POLITICS


For Hillary Clinton Supporters, Three Cornerstones of Her Candidacy


The consensus is that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign rollout has been a success. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters are the three cornerstones of her candidacy:

  • Hillary Clinton is far and away the most qualified, experienced and prepared candidate among the announced and unannounced candidates for president in 2016, Democrat or Republican.
  • On a broad array of issues that really matter, from climate change to the economy to human rights to campaign finance to health care, Hillary Clinton’s policies will be better for America than those of her Republican rivals.
  • America deserves – history deserves – a woman president after nearly a quarter millennium of men holding that office. Specifically, a woman president who has consistently placed the rights of women and girls atop the global agenda.

As a veteran of two presidential campaigns and several congressional races, I know how difficult it is to stay focused on the real issues at stake in an election when the first law of political coverage takes hold:

Process over policy is the principle that governs campaign coverage in modern politics.

With Hillary Clinton, that law is pushed to extremes of absurdity. As Eric Boehlert explains:

After “news” broke that Clinton, en route to Iowa to meet with voters, stopped in at an Ohio Chipotle for lunch and that the order was captured on film, the press corps basically went bonkers, treating it like a Tupac sighting and going all-in with fevered reporting. The New York Times first got hold of the security cam video and reported that Clinton’s order “included a Blackberry Izze drink, a soda and a chicken salad, and was filled just after 1 p.m.” (1:20 p.m., to be exact, according to the New York Daily News.) Who carried the tray after payment? Clinton herself, the Times explained to readers.

It is not just the national media who bear responsibility for this silliness. In a previous post I introduced the term “innerati” for lack of a better word to describe the people who determine what America talks about: The “innerati” are a motley group of high achievers scattered along the Acela corridor — reporters, pundits, bloggers, politicians, strategists, opinion makers, operatives and insiders who frame the national debate. By luck, effort or circumstance, they are in a position to determine what America thinks and talks about. And more than anything, they want to talk about Hillary Clinton.

The innerati are focused primarily on the ‘how’ of a campaign. The vast majority of coverage and commentary in 2016 will be about how Hillary planned this speech or prepared that video; how she and her advisors parried this attack or rebutted that critique; how she prepped for this debate or did a photo op with that voter; how she hired this staffer or consulted that strategist. Even when the topic is ostensibly about policy, readers will be tempted with process, the obsessive desire to get ‘behind’ and ‘inside’ the story, distracting from what really matters, namely, that America is in the process of choosing a president who will be responsible for managing a portfolio of life and death challenges.

For Hillary supporters, these distractions will be hard to avoid. After all, it is only natural to look where everyone is pointing. Chipotle-mania is not the only kind of distraction Hillary supporters will have to contend with. There will be gratuitous political attacks that are given far more play than they deserve, and books that cash in on the Clinton name, laden with false aspersions and breathless innuendo. One of those books is now being touted as the NBP (next big problem) for Hillary. It will fade, like all the others.

In the months ahead, there will be a concerted effort among the innerati to place the focus on anything and everything but the three cornerstones of Hillary’s campaign that I enumerated above. It will be the task of Hillary’s supporters to stay hyper-focused on what really matters and not to get caught up in the process frenzy.

Dawn of The Hillary Man


HRC NEWPeter Daou and Tom Watson – writers, strategists, consultants, and long-time political collaborators – declare the dawn of the Hillary Man.

PETER:

America is embarking on a historic journey that should culminate in the election of our first woman president, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The journey will be long and tortuous, marked by emotional highs and political lows, attacks, counterattacks, stumbles, missteps, manufactured controversies, mud-slinging, hand-wringing, door-knocking, phone-banking, delegate-counting, Meerkat moments, debate debacles, email avalanches, big data, small data, smart data, information overload, geekfests, trollfests, money bombs, Tweetstorms, scoops, media transgressions, polling obsessions, breathless headlines, baseless predictions, and dizzying twists and turns that will captivate us until the final moments of the campaign.

I make no secret about my personal investment in the process. It has been a life mission of mine to help elect a woman president and one day I hope to tell my young daughter that I did my small part in achieving that goal.

I was a senior staffer at Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and an advisor before that. I have done a decade of consulting for the Clinton Global Initiative and Clinton Foundation. In all my encounters, I have been treated with the utmost integrity and respect by the Clinton family, staff and advisors. These are good people, dedicated to changing the world for the better. They are tireless and focused, disciplined, intelligent. The best that America has to offer.

I think of friends and former campaign colleagues like Adam Parkhomenko, Karen Finney, Neera Tanden, Mandy Grunwald, Nick Merrill, Robby Mook, Andrew Bleeker, Huma Abedin, Katie Dowd, Matt McKenna, Bari Lurie, Guy Cecil, Cheryl Mills, Jonathan Mantz, Minyon Moore, Jamie Smith, Jennifer Palmieri, Patti Solis Doyle, Jessica O’Connell, Burns Strider, Ann Lewis, Nathaniel Pearlman, Maggie Williams, Craig Minassian, Tracy Sefl, Dennis Cheng, Jennifer Hanley, Jake Sullivan, Adrienne Elrod, Caroline Adler, Kiki McLean, Philippe Reines, Dana Singiser, Blake Zeff, Fabiola Rodríguez-Ciampoli, Traci Otey Blunt, Brian Deese, Jon Davidson, Angel Urena, Haley Stevens, Capricia Marshall, Laurie Rubiner, Mike Henry, Seth Bringman, Kevin Thurman, Crystal Patterson, Jove Oliver, Tamera Luzzatto and so many others. All heads down, results oriented, hardworking individuals. Decent people. Hearts in the right place.

There’s something more. During this campaign, we will witness the dawn of the Hillary Man. There is much talk about the important role women will play in the 2016 race. Just as crucial is the contribution of men who reject the rampant sexism and misogyny plaguing our world, the pervasive oppression of women and girls that stains every corner of this planet.

I have written extensively about this greatest of human travesties:

  • One out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  • Women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
  • 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
  • Femicide is the leading cause of on-the-job death for women.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • In addition to sex-selective abortions, millions of girls and women are killed after birth through starvation and violence, forced abortions, ‘honor’ killings, dowry murders, and witch lynchings.

One thing is for certain in the 2016 campaign: the ultimate glass ceiling will not give way without a Herculean effort. As Tom and I both understand, sexism will rear its ugly head in myriad, unexpected ways. But if anyone can mount a successful assault on that glass ceiling, it’s Hillary Clinton.

Standing with her at every step will be the Hillary Men across America, who will help smash that ceiling, understanding both the symbolism and practicality of a women’s rights champion like Hillary Clinton in the White House.

TOM:

We are at the start of the most important feminist election cycle in American history. It’s not just that the most qualified female candidate is likely to win the nomination of her party for President for the first time ever. It’s not just that the score in national U.S. politics remains a complete shut out, at 44-0. It’s not just that Hillary Clinton is the most admired woman in the United States and a liberal Democrat with more than three decades of public service behind her.

It’s that this time around – next year in fact – an explicit gender lens will be applied to a national election for the first time in the nation’s history.

As men with public voices who have observed, commented on, and been allies of the growing and powerful network of organizers, social activists, and policy-makers that comprises the modern push for civil and economic equality for women, Peter and I are committed to seeing that gender lens applied appropriately.

We are committed to having that discussion about women and politics, about the great global civil rights struggle of our times, and about the nature of power that has excluded or limited half the population for far too long.

And yes, we have a candidate. We are both Democrats, both believers in progressive public policy and the power of government to help people – and we are both committed to the work of the social sector and the belief that a helping hand is part of what builds both small communities and great nations.

We are Hillary Men.

And yes, very specifically we are *men* for Hillary Clinton. We are consciously appealing to our brothers in public life and public speech, in party politics and corporate leadership, and on the broad social commons to apply their own gender lens to the 2016 election – and to commit to supporting an eminently qualified women to be our next President.

Just as there were Roosevelt Men and Kennedy Men, we believe there will be Hillary Men – men who answer history’s call to change the score, and help elect a woman to the highest office.

We understand that sexual bias in public life – and in the media – remains a barrier to the Presidency. We know that while Hillary Clinton has distinct advantages, she also faces a higher bar.

Our commitment in 2016 is not about the realization that sodden gender bias is as accepted in American politics as being left-handed. It is about the future and chance before us now – in our case, as politically active men. And while we intend to call out overt sexism and more subtle gender bias when we see it, our main goal is to make the ongoing case for electing the first woman President – and to argue that electing her is a vital and legitimate political and cultural goal for American men.

Rarely in U.S. political history has a prospective candidate come to the starting gate in a presidential campaign with as much experience, knowledge, and insight into the workings of government as Hillary Clinton does ahead of the 2016 campaign. As a liberal who has long fought for the rights of the disenfranchised, and who has battled to extend the American social contract, Hillary Clinton can and should lay claim to the mantle of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson – as well as to the political legacy of the two great Democrats she’s worked most closely with: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

To be clear, neither of us believes in perfect alignment in political life. We disagree all the time on issues. We sometimes disagree with President Obama, we sometimes disagreed with President Clinton, and we disagree on occasion with Hillary Clinton. Our personal views on policy, both foreign and domestic, place us firmly in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Yet we both know that Hillary Clinton is a strong liberal who is committed through a lifetime of service to the ideals that form the foundation of our own liberalism. In short, we march under the same banner.

This is a singular moment in American political history – but it also arrives at a crucial time for the world. As I’ve written before, over the last quarter century, Hillary Clinton has succeeded in placing the interests of women and girls atop the global development agenda. She didn’t do it alone — her partners included a network of brave human rights leaders around the world, as well as global and regional NGOs and the United Nations. But two aspects of this journey cannot be denied, even by those who dislike Clinton for political or personal reasons: she used every facet of every office and position she had to pursue this effort — from First Lady to U.S. Senator to the State Department—and her name is synonymous in the global movement for equal rights for women and girls with that ongoing fight for justice.

This matters. Indeed, it helps to define and legitimize the explicit gender lens we are suggesting men of goodwill place on the 2016 presidential campaign. Political enemies like to ask derisively: “what has Hillary Clinton ever accomplished?” This is the answer – and it’s also the challenge: can we support the most accomplished woman in U.S. politics in achieving the nation’s highest office – a role she is obviously qualified for – with the intent of changing the national scorecard?

And can we (again, as men) do this for our daughters, our mothers, our sisters, our spouses, our colleagues, our families, our friends? I think we can, and I think we must.

Politics is not blind to race, to class, or to gender. Every fiber of American electoral history tells us that. In 2008, many of us wept openly at the sight of an African-American man speaking on Election Night – not just because we admired him (though we did) but because his victory was (and is) part of a long, imperfect, often frustrating but deeply important struggle for justice in this country.

This is another moment that reaches into that human part of us that demands justice, and calls us to action. It is a time to make history once again – and what a privilege that is.

So yes, we are Hillary Men. We are applying an explicit gender lens to this election. We are speaking out and we will continue to do so.

Hillary Decoder: The Guide to Anti-Clinton Memes


decoderThis is a follow up to my recent post, Pwning Hillary: Inside the Innerati’s Clinton Obsession

My intention here is simple: detail the various narratives and frames (“calculating,” “secretive,” “polarizing,” etc.) that paint Hillary Clinton’s actions in the most negative possible light. These are carefully crafted and patently false scripts, many of which were concocted years ago in GOP oppo shops to demean and dehumanize her. Distinct from legitimate policy critiques, these lazy shortcuts have seeped so deeply into traditional media coverage that it is virtually impossible to read anything about Hillary Clinton without encountering them.

Every public figure is subject to criticism. What is unique in Clinton’s case is that personal attacks which would normally be the province of political opponents and critics are promulgated by the mainstream news media.

To illustrate the convergence, I’ve put together two word mashups. The first is a list of adjectives describing Hillary Clinton drawn from two articles in the conservative publications Townhall and National Review. The second is a compilation of terms from just two weeks of Clinton coverage in supposedly non-partisan media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and NBC News. Both yield a grotesque caricature of the actual person, but it is hard to say which is more egregious.

National Review & Townhall: “Lovecraftian monster, the Cthulhu of American politics, short of clever, too old and out of touch, edifice to deceit, slithered out of Washington, Faustian, passion-quelling pantsuit.”

Mainstream media: “Machiavellian, musty-smelling, stale, secretive, calculating, imperious, paranoid, petulant, defiant, devious, scrambles in the dirt.”

Each journalist or media source will justify their particular choice of terms, but the net effect is that mainstream media coverage of Hillary Clinton is soaked in veiled (and sometimes explicit) sexism, politically-charged framing and character assassination. When a New York Times or Washington Post article is indistinguishable from a rightwing publication, you know something is amiss.

None of this is meant to place Hillary Clinton above reproach, simply to illustrate the complex process by which these memes are regurgitated, repeated and reinforced.

For example, a reporter may attribute a negative frame to a political opponent, then subtly echo the same attack line.

Example from the New York Times:

And for someone who has so long been lampooned, and demonized on the right, as overly calculating, playing up her gender as a strength would also allow her to demonstrate her nurturing, maternal — and newly grandmotherly — side to voters whom she may have left cold in the past.

The reader is first primed with the narrative that Hillary Clinton is “overly calculating” then told she is “playing up her gender,” which echoes the theme of calculation. [For a more detailed explanation of how this process works, read about Inoculation Theory.]

National Journal reverses the order, going with the attack first and the priming second:

The media and the American public are familiar with the stale Clinton tricks, which now only play into the GOP caricature that Hillary Clinton is calculating, paranoid, and wholly political.

Memes spread through repetition. In the examples above, the repeated word is “calculating.” Another favorite is “secretive.”

USA Today alludes to Hillary Clinton’s “reputation for secrecy.”

Mirrored by the Washington Post: “her penchant for secrecy.”

NBC News: “Folks, this is the Clinton Way. Secretive.”

TIME: “penchant for secrecy.”

The Hill: “a paranoid, secretive politician.”

New York Times: “[T]he imbroglio could grow into a problem if Mrs. Clinton comes to be seen as unduly secretive or imperious in the months ahead.”

Remember, these instances are from two weeks of coverage in major news outlets. The recursive effect is obvious: the more the word “secrecy” is associated with Hillary Clinton, the more reporters and critics will use it, the more it will be associated with her, the more… you get the point.

A common feature of these memes is that other people’s criticisms are ascribed to Clinton as a negative personal trait. The term “polarizing” is typically peddled by people who are attacking her, thus creating the very polarization they are lamenting. Case in point, from The Hill: Clinton fails to calm email storm. The entire article is about the fact that her opponents intend to keep attacking her. How is that Hillary Clinton’s failure?

Politico uses the same technique, opening an article by calling her “devious” then concluding it by asserting that “it’s hard to win if you’re constantly on the defensive.” See the trap? Attack her, then claim she’s on the defensive.

Similarly, the ‘inevitability’ frame is an artificial perch that others place her on and then try to knock her off. And when her behavior doesn’t conform to the media’s expectations, she is “defiant.”

From The Hill:

While Clinton kept a calm demeanor throughout the press conference, she appeared defiant on one point.

NBC News:

A Defiant Clinton Brushes Off Email Controversy

It goes on and on. Coverage of Hillary Clinton is littered with references to her hair, fashion, health and family – innuendo and insinuation that have no direct relevance to her policies. The terminology used to describe her would be unacceptable for any other respected public figure.

A Washington Post reporter appearing on MSNBC made reference to “Clinton, Inc.” (the implication is obvious). Politico uses the term “Machiavellian” to describe her team’s strategy. Not to be outdone, TIME waxes poetic, describing her response to an attack as a “scramble in the dirt on the crabbed limbs of legal compliance.” The Washington Post compares her to a “stale, musty” old car. The New Yorker prefers the blatantly sexist “petulant.”

Below are the top anti-Clinton memes. See if you can spot them the next time you read about her. Better yet, see if you can find any Hillary Clinton coverage that doesn’t use some version of the following:

  • POLARIZING
  • CALCULATING
  • SECRETIVE
  • DISINGENUOUS/INSINCERE
  • TOO AMBITIOUS
  • WILL DO ANYTHING TO WIN
  • REPRESENTS THE PAST
  • OUT OF TOUCH
  • INEVITABLE
  • ENTITLED/OVER-CONFIDENT
  • DEFIANT

UPDATE 1:  A classic lede from Patrick Healy, one of the masters of anti-Clinton memes:

On one side is a crowd of Republicans trying to look presidential. On the other side is a lone Democrat trying to look normal.

Translation: Hillary Clinton is abnormal but trying to manipulate perceptions.

UPDATE 2:  From US News:

Clinton is trying to keep the media at bay but at the same time avoid public bursts of anger at them or displays of petulance, which would lessen her likability.

Pwning Hillary: Inside the Innerati’s Clinton Obsession


hillary-clintonHillary Clinton is indomitable. Famous. Funny. Fearless. The Euclidean center of political gravity. Because of who she is and what she is, because she is a woman in a world where women aren’t supposed to be Hillary Clinton, because she is the yardstick against which the innerati measure their own accomplishments, the slightest whiff of vulnerability triggers a feeding frenzy.

The “innerati” are a motley group of high achievers scattered along the Acela corridor — reporters, pundits, bloggers, politicians, strategists, opinion makers, operatives and insiders who frame the national debate. By luck, effort or circumstance, they are in a position to determine what America thinks and talks about. And more than anything, they want to talk about Hillary Clinton.

Their obsession with her is not just about political rivalry, clickbait, or journalism. It is rooted in their need to belong.

The innerati speak about Hillary Clinton in tones that betray ambition, frustration, admiration, insecurity, envy, and competitiveness. Will she run or won’t she? Is she the frontrunner or isn’t she? How much money does she make? Does she use a private email account or doesn’t she? Who gets to be on the inside with her? Who’s out? Who has access? Who doesn’t?

The innerati want to be ‘in’ for existential validation. To them, Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of ‘in.’ They gravitate to her like moths to light, yearning to be part of her orbit. Falling short, they try to cut her down.

Schoolyard antics shaping our public discourse.

Forget her unparalleled record on women’s rights, the astonishing scope of global good done by the foundation that bears her family’s name, the example of self-discipline and achievement she sets for girls around the world.

No. For the innerati, it’s all about process. Not the what but the how. Not the substance of emails, but the servers. Not the facts but the optics.

For decades, the innerati have indulged in one Hillary Clinton feeding frenzy after another, methodically constructing mountains, only to see them crumble like molehills. With each episode, there’s the breathless hope that she’s finally been taken down, cut down to size, put in “her place.” A “woman’s place.”

But something funny keeps happening. Hillary Clinton only becomes stronger, more respected, more significant, and more popular.

The public sees beyond the negative frames. The chasm between the real Hillary Clinton and the caricature, between the person and the portrait, has become clear. The pervasive and predictable anti-Hillary themes have failed. “Too ambitious.” “Represents the past.” “Will do anything to win.” “Calculating.” “Secretive.” “Polarizing.” These tropes have served the innerati for so long that they instinctively return to them. They’re doing it now. To no avail.

I have a personal take on why Hillary Clinton’s reputation is so resilient. Early on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2006, a week after she had hired me as an advisor and after an outbreak of violence in the Middle East, my home phone rang. “Peter, it’s Hillary, I was just calling to make sure your friends and family in Lebanon are OK.” It immediately struck me: the reason Hillary Clinton has so many fiercely loyal friends and advisors, so many fans and supporters, is because of her character, her friendship, her loyalty.

It sounds tautological but she is who she is because of who she is. A singular human being, a unique combination of inner fortitude, intelligence and vision.

During a particularly vicious sexist attack in 2008, Hillary Clinton used the phrase “tip of the spear” to describe her role as a woman aiming at the ultimate glass ceiling.

That glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered in a quarter millennium for a reason. The innerati’s obsessive quest to dull the spear, to pwn Hillary Clinton, may not be gender-biased on an individual level, but the collective effect is to try to set up insurmountable obstacles, to block her path.

That’s what the institutional sexism that has kept that glass ceiling intact will look like if Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016. Not a direct attack on her gender, not cheap shots about her hair or clothes, not vaguely misogynistic insinuations, but a gleeful mob effect at the slightest suggestion of weakness.

If she runs, for the sake of my young daughter, I hope she powers through it. I hope the spear finally hits its mark.

The top ten list that shouldn’t exist in 2015


A list of travesties:

  1. Worldwide, women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  2. One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night while 25 hedge fund managers made a combined $21 billion in a single year, enough to feed every hungry person on earth.
  3. Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  4. The Forbes 400 billionaires have as much wealth as the entire African-American population of the U.S., nearly 42 million people.
  5. 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage, while 2 to 4 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well, polluting our water supply.
  6. Over a million people around the world lose their lives to violence every year, yet 40% of Americans live in a household with a gun, more than the percentage of young adults enrolled in college.
  7. It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour of every day, 300 children die from malnutrition.
  8. One of the leading causes of death for pregnant women is homicide — and one out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  9. The world’s nations pumped nearly 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels last year.
  10. Cigarettes – often the product of child labor – will kill up to a billion people in the 21st century, yet remain legal and are marketed to teenagers.

Children subjected to horrific punishments in American schools and detention centers


The New York Times writes:

Solitary confinement can be psychologically damaging for any inmate, but it is especially perverse when it is used to discipline children and teenagers. At juvenile detention centers and adult prisons and jails across the country, minors are locked in isolated cells for 22 hours or more a day. A recent Justice Department review of suicides in juvenile facilities found that more than half of the minors who had killed themselves had done so in isolation.

The problem isn’t isolated to detention centers. This story is bone-chilling, describing what is essentially the torture of a child:

Rose had speech and language delays. At school, her mother and I found Rose standing alone on the cement floor of a basement mop closet, illuminated by a single light bulb. There was nothing in the closet for a child — no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.

Rose got dressed and we removed her from the school. We later learned that Rose had been locked in the closet five times that morning. She said that during the last confinement, she needed to use the restroom but didn’t want to wet her outfit. So she disrobed. Rather than help her, the school called us and then covered the narrow door’s small window with a file folder, on which someone had written “Don’t touch!”

We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.

Continue Reading..

Why violence is worse than other existential threats


“No more hurting people” - Martin Richard, 8, killed in Boston Marathon attack.

Violence: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health states that violence is “among the leading causes of death among people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females.”

Millions of people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year. What is infinitely disturbing is the myriad forms this violence takes and how pervasive and borderless it is. Across the globe and across the centuries, humans have committed the most barbaric acts, limited only by their imaginations, and the march of civilization has done little to change the grim reality that on any given day, in every corner of our planet, gruesome and ungodly things are done to women, children and men.

Growing up in Beirut during the 70s and early 80s, I witnessed terrible acts of violence, car bombs at markets and artillery strikes on residential neighborhoods, bloody bodies and corpses in the street, the carnage of urban warfare. I saw the darker aspects of human nature, the willingness of people to brutalize one another. After four decades on this planet, I still cannot fathom how a man can rape a baby, how people can gas, hack, strangle, shoot, bomb, smother, burn, and torture their fellow humans. Rather than become dulled and inured, I am ever more appalled and horrified by violence.

Preventing violence should be our highest priority. Tragically and deplorably, it is not. For every paroxysm of grief and shock over a mass killing, there is apathy in the face of events like this:

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore. Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair. “We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Something like this should stop the world in its tracks, but it doesn’t:

Jessica Marie Lunsford was a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in Homosassa, Florida in the early morning of February 24, 2005. … Couey entered Lunsford’s house through an unlocked door at about three o’clock in the morning, awakened Lunsford, told her “Don’t yell or nothing,” and told her to follow him out of the house. He admitted in a videotaped and recorded deposition to raping Lunsford in his bedroom. Lunsford was kept in Couey’s bed that evening, where he raped her again in the morning. Couey put her in his closet and ordered her to remain there, which she did as he reported for work at “Billy’s Truck Lot”. Three days after he abducted her, Couey tricked Jessica into getting into two garbage bags by saying he was going to ‘take her home’. He instead buried her alive as he decided he could do nothing else with the girl. According to the publicly released autopsy reports Lunsford had poked two fingers through the bags before suffocating to death.

Or this:

Turkish police have recovered the body of a 16-year-old girl they say was buried alive by relatives in an “honor” killing carried out as punishment for talking to boys. The girl, who has been identified only by the initials MM, was found in a sitting position with her hands tied, in a two-meter hole dug under a chicken pen outside her home in Kahta, in the south-eastern province of Adiyaman. … Media reports said the father had told relatives he was unhappy that his daughter – one of nine children – had male friends. The grandfather is said to have beaten her for having relations with the opposite sex. A postmortem examination revealed large amounts of soil in her lungs and stomach, indicating that she had been alive and conscious while being buried.

No fate seems more ghastly or any act more abhorrent than the kind of evil deeds described above. That these things occur every day, every hour, across the planet is horrific beyond words. That the world is largely apathetic about it is loathsome.

There is something qualitatively different, something worse about violence than other existential threats. It may be impossible to distinguish between the mortal terror of being trapped under a building in an earthquake and being trapped under a building after a car bomb, between the agony of death from cancer and being beaten to death. But there is a difference. We all die in some manner or another, but an act of human will, of intentionality, a choice by one person to harm another, is not the same as an act or accident of nature or a cruel vagary of fate. The immediacy, intentionality, and physicality of a violent act sets it apart, precisely because free will is involved, because it is a choice in the moment, because it is avoidable by virtue of being the will of a person.

Although the relative scale is disproportionate (vastly more people are at risk from hunger and disease) violence touches virtually everyone, directly or indirectly. Is there a single person reading this who hasn’t been affected by it in some way or who isn’t concerned about being harmed or having their loved ones harmed? In many ways, violence – the fear of it, the reality of it, its history, and its many representations/permutations in art, film, music, media and modern culture – defines our modern life.

I believe that the decision by an individual or group of individuals to destroy or inflict damage on others, to rob them of their freedom, to strip them of their dignity, to dehumanize them, is fundamentally worse than any other mortal threat we face. Violence is an affront to our souls, a stain on our humanity.

Should it be our top order of business to eradicate violence? Yes. Is it possible to do so? The report I referenced at the top of this piece is a good place to start.

Tobacco kills: grim stats on smoking


 UPDATE: “Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming

“If current trends continue, tobacco will cause up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.” – CNN

Tobacco companies sell deadly, addictive poison to the public. Consider these grim stats:

Smoking remains America’s leading cause of disease and preventable death, resulting in more than 443,000 fatalities annually. More than 8 million Americans live with a smoking-related illness or conditions.

There is enough nicotine in four or five cigarettes to kill an average adult if ingested whole. Most smokers take in only one or two milligrams of nicotine per cigarette however, with the remainder being burned off.

The clay found in cat litter is used in cigarettes as filler. This allows tobacco companies to “weigh down” their cigarettes so that they will fall into the “large cigar” category-helping the companies avoid taxes.

Ambergris, otherwise known as whale vomit is one of the hundreds of possible additives used in manufactured cigarettes.

Benzene is a known cause of acute myeloid leukemia, and cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure. Among U.S. smokers, 90 percent of benzene exposures come from cigarettes.

Radioactive lead and polonium are both present in low levels in cigarette smoke.

Hydrogen cyanide, one of the toxic byproducts present in cigarette smoke, was used as a genocidal chemical agent during World War II.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemical compounds, 11 of which are known to be Group 1 carcinogens.

The smoke from a smoldering cigarette often contains higher concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke than exhaled smoke does.

It’s estimated that trillions of filters, filled with toxic chemicals from tobacco smoke, make their way into our environment as discarded waste yearly.

While they may look like white cotton, cigarette filters are made of very thin fibers of a plastic called cellulose acetate. A cigarette filter can take between 18 months and 10 years to decompose.

Worldwide, approximately 10 million cigarettes are purchased a minute, 15 billion are sold each day, and upwards of 5 trillion are produced and used on an annual basis.

Kids are still picking up smoking at the alarming rate of 3,000 a day in the U.S., and 80,000 to 100,000 a day worldwide.

Approximately one quarter of the youth alive in the Western Pacific Region (East Asia and the Pacific) today will die from tobacco use.

Half of all long-term smokers will die a tobacco-related death.

Every eight seconds, a human life is lost to tobacco use somewhere in the world.

Tobacco use is responsible for five million or 12% of all deaths of adults above the age of 30 each year.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

The pervasive oppression of women and girls


The greatest travesty of human life:

  • One out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
  • 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
  • Femicide is the leading cause of on-the-job death for women.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • Women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • In Asia and South Asia, in addition to sex-selective abortions, millions of girls and women are killed after birth through starvation and violence, forced abortions, ‘honor’ killings, dowry murders, and witch lynchings.

And the reward: Women work 67% of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income.

Continue Reading..

Threats to justice everywhere


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” April 16, 1963

Those searing words are as apt today as they were a half century ago.

Look around:

  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour 300 children die from malnutrition.
  • Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  • One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, while black women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
  • Worldwide, women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • The world’s nations pumped 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air every second from the burning of fossil fuels last year, poisoning our children and endangering life on our planet.
  • Over 40% of Americans live in a household with a gun, more than the percentage of young adults enrolled in college.
  • One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night, while 1,426 billionaires have a net worth of $5.4 trillion, more than 100 times the amount necessary to eradicate global hunger.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • Our government regularly uses unmanned drones to fire missiles at ill-defined targets, killing babies in the process.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Our government detains people indefinitely with no charges and no recourse then forces feeding tubes down their throat when they protest.
  • Every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, but 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
  • 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less, while the top 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers made a combined $13.2 billion in a single year.
  • Over a million people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • 85 of the richest people on the planet are as wealthy as the poorest 3.5 billion.
  • Our government assassinates its own citizens with no trial.
  • 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage, while 2 to 4 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well, contaminating aquifers with methane, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

We truly share a “single garment of destiny” and if we accept one of the injustices above, we are enabling all of them.