Noam Chomsky: Austerity Is Just Class War - July 2, 2015 - 10:04am
The esteemed scholar offers his views crisis over Greece's debt problems.

As Greece defaults and faces a referendum this Sunday on a new bailout package, watch Noam Chomsky on Europe’s "savage response" to the pushback against austerity demands. He spoke to Democracy Now! in March.



Click here to watch Monday’s segment, "As Greece Heads for Default, Voters Prepare to Vote in Pivotal Referendum on More Austerity."

Below is an interview with Chomsky, followed by a transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Syriza in Greece, a movement that started as a grassroots movement. Now they have taken power, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. And then you have Spain right now. We recently spoke to Pablo Iglesias, the secretary general of the group called Podemos, that was founded, what—an anti-austerity party that has rapidly gained popularity. A month after establishing itself last year, they won five seats in the European Parliament, and some polls show they could take the next election, which would mean that Pablo Iglesias, the 36-year-old political science professor and longtime activist, could possibly become the prime minister of Europe’s fifth-largest economy. He came here to New York for just about 72 hours, and I asked him to talk about what austerity measures have meant in Spain.

PABLO IGLESIAS: Austerity means that people is expulsed of their homes. Austerity means that the social services don’t work anymore. Austerity means that public schools have not the elements, the means to develop their activity. Austerity means that the countries have not sovereignty anymore, and we became a colony of the financial powers and a colony of Germany. Austerity probably means the end of democracy. I think if we don’t have democratic control of economy, we don’t have democracy. It’s impossible to separate economy and democracy, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pablo Iglesias, the head of this new anti-austerity group in Spain called Podemos, which means in English "We can." The significance of these movements?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very significant. But notice the reaction. The reaction to Syriza was extremely savage. They made a little bit of progress in their negotiations, but not much. The Germans came down very hard on them.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean in dealing with the debt.

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the dealing with them, and sort of forced them to back off from almost all their proposals. What’s going on with the austerity is really class war. As an economic program, austerity, under recession, makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse. So the Greek debt, relative to GDP, has actually gone up during the period of—which is—well, the policies that are supposed to overcome the debt. In the case of Spain, the debt was not a public debt, it was private debt. It was the actions of the banks. And that means also the German banks. Remember, when a bank makes a dangerous, a risky borrowing, somebody is making a risky lending. And the policies that are designed by the troika, you know, are basically paying off the banks, the perpetrators, much like here. The population is suffering. But one of the things that’s happening is that the—you know, the social democratic policies, so-called welfare state, is being eroded. That’s class war. It’s not an economic policy that makes any sense as to end a serious recession. And there is a reaction to it—Greece, Spain and some in Ireland, growing elsewhere, France. But it’s a very dangerous situation, could lead to a right-wing response, very right-wing. The alternative to Syriza might be Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi party.

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Jon Stewart Mocks Chris Christie, Who Is Running for President for Some Reason - July 2, 2015 - 9:09am
There are now eighteen people running for President.

On last night's Daily Show, it was time for Democalypse 2016. Or, "15 pounds of sh*t in a 5 pound bag," as Stewart terms our great electoral process. The election is still a year and a half away, but the candidates are stacking up. Bobby Jindal has officially joined the 17 -- yes 17 -- people running for President. How to get attention in such a crowded field? Kudos to Ted Cruz for grabbing publicity by ruining something America holds dear; his Simpsons impersonation reel, in which he pretends to be Lisa, Homer, and Ned Flanders, is deeply disturbing, to say the least. 

As if seventeen candidates weren't enough, Chris Christie has also just announced he's running. Stewart takes us through all of the reasons Christie does not have the best chances, including the fact that he's being unfavorably compared to Donald Trump. Watch below: 


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America's Got the #1 Military in the World — and It's Increasingly Useless - July 2, 2015 - 9:04am
The U.S. faces a major superpower conundrum.

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries. It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet.  So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up. Is the U.S. or isn’t it? Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train — that is, any train — anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline. The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail? Really? And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable.  What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation — bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like — is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble? That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively? I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished.  How improbable is that? And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists? And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure? Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlessly thankour troops (as would the citizenry) for...well...never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens' army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. Today, its repetitive presence marks the moment of doubt. Are we really so “exceptional”? Is this country truly “indispensible” to the rest of the planet and if so, in what way exactly? Are those troops genuinely our heroes and if so, just what was it they did that we’re so darn proud of?

Return my amazed parents to their graves, put all of this together, and you have the beginnings of a description of a uniquely great power in decline. It’s a classic vision, but one with a problem.

A God-Like Power to Destroy

Who today recalls the ads from my 1950s childhood for, if I remember correctly, drawing lessons, which always had a tagline that went something like: What’s wrong with this picture? (You were supposed to notice the five-legged cows floating through the clouds.) So what’s wrong with this picture of the obvious signs of decline: the greatest power in history, with hundreds of garrisons scattered across the planet, can’t seem to apply its power effectively no matter where it sends its military or bring countries like Iran or a weakened post-Soviet Russia to heel by a full range of threats, sanctions, and the like, or suppress a modestly armed terror-movement-cum-state in the Middle East?

For one thing, look around and tell me that the United States doesn’t still seem like a unipolar power. I mean, where exactly are its rivals? Since the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, when the first wooden ships mounted with cannons broke out of their European backwater and began to gobble up the globe, there have always been rival great powers — three, four, five, or more. And what of today? The other three candidates of the moment would assumedly be the European Union (EU), Russia, and China.

Economically, the EU is indeed a powerhouse, but in any other way it’s a second-rate conglomeration of states that still slavishly follow the U.S. and an entity threatening to come apart at the seams. Russia looms ever larger in Washington these days, but remains a rickety power in search of greatness in its former imperial borderlands.  It’s a country almost as dependent on its energy industry as Saudi Arabia and nothing like a potential future superpower. As for China, it’s obviously the rising power of the moment and now officially has the number one economy on Planet Earth.  Still, it remains in many ways a poor country whose leaders fear any kind of future economic implosion (which could happen). Like the Russians, like any aspiring great power, it wants to make its weight felt in its neighborhood — at the moment the East and South China Seas. And like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Chinese leadership is indeed upgrading its military. But the urge in both cases is to emerge as a regional power to contend with, not a superpower or a genuine rival of the U.S.

Whatever may be happening to American power, there really are no potential rivals to shoulder the blame. Yet, uniquely unrivaled, the U.S. has proven curiously incapable of translating its unipolar power and a military that, on paper, trumps every other one on the planet into its desires. This was not the normal experience of past reigning great powers. Or put another way, whether or not the U.S. is in decline, the rise-and-fall narrative seems, half-a-millennium later, to have reached some kind of largely uncommented upon and unexamined dead end.

In looking for an explanation, consider a related narrative involving military power. Why, in this new century, does the U.S. seem so incapable of achieving victory or transforming crucial regions into places that can at least be controlled?  Military power is by definition destructive, but in the past such force often cleared the ground for the building of local, regional, or even global structures, however grim or oppressive they might have been. If force always was meant to break things, it sometimes achieved other ends as well. Now, it seems as if breaking is all it can do, or how to explain the fact that, in this century, the planet’s sole superpower has specialized — see Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — in fracturing, not building nations.

Empires may have risen and fallen in those 500 years, but weaponry only rose. Over those centuries in which so many rivals engaged each other, carved out their imperial domains, fought their wars, and sooner or later fell, the destructive power of the weaponry they were wielding only ratcheted up exponentially: from the crossbow to the musket, the cannon, the Colt revolver, the repeating rifle, the Gatling gun, the machine gun, the dreadnaught, modern artillery, the tank, poison gas, the zeppelin, the plane, the bomb, the aircraft carrier, the missile, and at the end of the line, the “victory weapon” of World War II, the nuclear bomb that would turn the rulers of the greatest powers, and later even lesser powers, into the equivalent of gods.

For the first time, representatives of humanity had in their hands the power to destroy anything on the planet in a fashion once imagined possible only by some deity or set of deities. It was now possible to create our own end times. And yet here was the odd thing: the weaponry that brought the power of the gods down to Earth somehow offered no practical power at all to national leaders.  In the post-Hiroshima-Nagasaki world, those nuclear weapons would prove unusable.  Once they were loosed on the planet, there would be no more rises, no more falls. (Today, we know that even a limited nuclear exchange among lesser powers could, thanks to the nuclear-winter effect, devastate the planet.)

Weapons Development in an Era of Limited War

In a sense, World War II could be considered the ultimate moment for both the narratives of empire and the weapon. It would be the last “great” war in which major powers could bring all the weaponry available to them to bear in search of ultimate victory and the ultimate shaping of the globe. It resulted in unprecedented destruction across vast swathes of the planet, the killing of tens of millions, the turning of great cities into rubble and of countless people into refugees, the creation of an industrial structure for genocide, and finally the building of those weapons of ultimate destruction and of the first missiles that would someday be their crucial delivery systems.  And out of that war came the final rivals of the modern age — and then there were two — the “superpowers.”

That very word, superpower, had much of the end of the story embedded in it. Think of it as a marker for a new age, for the fact that the world of the “great powers” had been left for something almost inexpressible. Everyone sensed it. We were now in the realm of “great” squared or force raised in some exponential fashion, of “super” (as in, say, “superhuman”) power. What made those powers truly super was obvious enough: the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union — their potential ability, that is, to destroy in a fashion that had no precedent and from which there might be no coming back.  It wasn’t a happenstance that the scientists creating the H-bomb sometimes referred to it in awestruck terms as a “super bomb,” or simply “the super.”

The unimaginable had happened. It turned out that there was such a thing as too much power. What in World War II came to be called “total war,” the full application of the power of a great state to the destruction of others, was no longer conceivable. The Cold War gained its name for a reason. A hot war between the U.S. and the USSR could not be fought, nor could another global war, a reality driven home by the Cuban missile crisis.  Their power could only be expressed “in the shadows” or in localized conflicts on the “peripheries.”  Power now found itself unexpectedly bound hand and foot.

This would soon be reflected in the terminology of American warfare. In the wake of the frustrating stalemate that was Korea (1950-1953), a war in which the U.S. found itself unable to use its greatest weapon, Washington took a new language into Vietnam. The conflict there was to be a “limited war.” And that meant one thing: Nuclear power would be taken off the table.

For the first time, it seemed, the world was facing some kind of power glut. It’s at least reasonable to assume that, in the years after the Cold War standoff ended, that reality somehow seeped from the nuclear arena into the rest of warfare.  In the process, great power war would be limited in new ways, while somehow being reduced only to its destructive aspect and nothing more. It suddenly seemed to hold no other possibilities within it — or so the evidence of the sole superpower in these years suggests.

War and conflict are hardly at an end in the twenty-first century, but something has removed war's normal efficacy. Weapons development has hardly ceased either, but the newest highest-tech weapons of our age are proving strangely ineffective as well. In this context, the urge in our time to produce “precision weaponry” — no longer the carpet-bombing of the B-52, but the “surgical” strike capacity of a joint direct attack munition, or JDAM — should be thought of as the arrival of “limited war” in the world of weapons development.

The drone, one of those precision weapons, is a striking example. Despite its penchant for producing “collateral damage,” it is not a World War II-style weapon of indiscriminate slaughter. It has, in fact, been used relatively effectively to play whack-a-mole with the leadership of terrorist groups, killing off one leader or lieutenant after another.  And yet all of the movements it has been directed against have only proliferated, gaining strength (and brutality) in these same years. It has, in other words, proven an effective weapon of bloodlust and revenge, but not of policy.  If war is, in fact, politics by other means (as Carl von Clausewitz claimed), revenge is not. No one should then be surprised that the drone has produced not an effective war on terror, but a war that seems to promote terror.

One other factor should be added in here: that global power glut has grown exponentially in another fashion as well. In these years, the destructive power of the gods has descended on humanity a second time as well — via the seemingly most peaceable of activities, the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change now promises a slow-motion version of nuclear Armageddon, increasing both the pressure on and the fragmentation of societies, while introducing a new form of destruction to our lives.

Can I make sense of all this? Hardly. I’m just doing my best to report on the obvious: that military power no longer seems to act as it once did on Planet Earth.  Under distinctly apocalyptic pressures, something seems to be breaking down, something seems to be fragmenting, and with that the familiar stories, familiar frameworks, for thinking about how our world works are losing their efficacy.

Decline may be in the American future, but on a planet pushed to extremes, don’t count on it taking place within the usual tale of the rise and fall of great powers or even superpowers. Something else is happening on Planet Earth. Be prepared.

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What's New: No to Blackmail, Solidarity with the Greek People

Socialist Project - July 2, 2015 - 2:00am
Along with other actions of solidarity with Greece, on the occasion of the referendum in Greece, Québec solidaire, the Solidarity Committee with the Greek People, Alternatives and the Montreal metropolitan Regional Labour Council (FTQ) are organizing this coming Saturday July 4th at 10:45am, a solidarity action in front of the Greek Consulate at 1002 Sherbrooke West in Montreal, corner McTavish, facing McGill University.
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Minorities in STEM Are in Short Supply — Why We Need to Fix That - July 1, 2015 - 4:50pm
75 percent of American scientists and engineers are white.

Demand for Stem-trained (science, technology, engineering and math) workers continues to grow. Stem job vacancies take more than twice as longto fill as those in other fields and many businesses have a hard time finding qualified Stem applicants. Yet there is a great potential pool of Stem talent: America’s minorities.

If you are a student from a minority background, you are muchless likely to know someone in a Stem career than other students and more likely to be the first in your family to go to college. If you find yourself interested in a Stem degree and career, chances are you will need to look beyond your immediate family – and even your schools – for guidance. I know I felt this way as a young woman interested in science and math.

Nearly 75% of US scientists and engineers are white. And, despite comprising 26% of the workforce, African Americans and Hispanics represent only 11% of all Stem employees. Addressing this lack of diversity is key if the US wants to be a leader in Stem fields.

Everyone benefits when we produce talented Stem employees and many of the United States’ best opportunities for economic growth come from jobs that require Stem skills. Recognizing this need, the White House launched Educate to Innovate to “provide students at every level with the skills they need to excel in the high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of science, technology, engineering and math.” Faced with the effects of climate change, we will need even more Stem graduates to protect the environment and address the detrimental impact of increased greenhouse gases on the planet.

If you take a closer look at programs outside of school that are successful at generating interest in Stem subjects among students from a variety of backgrounds, one common element - structured, intentional mentoring – becomes clear.

At-risk young adults who have a mentor are more likely to enroll in and graduate from college than those who do not. Programs like Girls Who Code, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Science Career Continuum and the Sphinx Organization offer formal mentoring structures – whether mentors are paid or volunteers – through which youth are given access to people who are committed to supporting the success of the next generation.

When a student receives one-on-one attention from a mentor, it enables them to envision a rewarding career that they might otherwise have considered out of reach. Mentors provide education and career advice, encouragement and support as students explore new fields and develop new skills.

The goals of mentoring, and programs like Educate to Innovate, are to move a diverse population of American students from the middle to the front of the pack in science and math. We all recognize that this will take a significant investment of time and talent – currently, more than $700m in public and private funds have been set aside for the initiative. We need to ensure that a large part of our investment goes toward formal mentorship programs because they are most effective at helping students from minority backgrounds enter Stem-based studies.

In order to ensure a steady flow of graduates, Stem practitioners should be encouraged to support and engage with programs to mentor the up-and-comers in diverse neighborhoods of their cities and towns. We need program providers to reach out to professionals and let them know they can make a difference in the lives of young people. We need to prepare a new, larger generation of Stem practitioners who will be equipped to address the growing challenges of our time. If we work together, we can achieve a future in Stem that not only drives our nation forward but also represents the rich diversity of our society.

  • Disclosure to readers: Sophia Shaw oversees the Science Career Continuum mentoring program, which prepares young people for Stem careers.


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Parents Fight Conservative Zealots and Charter School Advocates For Control of Their Kids' Education - July 1, 2015 - 4:50pm
In Jefferson County, Colorado an acrimonious debate is taking place over the future of public school.

It's Tuesday evening, and people have come to church — but not for religion.

What's bringing people to Green Mountain United Methodist Church in the heart of Lakewood, Colorado, is a meeting modestly titled "Church and society: Stand up for students."

In a cramped, wood-paneled room on the second floor, two dozen attendees rise, one after another, to introduce themselves and say why they are here. "I'm concerned," say a few. "Scary," "outrageous," say others.

A neatly dressed elderly man speaks up: "When you've been given a lot for the education of your own children, it's important that the children after yours get that same level of education, or better. I don't believe we're doing that."

"I have two children in school," a younger woman says. "I hear things that are troubling. So I'm here to learn more."

The last woman to introduce herself, wearing a T-shirt declaring she is a "Jeffco Rebel," starts a stack of handouts circulating around the room. That's when a woman seated at the head of the room says, "We're here to arm you with information."

This is Jefferson County, Colorado.

Sprawling westward from the Denver skyline, where the front range of the Rockies sharpens its ascension to the peaks, Jeffco, as the locals call it, is experiencing an acrimonious debate about its public schools.

At scores of house parties like this one, parents and public school activists circulate flyers and repeat a well-rehearsed message of dissent. They complain of a new school board majority that is secretive, disrespectful to parents and teachers and irresponsible with tax dollars. They warn of the influence of right-wing groups, some with connections to evangelical Christianity. They complain of a powerful charter school industry, different from the "organic charters" Jeffco parents already send their kids to.

Behind every grassroots issue they identify lies a much "bigger thing," as more than one parent will tell you.

It's a complicated narrative that defies stereotypes and neat polarities. Although the fight is political, Republicans and Democrats are distributed on both sides of the debate. The argument is about education, but it's not an argument over pro-charter school versus anti-charter. Jeffco has had charters for years, many of which are highly popular with parents. Neither is this a narrative about choice versus anti-choice. Jeffco already allows parents to enroll their children in any school in the district (although there are cases of selective enrollment), and many families do opt for a school other than their neighborhood one.

Jeffco is a mostly white, middle-class and suburban school district that hardly resembles the "failing" school systems you're used to hearing about. According to the district's website, Jeffco students "outperform the state in all grade levels and content areas" on state mandated achievement tests. Six of the district's high schools rank in the top 40 of the 2014 Best High Schools in America according to U.S. News & World Report, and 11 elementary schools were listed as 5280 Magazine's top public elementary schools.

And Jeffco is not a community where teachers' unions are defending their turf from disgruntled parents. Parents, not union operatives, lead the numerous and frequent house parties like the one at Green Mountain Church.

What is also true about Jeffco is that the story unfolding here is one that is recurring across the country, as community after community becomes mired in debates about who gets to call the shots in education systems strained by unending financial austerity and an unremitting "reform" agenda whose intent is unclear to the people in its way.

A Conflict About Curriculum

Jefferson County was first thrust into the media spotlight in 1999, when two armed students committed horrific killings at Columbine High School. More recently, this district of over 85,000 students, the second largest in the state, made headlines again when mass student walkouts occurred in high schools across the district to voice concerns over a proposed review of an AP U.S. history course.

As the Associated Press reported at the time, students were alarmed that the stated purpose of the review was "to make sure materials 'promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights' and don't 'encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.'"

The students took to the streets multiple days in a row to voice their right to learn about the history of protest and civil disobedience that helped create the country they live in today. Some teachers got involved as well, staging a "mass sick-out" in support of the students.

When MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed two student leaders of the protest, Ashlyn Maher and Kyle Ferris, Ferris explained, "We wanted to get the school board's attention. They're not really listening to the concerns of the community."

"What else is all of this about?" Harris-Perry asked.

Ferris replied there were indeed other issues including "teachers' wages, which they're messing with," and "funneling funds away from public into charter schools."

The glare of the national spotlight persuaded the board to drop the review, but "the ugly battle over public education in Jefferson County," as a local reporter phrased it, raged on after the attention of mainstream media receded.

Had the national media stayed a little longer and dug a little deeper they would have found the conflict over history curriculum is but a symptom of a much bigger issue.

Who's Messin' With Jeffco?

Over coffee at a Lakewood Starbucks, Kyle Ferris' mother Barbara now dismisses the national media's focus on her son's activism as "the flavor of the day."

For sure, Ferris supported her son's actions. "When Kyle came to me saying he and other students wanted to stage a walkout, my input was to encourage him to clearly state his reasons for the walkout," she recalls.

What she values most about the protest is, "It got a group of kids to demonstrate the critical thinking they were taught in class," she says. "It increased their awareness of other big issues."

What other big issues?

"A lot of the problems have risen from the new board that emerged from the recent election," Ferris explains. "We now have a majority that is influenced by the Tea Party with an agenda right out of right-wing talk radio."

Ferris also worries about the growing influence of charter schools in the district, pointing to recent actions the board has taken to send more money to charter schools at a time when neighborhood schools still haven't recovered from the effects of the recession. She says parents are still reeling from the impact of fees, imposed after the recession hit, for bus transportation and other services, and she wonders why funding sent to charter schools isn't instead being used to end the fees.

Ferris is quick to add that she is not opposed to the idea of charter schools. But the urgency to establish more of them now escapes her. "Jeffco already has a phenomenal choice system," she explains.

Ferris, an Asian American who decided with her husband to move to Jeffco "for the schools," now sees a troubling landscape in her community. "We've got great schools; we've got great teachers," she says. "I don't want things to get messed up."

"Everyone believes they are doing the right thing," she says. "But we don't believe in the same things."

Nothing Funny About This

One belief most in dispute in Jeffco is the role of community voice in running the schools. That issue is especially central to the parent-led house parties. Shawna Fritzler and Jonna Levine are two Jeffco parents who often lead those events. In some respects, they're a collaboration of opposites. Fitzler is a lifelong Republican, while Levine is an avowed Democrat. Fitzler still has children in Jeffco public schools, while Levine's children have graduated and moved on. The issue that initially brought them together was the chronic underfunding, in their minds, of Jeffco schools. They both actively campaigned for a countywide referendum — a "mill levy and bond" issue — to offset budget cuts from the state. The referendum passed.

But the target of their ire now is the new conservative school board majority, elected in 2013. In that election, a slate of three candidates— Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams— ran together and branded themselves “WNW.” The three candidates got the backing of the Jefferson County GOP and an organization called Jeffco Students First, a state-based education advocacy group patterned after the controversial national organization StudentsFirst (founded and formerly led by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, DC public schools). StudentsFirst and its Colorado state version promote an "education reform" agenda that favors charter schools, vouchers, grading schools and educators based on student test scores, and drastically altering teacher compensation, performance evaluation, and job protection.

WNW "came out of nowhere," according to Levine. The Jeffco Republican Party lauded the three candidates for their business experience – Witt's in information technology, Newkirk's in engineering, and Williams as an office manager of an orthodontics clinic. Williams has ties to the Republican Party that run particularly deep. According to the Denver Post, she is related by marriage to the influential Neville family, who the article describes as, "A Colorado political family deeply connected to the state's most strident gun-rights group."

With strong financial backing, the three took advantage of a statewide conservative wave and an unpopular ballot amendment to handily win.

Once WNW took office, they worked in unison to advance their reform agenda, which is generally opposed by the two remaining Jeffco board members, 2nd vice president Lesley Dahlkemper of District 4* and District 3 representative Jill Fellman, whose terms don't end until 2015.

Fritzler's and Levine's concerns with WNW led them to start Support Jeffco Kids. In school board meetings and on social media, they openly question board actions and hector the decision-making process and personal conduct of the three conservatives.

In separate discussions, each complains that the WNW trio ignores public opinion. As proof, they point to a community survey conducted in 2014 showing strong majorities of Jeffco citizens favoring smaller class sizes, full-day kindergarten, higher teacher salaries, and continued funding of school electives such as art and music. Yet the new board majority made numerous decisions to direct money to other efforts, including a $400,000 emergency loan to a charter school, a $280,000 salary for the new superintendent ($70,000 more than the previous superintendent), a newly created board attorney position without any explanation of the need for the attorney, and a decision to send $3.7 million more in "mill levy" funds to charter schools — funds Fitzler and Levine worked to enact and voters approved before the new majority was elected.

Additionally, the board majority voted to withhold $600,000 in funds for full-day kindergarten, despite the fact that, as a reporter for local news outlet Chalkbeat Colorado points out, "In neighboring Denver Public Schools, local data on the impact of full-day kindergarten show that full-day students do better in reading than their half-day peers… 57 percent of Denver’s kindergarteners who attended full-day programs between 2001-02 and 2008-9 scored proficient or advanced on third-grade reading tests, compared to 51 percent of half-day kindergarteners."

More recently, the board also ruled out higher pay for teachers in the upcoming year.

Fitzler and Levine also question the creation of a new charter school, Golden View Classical Academy, that is part of a national chain based in Michigan. They question why the site for the new charter is a one-minute walk across the street from a community created and led charter school, Free Horizon Montessori, founded in 2002.

The two women see charter school expansions being prioritized over new school construction. Jeffco clearly has a problem with overcrowding and needs to build new schools for the district. But the board recently came up $10 million short in its effort to fund construction of a new school.

"The agenda seems to be to bring in more charters for the sake of charters," Levine argues. She also sees new charters as being fundamentally different from existing ones. In her view, the new board majority seems to favor charter schools, like Golden View Classical Academy, that come from outside the community and are run by charter management organizations. Golden View is affiliated with a chain of charter schools based in Michigan. She sees this as "trying to drive a wedge between existing charters" which are more apt to be stand-alone independent schools with board members hailing from a Jeffco addresses. (Free Horizon Montessori, for instance, is governed by a board of directors made up of nine community members, according to the school's website.)

To activist parents like Fitzler and Levine, the notion of outsiders calling the shots for their local schools is something they just can’t stomach.

Jeffco on the Menu

So who are the outsiders invading Jeffco schools, and what do they want?

Jeffco public school activists describe a strange combination of forces undermining their local control, from right-wing operatives and evangelical Christians to billionaire businessmen and charter school entrepreneurs. The declared intentions of these characters span the culture war spectrum: with some holding high the values of freedom and patriotism and others claiming to fight "the civil rights cause of our time."

But the way these Jeffco parents and educators see it, their community is being picked over the way a glutton works the all-you-can-eat salad bar. He may start off with a small plate, but he's quickly back for more.

The influence of outsiders, in fact, is one of the factors that doomed the new board majority to controversy even before they were elected.

Dougco Is Coming

As an article in the Denver Post documented in November 2013, days before the election, three wealthy businessmen contributed an out-sized quantity of money— more than $200,000— to school board races in Colorado, including the effort to elect Witt, Newkirk and Williams in Jeffco.

None of the three men appears to live in Jefferson County. The first, C. Edward McVaney is co-founder of software company J.D. Edwards and founding trustee of Valor Christian High School, an independent private Christian high school in Douglas County Colorado. McVaney has a propensity for donating to school board candidates around the state who favor school vouchers. The second is Denver businessman Ralph Nagel, president of Top Rock LLC, an investment firm. The third is Alex Cranberg, CEO of Aspect Energy, who Forbes describes as a "Texas oilman." Cranberg's notoriety stems primarily from his company's venture into oil drilling in Iraq.

The reporters introduce the trio as, "Financial backers who want school districts to adopt the anti-union, pro-voucher, and school-choice model set by Douglas County." Another wealthy man, also from Douglas County, hosted a fundraiser to elect the WNW team. According to reporters, the bash raised another $30,000.

Douglas County, or Dougco in Coloradan parlance, lies to the south of Denver and shares its western border with Jeffco. Dougco emerged four years ago as a genesis — according to Colorado Chalkbeat editor Todd Engdahl — of a new trend in the state to turn school board elections into highly "partisan" affairs in which wealthy individuals back a slate of candidates who support more "choice options," including more charter schools and school voucher programs that allow parents to redirect public dollars to private schools. The effort has been successful in Dougco where a conservative board has greatly expanded charters and instituted a school voucher program.

Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Dougco's school voucher program unconstitutional for violating the transfer of "any public fund or moneys" to "any church or sectarian society." Most of the schools involved in the program were religious. Dougco school officials have vowed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Denver Post.

As Chalkbeat's Engdahl notes, two of the wealthy individuals spending heavily to elect a conservative slate to the school board in Jeffco were Alex Cranberg and Ralph Nagel — who saw such success for their efforts in Dougco.

Here Come the Koch Brothers

Another major influencer in the public education system in Colorado has been Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization founded by Charles and David Koch. As a report in Politico noted at the time of the Dougco school board race, "Americans for Prosperity is spending big" in support of candidates who favor an agenda of making schools "compete with one another for market share" and allowing tax money to go to religious education.

The reporter, Stephanie Simon, wrote, "Conservatives across the U.S. see Douglas County as a model for transforming public schools everywhere."

Among those conservatives was former Florida governor, now declared presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, who donated $1,000 to each of the Koch-backed candidates in Dougco. Money raised for those conservatives dwarfed that raised for the challengers, ensuring a conservative win and establishing a theme that has been occurring throughout practically all of Colorado.

The influence of Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers is clearly being felt in Jeffco. Recently, parents across the district received an email from AFP urging them to contact the Jeffco school board to push for an increase in funding for charter schools— a measure which eventually passed. And the district's new Golden View Classical Academy has a connection to AFP and the Kochs through an influential private college in Michigan.

Here Come the Fundamentalist Christians

Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Michigan is an intriguing ingredient in the school choice stewpot. Regarded as "the conservative Harvard," in some circles, Hillsdale has received generous donations from the Kochs' foundation.

Hillsdale College has a decidedly Christian religious bent, coming in second on the Princeton Review's list of "10 Colleges with the Most Religious Students," according to an article in the Huffington Post. The college's mission statement says, "The College considers itself a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law."

Most recently,, an outlet focused on LGBT issues for athletes, reported the Hillsdale chaplain "sent an email to athletes, coaches, students, faculty and alumni from the school warning them about same-sex marriage and inviting them to pray to destroy 'evil' same-sex marriage." According to another gay rights activist website, a Hillsdale official walked back the college's role in issuing the statement, but the email certainly reinforced Hillsdale's long-held reputation for discriminating on the basis of gender preference and identity.

Interestingly, Hillsdale does not accept credit for an AP American History course high school students across the nation take — the very course Jeffco students were defending for their schools.

In addition to spreading its education philosophy, Hillsdale operates the Barney Charter School Initiative, which is essentially a consultant service for a chain of charter schools called Classical Academies. Each of these charters ascribes to what Barney calls "a foundation of classical liberal arts learning — the kind of learning best suited to a free society and most needed for its preservation."

Colorado currently has 17 Classical Academies, though it's not clear to what extent each is connected to Barney (a representative from a public relations firm claiming to represent Hillsdale was unable to provide clarification before press time). The newest is Golden View, which listed its association with the Barney Initiative on its application.

Barney also has a strong political agenda. Its mission is to "recover our public schools from the tide of a hundred years of progressivism that has corrupted our nation’s original faithfulness to the previous 24 centuries of teaching the young the liberal arts in the West."

According to the Barney project, "The charter school vehicle possesses the conceptual elements that permit the launching of a significant campaign of classical school planting to redeem American public education."

So public education in Jeffco needs a "redeemer"?

Our Education Redeemers

Approval of Jeffco’s Golden View came despite strong objections from board members Dahlkemper and Fellman. According to a state news outlet, the application was accepted and passed by the board despite the school's request for 17 waivers of state and district laws including those governing student data privacy, the prevention of bullying and discrimination, and student conduct.

Dahlkemper and Fellman had good reasons for their concerns. In 2009, parent complaints about racism and religious intolerance at a Classical Academy in Colorado Springs caused the Colorado Department of Education to seek an inquiry. The ensuing investigation of the school found "major areas of concern about management, safety, and security of students," including failure to "take appropriate corrective action in a timely manner in responding to sexual and physical assaults … a pattern of bullying of parents and students … threats against students and parents … retaliation by staff in response to complaints." Conflicts of interest and problems with financial mismanagement also made the list of concerns.

Posting on a Colorado blog, Margaret Lessenger, a Jeffco parent who helped found Free Horizon Montessori, adds more concerns over Golden View's approval. "In Jeffco, charter schools [like the charter she founded] are run by a board of directors elected by the parents of the school … If [Golden View] actually does implement extreme conservative indoctrination or operates with a religious Christian undertone, parents will have no power to vote for new directors. The founders of [Golden View] will select the first board of directors. Each board will select the next board of directors. Parents will have no say…. Parents will be powerless."

In a private conversation with Lessenger, she expands her compare/contrast between Golden View charter and the Montessori "district-charter" (her term) she helped found and sent her son to. She worries that "there are influencers in the [new charter] that are outside the community. There are ways people are using the school to make money."

She argues she never became involved with a charter school because it was a charter. "It was what my child needed," she says. "If there had been a public school with a Montessori approach, I would have sent him to that."

When asked to explain why she opposes Golden View yet supports a charter school education for her own son, she explains, "Montessori is a way of learning, not the content."

She disagrees that Classical Academy offers a "way of learning" other students could benefit from. "This classical curriculum is a Christian curriculum," she argues. "The Colorado Constitution is quite specific that there's a separation of church and state," so the approach could never be implemented anywhere else other than a privately operated school shielded from democratic governance.

During the contentious hearing when the new board majority muscled through Golden View's approval, the school's founder Derec Shuler repeatedly contended "the school will not include a religious teaching," according to a local news outlet.

But should Jeffco parents and citizens find that's not the case, what can they do?

Why Dougco?

There could be some justification for imposing the Dougco charter school model on Jeffco if there were real proof that model could generate genuine academic gains.

But based on analysis available at the Support Jeffco Kids website, there's not much evidence it can.

One video posted on the site points out that the student demographics of the two districts are quite different, with Jeffco schools having a far more diverse spread of low-income versus upper-income students. Virtually all research shows that scores on standardized tests, the most commonly used metric for student achievement, are strongly correlated to family income, so taking student demographics into account is essential.

While some Jeffco schools have 90 percent of students from households qualifying for free and reduced price lunch — the customary metric for student family income— other schools have only five percent. In Dougco, the vast majority of schools have 30 percent or fewer of their students receiving free and reduced price lunch. So straight-up comparisons of the two districts are just not useful. However, when schools with similar demographics are compared in an apples-to-apples comparison (at the 2:55 mark of the video), it's clear Jeffco schools actually outperform Dougco schools on state reading assessments.

What's more, another video comparing Dougco to the 11 largest school districts in the Colorado Front Range region shows Dougco schools actually underperform the other districts on reading, writing, and math state assessments, despite Dougco's being the wealthiest school district in the state.

There's even evidence the performance of Dougco schools may be getting worse. On most measures, performance is lower in 2014 (the most recent year available) than in 2009. At the 2:22 mark, the video shows that while most of the 11 districts in the analysis have been making steady gains on state assessments, Dougco has been among the few districts where school performance, at least as it is measured by state standardized tests, has declined.

You Want Innovation?

Another common argument for expanding charter schools is that they will bring innovation to a school district that has grown lazy due to "bureaucracy" and "complacent teachers."

The influential charter school lobby in Colorado has promised that charters will be more "innovative" than public schools. But anyone who can't find signs of innovation already in Jeffco public schools simply isn't looking or has blinders on.

In fact, experts at the National Education Policy Center, a progressive education research center and think tank affiliated with the University of Colorado in Boulder, recently recognized two Jeffco high schools for being “Schools of Opportunity,” a designation for having "excellent practices designed to expand student opportunity and access to academic success," according to the NEPC announcement.

NEPC's School of Opportunity project analyzed schools in two states, Colorado and New York, based on 11 specific principles identified by experts as critical to closing "opportunity gaps" that exist between high-income school children and their lower income peers. Those principles include more and better learning time, a broader and richer curriculum, and attention to students' individual academic, health and language needs.

The two Jeffco schools receiving this recognition were Jefferson County Open School, which received a Gold Medal, and Long View High School, which received Silver.

Site visits to these schools quickly reveal they are anything but "typical."

At Long View, founder and lead teacher Pete Tierney explains how his small enrollment high school, with just 65 students, could be mistaken for a charter or private school model, yet there's been no reason to go those routes. "The Jeffco school board and administration has always been supportive of us," he explains. "We've had a deal great of independence."

The great independence Long View has received has allowed the school to practice what Tierney calls a "family model," described on the NEPC School of Opportunity website as being characterized by small school size "where genuine interactions can happen between and among all school members throughout each day.” The school’s safety is linked to its concept of community and connection to the larger community through service learning, guest speakers and experiential field trips. All of this reflects the school’s core goals: being a community, learning from the larger community, and contributing to that community.

Tierney believes the small size of the school and its emphasis on close relationships is especially well-suited to students who've had difficulties in other schools due to either learning disabilities, personal trauma, school culture, or individual interests. Tierney believes that if his school didn't exist a high percentage of the students who attend it now would probably drop out. Indeed, one classroom of students confirmed this in conversation, with many of them sharing complaints they had with other schools they've attended and extolling the family environment of Long View.

The school practices the Socratic method of instruction with heavy emphasis on discussion and writing. Although the school must adhere to state and district guidelines for curriculum, the small scale and personalized approach allows students to engage in a remarkable range of projects and activities including field trips, science projects and learning opportunities that extend outside the school into the surrounding community. One group of students recently competed at the state level in a contest for robot design. Some students blend their high school work with attendance at a nearby community college. Final exams are a "celebration of knowledge."

When asked how the school ranks in today's favored measures of achievement, such as standardized tests scores, Tierney says, "We pay attention to it. But I'm not obsessed with data points."

Jefferson County Open School shares some of the philosophy practiced by Long View High but for a longer time and on a larger scale. During a site visit to the school, principal Scott Bain explains that the Open School started as an elementary school in the fall of 1970, then expanded to higher school grades in 1975, well before charter schools arrived in the state. The school enrolls 525 students.

Students in the Open School also follow a highly personalized schooling program with small class sizes throughout all grade levels. Curriculum and instruction are designed around self-directed learning projects in broad subject areas that are inherently interdisciplinary. Because the projects are designed by the students, working with a faculty advisor who guides their work, the learning is more apt to be personally meaningful and relevant to the students.

Students at the Open School begin every year with a wilderness trip where they build connections and community with their peers and teachers. Throughout the year, they engage in other field trip experiences, some of them quite extensive, including trips outside the U.S. or excursions that are exclusive to the school. The Open School is the only high school in the country permitted to conduct archaeological mapping and documentation in Navaho territory. "The money the district sends us for athletics, we use for field trips," Bain explains.

Many of the in-school programs at Open School are quite inventive too, including a student-run breakfast café that the students operate as a business; the profits also fund field trips.

Students at the Open School receive no grades; all courses end in a non-graded evaluation, where students demonstrate competency toward graduation expectations. Instead, students are required to demonstrate "expectations" in projects and portfolios and complete a self-evaluation with personal narrative at the end of each course. What passes for a high school transcript is a student-produced thesis.

The absence of grades has never been an impediment to getting into college, Bain says. "That's a misnomer. Ninety-one percent of our graduates eventually go to college and 85 percent complete a degree."

What about the school's achievement data? "We do pretty well with our [low-income] students who receive free and reduced price lunch," Bain states. "So we don't have much of an achievement gap, which is interesting because we don't really do anything intentional to ensure that.

"You have to come see the school to understand how it works," Bain says.

Of course, not all Jeffco schools are small-scale operations where open-ended, individualized instruction takes place. Alameda International High School, also in Lakewood, has more of the appearance of a "typical" high school with athletic fields, classrooms with desks in rows, and a school security guard meeting everyone who comes through the front door.

The school — which serves a student body that is 86 percent minority with over 50 percent non-native English speakers— was placed on turnaround status by the state five years ago based on its state assessments outcomes, graduation rate and other criteria. But that hasn't kept Alameda from being innovative. In an interview in her office, Alameda principal Susie Van Scoyk explains the difficult process of the turnaround. When she arrived, families were "choosing out" of the school and student enrollment was in a downward spiral.

Lack of funding has been a particular challenge as well. When Van Scoyk arrived, school sports programs were in a shambles and the marching band had long been disbanded.

Her school, which is close to the Denver border, also struggles to attract and keep talented teachers. Teacher salaries in Jeffco start at $33,000, while new teachers in Denver receive $40,000. And the disparity grows as teacher experience lengthens. Last year was particularly difficult for Van Scoyk, after many of her most experienced teachers left Alameda for higher pay in the city.

Despite the challenges, one of Van Scoyk's first decisions after taking the school's leadership reins was to convert the school to an International Baccalaureate program. IB has a reputation for being more challenging, with higher-level course requirements including foreign language. Schools have to receive authorization to claim the brand.

Van Scoyk believes Alameda is making progress. The sports programs have been restored, and the marching band is on the field again, although still wearing uniforms from 1999. "We're bringing back the arts, too," she adds. The number of students completing the degree program has increased every year, and graduation rates are higher.

"We're getting our neighborhood kids back," Van Scoyk maintains, "and not losing as many students to charters." Student enrollment is now over 900 compared to 700 when she came. "It's taken five years to get to this, and we know the work is nowhere near done," she adds.

Some of the innovation that's been happening in Jeffco schools these many years has to be credited to the district's leadership. For the past 13 years, the district has been led by Cindy Stevenson, a 41-year veteran who began her education career as a Jeffco classroom teacher. However, with the election of WNW, it became clear a leadership change would soon be in the offing, and Stevenson abruptly resigned before the end of the 2014-'15 school year due to her incompatibility with the new board majority. “They do not trust me,” she told a local reporter.

In her place, the new board majority quickly inserted, in a three-two vote, Daniel McMinimee, the only candidate considered for the job and chosen without any public hearing. Before he took the reins in Jeffco, McMinimee’s previous job was as assistant superintendent— in Douglas County.

You Don't Tear Down What's Working

"I'm amazed and impressed at what we're doing," Fitzler says about Jeffco schools. "Is everything perfect? No. But you don't tear down what's working."

Being a Republican, Fitzler initially needed to be convinced Jeffco public schools were being good financial stewards. She was also on the receiving end of the Republican messaging campaign that argued for budget cuts and more outsourcing to charter schools.

"So I looked for myself to see if there was any waste," she says. "I didn't find it. I was amazed at how far we were getting despite the cuts."

So instead of tearing things down, what would Fitzler like to see instead?

"I want my school back," she answers. "This is our community. We could leave if we want. But these are our schools."

Levine adds, "They look at school governance like it's a business decision. But it's not a business decision. You can't run a school district like a business … I want a board willing to treat community as partners. They go through the motions of doing this but they don't do it."

Fitzler and Levine are hardly alone in their disapproval of the current board majority. In fact, another Jeffco-based parent-led advocacy organization — Jeffco United for Action — has recently proposed a recall petition of Witt, Newkirk, and Williams.

According to the Denver Post, "The proposed petition criticizes the board for attempts to censor U.S. history classes, violating open meeting laws and claims the board has 'wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,' including on a high salary for the new superintendent and legal expenses."

The Post reporter quotes from the Jeffco United news release: “The board majority members are taking away the opportunity for our Jeffco students to succeed by failing to do what we elected them to do— represent the voice of the entire community and not just those who voted for them."

Of course, what everyone involved in the Jeffco school fracas says they want are wonderful outcomes for all Jeffco kids and their families. They want children succeeding in school and loving learning. They want students who struggle with school doing better. They want high school graduates who go on to college degrees, successful employment, engaged citizenry. They want families feeling they are being well served, and taxpayers feeling confident their money isn't being wasted.

This is the "right thing," to use Barbara Ferris' words—what everyone feels they are working toward, no matter where they fall in the debate.

"But we don't believe in the same things."

One thing parents in Jeffco believe for sure is they should have more of a democratic say-so in how their schools are run. Do their adversaries believe the same? Apparently, not so much.


*Correction: This article originally identified Lesley Dahlkemper as the current school board president; her correct title is in fact 2nd vice president.

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I Was A Victim of Reddit's FatPeopleHate Because I Refused to Be Ashamed of My Body - July 1, 2015 - 3:23pm
I wanted the entire Reddit community to know that I will never second guess posting a picture of my marvelous body in a bikini.

Everything I needed to know about fat hate, I learned in high school.

It was the later part of my high school years when my body went from curvy to buying a prom dress David's Bridal because it was the only place that carried my size. I wore a lot of velour tracksuits at the time, which hindsight (and MySpace pictures) assures me was a terrible decision. 

 It was also in high school that I learned it was a crime to be fat, that it was literally the worst thing that you could be.

There was a young man in my class that had decided to target me specifically. He took every opportunity that was presented to him to tear me down with the typical fat jokes that you would expect from a high school male. I talked to the teacher and he shrugged it off as “part of the high school experience.”

For over a semester, his words (and the resounding laughter of my classmates) chipped away at me, especially since other people started joining in. I walked with my head down, avoided eye contact at all cost, wore baggier clothes, and tried to hide as much as I can. 

I talked to the guidance counselor and dean of students who urged me to “understand my role” in the situation. She urged me to try and fit in better and to keep from drawing any attention to myself. I felt deflated and still remember the hot tears that stained my cheeks as I walked to my next class after our very productive meeting.

I was fat and that was when I learned that fat people were the people that it was socially acceptable to make fun of. After all, if you didn't want to be bullied then why not lose weight?

My mother, who was a professor of psychology and a researcher at a nearby university, dragged out her soapbox that night at dinner and explained to me the cold, hard truth about living in a large body:

"People will say things to tear you down, because there are no consequences."

If you make fun of the fact that I am a woman, you are labeled a sexist or if you make fun of my Jewish heritage, you are labeled anti-Semitic. Even those that harbor those secret racist or sexist or xenophobic ideals, often keep them to themselves because society self-policies itself. Think of the pizza restaurant in Indiana that shut down after saying it wouldn't cater a gay wedding thanks to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Or more recently, think of the the Canadian bar that caused a social media firestorm after posting a transphobic image of Caitlyn Jenner.  We call out the people (and their businesses) out who embody those labels and try to abolish these toxic ideals.

There is no label for people who hate fat people. There are no dire consequences for someone who openly mocks a person's size. Thanks to people like supermodel Tess Holliday and actress Melissa McCarthy, we are starting to self-police with toxic body talk. Take this protest from the ladies in London who felt an advertisement displayed in the tube was playing on the body insecurities of men and women, and had a little something to say about it. 

Knowing that society was slowly coming around didn't make me feel any better when I was in the drive-thru at Starbucks and learned that my face was plastered all over the front page of the now-shuttered Reddit page, FatPeopleHate. The irony that I was in the drive-thru was not lost on me.











I read through every single message that mocked my body, my intelligence, and my man. Photo Credit: Kathryn Richter

The thirteenth most active subreddit has 150,000+ sunscribers, all of whom gathered to mock me. In a matter of minutes, over 150 comments had materialized, with highlights including:

  •  “She ate a shit ton of food and now she’s a hamplanet. Funeral to be scheduled soon.” (Someone replied to that comment with “I love happy endings”)
  •  “Fat insecure cunt.”
  •  “Her face is repulsive, her smile is offensive, her body is an unreasonable burden, her personality is a train wreck, and all I can see when I look into her eyes is a try-hard lunatic.”
  • “Lol face lift and still has an udder fat pig”
  • “That is the stuff of nightmares. This ham has crazy eyes too. The only thing more annoying than a big ugly fat girl is a big ugly fat girl who thinks she’s cute. That arm fat tells another story, porky.”
  • “Her face makes me want to punch. Make that fat bully cry.”
  • “What a fat fucking pig beast”
  • “It doesn’t look human”
  • “She’s useful to that guy she’s with until he gets the courage to come out to his family.”

I felt like I couldn't breathe and pulled over my car to read every single comment. The images they took from Instagram had over 30,000 views on Imgur. Their insults ranged from juvenile to pure hatred. 

They hated a woman they didn't know. They hated the woman who parked her car across three lanes of traffic so the baby ducks could cross safely. They hated the woman who worked part time at McDonalds in college to help fund her humanitarian trip to Haiti. They hated the woman that wanted nothing more from the universe then to send as many positive vibes into as she can.

I thought back to that 21-year-old girl who would drive to the Steak N Shake a town over just to cry into a milkshake in her beat-down car and the girl who wore baggy velour tracksuits in high school to hide her body from those eager to criticize it. 

After battling myself for my own happiness, I refused to feel that self-confidence is something you need to earn. I also refuse to believe that someone can tell me what to wear in order to limit their exposure to my body. You don't like my thighs in these awesome printed shorts? Oh well, I don't like your shitty attitude. 

And more importantly, I will never again let someone tell me how to feel about myself. You think I should feel ashamed for being fat? Well, I think you need to quit talking to strangers like you were badly raised. 

This was one of the images posted on the fat shaming site, but it's still my favorite because it was the first time I wore a bikini in public. Want to know the awesome thing about being the only fat girl there, let alone a fat girl in a bikini? Nobody cared. Nobody did double takes or burned me at the stake or revoked my bikini rights. Photo Credit: Kathryn Richter

My Instagram was flooded with comments from people (who were also posting on FatPeopleHate) that they were “just worried for my health” and that I was “allowing people to kill themselves with food” If anyone told me that they were worried for my health, I told them that maybe they should take a look at their emotional health if they feel the need to bait strangers into Onternet fights.

Oh, I'm promoting obesity but you still like the pictures of the thin, bikini-clad girls slathered in tanning oil, effectively frying their skin? Oh, OK… just so we're clear. 

It amazes me what a man will say to a woman that he is not sexually attracted to. Because he despised my body, I had nothing left to offer the world in his eyes.

The go-to criticism for my page was that I was “promoting obesity” but one of the images the mouth-breathing neckbeards decided to post publicly included one of me running a 5k in all my 250+ pound glory. I was mocked for running, but I was also mocked for being fat. I couldn't win, but this wasn't a game that anyone could win.

They were uncomfortable with women they couldn't sexualize and women who dared to call themselves beautiful. They were uncomfortable with women who defined what beauty was for themselves, refusing the narrow standards that so many women fail to achieve. 

The more that I asserted that I didn't need them to validate my own self-confidence, the more irate they became. The Internet mouth-breathers couldn't fathom how I didn't feel that I had to “earn” my bikini body or “earn” my loving-myself-so-hard-its-pouring-out-my-face attitude.

This, more than anything else, was what I wanted for every single person who saw the images I shared or read the words that I wrote to feel for themselves. I wanted them to fall so madly and deeply in love with themselves that they would never believe another negative word that someone had to say about them. I wanted them to never hesitate to smile at a stranger or to wear a bikini. I never wanted them to turn down a chance to dance in public or wear something strapless.

Because of FatPeopleHate, I wanted the entire Reddit community to know that I will never second guess posting a picture of my marvelous body in a bikini because I know that there is a chance that it would end up in the dark depths of the internet, where humanity ceases to exist. 

I will never second guess calling myself beautiful because they feel that I haven't properly earned that label. I will never allow another human being to make me feel inferior because they are uncomfortable with what I have to say. I'll just talk louder. 

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Rand Paul, Doofus: The Libertarian's Embarrassing "Racial Outreach" - July 1, 2015 - 3:02pm
Communing with the hero to wingnuts isn’t going to win the Kentucky senator black votes.

Oh Rand Paul. I sometimes want to take you seriously, if only to make clear Democrats don’t have a corner on black votes, and can’t take them for granted. But as long as you’re the chief advocate for African American outreach in the 2016 GOP presidential field, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field won’t have to worry at all.

On Tuesday the junior senator from Kentucky tweeted:

You can be a minority because of the color of your skin or the shade of your ideology. #StandWithRand

— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) June 30, 2015

The day before, Paul met with Cliven Bundy, the welfare rancher who became a hero to wingnuts everywhere last year, especially on Fox News, when he refused to pay $1 million in federal grazing fees.  With the help of armed right-wing militia members like the Oath Keepers and the White Mountain Militia, Bundy got the Bureau of Land Management to back down. But the right’s Bundy worship went a little underground when the rancher, enjoying the limelight, introduced a racist diatribe by saying, “Let me tell you something about the Negro.”

Maybe Paul thought that when Bundy began that way, it made him an expert on black people. But Bundy’s “knowledge” consisted of explaining that the problems of black people began when slavery ended, and they were no longer taught to pick cotton.

We should give Paul credit for consistency: he used that silly line about downtrodden ideological “minorities” when speaking at a historically black college, Bowie State University, earlier this year.

“You can be a minority because of the shade of your skin, or you can be a minority because of the shade of your ideology. You can be a minority because you’re African American or Hispanic, but you can also be a minority because you’re an evangelical Christian,” Paul said told the crowd at Bowie State, which is the nation’s oldest historically black university.

What a doofus.

Paul seems to be comparing facing political debate to enslavement, dispossession, lynching, segregation, employment discrimination and everything else racial minorities suffer.

Meanwhile, Paul wrapped up a visit to Nevada by meeting with Bundy. Paul aides escorted the welfare rancher into a back room, where he met with the 2016 candidate for almost an hour. “I don’t think he really understood how land rights really work in the western United States,” Bundy said. “I was happy to be able to sort of teach him.”

In their private meeting, Paul suggested one solution for welfare ranchers like Bundy was for private groups to buy back grazing lands and turn them over to the states, which would presumably provide free grazing rights to ranchers. “I disagree with that philosophy,” Bundy said he told Paul. “My stand is we are already a sovereign state. The federal government doesn’t need to turn this land back to us. It’s already state land. I don’t claim ownership. I claim rights.”

Bundy told the Associated Press, “In general, I think we’re in tune with one another.”

Paul should be embarrassed. (But so should the AP, which circulated the story about Paul meeting with Bundy without noting the Nevada wingnut’s history of racist commentary.)

Maybe the Kentucky senator’s foray into African American outreach has discouraged him, and he thinks there’s more profit in the gun-toting anti-Obama patriot movement. Or maybe he thinks outreach for the GOP means visiting black colleges, but espousing the same old policies that have driven nine out of 10 black voters to the Democratic Party.

What’s clear is that young Rand Paul seems to be assembling the coalition of his father Ron Paul, which was notably light on black support because Paul himself was kind of a racist, given to Bundy-like musings about black crime and indolence in his newsletters over the years. Communing with Cliven Bundy isn’t going to win Paul black votes, however —  no matter how much he thinks he knows about the Negro.


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What's New: Non À L'austérité, La Parole Au Peuple!

Socialist Project - July 1, 2015 - 3:00pm
Dans la nuit du vendredi 26 juin le Premier ministre grec Alexis Tsipras refuse les dernières propositions faites à la Grèce par les «institutions» (la BCE, la Commission européenne et le FMI) et annonce un référendum. Moins de 24h plus tard, les «institutions» ripostent en asphyxiant l’économie de la Grèce. Elles refusent d’augmenter les liquidités accordées au pays et forcent le gouvernement à fermer temporairement les banques et instaurer un contrôle sur les capitaux.
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What's New: PAME: No to the Memorandum of Troika – No to the Memorandum of SYRIZA

Socialist Project - July 1, 2015 - 2:00pm
The coalition Government of the Socialdemocratic SYRIZA and the ultrarightwing ANEL approved last night in the Parliament the conducting of a Referendum on July 5th. This resolution was voted in the Parliament with 178 votes in favor coming from the three major parties, SYRIZA, the ultarightwing racist ANEL and the neofascist party Golden Dawn. The coalition of SYRIZA-ANEL is aiming with this referendum to transfer the responsibility over to the Greek people.
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George Lakoff: Why Pope Francis Killed It on Addressing Climate Change - July 1, 2015 - 12:38pm
The Pope combines science, morality and politics.

Beginning with my book Moral Politics in 1996 (Ch. 12), I have been arguing that environmental issues are moral issues. There I reviewed and critiqued conservative metaphors of nature as a resource, as property, as an adversary to be conquered.

Instead I argued that we needed to conceptualize nature as the giver of all life, as sustainer and provider, as having inherent value, imposing responsibility, and deserving gratitude, love, adoration, and commitment.

I suggested alternative metaphors of nature as mother, as a divine being, as a living organism, as a home, as a victim to be cared for, and a whole with us as parts inseparable from nature and from each other.

Pope Francis in his Encyclical used all of these and then went much further. First, he got all the science right -- no small task. I have been writing for some time about role of systemic causation in global warming and the environment. The Pope not only got the ecological system effects right, but he went much, much further linking the environmental effects to effects on those most oppressed on earth by poverty, weather disasters, disease, ocean rise, lack of drinking water, the degradation of agriculture, and the essential aesthetic and spiritual contact with unspoiled nature. And more, he spoke of our moral responsibility toward animals.

He spoke in metaphors that might sound strange coming in a scientific or political speech, but somehow seem entirely natural for the Pope.

The title of the encyclical is "On Care for our Common Home." This simple phrase establishes the most important frame right from the start. Using the metaphor of the "Earth as Home," he triggers a frame in which all the people of the world are a family, living in a common home.

This frame carries with it many assumptions: As one family, we should care for each other and take responsibility for each other. A home is something we all depend on, physically and emotionally. A home is something inherently worth maintaining and protecting.

164. "...there has been a growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home."

61. "...our common home is falling into seri­ous disrepair."

13. "Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home."

Pope Francis explicitly states what most progressives implicitly believe but rarely say out loud: "The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all." The "Common Good" frame is about interdependence, shared responsibility and shared benefit.

156. Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and uni­fying principle of social ethics.

157. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.

Critics of Pope Francis have attacked him as having a naïve understanding of the economy, of being anti-technology, or of denying the so-called productive role of self-interest. But he is doing much more, suggesting that business and technology can, and ought to, have moral ends, especially in the face of the looming worldwide disaster of global warming. He is further pointing out, correctly, that the global warming disaster and hugely disastrous other effects were created by the business-technology axis seeking profit above all, without being structured to serve the common good.

129. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

54. The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests.

The Pope of course realizes the challenge. An alternative religion of market fundamentalism has taken hold both in public discourse and in the minds of the public -- so much so that it is hard to imagine a change in time to avert disaster.

108. The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable.

Indeed, market fundamentalism has become a kind of alternative religion, with its own idea of what is natural (the primacy of self-interest) and moral (in the conservative version of the Invisible Hand metaphor, if everyone pursues his own profit, the profit of all will be maximized). Pope Francis correctly points out that these metaphors have run wild, "ending up" creating enormous wealth for some, disaster for the many, and the terror of global warming for the earth. In market fundamentalism, there is only "individual responsibility," no common responsibility for the common good. Without such common responsibility, there will be no way to avert the coming disasters of global warming, which has been created by market fundamentalism and will be perpetuated by it, unless it is checked.

In market fundamentalism, wealth is measure of the good: an overall increase in monetary wealth is a moral triumph. But while the industrialization of China has increased the wealth of China's capitalists, of American corporate outsourcers to China, and of the Chinese government, the Chinese have suffered an ecological and social devastation, an overwhelming "cost" -- a cost beyond the measure of money. Just look at the pollution in Beijing and desertification in western China. Via global warming, they are imposing that cost on the world, just as the industrialization of the West has in the past.

Pope Francis extends his view of morality using the commonplace economic metaphor of "Moral Accounting" in which there are debts, costs, people who owe, people who are owed, and an expectation that debts should be paid. He points out that no one makes it on his own, that pre-existing resources, often taken from others and the labor of others, have made life possible for anyone who is economically well-off. We all have debts. We also all have basic rights, e.g., to human dignity. When market fundamentalism shifts the resources of others and fruits of the labor of others to the wealthy, robbing the poor of their right to dignity, the wealthy incur a debt, a moral debt.

30. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dig­nity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor.

51. A true "ecolog­ical debt" exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial im­balances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.

159. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of jus­tice: "The environment is part of a logic of re­ceptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next."

These are just a few examples of the many metaphors and frames used to powerful effect in this document. They have one thing in common, which they also share with the progressive value system: they are rooted in a worldview based on empathy.

This is Empathy writ large, beyond individual empathy: it is a global empathy for all humanity, all of life -- animals, fish, plants, and Nature, which provides all life. What is absent is the all too common narrow view of religion as about individuals alone, in which THE spiritual issue is whether YOU get into Heaven, and that is a matter of personal responsibility. You are responsible for yourself, not for others, not for all of life and what is life-giving. That narrow view of individual, not social or global responsibility is completely absent from the Pope's message. The message takes morality to the global level, to an ecological spirituality. It is a message especially appropriate for American democracy, which begins with the idea of union, of citizens caring for one another and taking the responsibility working through their government to provide public resources for all, whether for business or personal life, and with freedom and dignity for all as inalienable rights.

The whole Encyclical is well worth reading. It is a remarkable document and one that needs to be taken to heart not just by the world's Catholics, but by the world's full population, now and for many years into the future.

I am an advocate of the separation of church and state. I don't have a Pope. I have never tended to follow the edicts of a Pope just because he was Pope. And I am not doing so here.

It is vital to bear in mind that this Encyclical is not just a matter of church doctrine. All policy within the political domain is a matter of morality. Every politician who proposes a policy does so on the basis that it is right, not wrong or morally irrelevant. This Encyclical is overtly about politics and the role a global morality needs to play in politics.

I have long argued that global warming is the moral issue of our time. President Obama has said the same. I am thrilled that Pope Francis, spiritual and moral leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, has not just agreed, but has gone so much further, and that he has framed the issue so powerfully, often in language that flows most easily and readily from a Pope, and yet makes so much moral sense, whether you are Catholic or not, religious or not.

Moral questions are not the same as practical questions. But the fate of the earth in the face of global warming is so practical a question that it becomes a moral one. That is the lens through which to read the Pope's Encyclical.

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Big Texas Oil and Gas Torpedo a Small City's Effort to Ban Fracking — Bye Bye Local Democracy - July 1, 2015 - 12:30pm
The people spoke and were promptly ignored.

Following litigation from corporate interests including the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO), as well as pressure from the Texas legislature, the Denton City Council has repealed a first-of-its-kind voter approved ban on fracking that had been passed through a ballot measure during the November 2014 general election. Drilling operations have resumed, while residents have vowed to uphold the ban.

Just hours after the fracking ban was passed, TXOGA, the oldest and largest trade organization in Texas representing petroleum interests, whose approximately 4,000 members produce in excess of 92 percent of the state's crude oil and natural gas, and the GLO, the state agency responsible for managing lands and mineral rights owned by the state, filed two separate lawsuits against Denton, saying that the ban was arbitrary and unconstitutional.

In voluntarily giving up its local control, the Denton City Council cited HB 40, a GOP-drafted state bill that was signed into law on May 18 by Governor Greg Abbot, conceding that the local fracking ban was unenforceable under a new state law.

RELATED: 8 Dangerous Side Effects of Fracking That the Industry Doesn't Want You to Hear About

The council said repealing the ban was “in the overall interest of the Denton taxpayers to strategically repeal the ordinance,” in a statement. “Doing so not only potentially reduces ongoing court costs and attorneys fees related to ongoing litigation” but it also “significantly mitigates problems and perceptions associated with operational discrepancies between the ban ordinance and newly-adopted state law.”

Anti-fracking activists protesting in Denton, Texas, on May 31, 2015 (image: Don't Frack with Denton/Facebook)

Nullifying local efforts to ban fracking across the state, the law was backed by ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council), a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives that uses corporate contributions to draft and sell prepackaged conservative bills to state legislatures across the nation. ALEC has backed restrictive voter ID laws and drafted Florida's "Stand Your Ground" statute.

RELATED: Fracking Has Now Been Linked to Low Birth Weight Babies

"The whole ALEC team, led by Phil King [Republican Texas state representative who is serving as ALEC's national chair], is more considerate of the property rights of corporations than they are the property rights of homeowners and individuals," said former Fort Worth Rep. Lon Burnam, who now works for Public Citizen. "And this is what this battle is really about, because in Texas, the overriding law is deferential treatment to the subsurface mineral right owners over the surface homeowners."

Violet Palmer, a 92-year-old partially-sighted anti-fracking activist was arrested by police at a Denton protest (image: Frack Free Denton/Facebook)

"This law ensures that Texas avoids a patchwork quilt of regulations that differ from region to region, differ from county to county or city to city," said Abbott. "HB 40 strikes a meaningful and correct balance between local control and preserving the state's authority to ensure that regulations are even-handed and do not hamper job creation."

RELATED: Earthquakes Tied to Fracking Boom, Two New Studies Confirm

“The same corporate interests that are behind this push to halt fracking bans and prevent any meaningful action to protect our planet are the same ones pushing to restrict access to the ballot," said Wenonah Hauter, president of Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, in a press release. "Their agenda is unpopular and they can only continue to push their regressive policies by preventing popular democracy from flourishing."

Adam Briggle of the anti-fracking group Denton Drilling Awareness said, "This is definitely not the end of the line. It is the beginning of a new chapter in our fight, and it’s one that’s going to be Texas-wide now."

On the same day that the Denton City Council voted to repeal the ban, there was a protest at a Denton fracking site at which several people were arrested, including Violet Palmer, a partially blind 92-year-old activist who has never even had a parking ticket. "Really, there is so little I can do, but I can do it by protesting," Palmer said.

RELATED: Did the Government Illegally Open up 400,000 Acres in California for Fracking?

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10 People Who Turned Against Scientology and Revealed Its Bizarre Secrets - July 1, 2015 - 12:00pm
Revelations about the actual doings of Scientologists are truly shocking.

The Church of Scientology, which the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard founded in 1952, has experienced more than its share of criticism along the way. But criticism has escalated in recent years, from Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear (aired on HBO earlier this year) to books by ex-members such as Jenna Miscavige Hill’s Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape in 2013 and Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology in 2009.All of these works paint a disturbing picture of the organization, which has been accused of everything from forced child labor to coercive mind control to breaking up families.

The Church of Scientology does not take criticism lightly: Hubbard (who died in 1986 at the age of 74) instituted a policy called “attack the attacker,” which means that those who criticize Scientology are to be defamed, maligned and harassed as vehemently as possible. Journalist Paulette Cooper (who wrote The Scandal of Scientology back in 1971) has been the target of numerous Scientology lawsuits. The Church of Scientology is so litigious that HBO consulted hundreds of attorneys when it was getting ready to air Going Clear. And before the documentary aired, the Church of Scientology resorted to its attack-the-attacker policy with a series of videos smearing ex-Scientologists interviewed in the film.

But with so many ex-members coming out against the Church of Scientology, it is becoming harder for the Church to bully opponents into silence. Below are 10 well-known ex-Scientologists who have become blistering critics of the cult since their departures.

1. Paul Haggis

Screenwriter/director Paul Haggis, who is known for his work in Million Dollar BabyCrash and other Hollywood films, spent more than half his life in the Church of Scientology. But in 2009, Haggis (who is now 62), left the cult after 35 years because of its homophobic ways. That year, the cult’s San Diego branch came out in support of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California. Haggis, who has two lesbian daughters, refused to keep quiet. In an open letter to Scientologist official Tommy Davis explaining his reasons for leaving, Haggis asserted that he could not be a part of a group that would “support a bill that strips a group of its civil rights.” Haggis was also quite critical of “disconnection,” a practice in which Scientologists are encouraged to discontinue all contact with relatives and friends who are deemed hostile to the cult.

2. Jenna Miscavige Hill

Beyond Belief author Jenna Miscavige Hill, who is the niece of Church of Scientology head David Miscavige, was raised a Scientologist and was once a member of Sea Org, considered the most elite group within Scientology. But after leaving the cult at 21, Hill became one of the cult’s most outspoken critics. Hill has described her Scientology upbringing as both abusive and controlling. Scientology children, according to Hill, were required to work 14-hour days seven days a week, and she was discouraged from associating with children who weren’t part of Sea Org. At the age of seven, Hill says, she was forced to sign a pledge that she would serve Sea Org “for the next billion years.” (Scientologists believe that one obtains a new body after death, although they reject the Hindu and Buddhist views of reincarnation.)  

3. Jason Beghe

Given how many openly gay people there are in the entertainment industry, it is ironic that the homophobic Church of Scientology goes out of its way to recruit actors and musicians. Actor Jason Beghe, a former Scientologist who is now one of the Church’s most scathing critics, said he began to question Scientology after a member implied that a car accident he suffered was the result of his friendship with a gay man. But that incident was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Beghe’s criticisms of Scientology. Beghe, who began taking Scientology courses in 1994 and was once described by David Miscavige as “the poster boy for Scientology,” left the cult in 2007, and from 2008 on, he has been asserting that Scientology harms members psychologically by convincing them their lives are meaningless without it. Scientology, Beghe has stressed, is great at breaking up families. He bluntly described how “dirty and underhanded” the Church of Scientology can be when, according to journalist Tony Ortega, he asserted, “They say they’re not a turn-the-other-cheek religion. No, they’re a knock-you-down-and-kick-you-in-the-balls religion."

4. Leah Remini

When actress Leah Remini, now 45, publicly announced her departure from the Church of Scientology in July 2013, she had much to say about how controlling the cult could be. Remini, who was a Scientologist for 30 years, stressed that no one was going to tell her who she could and could not associate with, and she has been critical of the policy of disconnection as well as Scientologists’ practice of labeling critics “suppressive persons” (a term L. Ron Hubbard used to defame anyone he considered hostile to the goals of Scientology). 

5. Spanky Taylor

When entertainment industry veteran Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor was part of Scientology’s Sea Org, one of her duties was recruiting celebrities. Taylor was a close friend of actor John Travolta, one of Hollywood’s most famous Scientologists, in the 1970s, and she recruited Priscilla Presley. But Taylor saw how nasty the Church could be when she was sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force, a prison-like place where Sea Org members are sent for “rehabilitation.” In Going Clear, Taylor recalls that at the RPF, she was sleep-deprived and was forced to perform “arduous physical labor” while pregnant. After giving birth, Taylor says, she was not allowed to see her baby daughter (at the RPF, children are considered a distraction). Taylor has alleged that when she was suffering the abusive practices of the RPF, Travolta avoided contact with her despite the fact that they had been close friends in the past. Taylor left Scientology in 1987, but continued to work in the entertainment industry.

6. Sara Goldberg

Florida resident Sara Goldberg, one of the ex-Scientologists interviewed in Going Clear, spent 37 years with the Church of Scientology and became a high-ranking member. But her relationship with the organization went sour when she was given an ultimatum: either disown her son, Nick Lister, or risk being labeled a “suppressive person.” Goldberg had raised Lister and her daughter Ashley Lister Epstein as Scientologists, but when Lister associated with Scientology critic Matt Argall, he was deemed a “suppressive person.” Goldberg refused to “disconnect” from Lister, and in 2013, she was declared a suppressive person. Epstein “disconnected" from her own mother rather than go against the Church. 

7. Tom DeVocht

As a high-ranking Sea Org executive, Tom DeVocht, another interviewee in Going Clear, had close contact with David Miscavige. But since leaving the Church of Scientology in 2005 and being declared a suppressive person, he has been one of the cult’s most vehement critics. DeVocht alleges that his sister Nancy, a Sea Org member, was sent to Rehabilitation Project Force for seeing him after he left the Church. She has since disconnected from him at the Church’s insistence. DeVocht alleges that he has been under constant surveillance by the cult since leaving and has described Miscavige as a tyrant.

8. Diana Canova

Actress Diana Canova was once heavily involved in the Church of Scientology, and for years, she was afraid to leave the Church because of her fear of retaliation. Eventually, Canova left because she “was so fed up with being afraid.” Canova felt that she was being financially exploited by their expensive “auditing” sessions. The Church of Scientology, which is staunchly opposed to conventional psychiatry and psychology, has a bogus form of “spiritual counseling” it calls auditing—and it's not cheap. 

9. Larry Anderson

At one time, actor Larry Anderson was among Hollywood’s most vocal proponents of Scientology. Anderson spent 33 years in the Church of Scientology and was featured in the cult’s promotional film, Orientation, in 1996. But Anderson left the Church of Scientology in 2009 after becoming increasingly critical of the high cost of auditing sessions. Anderson, who has described Scientologists as “sheeple” and auditing as a major rip-off, has asked the organization to return $150,000 of his money.  

10. Marc Headley

As a prominent member of Sea Org, Marc Headley worked closely with one of Hollywood’s most famous Scientologists, actor Tom Cruise. But in 2005, Headley left because he feared being sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force. In 2009, his book Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology was published. Headley was declared a suppressive person and members of his family who were still active in the cult were ordered to disconnect from him

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Why I Am Glad I Am Leaving America - July 1, 2015 - 11:51am
America's racial frictions seem certain to spark another summer of conflict.

For the past couple of years the summers, like hurricanes, have had names. Not single names like Katrina or Floyd – but full names like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. Like hurricanes, their arrival was both predictable and predicted, and yet somehow, when they landed, the effect was still shocking.

We do not yet know the name that will be attached to this particular season. He is still out there, playing Call of Duty, finding a way to feed his family or working to pay off his student loans. He (and it probably will be a he) has no idea that his days are numbered; and we have no idea what the number of those days will be.

The precise alchemy that makes one particular death politically totemic while others go unmourned beyond their families and communities is not quite clear. Video helps, but is not essential. Some footage of cops rolling up like death squads and effectively executing people who posed no real threat has barely pricked the popular imagination. When the authorities fail to heed community outrage, or substantively investigate, let alone discipline, the police, the situation can become explosive. An underlying, ongoing tension between authorities and those being policed has been a factor in some cases. So, we do not know quite why his death will capture the political imagination in a way that others will not.

But we do know, with gruesome certainty, that his number will come up – that one day he will be slain in cold blood by a policeman (once again it probably will be a man) who is supposed to protect him and his community. We know this because it is statistically inevitable and has historical precedent. We know this because we have seen it happen again and again. We know this because this is not just how America works; it is how America was built. Like a hurricane, we know it is coming – we just do not yet know where or when or how much damage it will do.

Summer is riot season. It’s when Watts, Newark and Detroit erupted in violence in the 1960s, sparked by callous policing. It’s when school is out, pool parties are on and domestic life, particularly in urban centres, is turned inside-out: from the living room to the stoop, from the couch to the street. It’s when tempers get short and resentments bubble up like molten asphalt. It’s when, to paraphrase Langston Hughes, deferred dreams explode.

This is not my desire; it is my prediction. You can feel it building with every new Facebook post, viral video and Twitter storm. You can hear it from conversations with strangers at post offices, liquor stores and coffee shops. It is an unpleasant prediction to make because, ultimately, these riots highlight a problem they cannot, in themselves, solve; and it is an easy one to make because, as one bystander in Baltimore put it when disturbances flared there earlier this year: “You can only put so much into a pressure cooker before it pop.”

This is the summer I will leave America, after 12 years as a foreign correspondent, and return to London. My decision to come back to Britain was prompted by banal, personal factors that have nothing to do with current events; if my aim was to escape aggressive policing and racial disadvantage, I would not be heading to Hackney.

But while the events of the last few years did not prompt the decision to come back, they do make me relieved that the decision had already been made. It is why I have not once had second thoughts.If I had to pick a summer to leave, this would be the one. Another season of black parents grieving, police chiefs explaining and clueless anchors opining. Another season when America has to be reminded that black lives matter because black deaths at the hands of the state have been accepted as routine for so long. A summer ripe for rage.

* * *

I arrived in New York just a few months before the Iraq war. Americans seemed either angry at the rest of the world, angry at each other, or both. The top five books on the New York Times bestseller list the month I started were: Bush at War (Bob Woodward’s hagiographic account of the post-9/11 White House); The Right Man (Bush’s former speechwriter relives his first year in the White House); Portrait of a Killer (Patricia Cornwell on Jack the Ripper); The Savage Nation (a rightwing radio talkshow host saves America from “the liberal assault on our borders, language and culture”); and Leadership (Republican former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s post 9/11 victory lap).

There has barely been a quiet moment since. First there was the jingoism of the Iraq war, then the re-election of George W Bush in 2004, Hurricane Katrina, disillusionment with the Iraq war, the “Minutemen” anti-immigration vigilantes, the huge pro-immigrant “¡Sí se puede!” protests, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, the economic crash, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, Obama’s reelection and the current rise in anti-racist activism. Being a foreigner made all these phenomena intriguing. Politically and morally, I picked sides. But, when reporting, it was more like anthropology. I saw it as my mission to try and understand the US: why did poor white people vote against their economic interests? How did the descendants of immigrants become xenophobic? Why were people disappointed in Obama when he had promised so little? The search for the answer was illuminating, even when I never found it or didn’t like it.

But the cultural distance I enjoyed as a Briton in a foreign country felt like a blended veneer of invincibility and invisibility. I thought of myself less as a participant than an onlooker. While reporting from rural Mississippi in 2003, I stopped to ask directions at the house of an old white couple, and they threatened to shoot me. I thought this was funny. I got back into my car sharpish and drove off – but I never once thought they would actually shoot me. How crazy would that be? When I got home, I told my wife and brother-in-law, who are African American. Their parents grew up in the South under segregation; even today, my mother-in-law wouldn’t stop her car in Mississippi for anything but petrol. They didn’t think it was funny at all: what on earth did I think I was doing, stopping to ask old white folk in rural Mississippi for directions?

Yet, somewhere along the way, I became invested. That was partly about time: as I came to know people – rather than just interviewing them – I came to relate to the issues more intimately. When someone close to you struggles with chronic pain because they have no healthcare, has their kitchen window pierced by gunfire or cannot pay a visit to their home country because they are undocumented, your relationship to issues like health reform, gun control or immigration is transformed. Not because your views change but because knowing and understanding something simply does not provide the same intensity as having it in your life.

But my investment was primarily about circumstances. On the weekend in 2007 that Barack Obama declared his presidential candidacy, our son was born. Six years later, we had a daughter. For the most part I have kept my English accent. But my language relating to children is reflexively American: diapers, strollers, pacifiers, recess, candy and long pants. I have only ever been a parent here – a role for which my own upbringing in England provides no real reference point. One summer evening, a couple years after we moved to Chicago, our daughter was struggling to settle down and so my wife decided to take a short walk to the local supermarket to bob her to sleep in the carrier. On the way back there was shooting in the street and she had to seek shelter in a local barbershop. When the snow finally melted this year one discarded gun was found in the alley behind our local park and another showed up in the alley behind my son’s school. My days of being an onlooker were over. I was dealing with daycare, summer camps, schools, doctor’s visits, parks and other parents. The day we brought my son home, an article in the New York Times pointed out that in America “a black male who drops out of high school is 60 times more likely to find himself in prison than one with a bachelor’s degree”. Previously, I’d have found that interesting and troubling. Now it was personal. I had skin in the game. Black skin in a game where the odds are stacked against it.

* * *

Obama’s ascent, I was told by many and frequently during his campaign, would change these odds. Whenever I asked “How?” no one could say exactly. But his very presence, they insisted, would provide a marker for my son and all who look like him. I never believed that. First of all, one person cannot undo centuries of discrimination, no matter how much nominal power they have. Second, given the institutions into which Obama would be embedded – namely the Democratic party and the presidency – there would only ever be so much he could or would do. He was aspiring to sit atop a system awash with corporate donations in which congressional seats are openly gerrymandered and 41% of the upper chamber can block almost anything. He was the most progressive candidate viable for the presidency, which says a great deal, given the alternatives, but means very little, given what would be needed to significantly shift the dial on such issues as race and inequality.

Pointing this out amid the hoopla of his candidacy made you sound like Eeyore. I was delighted when he won. But somehow I could never be quite as delighted as some people felt I should have been. When Obama beat Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina Democratic primary – in the first southern state to secede from the union, which sparked the civil war, where the Confederate flag still flies above the state capitol and a white supremacist recently gunned down nine parishioners at a black church – the crowds chanted “Race Doesn’t Matter”. (An odd rallying cry, since it was precisely because he was a black candidate that they were shouting it; it’s not like Hillary’s crowd would have shouted the same thing if she had won.)

The symbolic advantages of Obama’s election were clear. For two years I pushed my son around in his stroller surrounded by a picture of a black man framed by the words “Hope” and “Change”. A year or so after Obama came to office, my son had a playdate with a four-year-old white friend who looked up from his Thomas the Tank Engine and told my son: “You’re black.” It was a reasonable thing for a child of that age to point out – he was noticing difference, not race. But when my son looked at me for a cue, I now had a new arrow in my quiver to deflect any potential awkwardness. “That’s right,” I said. “Just like the president.”

But the substantial benefits were elusive. Obama inherited an economic crisis that hurt African Americans more than any other community. The discrepancy between black and white employment and wealth grew during his first few years and has barely narrowed since. In 2010, I used this anecdote in a column by way of pointing out the limited symbolic value of having a black president. “True, it is something,”I wrote. “But when Thomas is safely back in the station and the moment is over, it is not very much. Because for all the white noise emanating from the Tea Party movement, it has been black Americans who have suffered most since Obama took office. Over the last 14 months the gap between my son’s life chances and his friend’s have been widening.”

This last statement was as undeniably true as it was apparently controversial. I had not claimed that my son was likely to do badly, simply that his odds for success were far worse than the kid he was playing with, and that they were further deteriorating. A study in 2014 found that a black college student has the same chances of getting a job as a white high-school dropout. “As the recession has dragged on,” the New York Times pointed out just a couple months before my son’s playdate, the disparity between black and white unemployment “has been even more pronounced for those with college degrees, compared with those without. Education, it seems, does not level the playing field – in fact, it appears to have made it more uneven.” But insisting that racism would have a material effect on my son’s life ruffled some readers’ feathers.

“Nonsense,” wrote one commenter. “Your middle-class status means his future will have more in common with his white friends than any poor black kid.” Another – a Guardian contributor, no less – also chimed in: “For you to claim shared victimhood on skin colour alone is highly disingenuous. Your son is highly likely to do OK, to say the least. He has most of the advantages in the world.”

Such responses betrayed complete ignorance about the lived experience of race in a country as segregated as the United States. Class does makes a big difference, of course: this is America. We have healthcare, jobs, university educations and a car; we live in a community with reasonable schools, supermarkets and restaurants. In short, we have resources and therefore we have options.

We do not, however, have the option not to be black. And in this time and this place that is no minor factor. That is not “claiming shared victimhood”, it is recognising a fact of life. Class offers a range of privileges; but it is not a sealant that protects you from everything else. If it was, rich women would never get raped and wealthy gay couples could marry all around the world.

To even try to have the kind of gilded black life to which these detractors alluded, we would have to do far more than just revel in our bank accounts and leverage our cultural capital. We would have to live in an area with few other black people, since black neighbourhoods are policed with insufficient respect for life or liberty; send our children to a school with few other black students, since majority-black schools are underfunded; tell them not to wear anything that would associate them with black culture, since doing so would make them more vulnerable to profiling; tell them not to mix with other black children, since they are likely to live in the very areas and go to the very schools from which we would be trying to escape; and not let the children go out after dark, since being young and black after sunset makes the police suspect that you have done or are about to do something.

The list could go on. None of this self-loathing behaviour would provide any guarantees, of course. Racism does what it says on the packet; it discriminates against people on the grounds of race. It can be as arbitrary in its choice of victim as it is systemic in its execution. And while it never works alone (but in concert with class, gender and a host of other rogue characters), it can operate independently. No one is going to be checking my bank account or professional status when they are looking at my kids.

Trayvon Martin was walking through a gated community when George Zimmerman pegged him for a thug and shot him dead. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator, was in one of Charleston’s most impressive churches when Dylann Roof murdered him and eight others.

I have not only never met an African American who thought they could buy themselves the advantages of a white American; I have yet to meet one who thinks they can even buy themselves out of the disadvantages of being black. All you can do is limit the odds. And when one in three black boys born in 2001 is destined for the prison system, those odds are pretty bad. Having a black man in the White House has not changed that.

* * *

Most days, the park closest to us looks like Sesame Street. White, black and Vietnamese American kids climbing, swinging and sliding. Occasionally, particularly late on weekday afternoons, teenagers show up. Like adolescents the western world over, they are bored, broke, horny and lost. They don’t want to stay at home, but can’t afford to be anywhere that costs money, and so they come to the public space most approximate to their needs, where they squeeze into swings that are meant for smaller kids and joke, flirt and banter. Very occasionally they swear and get a little rowdy – but nothing that an adult could not deal with by simply asking them to keep the language down because there are little kids around. Oh, and in this park the teenagers are usually black.

Their presence certainly changes the mood. But the only time it ever really gets tense is when the police come. The better police chat with them, the worse ones interrogate them. Either way, the presence of armed, uniformed people in this children’s space is both unsettling and unnecessary. The smaller kids and those new to the park imagine something seriously wrong must have happened for the police to be there; the older ones (by which I mean those aged seven and over), and those who are already familiar with the drill just shrug: the cops are in our park again. It is difficult to tell which response is worse.

Once, when some adolescents were hanging out relatively quietly one afternoon, I struck up a conversation with a white woman. Her son was roughly the same age as mine, we both lived nearby and neither of our kids would have to cross a road to get to the park. We were discussing at what age we thought it would be appropriate to let our boys come by themselves. “The thing is, you just don’t know if it’s going to be quiet or if the junior gangbangers are going to be hanging around,” she said, gesturing to the youths on the swings.

I was stunned. Whenever I have written about police killings at least one reader reminds me that black people are most likely to be killed by black people. This is both true and irrelevant. First, because all Americans are overwhelmingly likely to be killed by assailants of their own race, so what some brand “black-on-black crime” should, more accurately, just be called crime. But also because black people are not, by dint of their melanin content, entrusted to protect and serve the public. The police are. Over the last decade I have reported from many impoverished neighbourhoods, populated by all races, where I have felt unsafe. That hasn’t made me fear black people or any other racial group; it has just made me loathe poverty and gun culture in general, since it is that toxic combination that both drives the crime and makes it lethal.

This woman and I were looking at the same kids but seeing quite different things.

“What makes you think they’re going to become gangbangers?” I asked. She shrugged. The conversation pretty much dried up after that.

There is a section of white society – a broad section that includes affable mothers who will speak to black strangers like me in the park – who understand black kids as an inherent threat. Beyond the segregated ghettos where few white people venture, the presence of black youth apparently marks not just the potential for trouble but the arrival of it. When George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin, he didn’t see a 17-year-old boy walking home from the store. He saw someone “real suspicious”, “up to no good”, whom he assumed bore some responsibility for recent burglaries.

“Fucking punks,” he told the police, referring to Trayvon. “These assholes, they always get away.”

Indeed black children are often not even regarded as children at all. In Goose Creek, South Carolina, police demanded DNA samples from two middle school students after they were mistaken for a 32-year-old suspect. After the killing of Tamir Rice – the 12-year-old shot dead by police in Cleveland after someone reported him brandishing what they assumed was a “probably fake” gun – a police spokesman said it was his own fault. “Tamir Rice is in the wrong,” he said. “He’s menacing. He’s 5ft 7in, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body.” When testifying before the grand jury into the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Darren Wilson described his assailant more like an animal than a 18-year-old: “He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.” Even after Wilson shot Brown he continued to depict him as both physically superhuman and emotionally subhuman. “He was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”

The evidence is not merely anecdotal. A study last year published in the American Psychological Association’s online Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that white Americans overestimated the age of black boys over the age of 10 by an average of four and a half years; white respondents also assumed that black children were more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” wrote Phillip Atiba Goff PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles.“Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.” My son is tall for his age; these are the things you worry about.

It wasn’t long before my wife and I began to notice the degree to which some white adults felt entitled to shout at black children – be it in the street, or on school trips – for infractions either minor or imagined.

Last summer, on the afternoon I arrived home from reporting on the disturbances after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, there was a barbecue and music at the local park. I took the kids. The park has a water feature that shoots wet jets from the ground and sprays kids in fountains from all sides as they paddle around. The younger ones peel down to their underwear while the older ones just pile in whatever they have on. It was a scorching day and my son and several other kids were having a water fight – a tame affair with very little collateral damage for those not involved beyond the odd sprinkling. At one stage, while in hot pursuit of his main rival, my son splashed a woman on her leg. She yelled at him as though he’d hit her with a brick.

I’d seen the whole thing and ran over.

“What’s the problem?” I said.

“Look. He’s covered me in water,” she shouted.

I looked. She was barely wet. But even if he had …

“You’re standing in a children’s park, on a hot day, next to a water feature,” I said. “Deal with it. Just stop shouting at him.”

“Don’t you tell me what to do,” she barked.

“Now you’re shouting at me,” I said. “Just stop it.”

“Who the hell are you?” she yelled.

“I’m his dad that’s who.”

“You’re nobody, that’s who you are,” she bellowed. “Nobody.”

* * *

One of the first stories I covered on my arrival was the funeral of Mamie Till Mobley, the 81-year-old mother of the late Emmett Till. In 1955 Mamie sent her 14-year-old son, Emmett, from Chicago to rural Mississippi to spend his summer holiday with family. She packed him off with a warning: “If you have to get on your knees and bow when a white person goes past,” she told him, “do it willingly.”

Emmett didn’t follow her advice. While in the small town of Money, in the Delta region, he either said “Bye, baby” or wolf-whistled at a white woman in a grocery store. Three days later his body was fished out of the Tallahatchie river with a bullet in his skull, an eye gouged out and his forehead crushed on one side.

Raising a black child in a racist society poses a very particular set of challenges. On the one hand, you want them to be proud and confident of who they are. On the other, you have to teach them that they are vulnerable precisely because of who they are, in the knowledge that awareness of that vulnerability just might save their life. We are trying to raise self-confident children for long lives, not hashtags for slaughter.

Explaining the complex historical and social forces that make such a dance necessary is not easy at the best of times. Making them comprehensible to a child is nigh impossible without gross simplifications and cutting corners. Once, during our 10-minute walk to daycare, my son asked if we could take another route. “Why?” I asked.

“Because that way they stop all the black boys,” he said.

He was right. Roughly twice a week we would pass young black men being frisked or arrested, usually on the way home. He was also four, and until that point I was not aware that he had even noticed. I tried to make him feel safe.

“Well don’t worry. You’re with me and they’re not going to stop us,” I told him.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because we haven’t done anything,” I said.

“What have they done?” he asked.

He had me. From then on we took another route.

When I interviewed Maya Angelou in 2002, she told me that the September 11 attacks of the previous year were understood differently by African Americans. “Living in a state of terror was new to many white people in America,” she said. “But black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years.” It is that state of terror that has been laid bare these last few years.

The American polity and media episodically “discovers” this daily reality in much the same way that teenagers discover sex – urgently, earnestly, voraciously and carelessly, with great self-indulgence but precious little self-awareness. They have always been aware of it but somehow when confronted with it, it nonetheless takes them by surprise.

The week I arrived, in December 2002, the Senate minority leader, Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, resigned from his leadership position after he said in a speech that America would have been a better place had the segregationist Strom Thurmond won the presidency in 1948. The mainstream media saw nothing outrageous in this – as if it was just the kind of thing a conservative southern senator might say. It took bloggers to make it a story. As I write, some southern states are debating whether to keep the Confederate flag flying on state grounds in various guises – as though it took nine people dying on their doorstep to understand its racist connotations.

It is as though the centuries-old narrative of racial inequality is too tiresome to acknowledge, except as a footnote, until it appears in dramatic fashion, as it did after Hurricane Katrina or the protests in Ferguson. At that point the bored become suddenly scandalised. In a nation that prides itself on always moving forward, the notion that they are “still dealing with this” feels like an affront to the national character. That’s why Obama’s candidacy had such a simple and uplifting appeal to so many Americans. As the radical academic and 1970s icon Angela Davis explained to me in 2007, it represented “a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference, the change that brings about no change”.

This most recent episode of racial awakening has lasted longer than most. For the last couple of years the brutal banality of daily life for some people in this country has become visible and undeniable to those who have no immediate connection to it. But nothing new has happened. There has been no spike in police brutality. What’s new is that people are looking. And thanks to new technology (namely the democratisation of the ability to film and distribute), they have lots to look at. As a result, a significant section of white America is outraged at the sight of what it had previously chosen to ignore, while a dwindling but still sizeable and vocal few still refuse to believe their eyes.

* * *

I’ve never found it particularly useful to compare racisms – as though one manifestation might be better than another. Every society, regardless of its racial composition, has overlapping and interweaving hierarchies. Insisting on the superiority of one over another suggests there are racisms out there worth having – a race to the bottom with no moral centre.

In June 1998, as the public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence laid bare one of the more insidious examples of British racism, news arrived from Jasper, Texas, about the murder of James Byrd. Byrd, an African American, had been picked up by three men, one of whom he knew and two of whom were white supremacists. Instead of driving him home, they took him to a remote country road, beat him, urinated on him and chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck before dragging him for more than a mile until his head came off. Then they went for a barbecue.

The next day, during an editorial meeting at the Guardian which featured a discussion of the Lawrence inquiry followed by the Byrd murder, one of my colleagues remarked, of Byrd’s killing: “Well at least we don’t do that here.”

“That will be of little comfort to Doreen and Neville Lawrence,” I thought.

I have more cousins in the US than in Britain. They are doing fine. At one stage I fully intended to immigrate here. While that plan no longer stands, it still doesn’t strike me as insane.

While I have been in America, I have not been shot at, arrested, imprisoned or otherwise seriously inconvenienced by the state. I do not live in the hollowed out, jobless zones of urban economic despair to which many African Americans have been abandoned. I have been shouted at in a park, taken different routes to school, and occasionally dealt with bigoted officials. (While driving through Mississippi to cover Katrina I approached a roadblock that all the other journalists had easily passed through, only to have a policeman pat the gun in his holster and turn me around). These experiences are aggravating. They are not life-threatening.

I am not Michael Brown. But then Michael Brown wasn’t Michael Brown before he was shot dead and had his body left on the street for four hours; Eric Garner was just a man trying to sell cigarettes in the street before he was choked to death in Staten Island; Tamir Rice was just a boisterous kid acting out in a park before a policeman leaped out of his squad car and shot him within seconds. Being shot dead by the police or anyone else is not the daily experience of black people in America.

But what became clear following the Department of Justice report into the Ferguson police force was just how extreme and commonplace these aggravations could be. To cite just a few examples: between 2007 to 2014, one woman in Ferguson was arrested twice, spent six days in jail and paid $550 as a result of one parking ticket for which she was originally charged $151. She tried to pay in smaller instalments - $25 or $50 a time - but the court refused to accept anything less than the full payment, which she could not afford. Seven years after the original infraction she still owed $541 – this was how the town raised its revenue. It was not a glitch in the system; it was the system.

Then there was the 14-year-old boy that the Ferguson police found in an abandoned building, who was chased down by a dog that bit his ankle and his left arm as he protected his face. The boy says officers kicked him in the head and then laughed about it after. The officers say they thought he was armed; he wasn’t. Department of Justice investigators found that every time a police dog in Ferguson bit someone, the victim was black.

Then there was the man pulled out of his house by the police after reports of an altercation inside. As they dragged him out he told them: “You don’t have a reason to lock me up.”

“Nigger, I can find something to lock you up on,” the officer told him.

“Good luck with that,” the man responded. The officer slammed the man’s face into a wall and he fell to the floor.

“Don’t pass out, motherfucker, because I’m not carrying you to my car,” the officer is claimed to have said.

This was the same month Brown was killed. Were it not for the disturbances following Brown’s death, there would have been no investigation – not only would we have heard nothing of these things but, because no light had been shone on them, the Ferguson police would be carrying on with the same level of impunity. This was a small midwestern suburb few had heard of – unremarkable in every way, which is precisely what makes the goings on there noteworthy. If it was happening there, then it could be happening anywhere.

It is exhausting. When the videos of brutality go viral I can’t watch them unless I have to write about them. I don’t need to be shocked – which is just as well because these videos emerge with such regularity that they cease to be shocking. Were it not for the thrill of seeing an unjaded younger generation reviving the best of the nation’s traditions of anti-racist resistance, I would be in despair.

The altercations in the park, the rerouted walks to school, the aggravations of daily life are the lower end of a continuum – a dull drumbeat that occasionally crescendos into violent confrontation and even social conflagration. As spring turns to summer the volume keeps ratcheting up.

“Terror,” the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai writes in his book Fear of Small Numbers, “is first of all the terror of the next attack.” The terrorism resides not just in the fact that it happens, but that one is braced for the possibility that it could happen to you at any moment. Seven children and teenagers are shot on an average day in the US. I have just finished writing a book in which I take a random day and interview the families and friends of those who perished. Ten young people died the day I chose. Eight were black. All of the black parents said they had assumed this could happen to their son.

As one bereaved dad told me: “You wouldn’t be doing your job as a father if you didn’t.”

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How This Amazing 7-Year-Old Ohio Girl Left a Homophobic Street Preacher 'Deflated' - July 1, 2015 - 11:09am
She holds up a rainbow LGBT flag toward the preacher as onlookers begin to approach her and high-five her.

A 7-year-old Ohio girl and her father are garnering fans online after he posted footage of her facing down an anti-LGBT street preacher a day after the Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality.

While the young girl and her family are excited for the attention, her father, Ryan Bowling, told The Raw Story in an interview on Tuesday night, they also find it “heartbreaking” that the encounter is remarkable.

“She’s just decent to people because they are people,” Bowling said. “She treats others fairly, because she wants to be treated fairly. That shouldn’t go viral, it should just be who we are to each other.”

As Towleroad reported, the encounter between the girl, Zea, and the preacher was first captured by photographer Mara Gruber during last Saturday’s Community Festival, also known as Comfest, in Columbus. Bowling said Zea was volunteering at the event.

“A guy started yelling past us, in response to the street preacher, and Zea asked what he was angry about,” he said. “When we told her the man was responding to the preacher, who wasn’t on a microphone yet, she wanted to know what the preacher was saying.”

Bowling said that since Zea was sitting in a wagon with her 2-year-old brother at the time, he moved them closer to the preacher so they could hear his remarks. Her initial reaction, he added, was “confusion, followed by shock as to why he would bother to come to Comfest just to be so mean.”

Bowling and his wife had already informed her about the 5-4 decision a day earlier, he said.

“She has a very keen sense of justice about the whole thing,” Bowling said. “When I told her on Friday, she said, ‘It’s what I’ve wanted for years. Now, if I did want to marry a girl, we could just be ourselves.'”

The brief clip shows the preacher telling Zea, “You can live a life full of His redeeming power. You’d have someone to look after you.”

However, Zea does not engage with his argument, and instead holds up a rainbow LGBT flag toward him as onlookers begin to approach her and high-five her.

“The crowd was passionately on her side, right away, shockingly so. People cried, really. I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever seen that many people looking out for her at one time,” Bowling said of the encounter. “I almost didn’t film it. It was pretty powerful, and I was trying not to be in my phone. Somebody I didn’t know sniffled pretty loudly, and I realized I might be missing something kind of important.”

Bowling posted the footage online on Monday, saying the unidentified preacher “deflated visibly when he saw her coming,” and that he “was much more sodomy, brimstone, and bellowing until she got close to him.”

Zea also drew the attention of a local shirt designer, Zachary Traxler, who made her the centerpiece of a t-shirt celebrating the high court’s ruling.

“I wasn’t really thinking of designing that shirt just to make money off of it,” said Traxler, who also noted that his business has supported pro-marriage equality efforts in the past. “But I was hoping I could design the shirt, get a hold of whoever took the picture, and I quickly learned who the father was.”

Bowling approved the sale of the shirt, which features the text of the Fourteenth Amendment in the background. Traxler said proceeds from sales of the shirt will go directly to Zea.

A portion of the proceeds, Bowling said, will also go toward a charity of the family’s choice. He added that they are still reaching out to local groups they have in mind.

“Zea is clear that she wants it to be used to help LGBT kids have a place that they can be safe,” Bowling said.

Watch footage of the encounter, as posted on Monday, below.


[h/t Gawker]


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Jon Stewart: Conservatives Gloat After Supreme Court Rules That America Can Kill People - July 1, 2015 - 9:33am
"So gay people have the right to marry, and poor people have the right to insurance. But on the bright side Americans can still kill prisoners painfully" observed Stewart.

On last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart talked about the Supreme Court's very busy week last week. First, he brought up the Court's rulings on health care and gay marriage. Cue Bill O'Reilly, Ted Cruz, and Paul Walker decrying the Court's decisions. "Might as well get rid of the Supreme Court, save some money," faux populist Bobby Jindal said, pandering at a campaign event. 

But conservatives could take heart. "After a series of losses, conservatives get a victory at the Supreme Court," a Fox News host intones. Stewart is excited. What could it possibly be? "Can eagles drive now?" he jokes.

As it turns out, the grand conservative "victory" handed down by the Supreme Court is that states are still allowed to kill prisoners with questionable, untested lethal injection drugs. The Court also tossed out EPA pollution guidelines. 

"So gay people have the right to marry, and poor people have the right to insurance. But on the brightside Americans can still kill prisoners painfully ... and everyone else slowly," Stewart says. "What the f*ck!?"  

Watch below: 

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,The Daily Show on Facebook,Daily Show Video Archive


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‘Win-win’ investment in Tanzania?

New Internationalist - July 1, 2015 - 9:29am
Dan Iles busts myths surrounding corporate farming and argues to place people first.
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Cops Seize College Kid's Savings for No Reason: 5 Outrageous Cases of Asset Forfeiture - July 1, 2015 - 9:10am
Police departments often abuse this power to grab all sorts of things — even from people who are never charged.

Asset forfeiture is a police procedure whereby local police departments can confiscate the property of Americans if they can make a case that the property is essential to criminal activity. You would think such power would be limited to items such as firearms or other dangerous materials, but police departments often abuse this power to grab all sorts of things — even from people who are never charged with a crime. Here are five crazy cases.

1. Seizing the Life Savings Of a 24-Year-Old:In 2014, a college student named Charles Clarke was traveling through Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport when he was accused of having his bag smell like marijuana. Police then went on to seize the $11,000 found within it, accusing him of having done a drug deal to get the money. 13 different departments are now trying to gain control of the money seized from Clarke, although he was never convicted of a crime (there were no drugs in his bag).

2. Confiscating $75,000 From A Budding Restauranteur:A 55-year old Chinese American from Georgia was traveling in Alabama when police seized $75,000 he had raised from his relatives to open a new Chinese restaurant. After ten months of legal battles, he was able to get the money back, but he was set back by his own legal fees.

3. Taking Everything From A Cancer Patient: Police in Michigan busted into Thomas Williams’ home, accusing him of dealing marijuana -- he wasn’t, but as a cancer patient, he was legally allowed to cultivate his own. Police took $11,000, his car, his shotgun, and other belongings and a year later he was still fighting to get them back.

4. Snatch And Grab From Poker Players: Two poker players driving in Iowa had $100,000 taken from them by Iowa police. The encounter with police led to one indictment for possessing drug paraphernalia. There was no hard and fast evidence that the money seized was at all related to any drug crime.

5. Decimating A Nail Salon Owner’s Life Savings:Vu Do, a man who owns two nail salons in New York City, had $44,000, his life savings, taken from him by the Drug Enforcement Agency while he was at JFK Airport. He had planned to take the money to California to help his family. He didn’t receive even a citation before having his money taken from him, which makes the government’s case that he may have been drug dealing all the more bizarre.

Abuses have become common enough to where two states have banned civil asset forfeiture altogether while the federal government has started to limit its own use of the procedure.


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The Greek referendum dilemma

New Internationalist - July 1, 2015 - 4:40am
Petros Diveris asks when money became more important than democracy.
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The Bullet: Democratic Rebellion: Some Lessons From the Municipal and Regional Elections in Spain

Socialist Project - July 1, 2015 - 2:00am
Barcelona and Madrid are won. With Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena, two women will now occupy the mayoralties of both metropolises. Barcelona en Comú and Ahora Madrid were the names of the municipal connective platforms. Barcelona en Comú won the most seats in the city and can form a left-wing majority with both leftist parties for Catalonian independence, the Republican Left of Catalonia.
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