1. Bill O’Reilly’s 'Achey breaky heart' about Beyoncé videos.
Young women of America, please stop watching Beyoncé videos. It breaks Bill O’Reilly’s heart for some strange reason he has yet to coherently explain.
The good folks at Fox News were mightily confused this week after viewing the pop diva’s performance at the Video Music Awards in which she appeared in front of a huge screen with the word “FEMINIST.” But here's the thing: she seemed to have forgotten her pants. Her pants! How can you be a feminist when you don’t have any pants on? They were stumped.
Later in the week, O’Reilly was chatting away with Dr. Ben Carson about the usual stuff, how black people are to blame for all their own problems, welfare, blah blah blah. It’s very disappointing for O’Reilly; he thought he had already given black people all the moral instructions they need. Because, in the past, there were some really good black people. Why can’t today’s black people be more like black people of the days of old?
“You remember Motown. Do you not?” O’Reilly reminisced. “Wasn't that a fabulous, fabulous music industry, uplifting? You remember Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Weren’t they fabulous athletes — I idolized Willie Mays....”
Awww, thanks for sharing that, Uncle Bill. We’re always up for hearing more about the black people you approve of. Alas, there are fewer and fewer of them. “And what do we have now?” O'Reilly continued. “What do we have now? Gangster rappers, you know, Beyoncé. The most famous, you know, doing these videos that show these kinds of things to young, 9, 10, 11-year-old girls? I mean — and it’s celebrated. It’s celebrated. You know, that’s the big change.”
He was obviously pretty worked up because he was having some trouble stringing those thoughts together into sentences, you know, that's a problem. It's widespread. It's widespread!
Ben Carson said some things, including thanking Bill O’Reilly for his leadership on these issues (yes, leadership). Then Bill O’Reilly, the great civil rights leader, broke in and declared, “It breaks my heart! It really does.”
Stop, stop, we’re weeping, Uncle Bill. Can't stand to see you suffer so.
2. Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly: If women were more focused on getting married, maybe men wouldn’t sexually assault them so much.
Phyllis Schlafly shared some pearls of wisdom with young women on her radio show this week: Stop focusing on your career so much and get hitched. That’ll stop the menfolk from raping.
Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of that?
Wise old Phyllis asked a question she already had an answer for: “What’s the answer for women who worry about male violence?" (Wait, isn't that all women? And all people?) "It’s not to fear all men," Schlafly continued. "It’s to reject the lifestyle of frequent 'hookups,' which is so much promoted on college campuses today, while the women pursue a career and avoid marriage.”
Hell, what are young ladies even going to college for? To selfishly get educated? What’s next? Are they going to selfishly go out and support themselves? And have boyfriends or girlfriends? That is pretty much asking to be raped.
Had enough crazy? Here’s more.
3. Ex-college president says women should be trained not to drink so they can punch their sexual assaulters in the nose accurately.
Direct your letters to Dr. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, former president of George Washington University, and apparent expert on Greek life and women’s drinking habits. While appearing on the Diane Rehm Show, this beacon of higher education said we should not blame the victims of sexual assault. Then he proceeded to blame them.
"One of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave," he said, perhaps thinking he was being clever, or kind of cool for that nose-punch line. "And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard."
Wait, did we miss the part where he said young men should drink less, and stop raping people? We must have.
4. Always wrong on Iraq and everything else, war-loving Bill Kristol says Obama should bomb them faster and more.
The editor of the Weekly Standard does not let the fact that he was dead-wrong about Iraq last time the U.S. invaded the country stand in the way of his desire to mouth off about what we should do there now. He does not like the fact that Obama is taking so long to bomb ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL) in Iraq, even though Obama had already started bombing Iraq when Kristol said this, so, what the hell is he talking about? Does he even know what he is talking about? It appears not.
He was particularly critical of Obama’s speech in which the President said the whole world is “appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL.” Kristol apparently found this statement “appalling" because the President is doing “nothing,” which we suppose is the word in Kristol-speak for launching airstrikes and helping to arm Kurdish militias to fight ISIL. (Although it is not the usual definition of “nothing” as others know it.)
Here’s an example of how Kristol, who no one in their right mind would listen to since he is unfailingly wrong, would handle the problem with ISIS (and possibly every other problem ever, like, say, having to wait too long in a checkout line).
“You know, why don’t we just [bomb]?” he asked military expert Laura Ingraham on her show. “What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?”
Yeah, just bomb. That never hurts anything.
5. Fox News contributor: Can Michael Brown really be considered an “unarmed” teen when he was just so big?
This bit of genius comes from Fox contributor Linda Chavez, who was on the air this week doing her darndest to dismantle what she regarded as the “mantra” about Michael Brown, namely, the "unarmed black teenager shot by a white cop.” She would prefer a different mantra, perhaps something like Ommmm.
What she does not like about the description, “unarmed black teen shot (six times) by a white cop” is this: “We’re talking about an 18-year-old man who is six-foot-four and weighs almost 300 pounds.”
So, our question is this? What exactly is the size cut-off? When does a person become too big to be considered unarmed? When exactly does flesh morph into a weapon?
We know, we know, when the flesh is black.
6. Tea Partier, former presidential hopeful Herman Cain: Obama is plotting to be impeached.
Remember Herman Cain? The Godfather’s Pizza mogul from Georgia who ran for the Republican presidential nomination and made Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich look, well, sane? He’s still kicking. In fact, in his recollection he “damn near won” that nomination, which isn’t how anyone else recollects it... probably because it didn’t happen.
So, the Tea Partier is no stranger to delusional thinking. Cain recently shared a theory with Rick Wiles' End Times radio show. His theory is that Obama is trying to get impeached. It’s all part of his devilish scheme to keep Democrats in power. Kind of counter-intuitive, right? Cain specializes in that. Also, nonsense.
Cain says the way Obama will accomplish this feat is by issuing an executive order that provides undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship. This will cause Hispanic voters to turn out in droves in the midterm election (and vote for Democrats). But even better for Obama, it will force Republicans to impeach him, which he loves. Everyone loves getting impeached. Just ask Bill Clinton. Here’s how Cain figures it:
"The Democrats would love for the media to be obsessed with impeachment proceedings leading up to November because the Democrats do not want the media to be focusing on failed economic policy, no foreign policy, [and] corruption that's going on in all of the various departments."
So, there it is. The whole dastardly plot. You've been warned.Related Stories
Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace that "kings are the slaves of history." And when the "king" in question depends on the patronage of happy customers for his well-being, his monarchy is also a slave to public opinion. Unfortunately for Burger King, which intends to renounce its American status for tax purposes, neither history nor public opinion is on its side.
In fact, if social media is any gauge, the Burger King's American subjects are downright pissed.
Burger King's Facebook page currently features the rather unfortunately-timed slogan, "Chicken Fries Are Back." (Is that as in, too chicken to pay your taxes?), and it has drawn a lot of angry comments about its planned tax move.(All comments are unedited, except as noted.)
A recent status update entitled "Lunch? Brunch? Same difference" drew this comment, presumably directed toward a constituent's Senator:
As a veteran I encourage you to sponsor a bill that shuts down every single Burger King located on an American military installation in the U.S. ... I feel only companies that are headquartered in the U.S. Deserve to be able to conduct business on govt facilities. I find it very up unpatriotic that our service members who risk there lives would have these tax dodging companies located on their bases ...
On a post which advises readers "Be the Chicken Fries you want to be," comments included "I loved the chicken fries but not from some traitorous tax dodging company...Hello Wendy's!!!!"
Other commenters addressed the role of government in Burger King's success and its subsequent display of ingratitude. One wrote:
Burger King's ingredients are trucked in on taxpayer-funded roads. Burger King's meat is made safe by taxpayer-funded beef inspectors. Burger King's workers are paid so little that taxpayer-funded social safety net programs have to pick up their slack. And in return for all of these taxpayer-funded services, Burger King won't even pay the American corporate tax rate. Boycott...
American tax dollars inspect the safety of your "chicken fries" yet you don't want to pay American taxes. I will never spend one penny of my American money in your traitorous stores.
The royal court has clearly heard these rumblings of discontent from the citizenry, because its most recent status update says:
"We hear you. We're not moving, we're just growing and finding ways to serve you better ... both Burger King Corp. and Tim Hortons will continue to operate as independent brands. We'll just be under common ownership. Our headquarters will remain in Miami where we were founded more than 60 years ago and business will continue as usual at our restaurants around the world."
The statement goes on to say that the merger decision "is not tax-driven - it's about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes. We're proud of the heritage of Burger King and will maintain our long-standing commitment to our employees, franchisees and the local communities we serve."
It concludes: "The WHOPPER isn't going anywhere."
That part's certainly true, because there are several "whoppers" in this statement. While it may be true that this merger isn't solely tax-driven, Burger King is the larger of the two corporations, and it was founded in Jacksonville, Florida in 1953. Domiciling the merged company in Canada would result an evasion of American taxes, and that Facebook pledge to "pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes" obscures some key facts, including the fact that this maneuver would allow it to evade U.S. taxes on overseas profits.
And let's not start the discredited argument that it's being forced to move because US corporate tax rates are supposedly too high. The actual rate paid by American corporations, once they're done applying all the loopholes their lobbyists in Washington have designed, their actual rate is at the low end of the global tax spectrum - and this at a time when many corporations are achieving record-breaking profits.
As for Burger King, its 2013 results led to headlines like the Wall Street Journal's "Burger King Profit Rises on Lower Costs," after an increase in profitability of nearly 40 percent. And its performance in the first quarter of this year led USA Today to proclaim that "Burger King cuts costs, serves up tasty profits."
The proposed tax-dodging moves has led several groups (including the Campaign for America's Future and Americans for Tax Fairness) to start a petition drive against Burger King. It has also led to grassroots fury, if the company's Facebook page in any indication. Here are a few of the recent comments to that recent "WHOPPER" of a statement:
burger king crowned king of the tax dodgers! boycott!!!!!
Nice spin. The Burger King Corp. half of the company will remain headquartered in Miami. HOWEVER, the corporate headquarters of the combined company will be based in Canada as a U.S. tax avoidance. A customer exodus to save a few bucks on the tax bill ...
If you move I will unfortunately never be able to eat at any Burger King anywhere. I travel internationally and that will include any other country I go to. Pay American tax. Also, you may want to start paying your employees a living wage as well!
And more commenters joined in the impromptu boycott sentiment:
I was going to come in today to get food (haven't been there in a long time) and heard you guys are being extremely greedy. Never mind. Going to Chipotle instead.
I now consider you to be tax-dodging traitors, and I'll never spend another dime in your establishments. In other words, enjoy Canada, but say good-bye to my business, ya hosers, eh?
Just wanted to say Goodby sorry to see you leave. Our family has spent a lot of days in Burger Kings lines, we were good customers, spent a lot of money but your lost will be another companies gain. I'm sure Wendys or Checkers will be happy to get us ...
To be sure, not every commenter represented lost revenue for Burger King. The handful of right-wingers who consistently trolled these comments clearly aren't going anywhere, and another said rather crudely that "I wouldn't eat the horse meat you serve anyway you dicks."
Well, okay, Burger King won't lose revenue on that guy. But a lot of people are clearly angry, and they're clearly planning to take their business elsewhere.
What's more, the fast-food monarch isn't just losing the serfs and rabble-rousers. Even reliable royalists like Sir Joe of Scarborough are whispering of rebellion. That's right: Conservative talk show host Joe Scarborough endorsed the idea of a Burger King boycott on his morning talk show, saying "I think a lot of Americans are should not go Burger King again if they're going cheat on their taxes."
Another host responded, "Their fries suck."
"They do suck," Scarborough agreed.
That's not the kind of commentary any corporation wants, especially a publicly-traded one. Soon its investors will be beseeching the King of Burgers: Turn back, Sire, before it is too late. Otherwise Burger King may be forced to learn the lesson England's George III was taught in 1776: Americans bend the knee to no foreign monarch, even if he offers chicken fries on the side.
An informal boycott seems to have started already. If Burger King insists on picking a fight with the American people, the response may very well come in the words of one of its own slogans:
Have it your way.
(Here's a petition to the CEO of Burger King: "Keep Burger King American and pay your fair share. If not I'll dine elsewhere.")Related Stories
The US government’s web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be.
As we were reminded again just this week, you can be pulled into the National Security Agency’s database quietly and quickly, and the consequences can be long and enduring. Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information.
This kind of data sharing, however, isn’t limited to the latest from Edward Snowden’s NSA files. It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors.
The watchlist tracks “known” and “suspected” terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the US government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information – including a Facebook or Twitter post – to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.
Of the 680,000 individuals on that FBI master list, roughly 40% have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”, according to the Intercept. These individuals don’t even have a connection – as the government loosely defines it – to a designated terrorist group, but they are still branded as suspected terrorists.
The absurdities don’t end there. Take Dearborn, Michigan, a city with a population under 100,000 that is known for its large Arab American community – and has more watchlisted residents than any other city in America except New York.
These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard – so-called “reasonable suspicion” – in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.
Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard because it requires neither “concrete evidence” nor “irrefutable evidence”. Instead, an official is permitted to consider “reasonable inferences” and “to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience”.
Consider a real world context – actual criminal justice – where an officer needs reasonable suspicion to stop a person in the street and ask him or her a few questions. Courts have controversially held that avoiding eye contact with an officer, traveling alone, and traveling late at night, for example, all amount to reasonable suspicion.
This vague criteria is now being used to label innocent people as terrorism suspects.
Moreover, because the watchlist isn’t limited to known, actual terrorists, an official can watchlist a person if he has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person is a suspected terrorist. It’s a circular logic – individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists – that is ultimately backwards, and must be changed.
The government’s self-mandated surveillance guidance also includes loopholes that permit watchlisting without even showing reasonable suspicion. For example, non-citizens can be watchlisted for being associated with a watchlisted person – even if their relationship with that person is entirely innocuous. Another catch-all exception allows non-citizens to be watchlisted, so long as a source or tipster describes the person as an “extremist”, a “militant”, or in similar terms, and the“context suggests a nexus to terrorism”. The FBI’s definition of “nexus”, in turn, is far more nebulous than they’re letting on.
Because the watchlist designation process is secret, there’s no way of knowing just how many innocent people are added to the list due to these absurdities and loopholes. And yet, history shows that innocent people are inevitably added to the list and suffer life-altering consequences. Life on the master watchlist can trigger enhanced screening at borders and airports; being on the No Fly List, which is a subset of the larger terrorist watchlist, can prevent airline travel altogether. The watchlist can separate family members for months or years, isolate individuals from friends and associates, and ruin employment prospects.
Being branded a terrorism suspect also has far-reaching privacy implications. The watchlist is widely accessible, and government officials routinely collect the biometric data of watchlisted individuals, including their fingerprints and DNA strands. Law enforcement has likewise been directed to gather any and all available evidence when encountering watchlisted individuals, including receipts, business cards, health information and bank statements.
Watchlisting is an awesome power, and if used, must be exercised prudently and transparently.
The standards for inclusion should be appropriately narrow, the evidence relied upon credible and genuine, and the redress and review procedures consistent with basic constitutional requirements of fairness and due process. Instead, watchlisting is being used arbitrarily under a cloud of secrecy.
A watchlist saturated with innocent people diverts attention from real, genuine threats. A watchlist that disproportionately targets Arab and Muslim Americans or other minorities stigmatizes innocent people and alienates them from law enforcement. A watchlist based on poor standards and secret processes raises major constitutional concerns, including the right to travel freely and not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.
Indeed, you can’t help but wonder: are you already on the watchlist?Related Stories
In the last week or so, Michelle Rhee stepped down from StudentsFirst, an education reform organization that she founded four years ago. During her tenure at StudentsFirst, and before then, Rhee meticulously crafted her image as a firebrand who intended to shake up education in the country. Although most of the coverage of Rhee and her departure has focused on her education theatrics, her remarks on the issue of child poverty have been far more troubling.
In debates about education reform, one very common pattern of arguments has emerged. Education reformers like Rhee jump into the forum and confidently proclaim that poor students are failing to acquire good educations because of bad schools and bad teachers. Then, those who actually know things about child poverty respond that poverty, by itself, is a massive impediment to educational attainment because of its damaging effects on human functioning.
On its face, this response should pose no particular problem for education reformers. If they want, they can synthesize these two points by saying that both poverty and bad schools drag down educational attainment, and that we should therefore target both. Under such a synthesis, the reformers would come out in favor of very simple and empirically proven ways (they love data!) to dramatically reduce child poverty, and also make the case for their specific education reforms. But, with few exceptions, they don’t do that.
Instead, would-be reformers like Michelle Rhee totally abandon advocating for poverty reduction in favor of flavorless, politically neutral policies that don’t offend big donors. Generally, the refusal to recognize the role poverty plays in diminishing educational attainment forms three themes. In the first, reformers claim that people who chalk up low educational attainment to poverty are just excuse-making. This is, of course, manifestly absurd: Someone who says educational outcomes are harmed by poverty is not making an excuse out of poverty; they are identifying it as the (or a) cause. To argue such explanations are really excuses is as absurd as saying that Michelle Rhee is using “bad schools” as an excuse for low educational attainment. In other words, the “excuse” gambit is both false and nonsensical.
The second theme is a kind of slick resignation that morphs back into support for old policies that are unrelated to poverty reduction itself. The reformers accept finally that, yes, poverty is an independent problem. They accept that, all else equal, child poverty will absolutely drag down educational attainment. Yet the rhetoric associated with this kind of acknowledgment of poverty doesn’t stick, and reformers are always quick to follow up the concession with the same old solutions they’ve always hawked, which comprises the final theme.
This third theme usually features reformers like Rhee simultaneously admitting what is obvious — child poverty is an independent drag on educational attainment — without having to endorse doing anything about it. Instead, they insist that reforming education is the only way to do anything about poverty to begin with, so the acknowledgment that poverty is an independent harm in terms of education never inspires any direct action to repair it. Instead, only indirect action through education reform is ever advocated. This is convenient for their cause – and their fundraising campaigns — but it’s totally dishonest and harmful to poor kids.
At the very least, education is not the only way to solve child poverty. (In fact, it’s not even clear that it is a way to solve child poverty.) And to determine that, we don’t have to go with gut feelings.
What we know of all the empirical data recording child poverty rates and their changes is that the best, easiest and most efficient way to cut child poverty is through transfer programs. We could cut child poverty in half tomorrow – that’s a 50 percent reduction in poor children — if we wanted to, for little more than 1 percent of the GDP. All it would take is a child allowance, similar to many programs already extant in a slew of countries. Better yet for all the ed-reforming data lovers, we can actually track the rate at which transfers reduce child poverty – and they do so very, very well.
Yet from Michelle Rhee and her celebrated class of reformer compatriots, there’s no word on reducing child poverty head-on. The failure to endorse direct child poverty reduction, even after recognizing it as a serious contributor to educational problems, is either a function of Rhee’s own conservative politics or her abject pandering to her rich, corporate donor base. It’s popular to mock those who remark that education reform is “corporate,” but the organizations emblematic of ed reform are, in fact, funded by extremely wealthy people and corporations – like Wal-Mart. With backers like that in her corner, Rhee can’t ever push child poverty reduction sincerely because it generally means policies that make such donors less rich in order to make poor students less poor.
And this is the ultimate failing of this whole education reform business, really. Through extraordinary amounts of money and carefully collected social, political and cultural capital, they are the most preeminent movement for helping poor children in this country. All national conversations about child poverty happen fully within their court, according to their terms.
Yet, because they are led by people who are either ideologically, or out of convenience due to donors’ preferences, against policies that would dramatically cut child poverty, they are limited in what they can actually accomplish. Despite their rhetoric, (poor) students are never actually placed first, but always second behind the distributive political preferences of the rich. Rhee and those who follow in her wake will drill on trying to squeeze out some marginal gains here and there through school reform, all while ignoring and minimizing powerful, tested solutions so as to make sure people don’t aim at child poverty itself. When you absolutely dominate the national discourse on how best to help poor children, as Rhee and her cohorts have for so long, such a posture is extremely shameful and damaging.Related Stories
On the show this week: On the day of his funeral, the New York Times declared that Michael Brown was "no angel." We look at that and other shoddy reporting from Ferguson. Plus Newsweek spreads farfetched fear about Ebola and African immigrants, and we look at how often union leaders appear on the Sunday chat shows. (Brace yourself.)
Watch the new episode of FAIR TV below:
A United States district court judge has blocked two provisions of Texas’ sweeping antiabortion law in a ruling that declared unconstitutional the requirements that clinics become ambulatory surgical centers and providers obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. According to the decision from Judge Lee Yeakel, each provision presented an unconstitutional burden to Texans’ access to reproductive healthcare.
The combined provisions would have shuttered all but eight clinics in the state. There were 41 abortion providers in the state in 2013, but that number has dropped to 19 in the wake of the omnibus law. Researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that because of the new law, the number of women of reproductive age living more than 200 miles from a provider has increased by nearly 3,000 percent — from 10,000 to 290,000. The ambulatory surgical center requirement would have ballooned that number to nearly 800,000.
Last year, Yeakel found that the admitting privileges requirement was “without a rational basis,” and blocked the provision. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, and the state began enforcing the provision in November. The state intends to immediately appeal the decision and will ”seek immediate relief from the 5th Circuit, which has already upheld HB 2 once,” according to Lauren Bean, a spokesperson for Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
“There was no justification for the medically unnecessary regulations in HB2, no demonstrated problem with safety in our state’s already well-regulated abortion clinics,” NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Heather Busby said in a statement on the decision. “In fact, state records demonstrated the opposite: that abortion is one of the safest outpatient procedures in the state. Yet despite an overwhelming outcry from the public, lawmakers forced the bill through based on lies.”
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, also celebrated the decision, and applauded Yeakel’s recognition that the law served no medical purpose . “We are extremely pleased by Judge Yakel’s ruling today. As he clearly states in his decision, requiring every abortion clinic to turn into a surgical center is excessive and not based on good medicine,” she said in a statement. “It’s an undue burden for women in Texas — and thankfully today the court agreed. The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety.
“Everyone in Texas deserves and needs health care based on medical science and proven standards of care,” she continued. “Whole Woman’s Health already follows our state’s safety requirements and there was never evidence that requirements such as widening our hallways or doorways would make any difference for women’s health.”Related Stories
A Kamloops school of higher learning wants to buy a drone. Read more ...
On Thursday night’s episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert mocked conservatives for living in a world of imagination on the subject of the threat posed by ISIS.
He began by angrily pointing at a photograph of President Barack Obama and saying, “this guy right here needs a hard dose of reality — right, woman who lives in a world of imagination?”
Colbert then cut to a female Fox News personality, who said, “Can I just make a special request from a magic lamp? Can we get, like, Netanyahu and Putin in for, like, 48 hours as head of the United States? I don’t know, you know, I just want somebody to get in here and get it done right.”
“Yes,” Colbert responded, “as long as we’re making shit up, as a conservative, my allegiance is to an ever greater imaginary leader — Ronald Reagan. He is the one we should be pretending is stopping this crisis, and Newt Gingrinch agrees. Yesterday, he posted a lengthy fake speech he imagines Reagan would give if he were still around.”
“And it is exactly what Ronald Reagan would say if he were still alive and somehow still president, serving a ninth term in office at the age of 103,” he continued, before quoting Newt quoting “Reagan”:
“And if Newt knows exactly how Jefferson felt,” Colbert said, “I’m sure he’ll also write a fictional speech that Jefferson would have given in 1984 when Reagan decided to get our Marines the Hell out of Lebanon. Fake Jefferson would have been just as disappointed in Real Reagan as Fake Reagan is in Real Obama. I can only imagine what Newt will imagine fake Obama will have to say about the Middle East policy of President Blue Ivy.”
“Nation,” he concluded, “I too can imagine our way to a better world, because I, like Newt Gingrich, believe we can defeat ISIS with the power of make-believe.”
Watch the entire August 28, 2014 episode of The Colbert Report via Hulu below.
The continuing right-wing effort to make a hero out of Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, may not turn out so well, if the past is any guide. Remember Cliven Bundy? Donald Sterling? George Zimmerman?
Just because liberals don’t like someone doesn’t mean he should automatically be a hero to conservatives. There was a point when even the National Review seemed to recognize this — editor Rich Lowry once wrote a column titled “Al Sharpton Is Right,” about the need for charges to be filed against George Zimmerman, when Florida officials were dragging their heels.
But that time is long gone, apparently. And as a result, the right seems well on its way to aligning with the reemergence of a 21st century form of lynching, even while furiously insisting that they are totally post-racial. Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling — the more readily and thoroughly renounced — didn’t kill anyone, of course. But Zimmerman and Wilson both did, and both, to varying degrees, acted under color of law, which is precisely how plain old-fashioned lynching used to work, in a shadow realm that would not have allowed the killing of whites (except, of course, for “race traitors” who allied with blacks).
It didn’t take long for people to start rallying to Darren Wilson’s defense. In less than a week, several hundred thousand dollars had been raised on his behalf — with a healthy smattering of hateful racist messages in support, such as “I would have donated double this amount, but you missed his accomplice” — and Fox News had run a flood of false, unsourced stories, claiming that Wilson’s eye socket had been broken, implicitly “proving” that he had been in a heroic struggle for his life.
It was the overnight creation of what Joan Walsh called “a thriving franchise of the nation’s booming white grievance industry.” In contrast, things moved more slowly when it came to making George Zimmerman a hero. Fox News and most of the rest of the right virtually ignored Trayvon Martin’s killing for months, and even when they suddenly snapped to, it took a while for them to adopt Zimmerman as one of their own. Now, in contrast, it’s all happening at warp speed.
Two decades ago, the acquittal of the officers who beat up Rodney King touched off the most widespread urban riot in a generation, but there was nothing similar in that coverage to the way that first Zimmerman, and now, apparently, Wilson are being treated as heroic figures. Given the role right-wing media plays in hero creation, it was only natural to turn to Media Matters for some perspective, and senior fellow Eric Boehlert made several points to Salon, to describe how we got here.
First, Boehlert reminded us, today’s conservative media were unlike anything in existence in 1992; second, that it was Obama’s relatively benign comments that led conservatives to politicize the killing of Trayvon Martin; and third, that conservative media’s 16-month involvement in smearing Trayvon Martin and defending George Zimmerman had created a new narrative niche, which was now readily filled with similar attacks on Michael Brown and defense of Darren Wilson. (Though Boehlert was describing the broad sweep of developments, one Media Matters blog post highlighted Geraldo Rivera’s virtually identical pattern of victim-blaming in both cases.)
Finally, more broadly, Boehlert noted that white victimization — and thus rallying around victim/heroes — is the cornerstone of Fox News’ programming, even as it’s embraced the ideology that racism has been eradicated (never mind the actual facts), and concluded that the real racists are those who still talk about race.
“We have a right-wing media that’s very different from the Clinton era right-wing media, in which, everything has to be partisan,” Boehlert told Salon. If today’s media had been around back then, he said, “The L.A. riots would’ve been depicted as partisan. It would’ve been a left-right thing. The cops would’ve been the good guys no matter what; people — obviously the looters and rioters are separate — but anyone who raised questions about the beating would’ve been agitators, probably would’ve been ACORN or were communists or things like that.”
Fast forwarding to the Obama era, Boehlert continued, “You’ve got a right-wing media that I think kind of tipped its hand with the Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin case. For the first few weeks there was very little coverage, very little passion on Fox News or the right-wing blogs about that story.” Similar points were made at the time by Judd Legum at Think Progress, Simon Owens at the Moderate Voice, and Boehlert himself at Media Matters.
“Rich Lowry actually wrote a piece saying Al Sharpton was right, someone should be indicted for that murder,” Boehlert continued — a point we’ll return to in a moment. “Then Obama addressed it, and once Obama enters the conversation about race, you know, they went from zero to a hundred … they decided that the story was partisan, and that supporting Trayvon Martin was the Democratic position, supporting the guy who killed an unarmed teen was the Republican conservative position, and so they set up the markers, and went for it. And the way they did that was they smeared a dead teenager for 16 months until Zimmerman’s acquittal.”
To understand the process of shaping the polarized narrative, it’s helpful to go back to the moment before, to Lowry’s Sharpton column. It was an odd mix of name-calling and common sense. Al Sharpton was a “longtime provocateur” and a “perpetually aggrieved, shamelessly exploitative publicity hound,” but like a stopped clock, “he occasionally will be right,” and this is one of those occasions, Lowry argued. Zimmerman, he said, should be arrested and tried:
We may never know what exactly happened in the altercation. We do know this: Through stupendous errors in judgment, Zimmerman brought about an utterly unnecessary confrontation and then — in the most favorable interpretation of the facts for him — shot Martin when he began to lose a fistfight to him.
Lowry took note of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, but blithely downplayed the complexities of how it actually works in practice (“It is one of the reasons that the police didn’t press charges against Zimmerman,” he admitted) and invoked its pure-as-the-driven-snow transcendent spirit:
But the law is not meant to be a warrant for aggressive vigilantism. It was Martin, chased by a stranger who wasn’t an officer of the law, who had more reason to feel threatened and “stand his ground” than Zimmerman.
The jumbled mix of attitudes displayed in this piece might even be stable in some political environments — but not ours. As Alex Pareene noted shortly afterward (“Why Rush Limbaugh and the Right Turned On Trayvon Martin“), the same day Lowry’s column appeared everything changed:
On March 23, two things happened: Buffoon Geraldo Rivera made his infamous remarks on the role Martin’s style of dress played in his death — a dumb point dumbly made — and President Obama told the press: “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
It was basically on this day that everything went to hell. The story of an unarmed teenager shot dead while walking home and a police force that decided that didn’t constitute a crime suddenly became a partisan issue with numerous points of contention.
Just to be clear, what Obama said was “totally innocuous,” as libertarian-leaning commentator Josh Barro noted at the time (“Trayvon Martin and the Right’s Race Problem”). Obama was responding to a press conference question, and Barro saw the right’s reaction as troubling. He cited the examples of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, then said:
The claim running through these objections is that black Americans cannot have any special concerns in need of airing. Many of the issues raised in the Trayvon Martin case—was Trayvon Martin singled out for suspicion because he was black? Did race influence the Sanford police’s handling of the case? What is the burden of profiling on young black men?—are therefore off limits.
Barro went on to say that “Conservatives, almost universally, feel like they get a bad rap on race,” that they “catch heat” when they make a wide range of arguments that Barro clearly feels have some merit. But then he said:
Why do conservatives catch such heat? It’s probably because there is still so much racism on the Right to go alongside valid arguments on issues relating to race and ethnicity. Conservatives so often get unfairly pounded on race because, so often, conservatives get fairly pounded on race.
And to clarify what he had in mind, Barro went on to the topic of birtherism, about which he concluded:
Republican rejections of Birtherism tend to focus on the issue being “a distraction,” as RNC Chairman Reince Preibus puts it, rather than pointedly noting that it is a nutty, racist conspiracy theory.
There has been a clear strategic calculation here among Republican elites. Better to leverage or at least accept the racism of much of the Republican base than try to clean it up.
Barro still seems to identify as a Republican, so that’s going pretty far. But almost 50 years after Nixon first launched his “Southern Strategy,” it’s a bit late to start worrying. More to the point, given the extent of GOP birtherism, sometimes it feels like if Republican elites cleaned up the racism in their base, they wouldn’t have a base at all.
Their only recourse is to insist that it’s not really racism, because folks like Al Sharpton and Barack Obama are the “real racists” — you know, folks who notice race and say something about it.
This was a point made by Kevin Drum the next day (“The Conservative Agenda in the Trayvon Martin Case”). Drum first noted that “A week ago, the worst I could say about right-wing reaction to the Martin case was that conservatives were studiously ignoring it,” but that things had suddenly changed. It wasn’t surprising that conservatives had been silent, he noted, as there was no obvious conservative principle at stake in the shooting of Trayvon Martin:
There’s no special conservative principle at stake that says neighborhood watch captains should be able to shoot anyone who looks suspicious. There’s no special conservative principle at stake that says local police forces should barely even pretend to investigate the circumstances of a shooting. There’s no special conservative principle at stake that says young black men shouldn’t wear hoodies.
And yet, he noted “as Dave Weigel points out today, the conservative media is now defending the shooter, George Zimmerman, with an almost messianic zeal,” most notably working itself up into a frenzy over a faked — even debunked — photograph of Trayvon as gangsta. So, clearly there must be some principle at stake, but what is it? Drum then quotes from an L.A. Times Op-Ed by Jonah Goldberg, explaining that we shouldn’t care about Martin’s death because it was “a statistical outlier” — more blacks are killed by blacks than by any other race. And this brings Drum an epiphany:
Quite so. And that, it turns out, is the conservative principle that’s actually at stake here: convincing us all that traditional racism no longer really exists (just in “pockets,” says Goldberg) and that it’s whites who are the real racial victims in today’s America.
Alex Pareene’s piece, mentioned above, had a more elaborate analysis, citing four reasons that Martin’s killing had become a left-right issue: 1) Movement conservatism’s denial of racism (corollary: “accusations of racism are the new racism, and said accusations are invariably politically motivated”). 2) President Obama is extremely polarizing. 3) The killing was already political, given the role of Florida’s “stand your ground” law. (“Part of the frantic defense of Zimmerman is an attempt to ensure that liberals never, ever go back to the gun control advocacy they essentially gave up on after the 1990s.”) 4) Racism. The plain ole gut-level kind (“the sincere belief that if a black kid got shot, he probably had it coming”).
Of course, you don’t have to dig too deeply into (2) and (3) to find racism there as well. But the story here only begins with recognizing the presence of racism; it’s much more about how racism changes, adapts, morphs, interacts with other issues and concerns, and, in the end, continues the age-old tradition of justifying the extra-legal execution of arbitrary victims “who just happen to be black.”
An example from now-distant history may be helpful here. During slavery, it was commonly propounded that the whites were both smarter and stronger than blacks. There were even faux concerns that if slavery were abolished, the black race would die out, unable to survive on its own. Once slavery ended, however, things changed. The “happy docile slave stereotype” (there were always multiple variants) was replaced by the predator/rapist, whose purported presence served to justify wave upon wave of lynching epidemics.
What these examples show is how fluid racist ideologies can be under pressure, and yet still fulfill their same basic function of justifying and naturalizing racially stratified outcomes. The book “Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression” explains how stratified societies maintain themselves with a mixture of hierarchy-enhancing and hierarchy-attenuating ideas, values and “legitimating myths,” which can vary over time, but still continued to produce stratified outcomes provided newer legitimating myths emerge to support hierarchy, as the older ones fall out of favor.
In America as a whole, perhaps the most useful framework for understanding this process in the so-called post-civil rights era is Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s concept of “colorblind racism,” as explained in his 2003 book, “Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States.” While the idea of a “colorblind” social order was, in the 19th century, a relatively radical, emancipatory idea, more recently the notion has been turned upside down, with the claim that we are already colorblind, except, perhaps, for those who still see racial injustices. The concept of “colorblind racism” neatly captures what’s involved in this shell game.
“The central component of any dominant racial ideology is its frames or set paths for interpreting information,” Bonilla-Silva explained, and he identified four such frames at the heart of colorblind racism: 1) Abstract Liberalism, using ideas associated with political liberalism (such as “equal opportunity,” the idea that force should not be used to achieve social policy) and economic liberalism (choice, individualism) — in an abstract manner to explain racial matters. 2) Naturalization (“That’s just how things are.”) 3) Cultural Racism (arguments like “Mexicans don’t put much emphasis on education” or “Blacks have too many babies” to explain the condition of minorities.) 4) Minimization of Racism, which simultaneously acknowledges and dismisses persistent racism (“It’s better now than in the past” or “There is discrimination, but there are plenty of jobs out there).
With this framework as background, it’s not hard to understand the evolution of even more pernicious extremist variants in the right-wing media, which Boehlert sketched out. It began with Andrew Breitbart and his website announcing that “basically racism had been eradicated, and that anyone who talked about the topic was therefore a racist,” especially “civil rights activists and civil libertarians … because by raising questions, or talking about it, or discussing it, they were trying to rip the country apart, because the country is already solved racism.”
Thus, the allegation is that simply talking about race in America makes you a racist. It is, as Boehlert called it, “a very odd brand of projection” that’s “very weird and complicated,” but that’s where the roles of endless repetition and cognitive closure come in. They naturalize and normalize what would otherwise clearly be both arbitrary and bizarre. After years in development, the result can be quite stunning, as Boehlert went on to note:
That’s like Glenn [Beck] that went on Fox News and called the president of the United States a racist, because he dared to discuss it in the wake of the Henry Louis Gates arrest in Cambridge. So that’s why he was denounced as having ‘a hatred of white people. Why? Because he talked about race.”
Of course, the framework of colorblind racism also explains the persistence of racial stereotyping, albeit in a “cultural” framework. But the right-wing media takes this aspect to extremes as well, which accounts for another, contradictory tendency: the persistence of “increasingly race-baiting rhetoric,” including all manner of things that Hannity, Limbaugh and Beck have been saying about Obama since his inauguration. “This is some of the most rancid, insulting kind of gutter rhetoric you could imagine,” Boehlert said.” But the cone that they’ve tried to protect themselves in is that the other people are the racists. It’s very weird. I guess said, it’s a lot of weird projecting going on.”
While the development of colorblind racism as Bonila-Silva describes it took place over decades, the nastier variants in the right-wing media developed much more rapidly, spurred on in part by Obama’s election. They have now burst forth in multiple forms, one of which is the automatic demonization of any black victim, and the matching valorization of whoever killed or injured that victim. Of course, the specific details of any given case are not always so accommodating to the pre-determined colorblind racist script. As a result, in the killings of both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, we’ve strikingly similar false claims about both victims, as well as the men who killed them, and some of those claims have persisted quite powerfully, despite all evidence to the contrary.
While we’ve seen some of those attitudes most brazenly expressed on the Darren Wilson Gofundme site, we see more subtle echoes reflected in statements of support that are carefully crafted to conform to “all-American” norms, such as calls for due process — which Michael Brown, naturally, did not get, and which would not be threatened by treating Wilson like any other murder suspect.
This reflects a broader phenomenon, the persistent power of misinformation, which an inter-disciplinary collection of researchers has been studying for some years now. Most recently,I wrote about one study of misinformation in the context of three initiatives on Washington state’s 2006 ballot. The issues involved were much less charged than the murder of an unarmed black teenager, but all the better, it occurred to me. It may be easier to anecdotally recognize extremely charged distortions in a rapidly shifting framework of rationalizations (unless you’re a Fox News devotee), but as a matter of scientific methodology, it’s easier to study less-charged distortions in more stable issue areas.
So, did someone with hands-on experience studying those less-charged distortions see similar issues at play, as I did? I decided to ask Justin Reedy, principle co-author of the Washington state study. “Just anecdotally, I’ve seen some things that support both of the phenomena that we think might be happening with misperception: shoddy information in the media, and spontaneous creation of ‘facts’ or ideas that are in keeping with one’s values,” Reedy told me.
It’s one of several important open questions in the field just how much distortion wells up from below and how much trickles down from above, and there’s no reason why the proportions should be either similar or stable across different domains, especially in times of dramatic flux, which are particularly challenging to study. But one can’t help noticing how top-down and bottom-up influences can get jumbled together, as when Fox’s Geraldo Rivera speculates on how white jurors will respond at trial:
RIVERA: The white jurors will look at that convenience store surveillance tape. They will see Michael Brown menacing that clerk. The white jurors will put themselves in the shoes of that clerk. They’ll say, of course the officer responded the way he did. He was menaced by a 6-foot 4-inch, 300-pound kid, 10 minutes fresh from a strong-armed robbery. The officer was defending himself. The white jurors will put themselves in the white officer’s place. The black jurors will see Michael Brown, despite his flaws, as the surrogate for every black youngster ever shot. [Fox News, "Outnumbered"]
Rivera is purporting to present a “balanced” picture: what white jurors will see vs. what black jurors will. And it’s quite true that jurors tend to have racially informed perspectives. But what’s not true is that the surveillance tape had anything to do with the shooting, or that it should play any role in the trial. Hence, virtually all of Rivera’s speculation about how white jurors would think is fatally tainted. On the other hand, the black jurors are presented as intentionally ignoring evidence; “despite his flaws” apparently refers to the surveillance tape, which is legally irrelevant and has no place in a murder trial. Such is the false balance that Rivera presents. It does not take any sort of leap to view Rivera’s performance as providing instruction and guidance, as well as encouragement, for how white jurors should act, in order to legalize modern-day lynchings.
After Zimmerman’s acquittal, Boehlert wrote, in a retrospective overview:
Pledging to uncover the “truth” about the shooting victim and determined to prove definitively that anti-black racism doesn’t exists in America (it’s a political tool used by liberals, Republican press allies insist), many in the right-wing media have dropped any pretense of mourning Martin’s death and set out to show how he probably deserved it.
He was certainly correct to focus attention on dichotomization (what psychologists call “splitting”), which links Martin’s alleged victim-worthiness with Zimmerman’s innocence, if not heroism. Naturally, the very act of “proving” that Martin had it coming was itself a classic form of racist behavior. The belief that such “proof” would “prove” that racism doesn’t exist is itself only the latest twist in a very old story of how racism rationalizes itself.
The question now is how much both sides of this dichotomized narrative will be allowed to advance unchallenged, and more important, whether we will be able to bring new narratives into the discussion. Allowing that old dichotomized narrative to advance means opening the way for a new era of lynching, at the hands of “heroes” like George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson and countless others like them — despite the incredible proliferation of social media and monitoring devices that should, in theory, help empower us with unprecedented knowledge, transparency and capacity for collective action.
But the tools we have at hand are only as good as the hearts and minds that use them. And our hearts and minds are only as good as our commitment to learn hard truths from our history, rather than blindly repeat it.
Heavily armed officers, weapons drawn, move across a bridge draped with a banner reading “No war for oil” and “We are the 99%." One corner of the banner sports the A anarchist symbol. Shortly after, they capture their targets: protesters.
This scene may be all too familiar to protesters. But it’s actually a staged police training put on by Urban Shield, a SWAT team training program and weapons expo that has taken place in the Bay Area for the past seven years. This year, as last, Urban Shield’s weapon show takes place in the Oakland Marriot Convention Center in downtown Oakland, CA, September 4-8.
In a city that has a tense relationship with police, hosting a conference that is ultimately an effort to militarize policing and hawk weaponry doesn't sit well with community members, who are organizing to stop Urban Shield from coming to town.
“They try to put Urban Shield under this umbrella of public safety because there’s also collaboration with fire departments and emergency medical response teams,” said Kamau Walton, a War Resisters League organizer. “But the tools and the tactics they are utilizing, that they gain from the vendor show are being used against community members on a regular basis. And these are not emergency situations, these are peaceful protests, like the ones we’ve seen in Ferguson.”
How Urban Shield Promotes Police Militarization
The excessive weaponry and force used on Ferguson protesters has sparked a national conversation around the militarization of local police. In a speech, President Obama even ordered a review of the Defense Department’s 1033 program that has provided $4.3 billion worth of military equipment to local law enforcement since 1997.
However, there’s more to the story than the 1033 program. The Urban Areas Security Initiative, a Department of Homeland Security grant program, is the source of funding for Urban Shield. The UASI program awards state and local law enforcement agencies billions to purchase “tactical,” often military-grade equipment.
Urban Shield, which began in the Bay Area in 2007, has expanded to Boston, cities in Texas, and even overseas in the Middle East and Africa. Cytel Group, a contract research organization that trademarked Urban Shield, has also worked with the Israel Defense Forces. Cytel organizes Urban Shield along with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Cytel’s president is a former Alameda County assistant sheriff.
Urban Shield consists of two components: a weapons show and workshops, which will take place at the Marriot, and training exercises, which are conducted throughout the Bay Area. At the weapons expo, venders shows off automatic rifles, armored vehicles, surveillance gear and more. There are also drones, which police departments are increasingly considering using in the wake of Ferguson. Safariland, a U.S. company whose tear gas has been used in Gaza, Ferguson and Oakland, will also be present.
J.D. Nelson, public information officer for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, said that militarization of the police has been in place since the country began. Nelson said people tend to “pick and choose” what they don’t like about it, adding that almost everyone uses GPS devices, which was a technology created by the military.
Pressed on the seemingly excessive weaponry for local enforcement, Nelson said, "The interesting thing is that after 9/11, they said ‘We’re going to have to ramp up the security and the infrastructure,’ but they never said ‘We’re going to have the military do it,’ they said ‘We’re going to have law enforcement do it.’ So people ask us to do a lot of different things, and then when you have to have the equipment to do it they say, Well, yeah, no, maybe. So I think maybe those decisions have to come from somebody else."
Nelson said the “tactical portion” of Urban Shield is only a small part of it. There are also seminars, which feature trainings on how to prepare for rare instances such as mass murders or emergency situations.
“It’s regional readiness for any kind of disaster—and that’s man-made or natural,” Nelson said, adding that officers have to prepare for worst-case scenarios they may be dealt. “Last year when we had Urban Shield, I heard some of these arguments that militarization has gone too far and two weeks later a nutcase runs into LAX and starts killing people. So you can say, Yeah it’s gone too far. But why has it gone too far? Has it gone too far because the police have done it or because nutcases go into an area and start shooting people? So I’m not sure you’re ever going to get the actual answer to that, but the fact of the matter is there are crazy people out there, there are crazy people that have guns, and somebody has to fix that problem when it happens.”
What offends local organizers, is not rescue training scenarios, but using political protesters as fodder for crowd control training. And there are no trainings at police departments nationwide, let alone Urban Shield, to de-escalate confrontations between civilians and police.
“There are no seminars, no workshops that are talking about how to disarm or interact with a young black man without murdering him,” Walton said. “There are no workshops thinking about how to concretely increase community safety without the use of these really intense surveillance tools and police weaponry that have been passed down through the military. So all these things are being normalized.”
After the vender show and seminars end on September 5, participating police forces will take part in more than 30 training exercises throughout the Bay Area. The police agencies are then ranked, as if in a competition.
“Part of this is that people are kind of naturally competitive,” Nelson said. “And two it tells you where your squad is at as far as completing the mission appropriately. ”
But Walton said, “These war games that they put on are highly problematic.”
Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern told the East Bay Express that the scenarios are created based on “threats” to local law enforcement made within the last five to 10 years. Yet what they consider threats is telling. EBX stated: “In past years, Urban Shield has featured hostage-taking scenarios involving animal rights activists, and the bombing of an oil platform by Anarchists.”
How Community Organizers Are Resisting Urban Shield
The real-life consequences of Urban Shield in Oakland, where police used stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets on Occupy protesters and a transit cop killed Oscar Grant, has set off community members, who formed a coalition to stop the event. The Stop Urban Shield coalition consists of community organizations that work with people largely affected by police militarization, such as the Arab Resource & Organizing Center and anti-prison industrial complex group Critical Resistance.
The Stop Urban Shield coalition has been in communication with the Oakland Marriot, and has a petition urging it not to host Urban Shield. They have also asked people to call general manger Lisa Kershner and ask her to stop the event. The event, however, is not being canceled, so the coalition has organized a rally that will take place outside the convention center on September 5.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls. But I think what people are not understanding is we cannot stop the group this close to the date,” said Nicole Hankton, marketing manager for the Oakland Marriot. “We would owe them a great deal of money if we canceled their contract this close to the date.”
Hankton said that organizers approached them only two weeks before the event, and the convention center is under the second year of its two-year contract for Urban Shield.
Karen Boyd, a spokesperson for the city of Oakland, said the city would “prefer not to have it,” but the contract is with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Still, the city’s ability to pull strings when it comes to Urban Shield is unclear. While the city council may not approve of the event, an East Bay Express piece stated that last year the Oakland City Council had to approve $200,000 worth of expenditures and reimbursements for Oakland’s police and fire departments' participation in Urban Shield.
Hankton said the organizers’ concerns are valid, and the Oakland Marriot may have some power not to host Urban Shield in years to come.
“In conjunction with the city, we can make a determination,” Hankton said. “We said that to them in the meeting.”
Yet, J.D. Nelson of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said that Urban Shield will not be taking place at the Oakland Marriot next year, but elsewhere in Alameda County. He said he isn’t sure of the new location and that the change was not due to activism surrounding the event.
“There were concerns last year and we came back this year,” Nelson said. “It was based on availability.”
Obtaining clear information on who has the decision-making power over Urban Shield, Kamau Walton said, has been the biggest obstacle to organizing resistance.
“We’re looking to hold everyone accountable and in addition increase the transparency to what they’re doing with our tax dollars, and with the positions of power we put them into,” Walton said. “Whether we’re consumers, constituents or community members in the places where they work, it is important that we know what they are doing.”
Building a Movement to Stop Police Militarization
Walton said organizers are interested in having talks with the city council when it returns from August recess. They’ve already filed FOIAs to get more information on OPD’s inventory. In the meantime, they are focused on building up a sustained movement to protest Urban Shield, demilitarizing the OPD, and increasing community participation in public safety matters.
“Even if Urban Shield is going on this year, we want to show our power to ensure that it does not happen next year,” Walton said. “ And whether Urban Shield happens or not, the city of Oakland already has militarized tools in their arsenal. So we’re continuing to highlight the issue of highly militarized policing here and across the U.S.”
Perhaps most importantly, Oakland organizers resisting Urban Shield have identified a source of militarization in their communities and they aren’t allowing it to sneak through. Walton encourages others who want to resist militarization to check if their local to international police departments are attending the Bay Area’s Urban Shield or other Urban Shield events held annually in Boston and Texas. It’s also vital to be on the lookout for other sources of militarization.
“As we have seen before in the city of Oakland, when different initiatives or efforts are put out there, whether that’s gang injunctions or Urban Shield, the powers-that-be try to slide those things through without necessarily getting public input,” Walton said. “But we need to have a broader conversation about what the impact of things like this are on our community members on a day-to-day basis.”
The Stop Urban Shield rally will take place Friday, September 5, in front of the Oakland Marriot City Center from 4-6pm.Related Stories
With last week's news that Earth’s resources have slipped into an "ecological deficit" for the rest of 2014, many countries around the world have come under scrutiny for taking more from nature then their own ecosystems can supply.
What exactly is this ecological debt? Essentially, it means we have used up all the planet’s natural resources available for an entire year—think deforestation, soil erosion and carbon dioxide emissions—so now we’re running a deficit. In other words, human consumption has exceeded our planet’s capacity to regenerate. The calculations are based on dividing the amount of ecological resources the planet is able to provide in a year by humanity’s demand and multiplying it by 365.
It is now estimated that 86% of the world's population live in countries that require more from nature than their ecosystems can provide. According to the Global Footprint Network, if everybody were to live like Americans, it would take four Earths to support the global population. The U.S. was ranked 33 on the 2014 environmental performance index (EPI). Consequently, several countries have begun to adopt the ecological footprint model, which demonstrates the energy and resources consumed in each country per person to raise awareness and educate populations about resource demand.
In the interest of curbing our own ecological overspending, here’s a list of 12 countries with ecologically sustainable policies.
1. Iceland. Iceland scores high on the EPI for its commendable sustainable development policies on climate change, for limiting greenhouse gases and for its clean energy economy which has been a magnet for foreign industrial investments with regards to modernizing aluminum smelters.
Iceland is renowned for transforming its energy system so that 100% of its electricity production as well as all its house heating is now provided by domestic renewable energy resources of hydroelectric power (thanks to its abundance of rivers) and geothermal reserves. It also has low air pollution, high water quality and runs hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses in the capital of Reykjavik, increasing its sustainability. The country’s greenhouse agriculture has also diversified the farming sector enabling the country to enjoy the domestic production of tomatoes, cucumber and peppers.
2. Switzerland. Switzerland topped the 2014 EPI list for its ecological and green policies, even though it is “resource constrained” by virtue of its fenced-in geographical location. But thanks to some innovative environmental management practices, Switzerland has become one of the most sustainable nations in the world in the areas of climate change, biodiversity and habitat protection. Over the past five years, the Swiss introduced 15 regional parks with two additional national parks underway, scoring higher than any other country for protected terrestrial areas. It also houses the densest rail network in Europe and provides free recycling services while charging for routine garbage collection.
Thirty-one percent of the country is covered in forests, which provides a lucrative timber industry creating hundreds of thousands of jobs —most Swiss homes are constructed of wood. More than half of its domestic electricity production comes from hydropower plants and another 40% from nuclear power. In 2013, it reset its goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, Huffington Post reported.
3. Costa Rica. This tropical wildlife haven is one of the most ecologically sustainable countries in the world, thanks to its renowned rainforest conservation programs and the government’s dedication to preserving its forest and water systems—25% of the land is protected as reserves and national parks. According to the United Nations, Costa Rica produces over 90% of its electricity through renewable means such as hydroelectric, geothermal and wind power.
The country also uses the capital from its vehicle stamp duty, gas tax and energy fees toward natural resource management and air water protection programs. The ministry’s focus on environmental management has allowed the nation to improve its sustainability performance and maintain some 10,000 species of plants and 800 butterfly species, according to Carbon Pig. The country supports nearly 5% of the world’s biodiversity despite its size and even compensates landowners for protecting their trees and planting new ones.
4. Sweden. Sweden scores top marks as an ecological-friendly performer particularly in the areas of environmental health, forestry and water management. Last year it was ranked the most sustainable country in the world by sustainability investment firm Robecosam because of its use of renewable energy sources, low carbon dioxide emissions and green government policies. According to the International Energy Agency, 44% of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources.
The Swedish government is composed of numerous ministries which are each tasked with enforcing clean energy sources, carrying out green-friendly public transportation in their rail networks and ensuring high quality healthcare services. The country also charges a carbon tax to discourage oil use. Last year, the Swedish government set an ambitious goal of phasing out fossil fuels by 2020 and having zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
5. Luxembourg. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world with the smallest population, Luxembourg prides itself on its ecological sustainable policies. In the 2014 EPI, the country scored 100% on access to drinking water and sanitation and took in second place overall on the environment performance index. It also achieved the Convention on Biological Diversity’s international target of protecting 17% of terrestrial habitats, Huffington Post reported. Policymakers approved its national plan for sustainable development in 1999, which has been highly effective in monitoring sustainable development indicators.
Luxembourg has also been commended for establishing a program to subsidize renewable energy. Recently this month, it increased its subsidies for green energy including biogas and solid biomass in a bid to work toward long-term future of certain hydro and biogas installations.
6. Germany. While Germany’s renewable energy transition program Energiewende has been criticized for extravagant costs on the economy and recent surge in greenhouse gas emissions as the country phases out nuclear energy, the Germans set a new record on green energy in the first half of 2014 by producing 28.5% of the country's energy entirely from renewable sources, Time reported. Germany, which is considered Europe’s green leader, has undergone a massive shift in the way it produces energy as it sets out to become powered entirely on solar, wind, hydro and biomass energy sources. The country also received top marks in the environmental performance index for water quality and access to sanitation and waste.
7. Cuba. Due in part to embargo restrictions, Cuba had to fend for itself developing sustainable architecture and agriculture, which began in the early ‘90s after the country passed a law which started a lengthy process dedicated to environmental performance. Cuba was the only country in the world rated as having sustainable development in 2006 by the World Wildlife Fund Living Planet report, because it met the two underlying criteria of the Human Development Index and the ecological footprint, Carbon Pig reported.
The government’s effective and persistent management of natural resources over the years have led to its status today as one of the world’s most ecologically sustainable countries. Cuba is also home to Goldman Prize winner Humberto Ríos Labrada, a scientist and biodiversity researcher who worked with farmers to increase crop diversity and develop low-input agricultural systems which shifted Cuba’s dependency on chemicals toward sustainability, Tree Hugger reported.
8. Colombia. Colombia is considered the second most biologically diverse nation globally and is home to 10 percent of the world’s species. The country came under criticism in the early 2000s for its high rate of deforestation, losing some 200,000 hectares of natural forest a year. In recent times, however, Colombia has become a leader in ecologically sustainable development with its fuel-efficient mass transit and the government's commitment to increased ecosystem restoration projects such as erosion control, biodiversity recovery and eradication of exotic species.
This month, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that Colombia’s Inirida Fluvial Star, the world’s most important wetlands, will now be protected from mining threats thanks to the government’s strong conservation and advocacy efforts.
9. Singapore. Singapore’s emergence as a sustainable development leader sprang from having to cope with a congested population of over 5 million in a tiny 671-square-kilometer radius land mass. This highly urbanized country has been forced to focus on its resource consumption by undertaking aggressive and long-term land use planning measures, making the most progress in terms of climate change and energy regulations, Huff Post reported.
Singapore has committed itself to recycling 80% of its waste by 2030 in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which sets several green targets including a 35% improvement in energy efficiency and 80% of its buildings certified as green. Singapore also scores exceptionally high on the 2014 EPI when it comes to air quality control, sanitation and wastewater treatment. Unfortunately, the country is one of the worst offenders when it comes to biodiversity and habitat protection.
10. France. Some may be surprised to see France make this list in light of its controversial nuclear program. Yet, in terms of climate change, the cultural capital ranks highly for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions through its nuclear power energy program, which does not produce any carbon emissions.
During his election campaign last year, Francois Hollande called to reduce nuclear power to 50% of France’s supply by 2025. A new law on energy transition announced earlier this month has set ambitious targets to increase renewable energy to 32% by 2030, reduce CO2 emissions by 40% and consumption of fossils fuels by 30% by 2030. France’s stringent legislative policies to keep its air quality in check are also commendable: Paris banned half of all cars over air pollution fears in March.
11. Norway. Like many of the Nordic countries, Norway’s progressive environmental legislation and policies have made it one of the most sustainable nations globally. To date, the country has donated $1.6 billion to global rainforest conservation and is the largest foreign donor to tropical rainforests. The Climate and Pollution Agency upholds a wide-ranging database of environmental performance indicators with information on its environmental progress. Yet, despite a carbon tax, Norway reported a rise in carbon emissions over the past 20 years prompting a renewed commitment by the country to developing an economy-wide energy efficiency strategy and also reviewing its transport taxes and exemptions, according to the OECD.
12. Finland. Finland is one of the most sustainable developed countries in the world due to its massive biological capacity and abundance of forests, which luckily service a very small population. The country is one of only a handful where its overall consumption of resources is smaller than production per capita, according to a recently released report by Helsinki Times. In 2014, Finland hosted the ninth European Conference on ecological restoration with a focus on its effective ecosystem services and land use policies.Related Stories
Evil scares us. Arguably our best horror stories, the ones that give us nightmares, are about evil people doing evil things—especially evil experiments. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is a classic that comes to mind. In modern cinema, movies like The Human Centipede continue that gruesome tradition. But these are fictional. The truth is that we need only look at recent human history to find real, live, utterly repugnant evil. Worse yet, it is evil perpetrated by doctors.
Here are 10 of the most evil experiments ever performed on human beings—black and other people of color, women, prisoners, children and gay people have been the predominant victims.
1. The Tuskegee Experiments
There's a good reason many African Americans are wary of the good intentions of government and the medical estblishment. Even today, many believe the conspiracy theory that AIDS, which ravaged the African-American community, both gay and straight, was created by the government to wipe out African Americans. What happened in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1932 is one explanation for these fears.
At the time, treatments for syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that causes pain, insanity and ultimately, death, were mostly toxic and ineffective (things like mercury, which caused, kidney failure, mouth ulcers, tooth loss, insanity, and death). Government-funded doctors decided it would be interesting to see if no treatment at all was better than the treatments they were using. So began the Tuskegee experiments.
Over the course of the next 40 years, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male denied treatment to 399 syphilitic patients, most of them poor, black, illiterate sharecroppers. Even after penicillin emerged as an effective treatment in 1947, these patients, who were not told they had syphilis, but were informed they suffered from “bad blood,” were denied treatment, or given fake placebo treatments. By the end of the study, in 1972, only 74 of the subjects were still alive. Twenty eight patients died directly from syphilis, 100 died from complications related to syphilis, 40 of the patients' wives were infected with syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.
2. The Aversion Project
They didn’t like gay people in apartheid-era South Africa. Especially in the armed forces. How they got rid of them is shocking. Using army psychiatrists and military chaplains, who were, presumably privy to private, “confidential” confessions, the apartheid regime flushed out homosexuals in the armed forces. But it did not evict them from the military. The homosexual “undesirables” were sent to a military hospital near Pretoria, to a place called Ward 22 (which in itself sounds terrifying).
There, between 1971 and 1989, many victims were submitted to chemical castrations and electric shock treatment, meant to cure them of their homosexual “condition.” As many as 900 homosexuals, mostly 16-24 years old who had been drafted and had not voluntarily joined the military, were subjected to forced “sexual reassignment” surgeries. Men were surgically turned into women against their will, then cast out into the world, the gender reassignment often incomplete, and without the means to pay for expensive hormones to maintain their new sexual identities.
The head of this project, Dr. Aubrey Levin, went on to become a clinical professor at the University of Calgary. That is until 2010, when his license was suspended for making sexual advances towards a male student. He was sentenced to five years in prison for other sexual assaults (against males).
3. Guatemalan STD Study
Syphilis seemed to bring out the inherent racism in government-funded doctors in the 1940s. Tuskegee's black people weren’t the only victims of morally reprehensible studies of this disease. Turns out Guatemalans were also deemed suitable unknowing guinea pigs by the U.S. government.
Penicillin having emerged as a cure for syphilis in 1947, the government decided to see just how effective it was. The way to do this, the government decided, was to turn syphilitic prostitutes loose on Guatemalan prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers, none of whom consented to be subjects of an experiment. If actual sex didn’t infect the subject, then surreptitious inoculation did the trick. Once infected, the victim was given penicillin to see if it worked. Or not given penicillin, just to see what happened, apparently. About a third of the approximately 1,500 victims fell into the latter group. More than 80 “participants” in the experiment died.
The Guatemalan study was led by John Charles Cutler, who subsequently participated in the later stages of Tuskegee. In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally apologized to Guatemala for this dark chapter in American history.
4. Agent Orange Experiments
Prisoners, like people of color, have often been the unwilling objects of evil experiments. From 1965 to 1966, Dr. Albert Kligman, funded by Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, and the U.S. Army, conducted what was deemed “dermatological research” on approximately 75 prisoners. What was actually being studied was the effects of Agent Orange on humans.
Prisoners were injected with dioxin (a toxic byproduct of Agent Orange)—468 times the amount the study originally called for. The results were prisoners with volcanic eruptions of chloracne (severe acne combined with blackheads, cysts, pustules, and other really bad stuff) on the face, armpits and groin. Long after the experiments ended, prisoners continued to suffer from the effects of the exposure. Dr. Kligman, apparently very enthusiastic about the study, was quoted as saying, “All I saw before me were acres of skin… It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.” Kligman went on to become the doctor behind Retin-A, a major treatment for acne.
5. Irradiation of Black Cancer Patients
During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union spent much of their time trying to figure out if they could survive a nuclear catastrophe. How much radiation could a human body take? This would be important information for the Pentagon to know, in order to protect its soldiers in the event they were crazy enough to start an atomic holocaust. Enter the seeming go-to government choice for secret experimentation: unknowing African Americans.
From 1960 until 1971, Dr. Eugene Saenger, a radiologist at the University of Cincinnati, led an experiment exposing 88 cancer patients, poor and mostly black, to whole body radiation, even though this sort of treatment had already been pretty well discredited for the types of cancer these patients had. They were not asked to sign consent forms, nor were they told the Pentagon funded the study. They were simply told they would be getting a treatment that might help them. Patients were exposed, in the period of one hour, to the equivalent of about 20,000 x-rays worth of radiation. Nausea, vomiting, severe stomach pain, loss of appetite, and mental confusion were the results. A report in 1972 indicated that as many as a quarter of the patients died of radiation poisoning. Dr. Saenger recently received a gold medal for “career achievements” from the American College of Radiology.
6. Slave Experiments
It should be no surprise that experiments were often conducted on human chattel during America’s shameful slavery history. The man considered the father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, conducted numerous experiments on female slaves between 1845 and 1849. The women, afflicted with vesico-vaginal fistulas, a tear between the vagina and the bladder, suffered greatly from the condition and were incontinent, resulting in societal ostracism.
Because Sims felt the surgery was, “not painful enough to justify the trouble,” as he said in an 1857 lecture, the operations were done without anesthesia. Being slaves, the women had no say as to whether they wanted the procedures or not, and some were subjected to as many as 30 operations. There are many advocates for Dr. Sims, pointing out that the women would have been anxious for any possibility of curing their condition, and that anesthetics were new and unproven at the time. Nevertheless, it is telling that black slaves and not white women, who presumably would have been just as anxious, were the subjects of the experiments.
7. “The Chamber”
Back to the Cold War. Prisoners were again the victims, as the Soviet Secret Police conducted poison experiments in Soviet gulags. The Soviets hoped to develop a deadly poison gas that was tasteless and odorless. At the laboratory, known as “The Chamber," unknowing and unwilling prisoners were given preparations of mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, and other concoctions, hidden in meals, beverages or given as “medication.” Presumably, many of these prisoners were not happy with their meals, although, being the gulag, records are spotty. The Secret Police apparently did finally come up with their dream poison, called C-2. According to witnesses, it caused actual physical changes (victims became shorter), and victims subsequently weakened and died within 15 minutes.
8. World War II: Heyday of Evil Experiments
While evil experiments may have been going on in the U.S. during World War II (Tuskegee, for example), it’s hard to argue that the Nazis and the Japanese are the indisputable kings of evil experimentation. The Germans, of course, conducted their well-known experiments on Jewish prisoners (and, to a much lesser extent, Romany people and homosexuals and Poles, among others) in their concentration/death camps. In 1942, the Luftwaffe submerged naked prisoners in ice water for up to three hours to study the effects of cold temperatures on human beings and to devise ways to rewarm them once subjected.
Other prisoners were subjected to streptococcus, tetanus and gas gangrene. Blood vessels were tied off to create artificial “battlefield” wounds. Wood shavings and glass particles were rubbed deep into the wounds to aggravate them. The goal was to test the effectiveness of sulfonamide, an antibacterial agent. Women were forcibly sterilized. More gruesomely, one woman had her breasts tied off with string to see how long it took for her breastfeeding child to die. She eventually killed her own child to stop the suffering. And there is the infamous Josef Mengele, whose experimental “expertise” was on twins. He injected various chemicals into twins, and even sewed two together to create conjoined twins. Mengele escaped to South America after the war and lived until his death in Brazil, never answering for his evil experiments.
Not to be outdone, the Japanese killed as many as 200,000 people during numerous experimental atrocities in both the Sino-Japanese War and WWII. Some of the experiments put the Nazis to shame. People were cut open and kept alive, without the assistance of anesthesia. Body limbs were amputated and sewn on other parts of the body. Limbs were frozen and then thawed, resulting in gangrene. Grenades and flame-throwers were tested on living humans. Various bacteria and diseases were purposely injected into prisoners to study the effects. Unit 731, led by Commander Shiro Ishii, conducted these experiments in the name of biological and chemical warfare research. Before Japan surrendered, in 1945, the Unit 731 lab was destroyed and the prisoners all executed. Ishii himself was never prosecuted for his evil experiments, and in fact was granted immunity by Douglas MacArthur in exchange for the information Ishii gained from the experiments.
9. The Monster Study
Add children to the list of vulnerable people subjected to evil experiments. In 1939, Wendell Johnson, University of Iowa speech pathologist, and his grad student Mary Tudor, conducted stuttering experiments on 22 non-stuttering orphan children. The children were split into two groups. One group was given positive speech therapy, praising them for their fluent speech. The unfortunate other group was given negative therapy, harshly criticizing them for any flaw in their speech abilities, labeling them stutterers.
The result of this cruel experiment was that children in the negative group, while not transforming into full-fledged stutterers, suffered negative psychological effects and several suffered from speech problems for the rest of their lives. Formerly normal children came out of the experiment, dubbed “The Monster Study,” anxious, withdrawn and silent. Several, as adults, eventually sued the University of Iowa, which settled the case in 2007.
10. Project 4.1
Project 4.1 was a medical study conducted on the natives of the Marshall Islands, who in 1952 were exposed to radiation fallout from the Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, which inadvertently blew upwind to the nearby islands. Instead of informing the residents of the island of their exposure, and treating the victims while they studied them, the U.S. elected instead just to watch quietly and see what happened.
At first the effects were inconclusive. For the first 10 years, miscarriages and stillbirths increased but then returned to normal. Some children had developmental problems or stunted growth, but no conclusive pattern was detectable. After that first decade, though, a pattern did emerge, and it was ugly: Children with thyroid cancer significantly above what would be considered normal. By 1974, almost a third of exposed islanders developed tumors. A Department of Energy report stated that, “The dual purpose of what is now a DOE medical program has led to a view by the Marshallese that they were being used as ‘guinea pigs’ in a ‘radiation experiment.’”
Cat Nelson* took her first shot of heroin when she was 13 years old. By 17, she was using drugs regularly. By 20, she was in and out of rehab, trying to get clean. Today she is 28. She has legal problems. She has been homeless. She does sex work to support her habit. She has hepatitis C. And she still uses drugs.
She wants to stop.
Cat’s story is all too common, especially as addiction to opiates such as pain pills and heroin continues to skyrocket all over the country. Kids are starting young, getting hooked and spending years trying to get clean. Some will succeed. Some will not. All will be left with emotional and physical scars. But for many, the stigma of drug use, of being crushed under society’s collective judgment and condemnation, is worse than anything.
“When you are a drug user, society tells you that you are worth nothing,” says Cat, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It makes it harder to get help because you are so afraid of judgment and rejection.”
Worse for Women
For female drug users, the stigma can be particularly acute. There are fewer treatment options available for women. Women are more likely than men to be asked for sex in exchange for drugs. Women with children are often condemned as bad mothers and under the constant threat that their children will be taken away.
Verna Gaines, a former drug user from Atlanta, Georgia who is now 20 years clean, did lose her children during the 12 years she struggled with crack addiction. “Women with children are stigmatized worse than anybody,” she says. “When I was using drugs I was terrified to ask for help because I thought if I told someone, I would lose my kids.”
Tracey Helton, a former drug user from San Francisco, says that even when she was buying her own drugs, other dealers or users often expected or demanded sex. She started using drugs at 17 years old after getting her wisdom teeth pulled. From popping doctor-prescribed opiates she went to street drugs and eventually to the street itself. She spent eight years trying to stay high so she wouldn’t feel sick, before a residential treatment program helped her stop. Now 16 years clean, a happy mother with three children, Helton is a far cry from the tomboyish 25-year-old heroin user featured in the documentary, Black Tar Heroin: Dark End of the Street. But the stigma of drug use still haunts her, as she writes in her blog about parenting and recovery: “I was so depressed at the time, sleeping in an alley. I just stayed like that for days crusted in my own blood. No one tried to help me. No one cared.”
Killing Addiction with Kindness
Gaines and Helton lived for many years in what most people would call rock bottom before they recovered. They grappled with homelessness, prison, disease, loss of children, and loss of dignity. Yet what helped them climb out of it was not punishment, but kindness.
Verna Gaines recalls reaching out for help one night after selling her last possession, her car, for drugs. “I was walking down the street looking for crack and crying hysterically,” she says. “I called a 1-800 hotline and they talked to me for hours. They were actually nice to me. Then I called my mom at 3am. ‘I’m on my way,’ she said. I went to the hospital, and then to NA meetings and with my family supporting me, I got clean.”
Most people understand that constantly berating a person who is overweight can lead to psychological trauma that causes compulsive behaviors like overeating. Yet we think if we could just remind drug users one more time how weak and selfish they are, if we could inflict just a little more pain, they will stop. In reality, such tactics usually have the opposite effect.
“People think that if [drug users] get sick enough, if they punish us enough, if they hurt us enough, we’ll get better, but it’s the negative consequences that make us worse,” says Louise, a 38-year-old drug user from Greensboro, North Carolina. “When you take away all the good we have in our lives then all we have left is to say is fuck it, and use drugs. I’m now a felon. I don’t have the opportunities I had before. I have court dates every other week. I’ve got police harassing me every time I walk out my door. Those aren’t things that make people want to do better with their life….When I get upset, that is when I am most likely to want to use drugs.”
People talk about tough love, but there is no love in denying drug users employment opportunities, locking them in jails and prisons, trampling their basic human rights and dignity, and hoping somehow (if they manage to live through all that) they will turn things around. Stigmatizing drug users can discourage people from seeking help because they are too ashamed. So why do we keep doing it?
“It’s frustrating to watch someone with mental illness or addiction go through it,” says Cat. “Sometimes I understand the anger towards people who use drugs. I get frustrated with them too and I know what they are going through.”
It is understandable to feel frustration toward people living with addiction. Even the most compassionate among us feel frustrated from time to time. But that doesn’t make it right or effective in helping people to control, reduce, or stop their drug use.
Verna Gaines now works for a harm reduction agency in Atlanta where people using drugs can go for help with anything from counseling to disease prevention to sobriety. No one forces them or pressures them to stop using drugs. But with kindness and trust, many of them do.
“I have a client who comes into our drop-in center who I thought would never get clean,” Gaines says. “I think he had given up on himself. But we kept showing him love and one day he came in and said he was ready to stop using. I think if you show a person love and support, they will start to love themselves enough to get clean. The 12 steps program worked for me, but showing a person they matter, meeting them where they are at and allowing them to make that decision works too.”
In her free time, Tracey Helton connects with drug users on the Internet through her blog and other social media. Many of them stopped using, at least for a time, after talking to her. “Some people tell me I am the first person they talked to about their addiction because they were so ashamed,” she says. “Having that person who is not judgmental can make a huge difference.”
Cat says she is open about her addiction as often as possible to show people that she is a decent human being, despite her struggle with drug use. “When people get to know me I tell them I am addicted to drugs so they see that we aren’t all bad people,” she says.
Stigma against drug users is still abundant, but there are signs of hope. Public opinion is shifting toward a more understanding position on drug use. Drug laws are loosening in some states, because people are beginning to recognize that these laws create a second-class society of people with criminal records who can’t get jobs.
“People are realizing that the war on drugs is a failure,” Helton says. “They also are starting to see that drug use is a medical issue, not a character defect. Yes, people need to take personal responsibility for their behavior, but society also needs to create a system that treats addiction like we treat other health problems that are precipitated by poor choices, like diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Those poor choices need intervention. Thankfully we are starting to see changes with things like naloxone programs, states passing laws that help people call 911 for an overdose, and expanded services that include addiction treatment, suboxone and other opiate replacement medications.”
More than anything, we need to understand that there is hope and value in every person who lives with addiction. No one is a lost cause. As addiction and drug use continue to creep into our communities, our families and ourselves, be kind. Love is much stronger than hate.
Tracey writes in her blog, “I am not the sum of any guilty, shameful thing. I am not the sum of all the things that I have done, I have endured, I have witnessed, I have enjoyed. I will thrive despite my imperfections. I am a woman.”
*Name has been changed.Related Stories
Earlier this week, Playboy announced plans to rebrand its Web content in order to get on the “shareability” train, indicating that the site would focus more on safe-for-work lifestyle pieces in addition to its traditional “girl content” (which has since been shrouded by new front-page items such as “Why Do Guys Like MILFs?”). While the transition to SFW content shouldn’t come as much of a surprise (this isn’t the first time Playboy has tried to make its site office-appropriate, after all), one article in particular shows a surprising change of tone. The post, a handy flowchart titled “Should You Catcall Her?,” is sort of … well, it’s sort of feminist.The chart explains when it’s acceptable to make explicit or sexually suggestive comments to women on the street. Your thought, reader, might be “Never,” which isn’t necessarily off-base. But Playboy’s answer, shockingly, is a bit more nuanced, and offers a concise lesson in consent. The infographic essentially concludes that yelling at a woman on the street is only acceptable if and when she has said, in no uncertain terms, that she would like to be yelled at on the street — oh, and it has to be a two-way street, so she can yell right back. Unless the woman has said explicitly that it’s OK to be explicit — or unless potential catcallers are interacting with cats instead of human women — Playboy tells readers plainly, “Nope. Don’t do it.” Pretty solid advice.
There have been plenty of other helpful guides to avoiding street harassment; Playboy’s is not the best. But, considering it was posted on a site that has literally made a joke of consent before, the chart could be a sign that Playboy’s new SFW model is more overtly socially conscious than posts that readers are more likely to keep to themselves.
When you think of the “deadliest drug,” what do you picture? Do you imagine dirty needles and pill bottles strewn across the floor? Do scenes from Hollywood's dingiest heroin and crack dens (a la Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream) flash through your mind?
If so, you’ve been misled.
Alcohol is the most dangerous drug out there. No other drugs—not meth, not heroin, not crack, and certainly not psychedelics like MDMA—even come close. It tops the charts in everything from addiction, to deadly accidents, to the increased likelihood of homicide, rape, partner violence and violence against women in general.
Here are five ways booze is deadlier than the many drugs the US government criminalizes and deems most dangerous.
1. More murders happen under the influence of alcohol than other drugs. Alcohol is behind more homicides than “every other substance, combined,” as Harold Pollack put it recently in a Washington Post article. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD), federal research shows alcohol was a factor in the homicides committed by 40 percent of convicted murderers being held in jail or state prison in the US. In the US, about 40% of people serving time for violent offenses were drinking at the time of their crime.
“Among those who had been drinking, average blood-alcohol levels were estimated to exceed three times the legal limit,” Pollack reported.
2. Murder victims often have alcohol in their systems. Victims of homicide are more likely to have alcohol in their systems than another drug. This is most likely because of the way alcohol use impairs judgement, increasing the chances of becoming the victim of violence. As Pollack put it:
“You’re less likely to leave that cutting remark unanswered. If you’re unfit to drive, you’re more willing to accept that ride home from a helpful stranger.” Pollack cites recent data from the Illinois Violent Death Reporting System, showing the recent toxicology results for homicide victims in Illinois. His article summed up this trend in the following chart, which is based on research at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute on 3,016 homicides in five Illinois counties between 2005 and 2009:
As the chart shows, alcohol was found to be the sole drug in 34 percent of homicide victims’ systems. Alcohol and cocaine combined were found in 5 percent of victims, cocaine only in another 5 percent, and opiates in just 3 percent.
3. Violence associated with cocaine is decreasing, while crime associated with alcohol is on the rise. In the last 15 years, violent crime associated with cocaine use has been in decline while crime following alcohol consumption continues to increase. In Chicago’s Cook County Jail, positive cocaine screens “are down by about half when compared with ten or twenty years ago. The same is true in many other cities,” the Post reported.
According to the National Council on Alcholism and Drug Dependence, “Among violent crimes, the offender is far more likely to have been drinking than under the influence of other drugs, with the exception of robberies, where other drugs are likely to have been used such as alcohol.”
4. Alcohol use increases the chances of domestic violence, more than any other drug. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the link between alcohol abuse and both the prevalence and severity of domestic violence is undeniable. The World Health Organization says that, “Studies of intimate partner violence routinely identify the recent consumption of alcohol by perpetrators." A WHO fact sheet states that victims believed their partner to have been drinking prior to 55 percent of physical assaults in the US.
Meanwhile, scientists recently found that frequent cannabis use—which remains a federal felony—decreases the likelihood of domestic violence.
5. Alcohol is more likely to send you to an addiction treatment center than any other drug. According to the most current data listed on the National Institute on Drug Abuse website, alcohol accounts for the most admissions to drug abuse treatment centers in the US. In 2008, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Treatment Episode Data Set reported 41.4 percent of admissions were for alcohol while heroin and other opiates accounted for 20 percent of admissions. Marijuana came in third, at 17 percent; however, it’s likely that the majority of marijuana admissions occurred through court mandate, rather than necessity.
As AlterNet reported in August 2011:
“According to SAMHSA figures from 2009, 56 percent of the more than 350,000 people admitted to drug treatment for marijuana were referred by the criminal-justice system, such as after an arrest or probation violation. Only 15 percent were “self-referred,” seeking rehab voluntarily. For the 282,000 heroin admissions, the proportions were exactly the opposite: 55 percent came in on their own, and only 15 percent were referred by legal authorities. For crack, 36 percent of the about 130,000 admissions were self-referred, and 29 percent sent over by the criminal-justice system.”
While alcohol is not as addictive as heroin and cocaine, it is far more widely used than those substances, which explains the high admission rates. (In a NIDA-supported survey, 15 percent of people who use alcohol were found to develop a dependence issue. That figure was 17 percent for cocaine and 23 percent for heroin.)
While alcohol is more likely to cause a person to commit rape, murder, or partner violence, people who become dependent on drinking are able to seek treatment for their problem without fear of a felony record and prison time. So, it stands to reason that people with alcohol abuse issues are more likely to check themselves into a treatment center than people addicted to other substances. Meanwhile, the unlucky person who happens to become dependent on an illegal substance is treated like a criminal.Related Stories
What happened to Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri has resonated across the country with African Americans because all of us feel that it could have easily happened to any of us.
Every black person has their own story of racial profiling, especially black men. Any white person, not just police, engages in racial profiling when they suspect, avoid, follow, report or challenge a black person simply because of their race and their own idea of where black people "belong."
My own family is more typical than exceptional. I was about ten years old, and my family was living in a newly integrated part of Los Angeles in the 1960's. We had been on a family outing to the more exclusively white area of the San Fernando Valley. When returning at the end of the day, my father noticed a police car had begun following us. The police car followed us fully ten miles back to our neighborhood and didn't stop until my father pulled into the driveway of our own home.
As we exited the car, the officer got out to question my father. I remember hearing the officer ask my father, "Where do you live?" Insulted and incredulous, my father responded, "I'm standing in front of my home." After inspecting his driver license, the officer left. But he left my father standing there, embarrassed as a grown man, humiliated in front of his family, and reminded once more that in spite of his college education, middle class home and tidy children, he was no more than a criminal suspect in the eyes of America.
I had my own initiation freshman year at Harvard College. I had just left a matinee movie in Harvard Square and crossed the street into Harvard Yard to rendezvous with friends in Grays Hall (one of the Yard dorms). Suddenly, I noticed a strange sight, a Cambridge police car, with blue lights flashing, driving in the Yard! One of the things a freshman learns upon arriving at school is the unique legal boundaries that envelop most colleges in the United States: all campus buildings and students are policed by the University Police, non-students and the surrounding community is policed by the City of Cambridge Police. As I approached my destination, I surmised that a serious crime must have occurred in Grays Hall for the police to be violating that boundary.
But suddenly I heard the screeching halt of the tires and the metallic disembarkation of the officers and noticed, as they crouched behind their opened car doors, that they had their hands poised above their gun holsters. Now my heart began to race and a fog of disorientation dissolved into the bracing reality that I was the emergency. It was a cold winter day and I had my hands deep in the pockets of my overcoat. The officers barked out their orders for me to, "Take your hands out of your pockets, SLOWLY." As they cautiously approached me I could see the gathering crowd on the steps of Grays Hall watching nervously as the episode unfolded.
The officers demanded my identification. Fortunately, I was carrying my college ID card and was able to prove that I belonged on campus. As they relaxed and began to return to their cars, I had demands of my own. "Why did you stop me?" Dismissively, they tossed a "You fit the description" over their shoulder. There had been a report of an assault by a black man in a white coat in the subway station at Harvard Square. Yes, I fit the description. I was a black man.
This experience has stayed with me my entire life. It is a virtual rite of passage for every black boy. White boys lose their virginity, Jewish boys get bar mitvah'ed, and black boys have their first police stop. Now, I was a man.
This constant feeling of being under suspicion, under surveillance and perceived as a danger, is hard to shake. It first resulted in a rather comical experience that I had just a few months later. I was walking in the neighborhood where the campus and the community are indistinguishable. But I was apparently in front of a school-owned building because this incident involved the Harvard University Police. I was walking down a narrow side street about a block outside the Yard when I saw several Harvard Police cars with lights flashing and sirens sounding arriving from both directions.
Panic stricken and totally convinced they were coming for me, I froze; heart pounding out of my head, waiting for the first bullet to strike, when at least a dozen officers got out of their cars, ran towards me and then without a word, ran right past me and into the house behind me. I continued my journey but I would still not trust that next time they would be coming for me.
It is a testimony to the persistence of racial profiling that 35 years later (2009), on a street not far from that one, black Harvard professor (and close friend of President Barack Obama), Henry "Skip" Gates, would be arrested by Cambridge police officers for breaking and entering his own house. A white neighbor saw a suspicious black man forcing his way into a house. The police believed the white neighbor but disbelieved the professor who was in custody at the police department before he had the opportunity to prove that he belonged (in that house).
My next experience was also in a college community. A white female classmate and I were going to lunch, and I was driving. Before we could reach our destination, a city cop pulled us over. He didn't ask for my driver license or registration. He asked her, "Are you alright?" While I was stunned and dumbfounded, she figured it out before I did. He saw a black man driving a white woman and deemed she needed saving.
Finally, my son has had it harder than I did. He has had so many experiences he doesn't bother to tell me about them all. But this one was a gem. He and a friend were returning from a club late one night and got into a cab for a ride home. A few blocks away from the club, a police car pulled the cab over. Their first thought was that the cab driver had committed some traffic infraction. But instead of asking the driver for his license, the officers ordered my son and his friend to get out of the back seat and stand on the side walk.
Suddenly, they realized that the police weren't stopping the driver but the two of them. What was their crime? Apparently, "riding a taxi while black" had now been added to the catalogue of "_______while black" crimes. No charges, just a harassing "catch and release" action that is the most common outcome of these encounters.
The presumption of guilt and danger that is at the heart of racial profiling lays heavy upon every black person living in America. It changes our relationship with the world. We are constantly on guard against a charge, a confrontation, a challenge. Racial profiling does long-term damage to the self-image, self-esteem and ego of the African American.Related Stories
I got mad at my son for cutting his finger the other day. He had accidentally broken the lightbulb in a lamp he dropped while loading the car for college, after I told him— specifically—to get a tool to remove the socket, or he would cut himself doing it. He ignored me, tried to remove the socket and cut himself, of course. I was steaming about it for hours. Didn't even feel sorry for him.
It kills me when my kids don't listen to me. I have so many "I told you so" moments, and let me tell you, those moments give me no pleasure. I don’t handle them very well. I wish my kids would just listen to me in the first place. Haven't they learned that I am almost always right? I also find it impossible to resist telling them I told them so.
Tonight I heard an interview with James Foley’s mother on NPR. It is hard for me to believe she can even speak right now—yet she not only speaks, she says beautiful things. Foley’s parents have consistently said the most remarkably graceful, lovely things, starting the very day after the video of their son’s beheading in Syria surfaced. They have only said things celebrating him, his spirit, his work, his life, his accomplishments, his bravery, his desire to tell suffering people’s stories. His mother expressed huge gratitude to the released hostage who memorized James' letter to his parents, and was happy to report his state of mind was positive, even in captivity. I am in awe of the Foleys' grace about their murdered son.
Even though they told him not to go back to Syria.
His mother let that drop in the interview. The interviewer kind of led her there; it wasn’t like she was dying to say it. She said, “Of course, we didn’t want him to go back to Syria.” He had, after all, already been kidnapped and tortured in Libya for 44 days while documenting Qaddafi’s fall. It was terrible. He made it out, and then, lo and behold, he wanted to go back into another warzone. That must have killed his parents. Imagine the conversations. His mother acknowledged that James had had a privileged upbringing—meaning he had lots of other choices—but said he felt driven to tell the Syrian people’s stories. She was proud of that.
I have not heard one angry or resentful word from James Foley’s parents. Not one word of anger or blame. Not for Obama or the government for failing to rescue him, no resentment for his fellow hostages who are still alive, some freed, no "why my son, and not someone else’s?" I have not even heard them blame ISIS, for pete’s sake. No calls for vengeance, airstrikes or swift justice.
It reminds me of my friend Amy*, whose husband Ben* died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Almost made it out. Ran down 111 floors, then got killed by falling building parts. They found his body. Amy has three children, including my daughter’s preschool classmate at the time. I don’t think Amy ever gave a single crap about rooting out Al Qaeda, killing Osama bin Laden, or the war raged in her husband’s name.
I have seen other instances of exceptional grace shown by mothers whose children have been killed. I once interviewed a mother of a raped and murdered girl who visited her daughter’s rapists and murderers in prison, and came to understand that their lives had been terrible. She forgave them, vowed to help kids like them, started a support group for parents of murdered children, and fights for stricter gun control (ha!).
I can only imagine that James Foley’s parents achieved their state of grace and acceptance in stages. Foley was taken hostage by ISIS in November 2012. His parents must have run the scenario that he would not make it out alive through their heads over numerous sleepless nights between then and now. They must have practiced letting him go. You have to let your children go—even to their terrible fates.
Can I learn that? Can I outgrow the "I told you so" phase?
Now the Foleys just seem proud of the man their son became. He was someone who wanted to document atrocities and suffering; who helped keep his fellow hostages’ spirits up; who probably made a few mistakes along the way, and didn't always listen. He was someone who, unfortunately, died young, but lived a life of his own choosing. That's what we all want for our children—right?
*Names changed to protect privacy.Related Stories