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Bills Presented to the President


H.R.1068
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

To enact title 54, United States Code, "National Park Service and Related Programs", as positive law.

H.R.2754
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Collectible Coin Protection Act

H.R.2901
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2014

H.R.3608
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Grand Portage Band Per Capita Adjustment Act

H.R.3979
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Carl Levin and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015

US House Floor Today


H.R.5771
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (12/16/2014 legislative day)


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

US Senate Floor Today


PN1099
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance), vice Rose Eilene Gottemoeller. (12/16/2014 legislative day)

PN1753
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Daniel J. Santos, of Virginia, to be a Member of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board for a term expiring October 18, 2017, vice Joseph F. Bader, term expired. (12/16/2014 legislative day)

PN1996
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Sarah R. Saldana, of Texas, to be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, vice John Morton, resigned. (12/16/2014 legislative day)

H.R.5771
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (12/16/2014 legislative day)

PN2123
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Antony Blinken, of New York, to be Deputy Secretary of State, vice William J. Burns, resigned. (12/16/2014 legislative day)

PN1986
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Colette Dodson Honorable, of Arkansas, to be a Member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the remainder of the term expiring June 30, 2017, vice John Robert Norris, resigned. (12/16/2014 legislative day)

H.Con.Res.124
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Providing for a correction in the enrollment of H.R. 5771. (12/16/2014 legislative day)

PN2065
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, of Ohio, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation for a term expiring July 13, 2017. (Reappointment) (12/16/2014 legislative day)

PN1279
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Laurie I. Mikva, of Illinois, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation for a term expiring July 13, 2016. (Reappointment) (12/16/2014 legislative day)

PN2092
Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969

Michael P. O'Rielly, of New York, to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission for a term of five years from July 1, 2014. (Reappointment) (12/16/2014 legislative day)

Nasa News


Video Gives Astronaut’s-Eye View Inside NASA’s Orion Spacecraft
Posted on Friday December 19, 2014

New video recorded during the return of NASA’s Orion through Earth’s atmosphere this month provides a taste of the intense conditions the spacecraft and the astronauts it carries will endure when they return from deep space destinations on the journey to Mars.

SpaceX Completes First Milestone for Commercial Crew Transportation System
Posted on Friday December 19, 2014

NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the agency.

NASA, Planetary Scientists Find Meteoritic Evidence of Mars Water Reservoir
Posted on Thursday December 18, 2014

NASA and an international team of planetary scientists have found evidence in meteorites on Earth that indicates Mars has a distinct and global reservoir of water or ice near its surface.

NASA’s Orion Arrives Back at Kennedy, Media Invited to View Spacecraft
Posted on Thursday December 18, 2014

After traveling more than 3,600 miles above Earth and 600 miles over sea, NASA’s Orion spacecraft completed the final leg of its journey by land Thursday, arriving home at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Media representatives are invited to attend an event at 10:30 a.m. EDT Friday, Dec. 19, marking the arrival.

NASA’s Kepler Reborn, Makes First Exoplanet Find of New Mission
Posted on Thursday December 18, 2014

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission -- K2.

NASA, SpaceX Update Launch of Fifth SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station
Posted on Thursday December 18, 2014

NASA and SpaceX announced today the launch of SpaceX's fifth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station now will occur no earlier than Tuesday, Jan. 6.

NASA to Discuss Today Asteroid Redirect Mission Capture Concept, Next Step in Journey to Mars
Posted on Wednesday December 17, 2014

NASA will host a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EST today during which agency officials will discuss and answer questions on the selection of an Asteroid Redirect Mission concept.

NASA Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars
Posted on Tuesday December 16, 2014

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

NASA Analysis: 11 Trillion Gallons to Replenish California Drought Losses
Posted on Tuesday December 16, 2014

It will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometers) -- around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir -- to recover from California's continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data.

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
Posted on Tuesday December 16, 2014

NASA has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. TESS will launch aboard a Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, with liftoff targeted for August 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

VOA News


Castro Lauds US Outreach But Says Cuba Will Remain Communist
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

President Barack Obama won praise from Cuba's leader Saturday for moving to restore diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, but President Raul Castro told his nation that the change did not mean the end of communist rule in Cuba. In a speech to Cuba's National Assembly that was televised throughout the island, Castro said he was open to discussing a wide range of issues with U.S. officials who are expected to visit Havana next month. He also confirmed that he would...

US Releases 4 Afghan Prisoners From Guantanamo
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

The U.S. Defense Department said Saturday that four Afghans held for more than a decade at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had been returned to their home country. Officials said the four detainees — identified as Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir — were released at the request of Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, after a review of their cases, including security factors. They said the release was a sign of confidence in Ghani, who has...

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers have been found in contempt of court for continuing their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt in the waters off Antarctica. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in the western city of San Francisco has ordered a commissioner to determine how much the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Canadian founder Paul Watson owe for defying a court order to stop their dangerous anti-whaling...

US Issues General Travel Alert
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert for Americans traveling abroad. A news release issued Friday said the recent deadly hostage incident in Australia "is a reminder that U.S. citizens should be extra cautious" concerning their personal security. The State Department said an analysis of past attacks "suggests a focus by terrorists not only on the targeting of U.S. government facilities but also on hotels, shopping areas, places of worship and...

Obama: US Making 'Strides Where It Counts'
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama said in his weekly address Saturday the U.S. is entering the new year with "new confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts." Obama said the steps the country took nearly six years ago to rescue the economy have helped to make 2014 "the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s." The president said to ensure the country's continued growth "we have to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our...

Obamas Begin Christmas Vacation in Hawaii
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, their two daughters and two dogs have arrived in Hawaii for their annual winter vacation. Obama was born there and spent much of his childhood in Hawaii where he was known "Barry." The family has returned to Hawaii for their Christmas vacation every year Obama has been in the White House. President Obama usually spends much of his vacation playing golf on Hawaii's lush courses, joined by longtime friends and...

Report: FBI Evidence Collection 'Beset' With Problems
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

A prominent U.S. newspaper says an internal Federal Bureau of Investigation probe has revealed that its agents around the country have "mishandled, mislabeled and lost evidence."   The New York Times says it obtained a copy of the FBI report about the "highly critical internal investigation" that discovered errors with almost half of the 41,000 pieces of evidence reviewed.   The newspaper said the FBI evidence collection and retention system is...

Sony Still Hopes to Release Film About Killing Kim Jong Un
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

Sony Pictures says it still hopes to release its controversial film about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The comedy, "The Interview," was the trigger for a massive computer attack on the Hollywood company, which U.S. authorities blamed on North Korea. North Korea denied it was responsible for hacking into Sony Pictures' computer network and posting embarrassing emails, other private data and unreleased film projects on the Internet. However, the...

Sanctions Won't Stop Russia's Support of 'Compatriots,' Putin Says
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that his country would not back down from "supporting compatriots" in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow this year despite widespread Western protests.   The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said Western sanctions would not force Russia to give up Crimea because the peninsula is a "historic and integral part of Russia." It promised to retaliate against the sanctions. Putin has remained...

Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015
Posted on Friday December 19, 2014

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.

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CONGRESSMAN: OBAMA HAS “GONE ROGUE” Immigration reform "done illegally with an executive order"



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LIVE: FERGUSON PROTESTS GROW AS FEDS PREPARE Grand Jury decision draws closer as preparations intensify



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ALABAMA COP CAUGHT PEPPER SPRAYING JUBILANT STUDENT AT CLOSE RANGE Cop in ski-mask assaults non-resistant student



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SPECIAL REPORT: FBI ATTACKS BLACK PANTHER FOR NOT BEING RACIST! FOIA request reveals FBI's concern with former Black Panther leader's ability to rally people of different races



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GOP SUING OBAMA FOR “REWRITING FEDERAL LAW ON HIS OWN” “Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people"



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VIDEO: PRESIDENT OBAMA’S IMPEACHMENT SPEECH Major television networks refused to air Obama's amnesty decree



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RIOTERS TO TARGET WHITES: “YOU WILL NEVER BE SAFE… NOT YOU, NOT YOUR CHILDREN” We are likely just 24 hours away from a Grand Jury decision in the officer involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO



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Alex Jones Show: Friday (10-17-14) Full Show



On this Friday, October 17 edition of the Alex Jones Show, Alex continues to break down the eroding Ebola situation as the federal government's response to every new potential case becomes increasingly absurd. Alex will examine how yet another potential victim, a Texas nurse now stuck on a cruise ship in Belizean waters, was able to leave the country without being quarantined, as well as the decision of multiple students at the University of Texas, paralyzed by political correctness, to sign a petition allowing the government to ship in countless Ebola patients. On today's transmission, Alex will likewise discuss how several African countries stopped the virus in its tracks by closing their borders, a decision unlikely to occur domestically as President Obama furthers his dangerous open-border agenda. Alex will also take your calls on today's worldwide broadcast.

Kirk Cameron Presents: MONUMEMTAL

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Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Posted on Wednesday December 31, 1969


Ron Paul News



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Alternet


4 Things that Should Happen Now That We Know the Truth about Witness #40, a White Supremacist
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

When Sandy McElroy was called before the grand jury, she had already been thoroughly discredited by the FBI.
No eyewitness testimony was more consistent with Darren Wilson's personal story of events the day he shot and killed Michael Brown than that of Witness #40—who we now know as white supremacist Sandy McElroy.

Not only did Sandy McElroy testify before the grand jury twice, she was allowed to show what she claimed was her journal from the day Brown was killed. In the journal she said she decided to travel to a black neighborhood so she could learn to no longer "call blacks niggers." In the transcript of her testimony, in her back and forth with members of the grand jury, members are recorded as actually stating that they believe she's telling the truth.

What's clear now, and what was actually clear to the FBI and the prosecutors before she ever testified, is that Sandy McElroy wasn't anywhere near Canfield Drive the day Brown was killed and made her entire story up. Not only that, but Sandy McElroy was on record with the St. Louis police as having lied and concocted fanciful stories in other murder cases in which she falsely claimed to be a witness.

Her inclusion in the grand jury pool of witnesses poisoned the well and her testimony is the most quoted testimony of conservative pundits; Sean Hannity alone has quoted her at least 21 times in various broadcasts. In addition to her calling African Americans "apes" and saying police should "kill the niggers" in the aftermath of Brown's death, she regularly posted comments on various social networks showing her affection for Darren Wilson weeks and weeks before she ever claimed to be a witness.

The FBI, in its interrogation of Sandy McElroy, completely tore apart her story and proved that she never drove onto Canfield Drive, never drove off of Canfield Drive, was never seen on Canfield Drive, and couldn't find one person or photo or message before or after the event to confirm that she was ever there. She claimed she told her ex-husband all about what she saw, but he swore she didn't and he has problems remembering things.

Please read below the fold for more on McElroy's faulty testimony:

After telling the FBI that she was there to meet a friend she hadn't seen since 1987, she admitted to the grand jury that she actually lied about that and no such person existed. She then explained that she was actually on Canfield Drive in a different town the exact moment Brown was killed, in the exact spot where he was killed, on a solo ethnographic expedition to ease her own racism. It's a lie so preposterous that it feels dirty even repeating it.

Here's the thing, though. When Sandy McElroy was called before the grand jury, she had already been thoroughly discredited by the FBI not just as being a poor witness whose recollection is fuzzy, but as someone who didn't witness anything at all and was making it all up for the worst possible reasons. That she was allowed to testify before the grand jury on two different dates and produce fake evidence on her second trip is a scandal of epic proportions. That her testimony has become so popular among conservatives says as much about them as it does about Sandy McElroy.

Knowing all that we know about her testimony, here are four things that should happen immediately.

1. Sandy McElroy should be immediately charged with perjury. She was clearly told by the FBI and the prosecutors that lying about being there was a crime and was given chance after chance to back down. Instead she doubled down and added very specific and destructive details about what she saw Mike Brown do that day.

Furthermore, Sandy McElroy is not at all like an eyewitness who was actually there and sincerely believed she saw the events unfold in a way that may be different than the facts of the case. In her back and forth with the FBI, they even went so far as to clarify that it was not a crime to recall something you actually saw and state it in a way that is slightly off from what truly happened.

2. Sandy McElroy should be charged with creating and submitting false evidence which is a felony in Missouri and in most states. She completely and totally fabricated a journal months after the murder, never mentioned it to the FBI, and was allowed to actually show it to the prosecutors and grand jury as a form of proof she was telling the truth.

3. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who undoubtedly will not resign until hell freezes over and pigs fly, should at the very least explain why Sandy McElroy was called to testify. Having taken months and months to run the grand jury system, McCulloch was well aware of who she was, but clearly believed she should remain anyway.

4. A special prosecutor should be appointed and a new grand jury convened immediately. Gov. Jay Nixon still has the power to do such a thing—as does a circuit court judge in Missouri. Typically this would only happen in cases in which it can be proven that the prosecutor went out of his or her way to support the defendant in a case and the evidence for that in this case grows daily.  

 

 

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Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? What You Need to Know About the Science of This Personality Type
Posted on Saturday December 13, 2014

Up to 20 percent of the population exhibits a trait that sets them apart. Scientists are finding out why.

Psychologist Elaine Aron has pioneered the study of a category of human personality that is generating considerable buzz both in the media and in the scientific community: the highly sensitive person (HSP). People in this group look the same as everyone else, but they don’t respond to the world the same. The way they think, work, feel, and even love is distinctive. Tendencies like acute awareness of emotions, heightened response to loud noises and other stimuli, and the deep processing of information are all things that set HSPs apart.

Want to know if you’re an HSP? Take this online test developed by Aron and her husband, a fellow psychologist. Aron reckons that up to 20 percent of humans on the planet are highly sensitive, a trait that is found in animals, too. I spoke to Aron about what science has to say about HSPs, and how understanding how their brains are encoded may help society to better accommodate these people and make use of their considerable gifts.

Lynn Parramore: Research suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to high sensitivity. What scientific methods have been used to investigate?

Elaine Aron: There are two studies. One used was the more common method of looking for an association between a genetic variation and a personality trait. That is to take one candidate gene that we think is important for the personality variable; in this case, sensitivity. The candidate gene was a variation in the serotonin transporter gene, what is called the short-short variation, which refers to two short alleles, as opposed to one short and one long, or two longs. The short-short variation had been inconsistently associated with depression and other problems. It was seen as creating vulnerability. But many people with this genetic variation are not depressed, so researchers began to question their understanding of it, and found in numerous studies that it actually bestows many advantages. It only caused trouble when carriers had had a stressful or unsupportive childhood, or else, in some cases, were immersed in stressful life events.

This led, along with some other studies, to the whole subject of what is called differential susceptibility. People with this gene, or with certain behaviors, such as cautiousness or physical or emotional reactivity —all signs of sensitivity — do better than others in good environments and worse than others in bad ones. That’s an important concept for us. It’s mostly been studied in children, and if they have grown up in a supportive environment or there’s an intervention to help their parents raise them, they actually turn out better than other children in social competence, academic performance, health  — all kinds of variables have been looked at. It’s becoming a very popular thing to study. If children don’t have that supportive environment, then there’s depression, anxiety, and shyness and all of that. So sensitivity does not lead to vulnerability. It leads to differential susceptibility.

In the meantime, in China, some researchers were looking at sensitivity that other way, by looking at many genes at once to see which ones if any are associated with the variable of interest, in this case sensitivity. They chose high sensitivity because until then studies were finding unexpectedly low associations between genes and personality traits, such as introversion or neuroticism. That was surprising, because we know that a large percentage of personality overall is contributed by genes. We know that from comparing fraternal and identical twins. But we didn’t have a name for what those traits were that were encoded in the genes.

So these people in China looked at my Highly Sensitive Person scale and said, well, this seems to be deeply rooted in the nervous system. So they did the entire genome mapping of anything to do with dopamine. There are quite a few different dopamine genes, and they boiled it down to seven. And these gave a result more like what one would expect, given that we think personality is partly encoded in the genes. So what we are describing as high sensitivity is probably close to describing something that is actually genetically coded, in this case in seven variations of genes affecting the creation and transportation of dopamine.

We don’t know yet how those dopamine genes affect behavior. They’ve never come up before as being important for personality. These genes may reduce dopamine, or use it in a particular way that’s unusual. So the point is sensitivity is probably created by a number of genes, perhaps tending to be inherited together as a group. Or it may be that sensitivity has evolved along different routes, because if it’s a survival strategy — and it’s been found in over 100 species and probably exists in more —it may have landed in our species through several routes. Or there may be slightly different kinds of sensitivity, but not so different that the HSP scale [the test developed by Aron and her husband] doesn’t tap it.

LP: What evolutionary benefits might be associated with having this trait?

EA: Max Wolf, a scientist in Europe, did a computer simulation that did a very nice job of explaining why sensitivity had an evolutionary advantage. We knew that it had to because it’s found in such a large minority of people, 20 percent. It would have been eliminated long ago, or it would have been found in only a very small percentage of people, if it had no advantage.

Wolf did a computer simulation, kind of like a game, in which you had the choice of either noticing everything in every situation you encounter and using that information in the next situation you encounter, or basically assuming that your next encounter will be nothing like this one and not bothering to notice anything at all. In many situations, the next situation has nothing to do with the previous one at all. Other times there is a relationship. The simulation also assumes, rightly, that there’s a certain cost to having the more complicated nervous system of a sensitive person or a cost to using energy for paying attention to things. 

So there has to be a payoff at the other end.  Manipulating the payoffs and the costs in various ways demonstrated that it didn’t require much to make it pay to be highly sensitive.

But Wolf also made the interesting observation that the game doesn’t work if everyone is sensitive. His analogy is if there’s a patch of good grass, and every animal noticed it or smelled it or however they find it, then it wouldn’t be any advantage to any individual to carry this genetic variation. I joke that if I’m in a traffic jam and I notice a shortcut, it’s only useful to me as long as nobody else takes it. If all the other cars notice me turning and they follow me, then there’s no advantage to my noticing another way. There is now just as much traffic on my route as the other routes. The point is that we [HSPs] are invisible for a reason. All of us aren’t skinny. All of us don’t have curly hair or we’re not all left-handed or something that would make it easier to identify us.

Many people have thought about how it’s helpful to a particular species to have this trait. I think it’s kind of obvious in humans that some people spend more time reflecting — I use the term DOES: these people exhibit depth of processing (D), they are easily overstimulated (O), emotionally reactive and empathic (E), and sensitive to subtle stimuli (S). The only disadvantage is being overstimulated, which is the cost to us of being highly sensitive. But the rest of it has benefits. Yes, being emotionally reactive can be difficult, but it actually helps to motivate a person to think more!

LP: What implications does the science have for people who are highly sensitive?

EA: In the short run, HSPs need to see the research in order to believe the trait is real. Believing it is real can be difficult, because it is invisible and because the majority don’t have it, so we often grow up thinking, well, I should be behaving like everybody else. Or I shouldn’t be overstimulated right now. No one else is. I don’t know why I’m so tired. Why do I notice these things that other people don’t? Gee, I really have this great idea but nobody else really gets it. I’m pretty sure we should do this but nobody else seems to see why. Should I insist? No, I won’t, because I don’t want to make people mad. Now it turned out to be a mistake, and I knew it would be a mistake. So all of that self-talk makes us squash our sensitivity, especially men (there are equal numbers of highly sensitive men and women), and maybe not even think we have the trait.

Then when you also look at the research on the brain functioning, where we find that sensitive people have more activity in the neurons that have to do with empathy and just general consciousness, then we say, oh well, that’s not a bad thing to have.

The research also helps in a larger way, to help the rest of the world appreciate that the trait is real and has value. Most HSPs really do blend in, but a few with more problems—depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, health issues—are often the ones others notice, so that they think this is all there is to sensitivity. In fact, the majority is doing very well. I’m hoping that the research empowers sensitive people to be more themselves so that everyone can benefit from that — employers, spouses — everyone.

I’m also hoping that the research will help parents and teachers and pediatricians and also employers and policy-makers to create conditions that bring out the best in sensitive people because we see their differential susceptibility and we see how unusually well they can function in a good environment, and not so well in a bad one.

LP: What further research is needed for scientists to understand more about highly sensitive people?

EA: Well, with the children there has been considerable physiological research, but less of that has been done with adults. It might be interesting to see how sensitive people react in certain situations. Certainly we want to study the kinds of interventions that work for best for them. If they’ve had an unsupportive childhood, how can we alter the effects of that — in adolescence or whenever we can apply an intervention?

In terms of the brain studies, anatomical studies aren’t that helpful — looking at whether HSPs’ brains look different. What brain researchers look for is how do brains look different when they are doing a particular task. So we’ve given sensitive people and non-sensitive people a few tasks while having a brain scan (this is called functional magnetic imaging), but there are quite a few more that we could do.

Another interesting study would be would be to look at rejection or shame. We know the part of the brain that reacts to rejection or shame. We know that it’s the same part of the brain that reacts to pain. When we say someone has “hurt” feelings, we are literally talking about how it hurts in the brain. I’d like to see if that area is more easily stimulated in sensitive people, by subtle indicators. That would probably be helpful for seeing that this is normal for HSPs. Because when we do studies like this, we control for negative affect like depression or anxiety. So even if a person had a bad childhood, we’re sort of saying, OK, we’re going to take that piece out of your scoring on the test and then the brain scan and we’re going to see if you’re still that way in spite of taking that piece out.

If all sensitive people are more easily shamed than others, and I think they are, it would make evolutionary sense. We wouldn’t bother to study for a test if we weren’t afraid of being shamed for failing. So shame is another motivator. I want to do it right so that I’m not embarrassed or I don’t look stupid. Again, it makes sense that for a person to think deeply or notice subtleties, they would have to have emotional motivation of some kind to process things more carefully.

There are many other studies that could be done. I think it would be interesting to explore more how sensitivity is viewed in different cultures and different subcultures. Some has been done about this for men, but in general. The possibilities are vast, because this trait seems to affect almost all aspects of behavior in some way.  I even did a survey study of HSPs and non-HSP regarding their sexuality, and of course there were differences in what they liked and didn’t like, what life experiences they had had in this realm. The trait affects every sort of attitude and behavior.

 

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Put the Evil Bastards on Trial: The Case for Trying Bush, Cheney and More for War Crimes
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

The evidence for the prosecution is clear. Human decency requires putting the Bush administration on trial.

“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

 

— Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, June 2008

We’ve seen it in Ferguson, Missouri, with Darren Wilson getting off scot-free for killing Michael Brown. And we’ve seen it again in Staten Island, with Daniel Pantaleo getting off scot-free for killing Eric Garner. So why shouldn’t scores of CIA agents, contractors, higher-ups and other government officials—including former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney—get off scot-free for torturing hundreds of detainees, including some complete innocents?  That, apparently, is the reigning logic following the release of the Senate torture report.

But just as genuine legal experts have been appalled by the perversion of normal and normative legal process in the grand jury proceedings in St. Louis County and Staten Island, there’s been a sharp line drawn by human rights lawyers and advocates in response to the Senate torture report, calling for prosecutions to match the crimes.  A 2011 report from Human Rights Watch, “Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” argued, among other things, for the criminal prosecution of former President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet.  Nothing has changed since then, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told Salon.

“We believe in 2011 and we believe just as strongly today that senior U.S. leaders have a case to answer for torture and war crimes,” Roth said. Although the Senate report’s focus is narrower than that earlier report—ignoring the issue of renditions and everything done by military as well—where it does focus, it has only reinforced what HRW has been arguing.

“I would say the evidence becomes even stronger for [prosecuting] the CIA leadership, because it’s clear that they were turning a purposely blind eye even to reports of torture,” Roth continued. “The report talks a lot about how the CIA lied and covered up, but it doesn’t change the fact that the basic practices were authorized, you know, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, things like that.” But also, “George Bush approved waterboarding by his own admission, he approved the CIA renditions program,”  while Cheney  “was the driving force behind many of the illegal detention and interrogation policies to begin with.”

As for the legal obligations involved, “The torture convention requires that acts of torture be referred to the competent authority for the purpose of prosecution,” Roth said. “The United States has an obligation to prosecute torture.” Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, agreed. “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” he said.

Woven through such calls for the pursuit of justice, there’s a similar subtext: that the welter of information presented needs to be carefully and critically sifted through in the light of our highest values, as well as the principles of international law, which America has done so much to help create based on those same values.”What would it mean to be a nation committed to the rule of law, if we don’t hold people responsible for crimes of this magnitude?” ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer asked on MSNBC.

The need for such action is only made more urgent by the fact a new Pew poll shows 56 percent of Americans believe the lie that torture provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, and relatedly that 51 percent think that “the CIA’s interrogation methods … were justified.”

As the Intercept’s Dan Froomkin tweeted, “If 56 percent of Americans think ‘CIA interrogation’ was effective, all that tells us is that they’ve been misled,” adding, “Just like 70 percent of Americans once though Saddam was behind 9/11, now 56 percent think torture worked. This is a massive indictment of the U.S. media.” But it’s not just the media. America’s entire elite infrastructure is indicted in this state of affairs, which is why America so desperately needs to have broad-based, high-profile torture trials on the model of the Nuremberg Trials following World War II—trials that will both hold those responsible accountable for what they’ve done, and force the whole nation to engage in a profound moral reorientation, on the order of what Martin Luther King Jr. once called for.  This is not an easy path, to be sure, but it’s far easier than decade after decade of endless war in which America’s moral purpose becomes increasingly lost in the shadows of our own unconfronted fears.

Al-Qaida’s whole aim with the 9/11 attacks was to draw the U.S. into a self-destructive conflict in the Middle East, and to expose and exploit our contradictions. And thanks primarily to the Bush/Cheney delusional response (and Obama’s limited willingness to alter direction), that’s exactly what has happened.  We did not narrowly focus on bringing those who attacked us to justice—we swiftly attacked Afghanistan, short-circuiting  any chance of negotiating to swiftly put bin Laden and his associates on trial, we then let bin Laden escape, while becoming enmeshed in Afghan internal conflicts, after which Bush said he was “truly … not that concerned” about bin Laden. We then invaded Iraq—which  had nothing to do  with 9/11,  and was profoundly hostile to al-Qaida—and set off a series of internal conflicts which eventuated in the creation of ISIL, which is far more dangerous and has far more international support than al-Qaida ever dreamed of.

In short, everything the U.S. has done since 9/11 has been seriously misguided at best, and Obama’s policy changes have merely trimmed around the edges of what Bush and Cheney started, because he has been obsessed with trying to quickly unify the country, papering over  profound differences, rather than facing up to the genuine deep difficulties of overcoming them. We saw this, for example, when he released a set of torture memos in response to a lawsuit in April 2009, and said:

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

Just how we were supposed to “move forward with confidence” without reexamining how we had gone wrong, Obama never bothered to explain.  It would be hard enough were mere mistakes involved, but we’re talking about grave crimes that undermine the very idea of America—just as al-Qaida intended when it attacked us on 9/11.

Those mistakes cried out for correction, but instead Obama invoked the shameful, discredited Nazi Nuremberg Defense (“I was only following orders”), when he said:

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.

Not only is this an insult to the real heroes, who spoke out against the barbarism they were tasked with, the Nuremberg Principles, which came out of the Nuremberg Trials, explicitly rejected this defense:

Principle IV

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

They also rejected the notion that those who give the orders are exempt:

Principle III

The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

These two principles aren’t that hard to grasp, for anyone familiar with TV crime dramas. Both the hit man and the man who orders the hit are guilty of murder.  Street crimes, suite crimes, international war crimes—the same logic applies equally to all of them.

As already noted, earlier reports have already made it clear that crimes were committed.  The Senate report’s greatest value lies in the light it sheds on competing “theories of the crime”—explanatory accounts of what happened and why, which are also familiar from TV crime dramas, particularly ones like “Law and Order,” which got so much mileage out of shifting and competing theories of the crime, from the initial crime scene and eyewitness accounts to the final verdict and last comments made on it.  A theory of the crime creates a context for understanding how all the different pieces fit together. It has to make sense in a how-things-work kind of way, what I’ve referred to before as the explanatory mode of “logos,” but it also serves to make sense by giving them meaning, the explanatory mode of “mythos.”

When 56 percent of Americans say they believe that torture provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, they’re making a claim that torture worked—which says something both about the real-world, logos-type effects that were produced, as well as about the mythos-type nature of what those engaged in torture were doing.  The need to believe in the mythos involved routinely trumps the logos side of the equation.  And yet, on five key points where arguments have been prominently pushed , evidence in the torture report and elsewhere clearly contradicts theories of the crime that would let torturers off the hook—along with those who gave the orders.  Evidence also suggests several neglected theories of the crime that provide a profoundly different view of what our recent history has been—and what our future could be, by way of contrast.

It Wasn’t About Getting Information

For example, the day before the Senate torture report was released, national securityblogger/journalist/author Marcy Wheeler pointed out it’s a mistake to assume that getting information was the primary aim of torture, by which it should be judged. This wasn’t just her opinion—it was actually a matter of record:

As the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on torture (released over five years ago, in far less redacted form than tomorrow’s summary will be) makes clear, the Bush regime embraced torture not for “intelligence” but for “exploitation.” In December 2001, when DOD first started searching for what would become torture, it was explicitly looking for “exploitation.”

The term “exploitation” includes intelligence-gathering, but it also includes spy recruitment and propaganda—politically useful, often false information, such as “the case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, whose torture-induced claim al Qaeda had ties to Iraq’s WMD programs helped drag us into Iraq,” and “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [who] claimed his torturers told him he had to claim Osama bin Laden had nukes, among others. When you consider all these cases, she writes:

Then it raises the really horrible possibility that Cheney pushed torture because it would produce the stories he wanted told. It would be difficult to distinguish whether Cheney believed this stuff and therefore that’s what the torture produced or whether Cheney wanted these stories told and that’s what the torture produced.

Difficult, indeed. But either way, it reminded me of what George Lakoff told me about the concept of  “reflexivity”:

It has to do with the fact that thought is part of the world. That when you’re thinking, it’s not separate from reality, it’s part of reality. And if your understanding of the world is reflected in what you do, then that thought comes into the world through your actions. And then through your actions, if many people have the same ideas, those ideas are going to spread, and they’re going to come back and reinforce themselves, because they will change the world.

This adds another layer to the theory of the crime that Wheeler draws our attention to. Given that conservatives are much more sensitive to perceived threats in the world, it’s not surprising that reflexivity on their part creates a more dangerous world, even as they pound their chests and proclaim their superiority in dealing with the very dangers they create.  We see the same process at work with the killers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner—the mere presence of a black male sends them into a panic, even though they’re the ones who are actually armed and dangerous.  This sort of irrational fear places their behavior outside the standard of reasonableness on which a justifiable homicide theory of the crime depends, and the same can be said about the entire Bush/Cheney response to 9/11, of which the torture program was just one part.

The lack of discipline, oversight, reliability and candor that permeated the torture program, as revealed in the Senate torture report, has been seen by some as proof that Bush, in particular, was not in charge, ergo not responsible. But all that flowed directly from Bush and Cheney’s unhinged response to 9/11—they were in control by being out of control, because they couldn’t be otherwise. And—like the killer cops referred to above—they actively resisted normal processes that would have curbed their dangerous, deadly excesses.

In a similar abnormal fashion, Bush even tried to get Congress to authorize going to war against Iraq without bothering to have the CIA do a national intelligence estimate, the traditional formal document used to integrate all the available intelligence data into a single comprehensive analysis. “An intelligence official says that’s because the White House doesn’t want to detail the uncertainties that persist about Iraq’s arsenal and Saddam’s intentions,” USA Today reported on Sept. 10, 2002.

In that same forgotten blockbuster of a story, USA Today reported that the decision to invade Iraq had been made within weeks of 9/11, but without any formal decision process:

The decision to target Saddam “kind of evolved, but it’s not clear and neat,” a senior administration official says, calling it “policymaking by osmosis.”

“There wasn’t a flash moment. There’s no decision meeting,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says. “But Iraq had been on the radar screen — that it was a danger and that it was something you were going to have to deal with eventually … before Sept. 11, because we knew that this was a problem.”

This same mind-set of panic-driven deliberate carelessness characterized the Bush administration approach to every major aspect of the war on terror, making it exceeding difficult to pin down responsibility for anything—which is precisely the point. And yet, their responsibility is clear: Through reflexivity, Bush and Cheney’s unhinged panic drove the entire process off the rails. Yet, even today they and their defenders continue to pretend that they were the tough guys, the realists, the ones who protected us. They need to stand trial in part simply so that this lie can be publicly put to rest. But the same goes for five points mentioned  above, the five false theories of the crime, which need to be publicly replaced with their opposites.

The purpose of the sorts of trials we need is twofold: first, on the logos side, is to sort through competing theories of the crime, to which hold up and which do not, and to judge individuals accordingly. Second, on the mythos side, is to alter our collective understanding of the past, so that we can move forward having learned our lessons deeply, in ways that reshape us for the better forever.  With that in mind, let’s consider each of the different theories of the crime in turn.

First Theory of the Crime: There was a crime.  We tortured people.

The first theory of the crime in any case concerns whether one even occurred. Was something stolen, or lost? Was a person murdered, or did they commit suicide? Or die accidentally?  In this case, were people tortured in violation of U.S. and international law?  Many torture apologists say there was no crime, but there’s already an abundance of evidence to the contrary, even before the Senate torture report.  The most significant evidence it provides on this score includes:

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.” The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.” CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee's] mother’s throat.”

On September 27, 2001, CIA Headquarters informed CIA Stations that any future CIA detention facility would have to meet “U.S. POW Standards.”

… In early November 2001, CIA Headquarters further determined that any future CIA detention facility would have to meet U.S. prison standards and that CIA detention and interrogation operations should be tailored to “meet the requirements of U.S. law and the federal rules of criminal procedure,” adding that “[s]pecific methods of interrogation w[ould] be permissible so long as they generally comport with commonly accepted practices deemed lawful by U.S. courts.

There are others examples of the second sort, including one cited by Business Insiderhere. But these two passages are sufficient, from a logos-based point of view, to establish probable cause that a crime was indeed committed—and not just a single crime, but a widespread deliberate pattern of them. Of course there will still be strong mythos-based resistance, but that’s to be expected—and it’s precisely what a Nuremberg-style trial is for.

Second Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Not Effective

Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary revealed in Pew’s poll, this is the most thoroughly proven point of the Senate report. In her press release, Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote that “The study’s 20 findings and conclusions can be grouped into four central themes, each of which is supported extensively in the Executive Summary,” the very first of which was “The CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were not effective.” What’s more, the second finding was that we have been lied to about the effectiveness: “The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.”  If the program really were effective, there would be no need to lie about it, so all the evidence of misleading the public and policymakers is further evidence of ineffectiveness as well.

Most significantly, Feinstein points out, “The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism ‘successes’ that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques. Each of those examples was found to be wrong in fundamental respects.”

This is particularly true of one of the most widely known claims, that torture was vital in developing key intelligence about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, Osama bin Laden’s courier, the key figure in eventually locating Osama bin Laden. This is debunked in a section, “Information on the Facilitator that Led to the UBL Operation,” from page 378 to 400 in the report.

Feinstein makes several other key points demolishing the effectiveness claim:

Remember, the pre-trial standard is probable cause, and with these points the report establishes probable cause for prosecuting crimes, and specifically refutes the theory of the crime that the effectiveness of the methods used justified them, regardless of how horrific they were.  Those accused may still want to argue otherwise—but they should do so at trial, not to avoid it.

Third Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Not Necessary

From a logos-based point of view, torture couldn’t be necessary if it were ineffective—unless, of course, the purpose of torture was something else entirely—as, indeed, we now know it was. But the naive, stand-alone claim that torture was necessary, regardless of whether it was effective in gaining accurate intelligence, cannot be sustained logically. So there’s really no logical need to discuss evidence related to this claim.

But because it’s a prominent part of the public debate, more is required. We need to consider the claim as a matter of pure mythos—in terms of what it may mean to people.  First, we should note that the claim can have significant psychological appeal, particularly to those who1) feel deeply threatened, 2) feel helpless and 3) are psychologically incapable of admitting their fearfulness and helplessness.  Torture may “work” psychologically for them, and the broader claim that it worked to stop terrorist attacks is simply an affirmation that, thanks to torture, they now feel back in control. Confronting and replacing this element of mythos in our national psyche is one of the key purposes that Nuremberg-style trials would serve.

Second, we should note that even if it were the case that “torture worked” in some cases (which hasn’t been shown) alternatives clearly were available, which means that it still was not necessary. As he has testified to Congress, then-FBI Agent Ali Soufan was getting valuable information using traditional interrogation techniques when Abu Zubaydah—the first high-value al-Qaida target—was first captured, before ineffective torture techniques were begun by the CIA. Thus, in this very first case, even if torture had been effective, it still would not have been proven necessary.

As already noted, there has never been a ticking-time-bomb threat that was thwarted by the use of torture—except of course, on Fox’s “24,” where it happens all the time. This is clearly an extremely satisfying fantasy for some, and it’s not hard to understand why.  But it is a fantasy—an example of mythos with no grounding in logos, and one of the main reasons for holding Nuremberg-style trials is precisely to force us to relinquish such enticing, but dangerously mistaken fantasies.

Fourth Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Carefully Calibrated

The claim of careful calibration is also, ultimately, logically dependent on the claim of effectiveness. Carefully calibrated futility is still futile, and the fact that it’s futile renders the careful calibration utterly meaningless, if not Monte Python-style absurd.  Still, one could at least argue for starting out with prudential guidelines of some sort, regardless of whether they could ultimately be grounded in any measure of effectiveness. Perhaps one could be right for the wrong reason … right?

The moral significance of this argument is that a calibrated approach to torture would be evidence of a morally serious purpose, as opposed to anything from boredom and incompetence to sadism.  Add to that a sincere—though misguided—belief in torture’s effectiveness, and you just might wriggle out of a criminal charge, claiming a lack of criminal intent.

All that is why it matters that the CIA’s torture program was not carefully calibrated—and that the CIA lied about it as well. Indeed, the third of Feinstein’s four main groupings of findings was that “The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed” and one of the points under this heading specifically dealt with severe personnel inadequacies:

The CIA did not employ adequately trained and vetted personnel. The CIA deployed individuals without relevant training or experience. CIA also deployed officers who had documented personal and professional problems of a serious nature—including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others—that should have called into question their employment, let alone their suitability to participate in the sensitive CIA program.

What’s more, under Feinstein’s fourth main finding, that “The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public,” the report directly refutes the calibration frame:

Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non-threatening approach,” or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible” and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary. Instead, in many cases the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop. Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box.

Of course, the accused should be free to dispute these findings. That’s what a trial is for. But the Senate’s findings clearly contradict the “carefully calibrated” theory of the crime, and constitute probable cause that criminal conduct was involved.

Fifth Theory of the Crime: Torture Was Carried Out in Good Faith

The good faith argument is not usually made by torture apologists, but it has been made by President Obama, as noted above.  Beyond running afoul of the Nuremberg Principles, there’s plenty of evidence in the Senate torture report that people were not acting in good faith.

As pointed out above, the CIA itself was aware from the beginning that there were standards for it to uphold—standards it would then go on to violate. There was also evidence of careless mistreatment of prisoners, gross mismanagement, lying to Congress, misleading the White House—the list goes on and on—all of which is simply incompatible with the notion of people “acting in good faith.” Again, there may be individuals who were acting in good faith—although this still doesn’t change the Nuremberg Principles.  But the proper place to sort that out is at trial.

This is yet another case in which the power of mythos is much stronger than logos. In particular, mythos often expresses a hunger for heroes, which is clearly at play here. In the message cited above, Obama said:

The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

This may be so. Or it may be the case that our intelligence community is largely responsible for making it a much more dangerous world than it otherwise would be. They certainly made Iran and its environs more dangerous by helping to depose the lawfully elected Mosaddegh government back in 1953, and replacing him with the shah, for example. Still, there are surely many individuals who deserve the praise Obama offers, whatever our quibbles with the wording. The problem is, by protecting those who’ve betrayed our values, Obama is praising precisely the wrong “heroes.” At the Nation, historian Jon Weiner wrote a piece highlighting some of the real heroes of this era, who are mentioned in the Senate report. One I’ve already mentioned—Ali Soufan. Here’s  a bit of what Weiner said about some of the others:

Another hero: Alberto Mora. As general counsel of the Navy in 2004, Jane Mayer reported, he tried to stop the torture program. He told his superiors at the Pentagon that the Bush torture policy violated the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition of torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” He described the Bush program as “unlawful” and “dangerous”….

Some of the heroes were ordinary soldiers, like Sgt. Joe Darby, who first revealed the Abu Ghraib abuses. As a result,” Luban points out, he “had to live under armed protection for six months.” Others were high officials, like Philip Zelikow, an adviser to Condoleezza Rice, who, Luban reports, wrote an “anti-torture memo” that the White House “attempted to destroy”….

Finally we have the case of Guantánamo prosecutor Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who refused to prosecute a teenager who had been abused in US detention in Afghanistan and Guantánamo. For that decision, Jameel Jaffer and Larry Siems report, Vandeveld was “barred from the prosecutors’ office, confined to his residence and threatened with dismissal from the Army.”

While there’s no doubt that Nuremberg-style trials would be difficult for us as a nation, those trials would not be all doom and gloom.  Heroes such as these would also play a part in the proceedings. Their voices would be heard, their stories would be told, their shining examples of fidelity to America’s highest values under the most difficult of conditions would provide us with exactly the sort of heroes that we need to write the next chapter of America’s ongoing quest for perfection.  They are the ones who will help us craft a mythos that’s in harmony with the logos of the underlying facts, not twisted and distorted in direct contradiction of them. They are one more powerful reason that we as a nation need to hold Nuremberg-style trials—not just to exorcise the demons we have allowed to grow in our midst, but also to affirm and empower those who fight against them—and to ensure that their numbers will grow in the days that lie ahead.

 

 

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10 Best Things About Being an Atheist on Christmas
Posted on Friday December 19, 2014

When it comes to wrapping paper, travel and movies, the holidays can be a special time even for non-believers.

By now, most people who aren’t avid Bill O’Reilly fans know that the “war on Christmas” is nothing but the paranoid fantasy of conservatives and that most (though not all!) atheists and other assorted non-believers are perfectly happy with the continuing existence of Christmas. Sure, we may say “happy holidays,” to reflect the fact that this is an entire season with multiple holidays in it. We may object to using the holiday as an excuse to push overtly religious songs and prayers on kids in public schools. But the Christmas holiday, despite its religious origins, is accepted by most atheists as a secular holiday and many of us enjoy it as much as the Christians do. In fact, I’d argue there are many advantages to being an atheist, when it comes to celebrating the holidays. So much so that you can have them here, in checking-it-twice form.

1. Travel flexibility. If the religious significance of the holiday matters to you, being with your family on Christmas Day itself is paramount. In our modern era where families move all over the country, however, that means travel, often by plane. The problem is that everyone else is traveling when you are, too—and usually during the first seriously bad weather of the winter, no less. Flight delays, tears, tearing your hair out, wondering if you’re going to make it on time are pretty much guaranteed.

Thing is, for non-believers, the exact day itself feels kind of arbitrary, so it becomes a lot easier to blow off the entire struggle to be with family on December 25 and just do Christmas at home. I visit my family the next month, when it’s easier and cheaper. Sure, you miss out on a little of the holiday magic by staying put, but the tradeoff of not having to endure the holiday stress is often worth it. And for little kids whose parents are divorced, being able to have “Christmas” on December 26 or 27 or 31 takes a lot of stress out of figuring out your holiday visitation schedule.

2. No Christmas mass. Christmas Eve is a wonderful time for drinking eggnog and playing cards and opening just one present before bed. Having to spend that precious time kneeling and standing and sitting and singing and listening to a priest drone on about Jesus’ birth is a travesty. Luckily, we atheists feel zero obligation to show up for a semi-annual reminder to give a crap about our faith, as we don't have a faith to begin with.

3. Sex.“Is it a sin to have sex on Christmas day?” asked this poor fellow on Yahoo AnswersIt’s a concern many people have, it appears. This concern doesn’t even occur to non-believers, though some of us do worry, if we did make it back home to visit the parents, about getting caught doing it in our childhood beds.

4. Creative decorating. People who reject religion tend to be skeptical of the whole concept of “tradition.” When it comes to choosing how to adorn your home for the holidays, that can free you up quite a bit from the standard Nativity scene + angel/star on the tree business. Atheists are not the sort to get bent out of shape when someone suggests replacing old white man Santa with a penguin. Why not do your house up as an ode to Star Wars or Game of Thrones? Or honor the Satanists who get holiday displays up at state capitols by doing a devil-themed Christmas tree? Or perhaps one topped by the Flying Spaghetti Monster? How about creating a Nativity scene with superhero action figures? No need to worry that it’s blasphemy. In fact, the more blasphemous, the better.

5. Wrapping paper.An atheist friend of mine had holiday presents wrapped at the store recently. “Christmas or Hanukkah paper?” the cashier asked. “How about one of each,” my friend replied. “They don’t believe in either, so both are fine by me.” A small pleasure, but a satisfying one.

6. Give me the loot! While it’s faded some as conservative Christianity becomes increasingly beholden to capitalism, there is still a lot of anxiety in Christian circles that the holiday has become commercialized and has drifted away from its religious origins. This can make the question of how much to give at Christmas fraught: Will too many presents distract kids from Jesus? How many is too many? For atheists, it’s clear that buying a bunch of crap and laying around eating all day is the reason for the season, so these kinds of emotional crises about priorities don’t really factor. Sure, atheists may decide to put a budget on the gift-buying because showing love through material objects can spiral out of control. But if you want to give yourself a day just to be materialist and gluttonous, go for it. You’re not going to hurt Jesus’ feelings, as you don’t even believe in him.

7. No praying before the meal. Even in Christian families that don’t pray before every meal, there’s a tendency to feel you have to revive this tradition on the holidays. Worse, the duty is often handed off to the biggest blowhard in the bunch. And so there you are, your neck getting sore as you keep it politely bowed while your relative thanks God for everyone’s promotions, marriages and babies and for the football team’s winning streak. But when atheists are in charge of the meal, you sit down and get to eating, no preliminaries necessary.

8. “Happy holidays!”Once it was a completely non-controversial way to express a general feeling of goodwill to all during this time of year. Now this phrase has turned into a litmus test to see if the person hearing it is a frothing-at-the-mouth right-wing nut who hates atheists (and any non-Christians). It definitely helps you trim down your list of people you feel obligated to be nice to.

9. Better music. No need to worry about working some of those dull, religious songs into the mix this Christmas. You can fully admit that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey is the best Christmas song, full stop, without feeling it’s somehow a slight to Jesus to elevate a cheesy pop song about romance to #1 status. Of course, if you don’t like Christmas music at all and the sound of sleigh bells annoys you, who cares? Open your presents to Motörhead, if you like. When the holiday is about people, putting what makes people happy first becomes much easier.

10. Better movies. Skipped out on rewatching It’s A Wonderful Life for the 8 millionth time a couple years ago (though I do like that movie) and went to see Django Unchained on Christmas Day instead. That was a memorable holiday.

The one big downside of being an atheist on Christmas: The eternal Santa debate.Most atheists have no intention of bringing their kids up to believe in God, but as many of them celebrate Christmas anyway, they don’t know what to do about Santa. Some atheists worry that teaching kids about a magical elf who flies around the world bringing presents to well-behaved children is wrong for the same reason they believe teaching about God is wrong: There’s no evidence it’s true. Others reasonably point out that since part of the Santa tradition is the great debunking, it’s a useful way to teach kids not to believe everything people tell them, even their parents. Which can perhaps inoculate them against religious claims. Everyone makes good points and there’s no research settling the question, so it just gets debated over and over again every year, with no real resolution. 

Clearly, the answer is to go ahead and enjoy hoodwinking your kids about Santa, but if they don’t figure it out by around age 5 or 6, tell them so they’re not embarrassed by being the last kid in the class to know the truth. Sadly, knowing atheists, odds are low that no one will care a verdict has been rendered and the debate will rage on anyway.

 

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Anti-LGBT Pastor Arrested for Grabbing Man’s Genitals at Indiana Park
Posted on Saturday December 20, 2014

The southern Indiana minister preaches against homosexuality.

A southern Indiana minister who preaches against homosexuality was accused of soliciting gay sex at a park.

Gaylard Williams, pastor of Praise Cathedral Church of God in Seymour, was charged with battery after a man said he grabbed his genitals last week at Cypress Lake.

A man parked at the lake Dec. 12 said the 59-year-old Williams asked him to roll down his vehicle window, then reached in and squeezed his genitals and offered to perform oral sex.

The man told the pastor he was “barking up the wrong tree” and acted like he was reaching for a gun.

He said Williams fled, but he wrote down his license plate number and called police.

Officers said Williams had gay adult material in his vehicle when they stopped him later.

His church teaches that same-sex marriage is sinful and urges congregants to “glorify God in our body and which avoid the fulfillment of the lust of the flesh.”

Watch this video report posted online by WLKY News Louisville:

 

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The Scary Truth About the Sony Hack
Posted on Friday December 19, 2014

The recent Sony hacking has far greater implications than saber-rattling over a Seth Rogen comedy.

Even as U.S. officials appeared to confirm longstanding rumors that North Korea was behind the hack on Sony Entertainment and even subsequent terrorist threats against movie theaters showing its new film The Interview, pundits have argued whether the action constitutes an act of war or not, and how America should respond if at all.

The question is more profound than it at first seems. Those who dismiss this incident as an overblown kerfuffle over a low-brow Hollywood comedy mistake the seriousness of the precedent being set. If North Korea was indeed behind both the hack itself and the terrorist threats, it will mean that a nation-state has taken an action against a multinational corporation that would certainly be deemed an act of war if it were perpetrated against another nation-state. That sovereign nation will also have engaged in terroristic threats not just against a single enemy nation, but against all private companies anywhere in the world that sell a specific creative work produced by Sony, with chilling implications on free speech for people of all nationalities around the world.

It's an unprecedented situation, but one that will become increasingly common as the world grows more connected digitally, as multinational corporations continue to grow in power over nation-states, and as actions in any one corner of the globe have increasingly strong reverberations everywhere. Cyberattacks themselves are not new: the United States launched arguably the first major cyberattack with the Stuxnet virus, which was simply a new, digital version of the sort of sabotage that sovereign nations have commited against one another for centuries--and it can easily be argued that the United States had moral and legal legitimacy in hobbling Iran's nuclear program. Still, the escape of the Stuxnet virus and the economic damage it caused worldwide demonstrates again how digital conflicts between two parties can have disastrous implications globally. The alleged North Korean hack on Sony only increases the stakes.

How concerned should we be over this latest incident? Certainly, the world did not trivialize the threats made by the government of Iran against Salman Rushdie and his book The Satanic Verses. That The Interview is perhaps not of the same caliber of art is a matter of taste: ethically, the world's reaction should be same. Moreover, the perpetrators did not only threaten violence in an attempt to quell free speech--they also exposed the private information of thousands of Sony employees, including social security numbers and other sensitive information, in an attack that will likely cause hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damage.

Even so, many people will find the idea of rattling sabers over a Seth Rogen comedy to be absurd on its face. But consider a similar scenario with slightly higher stakes: a hacker group sponsored with plausible deniability by a former Soviet republic hacks the satellite of a private Russian corporate cell phone company, and threatens to collide it with a private French corporation's communications satellite, to get revenge on a Putin crony oligarch. If the satellites collide, it would create such a mess of space junk that it would seriously threaten global communications and GPS systems dependent on other satellites in orbit. Would that be an act of war? Against whom? It would a global threat, but the theoretical hack would be on a private Russian corporation. What level of responsibility would the government of the former Soviet republic have? How would NATO deal with it? How would Russia and China deal with it? Right now the United States official policy is that we would literally threaten the hypothetical offending nation-state with a nuclear attack in response. If that sounds like overreach, it's worth considering what the official response should be, not only from the United States but also the rest of the world. The North Korean case isn't actually that different from the above scenario--only a matter of degree, not of kind. 

The global community must have an institutionalized way of dealing with this sort of situation that is both credible and effective. The limitations of our existing sovereignty-based legal structures have already been laid bare for years by the international "War on Terror." The United States has asserted that because Al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups do not fight under a sovereign banner, they don't qualify for protection under the Geneva Convention and other international codes of conduct. Petty dictatorships have used the American example to justify a variety of horrors in the name of "fighting terror." But despite over a decade of legal wrangling and disagreements, there is still no accepted international protocol for dealing with non-state combatants. There is even less international protocol for nation-states that commit acts of war against multinational corporations with global implications for digital and free speech rights.

Ultimately, no individual nation-state or alliances alone can cope with these disturbing new geopolitical realities. Terrorism is not the only issue for which 20th century Westphalian structures are failing. Climate change is a clear and present danger to human civilization itself--but sovereign nations appear unable to muster the political will to take the necessary steps to combat it, either due to corruption from corporate fossil-fuel interests or fears that other nations might not keep up their end of the sustainability bargain. Rising wealth and income inequality is also a global phenomenon that developed democracies seem increasingly unable to keep in check regardless of their social safety nets or progressive tax structures due to the power of global wealth mobility that allows rich individuals and corporations to play nations off one another in search of tax advantages. The wealth mobility problem is so great that Thomas Piketty in his groundbreaking work Capital in the Twenty-First Century advocated for the seemingly radical step of a global wealth tax to prevent international cherry-picking by the jet-setting elite. Other global challenges also abound, including mass extinction crises, nuclear proliferation, water shortages, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and even eventual potential threats to the concept of employment itself due to artificial intelligence, 3D printing and mechanization of production. The convergence of all these issues points to the need for a much more potent international organization capable of dealing with global crises that fall beyond the reach or power of any one nation-state to rectify.

Obviously, that seems somewhat far-fetched given the comparative ineffectiveness of the United Nations. But history suggests that human beings do eventually adapt their political structures to meet the challenges of their day, and invent new ones if necessary. Civilization collapse is the only alternative. Our legal and economic systems are straining under the weight of outdated assumptions about power and the entities that wield it. International corporations now fight in the same weight class as sovereign nations, small non-state actors can deliver punches that can bring both of them to their knees, fights between competitors now invariably spill out of the ring and threaten everyone in the arena, and global challenges make the idea of pitting two combatants against one another almost an archaic sport.

Most of our non-dystopian science fiction about the future of our planet assumes some sort of supranational global federation, loosely based or otherwise. It only makes sense as the next step on the path of human political complexification, particularly once mankind begins to colonize other worlds.

Recent events show that it may be that for our own survival's sake, we may need to advance toward that reality faster than some had thought. When the history is finally written, children could one day learn that the world's reaction to North Korea's seemingly silly threat against the creators of an innocuous comedy helped precipitate significant advances in how we think about international law and political organization.

 

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Top 5 Groundbreaking Movements That Rocked the Boat in 2014
Posted on Thursday December 18, 2014

This year, there was plenty of resistance against abuses of power.

2014 was an unjust year to say the least. From corporations pursuing control of the Internet to cops getting away with murder, the last 12 months were certainly filled with oppression. But that doesn’t mean people didn’t fight back. There was plenty of resistance from activists across the country pushing for change.

Here is a countdown of the top five groundbreaking movements that rocked the boat this year.

5. The fight for net neutrality rages on. In January 2014, a court decision ruled in favor of Verizon, which had challenged the Federal Communication Commission’s ability to enforce net neutrality. The decision has sparked a yearlong fight to demand an Internet that is open and equal for all. Protesters set up camp outside FCC headquarters and followed up months later with actions in multiple cities after word got out that the FCC was considering a shoddy solution.

But the most effective use of people power was illustrated by citizens’ responses to the commission. The FCC website even crashed at one point following a hilarious plea by John Oliver to flood the site with comments. In the end, the FCC received a record of 3.7 million responses. In an analysis of the first 800,000, only one percent were against net neutrality. The FCC will likely make a decision on net neutrality at the beginning of 2015.

4. The year of minimum wage victories. The federal minimum wage remains a measly $7.25—a 25 percent decrease in worth since it peaked in 1968. Workers have had enough. People across the nation came together to make 2014 an historic year for minimum wage victories. Both Seattle and San Francisco passed the country’s highest minimum wage bills that will phase in $15. The Chicago City Council voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13, and voters in Oakland passed a November ballot initiative raising the wage to $12.25. Four red states also passed minimum wage increases during the midterm elections. Early in the year, President Obama raised the minimum wage to $10.10 for all 2 million federally contracted workers.

Low-wage workers are playing a crucial role in sparking a national conversation around fair pay and labor practices. Fast-food workers continued strikes throughout the year, holding their largest action this December with workers in 190 cities participating. Walmart workers also took to the streets for various direct actions, including their third and largest Black Friday strike to date. (Walmart CEO announced plans to raise workers' wages so that no worker makes the federal minimum wage.) And federally contracted workers walked off their jobs, insisting that $10.10 is not enough.

3. The struggle for ending deportations sees success. Dubbed by some as the “deporter-in-chief,” Obama has deported 2 million undocumented immigrants during his time in office, more than any other president in history. For years, organizers have called for an end to deportations, and their actions certainly didn’t slow down this year. Instead, organizers with Not1More, one of the most influential campaigns in the immigrant rights movement, held sit-ins, stopped deportation buses and went on hunger strikes.

Locally, immigrant rights groups nationwide worked on ending the Secure Communities program, in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement works together with local law enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants. More than 140 local jurisdictions have passed ordinances or executive orders stating that they will no longer comply with the program. In November, Obama announced plans to shield about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, a huge success for the movement. The movement plans to continue its fight to end deportations for all. 

2. The world erupts in support of Palestinians. After Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in July, the global community erupted in support of Palestinians facing terror. Images of dead Palestinians, bombed hospitals and schools, and a city demolished outraged people worldwide. Israel killed more than 2,100 Palestinians in a few short weeks, including 519 children. About 50,000 people rallied in South Africa, 20,000 rallied in London, and hundreds in Paris defied a protest ban to demonstrate. In the U.S., thousands took to the streets in New York City, Washington, DC, San Francisco and other major cities. Jewish activists against the war on Gaza, like one group that organized a sit-in at the NYC office of the Friends of Israel Defense Forces, were also very vocal. In Palestine, tens of thousands in the West Bank marched to Jerusalem in protest. 

Activists on the West Coast held one of the most powerful protests in defiance of Israel’s occupation of Palestine when they successfully blocked an Israeli ship from docking on the coast. These “Block the Boat” actions were part of a larger boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to hit Israel where it economically hurts. Organizers in Oakland, CA, continued these actions, including one in October, when a ship was forced to sail all the way to Russia to unload.

1. Police killings spark Black Lives Matter movement. After Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August, the town exploded, spurring a global call for racial justice. The young black protesters in Ferguson sustained actions for weeks on end, forcing Americans to confront the racism and injustice that plague our country. They also exposed the world to the ruthless results of police militarization in the U.S., as they faced tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets.

After the grand jury investigating the case decided not to indict Wilson in November, huge protests broke out nationwide again, with actions in more than 150 cities. A week later, a grand jury similarly decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner, despite the fact that Pantaleo’s use of a banned chokehold was caught on tape. From NYC to Tokyo, people across the world held actions calling for justice and supporting the message that black lives matter.

As well as taking over the streets, young black activists are experimenting with different tactics to stop “business as usual.” Nationwide, they have interrupted speeches, shut down public transportation systems and major highways, interrupted holiday shoppers, and shut down a police department. Activists have also incited national conversations on the meaning of violence as well as how non-black allies can show solidarity with the movement. They are forming groups focused on long-term organizing to be sure the world will be hearing from them for years to come. The Black Lives Matter movement has defined 2014 as the beginning of a political moment that could truly transform America’s lethal combination of deeply rooted racism and police violence. 

Blaming Government Surveillance on the Government Ignores the Plutocrats Behind the Curtain
Posted on Wednesday December 17, 2014

Government does the bidding of economic powers in a society.

Both the Obama and Bush administrations have displayed astonishing continuity with regard to national security policies that sanction measures like mass surveillance, pervasive secrecy and covert operations. According to Tufts professor Michael J. Glennon, a leading critic on these matters, this is the result of government bureaucracies like the Department of Defense consolidating so much clout and autonomy that they essentially answer to no one, not even the President.

Yet careful scrutiny of the public record reveals the exact opposite. Far from being out of control, the apparatchiki of the military-industrial complex dutifully follow mandates transmitted on behalf of profound sources of influence outside of government. What ostensibly appears to be a conspiracy of government officials is actually the broader systemic problem of state capture by a Deep State. The United States government is beholden to a corporate ruling class and the national security apparatus is a logical expression of their power.

Michael J. Glennon is a professor of international law at Tufts University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s written a book, National Security and Double Government, which has garnered the attention of news outlets like the Boston Globe. The book is an expanded edition of a journal article which is available online

Glennon’s thesis is based on the ideas of Walter Bagehot, an English writer from the 19th century who was an editor-in-chief of the Economist. The Economist is currently owned by the Economist Group, a private company whose primary shareholders include“the Cadbury, Rothschild, Schroder and other family interests.”

Back in 1867 Bagehot wrote a book titled The English Constitution where he coined the phrase “double government” to argue that the British government had stopped being receptive to external public pressure. Instead Bagehot proposed that policy was formulated largely in response to less visible internal forces. Specifically he claimed that, “The old notion that the Government is an extrinsic agency still rules our imaginations, though it is no longer true, and though in calm and intellectual moments we well know it is not.”

Glennon likewise posits that the United States is also afflicted by a double government, and that in domains related to national security presumably extrinsic agents like the President and Congress have very little say in matters. Glennon states that “judicial review is negligible, congressional oversight dysfunctional, and presidential control nominal.[i]

In Glennon’s worldview real power lies elsewhere: down in the bureaucracy where actual decision making is conducted by “several hundred executive officials who manage the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies[ii].” According to Glennon this explains the striking continuity in national security policy despite the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration.   

An op-ed piece about the CIA’s torture program in the New York Times echoes this sympathy: “In post-9/11 America, when it comes to momentous matters of national security, democratic tradition and the rule of law, there is precious little disclosure and no justice and accountability. It’s a bipartisan affliction.”

The Myth of Rogue National Security Services

Glennon’s analysis relies heavily on the concept of rogue government agencies “slowly tightening centralized power, growing and evolving organically beyond public view[iii].” Yet history offers fairly convincing evidence to the contrary.

In the mid-1970s Seymour Hersh published a New York Times article about the CIA’s involvement in domestic surveillance. This blockbuster report prompted Congress to establish two committees —the Church Committee and the Pike Committee— to investigate various abuses by American intelligence. Both reports underscored the crucial role of the chief executive.

In its final report, page 427, the Church Committee found that, "In general the President has had, through the National Security Council, effective means for exerting broad policy control over at least two major clandestine activities — covert action and sensitive technical collection… The Central Intelligence Agency, in broad terms, is not ‘out of control.'"

Similarly page 189 of the Pike Report states, “All evidence in hand suggests that the CIA, far from being out of control, has been utterly responsive to the instructions of the President and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.”

Public commission reports have been corroborated by insiders like former CIA officer Phillip Agee: “All evidence in hand suggests that the CIA, far from being out of control, has been utterly responsive to the instructions of the President and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.”

In other words President Eisenhower approved the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and President Kennedy sanctioned the Bay of Pigs. More recently there’s a clear evidentiary trail linking President Bush to the CIA’s torture program. Former Vice President Dick Cheney even stated“The notion that the committee is trying to peddle that somehow the agency was operating on a rogue basis and that we weren't being told—that the president wasn't being told— is a flat-out lie.”

The reality is that POTUS wields a significant amount of authority within the executive branch. In fact the President has been known to summarily dismiss high-level officials that fall out of favor. CIA director George Tenet and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are well-known instances.

When the “rogue agency” metaphor is wielded it usually serves an institutional purpose. Remember how White House apparatchiki used this notion to build a wall around President Reagan during the Iran-Contra affair? Noam Chomsky spells things out explicitly[iv]:

“What the record shows is that the C.I.A. is just an agency of the White House, which sometimes carries out operations for which the Executive branch wants what’s called ‘plausible deniability'; in other words, if something goes wrong, we don’t want it to look like we did, those guys in the C.I.A. did it, and we can throw some of them to the wolves if we need to.”

How else could the Director of the CIA, after the agency was found to have illegally monitored the Senate Intelligence Committee, be granted the full confidence of the President? Brennan has been absolved for the same reason that U.S. telecom firms were given immunity for assisting the NSA. They were simply doing what they were asked to do.

Who Rules?

If the concept of rogue government agencies is an expedient fabrication then who is setting policy? A succinct answer to this question has been proffered by iconic American philosopher John Dewey[v]:  “Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country,"

The people who control the resources are those that have the power. Again, Noam Chomsky describes the logical implication of Dewey’s contention: “The United States has essentially a one-party system and the ruling party is the business party.”

This has been an enduring aspect of American history. For instance, in 1937 a journalist named Ferdinand Lundberg documented the nature of American power in a book titled America’s Sixty Families. Lundberg based his analysis on tax records published via the Revenue Act of 1924. Lundberg explains:

“These families are the living center of the modern industrial oligarchy which dominates the United States, functioning discreetly under a de jure democratic form of government behind which a de facto government, absolutist and plutocratic in its lineaments, has gradually taken form since the Civil War. This de facto government is actually the government of the United States informal, invisible, shadowy. It is the government of money in a dollar democracy.”

Almost two decades later in 1956 a sociology professor at Columbia, C. Wright Mills, wrote a book titled The Power Elite. Mills describes national policies as being defined by corporate, political, and military leadership bound together by shared class interests. His work has been validated by contemporary sociology researchers like G. William Domhoff at U.C. Santa Cruz:

“Today, Mills looks even better than he did 50 years ago in his characterization of the benefactors of American capitalism as a corporate rich led by the chief executives of large corporations and financial institutions, who by now can be clearly seen as the driving force within the power elite.”

Government bureaucrats respond to incentives provided by organized groups that have the ability to reward them or punish them. This explains the empirical utility of the Investment Theory of Party Competition, a scheme introduced by political scientist Thomas Ferguson. Ferguson’s theory describes the political process as being dominated by constantly shifting corporate alliances which leverage their resources to influence policymaking.

Researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page published a journal article that offers hard quantitative confirmation of Ferguson’s model: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

On an aside, there’s a tendency in American politics to view elections as contests between individuals. It appeals to the American mythology of the rugged individual. But real political competition takes place on an organizational level. And while political mobilization is typically associated with social movements like women’s suffrage or civil rights, professors Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson explain that corporations have successfully used collective strategies to implement large-scale policy changes.

“What has really changed is the organization of American politics, particularly the organizations that represent the deepest pocketed members of American society. What we've seen as an organizational revolution over the last 30 years that has meant that business, and Wall Street, and ideological conservative organizations that are pushing for free market policies have all become much more influential.

"And at the same time, a lot of the organizations that once represented the middle class, labor unions, broad-based civic organizations and, sort of, organizations at the local and grassroots level, including social movements, have all lost enormous ground.”

The spectacle of corporate influence examined by Gilens and Page isn’t limited to the United States. It’s an emerging global manifestation that’s reflected by the transnational sets behind the Bilderberg Meetings and the annual World Economic Forum conference at Davos. Transnational Corporations (TNCs) are superseding national governments. A research team from the University of Zurich notes:   

“We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic ‘super-entity’… Nearly 4/10 of the control over the economic value of TNCs in the world is held, via a complicated web of ownership relations, by a group of 147 TNCs in the core, which has almost full control over itself.”

From the vantage point of the corporate elite, who jump continents on a daily basis, the concept of a state sovereignty is a historical artifact: governments exist to enable business operations. Indigenous political leaders are often viewed as hired help.

The Deep State

How do heavily entrenched elites, with little or no constitutionally vested authority, purchase influence in matters of government? Former congressional staff member Mike Lofgren explains that the corporate elite go through what’s known as a Deep State.

The American Deep State is an extension of the visible state, an institutional layer of intermediaries composed of lobbyists (e.g. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business), media outlets (e.g. Comcast, Time Warner, News Corp), dark money groups (e.g. Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity), private sector contractors (e.g. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SAIC), and non-governmental organizations (e.g. National Endowment for Democracy, Ford Foundation). These intermediaries interface with official government organs (e.g. Department of Defense, Intelligence Community) in a manner that enables the creation of informal backchannels and revolving doors through which profound sources of wealth and power outside of government can impose their agenda.

Here’s an important example: during the course of World War II the Council on Foreign Relations, on behalf of the U.S. State Department, conducted what was known as the War and Peace Studies Project. This campaign, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and involving nearly 100 people over a six-year period, was explicitly intended to influence the government’s foreign policy and integrate “an expanded Grand Arena into a United States dominated world order.[vi]” In short, the War and Peace Studies produced a blueprint for post-war American hegemony.

It’s not surprising that since the end of World War II this is essentially the path that U.S. leadership has followed, motivated by an ideology which emphasizes opening up new markets and acquiring access to resources at any cost. In doing so the “shining city on the hill” sacrificed its alleged values for a narrow set of economic interests by launching coups, organizing  death squads, and directly supporting a procession of brutal dictatorships

The American political class is fairly open about their exceptionalism with regard to military invasions, drone attacks, torture, and mass surveillance. During an interview on NBC in 1998 former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced to the world that, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.”

Behind the veneer of propaganda, which focuses on America’s unwavering commitment to freedom and democracy, is the face of empire. In a fit of candor former presidential advisor Karl Rove conceded as much to the New York Times: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors....and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Project Censored at Sonoma State University performed a study that identified 161 executive directors who comprise the financial inner core of the global elite. The study describes the nature of the aforementioned corporate empire:  

“The billionaires inside the TCC [Transnational Capitalist Class] are similar to colonial plantation owners. They know they are a small minority with vast resources and power, yet they must continually worry about the unruly exploited masses rising in rebellion. As a result of these class insecurities, the TCC works to protect its structure of concentrated wealth. Protection of capital is the prime reason that NATO countries now account for 85 percent of the world’s defense spending, with the US spending more on military than the rest of the world combined. Fears of rebellions motivated by inequality and other forms of unrest motivate NATO’s global agenda in the war on terror.”

Hence the sprawling national security apparatus is no accident. It’s a vital part of resource extraction. Plans for an economy based on heavy military spending were proposed at the end of WWII by leading executives like General Electric’s Charles Edward Wilson. Such an arrangement ultimately serves as a tool of social control, one that channels vast resources to the patronage networks of the defense industry, it’s offshoots in hi-tech, and the companies that venture into conquered territory to rebuild what’s been destroyed.  

Professor Glennon would have you believe that what ails us is the result of government bureaucracy run amok. As he remarks during an interview with the Boston Globe, “Government is very much the problem here.” Yet Glennon fails to recognize that government officials actually do answer to a higher power. It’s just that in the absence of overwhelming public sentiment it’s typically not voters.

Why a professor from a university like Tufts would neglect this is an interesting question. Based on material presented herein the answer is left as an exercise for the reader.

The quandary of corporate state capture reveals Bagehot’s double government trope as conspicuously incomplete. National security services like the CIA and Department of Defense are obedient arms of the executive. The public record demonstrates time and again that they merely do what they’re told. Traveling up the chain of command the same basic dynamic holds. The President and his subordinates dutifully adhere to a framework that’s transmitted from those who can punish and reward them: oligarchic corporate factions that coalesce in the environs of the American Deep State.

[i] Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government, Oxford University Press, 2014, Page 114.

[ii] Ibid Page 113.

[iii] Ibid Page 116.

[iv] Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, The New Press, 2002, Page 349.

[v] John Dewey, The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925-1953, SIU Press, 2008, Page 76.

[vi] Laurence Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations & United States Foreign Policy, 2004, Authors Choice Press, Pages 121, 162.

 

 

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How Can the Climate Movement Force the Billionaires and Corporations to Change Their Ways?
Posted on Thursday December 18, 2014

Our communications and mobilization capacities are limited, compared to those of our adversaries.

The People’s Climate Summit, Lima, Peru, December 11, 2014 : Marching and chanting (“Change the System, not the Climate!”), an energetic and colorful corps of indigenous people, campesinos, students, union members, and climate activists make our way through the traffic-clogged streets of Lima, from the Campo de Marte to the Plaza San Martin. Today’s “Mega-March,” 15,000 strong, is both invigorating and frustrating. Invigorating to take to the streets with a growing international Movement. Frustrating to realize that we are still losing the battle.

The bad news from Lima this week is that our Movement is not yet large enough, or powerful enough, to force the billionaires and multinational corporations who run the world to change their ways. As thousands of us chant and march in the streets, the politicians and corporate elite meeting across town at COP 20, the official UN Climate Summit, are still arguing over who’s to blame and who will pay the bill.

Meanwhile back in the U.S., the corrupt and fossilized Congress has been completely hijacked by know-nothing politicians who deny there’s a climate crisis at all.

Here in Peru and the Andes, the high mountain glaciers—essential for crops and drinking water—are melting. South America’s magnificent Amazonian rainforests, the “lungs of the planet,” are rapidly being excavated for oil or minerals, or are being chopped down. The oceans, Atlantic and Pacific, rich in marine life, are heating up, acidifying and dying. The continent’s precious agricultural soils, grasslands and watersheds, some of the planet’s most important repositories (known as carbon sinks) for CO2 and greenhouse gases are steadily being destroyed by genetically engineered monocrops, toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Degraded, decarbonized, eroding, Latin America’s farmlands are rapidly losing their capacity to sequester carbon and produce nutrient-dense food for a growing population. Across the Western Hemisphere, North and South, increasingly unpredictable and often violent weather has become the new norm.

The good news this week here in Lima, as in New York City at the massive climate march on September 21, is that public concern over global warming is increasing. We now have an embryonic global climate Movement or “network of networks” that understands that the Carbon Criminals threaten us all, that three-fourths of the fossil fuels still underground need to stay there, and that if we intend to return atmospheric CO2 back down to the “safe” level of 350 ppm, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and global warming must not be allowed to rise from our current 398 ppm of CO2 beyond 450 ppm of CO2 (roughly equivalent to an increase in global average temperatures of 2 degrees centigrade or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Meanwhile a small, but nonetheless growing, segment of the climate Movement understands that regenerative organic farming, ranching, reforestation and land use can literally suck down and sequester(through enhanced photosynthesis) a critical mass of the soil carbon (255 ppm of CO2) that has been plowed up and released into the atmosphere and the oceans over the past seven thousand years.

We all now agree, at least in principle, that in order to avoid climate catastrophe every country in the world will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible—with poorer, developing nations making the transition to a regenerative, post-carbon economy with hundreds of billions of dollars in financing from the richer, historically most polluting nations.

But to be brutally frank, our climate Movement is neither strong enough, nor scientifically and strategically sophisticated enough, to successfully carry out the world-changing tasks at hand. “Business as usual,” silo-style activism (my issue is more important than your issue, my community, country, or constituency is more important than yours) cannot possibly stop the powerful, ruthless and united Carbon Behemoth of transnational corporations, Wall Street bankers, oil sheiks and corrupt politicians from dragging us over the climate cliff. Our local-to-international coalitions are currently too small and underpowered to reach critical mass in the 20-30 years that remain before we cross the point of no return. Most of the rank-and-file of the global grassroots who should be actively engaged and working together are not doing so.

The majority of the world’s population remains preoccupied, not with the threat of global warming, but rather with the crushing imperatives of everyday survival (money, work, family, health, war). Rather than understanding that we the people, properly organized, can change the course of history, our fellow underclass are paralyzed by the common belief that you can’t fight City Hall, global capital, the forces of repression and the big corporations.

Our communications and mobilization capacities are limited, compared to those of our adversaries. Our political and marketplace clout are woefully inadequate. While trying to “play by the rules” and peacefully change “the system,” most of us are living in oligopolies, dictatorships, or narco-states that are “democracies” in name only.

Compounding these debilitating weaknesses is the fact that our Movement’s standard gloom and doom message (i.e. the planet’s seven billion people must stop driving cars, heating or cooling their homes, and consuming fossil fuels immediately and completely or else we’re all dead) overlooks the fact that there are practical, time-tested methods (enhanced photosynthesis via regenerative organic farming, ranching, reforestation and land restoration) for safely moving 100 ppm or more excess CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it where it belongs—in the living soil.

This regeneration and revolution in agriculture and land use, in combination with radical reductions in GHG emissions, if carried out globally on billions of acres of eroded, decarbonated, deforested, bare, and exhausted soils will not only reverse global warming, but also qualitatively increase water retention, crop yields and food nutrient density or quality—enabling us to basically eliminate global poverty, hunger, water shortages and deteriorating public health.

We desperately need a new message and strategy. We need a new climate Movement powerful enough to overthrow the Fossil Fuel Empire and move us away from our presently suicidal course of business, consumption, agriculture and land use.

The Message. We need to give people hope, not just try to scare them.We need to broaden the climate discussion from one presently centered almost exclusively on fossil fuel emissions and reductions, to one that is also focused on natural carbon sequestration. Up until now, the discussion surrounding global warming and the climate crisis has been cloaked in gloom and doom. The fact is, we have the power to reverse, not just mitigate, global warming. Or, we should say, the world's 2.8 billion small farmers, ranchers, and rural villagers, with the cooperation of conscious consumers, have that power. 

We know, from a critical mass of scientific data, that the qualitatively enhanced plant photosynthesis which is a byproduct of regenerative organic farming, ranching and land use practices, can remove several hundred billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere over the next 20 years and safely store this carbon where it belongs, in the living soil.

If we can implement regenerative agriculture and land use practices on a significant global scale, we can buy the time we need to reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90 percent over the next few decades. At the same time, the recarbonized, qualitatively enhanced soil fertility of regenerative and agro-ecological practices will enable us to reverse rural global poverty, water shortages and deteriorating public health, thereby eliminating the major causes of civil strife, religious and ethnic conflict, and resources wars.

We need to move beyond the dull, disempowering messages of “climate change mitigation” and “climate change adaptation” to boldly stating that we are part of a growing global Movement that has the ability to reverse global warming, rejuvenate soil fertility, restore forests, stop the melting of the polar ice caps, and eliminate rural poverty and malnutrition in the Global South, where the majority of the world’s population live.

Our ongoing task is to spread this profound message of hope and agricultural transformation, framing the regenerative organic solution appropriately for each country, each region, each continent, and ultimately each person. What this means in practice is that most regions, nations and people, including many climate change deniers, will respond more intensely or more positively to different frames or dimensions of our message. 

For instance, those most concerned about global warming will be inspired by the fact that regenerative agriculture and land use practices can avert climate disaster. Others, who are less focused on global warming, but consider themselves to be environmentalists, will respond more positively to our frame or emphasis that regenerative agriculture can preserve biodiversity, forests and the health of our oceans. The capacity of regenerative agro ecology to restore soil fertility, protect crops from drought and other climate threats, is a message that will inspire and activate a literal army of farmers, ranchers, fishing communities, forest dwellers and consumers. Others, in turn will perhaps be more motivated by the message that regenerative agriculture practices can drastically reduce rural poverty, eliminate hunger and malnutrition, and preserve water.

It’s not necessary that everyone, everywhere agree 100 percent on all of the potential benefits of regenerative organics—that level of unanimity is neither practical nor necessary to build the massive international grassroots Movement that we need. What is important is that we identify the different aspects of our message so as to motivate the diverse segments of the global body politic, and then build a mighty global regenerative force utilizing the synergistic power of our shared concerns. Through a diversity of messages and campaigns we can and must build the largest grassroots coalition in history.

Connect the dots, unite the networks. We need a qualitatively larger and more powerful Climate Movement that connects the dots and unites the broadest possible network of networks—local to international, religious and secular, men and women, young and old, rich and poor—everyone concerned with global warming, extreme energy extraction, biodiversity, rural and urban poverty, hunger, public health, agro-ecological food and farming, ocean health, economic justice, land reform, renewable energy, green job creation, and peace. The hour is late, but the necessary pre-conditions for global transformation and organic regeneration are at hand.

For a more extended explanation on how we can build this new Climate Movement, see my recent talk at the Biodiversity for a Livable Climate conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

 

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14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014
Posted on Wednesday December 17, 2014

There were plenty of women of color who made an impact, although their achievements didn't always make the news.

 

14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014

As 2014 comes to an end, I wanted to look back at the accomplishments of women of color who’ve been doing amazing work in the face of this really challenging and turbulent year. There would be no way to create a truly exhaustive list, so apologies in advance for all of the folks not included below. If you’re interested in perusing a much longer list, a post looking for suggestions on my Facebook page generated more than 50 possible women to recognize. Without further ado, 14 women of color who rocked 2014, in no particular order:

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Vanita Gupta (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

1Civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta is having a big year. As deputy political director with the ACLU, she spearheaded the group’s efforts in Ferguson. In October, she was selected to join the Obama administration as the acting assistant attorney general of the new Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. (She’ll face congressional approval before she can take the position on permanently.) Both roles are just the most recent steps in a career dedicated to eliminating excessive use of force by police departments, as well as prejudicial policing in communities of color.

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Janet Mock (Photo by Aaron Tredwell)

2. You’re probably not surprised to see Janet Mock on a list like this—she is one of the most high-profile black trans women the U.S. This year started with the publication of her New York Times bestselling book, “Redefining Realness.” She’s continued her work in journalism as a contributing editor for Marie Clare, and she’ll start hosting her own weekly pop culture television show on MSNBC’s Shift network. Mock continues to elevate the issues facing the trans community with her hashtag #girlslikeus, and is bringing these issues to wider audiences all the time.

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Alicia Garza addresses tech workers in San Francisco. (Brian Ward/San Francisco Chronicle)

3, 4 & 5: Even if you don’t recognize the names of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, you’ve no doubt experienced the hashtag-turned-movement these three women* created: #BlackLivesMatter. While they came up with the hashtag in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal, it gained worldwide momentum this year after the police killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Thousands have used #BlackLivesMatter on- and off-line, the result of Garza’s, Cullors’ and Tometi’s organizing. (Garza lays out the origins of the movementover at Feminist Wire.) Outside of #BlackLivesMatter work, Garza is special projects director for National Domestic Workers Alliance; Tometi is the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration; and Cullors is an artist, organizer and the founder of Dignity and Power Now, a group “dedicated to protecting incarcerated people and their families” in Los Angeles. 

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Paulina Helm-Hernandez (Southernersonnewground.org)

 6. As co-director of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), an LGBT organization at the forefront of queer organizing in the South, Paulina Helm-Hernandez has led incredible work this year. The group has organized to stop deportations through the Not1More campaign, worked to hold police and government accountable for discriminatory profiling in small Southern cities, and continued their annual “Gaycation” event which attracts many folks from across the region looking to build community.

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Ai-jen Poo (Photo courtesy of NDWA)

7. Ai-jen Poo recieved lots of media attention this year because she received a so-called “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. But Poo also made incredible strides in her work as executive director of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations campaign: Poo has been part of a successful push to get the Department of Labor to extend basic protections for home-care workers, including minimum wage and overtime pay. 

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Mo’Ne Davis (Getty Images Sport/ Jeff Gross)

8. There’s no question that 13-year-old Mo’Ne Davis has had a great year. She pitched the first shut-out by a female player at the Little League World Series this past summer, and she boasts a 70-mph fastball. She evenlanded on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Her memoir is set to be published by HarperCollins in March of 2015. You can also join the 34,000 people following her on Twitter.

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Bamby Salcedo (Getty Images/ Jason Merritt)

9. Bamby Salcedo is the founder and president of the Los Angeles-based TransLatin@ Coalition. As the high murder rate of trans women of color receives more media attention, Salcedo has played an important role in organizing and advocating for the community. This year the trans Latina activist was also recognized in a new film, “TransVisible: Bamby Salcedo’s Story.” 

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Cherisse A. Scott (Photo courtesy of Cherisse Scott)

10. Cherisse A. Scott has been part of the reproductive justice movement for more than a decade. As the founder and CEO of SisterReach, the only reproductive justice organization in Tennessee, Scott recieved national attention this year for her work to defeat Amendment 1, a statewide anti-choice measure. SisterReach conducted phone banking and canvassing on two Memphis zip codes with high rates of poverty, sexually transmitted infections, low birth weight and maternal mortality.  It also reached out to voters at historically black universities. The amendment passed, but Scott’s continues to argue for a political strategy that engages black communities.

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Lucy Flores (Getty Images/ Ethan Miller)

11. Lucy Flores: While Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis received much attention for telling her abortion story on the floor of the state legislature, she wasn’t the only politician to do so this year. As a Nevada state assemblywoman, Lucy Flores took a risk by telling the public she’d had an abortion becuase she wasn’t ready for a child. While she lost her bid for lieutenant governor of Nevada this fall, we’ll being seeing more of Flores, who many think has a bright future in the Democratic Party.

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Veronica Arreola (Photo courtesy of Veronica Arreola)

12. Veronica Arreola: A long-time Latina feminist writer and activist, Arreola started a year-long feminist selfie project with one hashtag: #365feministselfie. What began as a Flickr group formed in response to a Jezebel article calling selfies a “call for help,” the project has collected more than 1,700 photos and you can find the hashtag across social media. As the first year of radical self-love and representation comes to an end, the project is moving offline and organizing two feminist conferences next year.

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Gina Clayton (Photo courtesy of Gina Clayton)

13. An attorney, activist and advocate, Gina Clayton received three prestigious fellowships this year that have allowed her to start the Essie Justice Group, an organization centered on women with incarcerated loved ones. Essie brings these women together, providing them with healing, financial advice and advocacy. The first group is being piloted in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki (Photo by Morea Steinhauer)

14. Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki became a prominent voice on campus sexual assault after starting the #survivorprivilege hashtag. A sexual assault survivor from Tufts University, Wanjuki created her hashtag in June in response to a Washington Post column that minimized campus rape. Since then, she has continued to speak out—in writing and during media appearances—on the national conversation about campus sexual assault. An example: her recent piece about the Rolling Stone/UVA controversy. 

*Article updated to reflect the fact that only two of the women (Garza and Cullors) identify as queer, not all three as originally stated.

 

 

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