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Bring Social Justice In From the Cold As We Get Closer to a Global Climate Change Deal

The UN Climate Summit in New York brought together politics, business and civil society to build up momentum for major climate change talks in Paris next year. After the disappointments of the acrimonious Copenhagen meeting in 2009, there is now a chance for a global agreement on action against climate change. Low carbon development pledges and substantial financing of the Green Climate Fund are one side of the coin. But climate justice is also about social justice, and leaders must address the demands and respect the needs of people most vulnerable and already suffering from the impacts of climate change. The world’s poorest people are the worst affected by climate change and these groups were certainly represented in New York, but will they be listened to? If it is to have a lasting impact, the Paris meeting must successfully integrate a “top-down” global agreement to restrict global warming to 2°C, together with a “bottom-up” strategy whereby countries set their own contributions to reduced emissions. However this latter strategy must go beyond emissions and do more to ensure that action on climate change listens to the grassroots and prioritises the world’s poorest and most vulnerable groups. Grassroots Concern The summit looked promising for proponents of an inclusive, “bottom-up” strategy. Its key themes included forests, agriculture and resilience to climate change, all of which have a sizable body of evidence to show that placing people directly affected at centre stage is a critical opportunity for success. There was also a thematic session on Voices from the Climate Front Lines which gave a platform to children, women and indigenous people suffering the effects of climate change. However the outcomes don’t match the hype. There were specific examples of progress: the president of Peru outlined a strategy for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation that he said would put the country on a path to sustainability by reaching out to indigenous groups and securing a vast area of land under indigenous rights. He won public support from both Germany and Norway, and France also pledged funds to help the poor cope with climate change, but the global commitment to social justice called for by the Rights and Resources Initiative and the World Resources Institute was largely missing. The anticipated, voluntary New York declaration on forests was marred by Brazil’s refusal to sign up, and the seven action statements released following the summit directly address local people’s rights and roles just twice (and one of these requires action from indigenous civil society groups rather than national or international governments). Similarly, the Global Agricultural Alliance aims to secure “climate smart” agriculture for 500m farmers by 2030. However it was left to civil society organisations to release a joint statement prioritising making food systems socially just and protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in these efforts. The recently published New Climate Economy report outlines a vision for “better growth, better climate”, a win-win scenario that ties investment and innovation to poverty and hunger reduction. But while investment and innovation may be able to secure the 70% more calories they estimate humans will collectively require by 2050, it is unclear how it will address the political aspects of access to those calories, and whether such strategies can support the livelihoods and resilience of the poorest farmers. Climate Justice, Social Justice Without putting social justice at the core of our thinking on climate action, we risk harming the most vulnerable groups of people. For example environmental concerns have been used by big corporations and national governments to justify claiming land for themselves, a process known as green grabbing that threatens the well-being of groups dependent on natural resources. Perhaps we can eventually find a way to put people on an equal footing with the green economy but, judging from developments in New York, we don’t seem to be there yet. Paris must be about much more than the pledges on emissions and the green economy that have dominated the headlines since the UN summit. It appears New York was yet another example of a big international climate forum recognising the importance of social justice (itself a big achievement) without actually clarifying how it will be built into objectives or commitments. People will remain on the agenda, but not quite centre stage.

Continue reading Bring Social Justice In From the Cold As We Get Closer to a Global Climate Change Deal

Confronting Barbarism: ISIS, the United States and the Consequences of Torture

Instead of using ISIS’s mocking use of orange jumpsuits as a pretext to continue to withhold information about US torture programs in Iraq and elsewhere, the United States should urgently confront its own barbarity in a courageous projection of democratic values.(Image: Troy Page / Truthout)In a televised address on August 7, President Obama announced that he had ordered “targeted” US airstrikes in northern Iraq against the self-described Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the pretext of a humanitarian intervention to help stranded Kurds and US diplomatic staff in Erbil. In his address, Obama said, “I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.” Just 47 days later, on September 23, a new phase in the war on terror had been declared, and US bombing was expanded into Syria. There is ample reason to believe that Obama’s August “humanitarian bombing” of ISIS targets in northern Iraq was equally about the protection of ExxonMobil and Chevron oil and gas production facilities in Erbil. It was a costly action. On August 19, US journalist James Foley was beheaded by ISIS in retaliation. On September 2, Steve Sotoloff, another US journalist, was beheaded by ISIS in a further act of retaliation. Both murders were accompanied by highly publicized beheading videos, with Foley and Sotoloff forced by ISIS to wear symbolic orange jumpsuits. A beheading video of British aid worker David Haines followed on September 13, with Haines also mockingly clad by his ISIS captors in an orange jumpsuit. President Obama’s new war in Syria began 10 days later with full Congressional backing. British Prime Minister David Cameron quickly endorsed US bombing and received parliamentary approval for Britain to join the US campaign in Iraq. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy has labeled this Obama’s “YouTube war.” The carefully choreographed ISIS beheading videos, with their mocking use of orange jumpsuits, were a major factor driving both public opinion and Obama’s decision-making. The actions of ISIS jihadists are barbaric, but they represent something worse than publicized incidents of terrorist inhumanity. Yasser Munif, co-founder of the Global Campaign of Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution, believes the moral taunting on the beheading videos was designed to lure the United States into wider war in the Islamic world, thereby elevating ISIS as the primary anti-American force in the region. It is as if the moral compass of the universe has gone tilt as the world descends into barbarism. The vertiginous sense of suspended morality is heightened by tens of millions of TV viewers and YouTube site visitors worldwide witnessing ISIS’s open and brutal mockery of the United States and United Kingdom on supposedly moral grounds as they commit murder for the camera. During September, with the ISIS beheadings and United States drive to war as background, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Obama administration have also been forced into a debate over how to respond to an August 27, District Court decision in New York ordering the release of 2,000 previously unpublished photos of US torture, brutality and death at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and five other US detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been seeking release of the photos since 2004 in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Obama and the DOD were opposed to the release of these photos, years before ISIS emerged, on the grounds that the images are so grisly, they would inflame anti-US sentiment in the Islamic world. However, with the ACLU’s litigation on the verge of success, the photos and the war against ISIS have clearly become interrelated. There is already a huge element of the absurd in the Obama administration’s new war scenario that should provoke further debate about overall US policy in Central Asia. There are questions about the role that US and European actions played in incubating and arming ISIS in Syria, as well as clear evidence that Sunni distrust of the US-backed Shiite government in Baghdad has driven Iraqi Sunnis reluctantly into the hands of ISIS jihadists. There are open divisions and disagreements among national security experts in both parties and within Obama’s military team about threat assessment, tactics, timing and the need for ground troops. Many activists on the ground in Syria question the motivation and potential efficacy of US bombing in their country. In spite of these lingering uncertainties, Obama seemed to be responding primarily to the ISIS beheading videos in his September 24 speech to the UN General Assembly, when he described ISIS as a “network of death” and noted that their brutality “forces us to look into the heart of darkness.” The clear implication is that war policy is being hurriedly thrown together without sober reflection because of a visceral reaction to globally publicized ISIS videos. With the pending court order to release the previously unpublished Abu Ghraib photos, the need for such reflection cannot be easily dismissed. Should the photos be released? Should the United States openly look into its own “heart of darkness” while confronting ISIS? The timing of this decision follows more than a decade of official denial and obfuscation about the images. An estimated 108 captives died in US prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, including as many as 26 that the DOD has classified as homicides. Obama and Cameron are right to point out that ISIS jihadists are evil and lawless killers. Yet these photos are not about ISIS except to the extent they have tried to co-opt the symbolic imagery of orange US prison jumpsuits to rationalize their barbarity. Before Obama’s new war escalates out of control or drags on for months or years with an inevitable need for ground troops, it seems advisable for the United States to finally confront its own barbaric actions and failed strategic decisions in the 13-year-old war on terror – not because of ISIS, but in spite of ISIS. Orange Jumpsuits and the Alternative Reality of Torture Nearly every news report explains that ISIS is making their victims wear orange jumpsuits as a mocking reference to the orange jumpsuits worn by prisoners at the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It is seldom mentioned that captives in the entire web of US prisons from Bagram in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib in Iraq, were also made to wear orange jumpsuits. Further, the photos of torture, humiliation and death that have made it into the public domain from Abu Ghraib are even worse than Guantánamo, making it a more potent symbol of US human rights violations. While the prison at Guantánamo is universally known, the public was unaware that the secretive prison at Abu Ghraib existed – housed in a torture facility used by Saddam Hussein before the US invasion – until a compact disc of digital photos taken by guards was accidentally discovered and reported in 2003. These images depicting widespread torture and violent abuse of prisoners by US troops were subsequently featured in investigative reports by The New Yorker and 60 Minutes II in 2004. When the story finally broke, Bush administration officials, from then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Bush himself, declared the atrocities at Abu Ghraib to be the work of “a few bad apples.” A total of 11 low-level enlisted Army soldiers were eventually convicted on charges varying from dereliction of duty to human rights abuses. A colonel was relieved of duty and a lieutenant colonel received a reprimand. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer at the prison, was cited for “dereliction of duty and shoplifting.” In essence, no one was held responsible except a few low-level scapegoats. The abuses at Abu Ghraib did not happen in a vacuum. It quickly became clear that Abu Ghraib was the end point in a causal chain that led all the way back to the Bush White House and Justice Department, where top administration officials were rewriting US laws defining torture. Following recommendations to President Bush from then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, the United States effectively opted out of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions on the rights to humane treatment for both prisoners of war and civilians. The Third Geneva Convention “bars torture, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as well as outrages against the human dignity of prisoners of war, or POWs.” The Unintended Consequences of Torture Writing in Foreign Policy, Steven R. Ratner, an expert on international law who has worked as an advisor to both the UN and the US State Department, makes it clear that torture does not work as advertised: Seasoned interrogators consistently say that straightforward questioning is far more successful for getting at the truth. So, by mangling the [Geneva] conventions, the United States has joined the company of a host of unsavory regimes that make regular use of torture. It has abandoned a system that protects U.S. military personnel from terrible treatment for one in which the rules are made on the fly. In losing sight of the crucial protections of the conventions, the United States invites a world of wars in which laws disappear. And the horrors of such wars would far surpass anything the war on terror could ever deliver. The Bush administration also tried unsuccessfully to block the adoption of the UN Convention Against Torture in the General Assembly after more than 10 years of deliberation by UN member states. In spite of this failure at the UN, the United States continued to opt out of the Geneva Convention against torture. This was done by rewriting domestic laws on human rights and defining captured prisoners as “unlawful enemy combatants” who had no legal standing as prisoners of war, a decision that Obama continued to support until after his reelection in 2008. The Washington Post described the new regime of officially sanctioned torture in 2004: In fact, every aspect of this new universe – including maintenance of covert airlines to fly prisoners from place to place, interrogation rules and the legal justification for holding foreigners without due process afforded most U.S. citizens – has been developed by military or CIA lawyers, vetted by Justice Department’s office of legal counsel and, depending on the particular issue, approved by White House general counsel’s office or the president himself. In addition to the fabricated rationale for the invasion of Iraq and the invention of concepts such as “pre-emptive war” and “unlawful enemy combatants,” the entire world has become aware of US practices such as extraordinary rendition (sending prisoners to countries outside the United States for torture and interrogation), enhanced interrogation techniques (e.g., water boarding and other forms of torture) and the continued operation of a string of prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq that have been repeatedly investigated for fundamental human rights violations. Yet in August 2014, a 6,000 page, $40 million report produced by a months long investigation into US torture techniques by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was shelved after being heavily redacted by the CIA. Bowing to the CIA and pressure from the Obama administration, committee chairperson Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) issued a statement that the report is being “held for declassification at a later time.” The Long Road Back War truly is hell. It always will be. Human rights violations occur in every war. What is new since the dawn of the ill-defined and never ending war on terror in 2001 is that the world’s most economically powerful and heavily armed superpower has begun to untether itself from its foundational democratic moorings by making such violations a matter of de facto state policy – unapologetically. When moral outrage was expressed by some US senators during May 2004 hearings on the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) commented that he was “more outraged by the outrage” than by the overwhelming evidence of abuse, torture and violation of internationally sanctioned human rights. Recent history in Central Asia makes it abundantly clear that the abandonment of democratic ideals and values by powerful nations such as the United States and Britain does nothing to stop terrorism and runs counter to the self-interests of democracies. The long road back from the past decade of state-sanctioned torture and systematic human rights violations begins with democratic openness. The ACLU lawsuit is a timely case in point. The US Army still has more than 2,000 unreleased photos that document 400 cases of alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other US prisons. Senators who have seen these images say that many of the photos are worse than the images that have been leaked from Abu Ghraib to date. The ACLU won a FOIA suit in federal District Court on August 27, 2014, in which Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the Department of Defense (DOD) to hand over the photos unless they can conclusively prove that their release would endanger American lives. If the judge maintains his ruling against the DOD, they will almost certainly be encouraged by the administration to appeal the decision. Obama has said that, “The most direct consequence of releasing them . . . would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” The ISIS beheadings give the Obama administration a seemingly urgent rationale for continued secrecy in their refusal to release inflammatory photos of US war crimes committed in Islamic countries. This argument overlooks the fact that it is not possible to stop a descent into barbarism by consciously ignoring history. More than 100,000 prisoners have been run through the US complex of prisons in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003. Ignoring this reality is no longer an option. Releasing the photos and openly debating the actions and policies that led to their existence would be a more courageous projection of democratic values at this crucial juncture, sending a powerful signal that the United States stands by its core democratic values even when it is least convenient. It would also provide an opportunity for a much-needed reexamination of the premises for Obama’s proposed bombing adventure in Syria, and by extension, of the longer-term war on terror. With Obama harking back to George W. Bush’s initial Iraq war authorization in 2002 to rationalize his actions, it is a reexamination that is long overdue. The August 27, 2014, District Court ruling on the FOIA request for the remaining Abu Ghraib photos can be downloaded at the ACLU website.

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Why the Web of Life Is Dying

“There’s eventually a point at which the biological systems of planet Earth that support human life will just stop functioning if it loses too many species and thus too badly frays the web of life.” (Photo: Dom Dada) This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to fund more stories like it! Could you survive with just half of your organs? Think about it. What if you had just half your brain, one kidney, half of your heart, one lung, half a liver and only half of your skin? It would be pretty hard to survive right? Sure, you could survive losing just one kidney or half of your liver, but at some point, losing pieces from all of your organs would be too much and you would die. Well, this is exactly what’s happening to the web of life on planet Earth right now. Like the human body, our planet is a living organism, and like the organs in the body, all of our planet’s species are interconnected. They form the web of life. And, just like the human body can survive with just one kidney or one eye, our planet and the web of life can survive without a few species here and there. But, like with the loss of organs in the body, there’s eventually a point at which the biological systems of planet Earth that support human life will just stop functioning if it loses too many species and thus too badly frays the web of life. And that point could be coming a lot sooner than most people thought. According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, a staggering 52 percent of the world’s mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and amphibians disappeared between 1970 and 2010. We’re not talking about just a few species here and there. After all, species extinctions are normal. They’re part of the web of life, too. But, losing 52 percent of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians in just 40 years is not normal. It’s a sign of the devastating toll that human activity is having on our planet and its many ecosystems. And, that 52 percent statistic doesn’t paint the full picture of what’s really going on here, because every time a species dies off, the web of life unravels just a little more and loses more of its balance. For example, coyotes and hawks help keep the rabbit population in check. But what if these predators disappeared? Rabbit populations would skyrocket, and that growth would strip the earth bare of green things. Another great example of balance and interconnectedness in the web of life was laid out by famed biologist Stuart Pimm. Pimm once told a story about how forests in the Pacific Northwest were lacking iodide in their soil, a chemical that’s necessary to keep the trees of those forests alive. Suddenly the forests began to come back, as more and more iodide was being discovered in the forest soil. What had happened? No one could figure out why this was happening, until a connection was made with none other than bear poop. Basically, some of the dams on the rivers had been torn out, so the bears in the woods were eating the salmon from nearby rivers. Fish are great sources of iodide, as they absorb it from the ocean. The iodide was then transferred from the bears to the forests via bear poop, which helped to fertilize the forests and promote growth. This is the kind of interconnectedness that drives our planet and the web of life. But, as more and more species continue to die off, our planet is losing this interconnectedness and balance, and the web of life is becoming badly unraveled. Fortunately, there’s still time for us to prevent a complete disaster. As the World Wildlife Fund report points out, 7.1 percent of the species losses between 1970 and 2010 were because of climate change. And as climate change continues to rear its ugly head, our planet will lose more and more species. So, if we want to save our planet and take the web of life off life support, now is the time to get serious about fighting back against the greatest threat our planet and the human race have ever faced. If we put a price on carbon, it will help save an ecosystem that can support human life. Check out Green World Rising for more information.

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Failure Is Success: How US Intelligence Works in the 21st Century

What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT. You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet. You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order. You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them — and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about. You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn’t make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can’t say that their mouths have been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you’re doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck their lives and — should one escape your grasp — you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth. As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex. What They Didn’t Know Think of the world of the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” or IC, as a near-perfect closed system and rare success story in twenty-first-century Washington. In a capital riven by fierce political disagreements, just about everyone agrees on the absolute, total, and ultimate importance of that “community” and whatever its top officials might decide in order to keep this country safe and secure. Yes, everything you’ve done has been in the name of national security and the safety of Americans. And as we’ve discovered, there is never enough security, not at least when it comes to one thing: the fiendish ability of “terrorists” to threaten this country. Admittedly, terrorist attacks would rank above shark attacks, but not much else on a list of post-9/11 American dangers. And for this, you take profuse credit — for, that is, the fact that there has never been a “second 9/11.” In addition, you take credit for breaking up all sorts of terror plans and plots aimed at this country, including an amazing 54 of them reportedly foiled using the phone and email “metadata” of Americans gathered by the NSA. As it happens, a distinguished panel appointed by President Obama, with security clearances that allowed them to examine these spectacular claims in detail, found that not a single one had merit. Whatever the case, while taxpayer dollars flowed into your coffers, no one considered it a problem that the country lacked 17 overlapping outfits bent on preventing approximately 400,000 deaths by firearms in the same years; nor 17 interlocked agencies dedicated to safety on our roads, where more than 450,000 Americans have died since 9/11. (An American, it has been calculated, is 1,904 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a terrorist attack.) Almost all the money and effort have instead been focused on the microscopic number of terrorist plots — some spurred on by FBI plants — that have occurred on American soil in that period. On the conviction that Americans must be shielded from them above all else and on the fear that 9/11 bred in this country, you’ve built an intelligence structure unlike any other on the planet when it comes to size, reach, and labyrinthine complexity. It’s quite an achievement, especially when you consider its one downside: it has a terrible record of getting anything right in a timely way. Never have so many had access to so much information about our world and yet been so unprepared for whatever happens in it. When it comes to getting ahead of the latest developments on the planet, the ones that might really mean something to the government it theoretically serves, the IC is — as best we can tell from the record it largely prefers to hide — almost always behind the 8-ball. It seems to have been caught off guard regularly enough to defy any imaginable odds. Think about it, and think hard. Since 9/11 (which might be considered the intelligence equivalent of original sin when it comes to missing the mark), what exactly are the triumphs of a system the likes of which the world has never seen before? One and only one event is sure to come immediately to mind: the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden. (Hey, Hollywood promptly made a movie out of it!) Though he was by then essentially a toothless figurehead, an icon of jihadism and little else, the raid that killed him is the single obvious triumph of these years. Otherwise, globally from the Egyptian spring and the Syrian disaster to the crisis in Ukraine, American intelligence has, as far as we can tell, regularly been one step late and one assessment short, when not simply blindsided by events. As a result, the Obama administration often seems in a state of eternal surprise at developments across the globe. Leaving aside the issue of intelligence failures in the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi, for instance, is there any indication that the IC offered President Obama a warning on Libya before he decided to intervene and topple that country’s autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011? What we know is that he was told, incorrectly it seems, that there would be a “bloodbath,” possibly amounting to a genocidal act, if Gaddafi’s troops reached the city of Benghazi. Might an agency briefer have suggested what any reading of the results of America’s twenty-first century military actions across the Greater Middle East would have taught an observant analyst with no access to inside information: that the fragmentation of Libyan society, the growth of Islamic militancy (as elsewhere in the region), and chaos would likely follow? We have to assume not, though today the catastrophe of Libya and the destabilization of a far wider region of Africa is obvious. Let’s focus for a moment, however, on a case where more is known. I’m thinking of the development that only recently riveted the Obama administration and sent it tumbling into America’s third Iraq war, causing literal hysteria in Washington. Since June, the most successful terror group in history has emerged full blown in Syria and Iraq, amid a surge in jihadi recruitment across the Greater Middle East and Africa. The Islamic State (IS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which sprang to life during the U.S. occupation of that country, has set up a mini-state, a “caliphate,” in the heart of the Middle East. Part of the territory it captured was, of course, in the very country the U.S. garrisoned and occupied for eight years, in which it had assumedly developed countless sources of information and recruited agents of all sorts. And yet, by all accounts, when IS’s militants suddenly swept across northern Iraq, the CIA in particular found itself high and dry. The IC seems not to have predicted the group’s rapid growth or spread; nor, though there was at least some prior knowledge of the decline of the Iraqi army, did anyone imagine that such an American created, trained, and armed force would so summarily collapse. Unforeseen was the way its officers would desert their troops who would, in turn, shed their uniforms and flee Iraq’s major northern cities, abandoning all their American equipment to Islamic State militants. Nor could the intelligence community even settle on a basic figure for how many of those militants there were. In fact, in part because IS assiduously uses couriers for its messaging instead of cell phones and emails, until a chance arrest of a key militant in June, the CIA and the rest of the IC evidently knew next to nothing about the group or its leadership, had no serious assessment of its strength and goals, nor any expectation that it would sweep through and take most of Sunni Iraq. And that should be passing strange. After all, it now turns out that much of the future leadership of IS had spent time together in the U.S. military’s Camp Bucca prison just years earlier. All you have to do is follow the surprised comments of various top administration officials, including the president, as ISIS made its mark and declared its caliphate, to grasp just how ill-prepared 17 agencies and $68 billion can leave you when your world turns upside down. Producing Subprime Intelligence as a Way of Life In some way, the remarkable NSA revelations of Edward Snowden may have skewed our view of American intelligence. The question, after all, isn’t simply: Who did they listen in on or surveil or gather communications from? It’s also: What did they find out? What did they draw from the mountains of information, the billions of bits of intelligence data that they were collecting from individual countries monthly (Iran, 14 billion; Pakistan, 13.5 billion; Jordan, 12.7 billion, etc.)? What was their “intelligence”? And the answer seems to be that, thanks to the mind-boggling number of outfits doing America’s intelligence work and the yottabytes of data they sweep up, the IC is a morass of information overload, data flooding, and collective blindness as to how our world works. You might say that the American intelligence services encourage the idea that the world is only knowable in an atmosphere of big data and a penumbra of secrecy. As it happens, an open and open-minded assessment of the planet and its dangers would undoubtedly tell any government so much more. In that sense, the system bolstered and elaborated since 9/11 seems as close to worthless in terms of bang for the buck as any you could imagine. Which means, in turn, that we outsiders should view with a jaundiced eye the latest fear-filled estimates and overblown “predictions” from the IC that, as now with the tiny (possibly fictional) terror group Khorasan, regularly fill our media with nightmarish images of American destruction. If the IC’s post-9/11 effectiveness were being assessed on a corporate model, it’s hard not to believe that at least 15 of the agencies and outfits in its “community” would simply be axed and the other two downsized. (If the Republicans in Congress came across this kind of institutional tangle and record of failure in domestic civilian agencies, they would go after it with a meat cleaver.) I suspect that the government could learn far more about this planet by anteing up some modest sum to hire a group of savvy observers using only open-source information. For an absolute pittance, they would undoubtedly get a distinctly more actionable vision of how our world functions and its possible dangers to Americans. But of course we’ll never know. Instead, whatever clever analysts, spooks, and operatives exist in the maze of America’s spy and surveillance networks will surely remain buried there, while the overall system produces vast reams of subprime intelligence. Clearly, having a labyrinth of 17 overlapping, paramilitarized, deeply secretive agencies doing versions of the same thing is the definition of counterproductive madness. Not surprisingly, the one thing the U.S. intelligence community has resembled in these years is the U.S. military, which since 9/11 has failed to win a war or accomplish more or less anything it set out to do. On the other hand, all of the above assumes that the purpose of the IC is primarily to produce successful “intelligence” that leaves the White House a step ahead of the rest of the world. What if, however, it’s actually a system organized on the basis of failure? What if any work-product disaster is for the IC another kind of win. Perhaps it’s worth thinking of those overlapping agencies as a fiendishly clever Rube Goldberg-style machine organized around the principle that failure is the greatest success of all. After all, in the system as it presently exists, every failure of intelligence is just another indication that more security, more secrecy, more surveillance, more spies, more drones are needed; only when you fail, that is, do you get more money for further expansion. Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the 9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth. That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions, or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.) However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power, their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power, they have succeeded impressively. You could, of course, say that the world is simply a hard place to know and the future, with its eternal surprises, is one territory that no country, no military, no set of intelligence agencies can occupy, no matter how much they invest in doing so. An inability to predict the lay of tomorrow’s land may, in a way, be par for the course. If so, however, remind me: Why exactly are we supporting 17 versions of intelligence gathering to the tune of at least $68 billion a year?

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Don’t Blame Climate Change Deniers

MythicAmerica is on a forced hiatus while I deal with health problems. But over 300,000 people in New York City the other day reminded us all that no one’s health will matter much unless we take care of the planet’s health. So I felt moved to polish up a previously unpublished column and share these thoughts with you: The old joke, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” is no laughing matter any more. It’s dead serious. Yet the United States seems politically paralyzed on this most vital issue. It’s easy to blame the climate change deniers. But it’s wrong. In Gallup’s most recent poll only 18% of us denied climate change. In a CBS poll, only 11% were outright deniers. The vast majority of Americans are well aware that there’s a real problem. More than four out of five agree with the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening now or surely will happen soon. And a solid majority believe that what they read in the news about climate change is either accurate or underestimates the problem. Nevertheless, Americans put the climate almost dead last on the list of problems facing the nation. 30% of Americans believe climate change is here or on the way but simply do not worry about it. Virtually the same percentage believe it’s already happening or will in their lifetimes but doesn’t pose any serious threat to them. Another public opinion study, by scholars at Yale and George Mason (Y/GM), found Americans falling into rather clear-cut categories. The “Cautious” and “Disengaged” — neither true believers nor deniers — add up to exactly 30%. A sizeable majority of them believe climate change poses a high risk to future generations. Yet virtually none of them “have thought a lot” about climate change. The biggest political stumbling block is not the deniers. It’s all those ignorers. How can so many ignore what they know is coming? The Y/GM study found one crucial reason: uncertainty about the facts. Though most of the ignorers see a danger looming, few are really sure that it’s happening now. Only about a third of them think that scientists agree on the facts. About four out of five say they “need more information to form an opinion.” Nearly all say they could “easily” change their minds. Don’t be too quick to blame the 30% though. Even those the Y/GM study calls the “High Involvement Public” show surprising levels of uncertainty and apathy. About two-thirds of the “Concerned” say they’re sure climate change is happening now. Yet four out of five say they need more information to make up their minds and 70% could “easily” change their minds. And only a tiny 13% have thought about it “a lot.” Among the thin sliver of the public (16%) who are “Alarmed” — who all know climate change is happening and poses a danger to future generations — roughly half say they need more information, and nearly a quarter are open to changing their minds. More than one-third have not thought “a lot” about the issue, and only about a third have expressed their concern to any public officials. Which means (I’m embarrassed to admit) that I’m a pretty typical American. For years I’ve written thousands of words on a wide range of subjects. Yet I’ve rarely addressed climate change, even though I’ve known that it’s happening and poses unthinkable danger. When I look in the mirror and try to figure out why I’ve avoided the issue, what I see staring back at me is that word unthinkable. When I write I try to be sure I know what I’m talking about. When it comes to climate change, the science seems so complex, so daunting, so far over my head that I hesitate to say or even think anything. I can never feel certain. And I know that even the best scientists have to deal with uncertainty. They understand, as Elizabeth Kolbert recently noted in the New Yorker, that “while it is possible that the problem could turn out to be less serious than the consensus forecast, it is equally likely to turn out to be more serious.” That’s why one of my friends, who is on the UN’s Nobel-Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, taught me long ago to call the problem “climate chaos.” She and her colleagues are sure that climate change is happening. But they also know that the dangers to human life come from the unpredictable, erratic, and often massive weather events that it causes (like the storm that dropped some 20 inches of rain in just a few days on her neighborhood, triggering unprecedented flooding). Moreover, my friend tells me, climate scientists have been talking about all kinds of uncertainties for years. Recently she organized a conference on “Uncertainty in Climate Change Research: An Integrated Approach,” because “uncertainty is present in all phases of climate change research.” Even climate change philosophers deal with uncertainties that make our national conversation on the issue chaotic. Dale Jamieson points out that we can’t be sure who to blame: “A lot of our thinking about policy tends to be oriented around a sort of good guy-bad guy polarization. Climate change is an issue that doesn’t fit very neatly into that stereotype. … We’re all involved in contributing to the problem to some extent and we’re all involved in suffering from the problem to some extent.” The noisy climate change deniers bear some of the responsibility, of course, but surely not all. The fossil fuel corporations are a big part of the problem, too. Yet, as Paul Krugman recently wrote, “it’s not mainly about the vested interests. … The monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think.” Then there are the huge greenhouse gas emissions from poorer countries, especially China and India. Can we really say they are part of “the enemy” on this issue, when we Americans emit so much more per capita? Millions of us in the U.S. drive our cars, and use more energy than we need, every day. We have met the enemy and they is us. The evildoers in this tale are such a vast, diverse, vaguely-defined mass of people they’re virtually invisible. If we think of carbon dioxide as the enemy, it’s also invisible: “tasteless, odorless — it doesn’t present to our visual systems,” as Jamieson says. David Ropeik, an expert on risk perception, agrees. The public doesn’t worry because the threat “doesn’t feel immediate/imminent. It doesn’t feel…well…real. It’s more of an idea, a concept, an abstraction.” And we can’t even be sure how big a problem carbon dioxide is. Methane may be the major culprit here. Moreover, the effects of climate change are creeping up on us so slowly that they, too, are largely invisible. If this is an apocalypse, it’s an agonizingly gradual one, the kind we just don’t know how to think about or even believe in, much less deal with. All in all, when I try to grasp the chaotic truth about climate change, I think I’ve got good reason to feel unsure and confused. So I ask myself: Is there anything I know pretty much for sure? I know that in politics “a narrative is the key to everything,” as Democrat polling guru Stanley Greenberg once wrote. The Yale/George Mason scholars agree that if there’s any chance of motivating the ignorers to get involved, new narratives are a key: “Narratives foster involvement with a story and characters, and prior issue involvement is unnecessary for drawing the audience’s attention. Memory of narrative content tends to be high … and studies find that the persuasive effects of fiction can be as high as for non-fiction.” I know that the best politicians of every stripe — from FDR to Reagan, from Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz — are always great storytellers. Of course they aren’t novelists. Though they may lie when it’s useful, the stories they rely on most to get themselves elected and their policies enacted have to include some dose of real facts. Yet those facts have to be embedded in a simple, emotionally powerful narrative rooted in familiar cultural traditions. The best politicians understand that shared stories are the glue that hold communities together. People cling to comfortable narratives because they want to cling to the other people in their comfortable group. Research now shows that even among the small minority who actually deny climate change, many probably know the scientific facts. They deny them mainly to reinforce their status as “true conservatives” — the group bond that gives them a sense of identity. Here’s another thing I know pretty much for sure: The dominant narrative of climate change activists isn’t working well enough. ” We are absolutely certain,” that narrative insists. “Virtually all scientists agree. Unless we act urgently we are doomed.” What could be simpler or more emotionally gripping? Nevertheless, this story has not in made much headway in the American political arena. The group Gallup calls “Concerned Believers” has held steady at only 39% for the last 14 years. And, as we’ve seen, not many of them are moved to consistent action or even apprehension. Hence the lack of political action. Maybe that’s because most of them, like the “Cautious” and “Disengaged,” aren’t impelled by a narrative that relies on a claim of absolute certainty. As long as climate change activists don’t have any other kind of story to offer, they aren’t likely to win any big political victories. That doesn’t mean the activists should throw out their prevailing narrative. Because here’s another thing I know for sure: Every good political campaign needs niche marketing. There’s still a sizeable minority of the U.S. population that believes the claims of scientific certainty, and they should hold on to their story. The people I worry about are in all those other niches, the ones who will respond only to stories that begin with “No one knows for sure, but …” Then I ask myself, “Why worry?” I study and write about political narratives all the time. It should be fun to find some that allow for uncertainty. And it should be easy. In fact there’s lots to choose from already. A Republican stalwart, Henry Paulson, says flatly: “It is true that there is uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of these risks … We’ll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. ” But “we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.” Good businessmen don’t wait for certainty. They calculate the odds and then take action. That story about benefits to the marketplace from an all-out attack on climate change is growing. And it’s bipartisan. Tom Steyer, perhaps the nation’s wealthiest climate change activist, funds Democratic candidates and NextGen Climate, whose slogan is: “Act politically to avert climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.” EPA head Gina McCarthy took a similar tack when she announced the Obama administration’s proposals for limiting coal plant emissions: “The plan will create demand for designing and building energy-efficient technology … It spurs ingenuity and innovation. … All this means more jobs” — regardless of how big the threat really is. However it’s a gamble whether such a naked bid to economic self-interest will have a big impact, when so many Americans often vote against their own best economic interests. A recent experiment tested a more idealistic message. Conservatives, in particular, proved more favorable to safeguarding the environment when they were told that “it is patriotic.” Most moderates and even many liberals may respond to that kind of call too. The Pentagon has long been touting its version of that story. Its latest Quadrennial Defense Review “identified climate change as one of our most significant national security problems”; at least that’s the way the commander-in-chief read the report. Obama agreed with the Joint Chiefs that “climate change could end up having profound national security implications.” Look at it this way, and suddenly uncertainty is even less of a problem. Whenever American public opinion has believed that a potential risk to our nation and our way of life loomed the horizon, no matter how small, we’ve never waited for absolute certainty. We acted first and got all the facts later. Sometimes we’ve prepared for war — and even gone to war — no matter how slim the odds of real threat, because when it comes to protecting our homeland we take no chances — as today’s events in Syria and Iraq make painfully clear. Risk analyst Ropeik is pessimistic. He thinks the patriotic vein won’t be tapped deep enough to yield political results unless we “feel we were at war — bullets-flying … NOW ‘I am in Danger’ war.” He might be right; the “Climate Patriots” meme has been around for several years without garnering very much attention (perhaps because it’s been yoked to a meme of absolute scientific certainty). But political narratives are germinating, unnoticed, all the time. Occasionally, unpredictably, one bursts into powerful prominence. People were talking about abolishing slavery, for example, for more than a century before the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Christopher Hayes, for one, thinks we need a new abolitionism, though he knows it will be a tough fight. Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt called on the nation (in his first inaugural address) to “wage a war” against the Great Depression as if “we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe,” Americans have united to resist all sorts of non-military dangers — poverty, drugs, cancer, and even fat — as long as the campaign was dubbed a “war.” They’ve also learned to pay big bucks for research and development in wartime that led to all sorts of unexpected and profitable technological breakthroughs. So the economic benefit, patriotism, national security, abolition, and war stories might all fit together in a tale I suggested recently: a gradual apocalyptic transformation from the possibility of catastrophic risk to the possibility of a far better world. On the other hand, maybe the best to hope for is an endless a war of containment, like the cold war. For decades most Americans assumed that the apocalyptic communist threat could never be vanquished; we’d be staving it off forever. National security was reduced to risk management in a world of permanent uncertainty. Now the U.S. government is funding an international project treating climate change precisely as an exercise in risk management. These scientists call it “a problem imbued with deep uncertainty.” Their first, still unanswered question is “How large are the uncertainties?” All these narratives — and surely there can be lots more — can start with the words, “No one knows for sure. But why take chances?” Any one of them might, or might not, be a political game-changer. In any event, looking over all the climate change narratives, there’s one last thing I know for sure: The dominant story of the American mass media, “doom-sayers versus deniers,” is far too narrow to reflect the true complexity of the political landscape. So I say let a thousand narratives bloom. Or at least plant a thousand seeds, and see which ones bloom into political successes. No one can be certain about the future. All we can do is keep nurturing all those stories and embrace the uncertainty. Because the political landscape of climate change, like the climate itself, is bound to be chaotic at least for a while. Right now, it seems to me, the more chaotic the better.

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The Global Climate Strike: Why We Can’t Wait

The world’s capitals will not end the old economy or deliver the new one. We can’t wait any longer because every day of waiting reduces our window for action. We need not wait because we already hold the knowledge needed for creating the new economy. And because a global climate strike can stop the machine responsible for creating the climate crisis, the most powerful person may be you. You may think that Wall Street will change course and lead our economy in a new, climate-neutral direction. Or you may expect Washington D.C. — or Beijing, New Delhi, Brussels or Moscow — to decisively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect people and the planet. If so, read no further. But if you are unwilling to entrust your future to the money men and the political class, then consider this: Regardless of who you are, the person who holds the most power in the world to end the climate crisis may be you. One way to guarantee an end to the climate crisis is to stop doing the things that are heating the planet. Stop fossil fuel production and use. Stop greenhouse gas emissions. Stop rainforest devastation. And since the corporate and political capitals of the world are unwilling to stop themselves, we must stop them ourselves. We can stop them by refusing our participation and cooperation. We can stop them by withholding our labor. By folding our arms we can halt the machine responsible for the climate crisis and create the space for the new, green economy to take root. We should go on strike. A Global Climate Strike for People, Planet, and Peace Over Profit A global climate strike is a next step in the international uprising that insists that another world is possible. That uprising has taken to the streets in the tens of millions. It has even occupied capitol buildings and the halls of capital. Yet the street demonstrations have yet to work because most global elites are not listening and will not listen. And while the occupations and blockades have succeeded here and there, the bulldozers of profit keep moving everywhere else. It is time to shock the system with a global climate strike. What makes a strike different from mere protest? A strike is an economic stoppage. A strike does not plead. It does not demand. It simply does. A global climate strike stops the economic and political systems responsible for the climate crisis. Workers and students stop their usual work. Machines and money stop moving. And communities step forward into the breach to build the new economy that puts people and planet over profit. A global climate strike might last a few days, or weeks, or at some point, it might move forward without end. It will be a global strike because the climate crisis is not a national problem, it is a systems problem. The system of global capitalism dominates much of the world and it will take a worldwide movement to stop this sytem. The strike may begin in 10 or 20 countries, and in particular economic sectors, but from there, it must spread. When a strike reaches critical mass, capitals will respond. Their bottom lines will demand it. They will try to appease us, and when they do, we should call that progress. But as we continue forward, they will attempt to divide and destroy us. For this reason, the hardest part of winning a global climate strike will not be its beginning, but its end. Nonetheless, we must begin. Why We Can’t Wait For years now we have heard the word “wait.” Wait until the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change has increased from 90% to 99%. Wait until renewable energies are price competitive. Wait until the results of the next election. Today the scientific consensus is nearly unanimous, renewable energies are price competitive, and elections have come and gone. Yet the world’s capitals continue to prop up the fossil fuel industries and to feed the climate crisis. The result is an atmosphere that holds far more carbon dioxide than the ecosystems our lives depend on can tolerate. All of us are headed for a world 10°F hotter than preindustrial levels. That is a world that cannot sustain human civilization. Every month of waiting deepens the scarcity of resources and opportunities to change course. Climate change is expensive. When food production is disrupted, food prices go up. When cities must be rebuilt, resources are expended. When millions flee their homes, space must be made for them. All of this intensifies scarcity and inequality and brings about a more dangerous global society. In Our Hands is Placed a Power Greater than their Hoarded Gold It is absolutely true that human beings now possess the technologies and understandings necessary to recreate our economy on a sustainable, democratic and fair basis. Today, we have the ability to shift to an energy grid that is 100% renewable by 2020. We know how to produce healthy food and healthy cities that cost less and heal the planet. The knowledge of how to do this is contained in every one of the tens of millions of people around the world currently employed in building the new economy. A global climate strike will open space for the new economy to expand rapidly. It will be an opportunity to innovate and showcase sustainable solutions at the community level. That expansion will mean new jobs for the unemployed and the underemployed and the overemployed. Those jobs are safer, healthier and, by definition, sustainable. Those jobs also tend to be more decentralized, and for this reason, supportive of a more democratic society.The world’s capitals will not end the old economy or deliver the new one. We can’t wait any longer because every day of waiting reduces our window for action. We need not wait because we already hold theknowledge needed for creating the new economy. And because a global climate strike can stop the machine responsible for creating the climate crisis, the most powerful person may be you. You may be the person who can turn the climate’s breaking point into a tipping point by bringing others around you into a global climate strike. The authors would like to stay in contact with you. Click here to stay in contact about the global climate strike idea.

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Eric Holder: The Reason Robert Rubin Isn’t Behind Bars

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. at the Department of Justice in Washington, February 24, 2014. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times) Do you want media that’s accountable to YOU, not to advertisers or billionaire sponsors? Help sustain Truthout’s work by clicking here to make a tax-deductible donation! The big news item in Washington last week was Attorney General Eric Holder decision to resign. Undoubtedly there are positives to Holder’s tenure as attorney general, but one really big minus is his decision not to prosecute any of the Wall Street crew whose actions helped to prop up the housing bubble. As a result of this failure, the main culprits walked away incredibly wealthy even as most of the country has yet to recover from the damage they caused. Just to be clear, it is not against the law to be foolish and undoubtedly many of the Wall Streeters were foolish. They likely believed that house prices would just keep rising forever. But the fact that they were foolish doesn’t mean that they didn’t also break the law. It’s likely that most of the Enron felons believed in Enron’s business model. After all, they held millions of dollars of Enron stock. But they still did break the law to make the company appear profitable when it wasn’t. In the case of the banks, there are specific actions that were committed that violated the law. Mortgage issuers like Countrywide and Ameriquest knowingly issued mortgages based on false information. They then sold these mortgages to investment banks like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs who packaged them into mortgage backed securities. These banks knew that many of the mortgages being put into the pools for these securities did not meet their standards, but passed them along anyhow. And, the bond-rating agencies rated these securities as investment grade, giving many the highest possible ratings, even though they knew their quality did not warrant such ratings. All three of these actions – knowingly issuing mortgages based on false information, deliberately packaging fraudulent mortgages into mortgage backed securities, and deliberately inflating the ratings for mortgage backed securities – are serious crimes that potentially involve lengthy prison sentences. Holder opted not to pursue criminal cases against the individuals involved. In the last couple of years Holder did bring civil cases against these banks that led to multibillion settlements. These settlements won big headlines that gave the appearance of being tough on the banks. If we look at the issue more closely the rationale for these settlements gets pretty shaky. When Bank of America or J.P. Morgan has to pay out several billion dollars in penalties in 2013 or 2014, the people being hit most immediately are current shareholders and to a lesser extent top management. Since stock turns over frequently, the overlap between the group of people who hold these banks’ stock today and the people who benefited from the profits racked up in the bubble years will be limited. This means for the most part the fines are hitting people who did not profit from the wrong doing. The same story holds for the top executives. Insofar as these are different people from those in charge in the bubble years (this is mostly the case), they can rightly tell their boards that they should not be held responsible for the wrongdoing of their predecessors. As a result, boards are likely to compensate top management if they fail to hit bonus targets due to the fines. This just means more of a hit to current shareholders. So the people who profited from criminal acts get to keep their money, while Holder can boast about nailing people who had nothing to do with the crime. Had Holder treated this as a normal criminal matter he would have looked to build cases from the bottom up. This means finding specific examples of mortgage agents issuing obviously fraudulent mortgages, cases where these mortgages got bundled into securities at investment banks, and then marked as investment grade by the rating agencies. The people involved would then be pressed to say whether they are either buffoons or crooks. Most probably would not pass as the former. The next question is why they decided to break the law. When you get people to admit that they were acting on instructions from their bosses, you then ask the bosses whether they want to spend many years in jail or would prefer to explain why they thought it was a good idea to commit fraud. (This is the pattern the Justice Department is pursuing in going after illegal campaign contributions to Washington Mayor Vincent Gray.) We can never know this pattern of prosecution would have nailed big fish like Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein or Citigroup’s Robert Rubin. We do know that Holder never even tried. As a result the Wall Streeters who profited most from illegal acts in the bubble years got to keep their haul. This is the message that bankers will take away going forward. This virtually guarantees ongoing corruption in finance.

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We Need to Listen to the Founders and Stop the Forever War

In a handout photo, the guided-missile cruiser Philippine Sea launches an attack against Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (Photo: Eric Garst / U.S. Navy via The New York Times) This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to fund more stories like it! Just a little over a year ago during his speech at the National Defense University here in Washington, DC, President Obama talked about winding down Bush’s war on terror. But as US bombers continue to strike against ISIS in Iraq and now Syria, it now looks like the war on terror will be with us for years to come. And that’s a really dangerous thing for our democracy. You see, aside from the return of the British Empire, there was nothing that scared our founding fathers more than multigenerational war – essentially, war without end. The founders were scholars of classical history, and they knew that when given too much power, armies, like the armies ancient Rome, would push for more and more war, regardless of whether or not it was actually necessary for the safety of the people. This threatened the very core of our system of government. As James Madison told the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787: “A standing military force … will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.” This idea that a standing army made powerful by war would one day “enslave” the people through perpetual war scared revolutionaries like Madison so much that they devoted a whole section of the Constitution towards preventing it from ever happening. In Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, they gave Congress – the elected representatives of “we the people” – the sole power to raise and support armies, but – unlike any other appropriations – they limited the amount of time Congress could finance the army to a maximum of two years. And with the Second Amendment, the Founders tried to create a militia system that could make a standing army during peacetime unnecessary. Obviously, today the military-industrial complex has found ways to work around the founders’ checks and balances to create a standing army that is the most powerful in the world. But still, with President Obama’s decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and Syria, now is a vital time to listen to the founders’ warnings about war without end, and the dangers it poses to our democracy. That’s because whatever you think about the threat we face from groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, there is no debate about the fact that the past 13 years of “forever war” have turned our country into something that would absolutely terrify our founders. We now have a surveillance state to rival anything created by the East Germans during the Cold War, and our Justice Department regularly talks about how the government has the authority to execute US citizens without trial both here in the United States and anywhere in the world. If that doesn’t prove Madison’s quote about how “No nation [can] preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” nothing does. Given what’s happened over the past decade, it’s easy to be cynical about whether or not “we the people” can stand up for what the founders believed in and stop “continual warfare” before it’s too late. But there is a solution to stop this insanity: all it takes is an act of Congress. According to the White House, President Obama has the authority to bomb ISIS in Iraq and Syria because Congress gave him that authority when it passed an authorization to use military force (AUMF) against Al-Qaeda in 2001 and when it passed an authorization to use force against Iraq in 2002. And because President Obama says his authority to wage war without end comes from two acts of Congress, Congress has the power to repeal both of those acts and pass a new authorization for use of force, one that could limit – both in time and scope – the president from fighting ISIS forever. Our elected representatives simply need to listen to our nation’s founders and put real checks on the ability of the president and the military. War without end poses a very real threat to our democracy. And if Congress is serious about protecting our way of life, they’ll pass a new, limited AUMF before we go the way of ancient Rome. After all, it’s what the founders would have done.

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#FergusonFridays: White Anti-Racism, Social Media, and the Problem of Self-Serving Allying

Since Michael Brown’s murder, the Internet has been abuzz with content focusing on what white people could and should do to counter racism. Others have noted what white people should stop doing, too. Through social media, white anti-racism has become hyper-visible. Personal profile pictures are traded out for images intended to communicate a person’s identification with anti-racism. Posting becomes a way to affirm a person’s commitment to a movement. While in Ferguson for the Black Life Matters Ride, I didn’t offer reflective status updates that chronicled my experience. I didn’t change my profile pic to a selfie complete with protest signs in the background to announce to the world that I was there. This wasn’t a decision arrived at after serious deliberation. It was just that something about what was happening on social media was bothering me, even as I didn’t know quite how to put my concerns into words that weekend. Ultimately, I think my reluctance to publicize my experience in Ferguson was driven by one thing I know all too well—as a white person, going to Ferguson and then publicizing that work would likely garner all sorts of kudos from other white anti-racists. Others have pointed out that the ways anti-racist whites often do social media appropriate Black experience and side step a real analysis of the structural underpinnings of racism. But that’s not the only problem. One of the most insidious privileges accessible to whites in a white supremacist culture is that claiming anti-racism regularly functions in the service of self-promotion and, in fact, anti-racism can translate into status for whites. Under no circumstance would this be okay, but when state sanctioned violence directed at Black lives is epidemic, this pattern amplifies injustice. We live in a society that is structured by white supremacy, post-racial and colorblind rhetoric, alongside policies that promote a de-politicized version of multiculturalism. In a time characterized by these cultural contradictions, anti-racist whites are celebrated as evidence of progress. White anti-racism can then function as a status that can be traded on for access to elite spaces like universities, speaking gigs, diversity focused jobs, and public accolades. And yet, organizing in Ferguson or writing about the devaluation of Black lives continually leaves Black folks subject to virulent racist attacks and the accusation that one’s work is simultaneously self-serving and political. The costs are real. Attacks threaten emotional wellbeing and undermine resilience. And when labor is perceived as self-serving or political, it is devalued. It’s not that white anti-racists don’t experience any of these same consequences, it’s that alongside racist attacks whites are often likely to experience a particular kind of celebration for doing the work. Because racism is imagined as a problem that does not impact whites (a problematic assumption in and of itself), when whites articulate anti-racist ideas or participate in anti-racist work we are often labeled and perceived as good people, truly engaged activists, or, most insidiously, “benevolent” whites. Social media often elicits precisely these kinds of reactions, and it is important to think deeply about the real effects of virtual exchanges. One effect is that attention is redirected from the issues towards a personality. Egos may be fortified, but the work may remain undone. White anti-racism often functions simultaneously as self-promotion and a mechanism for building social and cultural capital. This is a kind of self-serving allying wherein anti-racist efforts benefit a white person in tangible ways but do not concretely undermine white supremacy (not simply personal racism). In this moment of righteous grieving and sustained organizing, it is critical for whites to really wrestle with how and when to “BACK UP & OFF!” Often the litmus test for when it’s time to shut up is when what you have to offer a conversation promotes your “anti-racism” more than it contributes to dismantling racism. Social media can be used to advertise white people’s anti-racism. Or it can be used to engage white folks about racism or as a tool for organizing around white supremacy. There is a world of difference. To be sure, I have used Facebook statuses in ways that I am not proud of. But given the way social media plays such a central role in organizing folks and building community and given the life and death stakes, it’s essential that whites think harder about these posts.

Continue reading #FergusonFridays: White Anti-Racism, Social Media, and the Problem of Self-Serving Allying

Ferguson Fridays: White Anti-Racism, Social Media and the Problem of Self-Serving Allying

Since Michael Brown’s murder, the Internet has been abuzz with content focusing on what white people could and should do to counter racism. Others have noted what white people should stop doing, too. Through social media, white anti-racism has become hyper-visible. Personal profile pictures are traded out for images intended to communicate a person’s identification with anti-racism. Posting becomes a way to affirm a person’s commitment to a movement. While in Ferguson for the Black Life Matters Ride, I didn’t offer reflective status updates that chronicled my experience. I didn’t change my profile pic to a selfie complete with protest signs in the background to announce to the world that I was there. This wasn’t a decision arrived at after serious deliberation. It was just that something about what was happening on social media was bothering me, even as I didn’t know quite how to put my concerns into words that weekend. Ultimately, I think my reluctance to publicize my experience in Ferguson was driven by one thing I know all too well—as a white person, going to Ferguson and then publicizing that work would likely garner all sorts of kudos from other white anti-racists. Others have pointed out that the ways anti-racist whites often do social media appropriate Black experience and side step a real analysis of the structural underpinnings of racism. But that’s not the only problem. One of the most insidious privileges accessible to whites in a white supremacist culture is that claiming anti-racism regularly functions in the service of self-promotion and, in fact, anti-racism can translate into status for whites. Under no circumstance would this be okay, but when state sanctioned violence directed at Black lives is epidemic, this pattern amplifies injustice. We live in a society that is structured by white supremacy, post-racial and colorblind rhetoric, alongside policies that promote a de-politicized version of multiculturalism. In a time characterized by these cultural contradictions, anti-racist whites are celebrated as evidence of progress. White anti-racism can then function as a status that can be traded on for access to elite spaces like universities, speaking gigs, diversity focused jobs, and public accolades. And yet, organizing in Ferguson or writing about the devaluation of Black lives continually leaves Black folks subject to virulent racist attacks and the accusation that one’s work is simultaneously self-serving and political. The costs are real. Attacks threaten emotional wellbeing and undermine resilience. And when labor is perceived as self-serving or political, it is devalued. It’s not that white anti-racists don’t experience any of these same consequences, it’s that alongside racist attacks whites are often likely to experience a particular kind of celebration for doing the work. Because racism is imagined as a problem that does not impact whites (a problematic assumption in and of itself), when whites articulate anti-racist ideas or participate in anti-racist work we are often labeled and perceived as good people, truly engaged activists, or, most insidiously, “benevolent” whites. Social media often elicits precisely these kinds of reactions, and it is important to think deeply about the real effects of virtual exchanges. One effect is that attention is redirected from the issues towards a personality. Egos may be fortified, but the work may remain undone. White anti-racism often functions simultaneously as self-promotion and a mechanism for building social and cultural capital. This is a kind of self-serving allying wherein anti-racist efforts benefit a white person in tangible ways but do not concretely undermine white supremacy (not simply personal racism). In this moment of righteous grieving and sustained organizing, it is critical for whites to really wrestle with how and when to “BACK UP & OFF!” Often the litmus test for when it’s time to shut up is when what you have to offer a conversation promotes your “anti-racism” more than it contributes to dismantling racism. Social media can be used to advertise white people’s anti-racism. Or it can be used to engage white folks about racism or as a tool for organizing around white supremacy. There is a world of difference. To be sure, I have used Facebook statuses in ways that I am not proud of. But given the way social media plays such a central role in organizing folks and building community and given the life and death stakes, it’s essential that whites think harder about these posts.

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The Wilderness Act Turns 50, Celebrating the Great Laws of 1964

Let us now praise famous laws and the year that begat them: 1964. The first thing to know about 1964 was that, although it occurred in the 1960s, it wasn’t part of “the Sixties.” The bellbottoms, flower power, LSD, and craziness came later, beginning about 1967 and extending into the early 1970s. Trust me: I was there, and I don’t remember much; so by the dictum variously attributed to Grace Slick, Dennis Hopper, and others (that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t part of them), I must really have been there. 1964 was a revolutionary year. It was a time when Congress actually addressed the people’s business, and it gave us at least three great laws. One was the monumental Civil Rights Act, which aspired to complete the tragic and sanguinary work of the Civil War and achieve the promise of the Thirteenth Amendment. The least known of the three was the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, which, by drawing on revenue from offshore oil and gas leases, provided the means for the federal and state purchase of all kinds ofrecreational and wild lands, from inner-city parks and playgrounds to habitat for grizzly bears and mountain lions. President Johnson signed that bill into law on September 3, 1964, 50 years ago this month, mere moments after the more famous ceremony that went with his signing of the Wilderness Act. Like the Civil Rights Act, the Wilderness Act legislated justice. I don’t mean to equate the two laws — no one went to jail or was attacked by police dogs or shot or killed to get the Wilderness Act passed, but it did embody a revolutionary act of justice, nevertheless. It legislated compassion toward the planet by insisting that we humans must stop and leave certain lands alone and not take anything more from them. That third great law of 1964 made a down payment on giving Earth its due. It was that kind of justice. In 1964, I had only the vaguest inklings about these matters. That summer I was more concerned with the Barry Goldwater literature I was sticking behind my neighbor’s screen doors. Barry Goldwater? The right-wing Republican candidate for president whom the Dems famously branded astrigger-happy with the nuclear arsenal? Yes, that Goldwater. My father, a Republican, was for him, and so I was, too. Could my dad have been wrong? Hell no, not for at least another 10 teenage minutes, after which the old guy seemed to be wrong about nearly everything for the next decade, but that’s not the story I want to tell. Instead, I want to talk about sex, or at least about seduction, which many people agree is the better part of sex. Opposition to the Civil Rights Act had a sexual undercurrent. The law itself focused on equal access to buses, trains, drinking fountains, restaurants, restrooms, and hotels; it aimed to end racial and gender discrimination in education and employment. Ultimately, it concerned itself with the promise of the entire American project, for its goal was to honor the “self-evident truth” that “all men are created equal,” as though the nation, after nearly two centuries of equivocation, had finally agreed with what the Declaration of Independence said. As segregationists had done since before the Civil War, opponents of the bill raised the specter of racial mixing — miscegenation — as a way of rallying white resistance to integration. Racists warned, for instance, that school integration would lead to hanky-panky between young whites and blacks, and didn’t you know where that would lead? The hypocrisy in this, given that rape of black women by white men had been a constant of the plantation world, was of course monumental, but the demagogues, in public and private, ranted on. Ultimately, the Civil Rights Act would stop short of guaranteeing an individual’s freedom to marry or cohabit with whomever he or she chose, but it prepared the way for the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v.Virginia that rendered unconstitutional the anti-miscegenation laws then in force across the South. In this way — and not just because (in one of the great political surprises of the era) it outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as race — the Civil Rights Act concerned sex. As the trolls who fought its passage feared, it helped to enlarge the range of socially and legally acceptable seduction. So, in a way, did the Wilderness Act. But this will take some explaining. Love Struck in the Wilderness Flash forward to 1976. In that year I was a skinny kid, 25 years old, living in an isolated village in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico (where I still live today). After a big meal and long drink of water, I might have weighed 150 pounds. Thanks to a “Your-Weight-for-a-Dime” machine on San Francisco Street in Santa Fe, I learned that my backpack weighed nearly half of what I did. It was loaded with macaroni and other near-foods. I was headed into the Pecos Wilderness, a high mountain fastness where 12,000-foot peaks circle the headwaters of the Pecos River. I would be gone for two weeks, and I would be alone. My plan was to walk home, to my village, taking the long way. All that first day and the day after, my worries rattled inside me like cans in the back of a pickup. Did I pack enough food? Did I bring the right stuff? Would my strength hold out? Would I get desperately lonely with no one to talk to? What if I got hurt? Relief came when I topped a sharp ridge above the timberline, nearly colliding with a six-bird flock of band-tailed pigeons. Only yards away, they wheeled as one, tails spread, air seething through their feathers. I think I felt the soft breath of their wake. “Six-bird flock of band-tailed pigeons”: I wrote down the phrase in my pocket notebook. The words had rhythm; they scanned. Suddenly, the whole world seemed made of poetry. On the second night, I camped in a dark, still forest, waking repeatedly from shallow sleep, aware of small creatures skittering around me. In the morning, I found that wood rats had chewed off chunks of my camp moccasins. They showed the good judgment, however, to ignore my food. On the third day, a snowstorm caught me at high altitude in open country. It was only late September, but I should not have been surprised. Winter comes early above timberline, and the storm blew in unseen from behind the mountain I was climbing. Soon, everything was blowing snow, shrieking wind, and a whiteout so thick I could scarcely see the ground. There was no question of seeking better shelter; I stumbled into a copse of wind-tortured, nearly prostrate spruces and pitched my tarp, low and flat, among the gnarled trees. Then I crawled under the tarp to wait out the weather. The storm seethed for the next 18 hours. Most of the snow flew by horizontally, so fast it may have landed in Texas. In the end, eight or more inches covered the ground. The wind never quit. In the night, when moonlight briefly broke the overcast, I crept out and hiked to the top of the divide. Cumulus clouds, as moist as the spray of waterfalls, boiled up from the Rio Grande Valley. They broke like surf and tumbled across the tundra ridge, their swirls visible in the angry air. Today, I can still see those malevolent, ghostly shapes, all turmoil and beauty. I watched them billow eastward into darkness until cold drove me back to my sleeping bag. Next day, postholing through the snow, I began to feel different. Something had changed, but I didn’t know what. It was nothing dramatic or decisive, but it mattered and it didn’t go away. Days and miles rolled by, daysof camps made, meals cooked, trails lost and found, and the feeling only grew. The first week yielded to a second that was better than the first. Mentally I was in a groove, a zone of my own. Nothing troubled me, not successive storms, short rations, cold, or fatigue. A day or two from the end of the trip, having set course for home, an explanation came to mind. Somehow the tempest had taught me that moods are like letters. If you can’t mail them, you don’t write them. Since I was alone and had no one to deliver my moods to, I let them go. When I did, I found myself in a frame of mind that was new and different from the mind I’d had before. You might say that the discovery was a small one, but a lot of growing up consists of small revelations, and understanding that moods are letters was one of mine. As it happened, something else was going on, too. All of us change when we fall in love, and part of the intoxication of romance is the way we come to love the changes our new relationships cause in ourselves. Up there in the high country, something like that was happening, and I was falling in love. The Pecos Wilderness was seducing me. I was entering an irrational state of love-struckness as irrational, more or less, as any other. Lighting Out for the Territories I later learned that the Hopis have a pretty good word for this. Like most of the entries in the Hopi-English dictionary, this one begins with a k and is about seven syllables long. It translates, as best I remember, as “walking hand in hand and looking dreamily into the eyes of the desired one.” Which describes how I was feeling as I walked home, gazing dreamily into the scenery after two weeks in the embrace of the federally designated Pecos Wilderness Area. I’ve never gotten over the experience. Years later, having read some anthropology, I came to understand that, notwithstanding my distinctly non-tribal upbringing, I had cooked up a rite of passage for myself, and the wilderness had been its arena. Various friends, I’ve since learned, had similar experiences, which they’ve never gotten over. It doesn’t stop there: if you read much history, you’ll come across others who entered the wilderness and fell the same way. A few examples: In 1806, John Colter, having wet his moccasins in the Pacific Ocean, was traveling back to St. Louis with Captains Lewis and Clark. In present-day North Dakota, however, he had a change of heart: he decided he liked it better in the woods. He asked the captains to discharge him, which they did. Then, he did an about-face and headed west again, plunging into the deep wildness. Eventually, he made it to the country we now call Yellowstone. He’d heard of geysers there and thought he would check them out. George Bradley, Billy Hawkins, Andy Hall, and John Sumner barely survived their harrowing 1869 descent of the Colorado River with the indomitable explorer and one-armed Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. Three of their campmates didn’t fare as well: the Howland brothers and William Dunn elected to walk out of the Grand Canyon rather than continue to test the river’s fearsome rapids, and they died in the attempt. When, after three months of exertion, danger, and suffering, the remaining members of the expedition finally reached the mouth of the Virgin River near present-day Las Vegas, Powell and his notably unstable brother, Walter, returned to civilization via the Mormon settlements. But not Bradley, Hawkins, Hall, and Sumner. They were in no hurry to get to a town. In the expedition’s remaining boats, they kept going down the river, Hawkins and Hall continuing all the way to tidewater, where the Colorado spills into the Gulf of California. On Valentine’s Day, 1884, at 3:00 a.m., “Mittie” Roosevelt, mother of Theodore, the future president, died. Eleven brutal hours later and in the same gloomy house, Roosevelt’s beloved young wife, Alice, having given birth only a few days earlier, died as well. In less than half a day, Roosevelt had lost the two most important women in his life. TR was a compulsive diarist. In the place in his diary where the entry for that wretched day should have gone, he drew a big black “X” and under it wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.” How did Roosevelt recover from such blows? His answer was quintessentially American. He put his newborn daughter in the care of relatives and, like Huck Finn, “lit out for the territories.” In Roosevelt’s case, the territory was North Dakota, where he found a new love, virtually as compelling as the two he had lost. An Eastern-raised son of privilege, he fell in love with the West and its wildness. And John Muir! Talk about love-struck! If you can read The Yosemite or The Mountains of California and not see in them a story of seduction and wildly reciprocated love, you should consult your cardiologist immediately. And then there are several centuries’ worth of North American captivity narratives recounting the lives of whites who cohabited for extended periods with Indians, only to be recaptured laterand brought back to white society. They rarely returned happily. Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah, the legendary Comanche chief, was typical. She remained morose for the rest of her life, as were many who shared similar fates: they liked it better on the prairie or in the forest. Partly, they loved their adopted Indian families and the culture they adjusted to, but partly, they simply loved the freedom of the land. One Law, 110 Million Acres of Land Saved for Us All Hindsight is great. If we were creating the Wilderness Act today, we would write it differently. For starters, a rewritten act might acknowledge that much of what we now call “wilderness” is or was homeland to a broad range of native tribes. Also, half a century later, we know much more about how ecosystems work; we understand the importance of natural boundaries, as opposed to survey boundaries, and we grasp the need for buffer zones and refuges for rare plants and animals. Meanwhile, the fix we are in as a civilization is, frankly, so much worse than it was 50 years ago, and wild lands are more threatened than ever. Climate change is just the tip of that particular iceberg. We continue to transform Earth much more rapidly than we are learning to understand its workings. Today, however, rather than tote up the peccadillos of the law that Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society and others crafted so brilliantly a half century ago, we should take a moment to appreciate the stunning success of the Wilderness Act in protecting the integrity of nearly 110 million acres of wild lands across the magnificence of North America. The Wilderness Act accomplished something no other law ever attempted on such a scale. Over the decades, it has invited us repeatedly to join humankind’s longest romance, which the Pleistocene painters at Lascaux and Chauvet understood well. It seduces us with the almost heart-stopping beauty of the Creation of which we are a part, a beauty that is the same no matter how you believe it came about. The greatest thing about that great law, only one of three in 1964, is that it still invites us, even at times forces us (most of us being city dwellers), to fall in love with our beautiful blue planet Earth, the most singular and wonder-filled thing in all the universe. Think of it: in all the universe. If you believe that complexity is an element of beauty, then the complexity of life on this planet, expressed in billions upon billions of strands of DNA, makes it the most beautiful thing in the universe. Period. Hands down. No competition. That’s our blue miracle of a planet, which the great Carl Sagan once described as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Given half a chance — and the Wilderness Act gives us much more — who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

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Medicare, Dr. Mengele, and You

So, the multimillionaire architect of Obamacare went on a luxury trek up Mount Kilimanjaro recently with two of his trust-fund nephews. I am guessing that much to his dismay, he got a bit winded moving through all those exotic ecosystems. His 57-year-old body, so buff, so pampered, must have protested with a few creaks and groans. His middle-aged elite lungs probably gave out a few embarrassing wheezes. His technocratic brain, deprived of oxygen at the freezing summit, sent him a Eureka moment message:If Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D. can’t live forever in a young body, then neither should you. If Ezekiel Emanuel’s attack of male menopause freaked him out, then you should freak out too. If Ezekiel Emanuel fears a decline, then the rest of the aging population should just quietly disappear, even before they get sick or senile. Ezekiel Emanuel has decided that if he can’t function like a rich jerk forever, he would just as soon die before he reaches 75. Therefore, nobody else should live past 75 either. Once you stop being entertaining or remunerative, you should just check the hell out.Ezekiel Emanuel seems to hate old people, believing that they are eyesores and albatrosses around the necks of High Society. This is a Democrat, mind you: a highly influential member of Obama’s inner circle of health policy advisers. And you thought Republicans were terrifying fascists? It just goes to show how severely right-wing, nihilist, cruel and cynical this country’s ruling class has become. The culling of the herd is nigh. The time has come for Exceptional America to go all nomadic, leaving the old folks behind, so that only the fittest may survive.The Manifesto of Death to Grandma was published in The Atlantic, which hilariously included an oversize photo of a goofily grinning Emanuel to accompany his Social Darwinism screed. The subliminal message of the photo is that the passive-aggressive dying experience will be fun for the entire family. Don’t go away by suicide, assisted or otherwise: just go away. Play a game of Russian Roulette by daring to skip the colonoscopy and the mammogram… and simply fade away through attrition. Your heirs will thank you. The plutocrats of Wall Street will definitely thank you.Let Natural Selection take its course…. especially if you’re dependent on Medicare and Social Security for your continued survival. Let a benevolent smirking rich guy like Zeke be your guide: But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic. Full disclosure: I am a physically disabled person, yet somehow I do not feel as deprived as Emanuel thinks I should. Until I read his article, I’d had no idea that my being in a wheelchair has robbed me of my creativity, and even worse, that my continued existence in a less-than-perfect body will rob my children of any pleasant memories of me for the rest of their lives. My living will stipulates only the physical and mental conditions for ending extraordinary intervention, not an arbitrary age for doing so. Moreover, since I still have quite a ways to go before my own date with Diamond Jubilee Destiny, does that mean I’m still safe, despite my “faltering” state? But I digress. Let Dr. Death explain further by projecting his own will on everybody: By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business. It’s all about Ezekiel Emanuel. If he can’t hear the smarmy accolades at his own funeral, then why even have one? (Speaking of limitations, he already has a major one, one that he was probably born with: a congenital absence of the empathy trait. He is, after all, the brother of Rahm “Mayor One Percent” Emanuel.) I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75. Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal. I reject this aspiration. I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop. I think oxygen deprivation at the summit of Kilimanjaro must have either permanently impaired Emanuel’s brain function, or his death-wish may even represent a form of late onset manic-depressive psychosis affecting mainly elites. According to his logic, Ruth Bader Ginsburg should never have been (successfully) treated for her pancreatic cancer. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, she should forgo physical exams midway through her first term, lest Chelsea suffer needlessly in the event that a health problem in Mom is discovered and treated. Albert Einstein should have skipped his annual check-ups, because once he discovered the Theory of Relativity, he was surplus flesh. Ditto for E.M. Forster, who stopped writing 60 years before his death at 91. How pathetic is that? And forget Harper Lee: her artificial leg is a complete and utter waste of Medicare dollars, given that she was a one-hit wonder: Ezekiel doesn’t think it’d be a sin to kill that bird.He finally cuts to the chase after cherry-picking through data that purports to show that while Americans live longer, they live longer most miserably. This is also all about his Dad, who simply refused to die in the best shape of his life: My father illustrates the situation well. About a decade ago, just shy of his 77th birthday, he began having pain in his abdomen. Like every good doctor, he kept denying that it was anything important. But after three weeks with no improvement, he was persuaded to see his physician. He had in fact had a heart attack, which led to a cardiac catheterization and ultimately a bypass. Since then, he has not been the same. Once the prototype of a hyperactive Emanuel, suddenly his walking, his talking, his humor got slower. Today he can swim, read the newspaper, needle his kids on the phone, and still live with my mother in their own house. But everything seems sluggish. Although he didn’t die from the heart attack, no one would say he is living a vibrant life. When he discussed it with me, my father said, “I have slowed down tremendously. That is a fact. I no longer make rounds at the hospital or teach.” Despite this, he also said he was happy. Then Daddy must be demented, or at least getting close. As Ezekiel hypomanically continues: Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower. It is not just mental slowing. We literally lose our creativity. About a decade ago, I began working with a prominent health economist who was about to turn 80. Our collaboration was incredibly productive. We published numerous papers that influenced the evolving debates around health-care reform. My colleague is brilliant and continues to be a major contributor, and he celebrated his 90th birthday this year. But he is an outlier—a very rare individual. I don’t know about that. Everywhere you look, there are amazingly brilliant octogenarians and nonagenarians who still dare to function at the peak of their abilities. Several of them contribute to this blog. (see 91-year-old Pearl’s scathing remarks in my comments section.) And there is a New York Times commenter named Larry Eisenberg who can produce a limerick on any topic in the space of a few minutes. He is 94. Creative older people are “outliers” only in Emanuel’s closed, elitist mind.Here’s a section sure to strike dread into the heart of every gerontologist: At 75 and beyond, I will need a good reason to even visit the doctor and take any medical test or treatment, no matter how routine and painless. And that good reason is not “It will prolong your life.” I will stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions. I will accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if I am suffering pain or other disability. How much you want to bet that Zekey-Boy will be screaming for extraordinary measures at the age of 98, ripping the oxygen-mask off the 75-year-old down the hall just to get a last sucking selfish mouthful of life?He finally gets to the real reason (besides his gerontophobic disgust at looking at Daddy) for his faux-altruism: America is in decline. For a civilized country, our mortality rates are nothing to brag about. Despite being the richest country (the most billionaires on the planet) we rank only 40th in life expectancy. This is not so much because of biology, but because of our cruel social policies and continuing high poverty rate. The plutocrats of Wall Street and the political hacks like Emanuel who serve them want their Grand Bargain of safety net cuts. They don’t want even the smallest portion of the wealth that they’ve managed to siphon off for themselves to trickle back down to medical care for the old, disabled and indigent.The Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission went down in ignominy. The debt and deficit are no longer popular campaign themes. So what is an oligarch to do? For starters, Doc Zeke has come to their rescue with his cheery article, keeping the macabre herd-culling conversation alive. What Emanuel has indulged himself in is just more poor-shaming and psychological elder abuse, albeit couched in the most liberal, caring, and sensible terms. Please don’t take him to mean that he espouses the easy Ernest Hemingway suicide route out, because Emanuel (says he) is absolutely against that, along with euthanasia. He protests (too much, methinks) that he is no Dr. Kevorkian! But do skip the flu shot voluntarily this year, old people. Your grandchildren and the Medicare trust fund will be ever so grateful.Did I mention that Dr. Zeke is director of the Bioethics Department of the budget-slashed National Institutes of Health? And they said that irony is dead. “The rich were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how some one had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him as much as any other thing that wrecked him.” – Ernest Hemingway, from the original version of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.

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Understanding Our Many Fergusons: Kill Lines – the Will, the Right and the Need to Kill

A makeshift memorial for Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, on the spot where he was killed in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 26, 2014. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times) There seems to be a war raging in the United States for which there is no end in sight. A war, the outcome of which may well determine whether many African-American children will live to reach adulthood. More precisely, what is happening looks and feels like a race war that pits the right of African-Americans to have their young people live with dignity against the right of angry white policemen and vigilantes with guns to kill them.A makeshift memorial for Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, on the spot where he was killed in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 26, 2014. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times) Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news and make a tax-deductible donation today! The following is a condensed and revised version of a talk given on September 11, 2014, at a forum, sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s Africana Studies Institute, on the killings of Michael Brown and other African-Americans. There seems to be a war raging in the United States for which there is no end in sight. A war, the outcome of which may well determine whether many African-American children will live to reach adulthood. More precisely, what is happening looks and feels like a race war that pits the right of African-Americans to have their young people live with dignity against the right of angry white policemen and vigilantes with guns to kill them. My understanding of what is happening in Ferguson and elsewhere in the United States developed as the result of a perfect storm-like convergence of a number of influences. In the early spring of this year, while eating some good Southern cooking and talking with my sociology department colleague, Matt Hughey, and two other very accomplished racism scholars at Black Eyed Sally’s in downtown Hartford, I heard myself saying words that were shocking to my own ears. At that moment, in the wake of a spate of police and Stand Your Ground laws-justified, vigilante-style killings (e.g., Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Jordon Davis), I found myself articulating the need to conceptualize what increasingly seemed to be a sense of entitlement by many “whites” to kill “black” youth. This suspicion was further stoked not long afterward when I read an internet posting on the plans of a gun rights group of European-American men to march through a low-income, African-American neighborhood in Houston, Texas, brandishing assault rifles to demonstrate their right to bear such arms whenever and wherever they pleased. I developed this idea further in a talk I gave to a group of mothers in Hartford whose sons had been killed as a result of gun violence. At that forum, held in the wake of the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Ezell Ford by European-American police officers on Staten Island, in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Los Angeles, California, respectively, I made the link between racism and poverty to both such African-American on African-American gun violence and to European-American police and vigilante killings and stressed the need for an effective social movement challenge to bring about the systemic change needed to better protect our youth, both from dangers within and outside of our communities. In that talk, I stated that as I continued to observe the killings by those from outside of our communities, I became increasingly convinced that they are acts of racial terrorism that the perpetrators see in their own perverted way as a form of morality enforcement that serves the same vigilante function that lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan used to serve – especially in the South. I added that such terrorism, what we might call the new 21st century version of lynchings, is intended to send a message that it is so-called white people who are in control and that black people had best stay in our place and to behave as white men with guns would have us to behave. Finally, I concluded that the underlying premise behind these “new lynchings” is that we African-Americans have no rights and that “white men,” whether in uniform or not, have the right to kill “black” people as they please, and that right will not be abridged by anyone. We found that the men who killed [women] justified their actions based on ownership norms that presumed that the penalty for attempting to leave such relationships was death. Because those men thought and felt that they owned their women, they concluded that they were entitled to do with them as they pleased if they violated certain rules, and such rights included the right to kill. In time I came to realize that what ultimately drove my questions was exhaustion; that old African-American legacy of being “tired of being tired.” It was the fatigue of having experienced what seemed like the daily, often outrageous, killings of unarmed people of African descent, mostly young men, since the highly publicized killing of Amadou Diallo and the acquittals of the men who killed him. With each new killing, I became increasingly convinced that there could be no act the nation’s white power structure would deem to be so outrageous as to say enough is enough; there must be systemic change. Finally, another likely influence I did not become aware of until later was a study I had done some time ago with Margaret A. Zahn on women who were murdered as they tried to escape physically-abusive relations. In that study, we found that the men who killed them justified their actions based on ownership norms that presumed that the penalty for attempting to leave such relationships was death. Because those men thought and felt that they owned their women, they concluded that they were entitled to do with them as they pleased if they violated certain rules, and such rights included the right to kill. As I pondered the reasons for the repeated killings of African-American youth by European-American police officers and vigilantes, it became clear to me that a mix of racist stereotypes and emotions, hyper-masculinity and entitlement fueled their actions. And since the victims were usually, but of course not always, African-American or Latino-American boys or men, I suspected that in part what was going on was a highly racialized macho thing, an assertion of white-male dominance. I also realized that because they are normative, such actions are not only presumed justified, but also protected. That is, they are condoned not only because they are deemed to be acceptable, but also because they are actually thought to be good in that they serve some useful social function. This led me to conclude that like the lynchings so prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries, they articulated both a very rational and a highly emotional social-control norm that could best be described, again, as “the right to kill.” Ironically, another factor that may be contributing to the increase in the number of police killings of African-American youth is the progress we African-Americans have made toward securing our full citizen rights. This is consistent with the fact that in the United States the lynching of African-Americans increased dramatically after the abolition of slavery. The progress today’s post-civil rights era African-American youth have experienced has resulted in their having a much greater sense of entitlement as citizens than their parents and grandparents. They actually expect to be treated as first-class citizens and will accept nothing less. Or to put it in very racist, Jim Crow-era terms: Today’s young African-Americans “don’t know their place.” There is all too often fatal conflict when that right to be treated with dignity collides with the highly-racialized and gendered right of European-American, male police officers to kill when challenged. This conflict is evident in the title of a Washington Post op-ed by a Los Angeles police officer who makes clear what he sees as the lesson of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri: “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” Another police officer, who was on duty in Ferguson during the demonstrations and sometimes violent unrest after the Brown killing, was found to have said earlier to a right-wing group that he was “a killer” and that “if you don’t want to get killed, don’t show up in front of me.” Of course, there are many European-Americans who challenge the police about their constitutional and other rights who are not hurt or killed. Such warnings are racially specific. All of those influences led me to conclude that such killings exist and persist because some European-Americans have organized strong ideational and institutional supports to protect what they deeply feel, if not consciously think, is their inherent right to kill what they judge to be morally-wayward African-Americans and other people of color. That is, the killing of “black” people is the ultimate entitlement that “white” people possess. This “right” is highly organized into systems of oppression like laws, law enforcement, politics, the economy and the media, and is fueled by strong negative emotions like hatred, loathing, anger, fear and racial entitlement. Such killings are justified by suppositions that certain moral codes have been violated. Those infractions can be as trivial as a teenager having his music turned up too loud or his not reacting quickly and deferentially enough to a rude, if not profane, command to clear the area. The sentiment that such violations are punishable by death is rooted in assumptions of white moral supremacy and control that go back as far as slavery and later the emergence of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the widespread deployment of terrorist tactics like lynchings. Again, the underlying premise behind these “new lynchings” is that we African-Americans have no rights that “white men” – whether in uniform or not – are bound to respect and that they have the right to kill “black” people as they please. Such white power and black helplessness used to be demonstrated by our inability to protect our women from rape and our men from lynchings. Today, it is evident by our inability to protect our children from murder. This is what the Stand Your Ground movement that has swept the nation is about – the exploitation of white racist fear and animus by gun manufacturers and retailers like Walmart to sell lots of guns and ammunition. Angry and racially-bigoted European-American men with guns seem to believe that they have a right to kill when in their minds African-Americans cross a line that is nowhere close to the one that involves self-defense or the defense of the lives of others. So I have come to the conclusion that these killings can best be viewed through the analytical lens of rights in conflict. One way of looking at this conflict from the perspective of European-American police officers and vigilante-type individuals who kill African-American youth is as a very highly racialized and macho game of lines drawn in the sand. Here the lines in the sand are drawn in blood and the game is over when they get to shoot to kill with impunity. Indeed it is useful to think in terms of there actually being three lines: The will to kill line – based on highly racialized and genderized emotions of anger and hatred; the right to kill line – what that person can reasonably expect to get away with based on existing norms, laws, policies and practices, and their enforcement, and the need to kill line – rooted in a threat to that person’s life or the lives of others. In brief, the will to kill and the right to kill are the necessary and sufficient conditions for such killings. There need not be an actual need to kill. Elsewhere on that field, our African-American youth are constantly trying to push forward the line of their right to not only live, but also to be treated with all the rights and dignity of first-class citizens. Unfortunately, as they do so, that right collides with the expected rights of others to kill them. When most of us think of the police and citizens’ right to kill we think of constitutional and other legal rights based on their need to defend the lives of themselves or others. Unfortunately, when we observe the actions and listen to the words of those men who kill we see that is not how things actually work. As Stand Your Ground laws make clear, they need not be near that need to kill line in order to kill. Angry and racially-bigoted European-American men with guns seem to believe that they have a right to kill when in their minds African-Americans cross a line that is nowhere close to the one that involves self-defense or the defense of the lives of others. In their minds crossing that line may simply mean that a person doesn’t follow instructions, stop running, or when that person does anything else they see as challenging them and their highly racialized manhood. In brief, there is a huge difference between police and other individuals killing because they have to and because they can. I believe that the kill line is not set by law or constitutional rights. It is instead set by practice. When those men with the will to kill see that there are no real penalties for doing so, they increasingly pull the right to kill line away from the need to kill line. Ultimately, although a lot of anger, hatred and machismo may spark their actions, the real reason they do it is simply because they can. They know that it is highly unlikely that they will be charged, must less convicted of a crime. If they thought that such actions would land them in jail for long prison terms they wouldn’t do it, period. Ultimately, it is power that explains oppression and it is only by changing power relations that people can end it. No oppressor is going to take his or her foot off of someone’s neck because it is the right, the rational and the reasonable thing to do as made clear by some wonderful sociological study. That foot can only be removed by us, and only if we muster the courage and the power to remove it. African-Americans and others fighting for social justice have learned from centuries of struggle that, to quote Frederick Douglas, “power conceded nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Let me close, therefore, by simply saying that we must realize that together we can be a powerful force for change.

Continue reading Understanding Our Many Fergusons: Kill Lines – the Will, the Right and the Need to Kill

Making Windmills Out of Warplanes

With the Islamic State’s rise, Libya’s slide back into civil war, and the conflict brewing between Ukraine and Russia, there’s plenty to fear these days. Maybe you’ve always believed you could count on the US military to protect you from dangers like those, and that makes you feel safe. As a college student and a resident of Philadelphia, a city threatened by sea level rise, I’m more concerned about a threat that military force can’t fix and will grow more acute during my lifetime. Namely, climate change. When I co-authored a new report that compares what the US government spends on military and climate security, it was good to learn that the Pentagon sees climate change as a national security threat. Climate change poses the “biggest long-term threat” facing the Asia-Pacific region, according to Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, head of the US fleet in the Pacific. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Extreme weather makes it hard for troops to prepare for missions, rising sea levels could leave many US bases underwater within decades, and the displacement of millions of people causes conflict. But the Pentagon is part of the problem. The US military emits more greenhouse gases than any other institution on the planet. It spent $19 billion meeting its energy needs last year, 87 percent of which came from non-renewable, polluting sources. The $2.4 billion it spent on “green” efforts shows that Defense Department is trying to do something about climate change, but this pales in comparison to its contribution to the problem. Making weapons also burns through huge amounts of energy and natural resources. National security isn’t just about bombs and warplanes anymore. Conventional force can’t defend any nation against the kind of global warming scientists say is in store unless humanity changes course. Since climate change poses a threat to national security, the federal government should redirect the funds necessary for preventing it from some of the dollars currently funneled into the Defense Department’s coffers. Experts don’t agree on what meeting the climate challenge will cost — though they all say that the costs are rising every year that the world doesn’t do enough. They’re also divided on how much each nation should pay for the transition away from a fossil-fueled economy. Whether you look at how much the US government can afford to pay or owes, it works out at about one-quarter of the military budget. With these funds, the federal government could make significant investments in a range of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. This doesn’t mean that the American people would become less secure. Some of the funding could come from cutting unnecessary programs. For instance, phasing out the Cold War-era B-1 bomber would save $3.7 billion over five years, which could be used to reduce energy use in 4.6 million homes by up to 20 percent. Retiring two of the Navy’s aircraft carrier groups would save $50 billion, enough money to provide at least one out of four American homes with a year’s electricity from solar power. A 25-percent cut to the Pentagon’s budget would leave its funding at about the same level as 2003, when it waged two wars. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel believes a smaller force would be more agile and effective. Plus, trimming fossil fuel consumption would decrease US dependency on oil imported from volatile regions of the world. Extreme weather and flooding are already causing havoc in coastal areas as severe drought and wildfires imperil other regions. It’s time for new spending priorities. The United States needs to cut the military budget to free up money to invest in renewable alternatives to oil, gas, and coal, along with energy efficiency and other steps required to meet the climate challenge. It’s not going to be easy to keep the planet livable and safe. But we have no time to lose.

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The Next Attorney General Should Enforce the Rule of Law, Protect Constitutional Rights and Investigate Abuse of Power

Eric Holder’s tenure as attorney general will be remembered for the failure to prosecute any leading bankers who were responsible for the collapse of the economy. While the SEC negotiated large fines, the DOJ prosecuted none of those who were guilty of crimes that robbed the wealth of tens of millions of Americans. The failure to prosecute bankers was one example of many where corporate power dominated the DOJ on finance, environmental, labor and other issues. This should have been an era of aggressive enforcement of corporate crime, instead corporate criminals were rarely investigated. It will also be remembered for the mistaken lack of enforcement against war crimes; in particular torture committed by US officials during the Bush administration as well as failing to take any action against lawyers in the Department of Justice and CIA who provided legal cover to torture. Instead of putting up a red light to unauthorized wars and military action, the Holder DOJ provided legal cover the massive drone killings by President Obama (that primarily killed civilians and non-combatants) and the military attack against Libya as well as the current war on ISIS resulting in massive bombings in Syria and Iraq. A related security-state issue that Holder has not handled well has been the dragnet surveillance being conducted by the NSA. The DOJ should have appointed an independent prosecutor who was not part of the government to investigate the NSA spying program and the role of the White House, CIA, FBI and any other intelligence agencies that may have been involved. The failure to stop this dragnet surveillance program that captures email, text messages, phone chats and telephone calls of the American people has essentially provided legal cover for this violation of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution that protects Americans from unreasonable searches without probable cause found by an independent magistrate. Regarding constitutional rights also undermined during the Holder era was Freedom of Speech and Assembly. The federal government coordinated crackdown of the occupy movement should have been stopped by the Department of Justice. The Holder DOJ should have told the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Service, FBI and any other federal agencies involved as well as local law enforcement agencies, that it was their job to protect the right of protest. The American people have very real grievances against a corrupt economy that is unfair and puts the profits of the wealthiest Americans ahead of the necessities of working Americans. And, they have grievances against a government that is not responsive to the people because it is ruled by money which makes it dysfunctional and incapable of working for the people’s interests. The right of protest is the only remedy the American people have when the government is corrupt and dysfunctional. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press were also undermined by the dramatic attack by the Obama administration against journalists and whistleblowers. The United States military, security and intelligence agencies have been involved in unprecedented activities that on their face seem to be illegal. We would not have known about them had it not been for whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. In fact, Eric Holder’s DOJ inappropriately used the Espionage Act more than any other administration – indeed more than every administration combined. Similarly, attacks on journalists – including searches of offices and threatened prosecution increased under Holder. The right of Americans to know through a free press and citizens of conscience is critical in times of extreme corruption. The Holder administration also oversaw the development of massive amounts of campaign dollars entering an already corrupt electoral system, through anonymous contributions to non-profit 501 (c)(4) organizations that are not required to report their donors but who are not supposed to be involved in electoral activity. These (c)(4) organizations combined with so-called Super PACs have polluted elections creating plutocratic mirage elections, a façade of democracy. The Citizens Uniteddecision did not authorize anonymous donations; in fact the court said that the requirement of federal election law to report the identity of donors would be a protection against corruption. Attorney General Holder should have appointed an independent prosecutor to investigate electoral activities by both parties. This prosecutor should have interviewed under oath major donors to both parties as well as political operatives like Karl Rove who led the increase in anonymous donations. The DOJ has jurisdiction for criminal enforcement of the federal election laws but utterly failed in using its power. One area where Eric Holder has made some good decisions and improved policy was in beginning to unravel the war on drugs. He has been critical of mandatory sentencing and his DOJ has put out guidelines that result in decreased use of extreme sentencing. His guidelines for pardons and commutation of sentences, while still too conservative, could result in a thousand or more people receiving a pardon or commutation from President Obama. With mass incarceration that makes the US the largest imprisoner on the planet that is an important step, but too small a step. On marijuana policy, rather than reacting against the voters in Washington and Colorado who voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana, Eric Holder announced a policy that allowed those states to put new laws in place. This was a positive step toward ending the prohibition of marijuana and creating a more sensible marijuana policy. There continue to be US Attorneys around the nation who prosecute medical marijuana providers inappropriately and that is something Holder was less successful at minimizing. And, Holder has not used his power as attorney general to reclassify marijuana under federal law in recognition of its widespread medical use and relative safety. Finally, Attorney General Holder’s administration has improved the investigation of police abuse, especially police killings. After a great deal of public pressure the DOJ is now investigating cases where the police, on the face of what we know, seem to have abused their power resulting in the death of people, usually people of color. Police abuse in African American and other communities has greatly unraveled respect for the law and turned police into enemies rather than trusted members of the community. Holder has taken some initial steps toward confronting the problem of racist and militarized policing. We urge President Obama to replace Holder with a public interest not a corporate lawyer; that will put the rule of law before corporate power. This appointment is an opportunity to shut the revolving door between big business and government. We also hope the next attorney general will put rule of law ahead of the security state, prosecute torture and other war crimes, protect privacy from US intelligence agencies and protect Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Press. Finally, we hope to see an attorney general that will confront the war culture that has allowed the president to ignore the constitutional requirement that Congress is responsible for deciding when the US goes to war, not the president; and one who respects international law and requires UN approval before the US attacks another nation.

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Anti-Imperial Feminist Musings in Morocco

I traveled to Fez and Casablanca, Morocco, earlier this month to dialogue with Islamic Feminists there and to see, feel, and stretch myself to and in Northern Africa. What follows are a few thoughts about the complexity of traveling and being from the United States today while also being committed to building coalitions for peace, especially among feminists. And today means now, this urgent moment after the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Nothing I say here is universally true. Some of it may be more momentary than lasting. It would be easy to disagree or pose a differing viewpoint. But, yet, I think it is worthwhile to risk myself to maybe find newly honest dialogue. Some of my musings are cryptic and partial, but I share them if they might help us to think about the urgency of now. Though there is nothing new in saying the U.S. is imperial, racist, misogynist, and militarist, we may be in a newer, more vengeful phase of it, with unknown consequences for everyone. Both Fez and Casablanca are in part replicas of walled-in cities. The medina bespeaks a life built at the ready for defense against new conquest. Unsettled histories of tribal conquering, militarism, and colonialism defined the early architectures of these cities and much of it remains. The tribal and then colonial past by Portugal and then France still lines the contours of everyday life.Morocco While walking in the streets of Fez, I was conscious of being Caucasian and therefore of the West. Most often I was asked if I was Australian. There were no North Americans in easy view for me to see. As from the west, and then “American,” I symbolize the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and in Morocco the wars seem closer and they are. Unsuccessful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and the continuing blood bath in Syria, are on people’s minds and bespeak the callousness of war spoils: displacement, refugees, death. These countries suffer U.S. imperial projects in ways that we do not at home. There is no daily presence of endless displacement here in the U.S. Food and electricity is available for most, and bombs are not heard or seen. But northern Africa suffers our doings more closely and worries about them more. Some people I spoke with think their king is figuring out ways to avoid an Egypt, while others remain skeptical. Drivers of petite red taxis are at the ready to peg us for a visit to the old synagogue and graveyard. As soon as it known I am from the U.S., it is assumed I am Zionist. The actual “being a Jew” is not the identity here. I wonder whether U.S. Christians get this—which they too represent, the travesty of Zionist politics. This is the new political identification and conflation—that the U.S. and Zionism are one. The Israeli destruction of Gaza exposed this more clearly than ever. While chatting, walking, and eating in Fez it seems like such a homosocial society across the genders. There is open hugging and kissing of men with men; women with women. They seem totally affectionate with each other. There is physicality across the identities of sex and gender in public venues. It is not clear how this covers over misogynist privileging of male life or how its sets different contours of it. There are few young women out and about. Men dominate in numbers in public spaces. And the cafes are almost all filled with males. But women are hustling about doing the work they do in every country. MoroccoMen dote on their young daughters in public. So many of them are incredibly loving and affectionate, and I wonder when and why and how this changes to set the patriarchal markers that limits women’s lives in both public and private spaces. I assume domestic violence exists behind closed doors, just like at home and everywhere. I wonder about the similarities, the universalisms that are specifically written in Casablanca. I see more families out and about than in the States. Intergenerational groups fill the streets of Fez on Friday evening near the medina. Many people have cell phones but are speaking on them, instead talking with one another. Restaurant tables are set for groups of six or more; I hardly see a setting for two that is so much more ordinary back home. The petite red cabs pick you up for short fares. It does not matter if others are already in the cab. They move over and we share the seat. The mint tea became a ritual for Richard, my spouse, and me. We would slow ourselves down and sip it together leisurely and muse and wander. We go to buy some of the tea for friends back home and only see Chinese-made tea. The salesperson laughs and finds us some made in Morocco. But China is all over the economy, as it is here. MoroccoI see every kind of dress and panoply of head coverings and scarves for women and just a very few niqabs. As usual, most men are dressed in western garb. All the Muslim fashion and variety of dress seems more freeing than constraining. Most of the women I spoke with see themselves as believing and as feminist. And they see Morocco as engaging in the long slow struggle of progressive change. It was surprising to see Richard’s white hair as so much of a marker as we walked the streets of Casablanca. Most older Moroccan men, at least in the cities we were in, dye their hair. Richard’s head of white hair marked us as different. Maybe my mix of blonde/white/grey also did. We walked the cities to get to know them. The streets in Casablanca are rutted and broken even in the rich neighborhoods. Rich and I wondered why these fancy neighborhoods did not have fancier streets. The disrepair reminded me of streets in the Bronx. And we wondered what actually defines/makes a country poor, especially when it has many rich people in it. I am still wondering now that I am back home. MoroccoWe are told that you are supposed to bargain in the medina when you are buying something. The vendor will give you a high price, similar to a U.S. price and you push for less. Neither of us wanted to do this. After all, why should the price be less? After seeing the workers with their exposed bodies in the tannery vats filled with chemicals for softening the leather for hats, shoes, and bags, we wanted to buy nothing. I just wanted to give my money away. And I wanted to not be seen as a rich westerner. Computers are down at the Casablanca airport for our return creating a slow chaos of meandering lines going nowhere. Then, the entire system crashes. I realize it is very possible we will not leave today. But then the computers are back online and we start to move and our passports are checked and stamped. We leave, late, but we are finally on our way home. On the return, our plane was filled with 75 percent Sub-Saharan Africans, 23 percent Moroccans or North Africans, and three whites, including us, from the United States. But at customs, so many of the Black Africans come into the U.S. citizen line. I stood on the line thinking that you can tell nothing or almost nothing by looking at any of us. U.S. citizens come in all colors, but the symbol is still white. And everything depends on what people think they see. I am unsettled and wondering in the best way. It is why we travel. I carried our U.S. wars around with me in North Africa so I am not sure how much anyone can extrapolate from my feelings about the world just now. But I cannot help but think that feeling the wars up closer is good even if heartbreaking. And it felt important to be a pro-Palestinian feminist from the U.S. in Morocco to open dialogues that are too closed. I was and am devastated to return home to the smugness of U.S. superiority and exceptionalism, as Obama promises the world that he will smash ISIS. The streets of Fez and Casablanca felt challenged but vital in the chaos and turmoil of the surrounding world. Coming home, it feels as though we are stifled, too removed from the mess of the world, and simply repeating vengefulness. I offer my snippets of thought as an anti-imperial feminist looking for alternatives to punishing “Others” and instead building coalitions towards a just peace.

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It’s Time for a Real Debate on Reader Privacy

Last week longtime local publisher Howard Owens, founder of the online news site the Batavian, launched a new publication covering Wyoming County in upstate New York. Buried in a parenthetical within his welcome message to readers was a fascinating promise: “We’ll also respect your privacy by not gathering personal data to distribute to multinational media conglomerates for so-called ‘targeted advertising.'” This kind of explicit promise regarding reader privacy is increasingly important and all too rare. Even though stories about government surveillance, commercial tracking and financial data theft have become commonplace in the press over the last two years, news organizations are still loath to talk about their own practices in regards to reader privacy. It’s time for some real talk about what we owe our readers in the age of big data and mass surveillance. Just last week this blog published an analysis of news organizations’ use of encrypted HTTPS connections. “Virtually none of the top news websites,” writes Kevin Gallagher, “including all those who have reported on the Snowden documents — have adopted the most basic of security measures to protect the integrity of their content and the privacy of their readers.” Without this encrypted connection it becomes possible to essentially eavesdrop on what people are reading online, as the NSA did with people who visited the Wikileaks website. Earlier this year, in a report on the challenges of encrypting news websites, the Washington Post pointed out how much this kind of surveillance can reveal about someone. “Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings.” And yet, the use of encrypted connections on news websites is just one part of a much larger and more complex issue. How Much Information Are News Sites Collecting? News organizations have long collected subscriber data, but more and more news sites are asking everyone who visits the site to sign in and create an account to access basic functionality like commenting. This means that news organizations are housing more and more of our personal data without clearly communicating how that data is being stored, secured and used. News organization privacy policies are as dense and impenetrable as other companies’ terms of service. As analytics software develops, news organizations are collecting vast amounts of data, not just about what people read but how they read it – how fast, where they linger on the page, etcetera. There are good reasons for news organizations to measure that kind of engagement, but we should also engage our readers in a conversation about what data we are collecting, why we are collecting it, and how we are protecting personally identifiable information in the process. Earlier this year, Kashmir Hill wrote about how the New Yorker had exposed its subscribers’ passwords and some credit card info through their subscription management software. Essentially all you needed was the info on their magazine’s mailing label to gain access to a person’s full New Yorkeraccount. The New Yorker fixed the issue quickly, but the case is emblematic of an industry that is still adapting to new kinds security threats. In July, the Wall Street Journal’s computers were attacked and a hacker claimed to have possession of personal information for users of WSJ.com. At the time the Journal said there was no evidence that customer data had been affected, and noted that the same hacker had targeted other media organizations like Vice. Last year, computers at the Washington Post, New York Times and Bloomberg News were all infiltrated by Chinese hackers. At a time when trust has once again dropped to historic lows, it is in news organizations’ best interests to be more transparent about how they collect and protect user data. In an era of data breaches and targeted hacking strong and clear privacy policies that create a safe and secure place to read the news, may become a competitive advantage. Advertisers, Surveillance and Journalism As an industry we need to come to address our increasing reliance on advertising tools that collect massive amounts of data about people who visit our sites. How much do we disclose about these third party programs to our readers, and what is our responsibility when those tools are used against them? For example, last December the Washington Post revealed that the NSA had piggybacked on one of Google’s cookies to track users and “pinpoint targets for hacking.” This Google cookie is present not just on Google’s websites but also anywhere a Google service or widget is embedded, including on many news organization websites. “This shows a link between the sort of tracking that’s done by Web sites for analytics and advertising and NSA exploitation activities,” Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton University told the Washington Post. I installed the browser plug-in Ghostery, which tells you what trackers are active on the sites you visit, and went for a short tour of some news websites. Of the sites I visited, the Wall Street Journal topped the charts at 62 trackers. The Atlantic had 41. Forbes clocked in at 28. The New York Timeshad 26. Vox had 23. The Huffington Post had 19. The San Francisco Chroniclehad 17. Yahoo News had 10. It should be noted, that not all of these trackers were from ads on the site. As noted in the Google example above, all kinds of services track users. In June, Jason Kint, the CEO Digital Content Next, an online publishers association, wrote “Facebook dropped a bomb on the industry with the announcement it will target ads based on the browsing histories of its users… Every page you visit with the ‘Like’ button sends data back to Facebook regardless of whether you ‘like’ it or not.” The advertising industry has argued that this tracking software is essential for to maintain and expand ad revenue by presenting readers with more personal and relevant ads. Given the financial challenges many news organizations have faced in the last five years, it is unlikely that we’ll see news organizations abandon targeted ads wholesale. “Once we’ve assumed that advertising is the default model to support the Internet, the next step is obvious: We need more data so we can make our targeted ads appear to be more effective,” writes Ethan Zuckerman in theAtlantic. “So we build businesses that promise investors that advertising will be more invasive, ubiquitous, and targeted and that we will collect more data about our users and their behavior.” Zuckerman calls advertising the original sin of the Internet. But at least the original original sin brought with it new knowledge. In contrast, much of how online ads work, and the surveillance they enable, remains hidden from view. For Zuckerman, the best solution is to pay for the services we use and “abandon those that are free, but sell us — the users and our attention — as the product.” I think that is likely part of the answer, but when it comes to access to news and information I don’t think people should have to pay for privacy. In his response to Zuckerman, journalism professor Jeff Jarvis acknowledges that the system as currently structured is broken, but argues that we shouldn’t give up on advertising. News organizations, writes Jarvis, need to restructure their business model as a service to readers and community, built on the pillars of transparency, accountability and user-control. I’d take this idea a step further and argue that we need journalists to actually advocate for reader’s privacy (just as we need the public to advocate for press freedom and journalist’s rights). It’s Time For Newsrooms to Lead Journalism has long claimed to serve the public interest. In the digital age, part of that service should be standing up for its users and pushing the ad industry strike a better balance between privacy and tracking. We don’t have to abandon advertising but as journalists and news organizations we should be forceful advocates for better advertising systems that give people more control over how their data is used. News organizations could also help educate readers by more actively informing people of how the ads on their site function and what steps users can take to protect themselves. See for example how sites in the UK have had to adapt since a law there prohibited tracking without consent. This kind of active digital literacy, explicitly notifying and educating users, goes beyond passive transparency (i.e. posting a notice in your privacy policy). Some in media, however, are going the opposite direction. Yahoo (Yahoo News is regularly ranked the most news website by traffic numbers) for example, recently announced it would no longer honor people’s use of “Do Not Track” – a privacy tool built into browsers. Over at Search Engine Land they explain: “The Do Not Track browser setting (also referred to as Tracking Preference Expression) allows users to send a signal to websites that they don’t want to be tracked or have their information passed along to entities like analytics and advertising networks with a header request. However, websites and advertisers can choose to ignore Do Not Track requests without penalty.” I have written before, tools like Do Not Track are useful but limited. This past July, ProPublica and Mashable reported on a new tracking device that is nearly impossible to be blocked. According to the report, this new, “extremely persistent” online tracking technology (called canvass fingerprinting) was found on “thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.” The source of this canvass fingerprinting was AddThis, a social sharing widget used by many news and media sites. AddThis lists ABCNews, DailyMotion, The Today Show and financial website The Motley Fool as clients (as well as 14 million other websites). As part of its report, ProPublica let users see how “your browser generates a unique fingerprint image,” offered a sidebar with six tips for how to try to block fingerprint collection, and it provided a link to other tools readers can use to protect themselves. Finally, ProPublica’s privacy policy highlights its commitment to user privacy and security in clear and easy to understand language. Similarly, when the Intercept launched earlier this year staff there went into great detail about the steps they had taken to invest in secure tools and protections for their readers as well as their journalists. I’d like to see more new sites educate and advocate around these issues. But as a starting place the industry has to at least acknowledge their own role in this debate over privacy and security in a digital age. The Society for Professional Journalists just revised their code of ethics. The Online News Association has launched a DIY code of ethics project. And Poynter is investigating the intersection of algorithms and ethics. We should also consider these questions about data collection and reader privacy in the context of journalism ethics. Since the revelations brought about by Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA documents there has been renewed attention and debate about journalist’s security and their ability to protect sensitive reporting materials and sources. Those press freedom issues are critical, as governments around the world crack down on leakers and threaten journalists. However, our readers and communities are also stakeholders in this debate, and they have largely been left out of the debate. It’s time for that to change.

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The First Annual New York City Conference on Worker Cooperatives

On June 21, 2014, the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives (NYC NOWC) hosted the first annual NYC Conference on Worker Cooperatives (videos of most of the conference sessions are posted here.) Two hundred people gathered at the CUNY Law School in Queens. The excitement in the room was palpable. A budding worker co-op movement has been on the move in NYC. Since Occupy Wall Street, there has been increased interest among activists in worker-owned worker-managed businesses as one strategy for workers to take control of their economic life. A coalition of worker cooperatives, community groups and advocates on the new progressive NYC Council, have been working together to develop a plan for growing the worker cooperative sector in NYC. This work culminated in an announcement on June 19, 2014, “The City Council secured $1.2 million in funding to support the expansion of worker cooperatives throughout the City to help low-income and minority New Yorkers become business owners.” Moreover, new NYC Mayor, Bill De Blazio declared June 21, “Worker Cooperative Day” in New York. In the morning, panels addressed “micro” issues such as “What is a worker co-op?” and “How are they organized?” In the afternoon the conference focused on “macro” issues such as how to develop an integrated co-op sector and what is the role of non-profit and government in co-op development. Carmen Huertas-Noble, the founding director of the Community and Economy Development Clinic (CEDC) at CUNY School of Law, and Christopher Michael, a founding director of the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives, opened up the conference. Worker cooperatives, Michael explained, provide the means to democratize the workplace. They turn our businesses into moral vehicles rootedCo-op supporters rally in New York in the values of the people at large, and not just those of the investment class. The first panel was intended to introduce people to the meaning and structure of worker cooperatives, as not everyone in the audience was familiar. Omar Freilla, founder of Green Worker Cooperatives in the Bronx, provided a simple, straightforward definition; cooperatives, he said, are owned and controlled by the workers. Various institutions provide auxiliary support. Karen Haskins’ organization, Working World, for example, provides loans which put finance directly into the hands of workers. Emma Yorra, of the Center for Family Life, pointed out that a great deal of responsibility comes with owning your own business. Teresa Bucio of Apple Eco-Cleaning, Yadira Fragoso of Si Se Puded Women’s Cleaning, and Annie Sullivan-Chin of A Bookkeeping Cooperative, composed the second panel. Their stories provided a glimpse into what it is like to organize and work in cooperatives. For example, Teresa Busciao spoke about coming to the United States from Mexico in 1977. She worked at a garment factory for eighty hours per week at a salary of three-hundred dollars. In the wake of the financial crisis, she lost her job, becoming a day laborer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her story highlights the importance of building strong linkages between workers and organizations for economic and social justice. In 2010, with the help of the Workers Justice Project, Teresa and other women started Apple Eco-Cleaning, a workers co-operative. She explained, “We are the women, the mothers that work hard to make dreams come true.” (For non-Spanish speakers, the translation of Teresa’s remarks begins at 8:37) In a breakout session, Jessica Gordon Nembhard and Jim Johnson facilitated a discussion of the role of cooperative developers in creating worker co-ops. Cooperative developers are technical advisors who consult with new and existing worker co-ops to help them start and improve their businesses. The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives has a cooperative developer certification program, Democracy at Work Network (DAWN). The session was organized around a presentation of the Madison Principles, which are professional standards for cooperative developers. A good portion of the discussion focused on the challenges of facilitating the empowerment of marginalized groups in the context of worker co-op start-ups. Often, starting a new business is a long process and it is not uncommon for some of the founders to drop out. A key challenge of worker co-op founders is create a plan and protocol to transfer their “business vision” to potential co-op members and teach the skills to implement plan. The first panel of the afternoon was composed of a mixture of academics and activists. The discussion focused on the various ways worker cooperatives are an integral part of larger social movements. Cooperatives can provide the space for poor, often invisible communities to find their collective voice, sense of empowerment and connection to issues of social justice. Ligia Guallpa spoke about the way The Workers Justice Project helps low-wage workers to link their own experiences of exploitation (wage theft, cleaning with toxic chemicals) to those of the broader worker’s rights movement. Ngoc-Tran Vu of Mekong and Saduf Syal of Make the Road New York also talked about their work with low income communities in the outer boroughs of New York City. While Jessica Gordan Nembhard and Ed Ott, both of CUNY, discussed the historical connection between worker cooperatives and social movements: Gordan Nembhard about the history of cooperative economics in the movement for civil rights; Ott about the historical relationship between unions and other forms of worker’s organizations. The last two panels focused on growing a cooperative economy and specifically, how New York City is going to support worker cooperative development in the city. Brenden Martin, of The Working World, stated that with the recently announced 1.2 million dollar co-op initiative, NYC is now the leading city in USA in regards to a worker co-op policy. He asserted that the worker co-op movement is attempting to challenge the heart of social injustice by creating a worker-controlled economy from the ground up. Worker co-ops often start out of defensive necessity. The Working World, a worker co-op controlled revolving loan fund, started assisting Argentinian workers who took control of their workplaces when the owners of the businesses abandoned the businesses during the Argentinian depression at the start of the 21st century. Michael Peck, of Mondragon, USA, described a specific story of how the value of solidarity inherent in a cooperative economy can make a big difference in the lives of workers. Mondragon is a large worker cooperative network in the Basque region of Spain consisting of 289 businesses with over 80,000 workers. The centerpiece of the system is one of the largest banks in Spain. Michael told the story of Fagor, an appliance manufacture co-op in the Mondragon system which went out of business when the housing market in Spain collapse reducing the demand for household appliances. Unlike the usual corporation that focuses only on the bottom line, Mondragon believed it had a responsibility for displaced workers. Fifteen hundred workers were trained and moved to other businesses in the system. Others were given early retirement packages. Now Mondragon has come to the US. In cooperation with a number of US unions, Mondragon USA is dedicated to developing unionized worker co-ops in the US. Moreover, the CUNY Law School and Mondragon are working on a project to offer a masters program in work cooperatives. The Honorable Maria del Carmen Arroyo of the New York City Council and Honorable Carl E. Heastie of the New York State Assembly closed out the day by speaking about the city’s support for economic democracy. Worker cooperatives, Carmen explained, can be a model for economic development. By helping workers start their own businesses that they democratically control, worker cooperatives have the potential to both provide the economic foundation for families to transcend poverty and build greater equality in New York City. The City Council is considering other strategies to support worker co-op development. For example, an idea has been discussed for the NYC Human Resources Administration to recognize worker participation in a worker co-op start-up as an alternative to the traditional workfare program. Also, strategies for facilitating access for work co-ops to bid on NYC contracts were discussed. The goal of the initial 1.2 million dollar investment by the city is to provide aid to the forty existing working cooperative businesses to help them grow, to start twenty-eight new co-op start-ups over the next year and to create 600 new jobs. Some in the audience question whether the time frame and scope of the project might be too ambitious for the amount of resources being invested in the project. Perhaps, this estimate is optimistic given that Scott A. Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western, recent estimated that the cost of per job for entrepreneurial job creation is approximately $31,000. However, Chris Michaels expressed optimism that the goals are doable. And, Carmen Huertas-Noble replied that failure is not an option. Indeed, though growth projections may need to be altered with further experience, failure seems unlikely given the amount of time and energy being put into existing and new cooperatives throughout the city driven by the moral and solidaristic appeal of the democratic work model. Worker cooperatives currently make up a very small portion of our economy. However, in time, they have the potential to become a powerful force for building economic justice not only in NYC and the United States, but throughout the world.

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Poll Shows How Democrats Can Win With A Public Education Agenda

Is it possible that education is the issue that will determine whether results of the upcoming election swing the United States Senate to Republican Party control? Will there be a dramatic change in party control of state governors’ offices because of how candidates stand on supporting pubic schools? As the November contests approach, these are valid questions, according to keen observers and a confluence of new polling data. Education, often thought of as an also-run issue in the political arena, is top of mind to voters approaching the November contests. Both anecdotal information and empirical data drawn from surveys confirm that voters don’t just value public education; they want candidates who will support classroom teachers and oppose funding cuts to public schools. The evidence is strong that Democrats can make support for public education a winning issue – if they’re willing to take the advice. New Polling Data: Democrats Are In Trouble Democrats looking to score points with the voting public should talk up public education. At least that’s the conclusion that can be drawn from new survey data from pollster Celinda Lake. Lake’s presentation of her findings, “Challenges and a Winning Message for 2014 and Beyond,” were delivered in a private meeting brought together by two Washington, DC-based progressive organizations, Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. [disclosure: CAF is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network] The poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group from August 24th – August 28th, among 1,000 likely 2014 voters, with a margin of error +/- 3.1%. The first conclusion Lake drew from her findings is hardly surprising: “Voters are pessimistic about their personal financial situation.” The vast majority of Americans feel their own personal economic situations have gotten worse (36 percent) or stayed the same (35 percent) over the past four years. Other non-surprises are that voters are preoccupied with the economy and the ineffectiveness of their government, and they are increasingly concerned about immigration. Most voters disapprove of the way President Obama has addressed jobs, the economy, foreign policy, and other issues. In a generic Congressional contest, Democrats lose. And voter disenchantment has led to a stasis in which “they care more about thwarting the other side than supporting their own party’s policies,” thereby “endorsing gridlock.” Democrats desperately need to turn out the vote from the “rising American electorate” that includes unmarried women, African Americans and Latinos, and voters under 30. These voters want a government that does something to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else and addresses the problems of the middle class. But these voters are also notoriously difficult to turn out in mid-term elections. These voters are concerned that a Republican Senate would restrict women’s reproductive health (58 percent), cut access to health care (58 percent), deny equal pay to women (57 percent), and cut funding for Head Start and K-12 education (57 percent). But what are the positive messages that will get these Democratic Party voters to turn out? Education Is The Top “Turnout Message” Education is not often viewed as a hot button issue that will turn out voters. Thus, candidates often mouth virtually identical platitudes about education being “a way out of poverty” and “America’s great equalizer.” Then after the election, they proceed to cut funding for public schools and saddle classroom teachers with more and more burdensome “accountability.” But 2014 may be different. According to Lake’s research, “The top testing turnout message overall emphasizes education, specifically Republicans’ efforts to cut programs for students while giving tax cuts to the wealthy. This message is the strongest argument for coming out to vote in all of the states except Colorado (where it ranks second, just behind a message focused on how Republicans are working to turn back the clock on women’s rights).” Taking a strong stance for “education and public schools” was far and away the message that most survey responders found “very convincing.” Further, Lake found that the “turnout message” with the greatest “intensity was: Education & Public SchoolsRepublicans keep cutting education and attacking public schools, hurting our ability to compete economically and taking away opportunities for our children. Republicans proposed cutting billions in public education, including programs like Head Start, to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. That hurts our children, as good teachers leave, class sizes increase, art and music programs disappear, and schools become less safe. Families are struggling, paying for basic supplies, and seeing their schools decline. Those priorities are just wrong. Lake’s work also examined more closely a potential target of “individuals who shift to higher interest (’10’) in voting in November.” This group is a significant part of the sample (39 percent), which tends to be women (62 percent), married (54 percent), and under the age of 40 (42 percent). These voters are particularly moved by education messaging. They are concerned that a GOP takeover of the Senate would result in Republicans shutting down the government again (71 percent) and cutting funding for Head Start and K-12 education (71 percent). “Two messages are particularly strong with this group,” Lake found. “A message focusing on the middle class falling behind (73 percent very convincing) and the education message (72 percent)” were “the most effective with these targets.” After hearing messages that include strong support for public schools, 39 percent of these important voters say they are “very interested (rate ’10’) in voting this November.” After being told the election in their state would “determine control of the U.S. Senate, 50 percent say they are very interested in voting.” Education Is Top Tier Election Issue The discovery that Americans are highly supportive of public schools is nothing new. Recent polling results from the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards the Public Schools show that Americans overwhelmingly support their public schools and respect classroom teachers. That survey also found that a majority of Americans do not support current public education initiatives – such as new standards and teacher evaluations based on test scores – that most political candidates are touting as “reform.” When asked what they think are the biggest problems that public schools in their community deal with, Americans of all political persuasions cite “lack of financial support” number one. This strong support for public schools is having an impact on upcoming elections. As an experienced education journalist at Education Week recently observed, education is top issue in most important senate races in November. “In North Carolina, candidates are locking horns over education spending and teacher pay; in Georgia, the Common Core State Standards are taking center stage; and in Iowa, higher education and student loans are the subject of the latest skirmish between Senate hopefuls.” The results of many of the gubernatorial races around the country also hinge on education. In Georgia, education funding and the role of charter schools in the state’s system have come to the fore in the contest between incumbent Republican Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger Jason Carter, a state senator and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. In Kansas, widespread voter anger over school closures and funding cuts have imperiled the reelection of Republican Governor Sam Brownback. In Florida, Republican incumbent Rick Scott’s support for new Common Core standards and his cuts in education spending have put him in hot water with a range of voters, from conservative Tea Party activists, to Independents, and Democratic Party voters alike. In Pennsylvania, voters rank education as the most important issue, and current Republican Governor Tom Corbett has been rated “the most vulnerable governor in America” due in part to his support for severe cuts to education funding. Whether Democrats can overcome the staggering odds against them this election remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Democratic candidates in these contests and others need to make support for public education front-and-center of their campaigns.

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Make Your Investments Fuel Change

People around the world are pressing their leaders to act on climate change and fueling change on their own. With U.S. political leadership on climate policy in a shambles, many Americans are taking matters into their own hands. Nearly 400,000 people marched in New York City to call for a stronger response to climate change. Hundreds of thousands more joined this chorus at another 2,800 marches in 166 other countries. We decided to do our part by igniting some Wall Street heat. Our achievement? Building a platform where people can pledge to divest from assets tied to the old fossil-fueled economy and invest in the emerging new energy economy powered by more sustainable alternatives. In April, we became the first Divest-Invest Individual signatories. More than 750 people have since joined us, bringing the total volume of pledged assets to over $2.8 billion. Some of us fossil-free investors have small 401k plans while others wield large investment portfolios. A few are famous, including actor Mark Ruffalo and billionaire Tom Steyer. We all share a principled commitment to fossil-free investments for our future. We’re joining college endowments and other non-profit and private institutions — and increasingly, local governments in a broad-based effort. To date, people and organizations have collectively pledged to move $50 billion out of the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies and into climate solutions. This is the kind of people-powered effort that can slow the pace of climate change. We will ramp up as global leaders work out the commitments they’ll make at the next big climate summit — scheduled to take place in Paris at the end of next year. We’re pressing for real and fast-paced climate solutions so the Paris summit doesn’t lead to the same kind of toothless declaration that the Copenhagen climate summit yielded in 2009. Additional street heat is emanating from efforts focusing on everything from energy efficiency to building more resilient communities and vibrant local economies. The global divestment movement already spans some 550 universities, cities, states, and religious institutions across the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. This reach goes even further than that. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has embraced it. He’s urging the world to adopt the tactics that brought an end to South Africa’s racist apartheid system against the worst carbon polluters. “It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future,” he has said. “To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title; it requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands.” The Divest-Invest movement aims to revoke the social license of fossil fuel industries that obstruct effective policy responses to today’s climate emergency. Together, we’re accelerating the urgently needed redirection of capital toward an array of new energy economy options. Individual investors don’t need to wait for governments to get their act together to help avert climate catastrophe. You can resolve today to move your dollars out of destructive fossil fuels and into a renewable energy future. You’ll be making a moral statement by breaking your financial ties with the engine of a dirty economy and taking a smart long-term step by shielding your own investments from future financial risk and volatility. To finally reach a real turning point in climate policy, each of us needs to fully engage. We all need to let our leaders know that we want to see real climate action, and do what’s within our power to change the current paradigm. We hope our leaders get the message. In the meantime, everyone can put their money where their mouth is — as individual investors, students and alumni of higher education institutions, members of religious institutions, and stakeholders in local governments.

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