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Did Anyone Else Pick Up on the Disturbing Messages in Marvel's 'Black Panther'?

February 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Leslie Lee, AlterNet

Black America deserves a more radical superhero to call its own.

The revolution has been commodified. During its opening weekend, Black Panther sold nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of tickets, thanks in large part to Marvel's ability to sell black pride to black people. It's a proven strategy used by some of the world's most successful brands. 

Take two figures as dissimilar as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Beyoncé. In recent years, the former has been photographed in a T-shirt with the hashtag #StayWoke printed above the website's logo, while the latter performed her Super Bowl halftime show alongside dancers in berets and leather outfits inspired by the black radicals of the 1960s. But just as Twitter has branded itself as socially conscious while verifying the accounts of white supremacists, and the NFL has nodded to black radicalism while black-balling Colin Kaepernick, Marvel has promoted a film as revolutionary whose politics are fundamentally conservative.

As a popcorn spectacle, Black Panther is one of the more competent superhero movies of the past decade. It's well-acted, well-written and frequently entertaining, even if its plot feels like several television episodes fastened together by lifeless CGI set pieces. Marvel's latest is more serious, thoughtful and ambitious than the likes of Ant-Man or Dr. Strange, and no one can accuse it of wasting its audience's time. Scratch beneath the surface, and Black Panther is a troubling film that preaches moderation to black audiences in a multiverse of radical white superheroes. A $200 million anti-revolutionary superhero film would have been hard to stomach during the Obama administration. In the age of Trump, when even a Star Wars prequel can be interpreted as a call to arms, it's inexplicable.

The film's fictional African setting is itself problematic. In the comic book series, Wakanda is an afro-futuristic paradise, lovingly rendered by the likes of Jack Kirby and John Romita Jr. In Black Panther, it's a mostly drab reimagining of Dubai—a utopia only insomuch as it hasn't been ravaged by the twin evils of white supremacy and capitalism.

Like Cloud City, Asgard, Themyscira or Atlantis, the Wakanda of Black Panther floats above the world, both its inhabitants and their troubles. …read more


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Academy Award Winners Who Rejected Their Oscars

February 26, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

George C. Scott as World War II General George Patton, his 1971 Oscar nominated role. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

It’s become cliche for actors, writers, and directors to say that they don’t care about winning an Academy Award, even if they do. But in the 90-year history of the Oscars, there have been very few people who won a golden knight statuette and then told the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to keep it.

One of the most famous instances was in 1973, when Marlon Brando won Best Actor for his role in The Godfather. When the presenters announced that he’d won, the camera panned to an Apache actress named Sacheen Littlefeather, whom the announcer stated would accept the award on Brando’s behalf. But Littlefeather, who was the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, soon clarified that she was actually rejecting it for him.

“[Brando] very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” she said. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” (The federal government was then waging armed conflict against Native American activists in Wounded Knee, South Dakota.)

The backlash was swift. Midway through Littlefeather’s speech, audience members booed. Later that night, Clint Eastwood mused about whether he should present the Best Picture award “on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns.” After the ceremony, many people falsely claimed that Littlefeather was not really Apache. John Wayne, for instance, told the New York Times that “[Brando] should have appeared that night and stated his views instead of taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit.”

It was the first time an actor had sent someone to reject an Oscar in person, but it wasn’t the first time someone had refused the award. George C. Scott also famously rejected his Best Actor Oscar for the 1970 film Patton. Yet unlike Brando, whose snub caught the Academy by surprise, Scott had actually been saying he wouldn’t accept an Oscar for years.

George …read more


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These 5 States Have Seen the Most Rapid Increases in Homelessness Over the Past Decade

February 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

There's one primary reason why homelessness is on the rise in these areas.

Homelessness increased in the U.S. in 2017 for the first time since 2010, and advocates for homeless people are alarmed. Ten city and county governments have declared states of emergency since 2015 in response; meanwhile, Department of Housing and Urban Development head Ben Carson shows ongoing disinterest in supporting local governments’ efforts. While cities like Los Angeles are facing a well-publicized crisis as they struggle to find long-term solutions, California is surprisingly not even one of the states with the five fastest increases in homelessness, according to a new survey compiled by Credit Loan.

Measuring homelessness in any city is a challenge. For one, most major cities count more homeless people in residing shelters than unsheltered people living on the street or in encampments (Los Angeles is a major exception). This survey includes both sheltered and unsheltered, but notes the frightening rise in unsheltered homeless (nationwide, about a third of the homeless lack shelter).

“Unsheltered homelessness is on the rise, and major cities are feeling it most,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “As cities bear the burden of increasing unsheltered counts, it is essential that they address the affordable housing crisis, increase investments in proven housing interventions, and ensure that they have appropriate emergency shelter capacity.”

Beyond the division of sheltered versus unsheltered, experts disagree on the best methods of measuring rates of homelessness. The Credit Loan survey uses a point-in-time (PIT) count from HUD data that communities collect from physical outreach to determine how many individuals are literally homeless on a designated day. This data is pulled from PIT count numbers from 2007-2016. Other groups like the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness prefer to rely on the numbers generated through statewide data systems to measure homelessness in their states. 

According to the Credit Loan survey, these are the states that saw the most significant increases and decreases in homelessness over the past 10 years:

Credit: Credit Loan

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How the Tech Industry Supports Hate

February 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Southern Poverty Law Center

Tech companies continue to provide services to SPLC-designated hate groups.

In response to the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last August, a number of prominent tech companies rushed to enforce longstanding acceptable use policies and took action against the hate groups that participated in the rally.

As the SPLC 


We obtained public WHOIS records for every site listed above. Registrant info was extracted from those records. By querying nameservers of each site, we could find where content is hosted – or through where content is routed in order to protect from DDoS and other types of attacks (e.g. CloudFlare).

The “ad tech” section details the third-party data and services embedded in each website. Multiple ad tech providers are used to support hate sites; this summary highlights some of the more well-known data collectors used by hate sites. For the purposes of this report, we use the term “ad tech” to refer to any third-party data service: advertising, tracking, loading, or collecting.

For each site, researchers visited a total of four pages on each site and allowed the content to load for two minutes (or until the process completed), including the home page, a page linked from the home page, a page linked from the second page, and a page linked from that page. If there was a donate, support, subscribe, or store page on the site, we included that in the four pages.

Using the intercepting proxy tool, OWASP ZAP, we monitored and recorded all calls to web sources while visiting those pages. 

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8 Better Things in France for Trump to Emulate Than a Military Parade

February 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Elliott Negin, AlterNet

From the environment and health care to gun control and education, France is outdoing America.

President Trump was so impressed by the military parade he saw in Paris on Bastille Day last July that he ordered the Pentagon to plan a bigger one for Washington, D.C.

“It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,” Trump told reporters when he met with French President Emmanuel Macron in New York in September for the opening of the UN General Assembly. “It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France. We’re going to have to try to top it.”

Of course Trump wants to top it. All things Trump are always “huge,” from his inauguration day crowd to his nuclear button to his tax cut. But if the president really wants to outdo France, here are some tremendous French things that the United States would do well to emulate.

1. The French are safer.

After the mass shooting last week at a Florida high school, Trump tweeted his “prayers and condolences” to the victims’ families. His initial comments also focused on mental health, not guns, despite the fact that early last year he signed a bill revoking an Obama-era rule that made it harder for mentally ill people to buy firearms.

The French, by contrast, offer a lot more than empty platitudes: They have stringent gun laws. A French citizen who wants to buy a gun has to apply for a hunting or sporting license, which requires a psychological evaluation, and if acquired, must be renewed every five years. Gun sales, meanwhile, are tightly regulated and require official background checks.

Stricter controls definitely make a difference: France has significantly fewer guns in civilian hands and fewer gun-related deaths per capita than the United States.

In 2013, for example, there were an estimated 10 million guns, both legal and illegal, in France, which at the time had a population of 66 million. That year, 1,750 people were killed by firearms, amounting to 2.65 deaths per 100,000 people.

By contrast, the United States, with a population of …read more


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How Napoleon Plotted One of History’s Greatest Prison Breaks

February 26, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

The abdication of Napoleon and his departure from Fontainebleau for Elba, April 20, 1814. (Credit: Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

When British writer William Crackanthorpe visited the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1814, he was wildly curious about its most famous resident: the disgraced emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Months earlier, Napoleon had been exiled to Elba in one of history’s greatest humiliations—and Crackanthorpe wanted to know how the disgraced emperor was spending his time.

He was received with the emperor’s usual flair. But during his visit, the writer noticed something odd about Napoleon. “At intervals… he seemed to relapse into a kind of reverie,” he wrote, “when his countenance assumed that fiendish appearance … I doubt not that he breathed vengeance within himself against us for having come to see him in his humility.”

He was right. Napoleon may have appeared subdued, but in his mind he was planning one of history’s greatest prison escapes. Within months, he’d make a run for it—and try to avenge himself against those who had forced him into exile.

Despite Napoleon’s bitterness about his life on Elba, his time on the large island off the coast of Tuscany was largely the result of his own negotiations. After his defeat and dethroning in 1814, Napoleon came to an agreement with the coalition of nations that had taken him down. In some ways, the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which he signed in April 1814, were harsh.

Napoleon had to give up his royal property, along with his right to rule and that of all of his current and future family members. However, he was able to keep the title of Emperor and even choose his own island nation—Elba—to rule.

The abdication of Napoleon and his departure from Fontainebleau for Elba, April 20, 1814. (Credit: Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Technically, Elba was part of France, but the treaty turned it into a principality, which, the treaty stipulated, was to be “possessed by him in all sovereignty and property.” True, Elba only had 12,000 residents, but Napoleon was entirely in charge of the 86-square-mile island. And though he claimed that he wanted to live on the island as a mere justice of the peace, thinking only of “my family, my little house, my cows and mules,” he had bigger plans.

Elba meant exile for …read more


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Janus v. Afscme Oral Arguments at the Supreme Court: the Dog That Didn't Bark

February 26, 2018 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

We didn’t learn anything from this morning’s
argument in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees
, which asks whether state laws that compel
the payment of “agency fees” by nonmembers of
public-sector unions violate the First Amendment by forcing those
workers to support policy positions they don’t like. None of
the eight justices who heard the Friedrichs v. California
Teachers Association
case on the same issue two years
ago—which ended up 4-4 after Justice Antonin Scalia’s
death—appeared to have changed their minds. The ninth,
Justice Neil Gorsuch, didn’t ask a single question or
otherwise show his hand.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened the questioning by asking
about the validity of student activity fees and bar dues if
Illinois state employee Mark Janus were to prevail, as well as how
such a ruling would affect private-sector unions. Janus’s
lawyer, Bill Messenger of the National Right to Work Legal Defense
Foundation, responded that different state interests were at play
there, and that there’s no state action in the private sector
and so no First Amendment harm. (Justice Scalia, in a 25-year-old
case called Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, made
the same point, which is why he was considered the swing vote in
Friedrichs—though he showed himself to unambiguously
be on Rebecca Friedrichs’s side during oral argument in that

Justice Elena Kagan expressed concern about the practical impact
of a ruling that struck down the laws of 22 states that allow
agency fees, which would also affect thousands of collectively
bargained contracts. As expected, much of the questioning focused
on stare decisis—the weight of the 40-year-old precedent set
in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that needs to be
overturned for Janus to win—an issue that
Cato’s amicus brief
focused on.

In the end, the smart
money remains that Gorsuch will vote with Justices Roberts,
Kennedy, Thomas (who also remained silent), and Alito in supporting
Janus’s lawsuit.

Messenger explained that the law works fine in the other states,
the contracts would all expire in the next few years at most, and
that in any event, maintaining an unconstitutional contract
can’t be a valid reliance interest. Solicitor General Noel
Francisco, siding with Janus, added that the contracts were
negotiated “in the shadow of” two recent opinions,
Knox v. SEIU and Harris v. Quinn, that threw
serious doubt on Abood’s continuing validity.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor raised the distinction between the
government acting as employer versus as sovereign—and that it
has much more constitutional leeway in the former role—as
well as impugning the solicitor general’s integrity for
changing the government’s position in now-three cases since
Donald Trump became president.

On the other side, Justice Anthony …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Let's Restore Voting Rights to All People in Prison

February 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Rachel Corey, elly kalfus, AlterNet

We don't revoke prisoners' rights to religion or citizenship. Why should voting be any different?

There is growing energy across the country to re-enfranchise people with criminal records. Just last year, California reinstated voting rights for people on probation and people convicted of felonies who are incarcerated in county jails. Many credit Democrat Doug Jones’ win over Republican Roy Moore last year for Jeff Sessions’ former U.S. Senate seat to a change in Alabama law that re-enfranchised thousands of people with criminal convictions. Most recently, a ballot initiative qualified for the 2018 Florida election that will ask voters to decide whether to amend their state constitution to allow more than 1.5 million of their fellow Floridians with felony criminal records to have their right to vote returned.

People in prison have the most insight into how the criminal justice system works and what needs to change due to their lived experiences; however, their ability to engage in this conversation is extremely limited because they are denied their voice—their vote—in our democracy. We can do better.

The grassroots effort in Florida is led by formerly incarcerated people, and would re-enfranchise people who have completed their sentences for felony offenses—that is, excluding people convicted of sexual offenses and murder. It will need 60% of the vote in November to become law in Florida. This is a huge step, but the voting restoration in Florida doesn't go far enough: activists in states across the country are demanding that all Americans be allowed to have a say in their governance.

A brief primer on criminal disenfranchisement: In the United States, each state sets its own requirements for determining who is eligible to vote in local, state and federal elections. Considering the United States’ history as a white supremacist, patriarchal and classist country, it comes as no surprise that many states’ laws reflect these prejudices in defining the eligible voting populace. While in the past, many states wrote their constitutions to explicitly exclude non-white people (as well as women, poor people, and other marginalized groups) from voting and …read more


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Why Trump's Plan Won't Fix Crumbling Infrastructure

February 26, 2018 in Economics

By Randal O’Toole

Randal O’Toole

For the past decade or so, Americans have been inundated with
propaganda about our crumbling infrastructure. According to this
narrative, our roads and bridges are falling apart and the only
solution is more federal spending.

Earlier this month, the White House released President Donald
Trump’s long-awaited infrastructure program, which promises to spend

$1.5 trillion — $200 billion from the federal government

— on several new infrastructure programs on top of what
governments already spend.

So how much of this money is dedicated to maintaining and
restoring crumbling infrastructure? Zero; nada; not one red, white,
and blue cent.

The White House says that, unlike some federal programs that are
solely dedicated to new construction, the Trump plan allows state
and local politicians to decide to spend their share of the funds
on either new projects or maintenance. But the plan doesn’t
guarantee that any of the money will be spent on maintenance.

Where infrastructure is in bad shape, it is because politicians
are allowed to decide how to spend infrastructure funds. And, as
I have argued elsewhere, some decide to build
highly visible new projects rather than maintain existing ones.

That is why Virginia is funding construction of the Silver Line and
Maryland the Purple Line rather than rehabilitating the Washington Metro system.
That is why New York City is building what the New York Times calls
the “most expensive subway in the world”— a
3.5-mile line between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal
— rather than rehabilitate its declining subway system. That is why Boston is
building a $2.3 billion, 4.3 mile light rail extension to
Medford rather than spend the money rehabilitating its creaky rail system.

Although the Trump plan would allow states to spend their share
of new infrastructure funds on maintenance, it leaves the decision
in the hands of local politicians. They will almost always go for
the glitz rather than the routine.

To be fair, the nation’s infrastructure isn’t in as bad shape as
often claimed. We haven’t seen a bridge fail due to poor
maintenance since 1989, and since then the states have
reduced the number of structurally deficient
bridges by 60%
. The Minneapolis bridge that collapsed in 2007,
for example, was found to have failed due to a design flaw that no amount
of maintenance could have prevented. Most states and cities are
also filling potholes, and the average roughness of most roads has steadily
declined for the last two decades.

In general, our state highways, which are …read more

Source: OP-EDS