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I Support Israel not the Palestinians

My personal politics defy easy categorization.

Many would like to see me as an ultra Left Winger based on my support for environmental causes, workers rights, feminism and LGBT causes.

That evaluation is spot on.

I am also a militant atheist.

A stone Yankee from the far north mountains of upstate New York I militantly embrace the concept of personal freedom/liberty.

As a woman who survived rape and dealt with it by plunging into the martial arts I champion the rights of women to defend themselves including the use of weapons, most notably knives and handguns.

My embrace of the idea of gun rights causes many on the Left to stereotype me as a Right Winger.

Back in 2001 on September 11 I was stunned and outraged by the murderous terrorist attack upon my country.

I remember the images of the Palestinians dancing for joy in the streets, how they labeled the United States as the great Satan.

I was ostracized by people on the Left for my gut reaction to both this attack and to the Palestinian celebration of the deaths of nearly 3000 American people that resulted from these attacks.

In 2002 I lived on Long Island and often went into New York City for classes and to visit museums.  I had last been in NYC in 1967 so I never saw the World Trade Center.

I avoided going to the site of the attacks, I was already boiling over with anger.

Then one day I went to a free Photoshop seminar.  I took the East Side subway down to the station nearest to where the seminar was being held.

I was early and realized I had never been to that part of NYC so I walked around a little.

I  came upon the church near the foot print of the WTC, the fence with all the grief messages upon it.

Had you asked me what to do at that moment I would have said, “Turn the countries of those who attacked us into glass.”

I understand the gut reactions of the Israelis to the acts of Palestinian terrorism.

I am Polish-American on my father’s side, third generation, close enough to the immigrant experience to feel a connection to family in Poland.  Some three million Catholic Poles died at the hands of the Nazis along with the six million Jewish people.  I feel a certain “Never Again” solidarity, an outrage against the antisemitism too prevalent on the part of so many on the far left.

As a woman and as a member of the LGBT communities I see Israel as the only nation in the Middle East where women and LGBT people have any real rights.  Indeed the only nation in the Middle East where women and LGBT people do not regularly face the grossest violations of their rights as human beings.

I am well aware of Israel’s love of the United States and how it is one of several nations in this world that we can count on as a wholehearted ally.

I have watched the ultra left attack both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren because of their support for Israel.

I do not celebrate the current fighting in the Middle East.

Indeed I wish there would be peace between Israel and its neighbors, there have been far too many deaths to go around.

The stress of nearly 70 years of living with terrorism has grievously harmed the heart and soul of the people of Israel.  But they were not the ones who started the wars.  They built the walls to protect themselves from numerous suicide bombers and other acts of terrorism on the part of the Palestinians.  Israel was not the nation sending those suicide bombers.

Palestinians and their allies including Egypt, Syria and Jordan repeatedly launched attacks upon Israel.

Fortunately the efforts aimed at annihilating Israel were doomed thanks to the courageous IDF.

So I guess I fail the test.

I support Israel and the Israeli people.

Even as I wish for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

If that makes me a Zionist or a supporter of Zionism so be it.

Friday Night Fun and Culture: Dilbert McClinton

Right-Wing Christians Tell Kids ‘Convert or Go to Hell,’ Then Accuse Liberals of Indoctrinating Christian Kids

From Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/belief/right-wing-christians-tell-kids-convert-or-go-hell-then-accuse-liberals-indoctrinating

It’s evident who is pushing obedience to an ideology.

By Amanda Marcotte
July 23, 2014

For the masochists among us who tune into right-wing media, you soon learn that the all-time favorite fear pundits and preachers love to trot out is that “they” are coming for your children.

Whether it’s liberal college professors supposedly  turning kids to Marxism or gay people who are accused of recruiting, over and over you hear the claim that the children of conservatives are in serious danger of being talked into everything from voting for Democrats to getting gay-married.

It’s a peculiar thing to obsess over, and not just because it suggests conservatives have an unhealthy unwillingness to allow their children to grow up and think for themselves. It’s because the imagined conspiracies of liberals trying to “indoctrinate” kids are total phantoms. A little digging shows that accusations of indoctrination are usually aimed at attempts to educate or simply offer support and acceptance. While there are always a few rigid ideologues who are out to recruit, by and large liberals are, well, liberal: More interested in arguing and engaging than trying to mold young people into unthinking automatons.

But I think I know where conservatives get the idea that other people are sneaking around trying to indoctrinate children into unthinking ideologies. It’s because they themselves are totally guilty of it, both in terms of trying to recruit other people’s children and trying to frighten their own children about the dangers of exploring thoughts outside of the ones approved by their own rigid ideologies.

Parents in Portland, Oregon were alarmed to hear that a group calling itself the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club has been targeting children as young as five for conversion to their form of Christianity. The group pretends to be similar to more liberal and open-minded groups, claiming they are just trying to teach their beliefs but aren’t trying to be coercive. However, it’s hard to believe, in no small part because they admit they run around scaring children by telling them they are “sinners” who are hellbound unless they convert and start trying to convert others.

One mother, Mia Marceau, told the Associated Press about her 8-year-old son’s encounter with the group. “Within a few hours, however, she didn’t like what the group was telling her 8-year-old son and his friends: They were headed to hell, needed to convert their friends and were duty-bound to raise money for the organization.” Those kinds of tactics aren’t about encouraging free discourse, but about creating a cult-like mentality that discourages questions and free thought.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/right-wing-christians-tell-kids-convert-or-go-hell-then-accuse-liberals-indoctrinating

Neil deGrasse Tyson: US must ‘sink lower’ before Congress will opt to protect the planet

From Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/23/neil-degrasse-tyson-us-must-sink-lower-before-congress-will-opt-to-protect-the-planet/

By Tom Boggioni
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In an exclusive interview with Salon, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talked about his role as a scientist, how the media presents scientific breakthroughs, and about how climate change will have to get worse before citizens force their elected representatives to do anything about it.

Tyson explained that he doesn’t see himself as an advocate, but as an educator whose job it is to present “emergent scientific consensus,” in the hope that the public and policy makers will use it to make informed decisions.

“I’m just trying to get people as fully informed as they can be so that they can make the most informed decisions they can based on their own principles or philosophies or mission statement,” Tyson explained. ” What concerns me is that I see people making decisions, particularly decisions that might affect policy or governance, that are partly informed, or misinformed, or under-informed.”

Tyson notes that during the Cold War, physicists actively advocated for specific policies because those policies were directly related to their work in developing nuclear weapons. When it comes to climate change, he would like to see more climate scientists take the lead instead of an astrophysicist like himself just because he’s famous.

“I’m an astrophysicist. But there are people who are climate scientists. I think more climate scientists should step up to the plate and serve that same corresponding role that the physicists played during the Cold War, and if they want, to empower lawmakers and the citizenry to make informed decisions about the future of the country,” he said.

Continue reading at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/23/neil-degrasse-tyson-us-must-sink-lower-before-congress-will-opt-to-protect-the-planet/

Why I’m Still a Butch Lesbian

From Slate: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/07/25/a_butch_lesbian_rejects_a_non_binary_identity.html

By Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart
July 25 2014

I first began wearing men’s clothing a few years ago, because I thought that looking like a lesbian might help me get girls. Once I’d started, I realized almost immediately that I was feeling far more comfortable and confident and that I liked the way I looked in the mirror for the first time in my life. Other people who knew me said I looked more natural, more like my clothing fit my personality. It felt a bit like I’d been wearing an uncomfortable, ill-fitting costume all my life.

As I adjusted to this new information, it was hard not to notice that many of the people who shared my preference for the men’s section and my subtly masculine mannerisms had gone a step further and stopped identifying as women entirely. At times, it almost seemed as if, by not throwing my lot in with these pronoun creators and binary-rejecters, I might be just a little bit behind the times—a little square, uncool, perhaps even cis-sexist. Facebook has more than 50 possible gender indentifiers. So why have I, a female-bodied person who wears men’s clothing, decided to stick with the increasingly old-fashioned “butch lesbian woman”?

In part, it’s because the language of gender identity has always been a bit bewildering to me—I’ve felt hungry, happy, gassy, and anxious, but never male or female. Even so, it has been tempting to interpret my experience in ways that separated it from that of other women. This is especially true because cis-gendered women have a distinct tendency to define themselves in ways that don’t include me. I hear women throw out things like, “As women, we all know how important it is to feel pretty,” or “We, as women, are naturally more tender and nurturing,” statements that never seem to include women like me. Not only do I dislike feeling pretty and prefer arguing to nurturing, I don’t even particularly like eating chocolate. Popular culture, and women themselves, often imply that I lack many of the most essential qualities of womanhood.

So in the past I’ve been quite tempted by the idea that perhaps I’m not a woman after all. I mean, I’m masculine in all sorts of ways—I am ambitious, logical, aggressive, strong, and highly competitive. And I’m certainly not silly, frivolous, dainty, weak, or overly emotional … Oh dear. That’s where I run into a major problem, isn’t it? When I start listing traits of mine that I’d call masculine, they’re always positive. They’re points of pride. Whereas when I list traits I lack that I’d call feminine, they’re negatives. It seems I can’t consider my own masculinity or lack of femininity without relying on some of the worst and most pernicious sex-based stereotypes. This suggests to me that the enterprise itself is suspect.

Continue reading at:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/07/25/a_butch_lesbian_rejects_a_non_binary_identity.html

Ayaan Hirsi Ali — Free & Equal: What It Really Means

Clueless rich kids on the rise: How millennial aristocrats will destroy our future

From Salon: http://www.salon.com/2014/07/21/clueless_rich_kids_on_the_rise_how_millennial_aristocrats_will_destroy_our_future/

Today’s wealthy are far more likely to have inherited their fortunes. Here’s why that’s going to doom our politics


Monday, Jul 21, 2014

Prevailing neoliberal ideology, which perverts capitalism as an economic system into capitalism as an unyielding political ideology, lurks in the shadows of almost every major issue in America, though nowhere is its influence more obvious or profound than in the spiraling rise of income and wealth inequality today.

When Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” was first released in English, it followed the Culture War Playbook to perfection: First came the triumphant plaudits from like-minded thinkers, followed shortly by the hasty rebuttals of their ideological opponents, followed themselves by a torrent of commentary from pundits left and right who skimmed the book before adding their own two cents. Soon, there was the predictable “unskewing” by the right, after which came the fact-checking of the “unskewers” on the left… at which point the whole process had reached its inevitable conclusion. High-traffic angles fully juiced, our treadmill news cycle moved on to the next plank in our bitter, pointless culture clash, what author William Gibson has termed our “cold civil war.”

So it goes.

What’s so interesting about this Kabuki dance is just how few commentators at the time bothered to note that Piketty’s findings were never particularly controversial or groundbreaking. Piketty’s book became such a sensation on the left precisely because it gave weight to what anyone with a pair of eyes in the real world (i.e., not Lower Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or Silicon Valley) can already plainly see: Wealth inequality grows each and every day, while the middle class keeps getting pummeled by this Glorious Free Enterprise System. What used to be good, stable jobs are converted into temp positions or contract work — automated, downsized or simply eliminated entirely, they’re replaced in the labor market by the worst-paying, most utterly dehumanizing low-wage gigs that our much ballyhooed “job creators” can imagine and implement.

The consequences for our democracy and our economy are perilous and unlikely to be easily remedied.

Whether or not one is generally convinced by Piketty’s thesis that r > g (or more plainly, that capital tends to grow at a faster rate than income without some form of outside intervention), it should be plain that in our system, the stage has been uniquely well-set for the unbridled expansion of wealth that his book describes. When the effective tax rates are lower for capital gains than for the incomes of the less affluent; when political processes are legally corrupted and circumvented for a price; when regulatory agencies are gutted, stalled, or simply staffed with careerists eager to make their way through the revolving door — this is not a political or economic system likely to become less unequal over time.

Will this trend toward inequality continue? According to “U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth,” a recent survey of wealthy Americans that aims to “[shed] light on the direction and purpose of the more than $15 trillion that will be passed across generations in high-net-worth families over the next two decades,” it seems increasingly likely.

The survey, which polled 680 Americans holding at least $3 million in investable assets, unearthed a troubling trend — the birth of a new American aristocracy. As the survey notes, “Nearly three-quarters of those over 69, and 61% of Baby Boomers, were the first generation to accumulate significant wealth. Among the younger Millennial generation, inherited wealth is more common. About two-thirds are from families in which they are the second, third or fourth generation to be wealthy.” Now, it should be noted briefly that this survey relies on self-reporting, which makes these figures somewhat suspect. (More on this in a bit.) But consider two charts: The first shows the highest marginal tax rates on income and capital gains throughout the last hundred years, while the second outlines the estate tax rate during the same period.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/07/21/clueless_rich_kids_on_the_rise_how_millennial_aristocrats_will_destroy_our_future/

 

Americans Are Leaving Religion Behind and It Scares the Hell Out of the Christian Right

From Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/americans-are-leaving-religion-behind-and-it-scares-hell-out-christian-right

Conservatives are getting more frantic and repressive by the minute, in response to America’s growing secularism.

By Amanda Marcotte
July 16, 2014

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the increasing political polarization in America , which is at historically high levels. There are a lot of reasons for it, including changing demographics, women’s growing empowerment, the internet, the economy and cable news. But religion and religious belief plays an important role as well. There’s no way around it: America is quickly becoming two nations, one ruled over by fundamentalist Christians and their supporters and one that is becoming all the more secular over time, looking more and more like western Europe in its relative indifference to religion. And caught in between are a group of liberal Christians that are culturally aligned with secularists and are increasingly and dismayingly seeing the concept of “faith” aligned with a narrow and conservative political worldview.

That this polarization is happening is hard to deny, even if it’s harder to measure that political polarization. The number of Americans who cite “none” when asked about a religious identity is rising rapidly, up to nearly 20% from 15% in 2007, with a third of people under 30 identifying with no religious faith. Two-thirds of the “nones” say they believe in God, suggesting that this is more of a cultural drift towards secularism than some kind of crisis of faith across the country.

But even this may underrepresent how secular our country really is getting, as many people who say they belong to a church don’t really go to church much, if at all. While Americans like to tell pollsters they go to church regularly, in-depth research shows they are lying and many of them blow it off, putting our actual church-going rates at roughly the same level of secular Western Europe.

Even when people identify with a label like “Catholic” or “Methodist”, that doesn’t mean they consider it an important part of their identity in the way that people used to. Take, for instance, the way that weddings have quietly changed in this country. It used to be that you had a wedding in a church, and only people who were eloping got married by someone other than a minister. Now, outside of very religious circles, it’s more common to see weddings on beaches or at country clubs, and very often officiated by friends of the couple rather than clergy. Indeed, state laws are slowly beginning to change to reflect this reality, allowing more flexibility for people to have the secular weddings they increasingly desire.

But of those who remain religious, being affiliated with a fundamentalist or conservative religion is becoming a little more common. The same Pew research that found while all Christian faiths are slowly receding, mainline Protestant churches are shrinking a little faster and have fewer followers, at 15% of the country, than white evangelicals (19%) or Catholics (22%). This comports with other research that finds evangelicals have a bigger piece of the shrinking pie called “Christianity.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/americans-are-leaving-religion-behind-and-it-scares-hell-out-christian-right

Iraqi jihadists order genital mutilation of four million women and girls

From Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/24/iraqi-jihadists-order-genital-mutilation-of-four-million-women-and-girls/

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jihadists in Iraq have ordered that all women between the ages of 11 and 46 must undergo female genital mutilation, which could affect up to four million women and girls in the war-ravaged country, a UN official said Thursday.

The UN’s second most senior official in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, said, “It is a fatwa (or religious edict) from ISIS, we learnt about it this morning. We have no precise numbers.”

The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), took over large swathes of the country last month and has begun imposing its extreme Salafist interpretation of Islam.

Badcock said that if you took UN population figures as a guide, around “four million girls and women could be affected”.

Female genital mutilation is unusual in Iraq and is only practised in “certain isolated pockets of the country”, she added.

Complete article at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/24/iraqi-jihadists-order-genital-mutilation-of-four-million-women-and-girls/

Not My Problem

I’m really tired of the banning of words. I’m really over the passive aggressive bullshit about trigger warnings from people who use their ultra sensitivity as a club and a way of demonstrating their superiority.

Yeah I grew up poor, working class and bullied.

Yes I have been raped.  On more than one occasion I have had my life threatened by people who had weapons in hand and were quite capable of murdering me.

I have been subjected to slurs and discrimination.

When I have been knocked down I got up again.  I have grieved for my losses and celebrated my personal victories.

In Texas we call that Cowgirling up.  It means getting back on a horse after having been thrown.

Words are not the problem.  Banning words does nothing to change the reality of discrimination.

It is action with out real results.  Sort of like Occupy.

Directionless wankery.

Activist image polishing and brand building, a way of demonstrating one’s political sensitivity creds.

The following is a post that appeared on Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership:  http://jpfo.org/articles-assd04/not-my-problem.htm

By Susan Callaway, aka Mama Liberty
July 15th, 2014

Not my problem. I’m sure a lot of people would consider that a harsh thing to say, but if you’ll stay with me a bit you should easily see that it is the only real answer to the whole “politically correct” thing sweeping this country and, incidentally, the world.

“You made me mad. You didn’t make me happy. I’m offended.” You can probably add a hundred more such phrases people use to control what you do, say and even what you believe. That’s exactly what happens when a few people can choose any word or object, assign a specific (often NEW and ugly) meaning to it, and then demand that nobody use that word or object because it “makes them feel”… whatever.

Let’s look first at the premise that someone can actually “make” another person FEEL anything. How does that work, exactly? Vulcan mind meld? Is it not a fact that each person simply REACTS to outside stimulus, and the perception of sad, mad, happy, etc. is actually their own response? That response can most certainly be painful, even harmful psychologically in vulnerable people, but the person who supplies the stimulus is not, therefore, actually responsible for the feelings because he/she has no control over what another person perceives or what their response will be. The person with the feelings is actually the responsible person and, to a great extent, chooses the response based on their own beliefs and preferences. History is replete with every kind of race, tribe and ethnic conflict, but none of it can shift true responsibility from the person with the feelings to someone else.

A great many people have lost sight of that fact, and the new privileged classes have managed to politicize their hurt feelings into actual laws, criminalizing the words and actions their feelings and perceptions find objectionable. Criminalization of ordinary words and inanimate objects does not seem like a good path toward a polite and peaceful society. Recent history seems to support the more rational conclusion that attempting to force people to do and say things results in escalating resentment and even hatreds.

But of course, the shoe does not fit at all on the other foot. I think it is clear to most people how many screeds and threats come from the mouths and pens of certain “protected” persons (and those who shill for them) against anyone they perceive as not obeying their demands. Somehow, it is impossible for them to be “racist” or “hateful,” and their written and spoken threats are never seen as damaging to those they say should be caged, murdered or worse.

For some reason, the privileged one believes he/she should be able to dictate how others speak or act, yet totally rejects any limitations on their own behavior. How does that work? If mere words are seriously harmful, why doesn’t that work both ways?

I never have, and never would, deliberately say or do anything intended to harm, insult, demean or harass any other person, always seeking to be courteous and non-threatening. I simply don’t ever intend to have someone else define that for me… especially with threats and violence under color of law. I absolutely refuse to accept any false guilt for speaking my mind, especially when that false guilt is predicated on things my long dead ancestors did, or might have done.

Seems to me that responsibility for “feelings” has to be handed back to the people who actually own it.

 

Regarding “Generation Wars”: some reflections upon reading the recent Jack Halberstam essay

From Whipping Girl:  http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2014/07/regarding-generation-wars-some.html

By Julia Serano
Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jack Halberstam recently published an essay called You Are Triggering me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma, and it’s been making waves on the activist internets over the last week. It felt like a bit of a “kitchen sink” article to me, in that it discussed a plethora of different matters (including Monty Python, historical debates between second- and third-wave feminisms, current controversies surrounding the word “tranny,” the recent proliferation of trigger warnings, supposed connections between expressions of trauma and neoliberalism, safe spaces, “It Gets Better” campaigns, and concerns about millennials being hypersensitive) and attempted to weave them into one nice neat coherent narrative. This narrative could be summarized as follows:

queer & trans culture and politics circa the 1990’s was strong, progressive, and fun!

whereas queer & trans culture and politics circa the 2010’s is frail, conservative, and a killjoy.

While Halberstam’s essay made a few points that are certainly worthy of further exploration and discussion, it also overreached in a number of ways, especially in its attempts to shoehorn a potpourri of recent events and trends into the aforementioned overarching narrative. Some concerns that I have about the essay have been addressed by others here and here and here and here (sorry, original posting of that response was here) and here.

I generally do not respond to every essay that I disagree with on the Internet (as that would be a full time job!). But I wanted to add a few thoughts to this discussion because, while the essay in question is uniquely “Halberstamian” in its style and themes, the overarching narrative that holds the piece together is remarkably similar to the one recently forwarded by Andrea James, and resembles recent comments made by RuPaul. Indeed, it seems as if queer and trans folks who came of age around the 1990’s (ostensibly my generation, give or take a few years) are increasingly invoking this as the “go-to” narrative to explain why a younger generation of queer and trans activists behave the way that they do. And I think that the assumptions that prop up this narrative are in dire need of unpacking.

on having to walk uphill, both ways, in a foot of snow, everyday, on your way to school, back when you used to be a kid

I think that a useful place to start is with the “four Yorkshire men” Monty Python sketch that Halberstam invokes as a metaphor for the “hardship competitions…among the triggered generation” (which is to say, how young people today are supposedly constantly complaining about how hurt and oppressed they are by relatively minor things, such as “a cultural event, a painting, a play, a speech, a casual use of slang, a characterization, a caricature and so on”).

Now personally, I always understood that Monty Python sketch as making fun of how people, as they get older, tend to glorify their own past: imagining the hardships they faced as being especially challenging or severe, thereby allowing them to self-conceptualize themselves as being especially resourceful, righteous, cunning, and perseverant for having survived despite overwhelming odds. And this human tendency has historically enabled older generations to outright dismiss younger generations as being misguided, or especially soft (because “they have it so much easier than we did”), and so on.

The notion that queer and trans people of my generation were somehow stoic and resilient, whereas the younger generation of queer and trans people are a bunch of oversensitive crybabies seems to be quite a stretch. I can attest to the fact that we too complained about how oppressed we were, and we often expressed our hurt feelings in public, and we often became outraged about particular language choices or media depictions that we found problematic. The main difference is that we (in glorifying our own past) tend to believe that the causes that we fought for were righteous and justified, whereas the younger generation’s causes and concerns may seem misguided and frivolous to us.

One blatant example of this sort of hypocrisy can be found in RuPaul, who with one hand dismisses concerns of a younger generation of activists who find the word “tranny” problematic, while with the other hand types angry Tweets at people who use the word “faggot” (which he considers to be a “derogatory slur”). The logic here is totally inconsistent. Such actions only make sense if he (and those who agree with him) privileges political stances taken by his own generational cohort over those taken by a newer generation.

Continue reading at:  http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2014/07/regarding-generation-wars-some.htm

Bombshell Study: America’s Wealthy Even More Obscenely Rich Than Anybody Thought

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/bombshell-study-americas-wealthy-even-more-obscenely-rich-anybody-thought

Wealth inequality in the U.S. is even more astounding than previous statistics showed.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
July 16, 2014

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on how bad wealth inequality is in America’s Second Gilded Age, researchers find it’s even worse than you imagined.

The European Central Bank has crunched the numbers and it looks like wealth inequality in the U.S. is even more astounding than previous statistics have shown. Of the 10 rich countries the researchers analyzed, America’s wealthy have grabbed the largest portion of the country’s wealth. The most affluent 1 percent is sitting on between 35 percent and 37 percent of the nation’s wealth, according to  a working paper by ECB senior economist Philip Vermeulen. The Federal Reserve figure that has been previously cited had the 1 percent’s share at 34 percent. But actually it looks like that’s a lowball figure.

Economists studying wealth have been dealing with the fact that when you reach the stratosphere, wealth becomes a sort of dark matter. It’s got a huge gravitational pull, but it’s very hard to trace. It likes to hide, and slip over borders and between bank accounts in the blink of an eye. Vermeulen calls the billionaires whose wealth manages to evade researchers the “missing rich.”

Unfortunately for researchers, rich people don’t tend to respond to surveys that aim to study their wealth; some don’t have the time, but undoubtedly many just don’t want anyone getting their mitts on that sensitive information. So researchers have to figure out other ways to track wealth, including the popular Forbes’ billionaires list, which, while not entirely accurate (it misses a lot of people, like dictators whose money derives from the state), at least makes an attempt to shine a light on the wealth amassed by global tycoons.

Vermeulen warns that even what’s been revealed so far doesn’t give the whole picture. “The results clearly indicate that survey wealth estimates are very likely to underestimate wealth at the top.” You heard that right. Even 37 percent is probably not high enough.

In other countries Vermeulen’s report studied, the 1 percent have also been getting a bigger share of the pie, like the Netherlands, whose rich now hold 17 percent of wealth, up from 9 percent. The French and Spanish wealthy have also increased their share by a couple of points.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/bombshell-study-americas-wealthy-even-more-obscenely-rich-anybody-thought

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Prison

The Rise of the Non-Working Rich

From Robert Reich:  http://robertreich.org/post/91880951615

By Robert Reich
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In a new Pew poll, more than three quarters of self-described conservatives believe “poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.”

In reality, most of America’s poor work hard, often in two or more jobs.

The real non-workers are the wealthy who inherit their fortunes. And their ranks are growing.

In fact, we’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history.

The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.

The “self-made” man or woman, the symbol of American meritocracy, is disappearing. Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. Just six Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined (up from 30 percent in 2007).

The U.S. Trust bank just released a poll of Americans with more than $3 million of investable assets.

Nearly three-quarters of those over age 69, and 61 per cent of boomers (between the ages of 50 and 68), were the first in their generation to accumulate significant wealth.

Continue reading at:  http://robertreich.org/post/91880951615

Elizabeth Warren EXPLOSIVE Floor Speech on Hobby Lobby Decision – July 16, 2014

Author of Texas Ex-Gay Plank Tied to Sex Offender

From Bilerico:  http://www.bilerico.com/2014/07/author_of_texas_ex-gay_plank_tied_to_sex_offender.php

Jerry Reiter
July 17, 2014

A sex scandal and cover-up slipped under the radar of the national media last month. News outlets were talking about the Texas GOP voting this month in favor of gay conversion therapy, a widely discredited imitation of real therapy, called “reparative therapy” that promises to “bring out the heterosexual” in gays, but something was amiss beyond the wackiness of the claim itself. I noticed the official party plank had an anonymous author. That gave me a hint there was more to the story.

I contacted the local Dallas reporter who wrote the original story about the plank. He kept his word to the Republican delegate to not reveal the man’s name, but inadvertently he gave me a few tiny clues. And I followed them, like bread crumbs, leading me down a path that led me to something shocking. It would involve an arrest for child pornography, multiple sexual assaults, and a kind of cover-up because, if the world knew the background of the author of the reparative therapy plank and the true-crime story of the reparative therapist who “cured” him, it could destroy any shred of credibility their cause had.

First, I found a fake (last) name, a connection to a “Jeremy Joel” with a website, Joel 2:25. I recognized that the title was from a bible verse, but I was shocked to see the verse was about a great locust invasion. Was he calling gay people locusts? In time I would find out it would be a better description of Jeremy’s reparative therapist, a man who is currently on probation for sexual assaults.

Jeremy could not release his real last name, Schwab, for a number of reasons, because he had been lying on video about how long he had been in reparative therapy, how long he had been living an openly gay life and a string of contradictory claims about his life, but most of all because of his own written statements in praise of a registered sex offender, Christopher Joe Austin, who had been his reparative therapist in Irving, a suburb of Dallas. Jeremy Schwab had gone to Austin weekly for five years, from 2002 to 2007, but had to stop when the reparative therapist was arrested on child porn charges and sexual assault.

Continue reading at:  http://www.bilerico.com/2014/07/author_of_texas_ex-gay_plank_tied_to_sex_offender.php

Economic Populism at Heart of Emerging Debate Among Democrats

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/07/11-0

by Robert Borosage

Over at The Washington Post, the usually sensible Greg Sargent endorses the notion that divisions among Democrats are “mostly trumped up.” The tension between the Wall Street wing of the party and the Warren (as in Elizabeth) wing is an overblown fiction of a press corps desperate for some action.

It’s true that the prior divisions on social issues have dissipated, as liberals have swept the field. Obama’s halting attempts to wean the US from its foreign wars have garnered widespread support. And on economics, Sargent argues that Democrats “largely agree on the menu of policy responses to the economic problems faced by poor, working and middle class Americans — a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, higher taxes on the wealthy to fund a stronger safety net, job creation and job training — whatever the broader rhetorical umbrella is being used.” Even Hillary says she agrees with Thomas Piketty that extreme inequality is a “threat” to our democracy.

There are differences on how aggressively to go after the big banks or whether to expand Social Security, Sargent admits, and a debate underway about “whether to push the Democratic Party in a more populist direction,” which he declines to define. But generally, he argues, there’s broad agreement that Hillary or any Democratic candidate will run on.

All of this is true except the conclusion. There is a broad agreement on what might be called a “populist lite” agenda — one that has been put forth repeatedly by Obama and frustrated by Republican obstruction. And the reforms — from the minimum wage to universal pre-K — are important and will make a difference.

But it strikes me as bizarre to suggest that there is no serious debate among Democrats when the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country and a key power in Democratic circles, has just called for the resignation of Obama’s education secretary. Democratic House and Senate leaders refuse to allow even a vote on fast-track trade authority sought by the president, and a majority of the Democratic caucus lines up against Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Progressives in both houses demand bold action on jobs, on taxing and investing that the president resists. Democrats revolt against the White House desire to trim Social Security benefits.

In fact, there is a fundamental debate brewing in the party, grounded on very different perspectives that lead in significantly different directions.

On one side are the passive voice populists, which include both Clintons and Obama. They argue that our Gilded Age inequality is the product of technology and globalization, as if these were autonomous forces like the weather. The effects — a declining middle class, stagnant wages, spreading misery — can be ameliorated by sensible policies, like the agenda Sargent ticks off. Most of all, Americans need to make certain the next generation gets better education and training so they can better compete in the global marketplace. Universal preschool is a first step to that. But the largest thrust — driven by the party’s deep pocket donors — is an assault on teacher’s unions and public schools, investment in charters, public and private, and a focus on high-stakes testing to measure teacher and school performance.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/07/11-0

There’s a fitness tracker for vaginas. Quantifying your life has gone too far

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/14/fitness-tracker-vagina-quantified-life

Biofeedback is great … right up until you use it to get positive feedback from everyone you know


theguardian.com, Monday 14 July 2014

The other night, a friend told me that he was trying to spend more time taking cabs. This surprised me, because I happen to know this friend has a Fitbit, and that he’s rather proud of how far he’s walked under its watchful electronic eye. (I’m being polite: you never just “happen to know” that a friend has a Fitbit because they tell you on social media.)

The Fitbit – if you’ve somehow managed to avoid this – is a little dingus that records how many steps you take in a day and allows you to compete with your friends for the most steps or to post the results to social media. Aficionados will happily march aimlessly up and down the hallway if it means narrowly edging out the next competitor on their leaderboard.

So why was a step-counting devotee actively trying to walk less? “Look,” he told me, “not all my shoes are comfortable. Some of them are really nice. If I walk too far in nice shoes, my feet hurt. So, I’m trying to take cabs.”

It might be the first time I’ve heard a Fitbit user say something akin to “I’m not going to walk more right now, because I don’t want to.”

The Fitbit may have been the first tracker of its kind to go really big – though pedometers have been around for a while – but it has certainly many cousins. There are devices to track your sleep patterns (though Fitbits will do this as well), to keep an eye on your posture, to monitor your dog’s activity levels, to analyze the fuel efficiency of your car or tweet your weight.

Perhaps emboldened by this profusion of interest in data, last month a company called Mark One launched the Vessyl, a cup that analyzes the nutritional content of anything you put in it and tracks your sugar, caffeine, and water consumption. And the KGoal, touted as a “Fitbit for your vagina”, is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. The latter device looks like a silicone hand grenade and is designed to record your progress as you do kegels, the exercise for pelvic floor muscles that women do to improve childbirth, continence and – most importantly, in my opinion – sexual pleasure. To emphasize that benefit, the KGoal even vibrates when you’re doing your exercises right.

Like the Fitbit, these newest health trackers don’t come cheap; the Vessyl has a $99 promotional price and you can preorder a KGoal for $125, though the projected retail prices are $199 and $175, respectively. But, hey, how much is too much to spend to know that you’re drinking a soda or clenching your vag?

This stuff all sounds a bit silly, but I’m not enough of a curmudgeon to truly bemoan our national data fixation. It’s often easier to understand what to do with data than to evaluate how you feel, and devices that can quantify your walking or blood pressure or vaginal strength let you take advantage of that. If spending $199 on a cup or $175 on a vagina grenade is the shortcut you need to generate and pay attention to your caloric intake and pelvic floor muscles, for instance, then godspeed.

Plus, human brains respond directly to feedback about bodily functions: watching your heartbeat tracked on a monitor, for instance, gives you the ability to consciously slow them down with uncanny ease, through which you can eventually develop into a coping strategy for anxiety attacks and manage anger.

Having access to biofeedback – real-time data about your body’s functioning – has been shown to help people manage migraines, high blood pressure and even epileptic seizures. It is a powerful enough phenomenon that L Ron Hubbard essentially based a whole religion on it: Scientology’s e-meter is a biofeedback device. And, in the 1940s, Dr Arnold Kegel invented a biofeedback device to help woman improve their pelvic floor muscle exercises and manage urinary control – an obvious precursor to the kGoal, and the very origin of the term “kegels”.

But the pitfall of data devices – and the external sharing of information that they encourage or require – is that they hijack your reward pathways. Instead of walking because it makes you feel good, or because it gets you out in the air or (my personal favorite reason) because sometimes there is bonkers stuff to see in between point A and point B, you walk in order to improve your stats. This sometimes means you walk even if it’s a bad idea – if your shoes hurt, if you’re not feeling well, if it’s dangerously hot, if you’re running late – because doing otherwise will mean a black mark on your record. Your stats will slide, and your stats (and the ability to brag about them on social media) are your reward.

One friend tells me that, when her office did a step-counting competition, she was initially distressed because she couldn’t adjust the pedometer’s minimum “success” condition below 10,000 steps: she has fibromyalgia and isn’t always up for that much walking every day. But, chastened by her colleagues’ successes, she ended up trying valiantly to make the daily minimum – and subsequently spent at least one day per weekend asleep for most of the day, and had to take extra medication for pain in her legs and feet.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/14/fitness-tracker-vagina-quantified-life

Dept. of Defense: Chelsea Manning May Begin Transition in Prison

From The Advocate:  http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2014/07/18/dept-defense-chelsea-manning-may-begin-transition-prison

Nearly a year after her lawyer put in a request to begin hormone replacement therapy, it appears that the Department of Defense has agreed to treat Chelsea Manning.

BY Parker Marie Molloy
July 18 2014

WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning has been approved to begin receiving hormone replacement therapy while serving her 35-year prison sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the Associated Press reports.

This comes two months after an unidentified Pentagon source told the AP that Manning might be transferred out of military custody to be placed into a civilian prison for treatment and directly follows the Bureau of Prisons’ rejection of that Army request.

In lieu of transferring Manning from the all-male military facility to a civilian prison, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reportedly signed off on a plan that will allow Manning to receive “rudimentary” treatment for her diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Although the specific treatment to be provided was not detailed, Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, told the AP he is optimistic that such care will include hormone replacement therapy, widely recognized as a standard course of treatment to begin facilitating a gender transition and part of best practices for providing health care to transgender people.

“It has been almost a year since we first filed our request for adequate medical care,” Coombs told the AP. “I am hopeful that when the Army says it will start a ‘rudimentary level’ of treatment that this means hormone replacement therapy.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2014/07/18/dept-defense-chelsea-manning-may-begin-transition-prison

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