You are browsing the archive for 2018 January 27.

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The Astonishing Numbers Behind the Republican Crusade Against Pregnant Women

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

America's maternal mortality rate ranks among the highest in the developed world.

Forty-five years after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, the Republican Party and far-right Christian fundamentalists remain obsessed with ending safe and legal abortion in the United States. But their opposition to universal health care and attacks on everything from Medicare to school lunch programs demonstrate that their concern for human life ends once a baby is born. If the GOP and its evangelical base truly were pro-life, they might object to the fact the U.S. now has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world—a figure that is especially pronounced in Republican-dominated red states.  

In 2016, The Lancet published the results of an international study on maternal mortality that found U.S. women were almost three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as their counterparts in Germany or the U.K., and almost seven times as likely as women in Finland. According to the medical journal, maternal mortality in the U.S. increased from 16.9 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 26.4 per 100,000 live births in 2015.

Meanwhile pregnancy-related deaths have steadily decreased across the developed world. They now stand at 4.2 per 100,000 in Italy, 9.2 per 100,000 in the U.K., 5.6 per 100,000 in Spain, 5.5 per 100,000 in and Australia, 9 per 100,000 in Germany and Portugal, 7.8 per 100,000 in France, 7.3 per 100,000 in Canada and 6.7 per 100,000 in the Netherlands. Scandinavian countries also fared much better than the U.S. in The Lancet’s study, with maternal mortality rates of 4.4 per 100,000 in Sweden, 4.2 per 100,000 in Denmark and 3.8 per 100,000 in Finland. Maternal death rates in 2015 for Japan and Poland were 5 and 3 per 100,000 respectively, according to a separate study conducted by UNICEF.

Piggybacking on the Lancet's report, National Public Radio and ProPublica recently teamed up for a six-month investigation into maternal mortality in the U.S. They discovered that hospitals are grossly ill-prepared for maternal emergencies, and that only 6 percent of federal and state block grants for …read more


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This Could Be Why Many Mass Shooters Turn to Violence

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

“When they don’t get the respect they think they deserve, they lash out.”

Mass shootings are getting more frequent—the Kentucky school shooting this week is the 17th shooting in 2018, an outrageous number considering we’re only one month into the year. As activists and legislators fight battles to enact common-sense gun control laws, social scientists are still exploring the other question behind the frequency of these tragedies. One recent article in American Behavioral Scientist finds a compelling new link between mass shooters and narcissistic, aggressive behavior.

Findings by Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, contrast with the widely perceived notion that mass killers tend to be timid types, suffering from self-loathing and poor self-image. “It is a myth that aggressive and violent people suffer from self-esteem,” Bushman told PsyPost. “They are much more likely to have narcissistic tendencies,” he explained. “Narcissists think they are special people who deserve special treatment. When they don’t get the respect they think they deserve, they lash out at others in an aggressive manner.”

As Eric Dolan writes for PsyPost, “Mass shootings are often preceded by the perpetrator being subjected to a ‘humiliating loss of face,’ such being fired from work or rejected by a romantic partner.” That certainly fits the profile of many of the violent men last year who gunned down their ex-partners and families and friends after a breakup. More widely, it makes sense considering so many shooters are also perpetrators of domestic violence.

Bushman's research does not imply that all narcissists have violent tendencies. But as he writes in his study, “After doing research on aggression and violence for over 30 years I have come to the conclusion that the most harmful belief people can have is the belief that they are superior to others (e.g., their religion, race or ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, political party or ideology, school, city, state, country, etc. is best). When people believe they are superior to others, they behave very badly.”

Psychologists agree that we are stuck in a cultural …read more


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Bank of Whose America?

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Kalena Thomhave, The American Prospect

Traditional banking is for everyone—except the poor.

Bank of America has recently faced a backlash over the elimination of a basic checking account that required no monthly fee or minimum balance. The eBanking account, introduced in 2010, allowed customers to waive the monthly fee if they only used digital banking services. In 2013, Bank of America began slowly moving depositors from the eBanking account to a standard account that came with a $12 monthly fee (waived if a person has a monthly direct deposit of at least $250 or $1,500 in the account). That process was just completed, and the free eBanking account is no more.

The elimination of the basic, no-fee account has sparked anger from people who see the move as pushing low-income people away from traditional banking services. A petition currently has over 50,000 signatures for Bank of America to bring the account back.

Low-income people do tend to use traditional bank accounts at a lower rate than middle- and upper-income people. In 2016, 7 percent of Americans were unbanked, meaning they lacked any bank account at all, and nearly 20 percent were underbanked, meaning they had a bank account but rarely used it. Many of these folks—over a quarter of Americans—are from marginalized populations: low-income communities and communities of color.

Yet the alternatives to bank accounts are often costly and exploitative. Without access to free check cashing or direct deposit, people may rely on check cashing companies, paying what can add up to hundreds of dollars a year just to cash their paychecks. Without options for short-term loans, people rely on payday lenders who can trap the poor in a cycle of debt. And saving money could mean hiding cash under the mattress.

So why do low-income people use these alternatives when it can cost them so much more than a relationship with a traditional bank?

As Bank of America plainly illustrates, traditional bank accounts themselves are often costly and exploitative. And as Lisa Servon, author of The Unbanking of America, noted in an interview with NPR, “[P]eople who don't have a lot of money know where every penny goes.” Unlike banks, alternative financial …read more


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Trump Is Making Great Use of America’s War Machine

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Sonali Kolhatkar, Truthdig

The wars waged during Obama’s tenure have escalated under Trump.

The greatest impact of Donald Trump’s first year as president has been kept out of sight from most Americans. The wars the U.S. waged during Barack Obama’s tenure have sharply escalated under Trump. The result has been a predictable and massive spike in civilian deaths.

Boasting in an interview last year about an apparent retreat by Islamic State, Trump declared, “I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military.” He also touted the “big, big difference if you look at the military now” compared with what it was under the Obama administration. While Obama shares blame for escalating the use of drones, especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, Trump’s military leadership appears to be a return to a more traditional form of war and a complete unfettering of attempts to minimize civilian casualties.

This unfettering is evident in an almost 50 percent increase of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria during Trump’s first year in office, leading to a rise in civilian deaths by more than 200 percent compared with the year before. The watchdog group Airwars, which has tracked the U.S. war against Islamic State since 2014, remarked, “This unprecedented death toll coincided with the start of the Trump presidency, and suggested in part that policies aimed at protecting civilians had been scaled back under the new administration.” Another analysis by the U.K. organization Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) found that civilian deaths from explosive weapons in Iraq, Syria and Yemen increased by 42 percent in 2017. The group explained that the bigger death toll was largely due to “a massive increase in deadly airstrikes.” While AOAV did not single out the United States, in light of the U.S.’ overt escalation of the wars in those countries, a large proportion of the civilian deaths were likely a result of the new military strategy under Trump.

In addition to Syria and Iraq, U.S. military action in Afghanistan also has dramatically increased. As the Los Angeles Times reported in December: “Operating under looser restrictions on air power that commanders hope …read more


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Abortion Foes Hijack Racial Justice: This 'Black Genocide' Argument Is Particularly Dangerous

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Maya Rupert, Salon

Social justice movements often fail to confront their own racism.

Anti-abortion activists are hijacking the racial justice movement in a craven effort to restrict the reproductive freedom of black women. It’s insulting and cynical and, if the reproductive rights movement isn’t careful, it just might work.

A recently released short documentary explores this disturbing trend, which has zeroed in on the black community with a false but darkly resonant message: Abortion is leading to black genocide.

This fiction relies on a false equivalence drawn between abortion and the various ways society fails to protect and value the lives of black youth.

To be abundantly clear, this argument is as exploitative as it is wrong.

The right and ability to access abortion and contraception are critical for black women, and the power of black women to decide for themselves when and whether they will have families strengthens the black community. But as the film points out, the argument is gaining momentum, and it is worth understanding why.

Conservative movements co-opting racial justice language to use the black community as a political wedge is not new or surprising. Publicly released confidential documents showed that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) strategically exaggerated and magnified black opposition to marriage equality in order to drive a wedge between the black community and the gay community during the height of the marriage equality fight. Similarly, when comprehensive immigration reform looked achievable in 2013, a white nationalist created the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA) in an effort to manufacture black opposition to immigration reform.

These efforts rely on an unfortunate truism that social justice movements often fail to confront their own racism and try to erase racial difference or fetishize black intolerance as particularly morally objectionable.

When the narrative began to emerge that the black community was more hostile to marriage equality than the white community, the LGBT movement responded with troubling comparisons, calling “gay the new black,” coining “the new Civil Rights Movement,” and lobbing racially charged accusations at the black community, which divided the movement and erased black LGBT people.

Reproductive rights advocates can learn a crucial lesson from …read more


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Dutch Spies Caught Russian Hacker Breaching Obama’s White House and Dem Party

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

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Dutch journalists give tantalizing details of a cyber-war between Russia and America.

Dutch spies alerted their American counterparts as early as 2014 about Russian hacking into State Department and White House computers and subsequent Russian hacking of the Democratic Party in the 2016 election, according to a series of reports in Dutch media.

The joint investigation by de Volkskrant newspaper and Nieuwsuur (“News Hour”), a current-affairs television program, describe how Dutch intelligence experts accessed the Russian hackers' computers and cameras in hallways at a university in Moscow. The Dutch spies watched a team of Russian hackers infiltrate the State Department, the White House and the Democratic Party to pilfer emails and electronic documents, including 2016 campaign emails later published by Wikileaks.

The disclosures add new details to Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election, which, according to the Dutch reports, was part of a larger pattern of Russian meddling in Western elections. The reports also raise questions about why the Democratic Party did not sufficiently respond when alerted to the hacking, which shadowed the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“In the summer of 2015, Dutch intelligence services were the first to alert their American counterparts about the cyber-intrusion of the Democratic National Committee by Cozy Bear, a hacking group believed to be tied to the Russian government,” Nieuwsuur’s report began. “Intelligence hackers from Dutch AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) had penetrated the Cozy Bear computer servers as well as a security camera at the entrance of their working space, located in a university building adjacent to the Red Square in Moscow.”

“Over the course of a few months, they saw how the Russians penetrated several U.S. institutions, including the State Department, the White House, and the DNC. On all these occasions, the Dutch alerted …read more


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State of the Union Could Be Upstaged By Stormy Daniels

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Maria Perez, Newsweek

Jimmy Kimmel will interview adult film star Stormy Daniels after Trump’s speech.

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address will not be the only thing the world will be watching come January 30. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel announced on Thursday that he will be interviewing adult film star Stormy Daniels right after Trump’s speech. Related: Trump Wanted a Threesome With Stormy Daniels, Porn Star… Read the rest of this entry →

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Law Enforcement Is Not the Same Thing as Security

January 27, 2018 in Economics

By Chris Calton


By: Chris Calton

I have a general distrust of police, but while distrust may be healthy, I try to keep my antipathy aimed at the institution of the police, rather than the individuals themselves. After all, not all police officers are guilty of accidentally killing six-year-olds, playing sadistic games with unarmed civilians prior to executing them, or killing family pets. Even if they may be misguided, there are actually people who join the police with the noble goal of protecting their communities, and they do their jobs without brutalizing and executing innocent civilians.

But the institution of the police – being the government-run monopoly on the law enforcement industry – means that even these well-intentioned police officers have to face the dilemma of carrying out morally-questionable aspects of their job. What constitutes “morally questionable” varies from person to person, but as government grows, it seems that more people are identifying certain law enforcement obligations as, to them, morally questionable, if not outright immoral.

The most prominent example of such a reaction has grown out of law enforcement officers themselves. I’m referring to the group Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), which was originally Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The name change reflects the growing awareness of morally questionable laws police officers are expected to enforce. LEAP was originally founded in 2002 by five police officers who had come to realize that the War on Drugs was not only a failure, but waging it was immoral and harmful.

In January of 2017, LEAP changed the last two letters of the acronym to stand for “Action Partnership” as an indication that drug laws were no longer the only unjust laws that police were obligated to enforce. The problems of the criminal justice system, such as mass incarceration, are not solely the product of drug prohibition. These officers recognize that at least some of what they are expected to do is the opposite of what we are told police do; they were not “protecting and serving,” they were destroying innocent lives. Many police officers who have come to such realizations have quit the force.

But the institution of the police remains, and the result of conscionable officers quitting is that cops who are less likely to be violent and abusive leave, while those who are attracted to a job that allows them to commit violence with near impunity replace them. The result is that …read more


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The Unseen Cost of Shoveling Snow

January 27, 2018 in Economics

By Jim Fedako


By: Jim Fedako

“Sophistry?” my indignant neighbor replied, shovel raised.

“Yes,” I responded, raising my shovel in response, “pure sophistry.”

How did we, two friendly neighbors, end up in such a confrontation? What was the reason for raising shovels instead of slinging snow? To answer that, we must go back in time.

The weather forecasters had predicted rain, followed by ice, and then by snow. Panic was everywhere, which usually means nothing would be the result — and I had hoped as much. Sure, we might get a little rain and a little ice and snow, but only as minor inconveniences.

However, it rained — a lot. Then the temperature plummeted and ice fell from the sky. Finally, the snow came — inches. Stores closed and traffic clogged, causing major inconveniences.

Once it stopped, homeowners ventured out to begin clearing and chipping, hard work, to say the least. As I pushed and tossed snow higher and higher, I noted my neighbor humming, cheerful in his work.

I asked, “Why all the cheer? Aren’t your arms tired and your back sore?” To which he replied,” Sure, but I am doing great things today. Thank goodness for the ice and snow.”

“Great things? Your shoveling snow and chipping ice — hard, back-breaking labor.”

“Oh, no. If it hadn’t snowed, I would have been doing something less — caning an old chair, a work of lesser value. So, instead of doing the lesser, I am doing the greater. And I am better off since my labor is devoted to that which I value more, a cleared driveway. I am being more productive and, hence, improving my lot.”

“What? You lost me.”

“Look, I value — and my wife values — a cleared driveway over the other work I had planned for this weekend. Instead of wasting my time producing lesser value — caning that old chair, I am devoting my labor to clearing my driveway. So, again, if the snow had passed, as folks like you had hoped, I would be worse off.”

“Worse off?”

“Yes. Your supposed snow disaster is no disaster at all. It is an opportunity for each of us to devote our labor to the better. I mean, you obviously value a cleared driveway over anything else you would have done this weekend. Why else would you be pushing a shovel like me?”

I stopped for a moment to formulate what I hoped was a decent response.

I began, “If the storm …read more


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8 Things We Now Know That Happen (and That Don't Happen) When We Legalize Marijuana

January 27, 2018 in Blogs

By Phillip Smith, AlterNet

We can now measure what happens when pot is legalized, and the picture is pretty bright.

The great social experiment that is marijuana legalization is now five years old, with six states already allowing legal marijuana sales, two more where legal sales will begin within months, and yet another that, along with the District of Columbia, has legalized personal possession and cultivation of the herb.

As a number of state legislatures—including Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York—seriously contemplate joining the parade this year, it's more important than ever to be able to assess just what impact marijuana legalization has had on those states that have led the way.

The prophets of doom warned of all manner of social ills that would arise if marijuana were legalized. From hordes of dope-addled youths aimlessly wandering the streets to red-eyed carnage on the highway, the divinations were dire.

And they were wrong. In a report released Tuesday, From Prohibition to Progress, the Drug Policy Alliance takes a long look at just what has happened in the states have legalized weed. It's looking pretty encouraging:

1. Marijuana arrests plummeted.

Well, of course. If there's one thing you could predict about legalizing marijuana, this is it. The decline in the number of pot arrests is dramatic: 98 percent in Washington, 96 percent in Oregon, 93 percent in Alaska, 81 percent in Colorado, 76 percent in D.C. That means tens of thousands of people not being cuffed, hauled away, and branded with lifelong criminal records, with all the consequences those bring.

The savings in human liberty and potential are inestimable, but the savings to state criminal justice and correctional systems are not: The report puts them at hundreds of millions of dollars.

2. But the racial disparities in marijuana arrests have not ended.

While marijuana legalization dramatically reduces the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, it clearly does not end racially disparate policing. The vast disparities in marijuana arrests remain, even in legal states. Black and Latino people remain far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, despite similar rates of …read more