Thursday, July 31, 2014

Susan Brownmiller on 3 illegal abortions, for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride 2014


Right-Wing Backlash Against 'Smartypants' Like Neil deGrasse Tyson

From Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/right-wing-backlash-against-smartypants-neil-degrasse-tyson

Conservative elites delight in tearing down smart, educated people.

By Amanda Marcotte July 30, 2014

If there’s one belief that binds the disparate factions of the American right together, it’s the belief in American exceptionalism, both for the nation and for individuals. The mythology that conservatism is about promoting excellence and encouraging strivers is found throughout conservative media and literature, from the story of John Galt in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to Reagan’s description of America as a “shining city on a hill.” While it often manifests as contempt for the poor and the vulnerable, in the abstract this conservative enthusiasm for doing better could, in theory, be channeled productively toward actually pushing people to achieve.

So why are so many conservatives abandoning this enthusiasm for the exceptional in favor of what can only be described as jealous sniping aimed at people who are actually trying to expand the world creatively and scientifically? There’s a lot of high-falutin’ talk on the right about supporting the strivers, but in practice, the conservative response to someone who tries to stick his head above the crowd is to beat it down with a hammer. Conservatives may think of themselves as lovers of excellence, but in reality, “Who do you think you are?” is swiftly becoming an unofficial right-wing motto.

It’s easy to see why, despite their supposed enthusiasm for excellence, conservative pundits would offer up liberal scientists, journalists, and artists as hate objects for their base. This is a time of economic instability and ordinary people are seeing their fortunes declining. It’s easy to turn that anxiety into rage at people conservative audiences think have easy, charmed lives as coastal elites.

But in doing so, conservative pundits are exploiting their audiences, turning their class-based anger away from the people who are actually causing their economic problems, such as the Wall Street elite, and toward people who may be successful but who are not doing any harm to other Americans and are often trying to help them.  If you can get your audiences to hate journalists and scientists, they won't hate the wealthy bankers who actually screwed them over.  

This was epitomized by the recent National Review story by Charles C. W. Cooke titled “Smarter Than Thou” in which he fussed and whined about “the extraordinarily puffed-up ‘nerd’ culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States.” An illustration of the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson graced the cover, drawn to look self-satisfied, even though deGrasse Tyson hardly gives off that vibe in real life.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/right-wing-backlash-against-smartypants-neil-degrasse-tyson

Pope Francis sounds too much like Obama to be honored by Congress, Republican says

From Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/30/pope-francis-sounds-too-much-like-obama-to-be-honored-by-congress-republican-says/

By Scott Kaufman
Wednesday, July 30, 2014


A bipartisan congressional resolution that would honor Pope Francis before his potential appearance in Philadelphia next year may not be acted upon because of Republican worries that the pontiff is perceived as being “too liberal,” The Hill reports.

House Resolution 440 aims to “congratulate Pope Francis on his election and recognize his inspirational statements and actions,” but according to one Republican backer of the legislation, the resolution is dead because Pope Francis is “sounding like Obama. [The pope] talks about equality — he actually used the term ‘trickle-down economics,’ which is politically charged.”

Republicans are upset because of comments the Pope made concerning the free market. Last November, for example, Francis published his Evangelii Gandium, in which he noted that “[a]s long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

He also specifically attacked President Ronald Reagan’s signature economic policy, “trickle-down theory,” writing that “[s]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

The resolution states that Pope Francis should be honored for, among other things, being the first pontiff from the Americas, as well as “his commitment to economic justice and improving the lives of the poor, and his outreach to individuals from all walks of life have been universally praised and are living examples of Jesus Christ’s message.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/30/pope-francis-sounds-too-much-like-obama-to-be-honored-by-congress-republican-says/

Monday, July 28, 2014

I Support Israel not the Palestinians

My personal politics defy easy categorization.

Many would like to see me as an ultra Left Winger based on my support for environmental causes, workers rights, feminism and LGBT causes.

That evaluation is spot on.

I am also a militant atheist.

A stone Yankee from the far north mountains of upstate New York I militantly embrace the concept of personal freedom/liberty.

As a woman who survived rape and dealt with it by plunging into the martial arts I champion the rights of women to defend themselves including the use of weapons, most notably knives and handguns.

My embrace of the idea of gun rights causes many on the Left to stereotype me as a Right Winger.

Back in 2001 on September 11 I was stunned and outraged by the murderous terrorist attack upon my country.

I remember the images of the Palestinians dancing for joy in the streets, how they labeled the United States as the great Satan.

I was ostracized by people on the Left for my gut reaction to both this attack and to the Palestinian celebration of the deaths of nearly 3000 American people that resulted from these attacks.

In 2002 I lived on Long Island and often went into New York City for classes and to visit museums.  I had last been in NYC in 1967 so I never saw the World Trade Center.

I avoided going to the site of the attacks, I was already boiling over with anger.

Then one day I went to a free Photoshop seminar.  I took the East Side subway down to the station nearest to where the seminar was being held.

I was early and realized I had never been to that part of NYC so I walked around a little.

I  came upon the church near the foot print of the WTC, the fence with all the grief messages upon it.

Had you asked me what to do at that moment I would have said, "Turn the countries of those who attacked us into glass."

I understand the gut reactions of the Israelis to the acts of Palestinian terrorism.

I am Polish-American on my father's side, third generation, close enough to the immigrant experience to feel a connection to family in Poland.  Some three million Catholic Poles died at the hands of the Nazis along with the six million Jewish people.  I feel a certain "Never Again" solidarity, an outrage against the antisemitism too prevalent on the part of so many on the far left.

As a woman and as a member of the LGBT communities I see Israel as the only nation in the Middle East where women and LGBT people have any real rights.  Indeed the only nation in the Middle East where women and LGBT people do not regularly face the grossest violations of their rights as human beings.

I am well aware of Israel's love of the United States and how it is one of several nations in this world that we can count on as a wholehearted ally.

I have watched the ultra left attack both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren because of their support for Israel.

I do not celebrate the current fighting in the Middle East.

Indeed I wish there would be peace between Israel and its neighbors, there have been far too many deaths to go around.

The stress of nearly 70 years of living with terrorism has grievously harmed the heart and soul of the people of Israel.  But they were not the ones who started the wars.  They built the walls to protect themselves from numerous suicide bombers and other acts of terrorism on the part of the Palestinians.  Israel was not the nation sending those suicide bombers.

Palestinians and their allies including Egypt, Syria and Jordan repeatedly launched attacks upon Israel.

Fortunately the efforts aimed at annihilating Israel were doomed thanks to the courageous IDF.

So I guess I fail the test.

I support Israel and the Israeli people.

Even as I wish for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

If that makes me a Zionist or a supporter of Zionism so be it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Night Fun and Culture: Dilbert McClinton












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

From Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/belief/right-wing-christians-tell-kids-convert-or-go-hell-then-accuse-liberals-indoctrinating

It’s evident who is pushing obedience to an ideology.

By Amanda Marcotte July 23, 2014

For the masochists among us who tune into right-wing media, you soon learn that the all-time favorite fear pundits and preachers love to trot out is that “they” are coming for your children.
Whether it’s liberal college professors supposedly  turning kids to Marxism or gay people who are accused of recruiting, over and over you hear the claim that the children of conservatives are in serious danger of being talked into everything from voting for Democrats to getting gay-married.
It’s a peculiar thing to obsess over, and not just because it suggests conservatives have an unhealthy unwillingness to allow their children to grow up and think for themselves. It’s because the imagined conspiracies of liberals trying to “indoctrinate” kids are total phantoms. A little digging shows that accusations of indoctrination are usually aimed at attempts to educate or simply offer support and acceptance. While there are always a few rigid ideologues who are out to recruit, by and large liberals are, well, liberal: More interested in arguing and engaging than trying to mold young people into unthinking automatons.  

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

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

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

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/right-wing-christians-tell-kids-convert-or-go-hell-then-accuse-liberals-indoctrinating

Neil deGrasse Tyson: US must ‘sink lower’ before Congress will opt to protect the planet

From Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/23/neil-degrasse-tyson-us-must-sink-lower-before-congress-will-opt-to-protect-the-planet/

By Tom Boggioni Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In an exclusive interview with Salon, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talked about his role as a scientist, how the media presents scientific breakthroughs, and about how climate change will have to get worse before citizens force their elected representatives to do anything about it.

Tyson explained that he doesn’t see himself as an advocate, but as an educator whose job it is to present “emergent scientific consensus,” in the hope that the public and policy makers will use it to make informed decisions.

“I’m just trying to get people as fully informed as they can be so that they can make the most informed decisions they can based on their own principles or philosophies or mission statement,” Tyson explained. ” What concerns me is that I see people making decisions, particularly decisions that might affect policy or governance, that are partly informed, or misinformed, or under-informed.”
Tyson notes that during the Cold War, physicists actively advocated for specific policies because those policies were directly related to their work in developing nuclear weapons. When it comes to climate change, he would like to see more climate scientists take the lead instead of an astrophysicist like himself just because he’s famous.

“I’m an astrophysicist. But there are people who are climate scientists. I think more climate scientists should step up to the plate and serve that same corresponding role that the physicists played during the Cold War, and if they want, to empower lawmakers and the citizenry to make informed decisions about the future of the country,” he said.

Continue reading at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/23/neil-degrasse-tyson-us-must-sink-lower-before-congress-will-opt-to-protect-the-planet/

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- Free & Equal: What It Really Means


Clueless rich kids on the rise: How millennial aristocrats will destroy our future

From Salon: http://www.salon.com/2014/07/21/clueless_rich_kids_on_the_rise_how_millennial_aristocrats_will_destroy_our_future/

Today's wealthy are far more likely to have inherited their fortunes. Here's why that's going to doom our politics

Monday, Jul 21, 2014

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

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

So it goes.

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

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

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

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

The survey, which polled 680 Americans holding at least $3 million in investable assets, unearthed a troubling trend — the birth of a new American aristocracy. As the survey notes, “Nearly three-quarters of those over 69, and 61% of Baby Boomers, were the first generation to accumulate significant wealth. Among the younger Millennial generation, inherited wealth is more common. 

About two-thirds are from families in which they are the second, third or fourth generation to be wealthy.” Now, it should be noted briefly that this survey relies on self-reporting, which makes these figures somewhat suspect. (More on this in a bit.) But consider two charts: The first shows the highest marginal tax rates on income and capital gains throughout the last hundred years, while the second outlines the estate tax rate during the same period.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/07/21/clueless_rich_kids_on_the_rise_how_millennial_aristocrats_will_destroy_our_future/

Americans Are Leaving Religion Behind and It Scares the Hell Out of the Christian Right

From Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/americans-are-leaving-religion-behind-and-it-scares-hell-out-christian-right

Conservatives are getting more frantic and repressive by the minute, in response to America's growing secularism.

By Amanda Marcotte July 16, 2014

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the increasing political polarization in America , which is at historically high levels. There are a lot of reasons for it, including changing demographics, women’s growing empowerment, the internet, the economy and cable news. But religion and religious belief plays an important role as well. There’s no way around it: America is quickly becoming two nations, one ruled over by fundamentalist Christians and their supporters and one that is becoming all the more secular over time, looking more and more like western Europe in its relative indifference to religion. And caught in between are a group of liberal Christians that are culturally aligned with secularists and are increasingly and dismayingly seeing the concept of “faith” aligned with a narrow and conservative political worldview.

That this polarization is happening is hard to deny, even if it’s harder to measure that political polarization. The number of Americans who cite “none” when asked about a religious identity is rising rapidly, up to nearly 20% from 15% in 2007, with a third of people under 30 identifying with no religious faith. Two-thirds of the “nones” say they believe in God, suggesting that this is more of a cultural drift towards secularism than some kind of crisis of faith across the country.

But even this may underrepresent how secular our country really is getting, as many people who say they belong to a church don’t really go to church much, if at all. While Americans like to tell pollsters they go to church regularly, in-depth research shows they are lying and many of them blow it off, putting our actual church-going rates at roughly the same level of secular Western Europe.
Even when people identify with a label like “Catholic” or “Methodist”, that doesn’t mean they consider it an important part of their identity in the way that people used to. Take, for instance, the way that weddings have quietly changed in this country. It used to be that you had a wedding in a church, and only people who were eloping got married by someone other than a minister. Now, outside of very religious circles, it’s more common to see weddings on beaches or at country clubs, and very often officiated by friends of the couple rather than clergy. Indeed, state laws are slowly beginning to change to reflect this reality, allowing more flexibility for people to have the secular weddings they increasingly desire.

But of those who remain religious, being affiliated with a fundamentalist or conservative religion is becoming a little more common. The same Pew research that found while all Christian faiths are slowly receding, mainline Protestant churches are shrinking a little faster and have fewer followers, at 15% of the country, than white evangelicals (19%) or Catholics (22%). This comports with other research that finds evangelicals have a bigger piece of the shrinking pie called “Christianity.” 

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/americans-are-leaving-religion-behind-and-it-scares-hell-out-christian-right

Iraqi jihadists order genital mutilation of four million women and girls

From Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/24/iraqi-jihadists-order-genital-mutilation-of-four-million-women-and-girls/

By Agence France-Presse Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jihadists in Iraq have ordered that all women between the ages of 11 and 46 must undergo female genital mutilation, which could affect up to four million women and girls in the war-ravaged country, a UN official said Thursday.

The UN’s second most senior official in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, said, “It is a fatwa (or religious edict) from ISIS, we learnt about it this morning. We have no precise numbers.”

The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), took over large swathes of the country last month and has begun imposing its extreme Salafist interpretation of Islam.
Badcock said that if you took UN population figures as a guide, around “four million girls and women could be affected”.

Female genital mutilation is unusual in Iraq and is only practised in “certain isolated pockets of the country”, she added.

Complete article at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/24/iraqi-jihadists-order-genital-mutilation-of-four-million-women-and-girls/

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bombshell Study: America's Wealthy Even More Obscenely Rich Than Anybody Thought

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/bombshell-study-americas-wealthy-even-more-obscenely-rich-anybody-thought

Wealth inequality in the U.S. is even more astounding than previous statistics showed.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore July 16, 2014

Just when you think you've got a handle on how bad wealth inequality is in America's Second Gilded Age, researchers find it's even worse than you imagined.

The European Central Bank has crunched the numbers and it looks like wealth inequality in the U.S. is even more astounding than previous statistics have shown. Of the 10 rich countries the researchers analyzed, America's wealthy have grabbed the largest portion of the country's wealth. The most affluent 1 percent is sitting on between 35 percent and 37 percent of the nation’s wealth, according to  a working paper by ECB senior economist Philip Vermeulen. The Federal Reserve figure that has been previously cited had the 1 percent's share at 34 percent. But actually it looks like that's a lowball figure.

Economists studying wealth have been dealing with the fact that when you reach the stratosphere, wealth becomes a sort of dark matter. It's got a huge gravitational pull, but it's very hard to trace. It likes to hide, and slip over borders and between bank accounts in the blink of an eye. Vermeulen calls the billionaires whose wealth manages to evade researchers the "missing rich."

Unfortunately for researchers, rich people don't tend to respond to surveys that aim to study their wealth; some don't have the time, but undoubtedly many just don't want anyone getting their mitts on that sensitive information. So researchers have to figure out other ways to track wealth, including the popular Forbes' billionaires list, which, while not entirely accurate (it misses a lot of people, like dictators whose money derives from the state), at least makes an attempt to shine a light on the wealth amassed by global tycoons.

Vermeulen warns that even what's been revealed so far doesn't give the whole picture. “The results clearly indicate that survey wealth estimates are very likely to underestimate wealth at the top." You heard that right. Even 37 percent is probably not high enough.

In other countries Vermeulen's report studied, the 1 percent have also been getting a bigger share of the pie, like the Netherlands, whose rich now hold 17 percent of wealth, up from 9 percent. The French and Spanish wealthy have also increased their share by a couple of points.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/bombshell-study-americas-wealthy-even-more-obscenely-rich-anybody-thought

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Prison


The Rise of the Non-Working Rich

From Robert Reich:  http://robertreich.org/post/91880951615

By Robert Reich
Tuesday, July 15, 2014


In a new Pew poll, more than three quarters of self-described conservatives believe “poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.”

In reality, most of America’s poor work hard, often in two or more jobs.

The real non-workers are the wealthy who inherit their fortunes. And their ranks are growing. 

In fact, we’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history.

The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.

The “self-made” man or woman, the symbol of American meritocracy, is disappearing. Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. Just six Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined (up from 30 percent in 2007).

The U.S. Trust bank just released a poll of Americans with more than $3 million of investable assets.
Nearly three-quarters of those over age 69, and 61 per cent of boomers (between the ages of 50 and 68), were the first in their generation to accumulate significant wealth.

Continue reading at:  http://robertreich.org/post/91880951615

Elizabeth Warren EXPLOSIVE Floor Speech on Hobby Lobby Decision - July 16, 2014


Economic Populism at Heart of Emerging Debate Among Democrats

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/07/11-0

by Robert Borosage


Over at The Washington Post, the usually sensible Greg Sargent endorses the notion that divisions among Democrats are “mostly trumped up.” The tension between the Wall Street wing of the party and the Warren (as in Elizabeth) wing is an overblown fiction of a press corps desperate for some action.

It’s true that the prior divisions on social issues have dissipated, as liberals have swept the field. Obama’s halting attempts to wean the US from its foreign wars have garnered widespread support. And on economics, Sargent argues that Democrats “largely agree on the menu of policy responses to the economic problems faced by poor, working and middle class Americans — a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, higher taxes on the wealthy to fund a stronger safety net, job creation and job training — whatever the broader rhetorical umbrella is being used.” Even Hillary says she agrees with Thomas Piketty that extreme inequality is a “threat” to our democracy.

There are differences on how aggressively to go after the big banks or whether to expand Social Security, Sargent admits, and a debate underway about “whether to push the Democratic Party in a more populist direction,” which he declines to define. But generally, he argues, there’s broad agreement that Hillary or any Democratic candidate will run on.

All of this is true except the conclusion. There is a broad agreement on what might be called a “populist lite” agenda — one that has been put forth repeatedly by Obama and frustrated by Republican obstruction. And the reforms — from the minimum wage to universal pre-K — are important and will make a difference.

But it strikes me as bizarre to suggest that there is no serious debate among Democrats when the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country and a key power in Democratic circles, has just called for the resignation of Obama’s education secretary. Democratic House and Senate leaders refuse to allow even a vote on fast-track trade authority sought by the president, and a majority of the Democratic caucus lines up against Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Progressives in both houses demand bold action on jobs, on taxing and investing that the president resists. Democrats revolt against the White House desire to trim Social Security benefits.

In fact, there is a fundamental debate brewing in the party, grounded on very different perspectives that lead in significantly different directions.

On one side are the passive voice populists, which include both Clintons and Obama. They argue that our Gilded Age inequality is the product of technology and globalization, as if these were autonomous forces like the weather. The effects — a declining middle class, stagnant wages, spreading misery — can be ameliorated by sensible policies, like the agenda Sargent ticks off. Most of all, Americans need to make certain the next generation gets better education and training so they can better compete in the global marketplace. Universal preschool is a first step to that. But the largest thrust — driven by the party’s deep pocket donors — is an assault on teacher’s unions and public schools, investment in charters, public and private, and a focus on high-stakes testing to measure teacher and school performance.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/07/11-0

There's a fitness tracker for vaginas. Quantifying your life has gone too far

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/14/fitness-tracker-vagina-quantified-life

Biofeedback is great ... right up until you use it to get positive feedback from everyone you know

theguardian.com, Monday 14 July 2014

The other night, a friend told me that he was trying to spend more time taking cabs. This surprised me, because I happen to know this friend has a Fitbit, and that he's rather proud of how far he's walked under its watchful electronic eye. (I'm being polite: you never just "happen to know" that a friend has a Fitbit because they tell you on social media.)

The Fitbit – if you've somehow managed to avoid this – is a little dingus that records how many steps you take in a day and allows you to compete with your friends for the most steps or to post the results to social media. Aficionados will happily march aimlessly up and down the hallway if it means narrowly edging out the next competitor on their leaderboard.

So why was a step-counting devotee actively trying to walk less? "Look," he told me, "not all my shoes are comfortable. Some of them are really nice. If I walk too far in nice shoes, my feet hurt. So, I'm trying to take cabs."

It might be the first time I've heard a Fitbit user say something akin to "I'm not going to walk more right now, because I don't want to."

The Fitbit may have been the first tracker of its kind to go really big – though pedometers have been around for a while – but it has certainly many cousins. There are devices to track your sleep patterns (though Fitbits will do this as well), to keep an eye on your posture, to monitor your dog's activity levels, to analyze the fuel efficiency of your car or tweet your weight.

Perhaps emboldened by this profusion of interest in data, last month a company called Mark One launched the Vessyl, a cup that analyzes the nutritional content of anything you put in it and tracks your sugar, caffeine, and water consumption. And the KGoal, touted as a "Fitbit for your vagina", is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. The latter device looks like a silicone hand grenade and is designed to record your progress as you do kegels, the exercise for pelvic floor muscles that women do to improve childbirth, continence and – most importantly, in my opinion – sexual pleasure. To emphasize that benefit, the KGoal even vibrates when you're doing your exercises right.

Like the Fitbit, these newest health trackers don't come cheap; the Vessyl has a $99 promotional price and you can preorder a KGoal for $125, though the projected retail prices are $199 and $175, respectively. But, hey, how much is too much to spend to know that you're drinking a soda or clenching your vag?

This stuff all sounds a bit silly, but I'm not enough of a curmudgeon to truly bemoan our national data fixation. It's often easier to understand what to do with data than to evaluate how you feel, and devices that can quantify your walking or blood pressure or vaginal strength let you take advantage of that. If spending $199 on a cup or $175 on a vagina grenade is the shortcut you need to generate and pay attention to your caloric intake and pelvic floor muscles, for instance, then godspeed.
Plus, human brains respond directly to feedback about bodily functions: watching your heartbeat tracked on a monitor, for instance, gives you the ability to consciously slow them down with uncanny ease, through which you can eventually develop into a coping strategy for anxiety attacks and manage anger.

Having access to biofeedback – real-time data about your body's functioning – has been shown to help people manage migraines, high blood pressure and even epileptic seizures. It is a powerful enough phenomenon that L Ron Hubbard essentially based a whole religion on it: Scientology's e-meter is a biofeedback device. And, in the 1940s, Dr Arnold Kegel invented a biofeedback device to help woman improve their pelvic floor muscle exercises and manage urinary control – an obvious precursor to the kGoal, and the very origin of the term "kegels".

But the pitfall of data devices – and the external sharing of information that they encourage or require – is that they hijack your reward pathways. Instead of walking because it makes you feel good, or because it gets you out in the air or (my personal favorite reason) because sometimes there is bonkers stuff to see in between point A and point B, you walk in order to improve your stats. This sometimes means you walk even if it's a bad idea – if your shoes hurt, if you're not feeling well, if it's dangerously hot, if you're running late – because doing otherwise will mean a black mark on your record. Your stats will slide, and your stats (and the ability to brag about them on social media) are your reward.

One friend tells me that, when her office did a step-counting competition, she was initially distressed because she couldn't adjust the pedometer's minimum "success" condition below 10,000 steps: she has fibromyalgia and isn't always up for that much walking every day. But, chastened by her colleagues' successes, she ended up trying valiantly to make the daily minimum – and subsequently spent at least one day per weekend asleep for most of the day, and had to take extra medication for pain in her legs and feet.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/14/fitness-tracker-vagina-quantified-life

Thursday, July 17, 2014

California farms are sucking up enough groundwater to put Rhode Island 17 feet under

From Grist:  http://grist.org/food/california-farms-are-sucking-up-enough-groundwater-to-put-rhode-island-17-feet-under/

By
16 Jul 2014


California, the producer of nearly half of the nation’s fruits, veggies, and nuts, plus export crops – four-fifths of the world’s almonds, for example – is entering its third driest year on record. Nearly 80 percent of the state is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.
Here are four key takeaways:
  • The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
  • California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, D.C.
  • Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
Continue reading at:  http://grist.org/food/california-farms-are-sucking-up-enough-groundwater-to-put-rhode-island-17-feet-under/

California Braces for the Worst: El Niño May Be Too Little, Too Late to Save It From Drought

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/water/california-braces-worst-el-nino-may-be-too-little-too-late-save-it-drought

The Golden State issues statewide water restrictions as it prepares for the worst shortage in its history.

By Cliff Weathers July 16, 2014

California has imposed statewide water-use regulations for the first time as its three-year drought worsens. Yesterday, state regulators approved stringent new measures limiting outdoor water, which include $500 fines for using an outdoor hose without a shut-off nozzle.

Meanwhile, hopes that the drought would break by autumn have been tempered. The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center downplayed the help that El Niño may bring to the drought-plagued West in its monthly report of Pacific Ocean weather patterns. While the Center is still projecting that sea surface temperatures will be warmer than usual—a phenomenon known as El Niño—it is now saying that the effect will be only "weak to moderate."

The forecast strength of the El Niño was downgraded because Pacific Ocean temperatures near the International Date Line have not continued to rise since earlier this year when they were well above average. While strong El Niño weat​h​er patterns usually create more rain for California, weaker El Niños typically don't bring more rains to the region.

The Center said that there is a 70% chance El Niño will develop by the end of the summer, and an 80% chance that one will develop by the early winter.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology concurred with U.S. climate forecasts in a press release  yesterday. It further suggests that El Niño has been effictively counteracted by the arrival of cooler water.
All of California is under drought conditions and will likely remain that way through autumn. 

Reservoirs are precariously low in many places. The nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada, is now at an all-time low.

It is the first time in 15 years that the entire state suffers from a water shortage. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a government-funded weekly map of drought conditions, says that the entire state now suffers from conditions ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.” Heavy-population centers all suffer from “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.”

El Niño refers to a recurring weather pattern that develops in the southern Pacific near South America. Usually, scientists can predict El Niño a few months before it occurs. Researchers say it can spark droughts in Australia and increase rain and floods in parts of the U.S. and South America. Land areas bordering the Pacific Ocean are the most affected. El niño is Spanish for "the boy" and the capitalized term El Niño refers to the infant Jesus, because periodic warming in the Pacific near South America usually begins near Christmas. The most recent occurrences of El Niño were in 2006 and 2009.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/water/california-braces-worst-el-nino-may-be-too-little-too-late-save-it-drought

The sports 'honey shot' plays into the idea that the centre stage is for men

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/09/sports-honey-shot-objectifying-images

Objectifying images of spectators imply that only men like sport, and that all men like pictures of lightly dressed women

theguardian.com, Wednesday 9 July 2014

It is known as "the honey shot" and we all know it well. Some delay is occurring in the (usually) sporting activity which is the main television event. We switch to a camera showing a section of the audience – a section carefully selected. There she is, front centre, a pretty young girl. Occasionally she is wearing very little. Occasionally there's more than one – the much sought after "double honey shot". Sometimes she will jump up and wave at the camera with excitement. Sometimes a lascivious voiceover will remark on her charms. And now back to the action.

It was pioneered by Andy Sidaris in the 1980s, an American football director for ABC. Originally it confined itself to leering shots of cheerleaders. Soon it spread to other sports, to showing "pretty young things" among spectators, players' girlfriends, now even to music events. Anyone who watched coverage of the Glastonbury festival will have seen it. The shot's aesthetic is almost always unabashedly pornographic. Sidaris went on to direct third-rate sexploitation movies involving former centrefolds. Some of his efforts can be seen in the Girls, Guns and G-strings DVD set.

I'm not going to pretend I have never admired someone beautiful. I'm not going to say that during Wimbledon I have not looked at a player's legs and thought thoughts that do not belong in the national press. But when watching a sporting event, the athlete's almost superhuman fitness, their shape and definition, the fact that they are physically extraordinary, is very much part of the natural admiration we have for sportspeople. I don't see how shots of a player's beautiful girlfriend – between every point, it feels like sometimes – add to that.

To me, the explanation is simpler and grossly offensive. It is this: only men like sport. All men also like "birds". Let's throw some "birds" in with their sport. And if you're thinking it is all rather innocent and not objectification, consider that some (almost without exception) middle-aged, male director is sitting in a control room somewhere, scanning shots of the crowd, until he chances upon one and thinks "Phwoar! Yeah. Let's show her."

This is the flip side of John Inverdale commenting on Marion Bartoli's looks just after she won the world's biggest tennis event. We hand-wring about certain sports not attracting bigger female audiences, while tailoring them for men only – actually tailoring them for a lowest common denominator, a cipher in a director's mind of what a man of his age and sexual mindset might want.
Recently, when I voiced my displeasure on social media about this practice, I got the full range of excuses. They included the perennial, "Why did she dress like that and wave at the camera if she didn't want to be objectified?" Well, many reasons, actually. People find great joy in video evidence that they were at a big sporting event. They tend to wave to their family back home, not to your groin. 

Also, it was 35C in Brazil that day. Is the assumption that any woman wearing something light obviously wants to be ogled not a distant cousin of the "she asked for it" defence? In any case, that some women choose to pose for page three doesn't make it any less objectifying or exploitative in the eyes of others.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/09/sports-honey-shot-objectifying-images

The Union vs. Corporate Showdown Has Officially Begun

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/07/11

by Shamus Cooke


The attack on the U.S. labor movement just sharpened with the Harris vs. Quinn Supreme Court decision, aimed at the heart of concentrated union power — public sector unions. When you add in the Obama-led assault on public school teachers unions and the Koch brother-funded “Right to Work” laws, the labor movement appears to be facing imminent ruin.  
 
At the same time, however, a powerful counter-force has emerged: the union movement has won significant victories around the fight for $15 minimum wage in Seattle and Los Angeles, and is poised to win in San Francisco where the strongest measure yet is headed for the November ballot. These wins and prospective wins have sent shock waves through the country, showing what’s possible if unions and community groups take the initiative and focus on inspiring demands that resonate through the broader community.
 
The 2012 the Chicago teachers’ strike set an equally powerful example for unions, which has been studied by unionists across the country. Chicago teachers re-taught the labor movement the importance of the strike and the prerequisite internal democratic organization of union members. Once organized internally, members rallied community groups and the broader population over popular demands like stopping school closures. 
 
These advances for unions in the face of intensifying corporate attacks are forcing labor relations to a crescendo. Organized labor has, at long last, realized that fighting back is their only salvation. The tension inherent in this dynamic is volatile, and will inevitably explode as corporations relentlessly attempt to boost profits at the expense of workers’ wages and benefits.
 
The above examples of labor’s involvement in the ‘Fight for $15’ and the Chicago teachers’ strike encapsulates all that unions need to do to re-gain their lost status as organizations that represent the broader working class, as they did to a significant extent in the 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s. The strategy is simple: workers inside unions need to be organized and inspired sufficiently to be able to strike, if necessary, while simultaneously fighting for demands for the broader community, like the $15 minimum wage.   
 
Unions do not need flashy gimmicks or to re-invent the wheel. Of course, technological advances must be used while new demands and creative forms of protest should be experimented with, but Twitter and Facebook cannot replace face-to-face organizing and collective action, only complement it.
 
For years union leaders convinced themselves that “strikes don’t work,” based on the many that were misled and then lost. Instead union leaders searched in vain for labor’s equivalent to the philosopher’s stone, that magic “something” that would save the labor movement if only it were discovered. Since nothing “new” was discovered, in practice union leaders resorted to making backroom concessionary deals with politicians and corporations, and labor’s power slid further into the mire. 
 
And while many unions seem intent on breaking out of this organizational-political straitjacket, others seem suicidally comfortable repeating the same failed tactics. 

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/07/11

The GOP self-destruction is complete: millennials officially hate conservatives

From The Guardian:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/14/gop-self-destruction-millennials-conservatives-backlash

The backlash machine has finally backfired with a generation that cringes at old people yelling at gay clouds

theguardian.com, Monday 14 July 2014

Conservatives are stuck in a perpetual outrage loop. The reappearance of Todd Akin, the horror-movie villain immortality of Sarah Palin, the unseemly celebration of the Hobby Lobby decision – these all speak to a chorus of "la-la-la-can't-hear-you" loud enough to drown out the voice of an entire generation. Late last week, the Reason Foundation released the results of a poll about that generation, the millennials; its signature finding was the confirmation of a mass abandonment of social conservatism and the GOP. This comes at a time when the conservative movement is increasingly synonymous with mean-spirited, prank-like and combative activism and self-important grand gestures. The millennial generation has repeatedly defined itself as the most socially tolerant of the modern era, but one thing it really can't stand is drama.

Republicans were already destined for piecemeal decimation due to the declining numbers of their core constituency. But they don't just have a demographic problem anymore; they have stylistic one. The conservative strategy of outrage upon outrage upon outrage bumps up against the policy preferences and the attitudes of millennials in perfect discord.

We all can recognize the right's tendency to respond to backlash with more "lash" (Akin didn't disappear, he doubled down on "legitimate rape"), but it seems to have gained speed with the age of social media and candidate tracking. The Tea Party's resistance to the leavening effect of establishment mores and political professionals has been a particularly effective accelerant. Palin's ability to put anything on the internet without any intermediary has rendered her as reckless as any tween with a SnapChat account. Akin's whiny denouncement of Washington insiders is likely to make him more credible with a certain kind of base voter. The midterms are, as we speak, producing another round of Fox News celebrities, whether or not they win their races: the Eric Cantor-vanquishing David Brat, Mississippi's Chris McDaniel and the hog-castrating mini-Palin, Jodi Ernst of Iowa.

The fire-with-fire attitude of hardline conservatives has its roots in the petulant cultural defensiveness adopted by the GOP – especially the Christian right – during the culture wars of the 90s. Their siege mentality bred an attitude toward liberals that saw every instance of social liberalization as proof of their own apocalyptic predictions and conspiracy theories. Gay marriage will lead to acceptance of beastiality and pedophilia. "Socialized medicine" will lead to the euthanizing Grandma. Access to birth control will lead to orgies in the streets.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/14/gop-self-destruction-millennials-conservatives-backlash

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mom Jailed for Sending 9-Year-Old Daughter to the Park

WTF?  I grew up in 1950s small town Northeast USA.  At 8 and 9 I was free to run in the fields, go to movies or the library by myself, ride my bicycle all over town and go fishing and swimming by myself.

We are severely damaging our children with this hyper vigilance/ hyper protective smothering.

Of course the mother is black and our racist police/prison industrial state has criminalized that and does anything in its power to get people of color into the system.

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/mom-jailed-sending-9-year-old-daughter-park

She's being charged with a felony for letting her daughter play in the park alone while she was at work.

By Tana Ganeva July 14, 2014

A South Carolina woman, who failed to use the income she makes working at McDonald's to hire a nanny, let her 9-year-old daughter go to the park by herself while she was at work...in the middle of the day! To face, all alone, such dangers as the other children playing in the park and their parents.

Some of those parents reported her and now our criminal justice system is on it, making everything better by jailing the mother and putting her daughter in the custody of the Department of Social Services. According to Reason, Debra Harrell's daughter spent part of the summer playing on a laptop at McDonald's, but asked to go to the park when the laptop was stolen. Her mom apparently gave her a cell phone and sent her to a well-attended park and playground. A few days later, an adult noticed that she was there alone and called the police. Harrell was arrested and charged with unlawful conduct towards a child, a felony in South Carolina.

As  notes, local news reports of the incident are not friendly to Harrell, flashing her mugshot on the screen while the reporter intones, "It's an afternoon of fun in the water at Summerfield Park in North Augusta... but investigators say it wasn't enjoyable for one little girl."

(There doesn't appear to be follow up coverage of how enjoyable it was for the girl to have her mom publicly shamed on TV for abandoning her). The news segment goes on to interview parents around the park who speculate about the horrors that could have befallen the girl. "what if a man would have came and just snatched her because you have all kinds of trucks that come up in here so you really don't know."

Skenazy, who runs the blog Free Range Kids and stirred up controversy a few years back for letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway alone, points out that anxieties about the dangers faced by children are not supported by actual crime rates.


Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/mom-jailed-sending-9-year-old-daughter-park