Three Black Professional Women Say Staff at Exclusive NYC Hotel Accused Them of Being Hookers - September 14, 2014 - 5:42pm
Does being a professional black woman in public equal solicitation?

When Kantaki Washington and two friends were hanging out at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan's Meatpacking District several weeks ago, none of them could imagine they'd be accused of soliciting prostitution.

On the morning of August 28, Washington, Cydney Madlock and J. Lyn Thomas say a member of the hotel's security team accused them of being hookers. The women had just come down from Le Bain, a bar at the top of the hotel, and settled in the lobby when several men approached them and offered to buy them drinks. When they sat down at a restaurant inside the hotel, an African-American man approached Washington and her friends and introduced himself. Moments later, Washinton says a security guard from the hotel whispered something in the man's ear and ushered him away.

"After the security guard ushers the brotha away, he comes over to me and my friends and says, 'Come on, ladies. You can buy a drink but you can't be soliciting,'" Washinton told AlterNet in an interview. "We were like, soliciting? He said, 'Don't act stupid with me, ladies. You know what you're doing. Stop soliciting in here. We were like, 'Soliciting what?'" 

Shocked, she asked the security guard if he was accusing them of prostitution. "Don't act stupid with me, you know what you were doing," Washington recalls the guard saying.

"Dude, I'm a lawyer and these women are educators," she said in reply. "Why the hell would I be in here soliciting prostitution?" Washington said he answered, "I don't know but that's what you're doing."

Washington and her friends were the only black women in the area and believe they were racially profiled. Outraged, Washington demanded that the guard give her his name and the name of his manager. The guard gave her his first name only and directed her to ther reception desk. When she and her friends approached the manager over their claim, Washington says they were met with indifference. She says the manager then claimed the security guard was outsourced and not technically a staff member.

Several weeks later, Washington received an email from a staff member of the hotel inviting her and "three guests back to The Standard for a bottle of champagne in The Top of The Standard or Le Bain, followed by dinner for 4 (valued at $400) at The Standard Grill." None of the emails, which Washington provided to AlterNet, addressed the prostitution accusation. When Washington asked about specifics of the offer of dinner in a separate email, the staff person did not mention the prostitution accusation.

"Again, I want to apologize for what happened to you here that evening," the staff member wrote in a reply. "We are extending this table for 4 as a gesture of goodwill for you and your friends, plus one more person. Please let me know when you would like to come back."

After repeated attempts to reach hotel management, AlterNet was unable to get anyone to comment on the incident. 

Cydney Madlock, who teaches at a charter school in Brooklyn, told AlterNet that the offer of dinner and champagne isn't good enough.

"We should have some formal apology," she said. "And the $400 dinner, we all have careers. That's nothing. We can afford that ourselves. If I want champagne...what is that? I felt like [the security guard] was talking to me like a dog in the street."

Madlock claims the guard was very hostile and spoke so loudly that other patrons in the eating area could hear their discussion.

"It was crazy," she said. "He was being rude. It was embarassing and we don't know who was in that restaurant. My principal could have been in there. What kind of effect would that have been on my career?"

J. Lyn Thomas, a dance teacher in Brooklyn, told AlterNet that she is still upset about what happened that night.

"I'm just in shock that, in 2014, this is something that I had to take time out of my night to handle," she said. "It's beyond what I can imagine could happen in 2014. Three black women, and the only reason why we could be there is because we're soliciting for sex? That's ridiculous. A lawyer and two people who teach kids for a living. It was very dehumanizing and very degrading. He did it in front of the entire restaurant and they were watching the whole scene. It was humiliating. I'm still in shock. I still can't believe that happened."

This is not the only case in which professional black women were mistaken for prostitutes. In Los Angeles, actress Daniele Watts was detained by Studio City police officers this weekend after being accused of prostitution. She was eventually released. Her boyfriend, who is white and was with her at the time, believes they were targeted because they are an interracial couple. 

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We're Wrecking the Planet for the Next Millennia: Biggest Rally Over Climate Change in Human History Coming Up - September 14, 2014 - 2:50pm
We march because we know that climate change affects everyone, but its impacts are not equally felt.

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On Sunday, September 21st, a huge crowd will march through the middle of Manhattan.  It will almost certainly be the largest rally about climate change in human history, and one of the largest political protests in many years in New York. More than 1,000 groups are coordinating the march -- environmental justice groups, faith groups, labor groups -- which means there’s no one policy ask. Instead, it’s designed to serve as a loud and pointed reminder to our leaders, gathering that week at the United Nations to discuss global warming, that the next great movement of the planet’s citizens centers on our survival and their pathetic inaction.

As a few of the march’s organizers, though, we can give some sense of why we, at least, are marching, words we think represent many of those who will gather at Columbus Circle for the walk through midtown Manhattan.

We march because the world has left the Holocene behind: scientists tell us that we’ve already raised the planet’s temperature almost one degree Celsius, and are on track for four or five by century’s end. We march because Hurricane Sandy filled the New York City subway system with salt water, reminding us that even one of the most powerful cities in the world is already vulnerable to slowly rising ocean levels.

We march because we know that climate change affects everyone, but its impacts are not equally felt: those who have contributed the least to causing the crisis are hit hardest, here and around the world. Communities on the frontlines of global warming are already paying a heavy price, in some cases losing the very land on which they live. This isn’t just about polar bears any more.

But since polar bears can’t march, we march for them, too, and for the rest of creation now poised on the verge of what biologists say will be the planet’s sixth great extinction event, one unequalled since the last time a huge asteroid struck the Earth 66 million years ago.

And we march for generations yet to come, our children, grandchildren, and their children, whose lives will be systematically impoverished and degraded. It’s the first time one century has wrecked the prospects of the millennia to come, and it makes us mad enough to march.

We march with hope, too. We see a few great examples around the world of how quickly we could make the transition to renewable energy. We know that if there were days this summer when Germany generated nearly 75% of its power from renewable sources of energy, the rest of us could, too -- especially in poorer nations around the equator that desperately need more energy. And we know that labor-intensive renewables would provide far more jobs than capital-intensive coal, gas, and oil.

And we march with some frustration: why haven’t our societies responded to 25 years of dire warnings from scientists? We’re not naïve; we know that the fossil fuel industry is the 1% of the 1%. But sometimes we think we shouldn’t have to march. If our system worked the way it should, the world would long ago have taken the obvious actions economists and policy gurus have recommended -- from taxing carbon to reflect the damage it causes to funding a massive World War II-scale transition to clean energy.

Marching is not all, or even most, of what we do. We advocate; we work to install solar panels; we push for sustainable transit. We know, though, that history shows marching is usually required, that reason rarely prevails on its own. (And we know that sometimes even marching isn’t enough; we’ve been to jail and we’ll likely be back.)

We’re tired of winning the argument and losing the fight. And so we march. We march for the beaches and the barrios. We march for summers when the cool breeze still comes down in the evening. We march because Exxon spends $100 million every day looking for more hydrocarbons, even though scientists tell us we already have far more in our reserves than we can safely burn. We march for those too weak from dengue fever and malaria to make the journey. We march because California has lost 63 trillion gallons of groundwater to the fierce drought that won’t end, and because the glaciers at the roof of Asia are disappearing. We march because researchers told the world in April that the West Antarctic ice sheet has begun to melt “irrevocably”; Greenland’s ice shield may soon follow suit; and the waters from those, as rising seas, will sooner or later drown the world’s coastlines and many of its great cities.

We don’t march because there’s any guarantee it will work. If you were a betting person, perhaps you’d say we have only modest hope of beating the financial might of the oil and gas barons and the governments in their thrall. It’s obviously too late to stop global warming entirely, but not too late to slow it down -- and it’s not too late, either, to simply pay witness to what we’re losing, a world of great beauty and complexity and stability that has nurtured humanity for thousands of years.

There’s a world to march for -- and a future, too. The only real question is why anyone wouldn’t march.

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Copyright 2014 Eddie Bautista, La Tonya Crisp-Sauray, and Bill McKibben

© 2014 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
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‘Django Unchained’ Actress Detained by Cops Because They Assumed She Was a Hooker - September 14, 2014 - 2:42pm
Danièle Watts wrote on her Facebook page that she was handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police cruiser.

 African-American actress and her white husband have accused two Studio City policemen of detaining her after watching her make out with him, believing she was a prostitute with a client.

Danièle Watts, star of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, wrote on herFacebook page that she was handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police cruiser after failing to provide the officers with ID, according to The YBF.

In her posting, Watts wrote, “Today I was handcuffed and detained by 2 police officers from the Studio City Police Department after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place. When the officer arrived, I was standing on the sidewalk by a tree. I was talking to my father on my cell phone. I knew that I had done nothing wrong, that I wasn’t harming anyone, so I walked away. A few minutes later, I was still talking to my dad when 2 different police officers accosted me and forced me into handcuffs.”

According to Watts, she refused to show officers ID  — saying she had done nothing wrong — before being placed, crying, in the back of a police cruiser only to  eventually be released.

Writing on his own Facebook page, her boyfriend, Chef Brian James Lucas elaborated,  “Today, Daniele Watts & I were accosted by police officers after showing our affection publicly. From the questions that he asked me as D was already on her phone with her dad, I could tell that whoever called on us (including the officers), saw a tatted RAWKer white boy and a hot bootie shorted black girl and thought we were a HO (prostitute) & a TRICK (client).”

Lucas also included a photo  of an injury to Watts’ arm the result of being roughly cuffed by the officer.

Watts, who also appeared on Showtime’s Weeds and will be seen in Partners with Martin Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer on FX, said she sat in the back of the cruiser remembering when her father had been harassed due to his skin color.

“I remembered the countless times my father came home frustrated or humiliated by the cops when he had done nothing wrong, ” she wrote. ” I felt his shame, his anger, and my own feelings of frustration for existing in a world where I have allowed myself to believe that “authority figures” could control my BEING… my ability to BE!!!!!!!”

According to Lucas, who believes that they were singled out because they are a mixed-race couple,  they have been in contact with 3 lawyers, the ACLU, and the NAACP.

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I Am in an Arranged Marriage -- And It Has Turned Out Fantastic - September 14, 2014 - 2:37pm
I resisted at first, confused about love, and whether I should find it myself. I see it differently 19 years later.

My father’s phone call at work that morning changed everything. “Don’t go out with your friends tonight. We’ve made dinner plans for you.” I knew what that meant. And there was no getting out of it.

An arranged marriage is not the diktat it once was. It has evolved over the years into a meeting of mutual consent between both parties, and my Indian parents, products of an arranged marriage, had set up a meeting for me. Problem was, I wasn’t consenting.

At the time, I was living the high life. I loved my job with a vacation tour operator in Dubai, and I had it good living with my folks. At 24, I had no responsibilities, no rent to pay, no dinner to cook and no laundry to do.

My father told me to be home and dressed by seven. No excuses. He rarely stood his ground with me, but was firm in his expectations this time. I was stuck. I spent the rest of the day hovering between dread and resentment.

It wasn’t like I was against getting married and settling down. Far from it. What I didn’t appreciate was being steered toward marriage just because I would soon be considered past marriageable age. Whether arranged by them or accomplished on my own, my parents did not buy into my notion that I should marry only when I was good and ready. They worried it was taking too long. My ambivalence about my future was giving them sleepless nights.

I understood the pressures my parents were under. I was their oldest child and their only daughter. They had educated and raised me to be independent and self-sufficient. Now all that remained was their last major responsibility: to see me married.

Yet, I resisted. I did not a need a man or a marriage. It made no sense to me to make such a drastic change in my life just because I reached an age arbitrarily consigned by our society and culture after which I would be deemed “too old.”

Aware of their motivations, I could not bring myself to put my foot down and absolutely forbid them to search for a suitable life partner for me. I love them, and would consider that disrespectful. However, I did intend to make their search as difficult as possible. On the surface, I was compliant. I heard them out when a possible match came up. I looked at photos and pored over résumés when they asked. But I sabotaged their efforts, rejecting candidates without compunction, finding every flimsy excuse I could.

That evening, I was outmaneuvered. This time they simply invited the young man to dinner. Apparently he had been in my parents’ sights for a while, ever since they met him on a recent trip to India. He lived in New York, but was visiting his father after heart bypass surgery. Now, he was in Dubai to meet me.

When my parents began the search for a suitable match they asked me for a few guidelines. I hoped my list would make it hard, if not impossible, to find someone who would meet all my criteria. He should have a post-graduate degree, I said. And, because they were looking for a Punjabi Indian boy in any part of the world, he had to live in a place where there would be no waiting period to fulfill any immigration requirements (I had heard the horror stories of newlyweds having to wait up to seven years until their paperwork was approved). Most importantly — and I was firm on this — they could not list my name on any matrimonial pages in Indian newspapers. I knew that it would drastically reduce the pool of suitors.

The bell rang. I checked myself in the mirror. Old jeans, T-shirt, no makeup. The perfect outfit to demonstrate my antipathy. One glance and my mother pursed her lips. It was a silent, cold walk to the living room.

“This is Rajiv,” my father said. Firm grip, warm smile, sharp features. He was tall, but not crazily so. He was already sharing a beer with my dad. And what do you know? He was wearing jeans too. The prospects for the evening began to look up. Perhaps it would not be as torturous as I had thought. Besides, my mother was smiling again.

Rajiv was laid back, looking comfortable. He shared his impressions of his first visit to Dubai. What they were exactly, I don’t recall, but I do remember that we all laughed. The liveliness and storytelling lasted through dinner. Then it came time for Rajiv and I to spend some time together before I drove him back to his hotel.

I geared up for the awkwardness that would surely come once we were alone. Wrong again. “Guess it’s time for 20 questions,” he joked. What was he doing charming me by asking about my job, my friends, my interests, what I did for fun? Telling me funny stories about his life in New York? I had always maintained that I would prefer any other country to the U.S. It was too far from everyone I knew, too familiar and alien all at once. But after a couple of cups of coffee it did not seem so inconceivable. This was going seriously sideways. I was actually enjoying myself.

But to decide the rest of my life based on one meeting seemed unfair to me. I was the one who would have to leave my home, my family and everyone I knew. I was the one who would have to change cities, countries and hemispheres.

My mother worried that she had brought me up too leniently. She had encouraged me to study abroad, travel and live a life different from hers. She hoped it wouldn’t backfire now. She was asking me to consider the conventional institution of marriage topped off with the traditional customs of the arranged marriage.

But what about love? My friends asked. Shouldn’t you marry for love? It was a legitimate question. If I went along with my parents’ choice, would I regret not having done it my way?

It was my turn to brood late into the night over the choice before me. Love seemed the aftermath of an accidental collision — of meeting the right person at the right time — and what if that never happened for me? It hadn’t so far mainly because I had not been able to trust my judgment in choosing someone for myself. Lately too I felt like I was outgrowing the whole rigmarole of meeting, dating, wondering and agonizing over whether “this was it.” Why fight the opportunity my parents were offering me? I could come to regret that.

But my fears and doubts about Rajiv swung from the ridiculous to the mundane. I had only seen the sociable, pleasant side of him. What if he was an ax murderer? A possessive jerk? What if he did not give me room to breathe? Expected me to be just a housewife? What if he was disorganized? Or too particular? How would I have to adjust my personality to fit someone else’s?

Will I be able to live with this man? Will I be able to love him?

My parents pointed out that they had met all the criteria on the list. He was a chemical engineer and an MBA. He had a good job and all the right paperwork. They had met him through my father’s uncle, a close family member who had nothing but nice things to say about Rajiv and his family.

Everything they said was making sense. Adulthood involved hard changes. It was life. There were no guarantees of success or failure. All they could do was give me the best chance within their power with which to take on the future. The rest was up to me.

In the end, I decided to put my faith in the two people who knew me best and had only my interests at heart.

Rajiv called me after he heard I had given my assent. He wanted to reassure me, to check with me that I had not been unnecessarily influenced. I found it amusing, as I was the family member considered most headstrong, the one who could not be forced to do anything I did not want to do. I was moved by his consideration.

Still, I wondered if Rajiv had any doubts. He must have certain apprehensions about the way his life was about to change as well. I did not sense this at the time but, in retrospect, it must have been hard for him as well.

He returned to the States. We wrote letters and spoke on the phone. His letters were newsy and casual, which I appreciated. Once, most of his letter was his deconstruction of an episode of “Seinfeld.” I was taken in by the irreverent but serious tone, glad he was not filling the letter with meaningless talk about the weather in New York or details of his work day. He suggested that in each letter we reveal one thing about ourselves — a like or a dislike, a pet peeve or an idiosyncrasy. It did not have to be deeply personal, only what we were comfortable with. The back and forth was refreshing. Unlike a conversation, there were no interruptions.

A year later we married. We had only met a handful of times before then.

We have been married coming on 19 years. We have a lovely daughter. We’ve had real challenges balanced with great moments of joy. A sure sign of a decision well made is that I would do it all again. I had gone from no way to yes, from liking to loving. I now enjoy teasing my teenage daughter about the importance of listening to one’s parents. You never know who they will bring home to dinner.

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What's New: Leonard Peltier Statement on his 70th Birthday

Socialist Project - September 14, 2014 - 2:00pm
Greetings my Friends, Relatives and Supporters. I want to send you all this personal message on what is now my 70th Birthday. I really want to thank you all for your years and years of support and love, I would have never made it this long without your love and support. As you can imagine, it has been a VERY long path. At times, more difficult than I could have ever imagined. I don't regret any of it for one minute.
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Parents, Students Beware: The 10 Ways Many Colleges Will Scam You - September 14, 2014 - 1:22pm
A list of some of the underhanded methods used by some schools when it comes to student admissions and financial aid.

#1 Just because a school encourages you to apply doesn’t mean they actually want you.

High school students who are inundated with personalized letters and emails (and even partially filled-out applications) from colleges urging them to apply may mistakenly think that the institutions contacting them are intending to admit them. In reality, schools often encourage students to apply so that they can reject them.

The aim of the game for colleges is to boost the number of students who apply and can be rejected. By doing this, the schools see their acceptance rates fall, making them appear to be more selective—which helps them rise up the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Take Northeastern University in Boston. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the university sends nearly 200,000 personalized letters to high school students each year. The institution then follows up these letters with emails, making it seem that the school is wooing these individuals.

These tactics appear to be paying off. Nearly 50,000 students applied to Northeastern this year for 2,800 spots in the fall 2014 class—“more than in any previous year and a ratio of 18 applicants per seat,” the university boasted in a news release.

Lowering its acceptance rates is at least one factor in why Northeastern has catapulted up the U.S. News rankings, rising more than 100 spots since 2002.

#2 A college may not be as selective as it seems.

Another way that colleges attempt to appear more selective than they really are is through use of the Common Application, a standard form that students can use to easily apply to multiple colleges. Colleges have found that they can use the Common App to inflate their applications in order to lower their acceptance rate—one of the measures used to determine an institution’s ranking in U.S. News. As it turns out, the proliferation of the Common App has enabled students to easily apply to more than one school even if they are underqualified. Indeed, students are applying to more schools than ever before. In 2000, just a couple of years after the online Common App was introduced, only 12 percent of students applied to seven or more schools; in 2011, 29 percent did.

The University of Chicago provides an example of the factors behind this trend. For years, the university publicly rejected the use of the Common App. In fact, it marketed its own application as the “Uncommon Application.” But by 2007, Chicago officials caved to the demands of looking as competitive as the other schools using the Common App. As the vice president and dean of college enrollment told the Brown Daily at the time, “We took note of the fact that two of our major competitors, Northwestern and [the University of Pennsylvania], had decided to accept the Common Application.”

What was the result of the University of Chicago allowing the Common App? By 2013, the school increased the number of applications it received by more than 20,000 and reduced its acceptance rate by over 24 percentage points. This helped move Chicago from being ranked number nine nationally by U.S. News in 2007 to number five by 2014—ahead of its competitors Northwestern and the University of Pennsylvania.

#3 You may be rejected or wait-listed at a college simply because you are not wealthy.

Every year, a substantial number of private colleges reject or wait-list a certain proportion of applicants not because of grades or test scores or because they would not be a “good fit,” but, rather, simply because their families aren’t rich enough to pay full freight. These schools, in other words, are “need aware” when admitting a share of their students.

This may seem unjust. But colleges say they have no other choice because they have only a limited amount of money to spend on financial aid. “While financial aid is one of the top three expenditures at Oberlin, the amount of funds available is still finite, and we do have to take that into account in the admissions process,” says Elizabeth Houston, who works in the admissions office at Oberlin College.

“If, for instance, we admitted a class comprised entirely of students who could make no financial contribution to their education, we simply couldn’t afford it,” explains Houston in a blog post on the college’s website. “That’s an extreme case, but even taking into account the natural mix of income levels a college might see in their applicant pool, there are still very few institutions that are wealthy enough to afford to be completely need-blind and still meet 100 percent of demonstrated need.”

According to colleges, this typically doesn’t affect low-income students who are at the top of their class. Finances are only taken into account with more marginal students, they say.

Still, in a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed in 2011, 19 percent of admissions directors at private liberal arts colleges reported that they admit full-pay students with lower grades and test scores than other applicants. These colleges are, in other words, providing affirmative action for the wealthy, despite all of the extraordinary advantages that these students have over their less-fortunate peers.

#4 Low-income students are not always better off at need-blind colleges.

It’s true that the most elite and wealthiest private colleges, like Harvard University and Amherst College, meet the full demonstrated financial need of their low- and moderate-income students. But many other colleges that boast about being need-blind don’t come close. Instead, they leave students with a hefty gap between what the government says they should be expected to pay and what they are being charged.

New York University, for example, admits students regardless of their financial need. However, NYU students from families making $30,000 or less face a daunting average net price—the amount students and their parents must pay after all grant aid has been exhausted—of $24,265 per year. (See “America’s Affordable Elite Colleges” page and our full rankings at, which calculate net price of attendance based on three-year averages.) That means that the lowest-income families are on the hook for an amount that is nearly equal to or even more than their yearly earnings.

Financially needy students who qualify for admission at NYU may actually be better off at “need-aware” schools that meet the full demonstrated need of the low-income students they do enroll.

#5 Need-blind schools are not really blind about their applicants’ need.

Administrators at purportedly need-blind colleges don’t necessarily need to know an applicant’s family income to know if he or she is poor, because they have plenty of other clues.

For example, admissions officers know where applicants live and what high school they attended, and whether or not they worked after school or participated in a plethora of extracurricular activities. Admissions staff members also know the occupations of the applicants’ parents and whether they attended college, and, more importantly, whether the student is a legacy. And these administrators can learn a lot about students’ backgrounds from their college application essays.

So if a need-blind school is looking to admit a much larger share of affluent students for budgetary reasons, it could easily do so without knowing exactly how much an applicant’s family earned last year.

#6 It isn’t always free to apply for financial aid.

Come financial aid season, many students and families realize that they must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to get a financial aid package from their school. What many families may not realize is that very selective, elite institutions often require a student to fill out another, more extensive form for financial aid. And unlike the FAFSA, this secondary financial aid application—the College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE—isn’t free. The PROFILE is expensive, costing a student $25 just to register and send it to one college, and then $16 for each additional college.

Over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Education has been simplifying the FAFSA in an effort to reduce the barriers that low- and middle-income families face when filling out an unduly complex form. As a result, the number of questions asked on the FAFSA has been reduced, and parents can now use a data-retrieval tool through the IRS to pre-fill answers to many of the questions. These changes have significantly reduced the average time students and families take to complete the application.

But the simplification of the FAFSA has been cause for concern among selective colleges who are hesitant to part with any institutional aid dollars. This has pushed many institutions to require the PROFILE in order to determine institutional aid eligibility. Since FAFSA simplification has removed some questions regarding a family’s assets and savings, institutions have adopted the PROFILE to understand exactly how many assets a family owns—including in many instances their house and the make and model of their car—before giving them any aid.

#7 The order that you list colleges on the FAFSA may come back to haunt you.

Even if a student is lucky and only has to fill out the FAFSA to get financial aid, he should be wary about the order in which he lists the colleges where he’d like to send the application. According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, “Some colleges are denying admissions and perhaps reducing financial aid to students based on a single, non-financial, non-academic question that students submit to the federal government on their [FAFSA].” It turns out that colleges see exactly the order the student listed the schools on the FAFSA and have become savvy at admitting, wait-listing, and packaging aid depending on the student’s ordering.

Enrollment managers and management firms—the people charged with figuring out just how many students to admit to “yield” a class—have discovered that students often choose colleges on the FAFSA in preferential order. Inside Higher Ed reported that Augustana College, for example, found that 60 percent of the students who list the school first on the FAFSA end up enrolling, compared with 30 percent of those who list it second, and just 10 percent of those who list it third. Like Augustana, some schools look at a student’s “FAFSA position” to determine admissions decisions—completely unbeknownst to the student. A school does this to improve its yield rate, to ensure that it is able to enroll exactly the class it wants.

Some schools may also be taking the “FAFSA position” into account when awarding their own financial aid dollars to students—providing less generous aid packages to students who list the college first on the FAFSA. These colleges don’t want to waste precious institutional aid dollars on students who are already likely to attend without the help.

The problem is that not all students necessarily list schools in preferential order, or there may be very little difference among a student’s number one, number two, and number three option. Worse yet, the whole process is completely opaque to students. They have no idea that their chances of being admitted and receiving a generous financial aid package may ride largely on the order in which they list schools on the FAFSA.

#8 Financial aid award letters may make options seem more affordable than they really are.

Colleges don’t always come clean about how much students and families are going to have to pay to attend an institution. The “financial aid award letters” that colleges send aid applicants they’ve accepted often make their schools look more affordable than they really are.

One problem is that many colleges and universities package both grants and scholarships with loans and work-study allowances. This blurs how much students and parents are going to owe, often leading them to believe they are getting a great deal when in reality they are taking on a large amount of debt. Some colleges and universities include Parent PLUS loans in the “aid” packages they offer students, in order to bring their purported price down to zero. The Parent PLUS loan, which parents borrow on behalf of their children, come with a higher interest rate and less repayment flexibility than other federal student loans. Additionally, parents have to undergo a credit check to get a Parent PLUS loan. This means that a student and his or her parents may accept the financial aid package, put down a nonrefundable deposit to the institution, and then suddenly find themselves facing steep gaps in financial aid if the parent gets rejected for the loan.

Adding to the confusion over financial aid packages is that each institution has developed its own award letter, making it difficult for students to make an apples-to-apples price comparison among the institutions to which they’ve been accepted. This could lead them to make a suboptimal choice in terms of which school will provide the best aid package while also still being a good fit academically and socially.

#9 Some aid packages are designed to dissuade you from enrolling.

Many colleges offer extremely generous aid packages to the students they most desire, and leave large funding “gaps” for others in whom they are less interested. In the parlance of enrollment management, this is called “admit-deny,” in which schools provide students with aid packages that don’t come close to meeting their financial need in order to discourage them from enrolling.

“Admit-deny is when you give someone a financial-aid package that is so rotten that you hope they get the message, ‘Don’t come,’” Mark Heffron, a senior vice president at the enrollment management firm Noel-Levitz, told the Atlantic Monthly back in 2005. “They don’t always get the message.”

Under this model, top students receive substantial amounts of grants and either need-based or merit-based scholarships. Those who are less desired have to take on a substantial amount of debt if they want to attend—either through private loans or federal PLUS loans for their parents.

Schools that engage in these practices don’t tend to advertise them. An exception is Muhlenberg College, a small private college in Pennsylvania, which includes a page on its website entitled “The Real Deal on Financial Aid.”

“It used to be that you could try for that reach school and if you got in, you didn’t have to worry because everybody who got in, who needed money, got money,” the college’s financial aid office states. “Today, however, as colleges are asked to fund more and more of their own operation with less and less assistance from government, foundations, and families, they are increasingly reluctant to part with their money to enroll students who don’t raise their academic profile.”

#10 Often the financial aid you receive your first year will be less generous the following year.

Students and families beware: the plum financial aid package you receive your freshman year may not be quite as impressive your sophomore year. The bait and switch of financial aid packages from year to year is known as “front-loading financial aid.” According to Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert, about half of all colleges front-load grants and scholarships so that students receive a bigger discount their first couple of years but then face a financial aid package filled with loans in subsequent years.

Part of the problem is that many parents and students are unaware that they must apply for financial aid every year they are in school and that the price they pay can vary dramatically from year to year. A scholarship may come with a GPA requirement, for example, but it could also just be a one-time award given to incoming freshmen to attract them to the school. Think of it as a signing bonus—or tuition discount—that disappears by year two.

According to a study done by Kantrowitz, enough colleges front-load aid that the average net price for returning students—the price students pay after grants and scholarships are accounted for—is about $1,400 more. He also found that the more selective a college is, the less likely it is that it will front-load grants. What’s the best way to figure out if you’ll be the victim of a financial aid package bait and switch? Ask the college. Only problem is that some colleges will be less honest than others.

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The Bullet: National Liberation and Bolshevism Reexamined

Socialist Project - September 14, 2014 - 2:00am
A view from the Czarist empire's borderlands obliges us to rethink many long-held assumptions about the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, as well as the development of Marxist approaches to national liberation, peasant struggle, permanent revolution, and the emancipation of women.
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US Denies Threatening Foley Family Over Raising Ransom - September 13, 2014 - 7:27pm
Foley's mother, Diane, had told US media her family was warned it could be charged if it had tried to raise the money to free their son.

Washington (AFP) - The United States denied threatening the family of executed reporter James Foley with prosecution had they raised a ransom for his release, insisting the government did everything possible to bring him home.

Foley's mother, Diane, had told US media her family was warned it could be charged if it had tried to raise the money to free their son.

"We were just told to trust that he would be freed somehow, miraculously," Foley's mother said on CNN. "And he wasn't, was he?"

Spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House had been "in regular touch with the Foley family" to give updates and to communicate that the captured reporter's "return and his rescue continued to be a priority of this administration."

But Diane Foley said she felt the family's "efforts to get Jim freed were an annoyance" to the US government, adding "it didn't seem to be in our strategic interest, if you will."

Earnest said long-standing US policy forbids paying ransoms, because doing so "only puts other Americans in a position where they're at even greater risk."

He referred questions about whether the Foleys would have been prosecuted to the Justice Department.

But he said Obama used "every tool at our disposal" to try to free Foley, including a "high-risk" military rescue attempt.

Secretary of State John Kerry also responded to the remarks, saying he was "really taken aback," and that he was "totally unaware and would not condone anybody" at the State Department making any threatening statements.

"I and others in the government worked as hard as we know how to reach out to country after country -- dozens of countries were talked to in an effort to try to create some avenue of success," Kerry said.

"Tragically, obviously, we were not successful in finding them. So my heart goes out to the family."

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said officials worked "to help the family understand what our laws are about... paying ransom to terrorists."

However, "this department would never, and did not ever, intend to, nor do we think we ever did anything that we would consider threatening," she insisted.

The 40-year-old freelance reporter's death was revealed August 19 in a video released by Islamic State militants, in which he is seen being beheaded.

IS said his killing was in response to US air strikes. A week later it released a second video showing the beheading of another American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

Foley had covered wars in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria and contributed to GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse and other outlets. He was seized by armed men in northern Syria in 2012.

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NFL's Adrian Peterson Admits to Beating 4-Year-Old Son, Likens Markings to Those He Gives His Other Children - September 13, 2014 - 7:18pm
“Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”

Police in Houston have released further details regarding their arrest of NFL running back Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges, including Peterson’s admission that he beat his 4-year-old son with a ‘switch,’ according to CBS Houston.

Peterson was booked into the Montgomery County Texas Jail early Saturday morning, after being  allowed into the jail through a side entrance, to be processed and have his mugshot taken. Peterson reportedly posted $15,000 bond and left the facility thirty minutes later.

According to authorities, Peterson beat his 4-year-old son with a tree branch this summer because the child pushed one of his other children off of a motorbike video game.

As punishment Peterson reportedly struck the child repeatedly with a tree branch — which he called a “switch” — after stripping the leaves off of it.

The injuries to the child, discovered during a check-up with the child’s doctor,  included cuts and bruises to the boy’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to his hands.

Following the beating, Peterson allegedly texted the child’s mother saying that he “felt bad after the fact when I notice the switch was wrapping around hitting I (sic) thigh.”

Peterson also acknowledged injuring the child’s scrotum, noting, “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”

According to police, Peterson also texted , “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”

Authorities said the child had a different story saying, “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face,” and that he was worried his father would punch him in the face if he told police what happened. He also added that Peterson put the branch’s leaves in his mouth while he was being beaten with his pants down.

In interviews with police, Peterson admitted to the beating saying the marks on the child were similar to those on his other children get when he “spanks them with a switch.”

While saying that he felt bad when he saw the injuries on the child’s legs, Peterson stated that he didn’t have any “ill intent” when administering the beating and that he understood the child’s doctor reporting  the injuries to authorities, stating, “I have nothing to hide, but I also understand when a child has marks like that on his leg, they have to report that.”

The Minnesota Vikings have deactivated Peterson for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots.

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Staying Silent About Violence Against Women Is Despicable - September 13, 2014 - 5:47pm
People in charge continue to keep their mouths shut. Some years ago I was in a Los Angeles bar when a guy began beating up on his girlfriend or wife, knocking her off her stool while they exchanged insults and fists.  I, Action Hero, intervened and pulled the guy off her.  Furious, she slammed me with her handbag and told me to mind my own effing business.  Both he and she chased me out of the bar onto the sunlit street.  Never again, I swore, do I play referee in a domestic dispute which in this case was assault. Due to over-coverage, even somebody living on Mars knows each tiny graphic detail of a CCTV camera of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Rice slugging unconscious his then fiancé now wife Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator last February.  And we know all about tin-eared National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell’s blunders and lies in covering up what easily could have been a murder case.  And, most sadly, Janay’s blaming the media not Ray for their predicament.  “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.”  Janay, who has a child with Ray to protect, must be under incredible pressure to unblame her husband and try to salvage their income.  We’ll probably never know her real feelings until and unless she divorces to tell her story unvarnished. Granted, she has a point.  “No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted [opinions] from the public has cause my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing.”  Aside from voyeurism, what possible good comes from replaying over and over again her humiliation?  Oh yes, it contributes to that cliché, a “national conversation” about domestic violence.  In plainer words talking about how guys beat the shit out of women. It’s amazing how easily the victim gets trod underfoot in the noise of powerful figures – including Obama and TV anchors – pointing the finger at Top People most like themselves.  Who cares if Roger Goodell keeps his $40 million a year job?  Until the Ray Rice incident I was following what appears on the surface to be an unrelated sexual atrocity.  It happens in one of my favorite pit stops, the old coal-and-steel town of Rotherham, south Yorkshire, England.  The town of 250,000 sits in the heart of what used to be the industrial north.  Think Youngstown, Ohio, with its ruined quarries, factories and mills. Briefly, 1400 (and probably many more) girl children – some as young as 11 - were over a 17 year period until very recently gang raped, tortured, trafficked and had their lives permanently damaged by “multiple perpetrators” usually second-generation Pakistani origin taxi drivers, takeout delivery men and other mobile predators with easy access to mainly troubled white kids from chaotic families.  "One young person told us that 'gang rape' was a usual part of growing up in the area of Rotherham in which she lived," said the blistering report by Prof. Alexis Jay, former chief inspector of social work in Scotland, who almost burst into tears delivering it. As with the NFL, EVERYBODY IN CHARGE KNEW AND KEPT THEIR MOUTHS SHUT.  Officially commissioned reports of sexual exploitation were ignored or disbelieved.   Those charged with protecting the kids – social care agencies, the police from regional crime commissioner Shaun Wright down to foot constable, and almost all the local Labour politicians – enabled the rapists by, in Prof. Jay’s words, 'sweeping it under the carpet', 'turning a blind eye' and 'keeping a lid on it'. Why?  One reason is that, in an atmosphere of “multiculturalism”, the cops and social workers and elected poobahs didn’t want to “give oxygen” to the far right by drawing attention to the criminals’ ethnicity.  (Most rapists were from rural Kashimir.)  It took a 2010 court case and some prison sentences for anyone to sit up and take notice.  Not quite true, since it also was the years of hard, at first ignored and often mocked journalism by Rupert Murdoch’s UK London Times’ reporter Andrew Norfolk to finally expose the full story. Britain has had lots of recent pedophilia scandals mainly implicating Top People (comic Jimmy Savile, children’s entertainer Rolf Harris, high ranking politicians and the so-called ‘BBC ring’).  But Rotherham is different because its crimes against children strike at the very heart not of the Establishment but the socialist-Labour ideal.  (The city has voted Labour since 1933.)   Men who hate women won’t go down without a fight.  (Poor choice of words.)  Roger Goodell like south Yorkshire’s police boss Shaun Wright refuse to resign because, after all, what did they do wrong?   Related Stories
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5 Right-Wing Doozies This Week: The Sarah Palin Apology Tour - September 13, 2014 - 5:40pm
Plus, Rush Limbaugh's football dreams lie in ruin.

1. Sarah Palin is really, really sorry. So sorry.

Clamoring to stay relevant, Sarah Palin hit the airwaves this week for some startlingly incisive commentary on Obama’s speech outlining his strategy to fight ISIS Wednesday night. Just kidding. She went on Hannity to bash the president some more for playing golf that one time rather than immediately declaring war. It only stands to reason that Palin would be asked to comment on geopolitics. She can, after all, see Russia from her house. But Palin had something really important to say. She feels she owes us all an apology. Great, we feel that way, too. For dumbing down every debate in America (not single-handedly, but she really helped), for using made-up words like "refudiate," for advocating policies that decimate the earth, and for that brawl her idiot family got involved in over the weekend. We have a list. Contact us, Sarah.

But no, she wants to apologize because John “Bomb Them to Smithereens” McCain is not president. And, we guess, although she did not say it exactly, she blames herself for destroying his chances.

“As I watched the speech last night, Sean,” she said, “the thought going through my mind is, ‘I owe America a global apology. Because John McCain, through all of this, John McCain should be our president.’”

A global apology. Global. Wonder what the hell she means by that.

See, if McCain were president, everything would be hunky dory. We would have bombed so many people, and had so many more troops in Iraq, and like, had troops and bombs everywhere. Just what everyone wants. “He had the advice, today, still giving it to Barack Obama, and he will not listen to it,” Palin brilliantly articulated. “About the residual forces that must be left behind in order to secure the peace in Iraq that we had fought so hard for.”

Yes, Iraq was marvelously peaceful then. We made it so much better.

Then she warned that the Islamic State is coming to take over America. “Guess what,” she said in her folksy, aw shucks way. “We’re next on the hit list.”

You betcha!

2. Rush Limbaugh learned some things while trying to watch football. It was horrible.

Rush Limbaugh had a perfectly miserable time watching football on Thursday night, poor guy. He made the mistake of tuning in early for the pregame show before the Baltimore Ravens/Pittsburgh Steelers matchup, and instead of hearing some good football commentary, or perhaps some patriotic claptrap on the anniversary of 9/11, what did he get? An earful about how terrible domestic abuse is—not what he signed up for, at all.

“I learned that I’m not doing enough to stop wife-beating,” he said, his voice dripping with mockery, disgust and indignation. “I learned that I am not aware enough. That my conscious (sic) is not being raised enough. I learned that it’s an epidemic. It’s happening all the time. I learned that 600 women have supposedly died from wife abuse since Ray Rice cold-cocked his wife in that elevator.”

But Rush, did you learn that toenail fungus is higher on the evolutionary ladder than you are?

He learned all of this at the hands of James Brown, who gave an impassioned, principled, and very brief speech about how it is time for men to step up and take responsibility for the problem of domestic abuse. Rush Limbaugh does not like learning things. It makes him very, very ornery. But at least he could brag about one thing. He saw this coming. “As I predicted,” he said. “Football is politics. It has jumped the shark and become politics.”

Football has become, in Rush’s immortal words, “chickified.”

There go those feminazis again, ruining everything.

3. Betsy McCaughey, ‘Death Panel’ fabricator, flees ‘Daily Show’ set after being asked about the popularity of Obamacare.

Will anyone ever take New York’s former lieutenant  governor, vocal and voluminous Obamacare hysteric Betsy McCaughey seriously again? Apparently not. Because this pathetic masquerade of a policy wonk, inventor of the terror-inducing concept of "death panels" that Obamacare was supposed to usher in, just isn’t getting interviewed all that much these days. What a shame—such a hard-working misinformer.

No, the absolutely horrific news is that Obamacare is working and that people like it. Contrary to Fox’s Ben Carson’s assertion that it is the worst thing that has happened to America since slavery, the newly insured just aren’t feeling properly enslaved. Tragically, only 36 percent of Americans even want to repeal Obamacare now. McCaughey devoted thousands of pages, and gazillions of words trying to take this law down. Now she has to settle for an interview on the "Daily Show," which she accepted. (Has she ever watched the "Daily Show"?)

In a segment called “The Obamacare Apocalypse,” Jordan Klepper empathetically informs her: “It’s been a tough road for critics of this law [sad face]. “If people aren’t behind repealing this law, how are we going to get them on our side?”

Whoa! She did not see that coming. She is dumbfounded, thunderstruck. (All those words she once spewed. Where did they go?) Also, she is very angry. She clumsily stands, fumbles with her microphone, which becomes entangled in her blonde tresses. She flees the set and into the night, or maybe it was afternoon.

Oh, the indignity of being called out on your bullshit! What a world. What a world.

Watch the whole terrific segment.

4. Despicable Fox & Friends hosts giggle that NFL girlfriends, or domestic abusers—not sure which—should take the stairs.

The following exchange took place on Fox & Friends on Monday, in response to the video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancée out in an Atlantic City elevator.

Host Steve Doocy: “We should also point out, after that video — and now you know what happened in there — she still married him. They are currently married.”

(Translation from Fox-speak: It’s her fault if she’s getting beaten.)

Co-host Brian Kilmeade: “Rihanna went back to Chris Brown right after [he assaulted her]. A lot of people thought that was a terrible message.”

(Translation: Black entertainers are especially bad role models.)

“I think the message is take the stairs,” Kilmeade continued.

Anna Kooiman giggled.

Oh. Hahahahahahaha. Good one.

Wait, huh? Are stairs safer? Are you less likely to be attacked on stairs than an elevator? Nah, just kidding.

Doocy: “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.”

It really was so funny, even if Doocy kind of killed the joke by stating the obvious.

Later, after a storm of negative comments on social media, the good folks at Fox & Friends assured their audience that, “domestic abuse is a very serious issue to us.”

Obviously. They spent all of 13 seconds by Huffpo’s count, and one truly hateful joke, on it.

And that Kilmeade, he’s a hoot!

5. Pat Buchanan: There is something far more terrifying than ISIS. And it also starts with an 'I'.

While a lot of pundits and pols were wringing their hands about the threat of ISIS this week, and still others were terribly concerned about the threat to football that punishing domestic abusers poses, Pat Buchanan warned of a much graver problem: immigrants. Now they are some scary motherf*ckers.

With immigrant-child-phobic Laura Ingraham nodding in agreement, Buchanan spoke ominously about how immigrants would single-handedly bring about the “decomposition of this country, socially, culturally, politically.”

We sure hope that ISIS doesn't hear about this weapon of mass America destruction.

“Look,” Pat said, “we’d better realize that the United States itself is in tremendous long-term danger, I think, and the bleeding border along our southern border, the mass movement of people from all over the world into this country...."

Oh, stop, Pat. Too scary! Why, we might even become a nation of immigrants.

Worse still, a nation of Democratic-voting immigrants.

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Another Excessive Police Tactic: Pulling Drivers Over and Taking Their Cash - September 13, 2014 - 3:46pm
Local departments hire private consultants to teach them how to do it.

Last week, a U.S. Senate committee held a hearing on federal programs that have militarized local police, leading to armed confrontations like the one seen in Ferguson, Missouri, where an officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, and paramilitary units subsequently taunted and clashed with protesters. During those hearings, one expert stood out for speaking about how police culture has changed since the 1980s, with too many officers now adopting a confrontational and predatory mindset. AlterNet followed up with Pete Kraska, a professor and chair of graduate studies and research in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. Kraska also discussed another trend in police overreach, recently profiled by the Washington Post: local police pulling over motorists and taking their cash or threatening drivers with arrest.

Steven Rosenfeld: The Post recently had a series of investigative reports describing a trend in policing: during highway stops of motorists, cops look for cash and seize it. One aspect of this trend is that local and state police have been hiring private trainers to teach them how to intimidate motorists and grab their cash, saying they’ll arrest them if the driver refuses. When did you first hear about this?

Pete Kraska: Asset forfeiture—as a means for the federal government and local police agencies to generate funds—started in full force during the 1980s drug war. The federal government put in place massive training programs for local prosecutors and police to apply the federal asset forfeiture program and tactics nationwide. It was of course successful in the sense that nearly all local police departments jumped on the bandwagon.

I first noticed how significant it was when interviewing SWAT commanders in the early 1990s. They made it clear that a major motivating factor for drug raids on private residences was the confiscation of cash and goods that could be seized under the new asset forfeiture programs being pushed by the feds. It is critical to recognize that a dynamic entry into a private home is most accurately characterized as a “contraband raid”—because the SWAT team is not only looking for drug evidence, but also cash and guns.

By the way, I first documented the absurdity of asset forfeiture when conducting survey research of Kentucky local PDs. We found back in 2000 that the average amount of cash confiscated by the police under asset forfeiture programs at the local level was $300. Think about that: this completely debunks the notion that the police are going after drug kingpins. It also gives us good insights into the ugly reality of this practice. What person in their right mind is going to retain even a cheap attorney for $500 while trying to prove the innocence of their $300? It is hard not to see this type of application as little more than theft.

SR: Last week, you told a U.S. Senate committee how a paramilitary mindset has been growing in the culture and tactics of local policing since the ‘80s. You noted that SWAT teams evolved from being rarely used in emergencies to now being used proactively in drug raids and at protests.

Are traffic dragnets and preying on motorists, including searching for cash, a similar shift in police culture?

PK: Absolutely. I think the aggressive turn in American policing caught many off guard—including in the academic community—because of all the fanfare about the supposed community policing revolution (CP). What the reformers failed to understand is the amazing capacity of real-world bureaucratic players to twist fuzzy concepts like CP into anything that suited their own ideological leanings. And for a large segment of the police community, paramilitary culture is far more alluring than what they called sarcastically, "grin and wave" policing.

My research documented, therefore, the little noticed but significant backstage trend of militarizing the American police as opposed to community police-driven democratization. Of course, "militarization" is only the most overt, and offensive, sign of the aggressive turn. Stop-and-frisk, aggressive patrol work, and an array of highly sophisticated and intrusive surveillance and information-gathering programs—along with the police wanting to generate their own funds through asset forfeiture—are all coalescing into an intensely aggressive and security-driven new police paradigm.

SR: You also testified that the growth of paramilitary policing is tied to outsourced training—where private contractors impart this battle-ready mindset. Do you think highway patrols and sheriffs would not be looking for cash and seizing it were it not for these private-sector consultants training cops to do this?

PK: What a dark example of the neoliberal turn in American governance: Private companies being hired by the government to train police how to work at the margins of the law to confiscate people’s private assets so that the police departments can generate their own slush funds outside taxpayer dollars.

A very important untold story in American policing today is the role that for-profit training vendors play in negatively influencing police culture. They exploit the understandable fear of victimization that police have always had to deal with—and push a survivalist warrior mindset where all encounters with the public might be lethal. They also exploit the natural tendency of bureaucracies to expand through any means possible, even if that includes engaging in highly questionable asset forfeiture practices.

What these vendors don’t seem to care about, or understand, is the significant blowback the police are inevitably going to receive from the people that they are ostensibly serving. The militarized, security-conscious, and growth complex ideology leads to disastrous consequences not only for marginalized people, but also the police themselves. In saying this, though, I do think the toothpaste has left the tube—and getting it back in will be exceedingly difficult if not impossible.

SR: Before we turn to what the public might do, we have to understand the civil liberties issues. Turning to the law, can you tell us two things: First, how does this tactic press or exceed the boundaries of what is not a constitutional search and seizure? And what's an unlucky motorist to do, if he gets pulled over and a cop finds he has several thousand dollars in cash?

PK: I would encourage anyone reading this to read through the fine work that the Washington Post did on this practice. The scary thing is that, thus far, these obviously warped practices have been deemed constitutional. Put simply, the police can confiscate anyone's paycheck cash or savings, they are bringing to a car dealership. They don’t even need to make a lawful arrest. The law assumes the cash is tainted, and then it is up to the citizen to obtain a lawyer and go to court to prove the cash was wrongfully confiscated. Yes, this sounds crazy, but it is constitutional.

What’s a person to do? Just hope you’ve run into a decent and reasonable police officer (and after working closely with over 60 different police departments I can say unequivocally there are many wonderful people working in policing); hope that the prosecutor in their local area hasn't gone to a for-profit training program teaching asset forfeiture; and hope that they kept their bank receipt with them (if, of course, it came from a bank).

SR: What do you think can be done to restore some semblance of balance in police culture, so not every citizen is seen as a potentially violent threat, and not every traffic stop becomes a chance for a local department to supplement its taxpayer-supported budget?

PK: It’s not a comforting answer, but we have to recognize that the police, as an institution, are not making these changes in a vacuum. We have become a fearful and insecure culture. Moreover, the entire idea of government service to its people has been under siege by neoliberal forces for decades. Many analysts refer to this new set of social conditions as “late-modernity.” The police, and indeed the entire crime-control apparatus, are a major player in shaping the nature of late-modern times, as well as being impacted dramatically but its structural and cultural forces.

An aggressive turn in police culture is merely part of the larger turn in American society—one that is increasingly relying on militarism and governmental surveillance and force as its central problem solving ideology. A new reform effort, or greater consciousness-raising among the public, might relieve some suffering for those most impacted by these trends, but the overall trend will likely keep marching along.

Another important factor in unrestrained growth in this direction is the emergence of policing and crime control as a runaway growth complex. The confluence of governmental and private sector interests has resulted in an ever-expanding crime-control industry that primarily serves its own interests, seeking out new problems for its ever-growing solution. The Washington Post or the U.S. Senate “realizing” the emergence of militarized police or asset forfeiture after almost 30 years of growth, and now entrenchment, illustrates well the intractability of these trends.

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Two Years in Jail for a Prank? Try Simulated Oral Sex with A Statue - September 13, 2014 - 3:24pm
Teenagers are prone to dumb, tasteless pranks, but one 14-year-old is facing prison time for his latest stunt.

The following article first appeared on Mother Jones. For more great content click here to subscribe. 

Teenagers are prone to dumb, tasteless pranks, but one 14-year-old is facing prison time for his latest stunt. The teen, from Everett, Pennsylvania, hopped on top of a statue of a kneeling Jesus—in front of an organization called "Love in the Name of Christ"—and simulated oral sex with the statue's face. Naturally, he posted the pictures to Facebook, which made their way to authorities.

Officials in Bedford County charged the teen (whose name hasn't been released) with desecration of a venerated object, invoking a 1972 Pennsylvania statute that criminalizes "defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action." You'd think an appropriate punishment for a kid violating this seldom-invoked law might be picking up trash or, at worst, paying a fine. If convicted, he faces much worse: two years in juvenile detention.

Truth Wins Out, a LGBT advocacy nonprofit, has argued that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"—and free speech rights—"Congress shall make no law abridging the right to hump a statue of Jesus."

Pennsylvania is not the only state with a "venerated objects" law—many states have some version of it, but most define "desecration" as vandalizing or otherwise physically harming an object of civic or religious significance. Alabama, Tennessee, and Oregon have laws like Pennsylvania's, which can be interpreted to punish individuals—like this bold, dumb teenager—who simply decide to do something offensive.

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The Shameful Racism of Southern Conservatives: They Just Don't Want Minorities to Vote - September 13, 2014 - 2:59pm
The latest chilling example in Georgia is part of a long, shameful history of how Republicans win elections.

Sometimes conservative politicians, particularly those who hail from the South, accidentally forget to dog-whistle and they say what’s really on their minds. It’s always revealing.

Take the Georgia secretary of state, for instance, who just this week gave a speech about voting “integrity” and told his Republican audience, “the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.” That was actually a rare slip-up in an otherwise pretty slick speech where he obliquely referred to ACORN and its alleged misdeeds and bragged about how the state is making it really complicated to register online so as to root out (nonexistent) voter fraud, wink, wink. (That last seems like a dubious strategy for a party that is dependent on elderly, rural white voters …)

But after you isolate all the clever obfuscation, you see that he is simply saying that Democrats are registering too many racial minorities and that will inevitably hurt the ball team. This is, of course, an old story that goes back to Reconstruction. In those days the Southern conservatives all gathered in the Democratic Party, but any party with which those particular folks identify gets upset at the prospect of racial minorities voting. Such things as “citizenship tests” and poll taxes are no longer available to them so they have to rely on subtler ways to ensure that this group of citizens are kept from voting their interests.

It used to be strictly African-Americans about whom these fine folks were worried but the modern GOP has been pretty concerned about the Latino vote for some time as well. As long ago as the early ’60s, Arizona Republican activist (and future chief justice of the Supreme Court) William Rehnquist was involved in something called Operation Eagle Eye. This document in the LBJ library, which Rick Perlstein found for his book on the Goldwater campaign called “Before the Storm,” lays out the strategy:

John M Bailey, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charged today that “under the guise of setting up an apparatus to protect the sanctity of the ballot, the Republicans are actually creating the machinery for a carefully organized campaign to intimidate voters and to frighten members of minority groups from casting their ballots on November 3rd.

“‘Let’s get this straight,’ Bailey added, ‘the Democratic Party is just as much opposed to vote frauds as is the Republican party. We will settle for giving all legally registered voters an opportunity to make their choice on November 3rd. We have enough faith in our Party to be confident that the outcome will be a vote of confidence in President Johnson and a mandate for the President and his running mate, Hubert Humphrey, to continue the programs of the Johnson-Kennedy Administration.

“‘But we have evidence that the Republican program is not really what it purports to be. it is an organized effort to prevent the foreign born, to prevent Negroes, to prevent members of ethnic minorities from casting their votes by frightening and intimidating them at the polling place.

Republicans who buy the nonsensical insistence by vacuous right-wing operatives that Democrats are the real racists because the Southerners used to vote for them will be very confused by this. Obviously, the parties switched places over civil rights. But then you knew that, of course. In any case, these vote suppression tactics have been going on for a very long time. A certain type of conservative voter really does not want racial and ethnic minorities to vote, for some reason.

But there was one event in more recent history that really focused their attention and made them extremely nervous. It happened in the mid-1980s during the height of the Reagan revolution when movement conservatives were riding their greatest wave of success. That event was the Jesse Jackson campaign and his rainbow coalition. It was something of a precursor to the winning coalition that Barack Obama was able to put together 20 years later and spelled danger to the more perspicacious of Republicans. That’s when they started to organize in a more systematic fashion.

Back in 2004, the Center for Voting Rights put together a report on the GOP’s vote suppression strategy.  They interviewed many people involved in campaigns during the period, including Donna Brazile who had been Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000. She had worked for Jackson’s campaign and saw that by 1986, the Republicans had started to initiate massive voter roll purges (of the kind that thwarted Gore’s victory in 2000 in Florida). All over the country the Republicans were putting volunteers to work as they always had to ensure that the vote among their rivals, particularly in the minority communities, was kept as low as possible. But they soon discovered that they needed something more professional and so they created the Republican National Lawyer’s Association, which the report describes like this:

A group of lawyers who had worked on the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1984 were behind its founding, and it was designed “to be a sort of Rotary Club for GOP stalwarts,” according to a contemporary article in Legal Times magazine. The RNC helped the association get off the ground with a $5,000 loan, although today the RNC claims no official connection with it. By 1987 the RNLA had active chapters in several states and the District of Columbia, and planned to hold its first annual convention early the following year. A lure for attendees, the planners hoped, would be continuing legal education credits and a possible appearance by Attorney General Edwin Meese III and President Reagan.

The RNLA turned out to be much more than a Rotary Club for GOP lawyers, however; it became the predominant Republican organization coordinating ballot security. By its own account, in early 2004 it had grown to “a 1,900-member organization of lawyers and law students in all 50 states.” Its officers were experienced lawyers who knew their way around Washington as a result of having served in Republican administrations at the national and state levels and in major K Street firms. Michael Thielen, its current executive director, who earlier worked for the RNC, describes the organization as follows: Since 1985 the RNLA has nurtured and advanced lawyer involvement in public affairs generally and the Republican Party in particular. It is accurately described as a combination of a professional bar association, politically involved law firm and educational institute. . . . With members now in government, party general counsel positions, law firm management and on law school faculties, the RNLA has for many years been the principal national organization through which lawyers serve the Republican Party and its candidates.

Their finest moment came in 2000 when the call went across the land for lawyers to converge on Florida to help litigate the disputed election. They were very good, having been schooled for a couple of decades in the dark art of election stealing. (And just as his predecessor had done several decades before, the future chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, did his part.)

Eventually the vote suppression effort broadened even further with new groups like ALEC at the state level, eventually  resulting in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding the spurious voter ID laws (despite the fact that there is no evidence of systematic voter fraud anywhere in the country.)

The Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp, does not appear to be a current member of the Republican National Lawyer’s Association. However, his former general counsel and chief legal advisor until 2013 is. And here he is pictured on the RNLA’s Facebook page. And considering the RNLA’s blog praises him to high heaven for admonishing the first lady for having the temerity to call out the fraud that is voter fraud, it’s safe to say that Kemp is sympatico with their goals. And he is one of many Republican officeholders they have trained for a couple of decades now to keep that minority vote down as low as they can. For some reason they seem to think that racial minorities will never vote for them. You’d think it would occur to them at some point that their decades of vote suppression efforts might be one of the reasons.

Oh, and for those who insist that in his speech Kemp was only saying that Republicans should match the Democratic registration efforts, this week he announced his office was investigating alleged voter fraud by a group registering minority voters. The group was surprised since they had contacted the secretary before their voter drive to ensure they were following the law to the “t.”

But Georgia is facing what might be a close election for governor and the U.S. Senate.  Republicans aren’t taking any chances.

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The Golden Age of Sexual Taboos: How Indie Movies Brought Deranged Sex Acts to the Big Screen - September 13, 2014 - 2:22pm
Indies have produced some of the most haunting, bizarre scenes of sexual behavior in the history of cinema.

I recently wrote an article on ethical dilemmas in torture porn and received some rather extreme reactions. Given that two new films—James Franco’s “Child of God” and Kim Ki-duk’s “Moebius”–depict some rather extreme sexual activities, it seemed appropriate to consider how sexual taboos are depicted in indie films.  “Child of God” features a tender scene of necrophilia, as Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) makes love to the corpse of a young woman he finds in a car. And over the past few years, indie films have produced some of the most haunting, bizarre scenes of deranged sexual behavior in the history of cinema.

“Love Is a Mad Dog From Hell” (aka “Crazy Love”) (1987), by Belgian writer/director Dominique Deruddere, is an outstanding adaptation of a trio of Charles Bukowski stories. Unfolding as a triptych, the last and most provocative act has the main character, Harry Voss (Josse De Pauw), making love to a corpse he and his buddy have stolen. Staring at the beautiful, blonde, nude corpse, Harry registers a peculiar desire. He gently caresses this ethereal beauty, and Deruddere emphasizes her luminescence, perhaps to offset the disturbing nature of the depraved act that is soon performed. The sex is discretely presented—a few thrusts, really. The affection Harry displays in the next scene, as he strokes her face before carrying his love out into the ocean, feels sincere.

 “Kissed” (1997) is director Lynne Stopkewich’s striking character study of Sandra (Molly Parker), a mortuary assistant, who falls in love with her “clients.” She has, it is revealed, a death obsession/fetish, and it piques the interest of Matt (Peter Outerbridge) a living, breathing medical student who becomes her confidant. That Matt becomes jealous of Sandra’s “other men” is an interesting wrinkle; it shifts the audience identification point. If the film provides a clinical presentation of embalming, it takes a different approach to depicting sex with the dead. Although Sandra is seen nude and climbing on to a corpse, Stopkewich stops at showing anything explicit. Instead, she lets the audience’s imagination take over as Sandra is “transported,” by engaging in her passion. Which is perhaps more effective, and maybe even a little creepy. As the film’s poster indicates, “Love knows no bounds.”

Then there’s the wild, challenging new psychosexual drama, “Moebius.” This film, written and directed by Kim Ki-duk, features a wife, preparing to castrate her husband as punishment for his infidelity. When he escapes harm, she takes her frustration out on their sleeping son. While the act of castration happens off-screen, the aftermath forms the crux of the “Moebius.”

Soon, the husband is working through his guilt by sticking a gun in his pants and researching genital transplant surgery to help his son. Shocking to be sure, Kim Ki-Duk’s film goes further in its investigation of symbols of masculinity and power. A subplot involves the rape of a female shopkeeper by a gang, which leads to the son’s arrest as a participant in the crime that others prove he could not commit. “Moebius” is an extreme and violent film to be sure, but it raises provocative questions of pleasure and pain. (Not unlike the necrophilia films.)

The son “masturbates” himself by rubbing a stone on his foot until its bloody and raw, and later, he is literally knifed in the back by the shopkeeper who then bares her breasts, prompting him to jiggle the knife in his back which causes him to experience erotic pleasure. Additional castrations occur, one where the dismembered penis ends up being run over in the street.

The fact that all of this is told in an unflinching style—without dialogue or character names—only makes it both more fascinating and more risible. “Moebius” is full of obvious phallic symbolism—subtle, it ain’t—but it is certainly unforgettable.

Castration has been portrayed vividly and viscerally, in film, from Nagisa Ôshima’s shocking “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) to Tinto Brass’ vulgar “Caligula” (1979) and Bruno Dumant’s stunning drama, “Flanders” (2006). But two films that tackle this topic are, arguably, a cut above:

“Antichrist” (2009) is Lars von Trier’s notorious drama about an unnamed married couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) recovering from the tragic death of their child. Repairing to their cabin in the woods to repair their relationship, the opposite occurs. A fox claims that, “Chaos Reigns,” and soon “she” is losing her mind and performing acts of genital mutilation—such as crushing her husband’s penis with a millstone in a scene that is as squirm-inducing as the one of her cutting her clitoris.

“Antichrist” was made while von Trier was struggling with depression. Audiences just struggle watching this film as they try to make sense of his messages of grief, only to perhaps experience it themselves.

“Teeth” (2007) is a delicious black comedy about the vagina dentata myth. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of Roy) opens his film with a scene in which Dawn (Jess Weixler) “bites” the finger of her brother Brad (John Hensley) when he tries to touch her “down there.” His fear of female genitals prompts him to have sex with women from behind after that. Meanwhile, Dawn castrates Tobey (Hale Appleman), when he rejects his abstinence promise and forcibly rapes her in a cave (that resembles a mouth with sharp teeth). That Lichtenstein does not deny viewers the “stump” shot is meant to be shocking and funny, as is a later scene when Dawn gores her boyfriend Ryan (Ashley Springer), and his severed penis spurts blood.

Lichtenstein’s bizarre comedy is about female empowerment, and the control of a woman’s sexuality. He may take things too far when Dawn and Brad have sex and Brad’s pet dog eats (and spits out) his master’s pierced and detached penis. But does anyone go to see a horror-comedy film about vagina dentata and expect something polite?

Like “Teeth,” “Moebius” also touches on the subject of incest, another taboo that has been a staple of arthouse fare for decades. Mother-son incest has been featured in films as varied as Louis Malle’s “Murmur of the Heart” (1971), Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Luna” (1979) and Stephen Frear’s “The Grifters” (1990). But two films, by queer filmmakers depict this particular taboo in extreme, and extremely unsettling, ways.

“Savage Grace” (2007) by Tom Kalin is a re-presentation of the sordid story of the Barbara Baekeland murder case. The film showcases an arresting performance by Julianne Moore as Barbara, a wealthy, jealous mother who loves her son Antony (Eddie Redmayne) way too much. Yes, having sex with her son is inappropriate. So is her masturbating him. And having the possibly gay Tony join Barbara in bed with her gay “walker” Sam Green (Hugh Dancy) is also going too far. But does she deserve to be murdered for her behavior? Kalin’s psychosexual drama deftly addresses the mother-son power struggle. “Savage Grace” was savaged by many critics, but I think it’s really an underrated film.

“Ma Mere” (2004) is Christophe Honoré’s brazen adaptation of George Bataille’s novel about the illicit relationship between the sad-faced Pierre (Louis Garrel) and the title character, his mother Hélène (Isabelle Huppert). This sensual film, which features two incredibly brave performances by the leads, is full of beaucoup sex and nudity. Pierre is perpetually horny, and his efforts to release his pent-up desires extends to vigorous masturbation, and nudism. When his mother surprises the naked Pierre on the beach, she tells him that, “desire reduces us to weakness.” But she may be a figment of his imagination; she is gone as mysteriously as she appeared. That she wants to be more that a mother to him is apparent as they both share kisses in a cab with Réa (Jonan Preiss). Eventually, Hélène watches as Pierre and Réa have sex outdoors, and even caresses Réa as her son has, as if to be or sense him in the throws of passion. Honoré makes all this inappropriate behavior and the teasing, erotic encounters fascinating as “Ma Mere” builds towards and intense and explicit climax. After an artfully filmed sex scene, in which the incestuous lovers’ faces are seen rapt in desire, a coda has Pierre masturbating at the sight of his mother’s corpse. It’s a shocking ending to a shocking film.


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Will America Always Be at War? - September 13, 2014 - 2:06pm
The question isn’t whether this is war. It is. The question is how long until we’re clamouring for ground troops in Iraq again.

In a speech that would make Dick Cheney proud, the president told us (and the Pentagon repeated) this week that we are at war with Islamic State (Isis) “in same way we are at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates” – a war that will go on indefinitely, is based on a strategy that’s been failing for over a decade and will never legally be called a war.

What Obama really did, however, was confirm for everyone what the late Hunter S Thompson recognized, shortly after 9/11, when he wrote, “We are At War now – with somebody – and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.”

While the existence of the Forever War has been evident for years to anyone who has been paying attention, it is only in the last few days that it became overt US policy. Now, even generals are openly agreeing with Thompson’s sentiments. “We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime,” retired Air Force general Charles F Wald told the Washington Post. “There isn’t going to be any time where we all of a sudden can declare victory. This is what the world is going to be like for us for a long time.”

The president also announced that he wouldn’t be needing congressional approval for prolonged airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, ignoring both their constitutional obligations and his … and that we’d be funneling more weapons to a group of “moderate” fighters that hardly anyone believes is moderate nor particularly good at fighting, including Obama.

Legal scholars on the left and the right denounced the president’s unconstitutional decision to bypass Congress and authorize military action unilaterally by pinning it to the 13 year-old Authorization for Use of Military Force against al-Qaida – which expelled Isis months ago.

The justice department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which already has an egregious habit of declaring their legal interpretations of public laws classified, may not have even bothered to put this particular tortured legal interpretation in writing. As the Washington Post reported, when questioned by reporters “Administration officials have declined to provide the administration’s legal rationale in detail.”

Make no mistake: if George W Bush had used a 13 year-old law to wage war on a group that didn’t even exist when the law was passed – and done so for the express purpose of bypassing Congress – Democrats would be rioting in the streets. Instead, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid gave their blessingObama’s plan, and only a small band of progressive representatives are even pushing to put the military action to a vote.

More conservative members of Congress – many of whom that have been calling Obama a coward for weeks – have now suddenly decided to take their sweet time before acting on their own constitutional obligations and delayed any vote on it until November (if then). They are, apparently, more worried about their re-election prospects than “the most vicious, well-funded and militant terrorist organization we have ever seen” as Senator Dianne Feinstein put it last Sunday.

Thankfully after the president’s speech, the media seems to have finally noticed that the coming war on Isis is both unnecessary and impossible to win. Despite Feinstein’s statement that “The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”, both the New York Times and Washington Post published prominent stories documenting how virtually all “American intelligence agencies have concluded that [ISIS] poses no immediate threat to the United States.” This is in stark contrast to Congress, which (as The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin has documented), seems to be in a contest over who can make the most ridiculously hyperbolic statement about Isis.

The Times and Post also ran detailed stories looking at the inescapable morass into which this war will quickly turn, along with how “success” will likely be impossible given the myriad complexities at play – including the precarious Iraqi government coalition, our supposed enemy Bashir al-Assad in Syria and the double dealing and disinterest of many of the US’s so-called allies in the region.

Somehow, despite all this, the Obama administration thinks it can “destroy” Isis, though, as the Post noted, the US government has not been able to destroy al-Qaida or any terrorist group in the last decade “through two wars, thousands of drone strikes and hundreds of covert operations around the world.”

The only question now is how far this Forever War against Isis goes. How long until there is a clamoring for a ground invasion in Iraq or Syria – or both – when the current strategy of airstrikes and a massive influx of arms inevitably fails?

As The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman reported, there are already 1,200 special operations forces and “advisers” on the ground in Iraq. The Army’s own newspaper, Stars and Stripes, reported that the US Army Contracting Command has put out a call for contractors – ie retired soldiers now operating as mercenaries – to help bolster the Iraqi government. How many troops have to be on the ground before we admit that we have “ground troops” in Iraq?

Because in the Forever War, it’s only a matter of time.

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What's New: The Kiev/NATO War in Eastern Ukraine and the Urgent Need for International Solidarity

Socialist Project - September 13, 2014 - 2:00pm
I want to thank the People's Social Forum and NoWar/Paix in Ottawa for hosting this event and organizing it. It's so important that we discuss the war situation in eastern Ukraine and find ways to join with the people of Ukraine and Russia to put an end to Kiev's and NATO's military offensive.
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I'm a Conservative GOP Mom Who Buys Weed for her 12-Year-Old Son - September 13, 2014 - 1:31pm
In my ultra conservative state, I could be sentenced for drug possession and lose custody of my son. To say I’m your standard Conservative Suburban Mom is probably an understatement. I’ve voted with the GOP hardline in the last three elections (which is probably enough to get me burned at the stake with most of you reading this.) I wear sweater sets with pearls. We go to church every Sunday.   And I score drugs for my 12-year-old son. Why yes, that is my SUV (with the “Romney 2012” bumper sticker) outside Milo’s cheesy college apartment, picking up this month’s supply. I always guiltily hit up 2 different ATMs to get the money, not wanting the nice girl at my bank branch to wonder why I’m always getting cash. I dose my son with a nice home-baked chocolate chunk cookie. (Important: keep those cookies in a separate jar.)  As a baby, my Matthew developed in a perfectly normal fashion. He hit every milestone right on time, like walking at 12 months, complete sentences at 18 months (“Mom, that was a fart.”)  And at 22 months, my son disappeared. Autism is a cruel disorder; 4 out of 5 children are born neurotypical and then regress into the silence of those beautiful, mysterious brains. As the final F-U, one in four kids with autism develop seizure disorders. Matthew was one of them. His first seizure was at Target when we were shopping for a new bike for his 9th birthday. He gave out a loud bird-like screech and fell to the floor, shaking and moaning. To see my child frothing at the mouth and shrieking makes me understand a little better why so many cultures thought seizures were actually demonic possession. The kindly EMTs nodded knowingly when I gasped that Matthew had autism. “Sorry to hear it, but we see this a lot with the autistic kids,” the paramedic said, injecting my baby with Versed to stop the seizure. Our pediatric neurologist put Matthew on a potent cocktail of three different anti-convulsant medications. They didn’t stop the seizures from increasing in frequency or severity. But Matthew endured endless rashes, nausea and sleeplessness. One of the other autism moms was the first to suggest marijuana.   “How is getting my son stoned going to be any help!” I hissed. She rolled her eyes. “There are several different types of cannabis. You want one with a lower THC -- that’s what gets you high -- and containing a higher CBD level.”   I held on to the slip of paper she gave me for three weeks, watching Matty continue to suffer. His neurologist shifted his meds around, lowering some doses, increasing others. And the seizures kept hitting my little man. Spending two sleepless nights online, I researched everything I could find about CBD enhanced marijuana treatments for autism and epilepsy. I finally called Milo, my lone "stoner connection," asking what he might have for a kid with seizures. “Autistic?” he said knowingly. “Whatcha got him on, Lamotrigine? Probably Trazodone or Tryliptal?” Turns out my stoner connection is a chemist major who has been growing different strains of cannabis for a couple of years. He’d narrowed down a few with a generous composition of CBD. I handed over my money and took the bag home, wiping my sweaty palms on my khaki skirt. I was a lawbreaker. I was giving an illegal drug to my 10-year-old son. Matthew’s seizures became shorter, the days between them started stretching further and further apart. He started gaining weight again and one day I heard something utterly alien in the family room. Matty was laughing at “Spongebob Squarepants.” I hadn’t heard my boy laugh in four years.   As his mother, I consider marijuana a miracle. The CBD extract Matthew takes has almost completely stopped his seizures, and there’s a growing body of evidence that these marijuana strains may be healing neurons damaged from repeated seizures. In my ultra conservative state, I could be sentenced for drug possession: up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. I could lose custody of my son. But he is living, laughing proof that thousands of children suffering with these challenges could be helped by marijuana. And it’s still illegal in 27 states. If this keeps up, I’m going to have to vote *shudder* the Democratic ticket. Here’s my recipe for “Matthew’s Chocolate-Chunk Cookies.”  They’re delicious, “enhanced” or plain. Ingredients• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour• 1 teaspoon baking soda• 1 teaspoon salt• 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine• 3/4 cup granulated sugar• 3/4 cup packed brown sugar• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract• 2 large eggs• 1 3/4 chocolate chunks (I use half white chocolate, half dark) • 1 cup chopped nuts DirectionsPREHEAT oven to 375º F. COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chunks and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. *Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 


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Meat Is Killing Us -- Can the Frankenburger Save the Planet? - September 13, 2014 - 12:56pm
Is cultured meat the answer?

It was just over a year ago that the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger was introduced to the world. The in-vitro meat (aka test tube meat, cultured meat, cruelty-free meat, and my favorite, “shmeat”) took four years to grow from cow stem cells and cost a meaty $332,000. Cultured in-vitro meat—or “frankenburger,” as the press dubbed it—is the brainchild of a Dutch biologist, Mark Post, of the University of Maastricht. The single burger, created from 20,000 strands of muscle tissue grown in petri dishes, got some lukewarm reviews. 

“It wasn’t unpleasant,” Chicago food writer Josh Schonwald wrote. More enthusiastically, food researcher Hanni Rutzler commented, “That’s some intense flavor.” Because the meat was cultured from muscle with no fat cells, it lacked juiciness, and was reminiscent of an overdone dry turkey burger. Still, the consensus was that it tasted better than expected, had the consistency of real meat, and for a first try, was not discouraging. Post told NBC News, “I’m very excited. It took a long time to get this far. I think this is a very good start.”

While anyone who has seen videos of the horrific conditions factory-farmed cows, pigs and chickens endure in their short, tortured lives might agree that in-vitro meat is a good idea, there's an even more pressing reason to figure out a way to grow meat: the production of meat on planet Earth is killing us. It takes up more than half of our agricultural capacity, and as the economies of China and other developing nations grow, and as their citizens demand more meat on their dinner tables, that capacity will be strained even further.

Here are some of the more staggering statistics:

  • Demand for meat is expected to grow by 60 percent in the next 40 years.
  • Cattle and other livestock now use over 30 percent of the entire land surface of the planet, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. About a third of all crops grown are used to feed that livestock.
  • The rainforests of the world are being bulldozed to create pastures for these animals, destroying the lungs of the earth. Cattle are the source of almost 10 percent of the CO2 choking our atmosphere and contributing to catastrophic global climate change.
  • Cattle manure contributes 65 percent of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere (which is 296 times more heat-trapping than CO2), and cow burps and farts are the source of 37 percent of the methane (23 times the power of CO2).
  • Twenty percent of the world’s pastures are already degraded from overgrazing, and the planet’s water supplies, already seriously stressed, are being severely damaged from runoff from animal waste and the pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and other products used to grow feed crops for factory-farmed animals.

Already in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a dead zone the size of Massachusetts, the water so compromised that no fish can live in it. Combine this with the meat itself, often pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, not to mention potentially harmful bacteria due to the inadequate inspection protocol, and it all adds up to a catastrophe in the making.

Enter the in-vitro meat enthusiasts. A study at Oxford University demonstrated that the production of in-vitro meat is far more energy efficient than factory farming, and resulted in far fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Successfully growing meat would eliminate the enormous stresses factory farming puts on the environment, and it would meet the growing developing world's demand for meat.

While it is doubtful lab-grown meat could take the place of the real stuff at 300 grand a burger, that price could come down, drastically, as Mark Post and other scientists perfect the process and as a market begins to emerge for it. There is money behind the effort. Big money. Sergey Brin, the billionaire co-founder of Google, has largely funded the frankenburger initiative.

“He’s as determined as we are to make this happen,” Post told Time magazine. A year after the burger’s debut, Brin continues to fund the program, and Post’s team has grown. The goal is to produce meat indistinguishable from slaughterhouse meat. The color needs work as well as the taste and texture. The first burger was artificially colored (its natural color resembled chicken more than beef). Future lab burgers will be produced with a substance called myoglobin, the protein that makes red meat red. Scientists will grow fat tissues to make the burger juicier.

To bring the price down, they will need to grow the meat in a new medium. Currently it is grown in fetal bovine serum (FBS), which comes from unborn slaughterhouse calves. Aside from the animal welfare aspects of that fact, fetal bovine serum is extremely expensive. Various vegetable and yeast-based broths are being explored as alternatives.

Mark Post expects to come up with a viable lab burger within a couple years. At that point, he will hand off the project to people who will be responsible for expanding the operation, making it more widely available, even branding it. He has told the press that seven years is the target timeframe for the “frankenburger” to go mainstream. Well, not exactly mainstream. Don’t look for a McFrankenburger Happy Meal. Acceptance of cultured meat may take some time. Still, cultured meat products are not radically different from hot dogs or chicken nuggets, neither of which are exactly natural. Assuming it looks, feels and tastes like meat, the expectation is that environmentally conscious people will be the first to take up the cultured meat mantle, and as acceptance grows and demand increases, prices will hopefully plummet (a scenario currently being played out with electric cars).

Mark Post is not the only scientist working on cultured meat; another billionaire, Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, has put his money behind a company called Modern Meadow, which is attempting to build a 3D printer that makes meat. Food companies are sniffing around the edges of in-vitro meat; they may smell money. Stay tuned.

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What's New: Maduro Announces 'Five Big Revolutions' in Venezuela

Socialist Project - September 13, 2014 - 2:00am
Maduro talked about the need for an eco-socialist revoution. He said that governmental structures would be reorganized, and he also replaced most of his ministers. In declarations to the country on Tuesday night, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced what he described as "five revolutions", as part of a need to "improve our service to the people."
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