“God is not a magician, with a magic wand”: Pope Francis schools creationists

The pontiff admits he believes in evolution and the Big Bang, says science and religion can peacefully coexist

BLOGGER COMMENT: 

In the fifties and sixties when I went to Catholic schools there was no conflict between scientific theories of evolution and the creation of the universe and Catholic dogma. Nothing new here. My high school biology, chemistry and physics classes were uncensored. I was taught by Jesuits in high school. They were into Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ.

My issue with god and the Church is the problem of evil. Seventy years ago, for example, humans were killing each other in record numbers and committing genocide. So I’m an agnostic. My relationship with the Roman Catholic Church was always on an intellectual level with people who would see issues like contraception and abortion and sexual “misbehavior” as trivial, while the really sinful behaviors consisted of offenses against compassion and pursuing self-interested greedy behavior. I have no problems with the intent of the New Testament: if we were compassionate people like the NT suggests this world would be a paradise. Unfortunately quite the opposite has happened. Christianity seems to be an utter failure here. The Church teachings on the poor and poverty, working people and compassion are, though, consistently spot on and are intentionally buried, I think, by those forces who would not benefit if people really followed those teachings.  DJ APOLLO

 

"God is not a magician, with a magic wand": Pope Francis schools creationists
Pope Francis (Credit: AP/Alessandra Tarantino)

In an exciting declaration, Pope Francis I stated that God should not seen as a “magician with a magic wand,” while unveiling a statue of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Pope Francis also stated that evolution and the Big Bang theory are both true and not incompatible with the church’s views on the origins of the universe and life.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said, according to the Independent. Francis continued by stating that God “created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”

“The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it,” Francis explained. ”Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

While the pope’s understanding of the origins of life still requires a divine force (rather than a scientific one), his views are a leap forward for the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is not the first pope to welcome these two scientific theories. However, the Catholic Church has a long reputation of being at odds with science, and Pope Francis’ declaration is looked at as “trying to reduce the emotion of dispute or presumed disputes” between the church and science.



It is an especially groundbreaking stance in terms of evolution. The theory, broadly accepted by the majority of scientists, is still under attack by Young Earth Creationists, and it is taught alongside the pseudo-science of creationism in American schools. Some mainstream politicians even try to distance themselves from the term “evolution.”

 

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/28/pope_francis_believes_in_evolution_and_big_bang_theory_god_is_not_a_magician_with_a_magic_wand/

NSA chief calls for more “permeable” barrier between state and tech corporations

http://d38zt8ehae1tnt.cloudfront.net/images/news/700_d0009f47491adfab36c201e76a9d3b8e.jpg

By Thomas Gaist
31 October 2014

In two speeches this month, US National Security Agency (NSA) Director Admiral Mike Rogers called for a further integration between the NSA and major technology and communications companies.

Speaking to more than 500 corporate, military and academic leaders at the Cyber Education Summit at Georgia Regents University earlier this month, Rogers argued that the needs of cybersecurity are rendering obsolete traditional distinctions between the private sector, the civilian government and the military-intelligence apparatus.

“Traditionally, in our structure as a nation, we have tried to very strongly differentiate between what is a private sector function, what is a governmental function and what is a function that really falls under national security. I would argue cyber crosses all three of those lines,” Rogers said.

In line with the demand advanced in his inaugural address as NSA head for a more “permeable membrane” between the national security agencies and private corporations, Rogers went on to call for effective merging of US government cyber systems with those of major corporations, allowing for direct, continuous communication between corporate databases and the NSA.

“In the end what we have got to get to, I believe, is real-time automated machine-to-machine interface,” Rogers said.

These remarks come as America’s top surveillance agency is experiencing a succession of media exposures of for-profit ventures by top officials of a legally dubious character.

Last week, the NSA announced that the agency’s top official for signals intelligence (SIGINT), Teresa Shea, will leave the agency after reports that she was running a side business specializing in electronic intelligence, Telic Networks. Shea’s husband also works for a major SIGINT contractor called DRS Signals Solutions.

Shea’s departure follows revelations that the NSA’s Chief Technical Officer Patrick Dowd has been working at least 20 hours per week for ex-NSA director General Keith Alexander’s own private cybersecurity venture, IronNet Cybersecurity. IronNet has already taken in millions in revenues by offering services based on technology patented by General Alexander during his tenure at NSA.

In addition to his own business activities, disclosure documents from early October show that Alexander made substantial investments in a number of tech companies while serving as NSA director. Because their operations focused on information security, the companies that received investment funds from Alexander stood to benefit from the NSA head’s hyping of the threat of cyberwarfare and terrorist attacks against US targets in the wake of the Snowden leaks, stoking accusations of conflict of interest against Alexander.

In a speech delivered Tuesday at the Third Annual Cybersecurity Summit at the US Chamber of Commerce, however, Rogers defended the private sector initiatives by NSA personnel, saying that the agency required continuous exchange of personnel and “flow of partnerships and information back and forth” with private tech firms.

“We’ve got to create a world where people from NSA can leave us for a while and go work in the private sector. And I would also like to create a world where the private sector can come spend a little time with us,” Rogers said.

The systematic transfer of data and technology between the US government and corporations—and between government agencies themselves, both within the US and internationally—is becoming ever more streamlined.

The NSA leadership, moreover, has already infiltrated undercover agents into tech companies worldwide, as recent leaked documents furnished by Edward Snowden have shown, and has developed secret contracts with major communications providers to insure cooperation with the US government’s data trawling programs (See: “Leaked documents expose secret contracts between NSA and tech companies”).

The NSA is also making its vast electronic warehouses of personal data assessable to the intelligence agencies of other imperialist powers. Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) receives transfers of “unlimited bulk intelligence” from the NSA without any warranting process, according to a report published Wednesday by UK-based human rights group Liberty.

“British intelligence agencies can trawl through foreign intelligence material without meaningful restrictions and can keep such material, which includes both communications content and metadata, for up to two years,” the report states.

The drive of the NSA to implement total information sharing between the state and corporations reflects the unwillingness of the military-intelligence establishment to tolerate any obstacles, real or imaginary, to its ability to spy on the entire population at will. For the ruling elite, it is not sufficient to have secret contracts with the corporations and a panoply of surveillance programs mining their data.

On top of all of this, plans are now clearly afoot to implement automatic bulk data sharing between the corporations and the government, in direct violation of the US Constitution and international law.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/31/nsas-o31.html

After the US election, an escalation of the Mideast war

http://kielarowski.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/51cf9-syriawar.jpg?w=378&h=245

29 October 2014

Last week, the Pentagon announced the death of a 19-year-old Marine, the first fatality among the estimated 1,900 US troops currently deployed in the new US war in the Middle East. This will undoubtedly be only the first of many American casualties in this war, a death toll that will be multiplied many times over for the Iraqi and Syrian men, women and children who will lose their lives in this latest imperialist intervention.

Less than one week before the midterm elections in the US, it is becoming ever more clear that, whatever the results in terms of the breakdown of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Obama administration will embark on a major escalation of military operations once the voting is done.

Already there is a mounting drumbeat from within Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus—and those in politics and the media who voice its demands—for stepped-up bombing and more US “boots on the ground” in both Iraq and Syria.

This campaign for military escalation was summed up in a lead editorial published in Monday’s Washington Post entitled “Mr. Obama’s half-hearted fight against the Islamic State.” The editorial asserts that “an unlikely consensus is emerging across the ideological spectrum” in Washington that the Obama administration’s current strategy in the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “unworkable,” and that “the military means the president has authorized cannot accomplish his announced aims.”

The editorial criticizes the “modest tempo of airstrikes” as well as “the absence of ground trainers and special forces who could accompany Iraqi and Syrian forces.” It cites an unnamed senior Pentagon official as stating that the aim of fielding a new mercenary army of “rebels” in Syria is impossible “if you’re not on the ground to advise and assist them.”

“The United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated,” the editorial concludes. This means “a strategy to counter the Assad regime” and deploying special operations troops in combat together with Iraqi and Syrian proxy forces.

The editorial follows a report in the Post last week that US and Iraqi officials recently discussed increasing the number of US military “advisers” in Iraq, and that deploying them “in the field with the Iraqis” is under consideration, given the abysmal record of Iraqi security forces collapsing in the face of ISIS advances.

Along similar lines, Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has written of US strategy in the Iraq-Syria war “imploding” and dismissed the campaign of air strikes in both countries as “military tokenism.” He insists that “advisers” must be deployed alongside Iraqi troops “as soon as possible,” and that the US must accept “risking combat losses.”

Then there is Lt. Col. John Nagl (ret.), the co-author of the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, who states that some 15,000 US “advisers” are needed on the ground, and that the war in Iraq and Syria will have to go on “for at least a generation and probably longer.”

The Vietnam War provides an instructive precedent for the steady escalation in the number of “advisers” deployed in a US overseas intervention. John F. Kennedy deployed several hundred to the country shortly after taking office. By the time he was assassinated in November 1963, they numbered 16,700. Within barely two years, 200,000 US troops had been thrown into the war, and by 1968 the number was well over half a million.

Obviously, there are vast differences between Vietnam, where Washington intervened in an attempt to crush a popular anti-colonial struggle, and Iraq and Syria, where it confronts a crisis entirely of its own making, forged through the destruction of Iraq in nearly nine years of war and the devastation of Syria by the Islamist militias that the US and its allies have armed and supported.

What they have in common, however, is that the existing forces on the ground, the Iraqi army and the so-called Syrian “moderate rebels,” are—like the South Vietnamese Army before them—wholly inadequate (or non-existent) instruments for achieving US aims. Thus, the demand for US “boots on the ground”—plenty of them and in short order.

Once again, the American people are being dragged into a criminal war of aggression based upon lies. While this war is being sold with propaganda about ISIS atrocities against minorities, beheadings, etc., the real objective is the use of military force to assert US hegemony over the strategically vital and oil-rich Middle East.

The aims of this war, which spans national boundaries, involves not only the re-occupation of Iraq, but also the overthrow of the government of Syria and its replacement with a pliant US puppet regime. These war aims, in turn, place US imperialism on a clear trajectory for military confrontation with Iran and Russia, posing the real threat of a Third World War.

Every step has been taken to preclude next week’s midterm elections from providing the slightest possibility for the American people to express their will in relation to the most important political question, that of a war which we are told may last for more than “a generation.”

Just before the bombs began falling in Iraq, the members of the US Congress scurried out of town for a two-month campaign season recess without taking any vote to authorize a war that is both unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Any vote that is taken will be held after the election in a lame-duck session of Congress, thereby assuring that no one will be held politically accountable. In the election campaign itself, the war—like virtually every other social question of vital importance to the masses of working people—is not even an issue.

Nothing could more clearly expose the entirely rotted-out character of the American political system, which is controlled lock, stock and barrel by a financial aristocracy, and in which decisions on imperialist war abroad and repression at home are made by an unelected cabal of military and intelligence officials for whom Obama serves as a mouthpiece.

The corrupt capitalist two-party system offers no means to resist the drive to war. The working class must intervene independently, mobilizing its objective strength in a mass antiwar movement based upon a socialist and internationalist program to put an end to capitalism, which is the source of war.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/29/pers-o29.html

US child poverty remains at highest rate in 20 years

http://www.centurytimesonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/83139367-child-poverty.jpg

By Andre Damon
27 October 2014

Nearly one in four US children lives in poverty, the highest level in 20 years, with a similar proportion not getting enough food to eat. These were among the findings of an article published last week in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, entitled Seen but Not Heard: Children and US Federal Policy on Health and Health Care.

While the Obama administration praises the “economic recovery,” the facts presented in this report show that since 2009 there has been an immense social retrogression in every measure of well-being among the most vulnerable section of the population: children.

“It shouldn’t be this hard for kids to grow and thrive in the world’s richest, most powerful nation,” said Bruce Lesley, one of the study’s co-authors and the president of the child advocacy organization First Focus.

The report listed a panoply of dangers to the health and well-being of children in the United States, including hunger, lack of health and mental health care, cutbacks in social spending, the havoc wracked on immigrant families by deportation, and others. It found, among all these, that by far the worst impact on the health and well-being of children is poverty.

The report notes that there is overwhelming popular support for government programs to fight child poverty: “82% of voters want Congress and the White House to cut child poverty in half within 10 years.” But with the upcoming midterm election only a week away, such a project could not be farther from the minds of US politicians.

The Obama administration’s 2015 budget proposal, for example, calls for slashing the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services, which funds the Head Start preschool program, and the Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, by more than five percent.

The report found that 16.1 million children, or 22 percent, live in poverty. It lists a string of adverse health impacts, including “significantly higher risks of low birth weight, injuries, lower IQ, intensive care unit admissions, and infant, condition-specific, and overall mortality.”

The impact of child poverty affects people once they grow up, and even affects their children. As the report notes, “Childhood poverty is associated with substantially higher mortality rates in adults, regardless of adult socioeconomic status (i.e., even affluent adults who were poor as children have elevated death rates), and this increased mortality risk extends across 2 generations.”

The second threat to the well-being of children listed in the report is food insecurity. The report notes that sixteen million children, or 22 percent, live in food-insecure households. An enormous number of children—one in three—rely on food stamp benefits for nutrition, and 47 percent of food stamp recipients are children. The report concludes, “Food insecurity is associated with deleterious consequences for children’s health, including elevated risks of suboptimal health and hospitalizations.”

The report noted that budget cuts that went into effect last year have had a devastating impact on anti-poverty programs for children. For example, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food assistance to children and mothers, was cut back by more than $354 million. It added, “Some in Congress are proposing SNAP [food stamp] cuts at a time when SNAP participants already experienced benefit cuts in November 2013.”

The report also noted that seven million US children, or nine percent, have no health insurance. Despite this, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, jointly funded by the states and the federal government, is scheduled to have its funding drop by 73 percent, from $21.1 billion to $5.7 billion, in 2016.

Congressional Republicans have proposed turning CHIP, together with Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, into a block grant or impose caps on the amount of healthcare funding individual children can receive. The report noted that such proposals “devastatingly restrict or eliminate benefits, underfund Medicaid, disadvantage children with even lower caps, and ration care.”

Among the most tragic elements depicted in the report is the effect of mass deportation on children. It noted that between 2010 and 2012, under the Obama administration, more than 200,000 parents of US citizen children were deported. As a result of these deportations, more than five thousand children have been put in foster care.

The report notes that one in three US children are overweight—which it refers to as a “pandemic”—and that 17 percent are obese. It relates these health problems to insufficient access to healthy food, both as a result of poverty and cutbacks to the funding of school lunch programs.

One in five children have mental disorders, and the rates are growing. “Pediatric mental-health and substance-abuse hospitalizations increased by 24% between 2007 and 2010, and hospitalizations for mood disorders increased by 80% between 1997 and 2010.” Suicide is the leading cause of death among teenagers, and rates have gone up since the start of the recession.

Despite the widespread prevalence of mental illness among children, only half of US children with mental disorders receive any form of mental-health services, according to the report. On the state level, more than $1.6 billion in funding for mental health services have been slashed between 2009 and 2012, resulting in the elimination of 4,000 psychiatric hospital beds since 2010.

Whole areas of the country simply have no mental health care available to the poor, who tend to suffer disproportionately from the effects of mental illness. The report notes “35% of US counties have no outpatient mental-health treatment facility accepting Medicaid.” Only three percent of psychiatrists who practice alone accept Medicaid.

Despite the disastrous prevalence of poverty and preventable disease in the US, funding for medical research is being slashed. The report noted that the sequester budget cuts slashed $1.57 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $289 million from the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report is a devastating indictment of a society that is going backward, not forward, in every measure of social well-being. These disastrous cuts in social services, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, are accompanied by the enormous enrichment of the super-wealthy, who have doubled their net worth since 2009.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/27/chil-o27.html

The US elections and the American plutocracy

http://www.ci.atherton.ca.us/images/pages/N164/Election2014.jpg

27 October 2014

The 2014 midterm elections mark a further development in the disintegration of American democracy. Only eight days from Election Day, the general population evinces little interest in the campaigns or candidates of the two official parties. This is not because working people are satisfied or apathetic. On the contrary, there are many signs of growing concern and anger over ceaseless war overseas and relentless attacks on social conditions and democratic rights at home.

But the election process, more openly than ever, excludes any expression of the concerns or democratic will of the vast majority of the people. The issues that affect the masses—growing poverty and inequality, declining living standards, police violence and repression—are ignored by the two parties and the media. To the extent foreign policy is discussed, both sides indulge in chauvinist and militarist demagogy, seeking to outflank one another from the right.

Behind the mutual mudslinging and attack ads that insult the people’s intelligence, there is agreement on the need for more austerity, more government spying, more tax breaks for the rich, and a militarist agenda that leads inexorably to a Third World War.

It is little wonder, with none of the Democrats or Republicans proposing any policies to address the jobs crisis or the rise in hunger and homelessness, and both parties supporting savage attacks on the working class such as the bankruptcy of Detroit, that November 4 is expected to see a new record low turnout for a midterm election.

According to the most recent polls, hostility to the congressional Democratic Party is at a 20-year high, with only 30 percent approving and 67 percent disapproving. Congressional Republicans are even more unpopular, with just 25 percent of Americans approving, while 72 percent disapprove.

Popular alienation from the political system coincides with the ever more naked domination of both parties and the manipulation of elections by a handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires. A report issued last week by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) projects that the 2014 election will cost nearly $4 billion, a record for a midterm election.

Candidates and the Democratic and Republican parties will raise and spend about $2.7 billion, while outside political action committees, which have mushroomed since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will spend another $1 billion.

Candidates and campaign committees are spending more than $100 million on the Senate races in Kentucky and North Carolina, and the governor’s race in Florida, and sums only slightly smaller in other close statewide contests, in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Massachusetts, Louisiana and other states.

According to a chart published in this week’s Time magazine, spending on US political campaigns has risen 555 percent in the past 30 years, far more than the cost of health care or college education, and nearly four times the increase in household income. The vast sums expended have not won either party any genuine popularity—something that is impossible given their adherence to virtually identical ultra-right programs dictated by the needs of the super-rich.

The Republican Party will likely win a narrow victory on November 4, maintaining its control of the House of Representatives, retaining the majority of state governorships, and winning or narrowly missing a 51-seat majority in the US Senate. This reflects, at least in part, its roughly equivalent lead in the spending race, with the CRP projecting $1.92 billion in pro-Republican campaign fundraising compared to $1.76 billion for the Democrats.

However the two parties divide control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, the financial aristocracy maintains a vise-like grip on all three institutions and on the entire machinery of government.

Last week, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story on the role of billionaires backing rival candidates in the Florida gubernatorial election. This was followed by a report in the daily Times on so-called “dark money,” funds that go unreported to the Federal Election Commission that now comprise half of all outside campaign expenditures.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” NBC journalists Chuck Todd and Luke Russert chatted about the “group of modern-day oligarchs” funding the 2014 campaigns.

These conditions make a mockery of claims that the US elections embody genuine democracy. The United States has been transformed into a plutocracy, a country where government of, by and for the wealthy is openly admitted, and in some quarters, celebrated.

American politics is being brought openly into alignment with American economics. American society has divided into two great camps: a handful of the super-rich at the top, with a layer of upper-middle-class hangers-on; and the great mass of working people, struggling from day to day to make ends meet.

Last week, social scientists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman posted an article under the headline “Exploding wealth inequality in the United States.” In documenting the massive growth of social inequality over the past four decades in the US, they noted that the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent increased from 7 percent in the late 1970s to 22 percent in 2012.

The colossal class divide between an oligarchic elite and the mass of working people underlies the collapse of democratic processes in the United States—and increasingly around the world. Democratic rights cannot be defended apart from a revolutionary struggle by the working class against the capitalist system, which is the source of inequality as well as imperialist war.

Patrick Martin and Barry Grey

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/27/pers-o27.html

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