How “Archie” went from dull to daring

The world’s tamest comic series is now our most groundbreaking

Archie used to be the safest, squarest comic book franchise out there. But in the past few years, something changed

How "Archie" went from dull to daring: The world's tamest comic series is now our most groundbreaking

Like a lot of people, I used to get those little “Archie” digests at the supermarket when I was a lad. I remember enjoying them, but they didn’t have a big impact on me. Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the gang are clearly part of the collective unconscious, but they’ve never felt like essential reading. When I drifted away from comics for a while, books like “Maus” and “Watchmen” and “Daredevil: Born Again” stayed with me, but my Archies were the first to go. They felt disposable because the characters never changed. Nobody played it safer than Archie Comics.

Those days are a distant memory. Archie Comics is now known for taking wild chances and daring approaches that put Marvel and DC to shame. The debut of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and the announcement of the batshit crossover “Archie Meets Predator” highlight what’s been apparent for years now: The company formerly known for the squarest and most unchanging characters in comics has become one of the most adventurous and exciting publishers. From the zombie apocalypse to a forthcoming story by Lena Dunham, today’s Archie Comics are anything but disposable or predictable. Improbably, anything goes in Riverdale.

A brand new series—“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”—is the latest evidence of Archie’s willingness to take a radical new direction with an old character. Sabrina has been popular for decades, perhaps even more than Archie Andrews himself, thanks to the successful Sabrina series that aired on ABC and the WB. But Sabrina’s adventures, like Archie’s, have usually been fairly innocent teenage fare. Not anymore. Sabrina and her world have taken a more serious and historical turn in the new series written by Archie’s Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Robert Hack: they bring surprising gravitas and depth to the concept of a teenage witch, giving Sabrina a backstory full of tragedy while keeping the teen shenanigans. Hack’s art reminds me a little of Tula Lotay’s surreal, boundary-smashing work on “Supreme Blue Rose.” There’s a dreamy feel—or maybe I should say a nightmarish feel—that also fits the series’ specific historical setting, starting in 1951 with Sabrina’s birth. The best trick in this magic-filled book is that even in an older setting with darker horror, Sabrina is still Sabrina.



That trick was perfected in the ongoing series that inspired this new spin on Sabrina: “Afterlife with Archie,” which makes Riverdale’s zombie contagion feel appropriately deadly while maintaining the essence of the characters. “Afterlife” is a genuinely moving comic and a helluva accomplishment, thanks in no small part to the moody, evocative art of Francesco Francavilla, whose visuals create a recognizable yet new Riverdale that’s about as safe as the prison from “The Walking Dead.” The critical and commercial success of “Afterlife” led to “Sabrina,” much as the title of “Afterlife” plays on “Life with Archie”—a series that followed two parallel versions of Archie: one who married Betty and one who married Veronica. Both universes culminated in the death of Archie earlier this year. Marriage, death, zombies, alternate universes: Archie has embraced the biggest possibilities of both real life and comic books.

I asked Archie co-CEO/publisher Jon Goldwater about the company’s innovations, and he said they have a “story first” philosophy, but “don’t want to feel limited or tied down by what’s come before or what anyone else is doing.” He says the current era began about six years ago when he told editors and creators that “everything was on the table. No idea was too crazy and nothing was too precious.” From that meeting came Kevin Keller, who Goldwater believes is “the most important new character at Archie since the original five of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie.” Keller, like older members of the gang, also appears in multiple versions and universes: he’s already been a superhero and senator.

The company’s confidence is reflected in the recent announcement of “Archie Meets Predator,” which might be the weirdest team-up or mash-up by any publisher. But there is a precedent for this series (a collaboration with Dark Horse Comics) at Archie. As Chris Sims discussed in Comics Alliance, the company’s new creativity isn’t entirely unprecedented: there have been some crazy Archie stories over the years. The best is probably “Archie Meets the Punisher,” a combination of the most unlikely genres imaginable: teen soap opera and vigilante pulp. That’s like “Gilmore Girls” and “Dexter” having a crossover. There have also been “Archie Meets KISS” and “Archie Meets Glee,” so this is another area of the Archie-verse that’s open-ended to say the least.

Archie Comics is taking chances with less-familiar characters too. Though not well-known, Archie also owns some superhero characters, which they’re rebooting with a new line called Dark Circle: they will include the Fox, the Black Hood and the Shield. The Shield is an especially noteworthy character for reasons old and new. Created in 1940, the Shield is an all-American hero in the vein of Captain America—but who preceded Captain America by a year. In fact, the creators of Captain America changed the original shape of Cap’s shield to avoid confusion with the Shield. For the new Shield series, a woman will be taking up the mantle of this underappreciated hero. Like the female Thor and books like “Rat Queens,” “Harley Quinn” and “She-Hulk,” the new Shield is an example of growing female presence in comic book characters and fandom.

Archie is learning something DC is figuring out with series like “Batman ’66,” a continuation of Adam West Batman: readers are cool with multiple, inconsistent, far-out versions of beloved characters. Also, when you free a character from the prison of continuity—the tangled web of what really happened and supposed counts in the main version of a character—you’re free to tell better stories with greater consequences. When you let stories stand on their own, you can marry Archie, or kill him, or make him fight Predator. Now that the elasticity of the Archie crew has been embraced, it’s hard to imagine any genre or team-up that’s not fair game. Sci-fi Archie? Archie vs. Archer? Who knows?

Anything seems possible in Riverdale. Young me would have been shocked to read that sentence. Who would have guessed wholesome, simple, predictable Archie Andrews would end up the poster boy for the bizarre, complex, freewheeling possibilities of comics?

Mark Peters is a freelance writer from Chicago. He writes jokes on Twitter and is a columnist for Visual Thesaurus and McSweeney’s. He is also Comic Book Fella on Tumblr.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/25/how_archie_went_from_dull_to_daring_the_worlds_tamest_comic_series_is_now_our_most_groundbreaking/?source=newsletter

7 facts that show the American dream is dead

A living wage, retirement security and a life free of debt are now only accessible to the country’s wealthiest

, AlterNet

7 facts that show the American dream is dead
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetrecent poll showed that more than half of all people in this country don’t believe that the American dream is real. Fifty-nine percent of those polled in June agreed that “the American dream has become impossible for most people to achieve.” More and more Americans believe there is “not much opportunity” to get ahead.

The public has reached this conclusion for a very simple reason: It’s true. The key elements of the American dream—a living wage, retirement security, the opportunity for one’s children to get ahead in life—are now unreachable for all but the wealthiest among us. And it’s getting worse. As inequality increases, the fundamental elements of the American dream are becoming increasingly unaffordable for the majority.

Here are seven ways the American dream is dying.

1. Most people can’t get ahead financially.

If the American dream means a reasonable rate of income growth for working people, most people can’t expect to achieve it.

As Ben Casselman observes at fivethirtyeight.com, the middle class hasn’t seen its wage rise in 15 years. In fact, the percentage of middle-class households in this nation is actually falling. Median household income has fallen since the financial crisis of 2008, while income for the wealthiest of Americans has actually risen.

Thomas Edsall wrote in the New York Timesthat “Not only has the wealth of the very rich doubled since 2000, but corporate revenues are at record levels.” Edsall also observed that, “In 2013, according to Goldman Sachs, corporate profits rose five times faster than wages.”

2. The stay-at-home parent is a thing of the past.

There was a time when middle-class families could lead a comfortable lifestyle on one person’s earnings. One parent could work while the other stayed home with the kids.



Those days are gone. As Elizabeth Warren and co-author Amelia Warren Tyagi documented in their 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap, the increasing number of two-earner families was matched by rising costs in a number of areas such as education, home costs and transportation.

These cost increases, combined with wage stagnation, mean that families are struggling to make ends meet—and that neither parent has the luxury of staying home any longer. In fact, parenthood has become a financial risk. Warren and Tyagi write that “Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.” This book was written over a decade ago; things are even worse today.

3. The rich are more debt-free. Others have no choice.

Most Americans are falling behind anyway, as their salary fails to keep up with their expenses. No wonder debt is on the rise. As Joshua Freedman and Sherle R. Schwenninger observe in a paper for the New America Foundation, “American households… have become dependent on debt to maintain their standard of living in the face of stagnant wages.”

This “debt-dependent economy,” as Freedman and Schwenninger call it, has negative implications for the nation as a whole. But individual families are suffering too.

Rani Molla of the Wall Street Journal notes that “Over the past 20 years the average increase in spending on some items has exceeded the growth of incomes. The gap is especially poignant for those under 25 years old.”

There are increasingly two classes of Americans: Those who are taking on additional debt, and the rich.

4. Student debt is crushing a generation of non-wealthy Americans.

Education for every American who wants to get ahead? Forget about it. Nowadays you have to be rich to get a college education; that is, unless you want to begin your career with a mountain of debt. Once you get out of college, you’ll quickly discover that the gap between spending and income is greatest for people under 25 years of age.

Education, as Forbescolumnist Steve Odland put it in 2012, is “the great equalizer… the facilitator of the American dream.” But at that point college costs had risen 500 percent since 1985, while the overall consumer price index rose by 115 percent. As of 2013, tuition at a private university was projected to cost nearly $130,000 on average over four years, and that’s not counting food, lodging, books, or other expenses.

Public colleges and universities have long been viewed as the get-ahead option for all Americans, including the poorest among us. Not anymore. The University of California was once considered a national model for free, high-quality public education, but today tuition at UC Berkeley is $12,972 per year. (It was tuition-free until Ronald Reagan became governor.) Room and board is $14,414. The total cost of on-campus attendance at Berkeley, including books and other items, is estimated to be $32,168.

The California story has been repeated across the country, as state cutbacks in the wake of the financial crisis caused the cost of public higher education to soar by 15 percent in a two-year period. With a median national household income of $51,000, even public colleges are quickly becoming unaffordable

Sure, there are still some scholarships and grants available. But even as college costs rise, the availability of those programs is falling, leaving middle-class and lower-income students further in debt as out-of-pocket costs rise.

5. Vacations aren’t for the likes of you anymore.

Think you’d like to have a nice vacation? Think again. According to a 2012 American Express survey, Americans who were planning vacations expected to spend an average of $1,180 per person. That’s $4,720 for a family of four. But then, why worry about paying for that vacation? If you’re unemployed, you can’t afford it. And even if you have a job, there’s a good chance you won’t get the time off anyway.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research found in 2013, the United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not require employers to offer paid vacations to their workers. The number of paid holidays and vacation days received by the average worker in this country (16) would not meet the statutory minimum requirements in 19 other developed countries, according to the CEPR. Thirty-one percent of workers in smaller businesses had no paid vacation days at all.

The CEPR also found that 14 percent of employees at larger corporations also received no paid vacation days. Overall, roughly one in four working Americans gets no vacation time at all.

Rep. Alan Grayson, who has introduced the Paid Vacation Act, correctly notes that the average working American now spends 176 hours more per year on the job than was the case in 1976.

Between the pressure to work more hours and the cost of vacation, even people who do get vacation time—at least on paper—are hard-pressed to take any time off. That’s why 175 million vacation days go unclaimed each year.

6. Even with health insurance, medical care is increasingly unaffordable for most people.

Medical care when you need it? That’s for the wealthy.

The Affordable Care Act was designed to increase the number of Americans who are covered by health insurance. But health coverage in this country is the worst of any highly developed nation—and that’s for people who have health insurance.

Every year the Milliman actuarial firm analyzes the average costs of medical care, including the household’s share of insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs, for a family of four with the kind of insurance that is considered higher quality coverage in this country: a PPO plan which allows them to use a wider range of healthcare providers.

Even as overall wealth in this country has shifted upward, away from middle-class families, the cost of medical care is increasingly being borne by the families themselves. As the Milliman study shows, the employer-funded portion of healthcare costs has risen 52 percent since 2007, the first year of the recession. But household costs have risen by a staggering 73 percent, or 8 percent per year, and now average $9,144. In the same time period, Census Bureau figures show that median household income has fallen 8 percent.

That means that household healthcare costs are skyrocketing even as income falls dramatically.

The recent claims of “lowered healthcare costs” are misleading. While the rate of increase is slowing down, healthcare costs are continuing to increase. And the actual cost to working Americans is increasing even faster, as corporations continue to maximize their record profits by shifting healthcare costs onto consumers. This shift is expected to accelerate as the result of a misguided provision in the Affordable Care Act which will tax higher-cost plans.

According to an OECD survey, the number of Americans who report going without needed healthcare in the past year because of cost was higher than in 10 comparable countries. This was true for both lower-income and higher-income Americans, suggesting that insured Americans are also feeling the pinch when it comes to getting medical treatment.

As inequality worsens, wages continue to stagnate, and more healthcare costs are placed on the backs of working families, more and more Americans will find medical care unaffordable.

7. Americans can no longer look forward to a secure retirement.

Want to retire when you get older, as earlier generations did, and enjoy a secure life after a lifetime of hard work? You’ll get to… if you’re rich.

There was a time when most middle-class Americans could work until they were 65 and then look forward to a financially secure retirement. Corporate pensions guaranteed a minimum income for the remainder of their life. Those pensions, coupled with Social Security income and a lifetime’s savings, assured that these ordinary Americans could spend their senior years in modest comfort.

No longer. As we have already seen, rising expenses means most Americans are buried in debt rather than able to accumulate modest savings. That’s the main reason why 20 percent of Americans who are nearing retirement age haven’t saved for their post-working years.

Meanwhile, corporations are gutting these pension plans in favor of far less general programs. The financial crisis of 2008, driven by the greed of Wall Street one percenters, robbed most American household of their primary assets. And right-wing “centrists” of both parties, not satisfied with the rising retirement age which has already cut the program’s benefits, continue to press for even deeper cuts to the program.

One group, Natixis Global Asset Management, ranks the United States 19th among developed countries when it comes to retirement security. The principal reasons the US ranks so poorly are 1) the weakness of our pension programs; and 2) the stinginess of our healthcare system, which even with Medicare for the elderly, is far weaker than that of nations such as Austria.

Economists used to speak of retirement security as a three-legged stool. Pensions were one leg of the stool, savings were another and Social Security was the third. Today two legs of the stool have been shattered, and anti-Social Security advocates are sawing away at the third.

Conclusion

Vacations; an education; staying home to raise your kids; a life without crushing debt; seeing the doctor when you don’t feel well; a chance to retire: one by one, these mainstays of middle-class life are disappearing for most Americans. Until we demand political leadership that will do something about it, they’re not coming back.

Can the American dream be restored? Yes, but it will take concerted effort to address two underlying problems. First, we must end the domination of our electoral process by wealthy and powerful elites. At the same time, we must begin to address the problem of growing economic inequality. Without a national movement to call for change, change simply isn’t going to happen.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a writer and policy analyst. He is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and is host and managing editor of The Zero Hour on We Act Radio.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/25/7_facts_that_show_the_american_dream_is_dead_partner/?source=newsletter

After Gezi: Erdoğan and political struggle in Turkey

by Global Uprisings on October 24, 2014

Post image for After Gezi: Erdoğan and political struggle in TurkeyThe latest Global Uprisings film chronicles a year of resistance and repression that has left Turkey profoundly divided in the wake of the Gezi uprising.

Political struggles over the future of Turkey have left the country profoundly divided. Former Prime Minister, now President, Tayyip Erdogan, has fueled growing polarization through his authoritarian response to protests, his large-scale urban development projects, his religious social conservatism, and most recently, through his complicity in the Islamic State’s war against the Kurdish people in Northern Syria.

In the year after the Gezi uprising, protests continue against the government’s urban redevelopment plans, against police repression, in response to repression of the Kurdish and Alevi populations, and in honor of the martyrs that lost their lives in the uprising. Most recently, angry protests and riots have spread across the country in solidarity with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units fighting against the Islamic State in Kobanê, Rojava. This film chronicles a year of uprisings, resistance and repression since the Gezi uprising in Turkey.

After Gezi: Erdoğan And Political Struggle In Turkey from brandon jourdan on Vimeo.

Democratic Senate candidates sound right-wing themes in pre-election debates

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By Patrick Martin
24 October 2014

The November 4 election will decide whether the Democratic Party or the Republican Party has a majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, but it will not change the basic political direction of the United States, since both corporate-controlled parties are committed to programs of militarism, attacks on democratic rights, and slashing spending on domestic social programs.

The fundamental agreement between the Democrats and Republicans was on display last week in a series of debates between Senate candidates in five southern states: North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky. The five races are closely contested, with polls showing the outcome too close to call or with small leads for one party or the other.

Given the current 55-45 edge for the Democrats in the Senate, with the Republican Party needing a net gain of six seats to take control, the results in these five southern races could well decide the outcome. (Three seats being vacated by longtime Democratic senators, in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, are already projected to be won by the Republicans).

The five debates reviewed here included the following:

• GEORGIA, Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of longtime former senator Sam Nunn, vs. Republican millionaire CEO David Perdue.

• NORTH CAROLINA, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan vs. the Republican speaker of the state legislature Thom Tillis.

• LOUISIANA, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu vs. Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy.

• ARKANSAS, Democratic Senator Mark Pryor vs. Republican Congressman Tom Cotton.

• KENTUCKY, Democratic state secretary of state Allison Lundergan Grimes vs. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who would become Majority Leader if the Republicans take control November 4.

Videos and transcripts of the debates are available on C-Span. The transcripts have the following oddity: while giving a verbatim account of what each candidate said, they do not identify candidates themselves by name, only as “unidentified speaker.” Given the similarity in content, it is frequently difficult to tell when the Democrat or the Republican is speaking. The constant references to Obama (from the Republicans), and the non-mention of Obama (from the Democrats) are the clearest indication of which party’s candidate is speaking.

One of the most remarkable aspects of these debates was their sheer narrowness and parochialism. The Obama administration last month launched a major war in the Middle East, bombing targets in Syria in addition to those already under attack in Iraq. Yet in two of the five Senate debates, there was no discussion of the war: in Arkansas, foreign policy was discussed only from the standpoint of the need to keep open local military bases, while in Kentucky, the subject did not come up at all.

In Georgia and North Carolina, the Democratic candidates fervently supported US military intervention and attacked their Republican opponents from the right, for being more reluctant to back such action.

Michelle Nunn in Georgia is the daughter of a former senator who played a hawkish role in US military and foreign policy in the 1980s and 1990s. She called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) an “incredibly dangerous threat,” and then went on to attack her opponent as insufficiently militaristic. “One year ago David Perdue said to do nothing about Syria, and I said we needed to intervene,” she argued. “It was not the popular thing to do then, but now it is.”

Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina described herself as someone who would “fight for the military” in her role on the Armed Services Committee. She said of ISIS, “These individuals are terrorists. They have attacked Americans. Our mission should be to eradicate these terrorists.”

She went on to attack her opponent Tillis, saying, “What I have seen Speaker Tillis has done is he is waffling on these issues. I have been clear. I have been decisive. I think we need to hear from Speaker Tillis as far as what he would do.”

In response to criticism by Tillis of her performance on the Armed Services Committee, she placed herself in the vanguard of pro-intervention senators, saying, “Please note a year ago this past spring I actually asked about arming and training moderate Syrian rebels at the time. That was before we knew what ISIS was. I really think if we had taken that step we would not have seen the proliferation of these barbaric terrorists.”

In Louisiana, Senator Landrieu embraced the Obama administration’s policy in the Middle East, saying of ISIS, “We need to do everything we can to eliminate it. It’s a serious threat not only against the United States but the region, which is an important region of our interests. Secondly I do support the airstrikes against ISIS and believe that all presidents should have the authority to act when they believe America is in danger. Thirdly I would support the use of force. I think I would stop short at this point for boots on the ground.”

Republican Congressman Cassidy denounced the administration furiously but agreed with its policy in substance. “I support the plan because it’s the only plan out there,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s going to be adequate.” But he went on to suggest he would back the use of ground troops as part of a larger strategy.

On domestic policy, both Democrats and Republicans backed further cuts in public spending. Michelle Nunn said of the federal budget deficit, “We both agree this is a huge issue. We disagree in that I believe in a bipartisan effort. It has to be done in a collaboration. Cut spending, cut medical expenses.” She went on to say, “I believe the only way to craft good legislation is with Republican support.”

Asked for more specifics, she hailed the outgoing Republican senator she is running to succeed, Saxby Chambliss, in his effort to draft a bipartisan spending and tax bill with Democrat Mark Warner. “We need to cut spending and reform taxes to settle the deficit,” she concluded.

Kay Hagan likewise backed reactionary bipartisan measures including the immigration legislation proposed by Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, which would have established a 17-year process for immigrants to become citizens. She also backed Republican calls for a ban on travelers from the three countries in West Africa now devastated by Ebola.

Her plan for deficit reduction centered on a massive tax cut for giant US corporations that have parked $1 trillion in offshore accounts to avoid paying US corporate income taxes. The current tax rate is 35 percent, but Hagan boasted, “My bill would allow that money to come in at eight percent. They can bring that to five if they hire American workers.” In other words, corporate America would enjoy a windfall of $300 billion, courtesy of the US taxpayer.

In the Arkansas debate, Senator Pryor, the Democratic incumbent, portrayed himself as a veteran budget-cutter. “You all know me and you know I am serious about this. People in Washington know—I watch this closely and we have to get spending under control. That is why I voted to cut spending by $4 trillion in the last three years.”

As always in a US election, the Democrats portrayed the Republicans as committed to slashing Medicare and Social Security, while the Republicans piously proclaimed their dedication to these programs—only one, Cassidy in Louisiana, declaring his support for raising the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 70 years.

For the most part, the actual differences between the Democrats and Republicans boiled down to the following, in state after state: the Democrats backed an increase in the minimum wage, declared climate change to be a reality, supported gay marriage, and opposed repeal of Obamacare. The Republicans took the opposite stand on each question.

While the climate change issue reveals the grip of Christian fundamentalists (and oil companies) on the Republican Party, the differences in ideology have no real practical implications. Democratic candidate Grimes in Kentucky pledged her loyalty to the coal industry and Senator Landrieu in Louisiana did the same for the oil and gas producers.

On Obamacare, the Republicans continue to point to its most reactionary features, such as cuts in Medicare funding, even while they themselves support even deeper cuts. The Arkansas debate was held just after Arkansas-based Walmart announced it was ending health care benefits for tens of thousands of part-time workers, dumping these workers into the exchanges set up under Obamacare.

The minimum wage increase is an empty promise that even if fulfilled would not lift millions of low-paid workers out of poverty. With a Republican-controlled House, there is no possibility of such an increase passing, so Democratic Senate candidates are happy to make the promise knowing they won’t have to do anything.

This issue has been highlighted is several states by the introduction of referendum measures which will be on the ballot November 4, whose major purpose is to persuade poor and working-class voters to go to the polls despite their deep aversion to both parties.

In only one of the five debates was a Republican placed at a disadvantage on the economic issue, and that by his own doing. In the Georgia debate, David Perdue was asked about outsourcing at several corporations he had headed, particularly the textile manufacturer Pillowtex and he proceeded to boast about his record. In the aftermath of the debate, his poll numbers began to plunge.

Because the policies of the Obama administration have so clearly favored the wealthy and Wall Street, however, it was impossible for the Democratic candidates to sustain the pretense that they defended the interests of working people. This was demonstrated in the Arkansas debate, where Senator Pryor, the Democratic incumbent, denounced his Republican opponent Cotton for his ties to billionaires like the Koch brothers.

At one point Pryor was asked how he defined middle class, and the senator, himself the son of former senator David Pryor, and thus an epitome of inherited privilege, said that $200,000 a year was a middle-class income. This is a state which ranks 49th out of the 50 states in nearly every socioeconomic indicator, with a median income of barely $40,000.

A lengthy wrangle over the economy then ensued, with Cotton concluding, “Over the last six years of the economy, if you make a living off of assets or investments like stocks or bonds, the top five percent of all income earners, you are doing OK. If you make a living by working, if labor is your means of putting food on your table, your incomes are down… That is because Mark Pryor is a rubberstamp for Barack Obama’s policies.”

Cotton is perhaps the most extreme right-winger running as a major-party Senate candidate this year, calling for the gutting of food stamps and other forms of government support to the poor. That this diehard reactionary can posture as a defender of those who “make a living by working” only testifies to the utter bankruptcy of the Democratic Party, and of the two-party system as a whole.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/24/elec-o24.html

Blackwater mercenaries convicted for role in 2007 Iraq massacre

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By Thomas Gaist
23 October 2014

A federal court jury convicted four former Blackwater Worldwide mercenaries on charges of murder and manslaughter Wednesday for their role in the 2007 massacre in Nisour Square in Baghdad, which left 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians dead and another 20 wounded.

Blackwater earned global notoriety for the massacre, which was one expression of a brutal US war and occupation that has left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and laid waste to an entire society. The Nisour Square massacre stands alongside similar atrocities carried out by US forces in Haditha, Fallujah, the Abu Ghraib prison facility and elsewhere.

Former Blackwater sniper Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first degree murder. Evan Liberty, Paul Slough and Dustin Heard were all found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime. The convictions carry minimum sentences of 30 years in prison for Liberty, Slough and Heard and a potential life sentence for Slatten.

The decision is subject to appeal, which could take a year or more, and the verdicts could be overturned in the process.

After 28 days of deliberation following an 11-week trial, the jury in a federal district court in Washington decisively rejected the defense team’s arguments that the mercenaries had fired on the crowd in self-defense. This story had already been thoroughly debunked by an Iraqi government study and independent investigations by reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post .

On September 16, 2007, the security contractors opened up with machine guns and grenade launchers into stopped traffic, before turning their sights on crowds of civilians seeking to flee the scene. The Blackwater forces suffered virtually no damage during the incident.

Civilian vehicles were riddled with dozens of bullets. One woman was shot as she held her dead son in her arms, with the vehicle she was in then incinerated. Blackwater helicopters also fired into cars from overhead.

Jurors were reportedly overwhelmed by the gruesome details supplied in testimony by witnesses. One juror was excused after informing the judge that testimony from a father about the death of his 9-year old son caused her to suffer from bouts of insomnia.

The massacre occurred amidst the massive wave of sectarian and ethnic bloodletting, fomented in 2007 by the US as part the “surge,” which forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes in a matter of months, bringing to the total number of refugees produced by the US invasion to some 3.7 million.

The Obama administration, which prosecuted the case, has sought to spin the guilty verdict as an example of the US government’s supposed democratic values.

“This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” US Attorney Ronald Machen said in an official statement. “Today’s verdict demonstrates the FBI’s dedication to investigating violations of US law no matter where they occur,” said top FBI official Andrew McCabe.

In reality, while the Blackwater mercenaries are guilty of horrendous crimes, these crimes flowed from the overarching crime: the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US government with the aim of extending its control over the oil-rich country.

For this crime, the entire political and military establishment stands guilty, and none of the principal architects have been prosecuted. This includes the top officials in the Bush administration: former president George W. Bush, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former vice president Dick Cheney and many others. The preparation and launching of the war of aggression was aided and abetted by Democrats and Republicans in the Congress, along with the mass media, which propagated the lies used to justify the war.

While shielding Bush-era war criminals from prosecution, the Obama administration has continued and extended the global program of war and violence of the US military. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were followed by the war in Libya, the stoking of civil war in Syria, and a massive program of murder through drone warfare, with the populations of Yemen, Libya and Somalia subject to regular volleys of cruise missiles and laser guided-weapons.

Now the Obama administration has launched a new war in the Middle East, with troops returning to Iraq and preparations being put in place for a direct war in Syria. At the same time, the US military is increasingly turning its attention to larger threats to the interests of the American ruling class, including China and Russia.

The Blackwater verdict gives expression to growing popular revulsion against the neocolonial war policies of the government and the prominent role of fascistic mercenary forces. While the Justice Department brought the case, the verdict was undoubtedly received with a mixture of shock and apprehension by the Obama administration and the military.

Contrary to numerous reports in the corporate media portraying the convictions as a long-standing goal of US policy, in reality the military, political establishment and court system made strenuous efforts to protect the Blackwater agents from prosecution. The State Department granted the mercenaries partial immunity, and a federal judge dismissed the case against them in 2009 before it was later reinstated. The US also blocked efforts by Iraq to try the men in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Blackwater, since renamed Xi and now Academi, remains a favored instrument of US foreign policy, with hundreds of its private gunmen serving as shock troops for the US-backed regime in Kiev in its terror war against the civilian population of east Ukraine. Supported by US intelligence, Blackwater operators have played a leadership role in the operations of neo-Nazi Right Sector militias and fascistic forces responsible for ongoing atrocities.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/23/blac-o23.html

Mugshots of female Nazi concentration camp guards

The ordinary faces of evil:
10.22.2014

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Frieda Walter: sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Though their actions were monstrous, they are not monsters. There are no horns, no sharp teeth, no demonic eyes, no number of the Beast. They are just ordinary women. Mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, widows, spinsters. Ordinary women, ordinary human beings.

In the photographs they look shameful, guilty, scared, brazen, stupid, cunning, disappointed, desperate, confused. These women were Nazi guards at the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp during the Second World War, and were all tried and found guilty of carrying out horrendous crimes against their fellow human beings—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons. Interesting how “evil” looks just like you and me.

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Hilde Liesewitz: sentenced to one year imprisonment.

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Gertrude Feist: sentenced to five years imprisonment.

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Gertrude Saurer: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

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Anna Hempel: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

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Herta Bothe accompanied a death march of woman from central Poland to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She was sentenced to ten years imprisonment but was released early from prison on December 22nd, 1951.

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Hildegard Lohbauer: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

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Ilse Forster: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

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Helene Kopper: sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

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Herta Ehlert: sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

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Elizabeth Volkenrath: Head Wardess at Belsen-Bergen: sentenced to death. She was hanged on 13 December 1945.

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Juana Bormann: sentenced to death.

Via Vintage Everyday

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/the_ordinary_faces_of_evil_mugshots_of_female_nazi

The Impulse Society

How Our Growing Desperation for Instant Connection Is Ruining Us

Consumer culture does everything in its power to persuade us that adversity has no place in our lives.

The following is an excerpt from Paul Roberts’ new book, The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification (Bloomsbury, 2014). Reprinted here with permission.

The metaphor of the expanding fragile modern self is quite apt. To personalize is, in effect, to reject the world “as is,” and instead to insist on bending it to our preferences, as if mastery and dominance were our only mode. But humans aren’t meant only for mastery. We’re also meant to adapt to something larger. Our large brains are specialized for cooperation and compromise and negotiation—with other individuals, but also with the broader world, which, for most of history, did not cater to our preferences or likes. For all our ancestors’ tremendous skills at modifying and improving their environment, daily survival depended as much on their capacity to conform themselves and their expectations to the world as they found it. Indeed, it was only by enduring adversity and disappointment that we humans gained the strength and knowledge and perspective that are essential to sustainable mastery.

Virtually every traditional culture understood this and regarded adversity as inseparable from, and essential to, the formation of strong, self-sufficient individuals. Yet the modern conception of “character” now leaves little space for discomfort or real adversity. To the contrary, under the Impulse Society, consumer culture does everything in its considerable power to persuade us that adversity and difficulty and even awkwardness have no place in our lives (or belong only in discrete, self-enhancing moments, such as ropes courses or really hard ab workouts). Discomfort, difficulty, anxiety, suffering, depression, rejection, uncertainty, or ambiguity—in the Impulse Society, these aren’t opportunities to mature and toughen or become. Rather, they represent errors and inefficiencies, and thus opportunities to correct—nearly always with more consumption and self-expression.

So rather than having to wait a few days for a package, we have it overnighted. Or we pay for same-day service. Or we pine for the moment when Amazon launches drone delivery and can get us our package in thirty minutes.* And as the system gets faster at gratifying our desires, the possibility that we might actually be more satisfied by waiting and enduring a delay never arises. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the efficient consumer market abhors delay and adversity, and by extension, it cannot abide the strength of character that delay and adversity and inefficiency generally might produce. To the efficient market, “character” and “virtue” are themselves inefficiencies—impediments to the volume-based, share-price-maximizing economy. Once some new increment of self-expressive, self-gratifying, self-promoting capability is made available, the unstated but overriding assumption of contemporary consumer culture is that this capability can and should be put to use. Which means we now allow the efficient market and the treadmills and the relentless cycles of capital and innovation to determine how, and how far, we will take our self-expression and, by extension, our selves— even when doing so leaves us in a weaker state.

Consider the way our social relationships, and the larger processes of community, are changing under the relentless pressure of our new efficiencies. We know how important community is for individual development. It’s in the context of community that we absorb the social rules and prerequisites for interaction and success. It’s here that we come to understand and, ideally, to internalize, the need for limits and self-control, for patience and persistence and long-term commitments; the pressure of community is one way society persuades us to control our myopia and selfishness. (Or as economists Sam Bowles and Herbert Gintis have put it, community is the vehicle through which “society’s ‘oughts’ become its members’ ‘wants.’ ”) But community’s function isn’t simply to say “no.” It’s in the context of our social relationships where we discover our capacities and strengths. It’s here that we gain our sense of worth as individuals, as citizens and as social producers—active participants who don’t merely consume social goods, but contribute something the community needs.

But community doesn’t simply teach us to be productive citizens. People with strong social connections generally have a much better time. We enjoy better physical and mental health, recover faster from sickness or injury, and are less likely to suffer eating or sleeping disorders. We report being happier and rank our quality of life as higher—and do so even when the community that we’re connected to isn’t particularly well off or educated. Indeed, social connectedness is actually more important than affluence: regular social activities such as volunteering, church attendance, entertaining friends, or joining a club provide us with the same boost to happiness as does a doubling of personal income. As Harvard’s Robert Putnam notes, “The single most common finding from a half century’s research on the correlates of life satisfaction, not only in the United States but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.”

Unfortunately, for all the importance of social connectedness, we haven’t done a terribly good job of preserving it under the Impulse Society. Under the steady pressure of commercial and technological efficiencies, many of the tight social structures of the past have been eliminated or replaced with entirely new social arrangements. True, many of these new arrangements are clearly superior—even in ostensibly free societies, traditional communities left little room for individual growth or experimentation or happiness. Yet our new arrangements, which invariably seek to give individuals substantially more control over how they connect, exact a price. More and more, social connection becomes just another form of consumption, one we expect to tailor to our personal preferences and schedules—almost as if community was no longer a necessity or an obligation, but a matter of personal style, something to engage as it suits our mood or preference. And while such freedom has its obvious attractions, it clearly has downsides. In gaining so much control over the process of social connection, we may be depriving ourselves of some of the robust give-and-take of traditional interaction that is essential to becoming a functional, fulfilled individual.

Consider our vaunted and increasing capacity to communicate and connect digitally. In theory, our smartphones and social media allow us the opportunity to be more social than at any time in history. And yet, because there are few natural limits to this format—we can, in effect, communicate incessantly, posting every conceivable life event, expressing every thought no matter how incompletely formed or inappropriate or mundane—we may be diluting the value of the connection.

Studies suggest, for example, that the efficiency with which we can respond to an online provocation routinely leads to escalations that can destroy offline relationships. “People seem aware that these kinds of crucial conversations should not take place on social media,” notes Joseph Grenny, whose firm, VitalSmarts, surveys online behavior. “Yet there seems to be a compulsion to resolve emotions right now and via the convenience of these channels.”

Even when our online communications are entirely friendly, the ease with which we can reach out often undermines the very connection we seek to create. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist and clinical psychologist who has spent decades researching digital interactions, argues that because it is now possible to be in virtually constant contact with others, we tend to communicate so excessively that even a momentary lapse can leave us feeling isolated or abandoned. Where people in the pre-digital age did not think it alarming to go hours or days or even weeks without hearing from someone, the digital mind can become uncomfortable and anxious without instant feedback. In her book Alone Together, Turkle describes a social world of collapsing time horizons. College students text their parents daily, and even hourly, over the smallest matters—and feel anxious if they can’t get a quick response. Lovers break up over the failure to reply instantly to a text; friendships sour when posts aren’t “liked” fast enough. Parents call 911 if Junior doesn’t respond immediately to a text or a phone call—a degree of panic that was simply unknown before constant digital contact. Here, too, is a world made increasingly insecure by its own capabilities and its own accelerating efficiencies.

This same efficiency-driven insecurity now lurks just below the surface in nearly all digital interactions. Whatever the relationship (romantic, familial, professional), the very nature of our technology inclines us to a constant state of emotional suspense. Thanks to the casual, abbreviated nature of digital communication, we converse in fragments of thoughts and feelings that can be completed only through more interaction—we are always waiting to know how the story ends. The result, Turkle says, is a communication style, and a relationship style, that allow us to “express emotions while they are being formed” and in which “feelings are not fully experienced until they are communicated.” In other words, what was once primarily an interior process—thoughts were formed and feelings experienced before we expressed them—has now become a process that is external and iterative and public. Identity itself comes to depend on iterative interaction—giving rise to what Turkle calls the “collaborative self.” Meanwhile, our skills as a private, self-contained person vanish. “What is not being cultivated here,” Turkle writes, “is the ability to be alone and reflect on one’s emotions in private.” For all the emphasis on independence and individual freedom under the Impulse Society, we may be losing the capacity to truly be on our own.

In a culture obsessed with individual self-interest, such an incapacity is surely one of the greatest ironies of the Impulse Society. Yet it many ways it was inevitable. Herded along by a consumer culture that is both solicitous and manipulative, one that proposes absolute individual liberty while enforcing absolute material dependence—we rely completely on the machine of the marketplace—it is all too easy to emerge with a self-image, and a sense of self, that are both wildly inflated and fundamentally weak and insecure. Unable to fully experience the satisfactions of genuine independence and individuality, we compensate with more personalized self-expression and gratification, which only push us further from the real relationships that might have helped us to a stable, fulfilling existence.

 

http://www.alternet.org/books/impulse-society-how-our-growing-desperation-instant-connection-ruining-us?akid=12390.265072.bjTHr8&rd=1&src=newsletter1024073&t=9&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark