Friday, May 30, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

“Yet another wake-up call”: Carbon pollution in Northern Hemisphere reaches record high

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/27/yet_another_wake_up_call_carbon_pollution_in_northern_hemisphere_reaches_record_high/

A new low (as in, high) for atmospheric CO2

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Carbon dioxide levels in the Northern Hemisphere reached a new milestone this April, the World Meteorological Organization announced Monday, with monthly atmospheric concentrations topping 400 parts per million for the first time in what’s believed to be millions of years.

The news itself will surprise few — without the significant mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, we all understand this to be the path we’re heading down — but symbolically, it packs a punch. “This should serve as yet another wakeup call about the constantly rising levels of greenhouse gases which are driving climate change. If we are to preserve our planet for future generations, we need urgent action to curb new emissions of these heat trapping gases,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement. “Time is running out.”

The WMO reiterated that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and in the ocean for even longer. From 2002 to 2012, the agency said, it was responsible for a full 85 percent of the increase in “radiative forcing” — the warming effect on the climate.

CO2 levels tend to spike in April, before spring vegetation arrives to absorb some of it. Monitoring stations in the Arctic have been recording monthly averages this high since 2012, but as recently as April of last year, CO2 levels exceed 400 ppm on only several days; this year marked the first time that the monthly average for the Northern Hemisphere, where the majority of man-made emissions occur, was firmly set above that threshold. And things look like they’ll continue to head in that direction: The global annual average, the WMO warned, will likely surpass 400 ppm by 2015 or 2016.

The Impossibility of Growth Demands a New Economic System

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/28-0

Why collapse and salvation are hard to distinguish from each other.


Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham(1).
 
Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems(2). It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained(3). But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and the pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, as the most accessible reserves have been exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable(4), the Ecuadorean government decided that oil drilling would go ahead in the heart of the Yasuni national park(5). It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as blackmail or you could see it as fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich: why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills(6), will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America(7).

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/28-0

It's not easy being green – especially if you're a Republican and that's your job

From The Guardian UK: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/28/republican-climate-change-deniers-bob-inglis

Bob Inglis wants climate change deniers to be more realistic. But can his 'free-market' environmentalism win GOP converts?

theguardian.com, Wednesday 28 May 2014

Ask Americans about "global warming", and a new study suggests that 13% more of them will think it's a bad thing compared to "climate change". That, it turns out, was Republicans' point: way back in 2002, a Republican pollster warned candidates and then-President George W Bush to avoid using the term "global warming" because people found it "frightening".

Since then, the debate about "climate change" has become a cultural battle and, out in the field, Republican midterm candidates are engaged in a contest to become its most strident deniers. Even on Twitter, Pat Sajak thinks you're an "unpatriotic racist" if you think climate change is a real problem.
But one Republican is trying to hold back the tide of his colleagues who continue to fall at the feet of the (largely) oil and coal industry-sponsored climate denial movement. Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, a Republican, is the movement's best advertisement – a real live conservative convert. His story has the arc of a religious experience, in part because it includes one.
Inglis says he was first asked to consider the possibility that climate change is real because of his son and the rest of his family – "and they're the ones who could change the locks," he told me last week – so he decided to listen. Then, as a member of the House Science committee, he went to Antarctica and saw the ice-core samples that tell the story of human's impact on the environment.

Lastly, he had a conversation with a Australian climatologist at the Great Barrier Reef, and it became clear to Inglis that there was a spiritual component to environmentalism that aligned with his conservative Christian faith and not the fuzzy "earth mother" New Age environmental stereotype. "I could see he worshipped the God of creation, and not the creation itself," he told me here, where we're both fellows at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics – and where I've seen him coast in wearing khakis and a helmet, looking for all the world like tofu-eating Obama voter.

Whether you think it's the Creator or the creation that matters, mere mortals are not doing a great job with protecting the environment – which translates not just into sad pictures of displaced animals, but into whole populations of humans displaced and dying. Unforunately, to Americans, that suffering seems distant and abstractly related to climate change, and the only aspect of Inglis's own conversion he could possibly replicate for another non-believer is to show them those ice-core samples. And even that's the same kind of physical evidence that keeps failing to convince people.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/28/republican-climate-change-deniers-bob-inglis

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Abortion should be free, safe and legal – for everyone

From New Statesman:  http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2014/05/abortion-should-be-free-safe-and-legal-everyone

Nobody should have to play the frightened victim to make basic choices about her future.

by Laurie Penny
Published 19 May, 2014


What does a good abortion look like? A few months ago, Emily Letts, a 25-year-old American clinic worker, filmed her surgical abortion and posted the video on the internet. In the clip, Letts smiles and hums throughout the procedure, which she chose to have simply because she did not want to bear a child. “I feel good,” she remarks when it’s over, shattering generations of anxiety and fear-mongering around reproductive choice with three simple words.

The idea that abortion might be a positive choice is still taboo. For some, the only way it can be countenanced is if the pregnancy is  an immediate threat to life or the result of rape – meaning that the woman involved didn’t want to have sex and as such does not deserve to be punished for the crime of acting on desire as a female. Even then, the person having the abortion is expected to be sorry for ever, to weep and agonise over the decision. In Britain, the Abortion Act 1967 obliges anyone seeking a termination to justify why continuing with a pregnancy poses a threat to her health and well-being or that of her existing offspring. “Because I don’t want to be pregnant” simply isn’t enough.

Hence the furore over the glamour model Josie Cunningham’s recent announcement, through the eyebrow-raising medium of the British tabloid press, that she is planning to terminate her pregnancy in order to have a shot at appearing on reality television. The national and international gossip media scrambled to excoriate Cunningham: this was the epitome of selfishness, a woman who would boast of having an abortion to further her career. We live in a society that fetishises “choice” while denying half the population the most fundamental choice of all – the choice over the autonomy of one’s body.

Women in Northern Ireland, where the Abortion Act 1967 does not apply, have just learned that – despite paying towards the NHS through their taxes – they will continue to be denied an abortion unless they can travel to England and fund it themselves. As a result of a high court ruling, hundreds of women each year will still find themselves having to take cheap red-eye flights to Heathrow and Manchester, scared and alone, to have procedures they may have gone into debt to afford.

In Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the world, the prospect of women having full control over their reproductive potential – the notion that we might be able to decide, without shame or censure, whether and when and if we have children or not – provokes fear among the powerful. When abortion is discussed in public, it is almost always in terms of individual morality or, more usually, of moral lapses on the part of whatever selfish, slutty women are demanding basic human rights this week. It is rarely discussed in terms of structural and economic inequality. Yet reproductive inequality remains the material basis for women’s second-class status in society. It affects every aspect of our future.

Continue reading at:  http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2014/05/abortion-should-be-free-safe-and-legal-everyone

Cut-Throat Capitalism: Welcome To the Gig Economy

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/cut-throat-capitalism-welcome-gig-economy

Economist Gerald Friedman warns that the much-hyped gig economy is a road to ruin for workers.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore May 27, 2014

The media are all abuzz with the changing nature of work. Exciting words like “creativity” and “adaptability” get thrown around, specifically in connection to the shift away from steady, full-time employment to a gig economy of freelancers and short-term contracts. Proponents of the gig economy, from the New York Times' Thomas Friedman to bright-eyed TED pundits, tout it as a welcome escape from the prison of the standard workweek and the strictures of corporate America. 

Working on a project-to-project basis will set you free, they tell us. Wired magazine has called it "the force that could save the American worker.”

But when you’re actually stuck in it, the gig economy looks quite different.

Consider the New York Freelancer’s Union: According to a report in the New York Times, 29 percent of the union’s New York City members earn less than $25,000 a year, and in 2010, 12 percent of members nationally received some type of public assistance. Turns out that life with no health benefits, vacation pay or retirement plan is not a rosy picture.

Writing for Fast Company, Sarah Kessler, who went undercover to hustle for work in the gig economy, put it this way:
“For one month, I became the ‘micro-entrepreneur’ touted by companies like TaskRabbit, Postmates, and Airbnb. Instead of the labor revolution I had been promised, all I found was hard work, low pay, and a system that puts workers at a disadvantage.”
What’s really going on is the desire of businesses to chop wages and benefit costs while also limiting their vulnerability to lawsuits, which can happen when salaried employees are mistreated. The burden of economic risk is shifted even further onto workers, who lose the security and protections of the New-Deal-era social insurance programs that were created when long-term employment was the norm.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/cut-throat-capitalism-welcome-gig-economy

Pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death by family

Sam Harris: The Problem with Islamic Fundamentalism are the Fundamentals of Islam.




From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/27/pregnant-pakistani-woman-stoned-to-death

'Honour killing' in broad daylight outside Lahore high court involved father and brothers, police say

Associated Press in Lahore theguardian.com, Wednesday 28 May 2014

A pregnant woman was stoned to death by her own family in front of a Pakistani high court on Tuesday for marrying the man she loved.

Nearly 20 members of the woman's family, including her father and brothers, attacked her and her husband with batons and bricks in broad daylight before a crowd of onlookers in front of the high court of Lahore, the police investigator Rana Mujahid said.

Hundreds of women are murdered every year in Muslim-majority Pakistan in so-called " honour killings" – carried out by husbands or relatives as a punishment for alleged adultery or other illicit sexual behaviour – but public stoning is extremely rare.

Mujahid said the woman's father has been arrested for murder and that police were working to apprehend all those who participated in the "heinous crime".

Another police officer, Naseem Butt, identified the slain woman as Farzana Parveen, 25, and said she had married Mohammad Iqbal against her family's wishes after being engaged to him for years.

Her father, Mohammad Azeem, had filed an abduction case against Iqbal, which the couple was contesting, her lawyer Mustafa Kharal said. He confirmed that she was three months pregnant.

Arranged marriages are the norm among conservative Pakistanis, who view marriage for love as a transgression.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a private group, said in a report last month that some 869 women were murdered in "honour killings" in 2013.

But even Pakistanis who have tracked violence against women expressed shock at the brutal and public nature of Tuesday's killing.

"I have not heard of any such case in which a woman was stoned to death, and the most shameful and worrying thing is that this woman was killed in front of a court," said Zia Awan, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist.

He said Pakistanis who commit violence against women are often acquitted or handed light sentences because of poor police work and faulty prosecutions.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/27/pregnant-pakistani-woman-stoned-to-death

Krugman: How American Capitalism Fails—and Northern European 'Socialism' Succeeds—at Job Creation

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/krugman-how-american-capitalism-fails-and-northern-european-socialism-succeeds-job-creation

And why that's not a story the mainstream media likes to tell.

By Janet Allon May 26, 2014

Paul Krugman wrote his column this morning in the New York Times from Europe, a place which—conservatives like Paul Ryan would like you to believe—demonstrates the complete failure of the welfare state. That's because, as Krugman points out, "Our political discourse is dominated by reverse Robin-Hoodism — the belief that economic success depends on being nice to the rich, who won’t create jobs if they are heavily taxed, and nasty to ordinary workers, who won’t accept jobs unless they have no alternative."

France, a country that the American media and conservatives particularly love to bash, is having particular success in employment rates. Krugman reports this "startling, little-known fact: French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely to have jobs than their U.S. counterparts."

Hmmm. There's a story you won't hear told in the mainstream media.

He continues: 
It wasn’t always that way. Back in the 1990s Europe really did have big problems with job creation; the phenomenon even received a catchy name, “Eurosclerosis.” And it seemed obvious what the problem was: Europe’s social safety net had, as Representative Paul Ryan likes to warn, become a “ hammock” that undermined initiative and encouraged dependency.

But then a funny thing happened: Europe started doing much better, while America started doing much worse. France’s prime-age employment rate overtook America’s early in the Bush administration; at this point the gap in employment rates is bigger than it was in the late 1990s, this time in France’s favor. Other European nations with big welfare states, like Sweden and the Netherlands, do even better.
What about young people? Doesn't America, with all of its problems, still kick France's ass when it comes to the employment rate of those younger than 25. Yes, Krugman concedes. Then he wonders if that is something we should be bragging about, since it is certainly due in part to the fact that French students receive a lot more financial aid for their education than American students do, so they are not immediately saddled with huge debt to work off, much less work their way through school.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/krugman-how-american-capitalism-fails-and-northern-european-socialism-succeeds-job-creation

“Bloodiest thing the world has seen”: David Cay Johnston on inequality’s looming disaster

From Salon: http://www.salon.com/2014/05/22/bloodiest_thing_the_world_has_seen_david_cay_johnston_on_inequalitys_looming_disaster/

Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston tells Salon how America's economic story could end -- and it isn't pretty

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Long before anyone knew the name Thomas Piketty, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston was plumbing the hidden depths of the American tax code, revealing the myriad ways it privileges the interests of corporations and the wealthy ahead of those of the 99 percent. Indeed, while it may sometimes feel as if economic inequality is the new trend, Johnston’s career reminds us that the great gulf that separates the rich from the rest in the contemporary United States didn’t happen overnight, but over a course of decades.

Despite coming out during the same year as “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” and “The Divide,” Johnston’s newest release, “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality,” is a different kind of inequality book. Rather than a sweeping overview of centuries of economic history, or an on-the-ground examination of how our justice system ignores the powerful while brutalizing the rest, Johnston’s book is a collection of essays, speeches and excerpts — a kind of inequality reader. Featuring insights from philosophers, economists, journalists, researchers and even politicians, “Divided” reminds us how inequality is one of those rare problems that truly matters to all of us, no matter what our interests or chosen field.

Earlier this week, Salon reached Johnston via telephone to discuss “Divided,” whether American democracy can survive such great economic disparities, and how returning to a more equal society is literally a matter of life and death. Our conversation follows, and has been slightly edited for clarity and length. In addition, Johnston followed up with further thoughts via email.

What inspired you to create this book?

I had done a trilogy on hidden aspects of the American economy, “Perfectly Legal,” which was about how the rich benefit from taxes, “Free Lunch,” about all the subsidies people didn’t know about that go to rich people and corporations, and “The Fine Print,” which was about restraint of trade and monopolies. And in speaking for the last 10 years around the country, one of the things I learned is that people didn’t understand that this isn’t just a function of numbers and whatnot; they didn’t understand there’s a whole structure that affects families, health, healthcare — which are different things — incarceration, opportunity, exposure to environmental hazards, wage theft and so, there was really a need here to give people a broad understanding of, well, “How did this come about, this incredible inequality that we didn’t have in this country until recent years?”

[After the interview, Johnston emailed to add: "My trilogy on the American economy explained many of the little-known, and often deceptive, laws, regulations and official practices. But inequality involves much more than what I had written about in the trilogy. I wanted to provide people with a broad understanding of the issues, ranging from limited opportunity and obstacles to achieving a modicum of prosperity, to the remarkably cruel and thoughtless policies of the Reagan era."]

In your introductory essay, you make a point of arguing that inequality is not natural, that it’s something we created and, by extensions, we can undo. But what would you say to those who, say, have read their Piketty and are thinking this kind of inequality is endemic to capitalism?

Well, Piketty — whose work I relied on for years and who substantiates a lot of things that I’ve written with his research — argues that the concentration of wealth will just continue and continue and continue. As Herbert Stein, Richard Nixon’s chief economic adviser, famously said, a trend will only continue as long as it can. We will either, through peaceful, rational means, go back to a system that does not take from the many to give to the few in all these subtle ways, or we will end up like 18th century France. And if we end up in that awful condition, it will be the bloodiest thing the world has even seen. So I think it’s really important to get a handle on this inequality. After all, since the end of the Great Recession, one-third of all income increases in this country went to just 16,000 households, 95 percent of it went to the top 1 percent, and the bottom 90 percent’s incomes fell, and they fell by 15 percent. So we need to recognize that there is a very, very serious problem here that has to get addressed. But it won’t just go on forever because if you follow that to its logical absurdity, one person ends up with 90 percent of the wealth in the world. And that’s not going to happen.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/22/bloodiest_thing_the_world_has_seen_david_cay_johnston_on_inequalitys_looming_disaster/

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Egyptian doctor to stand trial for female genital mutilation in landmark case

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/21/egyptian-doctor-fadl-trial-female-genital-mutilation-landmark-case

Raslan Fadl, a doctor in a Nile delta village, is accused of killing 13-year-old schoolgirl Sohair al-Bata'a in a botched operation

in Diyarb Bektaris theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 May 2014

A doctor is to stand trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation on Thursday, the first case of its kind in a country where FGM is illegal but widely accepted.

Activists warned this week that the landmark case was just one small step towards eradicating the practice, as villagers openly promised to uphold the tradition and a local police chief said it was near-impossible to stamp out.

Raslan Fadl, a doctor in a Nile delta village, is accused of killing 13-year-old schoolgirl Sohair al-Bata'a in a botched FGM operation last June. Sohair's father, Mohamed al-Bata'a, will also be charged with complicity in her death.

Fadl denies the charges, and claims Sohair died due to an allergic reaction to penicillin she took during a procedure to remove genital warts.

"What circumcision? There was no circumcision," Fadl shouted on Tuesday evening, sitting outside his home where Sohair died last summer. "It's all made up by these dogs' rights people [human rights activists]."

In the next village along, Sohair's parents had gone into hiding, according to their family. Her grandmother – after whom Sohair was named – admitted an FGM operation had taken place, but disapproved of the court case.

"This is her destiny," said the elder Sohair. "What can we do? It's what God ordered. Nothing will help now."

According to Unicef, 91% of married Egyptian women aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM, 72% of them by doctors, even though the practice was made illegal in 2008. Unicef's research suggests that support for the practice is gradually falling: 63% of women in the same age bracket supported it in 2008, compared with 82% in 1995.

But in rural areas where there is a low standard of education – like Sohair's village of Diyarb Bektaris – FGM still attracts instinctive support from the local population, who believe it decreases women's appetite for adultery.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/21/egyptian-doctor-fadl-trial-female-genital-mutilation-landmark-case

The right’s most ridiculous Elizabeth Warren smear to date

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/21/the_rights_most_ridiculous_elizabeth_warren_smear_to_date_partner/

Conservatives can label her a leftist all they want. She's a threat because she stands in the way of U.S. oligarchy

, The Globalist Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Have you heard the one about Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) being a leftist? Branding the junior senator from the U.S. state of Massachusetts with that term suggests to the rest of the world that she must be close to the camp of the Fidel Castros or some other anti-capitalist revolutionaries.
Just what is Mrs. Warren’s crime that warrants such castigation? Speaking up for the concerns of everyday Americans — consumers, debtors, working people, that’s what.

As the founding spirit behind the long-overdue establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau , Senator Warren saw to it that today’s Americans are finally able to avail themselves of the same consumer rights that have been considered as givens by their counterparts in Europe since the 1970s.

What makes the charge of labeling Warren a leftist almost comical is that, when Europeans started to pursue the issue of consumer rights, they were eager to emulate the world leader of the consumer movement at the time — the United States.

Since that time, the United States has pretty much abandoned one of its smartest inventions — and left it to the Europeans to carry the flag of consumer rights forward . (Note that a key reason why the European Commission is so reflexively maligned in the U.S. media is precisely that it has established itself as the key body to provide a check on expanding corporate powers in Europe and beyond.)

Are consumer rights “leftist”?

In modern mass societies, working on these issues is a truly vital matter.

It ensures that a nation’s citizens do not become powerless automatons who are haplessly pushed around by big corporations, pretty much at the latters’ free will.

Sadly, that is precisely what has happened in the United States ever since the days of the (mislabeled) “Reagan revolution.” The goal of Reagan’s backers was really the polar opposite of a revolution — moving the social progress achieved until then back as much as possible.

Since the early 1980s, the large corporations of America have seen to it, in a close collaboration with an ever-pliable U.S. Congress, that any further spreading of that consumer rights movement got stopped in its tracks.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/21/the_rights_most_ridiculous_elizabeth_warren_smear_to_date_partner/

"Busy Boys, Little Ladies" - Wait, What Decade Are We In Again?

Yet another reason why all the emphasis on gender oppresses women.

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/18-2

by Galen Sherwin


Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, signed legislation earlier this week that would provide professional development for teachers in "single-gender" classrooms.

This may sound innocuous — Who doesn't want better-trained teachers?

But the truth is that this is actually code for training teachers in the discredited philosophy that boys and girls are so fundamentally different that they need to be taught using radically different methods — methods that sound an awful lot like good old-fashioned sex stereotypes.

Here are a few examples of the type of "training" we're talking about, plucked from a complaint filed on Tuesday by the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida against the state's second-largest school district:
  • A professional development program run by the district that was required for all new teachers in single-sex classes included a session called "Busy Boys, Little Ladies" — geared toward kindergarten teachers. Another required session is simply called "Gender Differentiation: Boys and Girls Learn Differently."
  • Teachers were trained that girls are not good at abstract thinking and learn best through building relationships, while boys excel in concrete thinking and learn best through competition.
  • Teachers of boys were invited to a program entitled "Engaging Students with Debate and Discussion," where teachers were instructed on how to "engage students in higher level discourse." Teachers of girls, on the other hand, were invited to a program called "Creating Connections with Girls" and instructed that "Girls will learn better if they believe a teacher cares about them."
The Hillsborough School District has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to implement a hidden curriculum, permeating practically every aspect of the classroom, promoting — and reinforcing — the theory that boys and girls are fundamentally different.

Of course, the truth is that every student learns differently — in ways that are not determined by sex — and there is no evidence that any sex-based differences translate into the need to teach boys and girls differently. In fact, it is precisely this kind of sex-based over-generalization that our civil rights laws like Title IX were designed to prevent.

The problem extends far beyond this one school district: We know of at least three other school districts in Florida alone that are operating similar programs relying on sex-stereotypes, and we have documented numerous similar programs across the country through our Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes campaign.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/18-2

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Night Fun and Culture: Sandy Denny












“Bloodiest thing the world has seen”: David Cay Johnston on inequality’s looming disaster

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/22/bloodiest_thing_the_world_has_seen_david_cay_johnston_on_inequalitys_looming_disaster/

Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston tells Salon how America's economic story could end -- and it isn't pretty

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Long before anyone knew the name Thomas Piketty, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston was plumbing the hidden depths of the American tax code, revealing the myriad ways it privileges the interests of corporations and the wealthy ahead of those of the 99 percent. Indeed, while it may sometimes feel as if economic inequality is the new trend, Johnston’s career reminds us that the great gulf that separates the rich from the rest in the contemporary United States didn’t happen overnight, but over a course of decades.

Despite coming out during the same year as “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” and “The Divide,” Johnston’s newest release, “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality,” is a different kind of inequality book. Rather than a sweeping overview of centuries of economic history, or an on-the-ground examination of how our justice system ignores the powerful while brutalizing the rest, Johnston’s book is a collection of essays, speeches and excerpts — a kind of inequality reader. Featuring insights from philosophers, economists, journalists, researchers and even politicians, “Divided” reminds us how inequality is one of those rare problems that truly matters to all of us, no matter what our interests or chosen field.

Earlier this week, Salon reached Johnston via telephone to discuss “Divided,” whether American democracy can survive such great economic disparities, and how returning to a more equal society is literally a matter of life and death. Our conversation follows, and has been slightly edited for clarity and length. In addition, Johnston followed up with further thoughts via email.

What inspired you to create this book?

I had done a trilogy on hidden aspects of the American economy, “Perfectly Legal,” which was about how the rich benefit from taxes, “Free Lunch,” about all the subsidies people didn’t know about that go to rich people and corporations, and “The Fine Print,” which was about restraint of trade and monopolies. And in speaking for the last 10 years around the country, one of the things I learned is that people didn’t understand that this isn’t just a function of numbers and whatnot; they didn’t understand there’s a whole structure that affects families, health, healthcare — which are different things — incarceration, opportunity, exposure to environmental hazards, wage theft and so, there was really a need here to give people a broad understanding of, well, “How did this come about, this incredible inequality that we didn’t have in this country until recent years?”

[After the interview, Johnston emailed to add: "My trilogy on the American economy explained many of the little-known, and often deceptive, laws, regulations and official practices. But inequality involves much more than what I had written about in the trilogy. I wanted to provide people with a broad understanding of the issues, ranging from limited opportunity and obstacles to achieving a modicum of prosperity, to the remarkably cruel and thoughtless policies of the Reagan era."]

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/22/bloodiest_thing_the_world_has_seen_david_cay_johnston_on_inequalitys_looming_disaster/

Enforcing school dress codes teaches girls to be ashamed, not 'modest'

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/21/school-dress-codes-girls-shame-modesty

Dress codes assume that male students' education needs to be protected. What girls need doesn't rate

theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 May 2014

Now that the warm weather is here, everyone is happily boxing away sweaters and breaking out their summer clothes. But as students across the country are bringing out their t-shirts and dresses, school administrators are ramping up their efforts to quash cleavage and "risqué" outfits.

According to educators and even some parents, young women's outfits – their bodies, really – are too distracting for men to be expected to comport themselves with dignity and respect. It's the season of the dress code - so instead of teaching girls math or literature, schools are enforcing arbitrary and sexist rules that teach them to be ashamed of their bodies.

Take the example of a young woman in Virginia who was kicked out of her prom this month because fathers attending the event though her dress was giving rise to "impure thoughts". Clare, 17, says her dress was well within guidelines for the event's dress code - it was "fingertip length". She wrote on her sister's blog, "I even tried it on with my shoes, just to be sure."

Still, she was asked to leave – thanks to a group of ogling dads perched on a balcony above the dance floor. "I am so tired of people who abuse their power to make women feel violated and ashamed because she has an ass, or has breasts, or has long legs," she wrote

It's not just proms that make for problematic interactions for young women. Everyday school dress codes disproportionately target, shame, and punish girls – especially girls who are more developed than their peers. In 2012, students at Stuyvesant High School in New York (my old school) protested the biased implementation of the school's dress code. One student noted that the “curvier” girls were singled out – a v-neck t-shirt considered acceptable on one student was seen as absolutely scandalous on another.

Like the fathers at Clare's prom, Stuyvesant administrators defended the sexist dress code by saying girls shorts and spaghetti strap tank tops are "distracting" to male students and teachers. This is a common theme when policing the way women dress - just last month a junior high school in Illinois banned girls wearing leggings because they're "distracting to boys".

To assuage the supposed distraction, girls caught wearing leggings are forced to put on blue school shorts over them. At Stuyvesant, dress code violators are pulled out of class and made to change into a large baggy shirt. (There are dress codes for boys, but they're not as frequently enforced and all a male student generally has to do is keep his pants up and t-shirts referencing drugs inside-out.)

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/21/school-dress-codes-girls-shame-modesty

Leaving Islam

From  The Fort Worth Weekly:   http://www.fwweekly.com/2014/05/21/leaving-islam/

Kenneth Kost May 21, 2014

Keys to freedom can take many forms. Samya’s was an iPod, a Twitter account, and a group of North Texas atheists.

Samya is not her real name. The young Tarrant County resident asked that a pseudonym be used in this story because she fears that the family members she left behind might track her down and try to persuade her to come home — or even kill her for dishonoring them by rejecting an arranged marriage.

Her escape began more than two years ago, several states away from Texas. Here she found intellectual and physical freedom, friends, college, and the chance to build her own life. What she left behind, the 21-year-old says, was a life of abuse and imprisonment and a future she couldn’t face.
Her family is from the Middle East and steeped in an insular, extremely authoritarian version of Islam. They moved to the United States when Samya was just an infant.

“My mother has been mentally ill most of her life, and my father was very violent and angry,” she said. “I grew up with a dad I was afraid to talk to. Anything would set him off. He would come into my room, throw me against the wall and beat me, and I wouldn’t know why.” Her parents never showed her affection, she said — no hugs, no kisses.

The older Samya got, the more her father tightened his grip on her life. She was allowed to attend public schools through eighth grade. From age 15 on, she said, she was allegedly home-schooled. But there wasn’t much schooling going on.

“They kept me locked inside the house most days, and I wasn’t really even home-schooled,” she said. “I was being taught how to take care of a family — cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes and laundry. I was learning how to be a submissive housewife.”

Her father continued to beat her, as he had her older brother, until she was about 16 but never abused her younger siblings, she said. “I’m not sure why it stopped. Maybe he got older and calmed down.”

After she was pulled from public school, Samya was told she couldn’t have non-Muslim friends. She did go to an actual school once a week to pick up lessons and about once a month to do lab work for math and science classes. She wasn’t allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

“The only kids I saw on a regular basis were the girls from my mosque,” she said.

She still thinks sometimes about those girls, many of whom were allowed more freedom than she, but most of whom intended to follow the path laid out for them.

“Some of them were allowed to drive, go to public schools and college, and had parents that were far more liberal than mine,” but those young women still accepted the idea of arranged marriages, she said.

A few of her friends also were physically abused by parents and siblings, she said. And other girls dropped out of school because they felt no need for it since they were just going to get married and be housewives.

“It’s really horrible — some of them had rough parents or were beat up by siblings,” she said. “The parents wouldn’t do anything about it, because it’s the boy, and it’s justified.

Continue reading at:  http://www.fwweekly.com/2014/05/21/leaving-islam/

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Just because I love my mother doesn't mean I have to become one myself

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/11/mother-childfree-happy

My choice to be child-free doesn't threaten my own mother, so I don't understand why some people insult her to explain me

theguardian.com, Sunday 11 May 2014

There are a lot of assumptions that people make about child-free women, and, as someone who's been outspoken about my choices, I've heard all of them: we're selfish, we're lazy, we're failing our fundamental role in life. But the one that stings the most – and makes me the angriest – is that we must have had terrible mothers, because nothing could be further from the truth.

Every step of my mostly idyllic childhood, my mom was around. A stay-at-home mother of two, she picked me up from school, took care of me when I was sick, made me eat a healthy breakfast, took me to the DMV for my first driver's test, comforted me when I failed, and then took me back a week later for my second one (when I passed). She taught me.

My mother and my father also made sure that I saw the world and learned how many different kinds of people existed in it. Whether it was a tour of the Scottish countryside or just a weekend trip to the beach, my mom and my dad always instilled a lifelong love of travel and of learning about the experiences of others. It's the greatest gift I have ever been given, and I cherish them both every day for it.

My mom always told me that when I grew up I could be anything that I wanted. And, to my own surprise, I did. I know that I owe a lot of it to the kind of parent she was, the kind of female role model she was (and is). My mom recognized my feminist tendencies from an early age and always made a point of mentioning successful women or noting a female role model she thought I could learn from. She never censored my reading material and always encouraged my writing ambitions. When my first book was published in 2010, she was the first person in line to buy copies.

After being raised by a devoted stay-at-home mother and seeing how much love and commitment my mother was capable of, I knew that I just didn't have the same capacity myself – and that every child in the world deserves the amount of love I got growing up. There's only one of my mom, and I'm not her.

It's hard not to notice that people in the position opposite to me – those who had difficult childhoods but choose to be parents – are celebrated for their desire to have and raise children. It's impossible to escape narratives of parents and would-be parents who want to give children what they never had, to correct the mistakes of their own youth, or to simply raise their kids better than they were raised. Nobody attributes any pathology to their choices, or assumes their parents were "bad" or "abusive", or suggests that they need to get therapy to examine their real motivations.

I don't know if the happy childhood I had is something I could replicate in this day and age. We're a country that festishizes motherhood, but we're not a country that wants to provide federally-mandated parental leave – let alone encourage men to take it. We're a country that will spend billions of dollars on cards, flowers and brunches to celebrate our mothers one day a year, but will do nothing to help them pay for childcare in order to work or fulfill their own dreams for the other 364 days. We are a culture that shames women who get pregnant in any less-than-ideal circumstance, and one that often limits access to the education and contraception that would allow women to choose the right time and place for them. We shame mothers for breastfeeding and for not breastfeeding, for spanking and not spanking, for giving birth at home and for giving birth in a hospital. We tell women that choosing to have a child is the right choice, but it'll be the last right choice that she'll ever make.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/11/mother-childfree-happy

No trigger warnings in my class: Why you won’t find them on my syllabi

From Salon:   http://www.salon.com/2014/05/20/no_trigger_warnings_in_my_class_why_you_won%E2%80%99t_find_them_on_my_syllabi/

Learning is about rethinking our views. Censoring my students’ education before they obtain it will do the opposite




Every semester on the first day of my classes, I explain to students that at some point during the semester, the material that we cover will fundamentally challenge their thinking in some area that they hold dear, particularly their beliefs about race, gender and sexuality. I also explain to them that these challenges are less about making them change their minds, although I do hope that they will discard some particularly retrograde and unhelpful beliefs, and more about making them refine their opinions, while becoming clear and informed about what they think. If a student has not been challenged to fundamentally rethink the beliefs they hold dear, they have not been to college.

Therefore the growing national conversation, buttressed by demands from students, that college professors place trigger warnings on their syllabi to alert students to uncomfortable and traumatic material gives me great concern. While I care about my own academic freedom and the ways that trigger warnings impede my ability to teach course materials in the ways I deem most appropriate, I care far more about educating students who can entertain a range of competing views, wade through those beliefs, and come out on the other side with clarity and the capacity to articulate their position.

Yet, those of us in the academy are now encountering the generation of students educated under the high-stakes testing model of both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. They are a generation of students who are uncomfortable with being made uncomfortable. They are a generation of students who want the right answers, and the assured A, rather than the challenge of thinking and writing their way through material that is more complex than the multiple choice answer requires. To me, such an orientation to the world – the desire for endless comfort – is an untenable educational proposition. 

Encountering material that you have never encountered before, being challenged and learning strategies for both understanding and engaging the material is what it means to get an education.
But in this era of the corporate university, the belief in educating students to be something other than laborers in the capitalist machine is increasingly obsolete. In many respects I understand this position:

In a time when good public education is increasingly difficult to access at reasonable prices, creating strategies for making university education economically feasible guides policymaking at many universities. The reality is that parents want their children to be able to get out of school and get jobs that will offer them an economic livelihood. In that kind of environment it becomes harder to justify a robust humanities education focused on thinking about questions of power, the nature of human relationships, literature, history and politics.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/20/no_trigger_warnings_in_my_class_why_you_won%E2%80%99t_find_them_on_my_syllabi/

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Men explaining things to me had been happening my whole life”: The author behind “mansplaining” on the origin of her famous term

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/20/men_explain_things_to_me_the_author_behind_mansplaining_on_the_origin_of_her_famous_coinage/

Salon spoke to Rebecca Solnit about her new book, gender-based violence, and why "rape culture" is a useful phrase

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rebecca Solnit is a decorated author and activist, but she may be best-known for the word she added to our lexicon: “mansplaining.” Mansplaining was born from a 2008 blog post in which Solnit wrote: “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about.” Since then, “mansplaining” has taken the culturesphere by storm, getting named one of the New York Times’ “words of the year” and inspiring countless think pieces. Solnit has been writing elegant, sharp essays and books for more than two decades — her latest book, also called “Men Explain Things to Me,” released today, is a collection of seven essays about this particular facet of the modern gender wars. On the whole her work spans a broad spectrum of subjects ranging from literature, art, philosophy, anti-militarism and the environment. It is feminist, frequently funny, unflinchingly honest and often scathing in its conclusions. In 2010, the Utne Reader named Solnit, who is the recipient of several literary awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Lannan literary fellowship, one of 25 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World.

Tell me about writing that first essay from which the name of the book is taken, “Men Explain Things to Me.” As you mention in the book, it is a piece that continues, years after publication, to be shared and discussed.

I’d been joking about writing it for years. Men explaining things to me had been happening my whole life. The infamous incident I described — in which a man talked over me to explain a Very Important Book he thought I should read that it turns out I wrote — happened five years earlier in 2003.
The term “mansplaining” has resonated with so many women.  It shifted the cultural universe ever so slightly (in a good way). Did you expect this response?  

You know, I had a wonderful conversation about a month ago with a young Ph.D. candidate at U.C. Berkeley. I’ve been a little bit squeamish about the word “mansplaining,” because it can seem to imply that men are inherently flawed, rather than that some guys are a little over-privileged, arrogant and clueless. This young academic said to me, “No, you don’t understand! You need to recognize that until we had the word ‘mainsplained,’ so many women had this awful experience and we didn’t even have a language for it. Until we can name something, we can’t share the experience, we can’t describe it, we can’t respond to it. I think that word has been extraordinarily valuable in helping women and men describe something that goes on all the time.” She really changed my opinion. It’s really useful. I’ve always been interested in how much our problems come from not having the language, not having the framework to think and talk about and address the phenomenon around us.

Your work has always focused on sexualized and gender-based violence. The second essay in your book, “The Longest War,” is based on one you wrote in the wake of the Delhi and Steubenville rapes. What are your thoughts on mainstream media narratives regarding rape and domestic violence? Do you think we are at an inflection point globally in public discourse surrounding these subjects?

Yes, I really do. Remember when Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered, more than 20 years ago? That started a conversation about domestic violence and how often it becomes lethal and how horrific and oppressive and terrifying and discriminatory it is. Then O.J. Simpson lawyered up, in the way that incredibly rich men that do awful things to women do, like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or the recent case of the billionaire Gurbaksh Chahal, who recently got off on probation after allegedly hitting his girlfriend 117 times on camera. There are just so many times when other kinds of hate crimes get the attention they deserve, and I never feel that we shouldn’t pay attention to other kinds of hate crimes, but I’ve just waited and waited and waited for violence against women to be treated as a hate crime.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/20/men_explain_things_to_me_the_author_behind_mansplaining_on_the_origin_of_her_famous_coinage/

Water depletion in California 'may be increasing chance of earthquakes'

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/14/water-depletion-in-california-may-be-increasing-chance-of-earthquakes

Groundwater loss from demand for farming in the Central Valley is putting pressure on San Andreas fault, Nature paper says

theguardian.com, Wednesday 14 May 2014

The water use that helped produce California's agricultural bounty may be increasing the chances of earthquakes along the San Andreas fault, researchers said on Wednesday.

A new study, published in Nature on Wednesday, said groundwater depletion in California's Central Valley – the heart of its agricultural industry – is putting additional pressures on the fault, and promoting the chances of an earthquake.

The study did not predict how and when that earthquake might occur.

The paper is among the first to attribute a human component to earthquakes along the San Andreas fault. Other researchers have established a connection between small earthquakes in Ohio and underground disposal of waste water from fracking.

The researchers, led by Colin Amos of Western Washington University, used data from GPS networks to analyse the tiny movements in the Central Valley and the surrounding mountains.
Scientists have known for years that the floor of the valley has been dropping as the groundwater is pumped out for irrigation.

An estimated 160 km3 of ground water in the Central Valley has been lost through pumping, irrigation and evaporation over the past 150 years.

The rate of that depletion is accelerating, because of expanding population, increased demands for agriculture and recurring drought – which means that the groundwater can not be readily replaced.
Meanwhile, the mountains surrounding the valley have also been undergoing tiny shifts each summer and autumn, moving upward as the seasonal snowpack melts.

Those competing pressures have brought the San Andreas fault closer to failure, the researchers said.
“The human effect is becoming the dominant effect,” said Paul Lundgren of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The more you deplete that groundwater, the more you keep promoting that fault towards failure.”

He said the human influence was fairly significant – around the order of the knock-on effect from other large earthquakes of relatively close faults. Growing demand for groundwater – because of drought – would put the fault under more pressure.

But it was impossible to say at this point when the next big earthquake might occur.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/14/water-depletion-in-california-may-be-increasing-chance-of-earthquakes