White America’s ‘Broken Heart’

On Sunday, at the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines, former President Bill Clinton, looking frail and sounding faint, stumped for his wife, working through her qualifications with a husband’s devotion and a Svengali’s facility.

But one thing he said stood out to me for its clear rhetorical framing.

He attributed much of the anger that’s present in the electorate to anxiety over a changing demographic profile of the country, but then said: We are going to share the future. The only question is: What will be the terms of the sharing?

This idea of negotiating the terms of sharing the future is an expansive one, on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but it also seems to me to be an internal debate white America is having with itself.

Much of the energy on both the left and the right this cycle is coming from white Americans who are rejecting the direction of America and its institutions. There is a profound disappointment. On one hand, it’s about fear of dislocation of supremacy, and the surrendering of power and the security it provides. On the other hand, it’s about disillusionment that the game is rigged and the turf is tilted. It is about defining who created this country’s bounty and who has most benefited from it.

White America is wrestling with itself, torn between two increasingly distant visions and philosophies, trying to figure out if the country should retreat from its present course or be remade.

The results from the Iowa caucuses revealed that Republican caucusgoers gave roughly even support to the top three finishers — Ted Cruz, a much-loathed anti-institutional who has shown a pyromaniac’s predilection for wanting to torch Washington rather than make it work; the real estate developer spouting nativist and even fascist policies with the fervor of a prosperity preacher; and Marco Rubio, a too-slick-to-be-trusted stripling who oozes ambition with every obviously rehearsed response.

On the left, the white vote was nearly evenly split in Iowa between Hillary Clinton, a pragmatist who believes that the system can be fixed, and Bernie Sanders, a revolutionary who believes that system must be dismantled. At least on the Democratic side, age, income and liberalism seemed to be the fault lines — older, wealthier, more moderate people preferred Clinton and younger, less wealthy and “very liberal” people preferred Sanders.

Clinton won the support of nonwhites in Iowa 58 percent to Sanders’s 34 percent. This gap also exists — and has remained stubbornly persistent — in national polls, and in some polls is even wider. For instance, according to a January Monmouth University Poll, nationwide black and Latino support for Clinton was 71 percent as opposed to 21 percent for Sanders. At this point, this is a settled issue for nonwhite voters, and those voters are likely to be Democratic primary king- or queen-makers.

During Bill Clinton’s speech on Sunday, he brought up the recent report about the rising death rate among some white people in America.

As Gina Kolata reported in November in The New York Times:

“Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.”

He rattled off the reasons for this rise — suicide, alcoholism and drug overdoses — and then concluded that these white Americans were dying of “a broken heart.”

It was, again, an interesting framing: that these people dying of sadness and vice were simply the leading edge of a tragic, morbid expression of a disappointment and fear shadowing much of white America.

America has a gauzy, romanticized version of its history that is largely fiction. According to that mythology, America rose to greatness by sheer ruggedness, ingenuity and hard work. It ignores or sidelines the tremendous human suffering of African slaves that fueled that financial growth, and the blood spilled and dubious treaties signed with Native Americans that fueled its geographic growth. It ignores that the prosperity of some Americans always hinged on the oppression of other Americans.

Much of America’s past is the story of white people benefiting from a system that white people designed and maintained, which increased their chances of success as it suppressed those same chances in other groups. Those systems persist to this day in some disturbing ways, but the current, vociferous naming and challenging of those systems, the placing of the lamp of truth near the seesaw of privilege and oppression, has provoked a profound sense of discomfort and even anger.

In Sanders’s speech following the Iowa caucuses, he veered from his position that this country “in many ways was created” on “racist principles,” and instead said: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” Nonwhite people in this country understand that as a matter of history and heritage this simply isn’t true, but it is a hallowed ideal for white America and one that centers the America ethos.

Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived — structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier — and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp.

Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first black feet touched this ground.

Last month, the MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted: “This campaign is starting to feel more and more like a long, national nervous breakdown.” For white America, I believe this is true.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/04/opinion/white-americas-broken-heart.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1

We now have threat scores to match our credit scores

“Minority Report” is coming true: 

“Beware” analyzes arrest reports, property records and commercial databases to calculate our potential for violence

"Minority Report" is coming true: We now have threat scores to match our credit scores
(Credit: Dreamworks)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Police have found a new way to legally incorporate surveillance and profiling into everyday life. Just when you thought we were making progress raising awareness surrounding police brutality, we have something new to contend with. The Police Threat Score isn’t calculated by a racist police officer or a barrel-rolling cop who thinks he’s on a TV drama; it’s a computer algorithm that steals your data and calculates your likelihood of risk and threat for the fuzz.

Beware is the new stats-bank that helps officers analyze “billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and…social-media postings” to ultimately come up with a score that indicates a person’s potential for violence, according to a Washington Post story. No word yet on whether this meta data includes photos and facial recognition software. For example would an ordinary person, yet to commit a crime, be flagged when seen wearing a hoodie in a gated Florida community?

The company tries to paint itself as a savior to first responders, claiming they want to help them “understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 911 event.” Think of it like someone pulling your credit score when you apply for a job. Except, in this instance you never applied for the job and they’re pulling your credit score anyway because they knew you might apply. It’s that level of creepiness.

Remember the 2002 Tom Cruise movie Minority Report? It’s set in 2054, a futuristic world where the “pre-crime” unit arrests people based on a group of psychics who can see crimes before they happen. Only, it’s 2016 and we’re not using psychics, we’re using computers that mine data. According to the Post piece, law enforcement in Oregon are under federal investigation for using software to monitor Black Lives Matter hashtags after uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson. How is this new software any different? In fact, this is the same kind of technology the NSA has been using since 9/11 to monitor online activities of suspected terrorists—they’re just bringing it down to the local level.

According to FatalEncounters.org, a site that tracks deaths by cop, there were only 14 days in 2015 in which a law enforcement officer did not kill someone. So, leaving judgment up to the individual hasn’t been all that effective in policing. But is letting a machine do it any better? Using these factors to calculate a color-coded threat level doesn’t seem entirely practical. Suppose a person doesn’t use social media or own a house but was once arrested when he was 17 for possession of marijuana. The absence of data might lend itself to a high threat level. The same can be said for online meta data that might filter in extracurricular interests. Could a person who is interested in kinky activity in the bedroom be tagged as having a tendency toward violence?

The Fresno, Calif. police department is taking on the daunting task of being the first to test the software in the field. Understandably, the city council and citizens voiced their skepticism at a meeting. “One council member referred to a local media report saying that a woman’s threat level was elevated because she was tweeting about a card game titled ‘Rage,’ which could be a keyword in Beware’s assessment of social media,” the Post reported.

While you might now be rethinking playing that Mafia game on Facebook, it isn’t just your personal name that can raise a flag. Fresno Councilman Clinton Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, asked for his name to be run through the system. He came up as a “green” which indicates he’s safe. When they ran his address, however, it popped up as “yellow” meaning the officer should beware and be prepared for a potentially dangerous situation. How could this be? Well, the councilman didn’t always live in this house; someone else lived there before him and that person was likely responsible for raising the threat score.

Think what a disastrous situation that could be. A mother of a toddler could move into a new home with her family, not knowing that the house was once the location of an abusive patriarch. The American Medical Association has calculated that as many as 1 in 3 women will be impacted by domestic violence in their lifetimes, so it isn’t an unreasonable hypothetical. One day the child eats one of those detergent pods and suddenly the toddler isn’t breathing. Hysterial, the mother calls 911, screaming. She can’t articulate what has happened, only that her baby is hurt. Dispatch sends an ambulance, but the address is flagged as “red” for its prior decade of domestic violence calls. First responders don’t know someone new has moved in. The woman is giving CPR while her husband waits at the door for the ambulance. What happens when the police arrive?

It’s a scenario that can be applied to just about any family and any situation. Moving into an apartment that previously was a marijuana grow-house; buying a house that once belonged to a woman who shot her husband when she found him with his mistress in the pool. Domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for police officers. Giving police additional suspicion that may not be entirely accurate probably won’t reduce the incidents of of accidental shootings or police brutality.

The worst part, however, is that none of these questions and concerns can be answered, because Intrado, the company that makes Beware, doesn’t reveal how its algorithm works. Chances are slim that they ever will, since it would also be revealed to its competitors. There’s no way of knowing the accuracy level of the data set given in the search. Police are given red, yellow or green to help them make a life-changing or life-ending decision. It seems a little primitive, not to mention intrusive.

“It is deeply disturbing that local law enforcement agencies are unleashing the sophisticated tools of a surveillance state on the public with little, if any, oversight or accountability,” Ryan Kiesel of the Oklahoma ACLU told me. “We are in the middle of a consequential moment in which the government is unilaterally changing the power dynamic between themselves and the people they serve. If we are going to preserve the fundamental right of privacy, it is imperative that we demand these decisions are made as the result of a transparent and informed public debate.”

While mass shootings are on the rise, violent crime and homicides have fallen to historic lows. You wouldn’t know that watching the evening news, however. Is now really the time to increase the chances of violent actions at the hands of the police, all while intruding on our civil liberties under the guise of safety?

 

http://www.salon.com/2016/01/15/minority_report_is_coming_true_we_now_have_threat_scores_to_match_our_credit_scores_partner/?source=newsletter

ISIS is no threat to our existence whatsoever

America has grown cowardly: 

ISIL is no joke, but its potential for destruction pales in comparison to the danger once posed by the Soviet Union

America has grown cowardly: ISIS is no threat to our existence whatsoever

(Credit: Reuters)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

It’s time to panic!

As 2015 ended, this country was certifiably terror-stricken. It had the Islamic State (IS) on the brain. Hoax terror threats or terror imbroglios shut down school systems from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, Indiana to a rural county in Virginia. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, citing terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, cancelled a prospective tour of Europe thanks to terror fears, issuing a statement that “orchestra management believes there is an elevated risk to the safety of musicians and their families, guest artists, DSO personnel, and travelling patrons.” By year’s end, the Justice Department had charged an ”unprecedented” 60 people with terrorism-related crimes (often linked to social media exchanges).

While just north of the border Canada’s new government and its citizens were embracing the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees in an atmosphere of near celebration, citizens and government officials in the lower 48 were squabbling and panicking about the few who had made it here. (“Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner, compared Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes, posting on Facebook images of snakes and refugees and asking, ‘Can you tell me which of these rattlers won’t bite you?’”)

In the two presidential debates that ended the year, focusing in whole or part on “national security,” the only global subject worthy of discussion was — you guessed it — the Islamic State and secondarily immigration and related issues. Media panelists didn’t ask a single question in either debate about China or Russia (other than on the IS-related issue of whomight shoot down Russian planes over Syria) or about the relative success of the French right-wing, anti-Islamist National Front Party and its presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen (even though her American analog, Donald Trump, was on stage in one debate and a significant subject of the other). And that just begins a long list of national security issues that no one felt it worth bringing up, including the fact that in Paris 195 countries had agreed on a potentially path-breaking climate change deal.

As the Dallas Symphony Orchestra signaled, “Paris” now means only one thing in this country: the bloody terror attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theater and related assaults. In fact, if you were following the “news” here as 2015 ended, you might be forgiven for thinking that we Americans lived in a land beset by, and under siege from, Islamic terror and the Islamic State. The latest polls indicate that striking numbers of Americans now view the threat of terrorism as the country’s number one danger, see it as a (if not the) critical issue facing us, believethat it and national security should be the government’s top priorities, and are convinced that the terrorists are at present “winning.”

You would never know that, if you left out what might be called self-inflicted pain like death by vehicle (more than 33,000 deaths annually), suicide by gun (more than 21,000 annually) or total gun deaths (30,000annually), and fatal drug overdoses (more than 47,000 annually), this is undoubtedly one of the safest countries on the planet. Over these years, the American dead from Islamic terror outfits or the “lone wolves” they inspire have added up to the most modest of figures, even if you include that single great day of horror, September 11, 2001. Include deaths from non-Islamic right-wing acts of terror (including, for instance, Dylann Roof’s murdersin a black church in Charleston), a slightly more impressive figure in recent years, and you still have next to nothing. Even if you add in relatively commonplace mass shootings, from school campuses to malls to workplaces, that are not defined as “terror,” and accept the broadest possible definition of such shootings (a minimum offour killed or injured), you would still have the sort of danger that couldn’t be more modest compared to death by vehicle, suicide, or drugs — phenomena that obsess few Americans.

The Islamic State in Perspective

Still, as 2016 begins, terror remains the 800-pound gorilla (in reality, a marmoset) in the American room and just about the only national security issue that truly matters. So why shouldn’t I join the crowd? Who wants to be left in the lurch?  But first, I think it makes sense to put the Islamic State in perspective.

Yes, it’s a brutal, extreme religious-cum-political outfit, the sort of movement that probably could only arise on a shattered landscape in a shattered region filled with desperate souls looking for any explanation for, or solution to, nightmarish lives. There can be no question that it’s had remarkable success. Its self-proclaimed “caliphate” now controls territory the size of (to choose a common comparison) Great Britain with a population of perhaps a few million people. Since there are seldom reporters on the scene (for obvious reasons of health and well-being), we have no idea whether IS has 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 fighters and potential suicide bombers under arms. We do know that those arms (despite a couple ofcaptured tanks) are generally light and the bombs largely of the homemade variety.

The Islamic State has shown quite a knack for generating a stream of revenue from black market oil sales, ransoms from kidnappings, the ransacking of the region’s archeological heritage, and wealthy Sunnis elsewhere in the region. In addition, it’s been skilled at promoting its “brand” in other parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa, from Afghanistanto Libya, Yemen to Nigeria, where local populations are also facing shattered landscapes, failed states, oppressive governments, and desperation. Finally, thanks to the talents of its social media militants, it’s shown a facility for attracting disaffected (and sometimes whacked-out) young Muslims from Europe and even the United States, as well as for inspiring “lone wolves” to acts meant to unnerve its enemies in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere.

So give credit where it’s due. Compared to a few training camps in Afghanistan — the al-Qaeda model before 2001 (and again recently) — this is no small thing. But the Islamic State should also be put in some perspective.  It’s not Nazi Germany. It’s not the Soviet Union. It’s not an existential threat to the United States.  It’s a distinctly self-limited movement, probably only capable of expanding its reach if even more of the region is laid to waste (as is, for instance, happening in Yemen right now, thanks in large part to a U.S.-backed Saudi war on the Iranian-inclined Houthi rebels).

IS is so deeply sectarian that it can never gain the support of a single Shia, Christian, Alawite, or Yazidi.  Its practices, religious and political, are too extreme for many of the Sunnis it might want to appeal to.  It is also an embattled movement.  It has already lost some of the lands it captured to U.S.-backed Kurds in both Syria and Iraq and to the U.S.-backed, U.S.-equipped, and U.S.-trained Iraqi Army as well as Shiite militias.  Its extremity has clearly alienated some of the Sunnis under its control.  It’s unlikely to take seven decades, as in the case of the Soviet Union, to implode and disappear.

On the other hand, if the Islamic State, at least in its present form, is crushed or driven into some corner and the region is “liberated,” one thing is guaranteed — as images of the rubble and landscapes of skeletal buildings left behind at the “victorious” battle sites of Kobane, Sinjar, Homs, and Ramadi will tell you.  Combine the massively bomb-laden, booby-trapped urban areas under Islamic State control,American air power (or, in parts of Syria, the barrel-bombing air force of the government of Bashar al-Assad and now the firepower of Russia), and fierce urban combat, and what may be left in the moment of “victory” could be a region in utter ruins.  One expert suggests that it may take decades and cost $200 billion — three times Syria’s prewar gross domestic product — to rebuild that country, bringing to mind the famed line from Tacitus: “They make a desert and call it peace.”

And just remind me, who’s going to help with the reconstruction of that shattered land?  Donald Trump?  Don’t count on it.  And don’t for a second believe that from such devastated worlds nothing worse than the Islamic State can arise.

While we may be talking about a terror machine, IS represents a far more modest and embattled one than its social media propaganda would indicate.  Its ability to threaten the U.S. bears little relation to the bogeyman version of it that at present occupies the American imagination.  The sole advantage the Islamic State has when it comes to this country is that it turns out to be so easy to spook us.

“A Republic of Insects and Grass”

Still, don’t for a second think that terror isn’t on the American agenda.  You really want terror?  Let me tell you about terror.  And I’m not talking about 14 dead (San Bernardino) or 130 dead (Paris).  What about up to 140,000 dead?  (The toll from Hiroshima.)  What about 285 million dead?  (The official estimate of the dead, had the U.S. military’s Single Integrated Operational Plan, or SIOP, of 1960 been carried outvia more than 3,200 nuclear weapons delivered to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities — and that didn’t include casualty figures from whatever the Soviet Union might have been able to launch in response.)

Or what about — to move from past slaughters and projected slaughters to future ones — a billion dead?  Despite the recent surprise visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart, that remains a perfectly “reasonable” possibility, were a nuclear war ever to develop in South Asia.  India and Pakistan, after all, face each other across a heavily armed and fortified 1,800 mile border, having fought three major wars since 1947.  Small armed incidents arecommonplace.  Imagine that — to take just one possible scenario — extreme elements in the Pakistani military (or other extremist elements) got their hands on some part of that country’s ever-expanding nuclear arsenal, now believed to be at about 130weapons, and loosed one or more of them on India, starting a nuclear exchange over issues that no one else on Earth gives a damn about.

Imagine that, in the course of the war that followed, each side released “only” 50 Hiroshima-sized weapons on the other’s cities and industrial areas (“0.4% of the world’s more than 25,000 warheads”).  One study suggests that, along with the 20 million or so inhabitants of South Asia who would die in such an exchange, this “modest” local nuclear conflagration would send enough smoke and particulates into the stratosphere to cause a planetary “nuclear winter” lasting perhaps a decade.  The ensuing failure of agricultural systems globally could, according to experts, lead abillion or more people to starve to death.  (And once you’re talking about a crisis of that magnitude, one humanity has never experienced, god knows what other systems might fail at the same time.)

I hope by now you’re feeling a little shudder of fear or at least anxiety.  Perhaps not, though, since we’re remarkably well protected from thinking about the deeper terrors of our planet.  And mind you, if you’re talking terror, that South Asian war is penny ante compared to the sort of event that would be associated with the thousands of nuclear weapons in the arsenalsof the United States and Russia.  Since the Cold War ended, they have more or less been hidden in plain sight.  Call it an irony of sorts, then, that nuclear weapons have loomed large on the American landscape in these years, just not the ones that could truly harm us.  Instead, Americans have largely focused in the usual semi-hysterical fashion on a nuclear weapon — the Iranian bomb — that never existed, while Russian and American arsenals undoubtedly capable of destroying more than one Earth-sized planet have remained in place, heavily funded and largely unnoted.

When you look at what might be posssible under unknown future conditions, there is no reason to stop with mere millions or even a billion dead human beings.  A major nuclear exchange, it is believed, could lead to the shredding of the planetary environment and a literal liquidation of humanity: the wiping out, that is, of ourselves and the turning of this country into, in the phrase of Jonathan Schell, “a republic of insects and grass.”  As he explained so famously in his international bestseller of 1982, The Fate of the Earth, this became a genuine possibility in the post-Hiroshima decades and it remains so today, though given scant attention in a world in which tensions between the U.S. and Russia have been on the rise.

Apocalypses, Fast or Slow-Mo

It’s not that we don’t live on an increasingly terrifying planet.  We do.  It’s that terror fears, at least in our American world, are regularly displaced onto relatively minor threats.

If you want to be scared, consider this unlikelihood: in the course of just a few centuries, humanity has stumbled upon two uniquely different ways of unleashing energy — the burning of fossil fuels and the splitting of the atom — that have made the sort of apocalypse that was once the property of the gods into a human possession.  The splitting of the atom and its application to war was, of course, a conscious scientific discovery.  Its apocalyptic possibilities were grasped almost immediately by some of its own creators, including physicist Robert Oppenheimer who played a key role in the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb during World War II.  As he witnessed its awesome power in its initial test in the New Mexican desert, this line from the Bhagavad Gita came to his mind: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The destroyer of worlds indeed — or at least, potentially, of the one world that matters to humanity.

The other method of wrecking the planet was developed without the intent to destroy: the discovery that coal, oil, and later natural gas could motor economies.  It was not known until the final decades of the last century that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of such forms of energy could heat the planet in startling ways and undermine the very processes that promoted life as we had always experienced it.  It’s worth adding, however, that the executives of the giant oil companies knew a great deal about the dangers their products posed to Earth way before most of the rest of us did, suppressed that information for a surprisingly long time, and then investedprodigioussums in promoting the public denial of those very dangers.  (In the process, they left the Republican Party wrapped in a straightjacket of climate change denial unique on the planet.)  Someday, this will undoubtedly be seen as one of the great crimes of history, unless of course there are no historians left to write about it.

In other words, if enough fossil fuels continue to be burned in the many decades to come, another kind of potential extinction event can be imagined, a slow-motion apocalypse of extreme weather — melting, burning, flooding, sea-level rise, storming, and who knows what else.

And if humanity has already managed to discover two such paths of utter destruction, what else, at present unimagined, might someday come into focus?

In this context, think of the Islamic State as the minor leagues of terror, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it.  If we are all now the children of the holocaust — of, that is, our own possible extinction — and if this is the inheritance we are to leave to our own children and grandchildren, perhaps it’s understandable that it feels better to fear the Islamic State.  Its evil is so specific, so “other,” so utterly alien and strangely distant.  It’s almost comforting to focus on its depredations, ignoring, of course, the grotesquelylarge hand our country had in its creation and in the moregeneral spread of terror movements across the Greater Middle East.

It’s so much more comfortable to fear extreme Islamist movements than to take in two apocalyptic terrors that are clearly part of our own patrimony — and, to make matters harder, one of which is likely to unfold over a time period that’s hard to grasp, and the other under as yet difficult to imagine political circumstances.

It’s clear that neither of these true terrors of our planet and our age has to happen (or at least, in the case of climate change, come to full fruition).  To ensure that, however, we and our children and grandchildren would have to decide that the fate of our Earth was indeed at stake and act accordingly.  We would have to change the world.

 

http://www.salon.com/2016/01/10/in_the_shadow_of_the_iron_curtain_why_isis_is_the_minor_leagues_of_terror_partner/?source=newsletter

 

Crocodile tears from Obama

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7 January 2016

During a White House press appearance Tuesday, President Obama shed tears over the death toll among US children due to mass shootings, a display of emotion that was given widespread publicity by the American media. The attention was in part due to the obvious contrast with the cold and indifferent demeanor normally maintained by the US chief executive.

More emotionalism is likely to be on display tonight, when Obama hosts a “town hall” meeting on gun violence in the United States at George Mason University in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. The hour-long event is to promote the executive actions restricting gun sales that Obama announced on Tuesday.

A few responses are in order. First and foremost is to note the utter hypocrisy of an American president, responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of children in the Middle East and other US-targeted countries, putting on a display of sorrow over the deaths of innocents.

President Obama, as has been well documented, personally selects the targets of US drone missile assassination strikes from a list supplied by the CIA and Pentagon. This takes place at meetings dubbed “Terror Tuesdays” by his staff. Thousands of civilians, and hundreds of children, have been massacred in these attacks, mainly in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and across North Africa.

Then there are the victims of US bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria and the ongoing US military intervention in Afghanistan. On December 7, to cite one recent example, a US air strike on the Syrian town of Al Khan killed 36 civilians, including 20 children—the same number who died in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. There were no tears from the US commander-in-chief over the incineration of Syrian first-graders.

The government Obama heads carries out flagrant attacks on children within the United States as well. Over the past week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun arresting mothers and children fleeing violence in Central America who have sought refuge in the United States. At least 121 were seized in raids on their homes, with their deportations to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras imminent.

Mothers and children alike were seeking to escape the threat of rape and death in their home countries, where the violence is perpetrated by drug gangs or US-backed right-wing military death squads. There is no question that the deportations, mounting into the thousands and tens of thousands in an election-year display of “toughness” at the US-Mexico border, will lead to the deaths of many children. No one should hold his breath waiting for Obama to shed tears over these innocent victims.

At one point in his remarks Tuesday, Obama compared the mass shootings at Newtown and Charleston and Umpqua Community College in Oregon to the daily death toll of violence in US urban areas, where many of the victims, accumulated in ones and twos but in far greater total numbers, are African-American.

He made no reference, however, to the wave of police murders of unarmed youth—white, Hispanic and African-American—which has become the focus of popular anger in the 16 months since the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He made no mention of last week’s whitewash of the police execution of a 12-year-old Cleveland child, Tamir Rice.

This silence is a guilty one. The Obama Justice Department has repeatedly cleared killer cops through federal investigations that invariably find no civil rights violations, including in Cleveland. Another such whitewash is in progress in Chicago following a series of police killings of unarmed youth captured on cell phone or dash-cam videos.

And while Obama argues that too-easy access to high-powered weaponry is a major factor in US gun deaths, his own administration has been pumping billions in military hardware into local police departments and overseeing military-style crackdowns on protests against police abuse in Ferguson and Baltimore.

As for the actual content of Obama’s executive orders, they will have no effect on the escalating death toll in American schools, campuses, workplaces, homes and city streets. The proposed actions include expanded background checks on gun buyers and the promotion of safety triggers and other technical means to prevent accidental shootings.

Obama also proposed a token increase in spending on mental health programs and increased monitoring of mental health patients, an invasive expansion of state surveillance that was denounced by mental health advocacy organizations.

Neither restrictions on gun ownership nor mental health programs offer any genuine solution to the mounting death toll from civil violence in the United States, which now takes more than 30,000 victims a year from gunshots alone—half of those from self-inflicted wounds.

Obama offered no explanation for the rising frequency of mass shootings, the most-publicized aspect of this rising death toll. One recent study found that over the past 30 years, the amount of time between mass shootings has dropped from 200 days to only 64.

Friday marks the five-year anniversary of the killing of six people and near fatal wounding of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. This has receded into memory, supplanted by the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre; the mass killing of first-graders at Sandy Hook; mass murders at UC Santa Barbara and Umpqua Community College; and massacres at a church in Charleston, South Carolina and a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

The WSWS has repeatedly pointed out that the root causes of such phenomena, whatever their individual peculiarities, must be found in the social environment that produces them, steeped in inequality, repression, alienation and the glorification of individualism. Most important—and unique to American society—is the fact that the United States has been engaged in nearly continuous warfare around the world for the past quarter-century. No one under 30 today can remember a time when the US government was not engaged in killing people somewhere in the world.

The Obama administration, like its predecessor, has relentlessly worked to create a climate of fear in order to justify, in the name of the “war on terror,” successive wars of aggression abroad and the militarization of social life within the US. Tens of thousands of youth have been psychologically warped by their participation in neo-colonial wars of plunder and mass killing. This is the toxic context that produces eruptions of homicidal violence.

At one point in Obama’s statement Tuesday, he declared, “The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people. We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close.”

It is certainly true that the American people “are not inherently more prone to violence.” But what about the American ruling class, the “we” for whom Obama actually speaks?

This parasitic elite is steeped in corruption, endlessly rapacious, terrified of any challenge to its global domination either from rival ruling classes or, above all, the great mass of working people in America.

The death toll from the wars of American imperialism—in the Middle East, the Balkans, Afghanistan, North Africa—is well into the millions. To these must be added the victims of militarism within the United States itself. American society is being poisoned by military violence.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/07/pers-j07.html

Why Life Goes Faster as You Grow Older

Three scientific theories shine a little light on this mysterious experience.

Do you have the sense that life is speeding up the older you get? If so, you’re not alone. Can there be a reason for this perception? I’ve discovered three scientific theories that shine a little light on this mysterious experience.

The first is a phenomenon called “telescopy.” Telescopy is simply the underestimation of time. It’s as though you’re looking through a telescope where the details of what you see give you the impression that an object in the distance is much closer than it actually is. Because of telescopy, our brains recall distant events as if they occurred only yesterday.

For example, at 67, I can’t believe 43 years have passed since the Beatles broke up. Every time I see Sir Paul McCartney on TV performing old Beatles tunes like “Hey Jude,” I’m amazed. Why? To me it seems as if 1970 was not that long ago.

Similarly, a 50-year-old woman I know said after the recent Boston Marathon bombing that it was hard to believe 9/11 happened almost 12 years ago. “Wow! Time really flies,” she said.

We are inclined, it seems, to perceive events more recently than they actually occurred. Hence we say wistfully, “Why, it seems like only yesterday.”

The second reason time seems to be going faster as you get older is called the reminiscence effect. You can think of it as a series of memory bumps in your life. Emotionally charged events—your first kiss, going to college, getting married, having your children, having a grandchild or losing someone dear—are recorded in more vivid detail than what we might call regular events, which just pass by in a blur.

As time marches on, life may become more routine, more mundane. Hence, you create fewer memory bumps, which give you the feeling that time is moving very quickly.

Neither telescopy nor the reminiscence effect provide all the answers to understanding why life goes faster as you get older, and perhaps more importantly, how you can slow time down. That falls to the third theory, which I believe is the most astute explanation of why time flies. Interestingly, this third theory is also the best-kept secret in anti-aging medicine.

The third theory is the aging of your brain’s biological clock. Named the SCN (for suprachiasmatic nucleus), it’s found in a special gland called the hypothalamus located behind the middle of your forehead. The hypothalamus is also known as your brain’s brain and controls the release of a number of important, youth-maintaining hormones.

Moreover, this little spot (about the size of a pencil point) sends signals to each and every one of your 30 trillion cells, telling them either  that all is well, or conversely, that you’re stressed. Stress has an aging effect throughout your body, including your genes.

These signals influence the length of your telomeres at the end of your chromosomes. Telomeres are the caps of your DNA and are exquisitely sensitive to stress. Think of them as like the tips of a shoelace. As the lace ages, it becomes frayed, damaged and shortened. For you, stress equals shorter telomeres and accelerated aging. Conversely, less stress equals increased telomere size and a longer life.

As we have seen, as your inner time meter slows down, the outside world seems to speed up. This feeling can make you age too fast. But I’m happy to report that there is good news. There are three ways you can change time perception, affect your biological aging clock and lengthen your telomeres.

  • Slow down: In our over-caffeinated, hyper-connected and intense world, I believe we can use some time simply to relax. Stop and breathe deeply a few times throughout the busy hours of your day.
  • Meditate more: Our studies at the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation reveal that you can impact your telomeres positively, as well as claim many other health benefits, in only 12 minutes a day. Our simple yoga meditation technique is called Kirtan Kriya (KK) and doesn’t require a huge time commitment or expense. Published research on KK reveals the largest increase in telomeres ever, a groundbreaking 44 percent.
  • Pay attention: Go for a nice nature walk and take a look at what is all around you. Notice the animals, the sky, the trees, and the clouds. Really taste your food and be wholly alive. Be grateful. This will help you enjoy a more meaningful life, complete with the creation of new and exciting memory bumps. You will gain peace of mind, a rare and beautiful commodity in today’s hectic world.

Dharma Singh Khalsa is the president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, AZ and the author of “Brain Longevity and Meditation as Medicine.”

 

 

http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/why-life-goes-faster-you-grow-older?akid=13840.265072.kHbee3&rd=1&src=newsletter1048244&t=24

Odell Beckham and the NFL’s fear of of gay men

“Football is the most homophobic subculture this side of the Westboro Baptist Church”

New York Giants star blames gay slurs for losing control on field. Because in the NFL, there’s still nothing worse

Odell Beckham and the NFL's fear of of gay men: "Football is the most homophobic subculture this side of the Westboro Baptist Church"
New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. leaves NFL headquarters in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Hearing officer James Thrash upheld the suspension for multiple violations of safety-related playing rules after hearing an appeal by the New York Giants wide receiver earlier in the day. Beckham will miss the game Sunday night at Minnesota. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)(Credit: AP)

Last Sunday, the New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. lost his composure quite publicly in the team’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. He attacked his defender, Josh Norman, in a manner best described as weaponized helmet assault, and was eventually suspended for a game by the NFL.

Beckham has suggested, through proxies, a plausible motive for his nutter: various Panthers hurled gay slurs at him.

Because if there’s one thing that justifies a pro football player going crazy on national TV—at least in the eyes of other football players and fans—it’s being called a faggot.

And why might that be? Maybe because football is the most homophobic subculture this side of the Westboro Baptist Church?

Think about it, folks: the entire football universe freaked out last season at the mere prospect of welcoming its first openly gay player, Michael Sam.

Of course, nobody ever just comes right out and says, “football hates fags.” Instead, players and sports pundits speak in a familiar code.

Here, for instance, is how all-pro receiver turned broadcaster Michael Irvin defended Beckham.

For some reason, everybody goes after him with gay slurs. He’s a different kind of dude. He has the hairdo out, he’s not the big muscular kind of dude. The ladies all love him. He’s a star. I wonder why people are going in that direction. It blows my mind. I told him he can’t let stuff that people say get to you.

Translation: the fact that Beckham bleaches his hair and doesn’t have big muscles puts his heterosexuality in doubt, which is why he gets called a faggot all the time. But he has sex with lots of “ladies,” which makes him totally legit, so he shouldn’t worry about it.

Beckham’s own teammate, punter Brad Wing, offered the same brand of frat boy logic. He hinted that a photo of Beckham embracing a former LSU teammate may have triggered rumors of his homosexuality, then went on to elaborate that Beckham “was kind of actually happy about it, because all the girls he’s messing around with weren’t fighting with each other anymore.”

Got that? If, as an NFL player, you hug another man, you’re under suspicion as a homo—until such a time as a teammate can vouch for your heterosexual promiscuity.

Officially, of course, the league condemns all forms of discrimination. But football is, and always has been, a cult of hyper-masculinity. It’s a realm in which the attitudes around gender and orientation aren’t just out of date. They’re medieval. Men are defined as big, strong, violent, physically courageous warriors. Women are defined as sexual hood ornaments. Homosexuals aren’t just abhorrent, they’re aberrant, betrayers of the given order.

Think about it this way: dozens of NFL players have been accused of rape, or domestic abuse, or even animal abuse stemming from dog fighting. None of their teammates are expected to experience existential anguish when these guys rejoin the league. Nobody says, “Geez, is the NFL really ready for a violent criminal?”

And why would they? Violent transactions—of the sort that would be illegal in any other context—are the profit center of pro football.

Every now and again, of course, some player will be foolish enough to express his honest feelings toward homosexuality. At which point the rest of the football world will loudly revile them.

That’s what happened to San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver two years ago, when he was asked about Ravens defensive tackle Brendan Ayanbadejo, a vocal advocate for LGBT equality.

“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver told a local radio host. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do … Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”

If you want an even more revelatory peek inside the sanctum of an NFL locker-room, take a look at the so-called Wells Report, which was prepared, at the NFL’s request, to investigate the locker-room bullying that led a Miami Dolphins offensive lineman named Jonathan Martin to quit the team in the middle of the 2013 season and check into a hospital for psychological treatment.

Back when this news broke, much was made of the racist invective used by Richie Incognito, the white bullying ringleader, against Martin, who is bi-racial. What got overlooked was the overt sexual nature of the harassment.

Incognito, for instance, made numerous vulgar comments about Martin’s mother and his sister, a medical student he had never met. “I’m going to bang the shit out of her,” he explained, “and spit on her and treat her like shit.”

Incognito also made it a point to ask a male Asian trainer for “rubby rubby sucky sucky.” He nicknamed a mild-mannered teammate “Loose Booty.” At one point, one of Incognito’s henchmen grabbed “Loose Booty” and told another bully to “come get some pussy.” The second bully then simulated anal penetration with his victim.

What rascals!

Such grab-ass hijinks are typical of locker rooms, where internal homoerotic anxieties often get projected onto suitable victims.

Which is what makes Incognito’s targeting of Martin so fascinating. Based on the record, it seems to stem, at least in part, from Incognito’s forbidden feelings of affection for Martin, whom he calls (without apparent irony) “my bitch.”

The Wells Report describes the two as inseparable. They exchanged 13,000 text messages in the course of their fourteen-month relationship, or nearly 30 per day. They sought each other out “at all hours of the day or night” and discussed “the intimate details of their sex lives, often in graphic terms.”

When Martin declined Incognito’s offers to hang out, Incognito reacted like a spurned lover. At one point, Incognito pressured Martin to vacation with him in Las Vegas. This text exchange caused Martin to back out:

Incognito: No dude hookers [male prostitutes] u faggot

Incognito: Don’t blame ur gay tendancies on [Player A]

Martin: I’m gonna get more bitches in 2 nights than all of you combined

Incognito: Stop it. By bitches u mean cocks in ur mouth

Incognito: U fucking mulatto liberal bitch

Incognito: I’m going to shit in ur eye

Incognito: Goodnight slut

What’s almost touching about the Wells Report is the tenderness that bleeds through all the profane banter. “Let’s get weird tonight,” Incognito wrote to Martin, at one point. And a bit later, “What’s up pussy? I love u.”

Even after Martin left the team, the two texted. “I miss us,” Incognito wrote.

The Dolphins eventually fired Incognito. But he was never ostracized by teammates. Just the opposite. He was a popular player, a guy seen by many of his brethren as the victim of a politically correct witch-hunt.

Within the culture of the NFL, teasing dudes for being gay isn’t some radical act. It’s part of the whole juvenile male gestalt.

After a season and a half out of the game, Incognito was signed by the Buffalo Bills, for whom he played this season, and made the Pro Bowl.

Which brings us back to Odell Beckham, who is definitely not gay, even if he has a funny hairdo and a slender physique, because he has sex with lots of women.

Fans have every right to love football for its many merits. It’s a thrilling game that showcases astonishing feats of grace and valor. But gay and female fans shouldn’t delude themselves. To many of their heroes, the only thing worse than being called a pussy is being called a faggot.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/12/27/odell_beckham_and_the_nfls_fear_of_of_gay_men_football_is_the_most_homophobic_subculture_this_side_of_the_westboro_baptist_church/?source=newsletter

How LSD Affects Your Consciousness

lsd2

New research may be opening the way to the use of LSD in studying psychosis, as well as in the treatment of addictions and depression.
How LSD Affects Your Consciousness

Since its discovery, lysergic acid diethylamide (more commonly known as LSD) has been responsible for altering the consciousness of many people. Though scientists today have detailed knowledge of how the substance affects specific serotonin receptors, it’s unclear how these pharmacological effects translate into such a significant change in consciousness.

A new report presented at the annual conference of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Hollywood, Fla., suggested that LSD reduces the connectivity within brain networks — basically, the extent to which neurons within a network can fire simultaneously. It also showed that LSD seems to reduce how much separate brain networks remain unique in their patterns or synchronization of firing.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and his team at Imperial College London began their experiment with sequential brain scans on 20 volunteers, using fMRI to map changes in blood flow and changes in brain activity. They also utilized magnetoenchalography (MEG) to record the magnetic fields produced by electrical currents occurring in the brain, allowing them to image brain function. The technology showed that LSD led to a chaotic brain state not dissimilar to what is seen in a certain stage of psychosis. They observed neurons that in a normal state, would have fired together, fall out of synchronicity. They also saw networks that were normally distinct fall into overlapping patterns of connectivity.

The team found a potential explanation for the hallucinations and distortions that are so common in LSD intoxication — blood flow in the visual cortex at the back of the brain. The MEG picked up a change in brain oscillations as well, specifically a decrease in alpha waves across the brain. These changes were highly correlated with visual hallucinations, suggesting that while under the influence of LSD, “the visual system is tethered more to the internal than external world.”

LSD may be able to provide a helpful model of human psychosis, since it leads to changes in the brain network that overlap with the prodromal (the first) phase of psychosis.

“With better assessment tools available today than in the 1950s and 1960s, it may be possible to evaluate potential uses of LSD as a treatment for addiction and other disorders, such as treatment-resistant depression, which we are currently investigating with a similar drug to LSD,” Dr. Carhart-Harris said in a statement.

Source: Carhart Harris r, et al. The Re-Emergence of serotonergic Hallucinogens as Tools for Neuropsychopharmacology. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015.

 

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/lsd-affects-consciousness?akid=13788.265072.3GW1HF&rd=1&src=newsletter1047556&t=25