Stop thanking the troops for me: No, they don’t “protect our freedoms!”

From Salon:

Why is pro sports constantly jamming military fervor down our throats? Their claims are wrong in more ways than one

Monday, Nov 11, 2013

The millions of Americans who regularly watch nationally televised NBA games are, by now, familiar with the “NBA Cares” commercials that run quite frequently during the season. The series of promos is meant to illustrate the league’s commitment to serving the community in a variety of ways. One particularly touching example involves a collaboration between the NBA, the V Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; in the spot, several prominent players are shown visiting children stricken with cancer, many of whom look genuinely thrilled to be meeting their heroes. The league deserves credit for encouraging its players to put their fame to good use by bringing some badly needed joy to these children’s lives.

Not all of the “NBA Cares” promos are about serving the least fortunate members of our society, though. The league is determined to show its commitment to both ends of the spectrum of power. In one spot, NBA stars can be seen, not playing board games with children devastated by cancer, but, instead, touting the greatness and indispensability of the most powerful institution in the world, the United States military.

We discover that Brooklyn Nets star Paul Pierce is incredibly grateful, at a deeply personal level, that the men and women of the U.S. military are willing to “protect” him and his country (“I’m so thankful that they are able to do that for me, to make this a safer place for me to live”). Roy Hibbert, starting center for the Indiana Pacers, sees Pierce’s gratitude and raises him in a big way, making the latter’s sentiments seem woefully weak by comparison:

They’re protecting our country, they’re protecting the world, and, you know, obviously we wouldn’t have freedom without them.

This is just an extraordinary sentence. It contains three distinct, factual claims. While the first two are highly debatable, let us suspend consideration of them in order to focus on the third, which is actually an outright falsehood. Not only does Hibbert confidently assert that “we wouldn’t have freedom” were it not for the beneficence of the U.S. military, but that this is “obviously” so.

Freedom has become one of those politically charged terms that means whatever people need it to mean. There is no coherent conception of freedom, though, in which it only exists at the pleasure of the U.S. military. It’s simply a non sequitur. The “freedoms” most Americans think of when they hear the term are enshrined in constitutional and statutory law. They are in no way dependent on the size, scope or even the existence of the U.S. military. If John Lennon’s ghost assumed dictatorial control of the U.S. government tomorrow and, as his first order of business, disbanded the entire military, Americans’ “freedoms” would not suddenly vanish.

Other than military promotion, there is no other conceivable context in which an athlete, officially representing a major professional sports league, would go on television and say something that is so bizarre, explicitly political and manifestly untrue. Whether Roy Hibbert was simply reading something that was handed to him, or expressing his own sentiments, is immaterial. What is problematic, in any case, is that this peculiar, nonexistent connection between “freedom” and the military continues to be perpetuated as an uncontroversial truism, and is met with virtually no resistance, at least within the confines of the mainstream.

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How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’

From Alternet:

A new book argues that the Atheist’s battles are misplaced… Polls show a majority of Americans favor liberal policies, but our courts and legislatures are increasingly controlled and driven by the Christian Right.

By CJ Werleman
November 8, 2013

The following is an excerpt from Crucifying America: the unholy alliance between the Christian Right and Wall Street by CJ Werleman (Dangerous Little Books, 2013). 

 Atheist groups, associations, and networks have literally sprung up in every town and city in America. Million dollar social awareness campaigns have rolled across small towns and big cities throughout America. In major cities, you see billboards with messages like, “Are you Good Without God? Millions Are!” “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone.” Others say, “In the Beginning, Man Created God.” These campaigns have helped coerce millions of Americans out of the theological closet. They have helped many in-private atheists step out of the shadows. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over zealousness of the Christian Right.

Political scientists Robert Putman and David Campbell, and authors of American Grace, argue that the Christian Right’s politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. “While the Republican base has become ever more committed to mixing religion and politics, the rest of the country has been moving in the opposite direction.”

When you add all these things together, it leads you to a dramatic yet never mentioned dynamic: atheists are the fastest growing minority in the U.S. today. More significantly, we make for being one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country, at least potentially. We now have the required critical mass to shape elections, laws, and leaders. Safety in numbers is growing into power in numbers. In 10, 20, 50 years, the Christian Right will hold little to no sway over the nation’s identity. From these facts, among others, we can boast that ideological victory is within sight.

Now for the bad news:

We are winning the wrong game!

We are losing the right game. We are winning the cultural war, but the Christian Right is winning in the race to control the levers of power. They hold the keys to our democracy, while we have clever bumper stickers, funny t-shirts, and books that deride virgin births and angry sky gods. The soldiers of God are playing a game that can only be described as Jedi Knight-ish. Meanwhile, we are being made to look juvenile, bellicose, and down right moronic. The Christian Right is ripping our arms off at the shoulder and then slapping us in the face with the soggy bits. It’s embarrassing, and if this were a football game the scoreboard would read: Christian right –120 versus free thinkers – 3. Someone invoke the mercy rule! Also, I hate football metaphors.

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Transphobic Activists Claim They’ve Got Signatures to Repeal Calif. Student Law

A bunch of evil so call “Christians” have found another vulnerable group to abuse.  Sort of like the Nazis these people love to deny certain classes of people the same rights the, themselves enjoy.  Including the right to pee in a public restroom.

On top of that the bigots advocating for the repeal of this bill protecting the rights of transkids in schools are compulsive liars, utterly incapable of telling the truth about anything.

From The Advocate:

Conservative activists within the Privacy for All Students campaign claim they gathered more than half a million valid signatures from Californians who want the chance to repeal the state’s new law regarding transgender students.

BY Sunnivie Brydum
November 11 2013

Famed antigay campaign strategist Frank Schubert — who led successful efforts to block marriage equality in Maine and North Carolina and helped pass California’s unconstitutional Proposition 8  — has set his sights on California’s AB 1266, a new law that would allow transgender students to use the facilities and play on the sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1266 into law in August, making California the first state in the country to provide statutory guidance on the equal rights of transgender students. The law is set to take effect January 1 unless opponents qualify a ballot initiative to repeal the law.

But Privacy for All Students, the conservative coalition leading the charge to repeal the law, immediately announced its plans to rescind the law by putting it to a popular vote in 2014.

And on Sunday, Schubert told the Associated Press that his campaign turned in 620,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office — more than 100,000 more signatures than required by law to qualify an initiative for the ballot. The Secretary of State’s office will now begin the process of verifying the signatures, and if at least 505,000 signatures are from legitimate, registered California voters, the initiative will qualify for the 2014 ballot.

In addition to Schubert, who led the campaign’s signature-gathering effort, the antigay National Organization for Marriage has lent its support to the transphobic campaign. In a fund-raising email last month, NOM president Brian Brown said that “nakedness trumps sincerity,” asserting that the law established co-ed bathrooms in schools around the state.

“I do not want a naked boy in front of a young girl in the shower or bathroom even if he sincerely identifies as a girl,” wrote Brown. “How can we claim that this [law] will decrease bullying, when forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms IS bullying?”

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BREAKING: GLAAD Appoints First Transgender Cochair

From The Advocate:

The prominent LGBT organization has chosen trans activist Jennifer Finley Boylan as well as entertainment lawyer Steve Warren as co-chairs of its National Board of Directors.

BY Daniel Reynolds
November 08 2013

GLAAD has appointed its first transgender cochair to helm its National Board of Directors.

The media advocacy organization announced its choice of Jennifer Finney Boylan, a trans advocate and author of the autobiography She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. The book was the first by a transgender American to become a best seller.

Boylan, who is a professor of English at Colby College and a mother of two, will serve alongside Steve Warren, a prominent entertainment lawyer who was recently honored with the Stephen F. Kolzak Award at the 2013 GLAAD Media Awards.

“GLAAD’s commitment to the trans community is real and unwavering,” Boylan said in a statement. “As transgender people continue to advocate for basic legal protections and recognition, the work that the staff of GLAAD is leading to proactively share stories of transgender people through the media is a game changer.”

Leaders of GLAAD say Boylan, a prominent trans public figure, will help guide the organization in its mission of moving the cultural needle to advance LGBT rights, particularly in regard to transgender issues.

“The transgender community continues to face alarming rates of violence and inequality while transgender people and issues remain relatively invisible in our national dialogue,” Dave Montez, GLAAD’s acting president, said in a statement. “Jenny’s proven leadership will be instrumental as GLAAD continues to grow mainstream media attention and public understanding around transgender issues.”

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The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is seriously flawed

From The Guardian UK:

Everyone from Apple’s Tim Cook to US politicians is trying to get on the LGBT ‘bandwagon’, but workplace issues remain for gays, Tuesday 5 November 2013

Caveat emptor: when it comes to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (Enda), let the buyer beware. There’s plenty of ballyhooing in the mainstream mostly straight press about what an unmitigated success it is for LGBT rights that the bill will be discussed in the US Senate this week. (It cleared a key test vote Monday night, 61 to 30, with the support of every member of the Democratic caucus and some Republicans.) Even the Wall Street Journal, which has never been accused of being an organ for the liberal media, ran an opinion piece by Apple CEO Tim Cook on how equality benefits the workplace. But on closer inspection, neither Cook’s support nor the Senate’s is quite what it seems.

First, a quick primer on Enda, which has been languishing in Congress since 1994, despite the fact that even polls taken that year showed 62% of Americans support passage of laws to protect “homosexuals” from job discrimination. As Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT organization Freedom to Work, points out:

One of our biggest Enda hurdles is the fact that 90% of Americans mistakenly believe Enda has already become law.

But the fact is that as of now only 17 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that protect against both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment in public and private sectors. To put that another way, we’re now living in a country where it’s legal to marry your same-sex partner in 14 states and enjoy federal benefits, but that you can still be fired for having your spouse’s picture on your desk in 33.

There are a number of reasons why Enda has become a priority for the Senate now. These include the fact that there’s little political risk in supporting LGBT civil rights in a post-don’t ask don’t tell and post-defense of marriage act America, but a great deal to gain from it. LGBT Americans were key to Democratic victories including the presidential election, in 2008 and 2012, as both voters and donors. Polls increasingly show that young voters of both parties overwhelmingly support full LGBT civil rights. In short, it’s a winner and a wedge issue. It’s also not going to pass. House speaker John Boehner has made his opposition clear.

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Trans-Pacific Partnership: “We Will Not Obey”; Building a Global Resistance Movement

From Truth Out:

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
Wednesday, 06 November 2013

We are in a time of transformational change. The opportunity is here to reverse the destruction wrought by rigged corporate trade agreements and to demand trade that is fair and promotes sustainable practices. There is no reason trade cannot improve the lives of workers and people around the world, as well as protect the planet from the rapacious destruction of corporate greed. We need to insist that people and the planet come before profits.

It is up to us to make this transformation a reality. To do so we must build a broad-based, movement of movements that sends a clear message to Washington, DC: “If you pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we will not obey.”

The Obama administration has made it a priority to have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) completed by the end of the year. The TPP is the largest trade agreement negotiated since the World Trade Organization (WTO). It covers 12 countries so far and includes provisions that reach beyond issues of trade. The full contents of the TPP are unknown because it has been negotiated with unprecedented secrecy; however, it is clear from what has been revealed that the TPP gives transnational corporations the power to alter our laws down to the local level to enhance and protect their profits.

To pass the TPP, Obama is seeking Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority from Congress, which would give the president the ability to negotiate and sign the agreement before it is presented to Congress for a limited debate and an up-or-down vote without amendments. Fast Track, which has been used to pass other undesirable trade deals like the WTO and NAFTA, would prohibit a transparent and democratic process. Without Fast Track, it would be more difficult to pass the TPP.

At present, with the help of grass-roots pressure, momentum is growing in Congress to stop Fast Track. Many elected Republicans and Democrats are signing on to letters stating that they refuse to give up their constitutional responsibility to regulate trade between nations. However, as corporate lobbyists descend on Congress, that momentum could change.

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Critics Blast Climate Scientists Going To Bat for Nuclear Power

From Common Dreams:

If these people think nuclear energy is part of a viable solution, they ‘should go to Fukushima’

Jon Queally

Amidst the ongoing Fukushima disaster in Japan and the broader failure of nuclear power, a call by some scientists and others for environmentalists and green groups to embrace the energy source in the name of fighting climate change is being met with a firm rebuke.

Ahead of CNN’s airing this week of what critics have described as a misleading and propaganda-laced pro-nuclear film called “Pandora’s Promise,” four climate scientists on Sunday released a letter of their own calling on “those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power” to change their position.


Though unaffiliated with the controversial film, the pro-nuke letter was signed by James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide in Australia. In the letter, the scientists ask individuals and groups concerned about global warming and climate change to demonstrate their commitment to the threat “by calling for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy.”


Unconvinced, however, many environmentalists voiced deep concerns about the pro-nuclear pitch and responded with derision, if not disgust.


“These guys need to go to Fukushima,” said long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman in an email to Common Dreams on Sunday. “It’s astonishing anyone could advocate MORE nukes while there are 1331 hot fuel rods 100 feet in the air over Unit Four, three melted cores at points unknown, millions of gallons of contaminated water pouring into the oceans, and so much more.”


Wasserman, editor of and author of Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth, has recently been sounding the alarm over the perilous situation that remains ongoing at the crippled Fukushima plant in Japan and argues that nuclear should not be part of any future energy equation. Invoking the dangers of carbon-driven global warming does nothing to change the inherent dangers of nuclear power, he indicated.

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Smartphones are killing us — and destroying public life

From Salon:

Hey, you — look up! Our iPhone addictions are wrecking public spaces and fraying the urban social fabric

Saturday, Nov 2, 2013

The host collects phones at the door of the dinner party. At a law firm, partners maintain a no-device policy at meetings. Each day, a fleet of vans assembles outside New York’s high schools, offering, for a small price, to store students’ contraband during the day. In situations where politeness and concentration are expected, backlash is mounting against our smartphones.

In public, of course, it’s a free country. It’s hard to think of a place beyond the sublime darkness of the movie theater where phone use is shunned, let alone regulated. (Even the cinematic exception is up for debate.) At restaurants, phones occupy that choice tablecloth real estate once reserved for a pack of cigarettes. In truly public space — on sidewalks, in parks, on buses and on trains — we move face down, our phones cradled like amulets.

No observer can fail to notice how deeply this development has changed urban life. A deft user can digitally enhance her experience of the city. She can study a map; discover an out-of-the-way restaurant; identify the trees that line the block and the architect who designed the building at the corner. She can photograph that building, share it with friends, and in doing so contribute her observations to a digital community. On her way to the bus (knowing just when it will arrive) she can report the existence of a pothole and check a local news blog.

It would be unfair to say this person isn’t engaged in the city; on the contrary, she may be more finely attuned to neighborhood history and happenings than her companions. But her awareness is secondhand: She misses the quirks and cues of the sidewalk ballet, fails to make eye contact, and limits her perception to a claustrophobic one-fifth of normal. Engrossed in the virtual, she really isn’t here with the rest of us.

Consider the case of a recent murder on a San Francisco train. On Sept. 23, in a crowded car, a man pulls a pistol from his jacket. In Vivian Ho’s words: “He raises the gun, pointing it across the aisle, before tucking it back against his side. He draws it out several more times, once using the hand holding the gun to wipe his nose. Dozens of passengers stand and sit just feet away — but none reacts. Their eyes, focused on smartphones and tablets, don’t lift until the gunman fires a bullet into the back of a San Francisco State student getting off the train.”

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Everybody managed to not get killed during the first five months of New York’s bikeshare

From Grist:

By 11 Nov 2013

The New York Times is reporting that Citi Bike, New York’s new bikeshare program, has now been operating for five months without a fatality. On the one hand, this is a little suspicious; yeah, five is a salient number when you’re working in base 10, but for months, it’s traditional to count in groups of six or 12. It’s as if the Times feels antsy about holding off for another whole month before sharing the news that nobody died — who knows what could happen by then? On the other hand, though, yay, five months fatality-free! Apparently New York City is a little less terrible for cyclists than many of us thought.

When Citi Bike launched, doomsayers predicted helmetless tourists careening into taxis, or drunk Brooklynites faceplanting in the Gowanus. (Maybe I’m the only one who worried about that second one.) But so far, there have only been a few dozen injuries and no deaths on Citi Bikes — not deaths of cyclists, and not deaths caused by cyclists. Bike deaths are down in the city overall — 10 this year, versus 18 in 2012. And in neighborhoods served by Citi Bike, bike fatalities are actually down by 50 percent (well, technically — last year there were two deaths in those areas, and this year one person riding a regular non-share bike was killed).

That means that in this one area, at least, New York beats the hell out of Paris. (Other areas, too, but I’m biased.) In the first year of the Paris bikeshare, there were three deaths and a 7 percent increase in bike accidents.

Of course, it’s only been five months. We still have time.

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Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists?

From The New York Times:

Published: November 9, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — EVERYBODY who knows me knows that I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it. I got into the sport for middle-aged reasons: fat; creaky knees; the delusional vanity of tight shorts. Registering for a triathlon, I took my first ride in decades. Wind in my hair, smile on my face, I decided instantly that I would bike everywhere like all those beautiful hipster kids on fixies. Within minutes, however, I watched an S.U.V. hit another cyclist, and then I got my own front wheel stuck in a streetcar track, sending me to the pavement.

I made it home alive and bought a stationary bike trainer and workout DVDs with the ex-pro Robbie Ventura guiding virtual rides on Wisconsin farm roads, so that I could sweat safely in my California basement. Then I called my buddy Russ, one of 13,500 daily bike commuters in Washington, D.C. Russ swore cycling was harmless but confessed to awakening recently in a Level 4 trauma center, having been hit by a car he could not remember. Still, Russ insisted I could avoid harm by assuming that every driver was “a mouth-breathing drug addict with a murderous hatred for cyclists.”

The anecdotes mounted: my wife’s childhood friend was cycling with Mom and Dad when a city truck killed her; two of my father’s law partners, maimed. I began noticing “cyclist killed” news articles, like one about Amelie Le Moullac, 24, pedaling inside a bike lane in San Francisco’s SOMA district when a truck turned right and killed her. In these articles, I found a recurring phrase: to quote from The San Francisco Chronicle story about Ms. Le Moullac, “The truck driver stayed at the scene and was not cited.”

In stories where the driver had been cited, the penalty’s meagerness defied belief, like the teenager in 2011 who drove into the 49-year-old cyclist John Przychodzen from behind on a road just outside Seattle, running over and killing him. The police issued only a $42 ticket for an “unsafe lane change” because the kid hadn’t been drunk and, as they saw it, had not been driving recklessly.

You don’t have to be a lefty pinko cycling activist to find something weird about that. But try a Google search for “cyclist + accident” and you will find countless similar stories: on Nov. 2, for example, on the two-lane coastal highway near Santa Cruz, Calif., a northbound driver lost control and veered clear across southbound traffic, killing Joshua Alper, a 40-year-old librarian cycling in the southbound bike lane. As usual: no charges, no citation. Most online comments fall into two camps: cyclists outraged at inattentive drivers and wondering why cops don’t care; drivers furious at cyclists for clogging roads and flouting traffic laws.

My own view is that everybody’s a little right and that we’re at a scary cultural crossroads on the whole car/bike thing. American cities are dense enough — and almost half of urban car trips short enough, under three miles — that cities from Denver to Miami are putting in bike-share programs. If there’s one thing New York City’s incoming and departing mayors agree on, it’s the need for more bike lanes.

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OxyElite Pro Supplements Recalled

From Outside:

The FDA warns of liver illnesses

Monday, November 11, 2013

USPLabs LLC has recalled some of its OxyElite Pro dietary supplement products after the FDA threatened to forcibly halt distribution of all suspect products. Recalled items include OxyElite Pro Super Thermo capsules, OxyElite Pro Ultra-Intense Thermo capsules, and OxyElite Pro Super Thermo Powder—as disclosed in a list released by the FDA.

The FDA’s suspicion was prompted by the Hawaii Department of Health revealing in September that 58 percent of their patients with liver illnesses had reportedly been taking an OxyElite Pro supplement. As of the end of last month, the number of liver illnesses in the U.S. linked to OxyElite Pro has risen from 27 to 56.

Professionals are not sure which compound in the product might be the cause of the outbreak, although speculation points to aegeline, an ingredient found in an Asian tree, about which little is known.

“We will continue to work with our state, industry and regulatory partners to prevent such products from reaching the public,” said Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael R. Taylor.


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