POLITICS


The top ten list that shouldn’t exist in 2015


A new year’s 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.

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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.

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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.

Patton Oswalt and the Boston Marathon bombing


Patton Oswalt’s beautiful and heartfelt Facebook post understandably struck a chord with a nation stunned by the carnage in Boston:

This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness … So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

It is an admirable sentiment and very moving, but tragically wrong. Considering it was endorsed by hundreds of thousands of people, I wanted to offer a contrary perspective.

First, the “prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence” are not paid by the majority of us but by innocent people neglected by the rest of the world. While we go about our lives, fretting over our iPhones and apps, sports teams and celebrities, there’s Aisha and far too many like her:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. LINK

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Climate change compendium: three years of climate coverage in one post


This post is a chronological compilation of news and opinion on our ever-worsening climate calamity.

To set the stage, watch this video: 131 years of global warming in 26 seconds

Then read this essential piece explaining why the climate story is beyond anything the media has ever reported.

Yahoo News (1/31/14)

Prince Charles has called people who deny human-made climate change a “headless chicken brigade” who are ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence.

NBC News (12/13/13)

By the time today’s preschoolers are babysitting their grandkids, global sea levels are likely to be pushing 2 feet higher than they are now and on the way to topping 8 feet above current levels by the year 2200, according to a new study.

USA Today (12/5/13)

Valley Fever is one of multiple diseases experts say are spreading in part because of climate change. They include a brain-eating amoeba showing up in northern lakes that were once too cold to harbor it and several illnesses carried by ticks whose range is increasing.

Guardian (11/20/13)

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

Think Progress (11/3/13)

NASA released global temperature data showing that this September tied with 2005 for the warmest September on record.

New York Times (11/1/13)

Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found.

New York Times (10/9/13)

If greenhouse emissions continue their steady escalation, temperatures across most of the earth will rise to levels with no recorded precedent by the middle of this century.

CNN (9/27/13)

Climate scientists are 95% confident — that is to say, surer than ever — that humans are responsible for at least “half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s.” …weather events that have previously been classified as “storms of the century” could become the storm of “every 20 years or less.”

TCK (9/19/13)

Sea ice cover in the Arctic has shrunk to the sixth lowest extent on record, according to figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Think Progress (8/18/13)

Every climate scientist I’ve spoken to has said we will blow past 550 ppm [carbon dioxide concentrations] if we continue to put off action. Indeed, we’re on track for well past 800 ppm. Continued inaction on climate change risks the end of modern civilization as we know it.

TIME (8/15/13)

Northeast Asia is on fire. Yesterday temperatures in Shanghai hit an all-time high of 105.4ºF (40.8ºC), the hottest day in the coastal megacity since Chinese officials began keeping records some 140 years ago — during the Qing dynasty.

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Is the progressive blogosphere dead?


UPDATE (10/29/13): The progressive community is abuzz about a pair of posts from Ian Welsh and Jerome Armstrong about the “Failure of the Netroots.” My view is that Ian and Jerome are reflecting deep, often unspoken dismay among some progressives that the Obama presidency has been a disaster for their cause. Some of the most egregious national security practices and civil liberties violations of the Bush era have been expanded and enhanced under Obama, negating years of tireless, thankless activism by the netroots against the Bush-Cheney agenda.

Following is a post I wrote in response to a 2012 Daily Beast article about the decline of the liberal blogosphere which tracks some of the arguments made by Ian and Jerome. Note my (pre-Snowden) comments about Glenn Greenwald and my prediction that bloggers like Glenn would be among those who “help shape the national debate” in the years to come…

In 2005, I wrote “THE TRIANGLE: Limits of Blog Power,” about the power (and occasional powerlessness) of progressive blogs. Seven years later, the questions remain the same and the Daily Beast’s David Freedlander writes about the perceived decline of the liberal blogosphere, igniting a spirited debate among bloggers.

Jane Hamsher: “Pam has already touched on David Freedlander’s piece about the decline of independent blogs 10 years down the road.  There are many things that are true in his long piece, but he somehow doesn’t manage to ask the rather obvious question — where’s the money? …The reason increasing numbers of blogs can’t keep the lights on is simple –  Google.  As I wrote on Bytegeist recently, news advertising revenues (both online and off) have tanked since 2000, and that money is going straight to Google, who passes pennies on to news outlets for every dollar they receive.”

Susie Madrak: ” As Jane Hamsher points out, we lost revenue over Google ad practices. (Not to mention the Obama campaign’s refusal to buy ads directly from blogs. Guess they showed us, huh?) But I liked Pam Spaulding’s take best. Like me, Pam is just trying to stay afloat with her health problems…”

Pam Spaulding: “It’s not that independent political blogging is toast — after all the longevity of a blog post in the historical record far outweighs a short message on social media. A blog essay has more lasting influence; the problem is independent blogs don’t have sufficient value in today’s commercial space to sustain their existence —  save for the lucky few people who have been able to monetize (or fundraise) for theirs to continue to exist.”

Raven Brooks: “The dynamics of the Netroots may have changed since its beginnings in 2004, but the influence has grown. Freedlander’s premise that people of influence dismiss progressive bloggers is simply not true. Not a day goes by without a staffer, candidate or elected official asking for advice on how to reach bloggers–and get money and support from their readers.”

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Fearing death and facing death


On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, tributes and remembrances abound, as they should. We learn by remembering.

As a resident of lower Manhattan, I am surrounded by the spirit(s) of those who gave their lives on that defining day. Like all New Yorkers, the awful sights, sounds and smells of that day are seared into my mind. I flew back to New York from London on September 10th, 2001, casually admiring the majestic towers on the drive into Manhattan. The fact that those twin icons would vanish 24 hours later was unthinkable.

On that crisp and beautiful morning, I was scheduled to meet a colleague at 7 World Trade Center, when a family member called and told me to turn on the television. I did. And everything changed, forever.

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