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Why Can't We Talk About the T-Word with Trump's CIA Pick?

March 16, 2018 in Blogs

By Jefferson Morley, AlterNet

How torture became unspeakable yet defensible in Washington.

The key to defending the practice of torture is never to use the word.

When the Bush administration wanted to torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, it adopted “enhanced interrogation techniques.” When President Obama decided not to investigate Bush's torture regime, he said it was “time to look forward, not backwards.”

Now that deputy CIA director Gina Haspel, a leading participant in the torture regime, has been nominated to run the agency, this linguistic evasion is returning with a vengeance. As AlterNet and other news sites provide abundant documentation of Haspel’s role as a torturer, the word recedes from the Washington debate over her nomination. 

The Cipher Brief, a blog run by former U.S. intelligence officials, solicited comments on Haspel’s nomination from six former U.S. officials. All of them praised her. All but one alluded to her record of torture. All avoided using the T-word. 

One cited a “confirmation issue.” Another predicted she would be challenged on her “connection with the CIA rendition and black site program.” A third referred to her “managing a detention facility.” A fourth said Haspel had “hurdles to overcome.” A fifth cited her role in the “former detention and interrogation program.”

None disputed Haspel’s role in torturing suspected terrorists, because there is no dispute. The executive summary of a still-classified Senate Intelligence Committee report describes the torture regime in (literally) agonizing detail at “Detention Site Green,” the code name for the CIA detention facility in Thailand that Haspel ran starting in July 2002.

Haspel, the agency now says, did not oversee the torture of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi member of al-Qaeda who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. But she knew about it and destroyed evidence of it. What did she know?

A declassified CIA memo, obtained by the ACLU, details the torture techniques that the base proposed for Abu Zubaydah before Haspel arrived. They included:

“attention grasp, walling technique, facial hold, facial or insult slap, cramped confinement, wallstanding, stress position, sleep deprivation, waterboard ONE LINE REDACTED and mock burials. To this was added the placement of harmless insects …read more


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Is NYC's Progressive Mayor Turning into a Charter School Cheerleader?

March 16, 2018 in Blogs

By Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch's Blog

De Blasio has closed many public schools in New York City. Unlike Bloomberg, he does not boast about it.

When Bill de Blasio ran for mayor the first time, he sought my help. We met and spoke candidly. He told me he would strongly support traditional public schools. He said he would oppose the expansion of private charters into public school space. He promised to stop closing schools because of their test scores. His own children went to public schools. He would protect them and end the destructive tactics of Joel Klein, who coldly and cruelly closed schools over the tearful objections of students, parents, and teachers.

I enthusiastically endorsed him. The campaign issued a press release. De Blasio was elected in 2013, and re-elected in 2017. I wanted him to succeed and to support public schools against the privatizers.

He tried to stand up to the charters, but Eva’s billionaire backers rolled out a multi-million dollar TV campaign and donated huge sums to Governor Cuomo and key legislators. That ended de Blasio’s effort to block charter expansion. The legislature gave them a blank check in New York City, allowed them to expand at will, and even required the city to pay their rent in private facilities if it couldn’t provide suitable public space. Now his majority appointees to the city board rubber stamp charter co-locations and expansions.

Although the Mayor and Chancellor Farina have tried to support struggling schools, they have not hesitated to close them when they don’t show test score gains.

At the last meeting of the city’s Board of Education (which Mayor Bloomberg capriciously named the Panel on Education Policy to indicate its insignificance in the new era of mayoral control but which is still called the Board of Education in statute), the Mayor submitted a list of schools to close. Sadly, like Bloomberg, he has closed many schools. Unlike Bloomberg, he does not boast about it. There’s that.

At the last meeting of the Board, one of the Mayor’s appointees, T. Elzora Cleveland, dissented and another abstained, denying the majority needed to close two of the schools on …read more


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Remembering Courtlin Arrington: The Victim of a Recent School Shooting Largely Ignored by Media

March 16, 2018 in Blogs

By Amy Goodman, Nermeen Shaikh, Democracy Now!

Parkland wasn't the only recent school shooting.

Wednesday’s nationwide student walkout occurred one month after 17 students and staff were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many students left classes for 17 minutes—one minute for each person murdered in Parkland. But in Alabama some students walked out for 18 minutes to remember another student who was recently killed by gun violence at school: Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old African-American student who was shot dead last week at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, by a fellow student. She was a high school senior who was planning to attend college next year. She had dreams of becoming a nurse. While the Parkland shooting has dominated national headlines for a month, far less coverage was paid to the death of Courtlin Arrington. We are joined by Courtlin’s aunt, Shenise Abercrombie.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Wednesday’s nationwide student walkout occurred one month after 17 students and staff were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many students left classes for 17 minutes—one minute for each person murdered in Parkland. But in Alabama, some students walked out for 18 minutes to remember another student who was recently killed by gun violence at school: Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old African-American student who was shot dead last week at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, by a fellow student. She was a high school senior who was planning to attend college next year. She had dreams of becoming a nurse.

AMY GOODMAN: While the Parkland shooting has dominated national headlines for a month, far less coverage was paid to the death of Courtlin. We go now to Birmingham, where we’re joined by Courtlin’s aunt, Shenise Abercrombie.

Shenise, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what happened to your daughter—to your niece on—was it March 7th?

SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: Yes. She was in class. School was dismissing. And the young man, that was in the class with her, he pulled out a gun, and she and some other students asked what was he doing. And he pulled the gun, and he shot …read more


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Teachers Deserve a Raise—Here’s How to Fund It

March 16, 2018 in Blogs

By Negin Owliaei, OtherWords

Huge tax cuts for energy corporations have left state school budgets broke.

Teachers are ready to revolt.

That’s the message we should take away from West Virginia, where educators in every county went on strike recently. The teachers secured a major victory, including a 5 percent raise for state employees.

The win couldn’t be more well-deserved. Teachers across the country are on the front lines of some of the most pressing national battles, from the opioid crisis to school shootings.

In West Virginia, educators tackle those issues alongside high poverty rates and joblessness — and their wages have stagnated while health care costs have skyrocketed. These educators said they’d had enough — and captured the imaginations of the workers around the country.

Of course, not everyone is thinking creatively. Some West Virginia Republicans have threatened that the costs of those raises should come from Medicaid cuts.

But teachers’ raises don’t have to come at a cost to essential programs. And teacher pay isn’t the reason the state’s budget is tight.

In fact, years of tax cuts were responsible for defunding West Virginia’s education program in the first place. Over the last decade, the state slashed its corporate rate and did away with a host of other taxes, bringing down revenue by $425 million a year.

Plenty of other states have prioritized corporate interests over schools. Oklahoma offered oil companies steep tax cuts, allowing public services — especially education — to be gutted.

The state slashed its per-pupil funding by more than 28 percent over the last decade. Dozens of districts only hold classes four days a week, and teachers there have gone a decade without pay raises.

Like in West Virginia, Oklahoma teachers know where the money is. Educators in both states have suggested raising taxes on oil and gas production to fund raises.

Ensuring energy businesses pay the taxes they already owe would even be a good start. First in line should be West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, the billionaire coal heir and richest man in the state.

His family’s companies owe millions in taxes and penalties, and not just in his home state. Reporters in Kentucky, where teachers are also considering strikes, have pointed out that …read more


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8 Students With Different Reasons For Stricter Gun Laws

March 16, 2018 in Blogs

By Lori Panico, YES! Magazine

“All of these students will be voting in the next four years. We will be in the driver’s seat.”

On Wednesday, one month after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students from more than 3,000 schools across the country walked out of class to show support for stricter gun control. In the past month, teens have been outspoken about their frustration with politicians’ inaction.

In many schools, 17 minutes of silence honored the 17 people killed in the Florida shooting. In Seattle, many high school students took the full day. Hundreds of them marched to the University of Washington campus to hear speeches from students and local officials.

Three of the Seattle event’s key organizers—Gabe Rosenbloom, 18; Scout Smissen, 17, of Roosevelt High School; and Zachary Heffron, 18, of Nathan Hale High School—along with other participants described what kind of changes in gun laws they hope to see.

Leah Scott, Roosevelt High School 

“When I heard that there was another shooting, it just broke my heart to know that there were people just sitting at a desk trying to get an education like I am every day. It broke my heart to know that they were just brutally murdered … I believe everyone should have the right to be safe in their own school.

“I hope that we can have safer gun laws and have it so no one can get a gun. Basically, it can get in the wrong hands … a lot of people have gotten guns when they shouldn’t have guns.”

Axel Cordoba and Carlos Key, Roosevelt High School

“There’s a lot of momentum across the school and a lot of students started feeling really passionate. When everyone gets really energized about a certain issue, you want to take advantage of the opportunity and get out there and try to do something,” said Key.

“On a global scale—not just as a country but as humanity—we have to start moving more toward a pacifist world. One …read more


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Early Humans Slept Around with More than Just Neanderthals

March 16, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

A Neanderthal skull and some of the Mousterian tools used by the Neanderthals are shown in this display during a tour of the 'Ancestors' exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History 412 (Photo by Getty)

It’s been known for some time that our modern human ancestors interbred with other early hominin groups like the Neanderthals. But it turns out they were even more promiscuous than we thought.

New DNA research has unexpectedly revealed that modern humans (Homo sapiens) mixed, mingled and mated with another archaic human species, the Denisovans, not once but twice—in two different regions of the ancient world.

All we know about the mysterious Denisovans comes from a single set of human fossils found in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. In 2008, scientists first discovered a bone from a pinky finger in the cave, and concluded it belonged to a previously unknown ancient hominin who lived between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago. They called the species the Denisovans (pronounced “De-NEE-soh-vens”) after the cave where the fossilized finger was found.

A Neanderthal skull and some of the Mousterian tools used by the Neanderthals are shown in this display during a tour of the ‘Ancestors’ exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History 412 (Photo by Getty)

After the genome of the finger’s owner, a young girl, was published in 2010, researchers went on to discover traces of the Denisovan ancestry in two groups of modern-day humans. Some Melanesians (who live in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands) were found to have around 5 percent of Denisovan ancestry, while some East and South Asians have around 0.2 percent. One particular gene mutation, which the Denisovans are thought to have passed to modern Tibetans, allows them to survive at high altitudes.

Researchers assumed the Denisovan ancestry found in Asia was due to migration from Oceania, the larger region containing Melanesia. But recently, scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle stumbled on something surprising: evidence for a second, distinct instance of humans getting hot and heavy with Denisovans.

In their analysis of more than 5,600 whole-genome sequences from individuals from Europe, Asia, the Americas and Oceania, the research team looked for ancient DNA, which stands out due to the larger number of mutations that have developed over hundreds of thousands of years. When they found the ancient genetic information, they compared with Denisovan DNA and Neanderthal DNA to determine its origin.

VIDEO: Neanderthals: Did Cro Magnons, the ancestors of early humans, cause the Neanderthal extinction?

What they found was a distinct set of Denisovan ancestry among some modern …read more


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1950s Parents Had No Idea What Their Kids Wanted to Do at Parties

March 16, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

History Flashback takes a look at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same.

In the 50s, utterly well-behaved U.S. teens threw perfectly planned and rule-bound game nights. Or so the adults of the era would have you believe.

In 1950, the educational film company Coronet Films, founded by the same duo who started Esquire magazine, released a film to teach American high schoolers the proper way to host a house party. The rules to follow are thorough—how to greet guests (full introductions are a must), what games to play (for goodness sake, nothing that would be a bore!), and when to serve your refreshments (at the very end—and then your guests should skedaddle). But whether teens followed these instructions was another matter altogether.

Social Propaganda in the Name of Education

As American society attempted to return to some version of normal following World War II, it became of utmost importance for all citizens to fit into their proper roles and conform to appropriate social behavior. Many of the Rosie the Riveters who had saved the day at home during the war were forced out of their jobs; the Leave It To Beaver family unit of the 1950s began to take shape; and young people married at an increasingly early age.

Americans wanted their youth to play by very specific rules. Short movies, called “mental hygiene films” like this one were produced covering everything from how to date, improve your personality, respect your parents, and be a good citizen. Throughout the three-decade heyday of these educational videos, teens were subjected to their D-list acting and propaganda-like messaging in the name of social instruction.

What 1950s Teens Were Really Doing…

Teenage norms in the 1950s were undoubtedly different from today. The early average age of first marriage (23 for men, 20 for women) had a domino effect that left many high schoolers acting more like mini adults, doing things like going steady with just one partner rather than dating around.

But that didn’t mean everything was all hot chocolate and hat-making contests, despite what the adults of the era wanted.

The idea of teenagers as an independent age group between childhood and adulthood was birthed in the 1940s. In the 1950s, this group came into its own aided by their increased spending power, the ubiquity of the car, and …read more


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How the Army’s Cover-Up Made the My Lai Massacre Even Worse

March 16, 2018 in History

By Matthew Dallek

Vietnamese children about to be shot by US Army soldiers during pursuit of Vietcong militia, as per order of Lieutenant Calley Jr. (later court-martialed), an incident which became known as the My Lai Massacre, on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam. (Credit: Ronald S. Haeberle/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

On the morning of March 16, 1968, U.S. Army soldiers entered a Vietnamese hamlet named My Lai 4 on a search-and-destroy mission in a region controlled by Viet Cong forces that the Army referred to as “Pinkville.” The soldiers didn’t encounter any enemy troops. Yet they proceeded to set huts on fire, gang-rape the women, and murder some 500 unarmed civilians including approximately 50 children under the age of four.

On the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, the barbaric act still remains difficult to fathom. The massacre stands among the most infamous of wartime atrocities committed by any U.S. military force.

When news of the massacre finally hit newsstands more than a year and a half after it had occurred, it swiftly became emblematic of the U.S. war effort in Vietnam. Especially in the eyes of the war’s critics, the massacre was proof that America’s moral compass no longer functioned, as well as evidence that the government’s claim of “defending” Southeast Asia from atheistic communist aggression had become a cruel and paradoxical hoax.

The military’s secrecy ultimately compounded the shock of the revelations once they became public. Not only had scores of Army soldiers participated in the wanton murder of defenseless women and children, but the Army’s leadership had seemed to conspire to sweep crimes against humanity under the carpet.

The Tet Offensive that preceded the massacre at My Lai by less than two months led to graphic televised scenes and photographs that gripped the American public day after day. In contrast to the instantaneity of Tet’s news coverage, My Lai triggered a cover up by the Army that served to keep the massacre secret from the American public for a staggering 20 months during an election year. The U.S. military had deceived the public about the course of the war for years, but this was a concerted effort to hide an act of barbarism and turn it into a resounding victory over the Viet Cong.

The atrocity itself was a deeply inhumane act. American soldiers stabbed, clubbed, and carved “C [for Charlie] Company” into the chests of their victims; and herded them into ditches and blew them to bits with grenades. One soldier recalled cutting victims’ throats and chopping off their hands. “A lot of people were doing it and I just followed,” he said. “I lost all sense of direction.”

In his gripping account My …read more


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Why Sugar Taxes Won’t Dent Obesity

March 16, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

Economists believe taxes can be designed to ensure prices
reflect the social costs of activities such as alcohol consumption
and smoking. But politicians all too often use the veneer of
economic reasoning to justify nannying levies that won’t work
or ignore damaging unintended consequences.

An example of this partial thinking arose this week when
chancellor George Osborne declared that the sugary drinks levy he
was “more effective than hoped”. His
evidence was Office for Budget Responsibility analysis that
producers are substituting sweeteners for sugar in their
drinks’ recipes more quickly than expected to avoid the
tax’s introduction in April. “That means less sugar and
better health,” Osborne concluded confidently on Twitter.

Not so fast, George. The tax was designed to reduce obesity, and
doing so should be the metric of its success. When he introduced
the charge, Osborne believed it would work by encouraging companies
to reformulate products to avoid it, increasing prices for
remaining sugary drinks to deter consumption, and using the revenue
— then expected to be £520m per annum — to fund school
sports and other anti-obesity efforts.

That one of these mechanisms has proven stronger than predicted
clearly tells us nothing about the overall impact of the

Combined with the company changes to avoid the levy, these
revenue shortfalls mean other taxes need to be raised to fund
anti-obesity programmes or else they will not happen. Who knows
whether the reformulated drinks or fewer funds for other programmes
will have a bigger effect?

In fact, there are good reasons to think it unlikely that the tax will do anything meaningful
to reduce obesity

Taxing sugary drinks alone was always too narrow to have any
significant impact. Campaigners justified the charge on the basis
that the biggest source of sugar in children’s diets is soft
drinks. But more of this comes from fruit juice (which is exempted)
than sugar-sweetened drinks for small children. For adults, sugary
drinks make up less than 2.5pc of our overall calorie consumption
— a drop in the dietary ocean.

As the Institute of Economic Affairs’ lifestyle economist
Christopher Snowdon never tires of saying, there is no evidence
linking sugary drink consumption and overall obesity rates. The
latter increased at a time when sugar sweetened drink consumption
was falling. There is likewise no cross-country international
correlation to suggest a link between the two. And this is not
surprising, given there are so many other factors that determine
how fat we are.

Even if we accept the role of sugary drinks on obesity, in order
for the tax to reduce it, consumption of sugary drinks would have
to fall, without people substituting exempted products …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Why the U.S. Has Spent 200 Years Flip-Flopping Between Isolationism and Engagement

March 16, 2018 in History

By Margaret MacMillan

History Reads is a weekly series featuring work from Team History, a group of experts and influencers, exploring history’s most fascinating questions.

What does the United States want to be to the world? And what would the world like? A welcoming beacon of democracy? A partner in trade and security? A wary, but distant ally? Or a fortress that has pulled up its drawbridge?

For America’s allies and foes alike, the messaging of the last week has been unequivocally the latter: President Trump announced punishing steel and aluminum tariffs. He traveled to the California-Mexico border to view a border-wall prototype. And he abruptly replaced Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the more hawkish Mike Pompeo.

Cue the drawbridge.

This isn’t the first time the United States has taken such a stern line. When Donald Trump talks about “putting America first” he echoes a deeply ingrained attitude in American foreign policy dating back to the Revolution: that the United States should look to itself and be wary of entanglements with the world beyond. Such isolationism has been a recurring force in shaping American foreign relations.

A woman holding a U.S. flag with words from “The New Colossus” poem that is on the Statue of Liberty, while protesting President Donald Trump’s travel ban at the Los Angeles International Airport, 2017. (Credit: Genaro Molina/LA Times via Getty Images)

Yet there is another, quite different, and equally long-standing view: that the United States, with its enormous privileges and wealth, has an obligation to set the rest of the world straight. Sometimes that means being an example, “the shining city on the hill” as an early governor of Massachusetts put it. It can also mean using American economic, political and military power to promote democratic ideals and make the world a better place.

We tend to talk of nations as though they are individuals with defined characteristics and views on the world. It is a convenient shorthand. Nations, of course, comprise many different groups with different ideas that evolve and change over time. From the moment of its creation out of the 13 colonies, the United States has swung between wanting to keep the rest of the world at bay and itching to set it straight, between economic self-sufficiency and engagement in trade and investment, or between welcoming the world’s immigrants—those huddled masses referenced on the Statue of Liberty’s inscription—and keeping them …read more