Liverpool-born 1960s icon and transsexual April Ashley reflects on her extraordinary life ahead of year-long exhibition

From The Liverpool Echo:

Once George Jamieson, the former model remembers her journey from suicide attempts, people spitting in her face to Buckingham Palace


As she walks along the streets near her home in south west London well-wishers are quick to pass on greetings or wish April Ashley a ‘good afternoon’.

“It’s so nice,” she exclaims. “In the old days people spat in my face.”

Times have clearly changed – though maybe be not as much as they might – and it’s time for reflection.

Now, 78, April is the focus for a new exhibition which opens on September 27 at the Museum of Liverpool.

April Ashley: Portrait of a lady will explore the story of the woman who was one of the first people in the world to undergo pioneering gender reassignment surgery.

“I was astonished when they asked me to do it,” she smiles. “Only John Lennon has been given a whole year’s exhibition before so I’m very flattered.

“It was very hard work, not physically, but emotionally.

“There were times when I wanted to throw everything onto a big bonfire but I did it for my darling Liverpool, my favourite place in the whole world.

“One of my favourite memories is that of standing at the Pier Head with my father, who was in the Royal Navy during the war.

“He had been torpedoed a couple of times but he would be wearing his uniform which, because they didn’t have dry cleaners, would have just been put on a hanger to dry.

“I would just sniff him and he smelled of sea salt which to me was like a scent from heaven.

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Can the “New” Trumka Trump Trumka?

From Common Dreams:

by Ralph Nader

Sitting in the office of the AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, one sees books on labor history, economics, corporate crimes and proposals for change piled up everywhere. Perhaps that helps explain why Mr. Trumka, a former coal miner who became a lawyer, presented his besieged organization’s quadrennial convention in Los Angeles last week with a fiery visionary “big tent” design to develop more alliances with citizen and worker organizations that are not trade unions.

Citing common ground on some public policies, Mr. Trumka wants to strengthen ties with the likes of the NAACP, Working America, the Sierra Club, the Economic Policy Institute, Women’s groups, and the Taxi Drivers, the Domestic Workers Alliance and worker centers. He would like some of these organizations to be brought into the governing bodies of labor unions and the AFL-CIO’s executive council.

The latter was too much for some unions fearful of being diluted or “Trojan horsed,” such as the construction unions that want the XL pipeline to be built regardless of the Sierra Club’s contrary position. However, the resolution approved by the assemblage did endorse Trumka’s open door to advocacy on behalf of temporary workers or non-unionized poverty groups, on a more informal basis.

Eighty-eight percent of all workers are not unionized. Union membership has been declining for more than four decades. The AFL-CIO has known this, but cannot seem to push its member unions to greatly increase their organizing budgets at a time when global companies can easily leave America for China or elsewhere. On the other hand, there are tens of millions of low-income workers in the service sector whose jobs cannot be exported and who want opportunities for unionization.

Trumka has problems in implementing his vision. First, he is not in functional control of his largest member unions. Second, there is surplus labor and there are too few well-paying jobs. Third, he has allegiances to the Democratic Party leaders and President Obama who do not tolerate much public criticisms or rebellion by a weakened labor movement, which they know believes it has nowhere to go in a two-party duopoly.

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Sex shocker! Men and women aren’t that different

From Salon:

Think human males and females are so distinct? Look at lions, cardinals, anglerfish and elephant seals!

Wednesday, Sep 18, 2013

Somewhere in the deep, dark depths of the ocean a male anglerfish is hungry. He lacks the artificial, bioluminescent lure that females use to attract prey. This is a rather insignificant problem compared to the fact that he is incapable of digesting food. The only bite he’ll ever take will be a love bite. He’ll latch on to a female anglerfish with his teeth, triggering a chemical reaction that will dissolve his face, fusing it permanently. Eventually he’ll lose every organ in his body to this process, except his testicles. Those will stick around, literally. A happy female anglerfish will be dotted with pairs of balls. They are safe deposit boxes of sperm that she draws on at will.

This is sexual dimorphism. The phrase refers to the degree to which males and females of a species differ. Anglerfish are obviously strongly dimorphic. Other animals are less so. Males and females of some species, like the ring-necked dove, are almost impossible to tell apart. In the big scheme of things, humans are more like the ring-necked dove than the anglerfish, and that is a really important fact that we seem hell-bent on ignoring.

Instead, we obsess over gender differences. We search for them in scientific studies, scour religious texts for hints from a higher power, and extrapolate from the behavior of our friends and loved ones. We write and read a seemingly endless stream of books counting and discounting the evidence. We argue over whether the differences we think we see are caused by nature or nurture.

When it all comes down to it, though, how much difference are we talking about? Let’s put it in perspective.

If we were as sexually dimorphic as the elephant seal, the average human male would tower six feet above the average woman and weigh 550 pounds. If we were like gorillas, men and women would be about the same height as they are now, but the average man would outweigh the average woman by over 166 pounds.

If we were as sexually dimorphic as the blanket octopus, men would be 0.8% the size of a female, or about the size of a walnut. If we were green spoonworms, the average human male would be less than an inch tall. He would live his entire life on his five-foot three-inch human mate – unless she accidentally ate him. Luckily, he could then live out a full life inside her digestive tract.

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NSA chiefs defend agency’s conduct in letter to families of employees

From The Guardian UK:

General Keith Alexander and deputy director John Inglis sign letter ‘in light of unauthorised disclosure of classified information’

in New York, Friday 20 September 2013

The National Security Agency has sent a letter to its employees’ family members, in an effort to “reassure” relatives about the agency’s work.

The letter, signed by NSA director General Keith Alexander and deputy director John Inglis, is dated 13 September and is addressed to “NSA/CSS family”. It characterises press reports of NSA overreaches as “sensationalised” and laments how stories published on documents leaked by Edward Snowden have seen the agency portrayed “as more of a rogue element than a national treasure”.

“We are writing to you, our extended NSA/CSS family, in light of the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by a former contractor employee,” says the letter, which was published on The Dissenter website on Friday. “We want to put the information you are reading and hearing about in the press into context and reassure you that this Agency and its workforce are deserving and appreciative of your support.”

The NSA has been under scrutiny since details of its surveillance programs were revealed by the Guardian and other outlets. The agency has been criticised for collecting Americans’ phone and internet data, in what some see as a breach of the fourth amendment.

“Some media outlets have sensationalized the leaks to the press in a way that has called into question our motives and wrongly cast doubt on the integrity and commitment of the extraordinary people who work here at NSA/CSS – your loved one(s),” the letter says. “It has been discouraging to see how our Agency frequently has been portrayed in the news as more of a rogue element than a national treasure. You’ve seen the dedication, skill and integrity that those employees bring to their job each and every workday, contributing to the accomplishments of the agency over the past 61 years.”

The message is aimed at providing a morale boost to NSA staff and their families while also providing talking points and rebuttals to criticisms of the agency. Alexander and Inglis write that they will continue to provide employees with “materials they can bring home to help you understand that our activities are lawful, appropriate and effective”.

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Private prisons demand states maintain maximum capacity or pay fees

From Raw Story:

By Travis Gettys
Friday, September 20, 2013

Falling crime rates are bad for business at privately run prisons, and a new report shows the companies that own them require them to be filled near capacity to maintain their profit margin.

A new report from the advocacy group In the Public Interest shows private prison companies mandate high inmate occupancy rates through their contracts with states – in some cases, up to 100 percent.

The report, “Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations,” finds three Arizona prisons must be filled to capacity under terms of its contract with Management and Training Corporation.

If those beds aren’t filled, the state must compensate the company.
The report found that occupancy requirements were standard language in contracts drawn up by big private prison companies.

One of those, The Corrections Corporation of America, made an offer last year to the governors of 48 states to operate their prisons on 20-year contracts.

That offer included a demand that those prisons remain 90 percent full for the duration of the operating agreement.

The report found 41 of the 62 contracts reviewed contained occupancy requirements, with the highest occupancy rates found in Arizona, Oklahoma and Virginia.

Private prison companies have also backed measures such as “three-strike” laws to maintain high prison occupancy.

When the crime rate drops so low that the occupancy requirements can’t be met, taxpayers are left footing the bill for unused facilities.

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The Age of Hyper-Racism: White Supremacy as the White Knight of Capitalism

From Truth Out:

By Michael Ortiz
Friday, 20 September 2013

We’ve heard the argument over and over. “Of course we’re in a post-racial society; racism is over; slavery is long gone; the president is black, etc.” And then we’ve heard the counterargument over and over. “Post-racial?! How can that be the case when health disparities remain significant along racial lines? When unemployment and incarceration continue to disproportionately affect people of color, etc.?”

However, what both arguments fail to admit, and what the media refuse to acknowledge (although they fan the flames as well as anybody), is that racism has gotten worse over the decades.

Why and how has it gotten worse? And how can we realistically remedy a problem if we cannot call it for what it really is? If we don’t understand exactly what racism is and where it comes from, how can we expect to live in a society of true equality? The disheartening truth is that we can’t.

Understanding the supremacist framework

Unfortunately, racism has been defined in a superficial way. Racism tends to get looked at as a set of prejudiced beliefs or attitudes toward racial or ethnic groups. However, the idea that racism is limited to individual thought and behavioral patterns does a disservice to the examination of its structural roots; this, in turn, works brilliantly to perpetuate racism because it avoids deeper mainstream analysis.

Sociologically speaking, though, racism refers to the systemic, structural, institutional or ideological disparity in the allocation of social and material rewards, benefits, privileges, burdens and disadvantages based on race. That includes access to resources, capital, property (which affect life chances) and possession of social power and influence.

Going even farther down the rabbit hole, racism is built on the framework of racial supremacy. Racial supremacy refers to the systemic, structural, institutional and ideological racial base that our contemporary society operates within. All interaction among participating members or structures of the society becomes racialized. If and when we find disparate and discriminatory outcomes within the frame of racial supremacy, then we’ve got ourselves a good ol’ case of racism.

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Congresswoman Speier Pleads to Save Food Stamps

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Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise Vessel Being Towed To Port By Russian Coast Guard

From Huffington Post:


MOSCOW — The Russian Coast Guard is towing a Greenpeace ship toward the nearest port after armed officers stormed it following a protest against oil drilling in Arctic waters.

The agency said Friday that the ship’s captain refused to operate the Arctic Sunrise, so a Coast Guard ship has arrived at the scene to tow the ship to the city of Murmansk. The trip will take three to four days.

One of the activists aboard the vessel, Faiza Oulahsen, told the AP late on Thursday that about 15 armed men had boarded the Arctic Sunrise, aggressively herding 29 activists into one compartment. The vessel’s captain was held separately on the bridge.

“They used violence against some of us, they were hitting people, kicking people down, pushing people,” she said in a phone call from the ship.

A day earlier, two activists were arrested following an attempt to board an offshore drilling platform belonging to state natural gas company Gazprom.

The Coast Guard is part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.

Liliya Moroz, a representative of the FSB in Murmansk region, told Ekho Moskvy radio on Friday that the charges against the activists may include terrorism.

Under Russian law, terrorism is any action aimed at “violating general safety, frightening the public or influencing government action” that damages property or threatens the lives of others in the process. It carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if the person was unarmed.

Greenpeace said they had been unable to make contact with the activists since late on Thursday and had not yet received official confirmation of these charges from the security services, but said that this was the first detention of a boat and its activists in Russian waters for nearly two decades.

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Flooding and Fracking in Colorado: Double Disaster

From Rolling Stone:

Serious flooding threatens the state’s 50,000 controversial oil and gas wells

September 19, 2013 1:10 PM ET

Cliff Willmeng was filming from the banks of the raging St. Vrain River in Colorado when he heard a sound like guitar strings being plucked. He looked around for the source and spotted, in the rapids near him, an electrical pole leaning at 45 degrees. “To be honest, it was probably dangerous, what I was doing,” he admits. “[But] the more unsafe the travel became, the more important the work became.”

Willmeng, a trauma nurse who lives in Lafayette, Colorado, wasn’t documenting the devastation of the Front Range’s 1000-year flood for thrills. For years, he’s been involved in trying to ban the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, from Colorado communities. As the flooding began to reach what the National Weather Service called “biblical” proportions, he realized that floodwater was headed straight for some of Colorado’s most developed oil and gas drilling areas.

Concerned about how drilling sites would withstand the flooding – and what chemicals might end up in the water – Willmeng grabbed his camera. He headed towards neighboring Weld County, one of the nation’s most productive agricultural counties and home to thousands of fracked wells.

With roads and bridges washed out or flooded, getting there was tough. But he eventually found what he’d feared: submerged wellpads and pipelines, waste tanks torn from their moorings and floating downstream. He posted the photos to his Facebook page and that of East Boulder County United, a grassroots group working to ban fracking in Lafayette. (Click here to see them.) The next day, Willmeng was out photographing again. On Tuesday, he took a flight with a group called EcoWatch, following waterways and recording images of inundated drilling facilities and loose tanks. “It was pretty dramatic all around,” he says. Within a few days, says Willmeng, the photos had “gone fully international” and other people were out documenting compromised drilling facilities.

Thanks to a recent boom in natural gas production atop the Wattenberg Field, Colorado is home to some 50,000 oil and gas wells. It’s not yet known just how many were impacted by the flooding, but early reports suggest a significant number. “We have thousands of wells impacted with anything from standing water to flowing water,” a spokeswoman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association told CBS News.

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How Factory Farms May Be Killing Us

From Alternet:

A report from the CDC reveals the grave dangers of antibiotic resistance and says factory-farmed animals are a big contributor.

By Tara Lohan
September 17, 2013

What would our healthcare system look like if we couldn’t perform surgeries, administer chemotherapy, replace joints, treat diabetes? It would be the end of modern medicine as we know it. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control warns we could be headed toward that very future.

Antibiotics revolutionized medicine in the 1940s, saving millions of lives over the last 70 years. But during that time bacteria have evolved to become resistant to certain antibiotics. The more antibiotics we use, the quicker resistance builds up. This has deadly repercussions.

In the report, “ Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013,” the CDC estimates (conservatively) that 2 million people in the U.S. get antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 die from them every year.

In addition to the loss of life, it’s also costly.

“In most cases, antibiotic-resistant infections require prolonged and/or costlier treatments, extend hospital stays, necessitate additional doctor visits and healthcare use, and result in greater disability and death compared with infections that are easily treatable with antibiotics,” the report states. “Estimates vary but have ranged as high as $20 billion in excess direct healthcare costs, with additional costs to society for lost productivity as high as $35 billion a year (2008 dollars).”

One of the biggest culprits is our overuse and misuse of antibiotics in medicine. “Research has shown that as much as 50% of the time, antibiotics are prescribed when they are not needed or they are misused (for example, a patient is given the wrong dose),” the report says. “This not only fails to help patients; it might cause harm. This inappropriate use of antibiotics unnecessarily promotes antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are a limited resource. The more that antibiotics are used today, the less likely they will still be effective in the future.”

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