelerate in the near future.”

And right on cue, enter stage left — a fresh new wave of (many wealthy) millennial Congressional candidates. Enthusiastic and idealistic, these young Americans paradoxically promote a style of bland, Washington Consensus politics, what Pennsylvania House candidate (and proud millennial) Nick Troiano has billed “radical centrism.” As a generation generally lauded for our commitment to civil service, noted for our love of structure, and gently mocked for our aversion to risk-seeking, surely we must be the perfect generation to fix America’s broken politics… Right?

Unfortunately, probably not. Our political system, where the cost of running for national office is prohibitively high for candidates of any age, is almost certain to bend further and further toward affluent candidates in coming years. On its own, this is troubling enough as it threatens the credibility and productivity of our democracy. But when considering the political views of affluent millennials — and the rest of the generation more generally — an ominous trend emerges. Consider three graphs from a recent Reason survey, “Millennials: the Politically Unclaimed Generation.” According to every metric Reason examined, the famed liberalism of young Americans fades as soon as their bank accounts grow: 

The darkly comic silver lining here is that millennials aren’t gaining much wealth, so it’s not like we should expect some massive influx of Ayn Rand-loving hipsters in the upcoming years.

But the problem of inherited wealth remains.

Consider two current House Representatives born right on the edge of the millennial generation, Democrats Patrick Murphy (31) and Joseph Kennedy III (33). Their politics are quite divergent, but their individual circumstances are depressingly similar: Both are young white men from wealthy families who attended exclusive private schools starting at an early age. Patrick Murphy is a former Republican who switched parties to defeat conservative wacko Allen West (for which all Americans surely owe him a debt of gratitude). His politics might best be described as “smarmy,” a confusing hodgepodge of positions seemingly intended to appease his right-leaning Florida district. He’s pro-Keystone XL, pro-pointless Benghazi hearings and pro marriage equality. He says he supports “fiscal responsibility,” which is a nice way of saying that he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a center-right politician who wears a donkey pin on his lapel. He’s young enough to surely see the writing on the wall, to sense that the Republican brand is toxic to the majority of his generation.

Joseph Kennedy III’s politics are somewhat less objectionable, which only serves to underscore the deeper problems at play. A fifth generation politician, it seems fair to characterize Kennedy as the poster child of our new American aristocracy. Agreeing with his positions on some issues won’t change the underlying problem — a system that’s far too likely to keep all but the wealthiest voices out of political power.

With a few notable exceptions, the latest batch of millennial candidates aren’t any better. Almost universally children of wealth and privilege, most embrace some token aspects of social liberalism while hurrying to display their fiscally conservative bona fides. They represent the status quo of the affluent, the powerful — the inherited wisdom of a political class that has overseen decades of economic failure for all but the wealthiest among us. When compared with other candidates, most of their positions are uncontroversial — which only makes their grand pronouncements about changing Washington all the more disheartening. If these candidates are in any way representative of the next class of Americans who are both willing and able to run for national office (and I suspect that they are), they should give pause to anyone who thinks that a new generation is coming of age who will rescue our captured politics.

Up until now, Pennsylvania Independent Nick Troiano and Republican Mike Turner have received the bulk of the media’s attention. (Turner recently lost his primary bid despite outspending his opponent 3-1.) Troiano has been in the public eye for a while, most prominently as one of the founders of “The Can Kicks Back,” a tragicomic millennial astroturfing outfit that tried to sell billionaire debt-alarmist Pete Peterson’s ideological vision to young people (slashing entitlement programs so that his gazillionaire buddies won’t be forced to help shoulder the programs’ expanding costs). The Can Kicks Back has been a monumental failure; the group has struggled to stay solvent, characterized as ”nearly broke” by internal emails discovered by Politico reporter Byron Tau last February. But this is America, and kids from upper-class families and cushy private schools always manage to “fail up.” Rather than departing from politics or taking on a more humble role, Troiano has opted to foist his entitlement reform obsession upon the voters of Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional district. As for Mike Turner, at least he was honest about being a Republican: Turner’s campaign went viral recently when Mother Jones ran a story titled “This Millennial Bro Is Running for Congress Using the Family Trust Fund,” which is pretty much everything you need to know about former candidate Mike Turner.

Examining the full slate of the millennials running for Congress this term, a troubling trend emerges. Despite varying slightly on a number of other (mostly social) issues, the majority of these candidates display an almost monomaniacal obsession with “entitlement reform” and balancing the budget, as if that were the only long-term crisis facing young Americans. (It isn’tAt allEven a bit.)

Take Republican Weston Wamp (27), son of former Tennessee Rep. Zach Wamp (who once suggested that states might need to secede if Obamacare were passed). On his official website, “conservative but independent” Weston Wamp promotes “holding the federal government in check” and “promot[ing] free market principles.” He’s careful to skate around most of the social issues that his generation supports, such as marriage equality, climate change and the War on Drugs (and didn’t respond to a request for comment), though he notes his support for the “right to life and the right to bear arms.” According to recent FEC filings, the Wamp campaign has raised over half a million dollars as of this writing, with more than half of that bankroll coming from 110 individuals who contributed the legal maximum of $2,600.

Or consider Andrew Walter (32), Republican candidate for Arizona’s 9th District. A former quarterback for Arizona State and the Oakland Raiders and the founder of a senior secured business lending firm, Walter claims (falsely) that “our national debt is larger than our entire economy.” He then suggests that we “decrease the size of government,” “cut spending,” and that we add a Balanced Budget amendment to the Constitution, which is basically the worst idea ever. Walter has already raised $383,945 (and borrowed $100,000 more); half of that was provided by just 72 individuals who contributed the legal maximum.

How about Elise Stefanik (29), a New York Republican running for the House? A long-time D.C. insider and Harvard grad, Stefanik was raised by a family that owns a flooring company worth upwards of $50 million (per manta.com, h/t DailyKos). A consummate D.C. insider who’s now posing as a local small businesswoman, her campaign site is much more cagey than any of the other candidates I researched for this piece. She resorts to generalities when discussing most issues, but does tout “fiscal responsibility,” stressing the need to “balance the budget and pay down the national debt.” Stefanik has already raised a staggering $836,126 from a wide-ranging group of individuals, companies, PACs and party leadership.

Young Republican candidates Isaac Misiuk (25) and Marilinda Garcia (30) are also convinced of our oncoming debt disaster. At Maine’s 2014 State Republican Convention, Misiuk stated that “we must reduce spending and balance the budget.” Garcia follows much the same script, calling for ”entitlement reform,” the full repeal of Obamacare, and “a balanced budget amendment.” To be fair, unlike the rest of these candidates Garcia and Misiuk are no aristocrats, as is immediately apparent when examining their latest FEC filings. Combined, they raised less than almost every other candidate mentioned in this piece. And yet, the song remains the same.

In an email exchange with Forrest Dunbar, a candidate for Alaska’s 1st Congressional district, Dunbar defended entitlement programs aggressively, despite what he sees as a “dark fatalism” among millennials skeptical that they’ll ever receive those programs’ benefits. Dunbar is particularly critical of recent plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, where “‘serious’ attempts at entitlement reform include the Ryan Budget, which would turn Medicare into a voucher, slash veteran’s healthcare, raise taxes on the middle class… and then turn around and plough those savings into a giant tax cut for the wealthiest people and corporations. If that’s the best Congress can do, then Medicare (and eventually Social Security) are doomed.” New Jersy Congressional candidate Roy Cho agrees, stating in an email that “[m]aking drastic and immediate cuts to so-called entitlements might balance the budget, but it will [...] plunge our economy back into a recession. Spending is certainly a large part of the problem with the dysfunction in Washington, but the bigger problem is that bipartisan cooperation no longer exists between the two parties.”

These few liberal millennials running for Congress this cycle — Wes Neuman (27), Roy Cho (32), Gabriel Rothblatt (31) and Forrest Dunbar (30) — tend to focus on more traditionally left-wing issues such as clean energy, education and campaign finance reform. They’ve also raised a lot less money than their conservative peers, a detail that only confirms the most cynical reading of this emergent political reality. With the exception of New Jersey candidate Roy Cho (who’s raised almost half a million dollars for his campaign — with about a quarter of that coming from 51 donors who gave the legal maximum), the millennial Democrats are tragically underfunded: They’ve raised just under $150,000 combined, or less than any of the Republican candidates besides Maine Congressional hopeful Isaac Misiuk.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that campaign finance reform is featured prominently in the platforms of all four young Democrats running for office. As Cho sees it, we need “real campaign finance reform before the only people who have the means to run for office are those who have never known what it’s like to have to struggle to succeed.” But limiting the influence of money in our elections — if even possible — will not suffice. As long as mainstream politicians from both parties refuse to even consider the drastic, progressive measures that might start reversing our deeply rooted inequality, nothing will change. So it’s not particularly encouraging that common-sense solutions meant to narrow our wealth gap and expand the federal balance sheet — such as implementing a ”Robin Hood Tax” or raising rates for inheritances, gifts, and capital gains — currently exist so far outside the mainstream.

Wealth has always been a feature of American democracy, and perhaps these concerns seem overwrought. But the changing shape of America’s upper class, the $15 trillion projected to flow from the old to the young in the coming decades, is a force too powerful to be ignored or overlooked. As long as the cost of running for office continues to rise, the pool of potential candidates will continue to shrink. We must address this new reality before trust in government erodes beyond repair.

Without political intervention this country will become increasingly aristocratic, and faith in our democracy and her institutions will continue to diminish. That might be an acceptable condition for those affluent individuals who’ve already made their fortunes, who’ve seen their wealth rise to unprecedented heights in recent years.

But for the rest of us? Aristocracy can only spell disaster.

 

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Israel in 2014 Is Like Germany in 1933—Can the Madness Be Stopped?

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 11:27am
A Jewish settler and an exiled Israeli anti-war activist agree.

In February 1983, at a rally in Jerusalem, peace activists demanded the resignation of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon following the outcomes of a committee that scrutinized his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon.

A grenade was thrown into the crowd by a right-wing thug, killing one man and injuring others. This was the culmination of escalating violence between a right-wing mob and left-wing demonstrators protesting the Lebanon war. Ever since that time, including the rally where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, there has not been such violence among the Israeli population, divided between supporters and opponents of the peace process.

These past few weeks have witnessed a new kind of rage. The brutal murder of Muhammad El Hadir by orthodox Jews, two of whom are teens, started a surge of violent processions, harassment of Arab passersby and violent threats on the lives of journalists, actors and other public figures who spoke up in opposition to Israel’s actions in the escalating conflict in Gaza. This phenomenon has grown in out-of-control discussions on social media and in clashes between anti-war demonstrators and thugs wearing Neo-Nazi attire (mostly orthodox Jews, oh—the irony). Those thugs are led by a rapper who calls himself “The Shadow” and who refers to his followers as “Lions” (“Lions of The Shadow”).

Elkana I. is a young Jewish man—he didn’t want his full name used—who comes from these right-wing circles but had enough of this madness. He was raised in the Jewish settlement Beth-El in the West Bank, which is politically identified with those right-wing thugs, as he too supports the right of Jews to settle in all of Israel. Elkana supports military action towards the Hamas who he does not see as a potential partner for peace. He does, however, identify the dangers the Israeli society is facing at this time when a lack of leadership is coupled with mounting fear and despair. He wrote a letter to his fellow right-wing Jewish orthodox peers. He published it on his Facebook page where it went viral within hours. As is often the case in a small tight knit place like Israel, not a day had passed and he was on every radio talk show. Why? He dared to compare modern Israel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  Elkana’s post and the attention it received speak to a sense of urgency, confusion and terror in Israeli society itself, something that is usually well tucked away behind a shield of support for the troop and a false sense of solidarity in the face of falling rockets.  

Another person who dared compare Israelis to Nazis was the well-respected and equally notorious Jewish scholar and philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Leibowitz, an orthodox Jew who lived in Jerusalem, called the Israelis to start peace negotiations days after the six-day war in 1967. He called the Israeli soldiers in the service of the occupation “Judeo-Nazis,” a phrase that kicked him far away from the consensus.

The Nazis came into power in Germany in 1933. Their propaganda against Jews was part of their leader Adolf Hitler’s racist agenda. Jews were less than 1 percent of Germany’s population, but saw themselves as an integral part of German society. They had lived there for centuries. The Nazis had one goal: purge Germany of Jews. Between 1933 and the time World War II started, in September 1939, Jews were slowly expelled from society, stripped of their rights and property. On April 1, 1933, a general boycott against German Jews was declared, in which Nazi party members stood outside Jewish-owned stores and businesses, in order to prevent customers from entering.  A week later, laws were passed banishing Jews from the civil service, judicial system, public medicine, and the German army. In September 1935 the “Nuremberg Laws” were passed, stripping the Jews of their citizenship and forbidding intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. By 1939 German Jews were being rounded up in ghettos and shipped to death camps. That was the beginning of Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”

In Germany, where Jews were an integral part of daily life and society, something slowly shifted. The change was noticeable but slow enough for people to shrug their shoulders and move on. Germans wanted to believe in their leadership and some did, indeed believe that Jews were the source of their predicaments. Jews were being harassed on the streets, called names, beaten up and humiliated. Passers by shrugged their shoulders. Others, who tried to cry out against these acts, were called traitors.  

Stories of Jewish banishment from daily life during the early Nazi regime have been part of the Israeli ethos since the beginning. We will never suffer such humiliation again, was the message looming over the stories told by survivors, studied in history class, talked about in youth gatherings, and in the military. Elkana’s letter to fellow right-wingers, which I translated and follows below, says not so fast. What about us becoming the oppressor? What about us being the ones who shrug our shoulders and walk by? What about us being the ones who call our neighbor a traitor because he was seen buying from a non-Jew? Could it be that we have become such a society?

Today, 20 percent of the Israeli citizens are Palestinian. Their relationship with the state is complex; having to deal with being second-class citizens from the day the country was established. Palestinian-Israelis are an integral part of society and are represented in the media, the parliament, as musicians, actors and public figures. Last week, Palestinian Israelis called for a trade strike in support of the people of Gaza. In response, Israel’s right-wing Foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for a boycott Arab businesses, calling to mind the Nazi ban of 1933. Now read what Elkana said about all this.

We are Germany 1933 (Posted on Facebook by Elkana, July 20, 2014):

You are not going to like this. A conservative, a believer in “a Jewish state for the Jewish people.” I voted for Naftali Bennet (Minister of Economy, leader of right wing party: “The Jewish Home”) and would vote for him again. I think Mahmud Abbas is not a partner for peace. I would provide more examples, but I think you get the point.

Here it comes: I think we are similar to Germany in the 1930s. Now you are surprised, appalled, you cuss me out; this sentence is only being said by those lefties. What made me, Elkana, the soldier from Beth- El [settlement] decide to say it out loud?

Not the “Death to all Arabs” cries; not the “Erase Gaza” bumper stickers; not even the horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. I think the Arabs in Israel today are faring better than the Jews in Germany did at that time. And I also don’t remember there being terrorists who sprung out of the ghettos of Europe.

“You can’t compare.” This mantra is repeated. We are not Nazis. We were never Nazis, are not Nazis now and we will never be. I’m not comparing us to Nazis. Calm down one sec.

So if we’re not Nazis, and the Arabs are not persecuted for being Arab, so how are we similar to that terrible time?

I read Facebook posts and see photos that I am ashamed of, as a Jew and a conservative. Yes, I identify with Gila Almagor and Orna Banai (Israeli actresses) who came under fire this week. I am ashamed; ashamed of being a part of a group whose people threaten the lives of others of the same nation, for their opinions alone.

Don’t tell me, “They are ruining the country!” “They’re selling us for human rights” and other BS. You won’t persuade me that the ones who are threatening are “wild thorns,” “a loud minority,” and a “mob led by thugs.” Because I’m not so sure anymore.

Everyone thinks they are in the right: they know exactly what needs to be done and the worst; that they are the silent sane majority, and the extremists just make us look bad in the media. So why should I believe you? Why believe myself? Maybe this minority is loud because it is not a minority at all? Maybe a lot of things happened since “Power to Israel” (extreme right political party) didn’t get into the Parliament and the people who phone every journalist who dares to say his opinion and threaten his life are actually the majority of us? Maybe the guy sitting next to me on the bus was at the demonstration in Tel Aviv last night, beating up dudes who were expressing their solidarity with the innocent victims in Gaza? Maybe the whole bus is like that?

So I am scared. Because the day before yesterday it was the disgusting Arab member of Parliament, Hanin Zoabi, (not a “traitor,” she was never on my side anyway, was she?) Yesterday, it was Yariv Oppenheimer (director of “Peace Now,” a Zionist pro-peace movement in Israel) and Dov Khenin (left wing parliament member from Hadash party). Today it’s Gideon Levy(left wing journalist) and Orna Banai (actress) and tomorrow someone will call to wish me a horrible death or worse just because I’m writing this post?

And this, my friends, is how the Germans and the Poles who lived with the Jews as good neighbors, felt when they started to get spit on and called “traitors” in the streets. The Jews of back then have nothing to do with the Arabs of today, and the Nazis have nothing to do with today’s “lions of the Shadows.” I’m talking about those everyday Germans who sip their coffee in the morning and read the paper, who believe the nonsense about Jews plotting to rule the world, and then they start hating Franz the German; who went to school with them, because he does business with his Jewish neighbor.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope those are a few lonely, frustrated idiots who need to get a life, but I can’t afford to be smug about this. I approach you, extremists. We are lucky to be living in a country where there is freedom of expression. Don’t turn it into Lenin’s Russia, Assad’s Syria or worse—Hitler’s Germany.

Israel 2014 is like Germany 1933. Please don’t let Israel 2020 be like Germany 1939.

 

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Gangs, Guns and Judas Priest—The Secret History of a U.S.-Inflicted Border Crisis

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 11:00am
Central America did not always have a gang epidemic. We exported that.

Visiting El Salvador over the past year, it was hard not to think the country's number-one job is standing around outside with a gun. In the region from which child migrants are fleeing to the US, personal security is largely a question of what you can afford to pay. El Salvador has, by one estimate, 25,000 private guards in a country with 20,000 police officers. In Honduras, which boasts the highest murder rate in the world and has seen the largest exodus of young people to the American border this year, guards outnumber cops five to one.

Wealthy Salvadorans can retreat to residential compounds that resemble a militarized version of a Palm Beach retirement community, complete with golf carts. Behind high walls and even higher voltage wires, one economist gushed to me: "This place has everything – we never have to go outside!" For the rest, those who stay and those who get sent back, gangland drama is a fact of life.

For Americans behind our own wall, there is a sense of bewilderment. We wonder why these young people are showing up at our borders, if they are enticed by some false promise of amnesty. And then we send them back.

But child migrants escaping north are not so irrational, and the current wave is neither new nor terribly mystifying. The factors that push and pull them – extreme violence, extortion, forced gang recruitment and a desire to reunite with family – are rooted in the United States's heavy hand in the region.

Central America didn't always have a gang epidemic. That was exported there by us. And the current immigration crisis is as much a United States legacy as it has become a local tragedy – a consequence of US-financed civil wars from the 1980s that sparked the first migration wave, and of US policies toward those migrants after they arrived.

Both major gangs now plaguing the region originated in Los Angeles. The gang that became MS-13 was originally an informal collection of teenage civil war refugees and metal-heads who borrowed their devil-horns hand sign from Judas Priest. Their onetime ally-turned-rival, Mara 18, traces back to the 1940s but shared with the newer gang an open-door membership for Central Americans that put them both at odds with the area's more established, exclusively Mexican gangs. When those gangs began to terrorize the new immigrants, MS-13 and Mara 18 fought back. Only later would they spread to the countries which their parents had left, through deportations, and contribute to today's migration wave.

In time, MS-13 and Mara 18 came to surpass their oppressors, thanks in part to a citywide police sweep that preceded the 1984 LA Summer Olympics, busting up the known Angeleno gangs but overlooking the new Central American rivals – and also their propensity for violence, notoriously favoring machetes for attacks.

These street battles would have been of little concern to most Americans were it not for President Clinton and his desire to triangulate Republicans on crime. In 1996, he signed a law that ratcheted up deportations of immigrants with criminal records – including those with citizenship – by making things like drunk driving and petty theft deportable offenses.

Shipping off undesirable immigrants proved enormously popular among Democrats and Republicans alike, and mass deportations continued apace under Presidents Bush and Obama – overwhelmingly to Mexico and Central America. According to Homeland Security data, annual criminal deportations to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have since jumped from 1,987 in 1995 to 106,420 in 2013. Add the non-criminal deportation boom that will explode this year should Obama get the expedited deportation authority he's currently seeking, and you'll have the makings of yet another migration crisis just down the road.

Of course, deporting hundreds of thousands of criminals has been far less popular in the countries to which deportees are sent "home" – to a place many left as toddlers and do not remember. Mostly unemployable, some speaking little to no Spanish, many reconstituted their maras in countries ill-prepared to deal with them, still in the midst of postwar reconstruction, with underequipped and easily corruptible police in only nominal control of public safety.

It's a cycle: With each planeload of deportees, the gangs grew stronger, expanding their activities and recruiting younger members by force – taking a page from the armies Washington had backed a generation earlier – and it is precisely those children they target who await processing in our border detention facilities today.

Once again, migrants fleeing a conflict zone we helped create are showing up at our doorstep, and our solution, once again, is to send them back. Basic humanity dictates that we consider the plight that brought them here, and that we prioritize family reunification. So, too, does the law – one which Congressional Republicans, who routinely charge Obama with not enforcing immigration law, are now clamoring for him to ignore, and Obama remains just as eager to oblige them.

During El Salvador's recent presidential elections, the opposition party posted billboards in regions from which the largest number of migrants are leaving. Under pictures of Salvadoran families in DC, California and New York read lines like I WANT TO RETURN TO A COUNTRY FREE OF GANGS. It's an ambition unlikely to be realized as long as the US believes we can deport our problems away, because eventually, those problems tend to come back to haunt us.

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10 Exciting Things About Sex You'll Learn As You Get Older

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 10:27am
You’ll have sex that’s as good or even better than when you were younger.

My mother was 40 when I was born, creaking with antiquity by 1964 standards, and she used her advanced decrepitude as a kind of get-out-of-everything-free card. When I would ask why she didn’t get manicures, perms and divorces like the other moms she’d say “because I’m old.”  She was  too old for popular music, for makeup (“What am I,  Baby Jane?”) and too old to offer advice on a dating world that had changed radically since Moses took her to the prom. The closest thing to advice my mother ever gave me on intimacy was “If a man pinches you on the subway, scream “Get your hands off me, pervert!” Then she gave me a police whistle. 

Even if she had offered advice that was less, well, practical, I’d probably have been incapable of taking it, largely because, well, what teen or 20 something believes anything older people have to say? 

Here, then are ten things true things  about sex and dating that you’re incapable of believing when you’re young. Because old people don’t know anything about sex. They bought their kids on the internet. 

1. You’ll have sex that’s as good or even better than when you were younger.

Last year Miley Cyrus, then 20, informed Matt Lauer it was her understanding that people stopped having sex at 40, reports NBC contributor Brian Alexander

You don’t have to squint to see why young people find it hard to believe that people who can’t get stand up without groaning can still have sex so mindblowing the neighbors might think someone next door is being murdered.  

Miley’s dad is 52. It’s a fact that thinking of one’s parents as sexual is so gross and mortifying that denial is necessary. Miley should be glad to know, though, that there is no deadline, no “off” switch that halts hormone production and caulks up various ducts and orifices on one’s 40th birthday. Sexuality changes with age, but good sex is about health, state of mind and chemistry: if you’ve got that you’ll have sex that’s loud enough to scare the dog well into your twilight years. 

2. Your hot pants will cool off… and it’s a relief.

So the brakes won’t slam on your sex life, but that doesn’t mean your body won’t ease up on the accelerator. This page about the effects of aging on sexuality details numerous change that can slow down your sex drive with age. 

The good news is it’s not a bad thing. Gloria Steinem, on her 80th birthday, talked about how a lower sex drive frees up the "mind for all kinds of things." I agree. Now that I’m nearing 50, it’s a relief to be able to write a story, sit through a movie, or wash the car without my nether regions issuing demands, like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors.

3. Nobody really thinks you wake up looking like that.

When I was younger, after nights of romantic passion, I would sneak off to the bathroom to repair hair, makeup and even jewelry before my partner would wake up. I don’t think any of them really believed I woke up looking as though I was going out to see, or perhaps perform, Cabaret, but I finally figured out that if he's seen your naked body you probably don’t have to worry about him seeing your naked face.

4. All the romantic cliches are stupid, but you should do them while you’re limber and naive.

When you’re young and you don’t have a place of your own or if you’re just rampantly horny you’ll do it anywhere, and you should, because there will come a day when the idea of having sex in a Honda Civic will just make your lower back hurt. 

You’ll also find that satin sheets are, as Madonna said, very romantic, until you slip out of them and almost break your nose, and that if you want to experience sex on the beach you should just put a half a cup of sand in your mouth and your underwear and you’ll get the idea. 

The older you get the less you’re willing to put up with discomfort or risk of arrest, so do all the daring, crazy things now, while "safe sex" still means wearing condoms instead of slipping a disc.

5. There’s more to sex than sex.

Many people in my generation learned a lot about sex and relationships from porn and Hollywood, which only show you about 10% of what it’s really like out there. Porn, especially, is like high school: you can learn some useful basics but there’s a ton of crap you’ll never use and you’ll probably walk away without any knowledge of chemistry.

There is so much more to sex than sex, chemistry included. In fact, combine sexual chemistry and intimacy and you have the strongest force in nature that doesn’t ever take up time on the Weather Channel. In my cocky youth I thought it was mostly about the physical, but when you start adding in those elements, plus self-knowledge, emotional maturity and experience, you get so much depth and breadth of feeling it's like going from a black-and-white set to 3D HD with surround-sound. Had I known the sublime joy and horrible sorrow it would cause I don’t know whether I’d have sought it out sooner or fled to a convent and never emerged. 

6. Sex is not a cure for loneliness.

This notion was kicked in by my friend Charles Martin, and though it wasn’t something I thought applied to me, upon reflection, I can remember times when I pulled people in more as tranquilizers than human beings. It can work for a few minutes, until you realize that you’re often the loneliest when you’re with the wrong person. 

7. You will wrinkle like a linen suit.

When you’re young you can’t fathom it, but changes —age spots, gray hair, menopause — will come, like growth spurts did, like puberty did and the more you do now in regard to diet, exercise, dental care, etc., the more these efforts will make you a happier, healthier, sexier old bag of wrinkles than if you do nothing. Maintenance is easier than repair. The excuse. “I could die tomorrow, I don’t want to waste time on a treadmill,” doesn’t wash when U.S. life expectancy is 76 for men and 81 for women.

Face it: you’re going to live long enough to start caring about your lawn. 

8. There are always new tricks.

A girlfriend told me that in her younger years she never could have believed she could have hands-free orgasms, as discussed here on The Doctors by author and sex teacher Sheri Winston.  

I’ve asked her to teach me how. If it works, you’ll never hear from me again. 

But it speaks to the fact that not only does sex not stop after 40 but learning new, exciting things about sex doesn’t stop either. After all, Olympic athletes are the best of the best, and they never stop using coaches. 

9. Whatever is tying you in knots right now is temporary.

Whether it’s a new crush or a broken heart, a friend’s betrayal or a Miranda Priestly boss, whatever feels like the end of the world right now probably isn’t. 

Trust me: I know this like I know Beginner’s Math. As you get more and more distance from those peas under your mattress, you will realize that about 95% of the things that cause you sorrow and anger are things you won’t remember two months from now. Change them or drop them, but don’t dwell on them.

If you need proof, watch any of the murder shows on TV: Snapped, Swamp Murders, Secret Lives of Stepford Wives — they’re all full of people who couldn’t just drop it until one was dead and the other was in jail. See what happens when you don’t listen to that damn Disney song from Frozen, let it go?

10. Don’t be afraid to talk about money

When you’re young and in love and hot for each other there’s no bigger buzz kill than a big, fat stack of bills coming in that you’re not sure how you’re going to pay, something most of us have faced in the last decade or so. That’s true when you’re older, too: cash flow issues can suck the wind right out of your romantic sails sometimes, but talking openly about your financial situation, expectations and hopes is just as important as talking about sexual, emotional or other issues. 

 Take it from The Guardian’s Suzanne McGee in her Seven Ways  to Stop Arguing With Your Spouse About Money: “…research suggests that if you can find a way to sync your approach to money, that’s going to do more for the health of your relationship than a dozen roses or a diamond will do.”

It’s especially helpful to know if one of you is the type who thinks it should have been two dozen roses and a diamond in a gold bracelet and the other thinks all of that could have gone towards paying off the car. It doesn’t mean you can’t work together, it just helps to know that about who you’re working with.

 

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The Day I Was Nearly Arrested for Having an Autistic Son

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 10:24am
Moms have been arrested for going on job interviews and letting their kids play outside. It almost happened to me over a tantrum.

When my son, who has autism, was 4, he had such a titanic tantrum on the street in Providence, Rhode Island, where we lived, that I couldn’t control him. He started screaming, running into the street, hitting and biting me — and himself — in a panicked frenzy, and all I could do was sit on the curb and try to keep him reasonably safe. His high-pitched shrieks soon attracted a crowd, people openly staring with disapproval and commenting about how I couldn’t control my own child.

No one spoke to me directly, save for an older man sitting on the terrace of a restaurant; he hollered to me that I needed to bring J over so he could spank him. A few people took their phones out (pre-smartphone era; this episode would otherwise have been immortalized on YouTube), and I thought, finally, someone wants to help. Maybe they’d call my spouse, who was at home a few blocks away, so he could give me a hand. I had broken glass in my knee and one of J’s tiny sandals had been dropkicked so far into the middle of the intersection that there was no way I could retrieve it myself and still hang on to him.

I was about to ask a bystander to retrieve it, when I noticed that one of the ladies who had her phone out, someone who’d made disparaging comments about my parenting a few seconds earlier, was giving me a very disapproving look and stood poised, with the flip-phone to her ear, her finger at the ready at the keypad.

And I realized: Oh, boy, she’s about to call the cops. Instead of me being a sweaty mess of a mother trying to calm my autistic child, now I’m an abuser/kidnapper/potential felon/who knows what.

In retrospect, however, one of truly taxing days of my life had actually been stopped from being much, much worse when my friend suddenly spotted me in the middle of the mob and ran to my aid. My friend is white and clearly looks like a professional, non-felon, etc., and the crowd mutteringly dispersed.

Fast-forward some years; our son is now 11. At the checkout of the Whole Foods, something sets him off and without warning, he screams and sinks his teeth into my hand, biting so hard the joint in my thumb swells to the size of a plum. He starts kicking and screaming; my husband and I carefully escort him out of the crowded store and to our car. He runs the last 10 feet, jumps in the back and slams the door. He has his own jump seat in the back of our station wagon, an enclosed space where he feels safe. We open the windows on a gorgeous 70-ish day and let him finish his tantrum in peace. The tantrum sputters out quickly, and we open the hatch to put our groceries in. I turn back to my cart and see a cop walking toward us, while an entire line of bystanders — Whole Foods employees and shoppers — stare at us from the entrance.

“This lady called us,” he says, gesturing to a middle-aged white woman standing a few yards back.

“I wouldn’t treat a dog the way you treat your child!” she screeches at us, her voice dripping with condensed hate and disdain.

My husband and I look at each other. Was she talking to us? What did we do?

Then I remembered her. She was eating a sandwich, sitting in a junky van as we passed by, my husband and I, one hand on each of our son’s arms so he wouldn’t scratch himself or us. I remember giving her an apologetic look – Sorry to disturb your lunch – as we guided our screaming son back to the car. I didn’t realize that, in her eyes, she saw us abusing our son. Or kidnapping him? I still don’t know what she saw.

“Like a dog,” I heard her snarl to the person next to her, an employee in a Whole Foods apron, who nodded, absently. “Worse than a dog.”

J was perfectly calm, sitting in his seat. He might have even said hi to the cop. He likes saying hi to people; he likes policemen and firemen and garbagemen. The cop does not look overly perturbed. My husband and I are middle-aged; he’s white, I’m Asian. We are both college professors and probably look it. How much more stereotypical can we be with our recycled shopping bags and older-model Volvo station wagon? These things shouldn’t matter, but I think they do. The cop tuned out the screeching lady and calmly listened to us.

“We weren’t abusing him,” I said. “He has autism and was having a tantrum and being inside the car makes him feel safe. And we were standing here with him the whole time. It’s 70 degrees, and the window is open.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. The cop said his nephew was autistic. “My nephew does stuff like that all the time.” He wished us well and walked away, not even bothering to ask our names.

*

I walked at a brisk clip toward the woman, our accuser. She, along with the crowd, had stood there observing the cop calmly walking back to his squad car. I wanted to know what she thought she saw. I wanted to know why she didn’t merely talk to us. Before I could get close enough to hail her, she jumped back in her van, refused to make eye contact, and peeled out. The employees faded back into the store. I summoned the store manager.

Yes, he’d seen us here with J numerous times. So had the employees. This wasn’t the first time he’d had a tantrum in the store. My husband and I would not have done a single thing differently, even if we had a whole department of cops and social workers staring at us. But it made me wonder: Sometime, when we are away from home and people who know us, or the cop doesn’t have an autistic nephew, are we going to get arrested? What would happen to J?

*

A recent spate of arrests of mothers has me thinking about this now more than ever. At what point did parenting go from a communal activity to an actionable crime?  A mother in her 40s, Debra Harrell, is currently in jail for letting her 9-year-old daughter play in well-populated park while Ms. Harrell was at work. Tanya McDowell, a homeless single mother, was charged with felonious larceny when she hoped for a better education for her son, using her babysitter’s address instead of her last known permanent address in a worse neighborhood, to enroll her son in kindergarten. (i.e., “stealing” a free public education). Shanesha Taylor, another single homeless mother, had no one to watch her two small children, so she left them in the car during a job interview. She got the job — and then returned to find the cops waiting for her. (The district attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona, has now agreed to dismiss the charges, as long as Taylor completes parenting courses, and establishes education and child-care trust funds for her kids.) In all three cases mothers were separated from their children for the act of mothering.

*

I grew up in the ’70s, when we kids were expected to entertain ourselves, which meant, largely, that we were left on our own. I sometimes walked home from elementary school by myself; when my mother was pursuing her undergraduate degree at the same time, we were often left for long periods under the supervision of my teenaged brother. Being home alone after school was routine for my latchkey friends. The tiny county jail would not have been able to fit all the moms who left kids napping in the car while they ran into the grocery store.

A beloved professor told me that in order to get her PhD while being the mother of five, she had to take her youngest to school with her — and she let him play in the hall outside the lecture room while she attended class. “What else was I supposed to do?” she said. She laughed, also, surveying the no-trimester-is-too-early-to-start-the-Baby-Einstein-tapes of women of my generation. “We didn’t even talk to babies back then — we thought they wouldn’t understand!” Her children survived and even went to Harvard. Her parenting strategy 20 years ago showed pluck, can-do-ness, and other admirable traits, not unlike my mother’s letting my brother cook us no-bake cheesecake for all our meals for weeks at a time.

Now, the same things are seen as a crime — “neglecting” or “endangering” your child. No matter if it’s in service for something necessary like a job, more education, or to put food on the table. Or that affluent white people fudge on their addresses to jockey for a better school district, and while they do sometimes get caught, I’ve yet to hear of a case where someone’s been forced to pay restitution, never mind been arrested as happened to Tanya McDowell.

And where are these so-called arbiters of correct parenting coming from? It seems all one has to do is add a little race or class difference to a dollop of self-righteousness (I’m doing it for the children!), and you’re off to the races in the 9-1-1  race. Did the so-called good Samaritan who came across Debra Harrell’s daughter in the park — she’d been happily playing there without incident for three days — think to have a little talk with the mother, to express her misgivings? Maybe help her find a babysitter, or replace the daughter’s laptop, which had been stolen, and was the whole reason she had asked to play in the park instead of playing on the computer inside her mother’s workplace? Or, did all this woman see was a child of a black mother, a poor mother (her job was at McDonald’s) and whatever smorgasbord of stereotypes she wished to attach to that?

Shanesha Taylor was summoned for an interview for a promising job; with no childcare, she felt the potential benefit of this job was worth the risk to leave her kids in her car during the interview, the kind of risk/reward calculation that mothers make every second of the day. She did a great job at the interview, won the job, and her children were fine. This could have been a happy ending to a story of struggle for this embattled family had the woman who saw the kids in the car alone talked to the mother instead of immediately calling the cops.

Make no mistake, this behavior is not about the children, it is about punishment — for being poor, for being of color, for having children at all, for not living up to the accuser’s standards of perfect parenting. Many of these child protection laws have  no guidelines, which leaves them open for interpretation and unequal and unjust application. On a purely empirical level, the thought of Debra Harrell’s daughter playing alone at the park might be unnerving and seemingly at risk of stranger abduction, but it is statistically safe, actually much safer than an affluent mom driving her kid to summer camp — ergo, it’s the rich mom driving to camp whose daughter should be in the custody of social services at least as much as Harrell’s.

The Onion said it best with their headline, “Woman A Leading Authority On What Shouldn’t Be In Poor People’s Grocery Carts.”

*

On my accuser’s face at Whole Foods, I saw an “I care so much about the children” mask — it was not  concern about my son the individual. He was not being physically abused or kidnapped or endangered in any way. If we had been in the privacy of our own home, this is how we would have escorted our son to his room for a time-out. Thus, how would he have been “helped” by this lady if indeed the cop had arrested us? J would have been left alone, needing his pain medicine for his gut and confused and stressed. It would have taken a difficult but stable everyday  situation and made it terrible for all parties — and for no reason. For us, we had the luck of the draw — an autism-savvy cop, the positive-parenting visuals of Whole Foods, Volvo, college professors — and the fact our son had calmed down.

If you’re worried about something going on between a parent and her child, by all means, get involved if you think it necessary. But short of a child being kidnapped or injured in front of your face, you might want to start from a place of openness, empathy and concern. Don’t stand far away, launch an emotional drone via police to search-and-destroy. You think you might be helping, but remember, sometimes what you see as a crime is just a parent doing the best that she can, and even a false, disproved accusation inflicts lasting damage.

 

 

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Right-Wing Christians Tell Kids 'Convert or Go to Hell,' Then Accuse Liberals of Indoctrinating Christian Kids

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 10:12am
It’s evident who is pushing obedience to an ideology.

For the masochists among us who tune into right-wing media, you soon learn that the all-time favorite fear pundits and preachers love to trot out is that “they” are coming for your children.

Whether it’s liberal college professors supposedly turning kids to Marxism or gay people who are accused of recruiting, over and over you hear the claim that the children of conservatives are in serious danger of being talked into everything from voting for Democrats to getting gay-married.

It’s a peculiar thing to obsess over, and not just because it suggests conservatives have an unhealthy unwillingness to allow their children to grow up and think for themselves. It’s because the imagined conspiracies of liberals trying to “indoctrinate” kids are total phantoms. A little digging shows that accusations of indoctrination are usually aimed at attempts to educate or simply offer support and acceptance. While there are always a few rigid ideologues who are out to recruit, by and large liberals are, well, liberal: More interested in arguing and engaging than trying to mold young people into unthinking automatons.  

But I think I know where conservatives get the idea that other people are sneaking around trying to indoctrinate children into unthinking ideologies. It’s because they themselves are totally guilty of it, both in terms of trying to recruit other people’s children and trying to frighten their own children about the dangers of exploring thoughts outside of the ones approved by their own rigid ideologies.

Parents in Portland, Oregon were alarmed to hear that a group calling itself the Child Evangelism Fellowship's Good News Club has been targeting children as young as five for conversion to their form of Christianity. The group pretends to be similar to more liberal and open-minded groups, claiming they are just trying to teach their beliefs but aren’t trying to be coercive. However, it’s hard to believe, in no small part because they admit they run around scaring children by telling them they are “sinners” who are hellbound unless they convert and start trying to convert others.

One mother, Mia Marceau, told the Associated Press about her 8-year-old son’s encounter with the group. “Within a few hours, however, she didn't like what the group was telling her 8-year-old son and his friends: They were headed to hell, needed to convert their friends and were duty-bound to raise money for the organization.” Those kinds of tactics aren’t about encouraging free discourse, but about creating a cult-like mentality that discourages questions and free thought.

Accusing liberals of “indoctrination” of children does serve one very valuable purpose for conservatives: It gives them cover to launch initiatives to actually indoctrinate children into rigidly Christian or right-wing views.

Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the issue of evolution vs. creationism. Evolutionary theory is not an ideology or a belief system. It’s part of science, a world where asking smart questions and looking at evidence and questioning what you think you know is a big part of the equation. But creationists claim that they are the skeptics who are asking hard questions and portray evolutionary biologists as the rigid ideologues who are taking their beliefs on faith. By doing so, they hope to confuse people enough about which is the science and which is the faith system so they can smuggle their beliefs into the classroom where they hope to actually indoctrinate children.

It's easy enough to see this is true if you understand how the concept of “evidence” works. All of the “questions” creationists claim to have about evolution have all been answered by scientists. That creationists hear these answers and ignore them, preferring to pretend instead that scientists have not answered the questions, shows that creationists are the rigid ideologues in the game.

Meanwhile, creationist arguments fall apart under even the most cursory examination, and unlike scientists, creationists aren’t able to answer the questions people ask them. One reason creationists struggle to get their indoctrination attempts past the courts is that once you actually bother to look at the debate in any depth, it’s clear who is teaching people how to think and who is pushing unquestioning obedience to an ideology.

You’re starting to see the same tactic used when it comes to right-wing attacks on Common Core, a set of national standards for schools endorsed by the White House. Now, there’s plenty of reason for people who are fans of critical thinking to object to Common Core, which feeds into the same “teach the test” mentality and attempts to turn our children into worker bees that have long plagued our public school system. But right-wing complaints about it have nothing to do with that. Instead they stem from a series of fanciful claims that it’s some kind of underhanded way to indoctrinate your children into liberalism.

(Indeed, in a bit of right-wing paradoxical thinking, teaching critical thinking itself is viewed as a form of indoctrination, even though it is, by definition, the exact opposite of indoctrination. If Common Core actually promoted more critical thinking, the right's claims that it's “indoctrination” would probably get louder.)

But the whole scare over Common Core doesn’t actually have much to do with the realities of Common Core at all. Most of the conservative claims are a bunch of recycled scare tactic used to scare parents into believing that education itself is the enemy and that kids should be kept at home or within strictly controlled Christian right environments geared to shut down critical thinking and encourage ideological rigidity.

That was made quite clear in Nona Willis Aronowitz’s piece for NBC News where she followed a group of Christian conservatives who hit the road trying to scare people about Common Core in Texas. Never mind that Texas doesn’t use Common Core. Scaring people about a thing they call “Common Core” that is merely a stand-in for fears kids might actually get educated if they go to school is what the entire snow job they’re pulling is all about. By raising fears that kids who get a public education are being brainwashed by some nefarious liberal agenda, these activists can justify their actual desire to, well, try to brainwash kids into unblinking acceptance of whatever authority figures in their life tell them to believe.  

One mother said she was protesting the current state of public education because she opposed “deeper, rigorous thinking” for her kids and wanted them to learn “that there are absolutes, that there are right and wrong answers,” even though, in reality, there really is a lot of gray between the black and white. No matter how much conservatives wish otherwise, teaching people to think for themselves is not “indoctrination” and trying to foist a rigidly unthinking right-wing ideology on them is not protecting them.

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7 Ways U.S. Foreign Policy Would Be Even More Disastrous If There Were a Republican in the White House

AlterNet.org - July 23, 2014 - 10:02am
Conservatives scapegoat Obama over foreign crises, but their solutions would be far more scary.

It's hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: American weakness projected by Barack Obama.

People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney said recently, "are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president." He added, "We've got a problem with weakness, and it's centered right in the White House."

Really? It's instructive to ask: What exactly would a Republican president advised by Cheney do in each of these crises? Let's take them one at a time.

Iraq. It's now clear that Cheney's invasion of Iraq and its subsequent Shiite client state under Nouri al-Maliki only deepened sectarian strife and laid the groundwork for another brand of Islamist radicalism, this time in the form of ISIS, and more backlash against the U.S. for creating the mess. What's the solution -- a permanent U.S. military occupation of Iraq? Republican presidential candidates should try running on that one.

Syria. Obama took a lot of criticism for equivocating on where the bright line was when it came to Syrian use of chemical warfare. In fact, American military pressure and diplomacy has caused Syrian president Assad to get rid of chemical weapons. But the deeper Syrian civil war is another problem from hell. How about it, Republican candidates -- More costly military supplies to moderate radicals, whoever the hell they are? A U.S invasion? See how that plays in the 2016 campaign.

Israel-Palestine. A two-state solution seems further away than ever, and time is not on the Israeli side. No American president has had the nerve to tell the Israeli government to stop building settlements on Arab lands, despite $3 billion a year on U.S. aid to Israel. What Would Jesus Do? (What would Cheney do?)

Putin and Ukraine.Russian President Putin's fomenting of military adventures by ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has created a needless crisis. But our European friends, who have trade deals with Russia, don't want to make trouble. So, what will it be -- a new U.S.-led Cold War without European support? A hot war?

Iran's Nuclear Capacity.The policy of détente with Iran in exchange for controls on Iranian ability to weaponize enriched uranium is a gamble that could well pay off. The alternative course of bombing Iran, either ourselves or via a proxy Israeli strike, seems far more of a gamble. Who's the realist here?

China's New Muscle. The U.S., under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, has become pitifully dependent on borrowing from China. Our biggest corporations have put the attractions of cheap Chinese labor ahead of continuing production in the U.S.A., creating a chronic trade deficit that requires all that borrowing. Now, China is throwing around its economic weight everywhere from its own backyard in East Asia to Africa and South America. Our troubles with Putin have helped promote a closer alliance between Moscow and Beijing. Anyone have a nice silver bullet for this one?

Those Central American Kids.What do you think -- failure of immigration policy or humanitarian refugee crisis? On the one hand, American law says that bona fide refugees can apply for asylum and that children who are being trafficked fall into the category of refugees. On the other hand America is never going to take all the world's refugees. Border Patrol agents interviewing terrified nine-year-olds lack the capacity to determine who is a true candidate for asylum. If shutting down the border -- ours or Mexico's -- were the easy solution, we would have done it decades ago.

And I haven't even gotten to Afghanistan, or the problem of nuclear proliferation, or new Jihadist weapons that can evade airport detection systems, or the total failure of democracy to gain ground in the Middle East.

The Republican story seems to be: we don't need to bog down in details -- somehow, it's all Obama's fault.

Here's what these crises have in common.

  • They have no easy solutions, military or diplomatic, and U.S. leverage is limited.
  • They are deeply rooted in regional geo-politics. U.S. projection of either bravado or prudence has little to do with how recent events have unfolded.
  • Some of these crises were worsened by earlier U.S. policy mistakes, such as the Cheney-Bush invasion of Iraq, or the bipartisan indulgence of Israeli building of settlements, or the one-sided industrial deals with China, or 20th-century alliances with Middle Eastern despots to protect oil interests.

When I was growing up, there was a nice clean division between the good guys and the bad guys. Hitler was the ultimate bad guy. Or maybe it was Stalin. America won World War II, and we won the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed.

Policy choices were easy only in retrospect. The neat world of good guys and bad guys started coming apart with the Vietnam War.

Today's crises are nothing like the ones of that simple era. Who are the good guys and bad guys in Syria and in Iraq? In China's diplomacy in South America? Among the murdered Israeli and Palestinian children and the children seeking refuge at our southern border?

To the extent that policy options are even partly military, the American public has no stomach for multiple invasions and occupations.

As Republican jingoists scapegoat President Obama for all the world's ills and try to impose a simple story of weakness and strength on events of stupefying complexity, you have to hope that the American people have more of an attention span than usual.

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