The Crisis Ahead: The U.S. Is No Country for Older Men and Women

From Alternet:

Millions can no longer afford to retire, and may never be able when the GOP passes its tax bill.

By Alex Henderson<
December 12, 2017

The news is not good for millions of aging Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in the United States who are moving closer to retirement age. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual report on retirement preparedness for 2017, only 18 percent of U.S.-based workers feel “very confident” about their ability to retire comfortably; Craig Copeland, senior research associate for EBRI and the report’s co-author, cited “debt, lack of a retirement plan at work, and low savings” as “key factors” in workers’ retirement-related anxiety. The Insured Retirement Institute finds a mere 23 percent of Baby Boomers and 24 percent of Gen Xers are confident that their savings will last in retirement. To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of Boomers and over 30 percent of Gen Xers report having no retirement savings whatsoever.

The U.S. has a retirement crisis on its hands, and with the far right controlling the executive branch and both houses of Congress, as well as dozens of state governments, things promise to grow immeasurably worse.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Past progressive presidents, notably Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, took important steps to make life more comfortable for aging Americans. FDR signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law as part of his New Deal, and when LBJ passed Medicare in 1965, he established a universal health care program for those 65 and older. But the country has embraced a neoliberal economic model since the election of Ronald Reagan, and all too often, older Americans have been quick to vote for far-right Republicans antagonistic to the social safety net.

In the 2016 presidential election, 55 percent of voters 50 and older cast their ballots for Donald Trump against just 44 percent for Hillary Clinton. (This was especially true of older white voters; 90 percent of black voters 45 and older, as well as 67 percent of Latino voters in the same age range voted Democratic.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) economic proposals may have been wildly popular with millennials, but no demographic has a greater incentive to vote progressive than Americans facing retirement. According to research conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons, the three greatest concerns of Americans 50 and older are Social Security, health care costs and caregiving for loved ones—all areas that have been targeted by Republicans.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a devotee of social Darwinist Ayn Rand, has made no secret of his desire to privatize Social Security and replace traditional Medicare with a voucher program. Had George W. Bush had his way and turned Social Security over to Wall Street, the economic crash of September 2008 might have left millions of senior citizens homeless.

Since then, Ryan has doubled down on his delusion that the banking sector can manage Social Security and Medicare more effectively than the federal government. Republican attacks on Medicare have become a growing concern: according to EBRI, only 38 percent of workers are confident the program will continue to provide the level of benefits it currently does.

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Christiania: an experiment in building ‘a society from scratch’

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

Garry Maddox
October 22 2017

At first glance, utopia is working well in Denmark.

In a cafe in the Copenhagen community of Christiania​, aka Freetown, dogs wander freely among relaxed diners eating home-made organic food as Bob Marley sings No Woman, No Cry over a speaker.

Signs declare that this environmentally-friendly, car-free suburb not far from Prince Frederik​ and Princess Mary’s palace is opposed to racism and hard drugs. But the community tolerates other drugs to the point where stalls illegally sell marijuana and hash on one street as openly as if they were selling trinkets or second-hand crockery at an Australian flea market.

Christiania is a fascinating social experiment, home to roughly 1000 artists, students, welfare recipients, squatters, misfits, anarchists, freethinkers and hippies. It is also one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, with more than a million visitors a year.

The Danish waitress who recommended a visit loved the relaxed counterculture lifestyle. The sense of freedom even in an environmentally-friendly city regularly considered one of the world’s most liveable.

And arriving beneath a gate with “Christiania” on one side – the other side tells leavers “you are now entering the EU” – the first-time visitor is struck by a vibrantly colourful scene.

Old buildings have been adapted for modern use, including a museum, music venues, bike workshop, shops, galleries and cafes. Many newer houses set amid greenery have a quirky home-made, recycled quality.

There is colourful street art just about everywhere, bar a gypsy caravan on which the owner has posted a sign saying “no tags please”.

Locals drink Christiania brand beer, cheerfully sell Christiania T-shirts to tourists and ride Christiania cargo bikes, carrying their children to school and their shopping in a box out front.

There is an ingenious indoor skateboard ramp, a soccer field with an anarchically placed tree that must interfere with matches, an amphitheatre for concerts and a “women’s blacksmith”.

Hippie Disneyland, Danish style, dates back to 1971.

Anarchist newspaper editor Jacob Ludvigsen​, who died six months ago, came up with the idea of turning an abandoned military base into an alternative suburb in response to a shortage of affordable housing. He called it an “opportunity to build up a society from scratch” – a self-governing, economically self-sustaining community that would be home to both “seekers of peace” and “stoners who are too paranoid and weak to participate in the race”.

After the Social Democratic government gave Christiania the temporary status of “social experiment”, it grew into a lively riverside enclave on 34 hectares.

Rather than voting, residents have been encouraged over the years to make decisions based on consensus after discussing an issue.

Christiania operates on a self-administered system that allocates funds every year to maintain common property, kindergartens, sewers, recycling and waste collection. It has its own court that deals with police matters, negotiations with the rest of Denmark and community disputes.

But if the community was founded on idealism, a series of controversies have tested the Danish affection for its progressive ways over its 46-year history. Most have centred on the drug market known aptly enough as Pusher Street.

“The gangs are controlling that part and not the real people of Christiania,” says Hasse, a student who lives elsewhere in Copenhagen. He believes the city is divided 50-50 on support for the area.

“There have been big fights out there with the police and last year Pusher Street was torn down,” he says. “But everything is back to normal now.”

In the early 1980s, a bikie gang took control of the drugs trade and, after a number of violent incidents, Christiania banned bikie colours.

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African Americans Are Disproportionately Arrested for Low-Level Marijuana Violations—and the Disparity Is Growing

From Alternet:

Blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for minor pot possession violations.

By Paul Armentano
November 21, 2017

According to a groundbreaking 2013 report authored by the American Civil Liberties Union, African Americans in the United States are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for minor marijuana possession violations. “[O]n average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates,” it concluded. “Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small black populations. Indeed, in over 96 percent of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2 percent of the residents are black, blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

In the four years since the publication of that report, public opinion (and to a lesser extent, political opinion) in favor of amending America’s marijuana penalties has shifted dramatically. Yet, according to several recent analyses of marijuana arrest data, the racial disparity among those criminally charged with violating the nation’s pot laws has become more pronounced.

Some examples:

In Virginia, African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession crimes at more than three times the rate of whites, according to a 2017 analysis by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.  Since 2010, this disparity has risen an estimated ten percent.

In New Jersey, blacks are arrested for pot possession crimes at three times the rates of whites, according to an ACLU New Jersey analysis published earlier this year. Since 2000, this disparity increased nearly 25 percent.

In Pennsylvania, African Americans are arrested for cannabis crimes at six times the rates of whites in 66 out of 67 counties (excluding Philadelphia, which decriminalized adult use possession offenses in 2014), according to an ACLU Pennsylvania analysis released in October. This disparity has largely held steady since 2010.

In Western New York, blacks in Erie County (which includes the city of Buffalo) are 13.5 percent of the population, but comprise over 71 percent of all low-level marijuana arrestees, according to a report released this month by the group Partnership for the Public Good. “[T]he disparities in the number of marijuana possession arrests cannot be explained by a higher use among black or Hispanic people,” authors concluded. “Legalizing marijuana would reduce low-level drug arrests by 10 percent, and help reduce racial disparities in overall arrests.

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Guns and the left

From The Outline:

Some leftists are rejecting the Democratic Party’s stance on firearm regulation.

Gaby Del Valle

When anti-racist protesters held a demonstration against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August, their protest was protected by an informal militia of 20 rifle-toting leftists who surrounded the perimeter of Justice Park. “It’s a deterrent,” Kevin Smith, a member of a leftist gun club who was part of the informal security detail, told the Colorado Springs Independent. “There were people there who wanted to come over and start [fights] with people, but they saw us and stayed across the street.”

As Democrats and Republicans debate gun control in the wake of last week’s shooting in Las Vegas, which left 59 dead and more than 500 injured, some socialists and other leftists are rejecting the Democratic Party’s call for stricter regulation of firearms. The result has been a fraught intra-leftist gun debate that raises questions about the efficacy of gun control, as well as the roles racial and economic justice should play in curbing gun violence.

“I would describe myself as a pro-gun socialist,” Courtney Caldwell, told The Outline. Caldwell, an active member of the Denton, Texas chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, doesn’t quite fit the profile of the average gun owner: white, male, high-income, and over the age of 55, according to a 2015 Columbia University study published in the journal Injury Prevention. For her, gun ownership is a fundamental part of her leftist identity. “Guns are a necessary form of self-defense so long as there is an oppressive, racist state that exists to uphold white supremacy,” Caldwell said. This doesn’t just mean self-defense in the traditional sense — defending one’s body from harm — but also the collective defense of marginalized communities.

Several leftist pro-gun organizations are committed to doing just that. There’s Redneck Revolt, a self-described anti-racist, anti-capitalist grassroots organization that seeks to build solidarity between the white working class and people of color. Founded in 2016, the organization has more than 40 chapters across the country. In addition to providing security at protests, Redneck Revolt relies on counter-recruitment — reclaiming gun culture from white conservatives as a way of reaching out to working-class gun owners who feel alienated from mainstream liberal politics. The Dallas-based Huey P. Newton Gun Club, established in 2013 and named after the founder of the Black Panther Party, was formed in response to right-wing gun advocacy groups in the region. In 2015, the group’s founder Charles Goodson told Vice magazine he wanted his organization to become the “black alternative to the NRA.” But Goodson’s gun club focuses on more than just individual gun ownership. That same year, the club staged its first openly-armed patrol in a predominately black Dallas neighborhood where police killed a young black man in 2012. “No longer will we let the pigs slaughter our brothers and sisters and not say a damn thing about it! Black power! Black power! Black power!” the rally’s leader shouted.

Joe Prince, a law student and black leftist living in Washington D.C., defined his community’s relationship connection to guns as “complex.”

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We’re Shifting from Protest to Resistance – Just Like People Did in the 60s.

From History News Network:

by Holly Scott

It’s been a year of fiftieth anniversary celebrations: photos of the summer of love and re-plays of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But 1967 marks another anniversary: the year the anti-war movement turned from protest to resistance. Resistance is back in 2017, bringing old dilemmas and a new level of acceptance.

By 1967 major anti-war protest was common. But the war grew, and protestors wanted to move beyond teach-ins and legal rallies. Resistance, a slippery term, could do this. For some it meant draft resistance, accepting prison rather than entering the armed forces. For many the slogan was still nonviolent; taking over a building may be disruptive but can be done without violence. Others saw resistance as creating chaos in the streets. It could mean evading arrest, building a barricade, or committing vandalism or sabotage. Resistance to the war took cues from the black freedom struggle; the interconnectivity of movements fueled the sense protest had gone unheard for too long. Radicals understood the war in Vietnam as US imperialism abroad and oppression of people of color as a related form of imperialism at home.

The anti-war movement accommodated diverse visions about resistance by creating a tiered approach to protest. At the March on the Pentagon in October 1967, demonstrators could choose to: attend a legal rally, engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, break into the Pentagon, or try to levitate it. Multi-option protest persists today and was on display in Charlottesville on August 12. With it come familiar questions: when does resistance, especially if it is not strictly nonviolent, do more harm than good?

Ironically, in the late 1960s, both the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement became increasingly unpopular. From protest to resistance did not sit well with the average American. Even less popular was the idea of going from resistance to revolution. Check any textbook and you’ll find this interpretation: the movements of the 1960s started out noble but grew increasingly radical, alienating most Americans and burning out in a fit of rage.

Historians have long noted the problems with this narrative. It ignores that most demonstrators remained peaceful throughout the 1960s and that organizing did not collapse in 1970 but transformed. The narrative also glosses over the resistance the “good” early 1960s protests encountered. Critics faulted Martin Luther King for breaking laws and inciting hatred and violence. Many Americans endorsed King’s cause but not his tactics. The civil rights movement, too, experienced a dynamic tension between nonviolence and self-defense. What did it mean for nonviolent demonstrators to be protected by groups like the Deacons for Defense? For SNCC workers to live in homes where host families were willing to shoot back when attacked? Social movements are always messier than they look in memory.

Traditionally, Americans have been skeptical of protests that blur the line between violence and nonviolence and are quick to write off movements (particularly on the left or by people of color) that come across “too angry.” A strong narrative about what went wrong in the late 1960s, and an overly simplistic idea of what the early part of the decade looked like, adds to this. And so it is not surprising that there would be critics of Antifa a few weeks ago in Charlottesville. The antifascist group is not nonviolent, and critics have argued they are more likely to alienate rather than draw people in to a movement.

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The fall of Harvey Weinstein should be a moment to challenge extreme masculinity

From The Guardian UK:

Too many men seem aroused by their ability to inflict pain and humiliation on women. But now their victims are being listened to

Thursday 12 October 2017

This past week was not a good week for women. In the United States, it was reported that a man who allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl was granted joint custody of the resultant eight-year-old boy being raised by his young mother.

Earlier in the week, the severed head and legs of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, who disappeared after entering inventor Peter Madsen’s submarine, were discovered near Copenhagen. A hard drive belonging to Madsen, Danish police said, was loaded with videos showing women being decapitated alive.

A Swedish model received rape threats for posing in an Adidas advertisement with unshaven legs. The University of Southern California’s dean of medicine was dumped after reports resurfaced that he had sexually harrassed a young medical researcher in 2003. A number of men at liberal publications were revealed to have contacted Milo Yiannopoulos, urging him to attack women – “Please mock this fat feminist,” wrote a senior male staff writer at Vice’s women’s channel, since fired. And, of course, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was described by the New York Times as a serial sexual harasser; his alleged offences, according to a TV journalist, including trapping her in a hallway, where he masturbated until he ejaculated into a potted plant.

This week, the New Yorker ran a follow-up story by Ronan Farrow (the biological son of Woody Allen, who has repudiated his father for his treatment of his sisters), expanding the charges women have made against Weinstein to include sexual assault. He quotes one young woman who said “he forced me to perform oral sex on him” after she showed up for a meeting. She added, “I have nightmares about him to this day.” Weinstein denies any non-consensual sex.

Saturday 7 October was the first anniversary of the release of the tape in which the United States president boasted about sexually assaulting women; 11 women then came forward to accuse Donald Trump. And last week began with the biggest mass shooting in modern US history, carried out by a man reported to have routinely verbally abused his girlfriend: domestic violence is common in the past of mass shooters.

Underlying all these attacks is a lack of empathy, a will to dominate, and an entitlement to control, harm and even take the lives of others. Though there is a good argument that mental illness is not a sufficient explanation – and most mentally ill people are nonviolent – mass shooters and rapists seem to have a lack of empathy so extreme it constitutes a psychological disorder. At this point in history, it seems to be not just a defect from birth, but a characteristic many men are instilled with by the culture around them. It seems to be the precondition for causing horrific suffering and taking pleasure in it as a sign of one’s own power and superiority, in regarding others as worthless, as yours to harm or eliminate.

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Jeff Sessions wants to crack down on legal weed — will Congress let him?

From Salon:

Limits on federal pot prosecution just got a brief extension, but medical marijuana may still be at risk

Amanda Marcotte

UPDATE: Congress gave the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment a temporary reprieve after this piece was originally published, extending protections until Dec. 22. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., responded by saying, “[T]wo weeks is not enough certainty,” and adding, “Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs — and adult use — from federal interference.”

In all the budget and tax negotiations frantically being hammered out on Capitol Hill, one small amendment that might get lost in the shuffle could have huge ramifications. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment was originally set to expire on Friday (see update above), which would open the door for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to do what he’s been hinting he wants to: Launch a federal war on states that have partly or completely legalized marijuana use.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, originally passed as the the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in 2014, bars the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute people buying or selling medical marijuana in states that have legalized it. It’s a popular bipartisan amendment that protects 46 states, but there have been concerns about whether it will be renewed after Sessions exerted pressure in May on Congress to let the amendment die.

Sessions argued that the DOJ’s hands need to be untied when it comes to prosecuting marijuana dispensaries, “particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.” There is, of course, no evidence that marijuana use is contributing to the opioid crisis and, in fact, there’s a significant link between legalized medical marijuana and a decrease in opioid overdoses.

The amendment survived, despite Sessions’ pressure, through a couple rounds of budget debate in Congress this year, but as Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice told Salon, “Every time, there’s sort of a dance around whether it will actually get cut this time or not.” It’s reasonable to be at least “a little concerned,” Grawert said, that Sessions’ pressure will eventually convince congressional Republicans to dump the amendment.

This will-they-or-won’t-they game is why Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, and a bipartisan group of 24 other lawmakers have introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, which would prevent the federal government from prosecuting any marijuana users, growers or distributors who are in compliance with state laws.

“You have booming economies in several states, some of whom allow the recreational use of marijuana but many also just for medical purposes, and no real data linking that to a public safety problem,” Grawert said, noting that the Brennan Center objects to using federal resources to prosecute people or break up thriving economies without any data to show that doing so would improve public safety.

In March, Sessions argued that marijuana use is “only slightly less awful” than heroin addiction, making it clear that his priority was to aggressively prosecute marijuana users and distributors. He’s been stymied by both the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and a memo issued by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole that discouraged the Justice Department from prosecuting people who were following state-level marijuana laws. The obvious concern here, however, is that Sessions would seize upon the first political opening available to reinvigorate the federal war on pot.

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