Feed aggregator

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Takes Aim at Barbara Boxer

TruthDig.com News -

New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out former Sen. Barbara Boxer on Twitter Thursday for helping the ride-hailing company Lyft fight against a proposed state-level bill in California that aims to expand workers’ benefits and rights.

Boxer—who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2017—revealed in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week that she had accepted Lyft’s request to “advise them on how to find a compromise” over the bill, which would reclassifying some independent contractors, like drivers who work for the company, as employees.

In the op-ed, Boxer argued the bill, known as AB 5, “could remove drivers from the road, take away their opportunity to support their goals and families, and make a service which many Californians count on less reliable.”

But Ocasio-Cortez—responding to a tweet about Boxer’s op-ed—wrote on Twitter that former government officials “should not become corporate lobbyists, in letter or spirit.”

“It’s an abuse of power + a stain on public service,” declared the freshman congresswoman. “I don’t care if it’s a Democrat doing it (both parties do). In fact, that makes it worse—we’re supposed to fight FOR working people, not against them.

Fmr officials should not become corporate lobbyists, in letter or spirit. It’s an abuse of power + a stain on public service.

I don’t care if it’s a Democrat doing it (both parties do). In fact, that makes it worse – we’re supposed to fight FOR working people, not against them. https://t.co/r6DN9mwf3A

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 29, 2019

Proponents of AB 5 tout it as a crucial effort to extend basic labor protections to workers in the so-called “gig economy.” Three 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates—Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Boxer’s successor—have come out in support of it. In an op-ed earlier this month, Warren wrote that “all Democrats need to stand up and say, without hedging, that we support AB 5 and back full employee status for gig workers.”

Vox reported this week that “AB 5, which passed the state Assembly in May, presents the biggest challenge yet to the ride-hailing companies’ business models and would rewrite the rules of the entire gig economy. Hundreds of thousands of independent contractors in California, ranging from Uber and Amazon drivers to manicurists and exotic dancers, would likely become employees under the bill.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of Boxer’s work for Lyft on the bill came in response to a tweet from journalist Avi Asher-Schapiro, a North America researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists. In a series of tweets, Asher-Schapiro outlined how gig workers often struggle to afford basic necessities like housing, highlighted the wide support for AB 5 among labor experts, and noted that the California GOP is “trumpeting” the former Democratic senator’s op-ed.

Boxer, who was hired by Lyft, claims she had “a comprehensive sit-down meeting in Los Angeles” with Lyft drivers, before she decided to agree w/the company’s position on labor regulations. Hey @_drivers_united, anyone know anything about this so-called “comprehensive sit-down?”

— Avi Asher-Schapiro (@AASchapiro) August 29, 2019

For those interested…I wrote a long piece last Spring about how labor organizing among Uber drivers fits into the broader movement among tech workers https://t.co/2YWLSiLPlH

— Avi Asher-Schapiro (@AASchapiro) August 29, 2019

For those interested…I wrote a long piece last Spring about how labor organizing among Uber drivers fits into the broader movement among tech workers https://t.co/2YWLSiLPlH

— Avi Asher-Schapiro (@AASchapiro) August 29, 2019

The post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Takes Aim at Barbara Boxer appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Mark Trahant on Indigenous and the Election; Tea Party Revisionism

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

PlayStop pop out
X MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_0 = [ { name: "CounterSpin Mark Trahant Tea Party Full Show ", formats: ["mp3"], mp3: "aHR0cDovL3d3dy5mYWlyLm9yZy9hdWRpby9jb3VudGVyc3Bpbi9Db3VudGVyU3BpbjE5MDgzMC5tcDM=", counterpart:"", artist: "", image: "true", imgurl: "" } ]; MP3jPLAYERS[0] = { list:MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_0, tr:0, type:'MI', lstate:true, loop:false, play_txt:'Play', pause_txt:'Pause', pp_title:'FAIR', autoplay:false, download:true, vol:80, height:71, cssclass:' ', popout_css:{ enabled:true, colours: ["#fff", "rgba(201,207,232,0.35)", "rgb(241,241,241)", "rgba(245,5,5,0.7)", "rgba(92,201,255,0.8)", "transparent", "transparent", "#525252", "#525252", "#768D99", "#47ACDE", "/", 600, 200 ], cssInterface: { "color": "#525252" }, cssTitle: { "left": "16px", "right":"16px", "top":"8px" }, cssImage: { "overflow": "hidden", "width":"auto", "height":"71px" }, cssFontSize: { "title": "16px", "caption": "11.2px", "list": "12px" }, classes: { interface:' verdana-mjp', title:' left-mjp norm-mjp plain-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp', image:' Himg right-mjp', poscol:'', ul:' darken1-mjp verdana-mjp med-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp left-mjp' }} };

MP3 Link

This week on CounterSpin: An article in the New Republic about this month’s historic Native American Presidential Forum ends by citing OJ Semans from the organizing group Four Directions, who says the event was ultimately less about the candidates than about the 5 million Natives across the country, and the possibility of their seeing government as representing rather than oppressing them. We’ll talk about electoral issues in indigenous communities with Mark Trahant, moderator of that presidential forum and editor of Indian Country Today.

PlayStop pop out
X MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_1 = [ { name: "CounterSpin Mark Trahant Interview ", formats: ["mp3"], mp3: "aHR0cDovL3d3dy5mYWlyLm9yZy9hdWRpby9jb3VudGVyc3Bpbi9Db3VudGVyU3BpbjE5MDgzMFRyYWhhbnQubXAz", counterpart:"", artist: "", image: "true", imgurl: "" } ]; MP3jPLAYERS[1] = { list:MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_1, tr:0, type:'MI', lstate:true, loop:false, play_txt:'Play', pause_txt:'Pause', pp_title:'FAIR', autoplay:false, download:true, vol:80, height:71, cssclass:' ', popout_css:{ enabled:true, colours: ["#fff", "rgba(201,207,232,0.35)", "rgb(241,241,241)", "rgba(245,5,5,0.7)", "rgba(92,201,255,0.8)", "transparent", "transparent", "#525252", "#525252", "#768D99", "#47ACDE", "/", 600, 200 ], cssInterface: { "color": "#525252" }, cssTitle: { "left": "16px", "right":"16px", "top":"8px" }, cssImage: { "overflow": "hidden", "width":"auto", "height":"71px" }, cssFontSize: { "title": "16px", "caption": "11.2px", "list": "12px" }, classes: { interface:' verdana-mjp', title:' left-mjp norm-mjp plain-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp', image:' Himg right-mjp', poscol:'', ul:' darken1-mjp verdana-mjp med-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp left-mjp' }} };

MP3 Link

(cc photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Also on the show: The saying that journalism is the first draft of history serves to underscore the harm of misremembering, as the New York Times did recently with a look back on the Tea Party that presented it as a sincere, homespun effort to “tame” federal deficits and “hold Washington accountable.” The paper has since tried to make up for its erasure of the racism at the Tea Party’s roots, but who’s buying? We’ll look at the facts about the Tea Party the Times would have us forget, with CounterSpin conversations with Sikivu Hutchinson, Jodi Jacobson and Rick Perlstein.

PlayStop pop out
X MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_2 = [ { name: "CounterSpin Mark Trahant Tea Party Interviews ", formats: ["mp3"], mp3: "aHR0cDovL3d3dy5mYWlyLm9yZy9hdWRpby9jb3VudGVyc3Bpbi9Db3VudGVyU3BpbjE5MDgzMFRlYVBhcnR5Lm1wMw==", counterpart:"", artist: "", image: "true", imgurl: "" } ]; MP3jPLAYERS[2] = { list:MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_2, tr:0, type:'MI', lstate:true, loop:false, play_txt:'Play', pause_txt:'Pause', pp_title:'FAIR', autoplay:false, download:true, vol:80, height:71, cssclass:' ', popout_css:{ enabled:true, colours: ["#fff", "rgba(201,207,232,0.35)", "rgb(241,241,241)", "rgba(245,5,5,0.7)", "rgba(92,201,255,0.8)", "transparent", "transparent", "#525252", "#525252", "#768D99", "#47ACDE", "/", 600, 200 ], cssInterface: { "color": "#525252" }, cssTitle: { "left": "16px", "right":"16px", "top":"8px" }, cssImage: { "overflow": "hidden", "width":"auto", "height":"71px" }, cssFontSize: { "title": "16px", "caption": "11.2px", "list": "12px" }, classes: { interface:' verdana-mjp', title:' left-mjp norm-mjp plain-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp', image:' Himg right-mjp', poscol:'', ul:' darken1-mjp verdana-mjp med-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp left-mjp' }} };

MP3 Link

Featured image: New Republic depiction of Native rights protest on the National Mall (photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Is James Comey a Leaker or a Whistleblower?

Mother Jones Magazine -

Yesterday the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a scathing report about James Comey’s leak of a report to the New York Times. I spent most of the day trying to figure out why the IG was so beside himself, but I failed. Let’s go through the case.

The facts are simple and undisputed. Back when he was FBI Director, Comey kept summaries of his conversations with President Trump. After Trump fired him, he gave one of the summaries to a friend, with instructions to share the substance, but not the summary itself, with Michael Schmidt of the Times. Comey also gave copies of the other summaries to his lawyers, but did not share them with the press.

So that’s that: basically Comey leaked to the press the fact that Trump had tried to influence the investigation of Michael Flynn. If Comey had just picked up the phone and called Michael Schmidt, he would have done nothing wrong. However, because he had a friend do it based on the contents of a summary Comey wrote while still in office—a summary which contained no classified information—he violated government policy.

There are a few other details to the case, including whether Comey should have retained possession of his summaries at all when he left office, and the fact that some of the summaries had a few very minuscule passages that were retroactively labeled confidential. But the leak is the key issue.

All of this has been common knowledge for two years. Comey acknowledged what he had done almost immediately. When the FBI asked for the summaries back, he gave them back. When they retroactively classified a couple of phrases, he notified the appropriate authorities immediately. So why did this take two years and 62 pages to clear up? That’s not clear.

Now, by definition, leaking is against government policy, so presumably Comey did indeed violate government policy. But surely this is more whistleblowing than leaking? It was a very small, very focused leak that exposed clear wrongdoing on the president’s part. No classified information was put at risk and no investigations were compromised. Only one thing happened: the country found out that the president of the United States had lobbied the FBI Director to go easy on a friend of his.

That sure sounds like a pretty good reason for a leak. And while I don’t expect the Inspector General to condone leaking, this case certainly doesn’t seem to justify the time, money, or vitriol that the IG brought to it. It’s a bit of a mystery.

Ben Wittes has more here if you want to dive deeper into the details.

White Supremacy Is as American as Apple Pie

TruthDig.com News -

The remarkable story of Robin Cloud’s family gets to the heart of one of the deepest wounds in American society: racism. Cloud, a comedian, author and film director who recently spoke with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer on his podcast “Scheer Intelligence,” comes from a sizable black family with roots in South Carolina dating back to the age of American slavery. She can trace her ancestors to both slaves and slave owners, a history known and shared by the many members of the Ragin-Watson family, which comes together once a year for a family reunion.

But for years, a branch of Cloud’s family, known as to them as the “Nebraska cousins,” was missing from the photos of their annual get-together. What Cloud comes to uncover about her family is the subject of her 6-part documentary, “Passing: A Family in Black & White.” The film (you can watch the first episode at the link above, the link below, or on Topic.com), follows the comedian’s reencounters with family members who descended from a cousin and her husband, both of whom were black, who decided to pass as white when they moved to Nebraska.

Their decision to pass was similar to decisions made by many others past and present: access to better jobs, better housing and a existence exempt from the often deadly racism that pervades every aspect of American life. Their dozens of kids and grandkids grew up believing they were white, despite sometimes being questioned by others about certain features and wondering whether they had other roots.

The film, which gives an honest, often uncomfortable look into Cloud’s reacquaintance with her family, paints a less-than-idyllic picture of reunion. In fact, it shows how stubbornly some people hold on to white privilege despite clear evidence of their ancestry.

“Imagine seeing a picture of your grandmother at a black family reunion,” Cloud tells the Truthdig editor in chief, “and still not believing that it’s true. Like, that’s how deep this issue is that [we’re] talking about, about white people not wanting to deal with race.”

The denial is one that can be seen in American society at large, and, as Scheer points out, can be traced to our political troubles to this very day.

“Your film really deals with an up-to-the-minute issue,” he tells Cloud on the podcast. “This is not ancient history. And the reason it’s not ancient history is that racism survives precisely because it’s good for demagogues. And it’s a way of explaining away other contradictions in the society.

“I love this quote from you: ‘Culture almost outweighs blood,’ ” Scheer continues. “And what it’s really saying is—an illusion outweighs reality.”

The inability or lack of desire to examine the contradictions our own blood can carry is illustrated in a poignant moment between Cloud and some of her young cousins in Omaha. When the film director asks two relatives if this knowledge will change their relationship to or their views of black people, they shake their heads. One answers that he essentially doesn’t see race. Cloud highlights her discomfort in the narration as well as to her cousins, telling them that in “this political climate” it’s impossible for her to ignore race and racism.

Listen to the full discussion between Cloud and Scheer as the two talk about the film and how it relates to both the painful history and current events that many Americans refuse to face. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

ROBERT SCHEER: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of “Scheer Intelligence,” where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, it’s Robin Cloud, comedian, writer, and director. Well-known as a comedian, there are lots of clips on YouTube and elsewhere that you can watch. And as a writer, has written for major publications and what have you. But it’s in your role as a director that I really want to talk to you about, because I got to watch your six-part documentary, “Passing: A Family in Black & White.” And I actually was blown away by it. I just thought–first of all, it fits into the theme of this series; I’ve done about 170 of these, and I aim at what I call American originals. And this is a film that could–I’m sure there are counterparts, I’ll get to that later, in other cultures–but it’s a uniquely American film. And it concerns, first of all, basically a black family from South Carolina, which then moves on to the rest of the country, but experienced slavery, experienced deep segregation and what have you. And most of these people end up living the life of black people in a more northern environment. You spent much of your time in Connecticut, New York; you went to Howard University, a prestigious black legacy school, and so forth. You now are in Los Angeles, which is, I think, the center of the world, but that’s another issue. [Laughter] And but one branch of your family, which was a regular part of your family, they went off, and Willa Mae Lane ended up in Omaha, Nebraska. And they lived the lives of white people. So hence the title, “Passing: A Family in Black & White.” How do people get to watch this?

ROBIN CLOUD: Well, first, thank you for having me. “Passing: A Family in Black & White” is on Topic, so you can watch it at topic.com/passing. It’s also on YouTube, and then there are also clips on Facebook.

RS: OK. And what is–I want you to lay out the film, but what I found really interesting about it, it was a reminder of the significance of skin color, obviously, in the American experience–something we’re always debating now, we’re talking about reparations, we’re talking about a historic legacy. But you had an interesting comment in the sixth part, I believe, where you said, “Culture almost outweighs blood.” And then you even said, “it’s more important.”

Tell me what you meant about that, because after watching your documentary, I thought you know, that might be the big takeaway from this. That one branch of this family went off into a different culture; you couldn’t imagine a more different culture than Nebraska. I don’t know if they had–you know, they had Native Americans, I don’t know if they had any people who were then called “Negro,” or more derogatory terms. But let’s start with that: “Culture almost outweighs blood.”

RC: Yes. Ah, I think when I was thinking about that, that came from my experience of really wanting or hoping that my Nebraska relatives, and also the ones that live in Chicago, would be interested in embracing African American culture, to some degree. And what I found when I posed that question to them–

RS: These are the people who lived as white.

RC: Yes, who lived as white for, you know, up until I told them that they were not really white. That they felt–specifically my cousin Jeannene, you know, said to me that “I’m culturally white, and I don’t know how to be black.” You know, “I don’t know the music, I don’t know the food, I don’t know”–you know, black people talk to each other in a different way that we sometimes talk to white people. And she doesn’t know those things, and she didn’t want to try to be something that she isn’t.

RS: Well, because we’re doing radio, we can’t hold up this picture. But the folks in Nebraska, a few of them clearly look like they–

RC: Yeah, like light-skinned black people with, you know, Afros, and you know, black features.

RS: But others are blonde, blue-eyed, white and so forth. And you have kind of–and then a few of them come back to a family reunion.

RC: Yes, that’s right.

RS: I mean, people also forget, you know, we’re not talking about caricatures of human beings. We’re talking about real families, real people. And your family has a long history, and they have reunions all the time, they have–

RC: Every year, every year, yeah.

RS: Local ones every year, and then every five years they have a bigger one and so forth. And so why don’t you–because that’s sort of really the big takeaway from this film, is how interesting everybody is, how complex, how history impacts them, how culture impacts them. You know, none of us are stereotypes, none of us are simple. We come from someplace. And I think your movie is a powerful reminder of that, you know. There’s one guy who I loved, my favorite guy in the movie, I don’t remember his name. But he’s back in South Carolina–

RC: Oh, David, my cousin David, yeah. [Laughs]

RS: Yeah, and he’s doing what I like to do–in fact, what I did yesterday. I didn’t actually fish, but I was on my little electric boat out in the Marina. And I just loved this guy, because he seemed at peace with the homeland.

RC: Yeah, he made that choice. I mean, he spent summers down there as a kid, and then when he was in junior high, he decided he didn’t want to stay in Philly anymore because he liked being in the country. I mean, he’s a country boy at heart. He’s also an amazing wildlife photographer, and so he goes on trips and takes these amazing photographs. Yeah.

RS: And he brought you in touch with your own origins in that area, in that he showed you the land that the slaveowner had given back to the family, and you know, where you were fishing. And then you went to try to find your aunt’s home, or your grandmother’s home. Why don’t you put us there? Because I want to give the film its due. There’s an experience you have watching this documentary, again, that you’re reminded that none of us are cardboard figures. That we have this history, whether we’re rural, whether we’re black, whether we’re white, there’s a history. There’s a connection with nature, there’s a connection with family. And your family–just take us to the beginning.

RC: Well, I would say, this is my mother’s side of the family. We have a very large family from Summerton, South Carolina, which is just an hour northwest of Charleston. And it’s a small town; it’s really like a stereotypical Southern town, where there’s like literally one stoplight. It’s very segregated. You know, there’s like a white high school and a black high school still to this day. I mean, I think technically they’re, they can be integrated, but everyone sort of sticks to their own.

There are also white Ragins and white Watsons that are still in the family, which I’m assuming that we’re related to. Yeah, and our roots originally, you know, come from these Irish brothers that came over from Ireland and were slaveowners in the area. And obviously, I don’t know the circumstance, but I can imagine that it was not good, that they had relations with an African woman, and that’s where our family began. And the first son out of that relationship was the one that was freed by his own father and given the land that we still own today.

RS: And it’s beautiful land there. But even–

RC: Yeah.

RS: –even so, the–what’s his name who does the fishing?

RC: David.

RS: David made a point that somebody came up to him once and said, “You have too good a boat.”

RC: Oh, yeah. I mean, the racism is–is real. Like, even going down for the weekend, you know, it’s possible to go through and just have a nice family reunion. But if you go to any of the integrated places, you know, people still look at you. And they wonder why you’re there, and you know, they’ll give you that–it’s just that feeling, sort of. That as a northerner, growing up in Connecticut, I’m very sensitive to it. And I feel it immediately.

RS: So as I suggest, the movie is not a benign view of family life in any way. I mean, obviously, these people went through great turmoil and so forth. The gift of this land only came after civil war and everything else, and probably the owners had no choice at that point–

RC: No, it was actually early. It was in the 1700s.

RS: Oh, really?

RC: Yeah.

RS: And so why did, how did that happen?

RC: I don’t know. This was a white Irish man with some sort of conscience, I guess? [Laughs] Which is amazing.

RS: Oh, really? That’s interesting.

RC: Yeah, I mean, I would love to dive more into who this person was, because I don’t really know much about him besides this part of the story.

RS: OK. So you’re the inconvenient relative who’s bothered to trace family history.

RC: Yes.

RS: You got the scrapbook, and so forth, right? How long did this take you, by the way? Most of your life?

RC: I started–it–god, I started in 2008.

RS: But you must have been curious much earlier, right?

RC: I am a big history buff. I love history. I actually have a master’s in historic preservation; in addition to all the other creative things I do, I love restoring old buildings. So that’s something I’ve been interested in. And I worked as the director of preservation at the Weeksville Heritage Center, which is an African American historic site in Brooklyn. And we held genealogy classes for the community, and that was my first real introduction to genealogy and research. And I learned how to do it, and it just really inspired me to start diving in deeper into this story.

RS: Into your story, your family’s story.

RC: Into my family’s story, yes.

RS: And when was your first recognition that you had a white branch of the family that was in the closet, so to speak?

RC: I knew that, I would say, my whole life. You know, it was sort of growing up, at family reunions, listening to my grandmother and her sisters talk about it. As a child, it was always something that I would hear, you know, in passing. Ha, ha. But, ah–[Laughs] yeah, definitely, it was just something that the grown folks talked about.

RS: And it was all about Willa Mae and–what was his name?

RC: Johnny, her husband Johnny.

RS: Yeah, you say Johnny Boy Watson?

RC: His nickname was Johnny Boy.

RS: Yeah, Johnny Boy Watson. They were both, clearly, back north, and in the east–

RC: Yes, in New York, in Harlem.

RS: They were “Negroes.”

RC: Yes, for sure.

RS: Yes. And then what happened? They just decided to get out of town?

RC: From what I’ve heard, Johnny was an engineer, college educated. And at that time, they were not hiring black men to do–

RS: Do you know where he went to college?

RC: I don’t. That’s something that I have to–

RS: I wonder if it was City College. [Laughs] My alma mater–

RC: Yeah, I’m not sure. Wouldn’t that be amazing, I need another, I need a genealogist to help me to, like, dig even deeper. Ah, so–

RS: So they went out to–why Nebraska?

RC: Well, this is the story. And you know, that he was, one, he was looking for a job. And then two, their eldest son had asthma, and they were told by the doctor that they should probably leave New York and move west. And so they were actually on their way to Arizona, but somehow stopped in Nebraska, and he ended up getting this job there, and they just stayed.

RS: And he was quite successful there, right?

RC: Yes, he was.

RS: He was a commissioner or something? Tell us about that.

RC: That’s something that Josh has said. I haven’t been able to verify–

RS: Oh. Josh is his–

RC: Josh is his grandson.

RS: Grandson, yeah. And it’s really interesting, because when you meet these people, actually this grandson Josh, who’s been raised as a white person in Omaha, Nebraska–he has an earring, he seems to–what did you say? He’s a mixture of a hippie and a–?

RC: Oh yeah, he calls himself a–gosh. A hippie and a hillbilly. Yeah, yeah.

RS: OK. So actually, you go out there; you’ve met a few members of the family before, who came back for a reunion. But now you go out to Nebraska to meet your white relatives. You actually seem to instantly bond, because in the film they show the meeting–you show, you’re the director–your meeting with him. And you guys share a lot. You’re both sort of–I don’t want to–

RC: Yeah, we’re like, both sort of like artsy fartsy, crunchy, like–we love junk and trash, and making stuff. He loves, he like makes these amazing like glass pipes, and glass balls, and all of this stuff. And he’s like a little artisan. So, yeah, we really got along.

RS: OK. So is this where your slogan came from, “Culture almost outweighs blood?” That you and Josh actually turned out to share, what, more of a culture?

RC: Ah, no, I think that actually comes from–I mean, Josh and I did connect on those things, for sure. But I felt that it was really hard for them–it would be hard for them to embrace black culture when they’ve been raised in white culture. And making that shift is what I was saying is almost impossible.

RS: Because the culture holds.

RC: Because the culture is deeper and stronger, and that’s what your foundation is.

RS: Yeah. So let’s cut to the chase here. Were you an embarrassment when you showed up in Nebraska? Are they kind of irritated that you did this?

RC: There are a few of the older generation who are not happy about the film. I think they feel that this is old news, if their parents didn’t tell them why do we need to talk about it.

RS: Do they claim they knew?

RC: No, they don’t. They definitely did not know.

RS: Let’s just be very precise here. You’re talking to people who are the offspring of Willa Mae Lane and Johnny Boy Watson, right?

RC: Ah–no, John Lane.

RS: John Lane.

RC: Yeah, yeah. Willa Mae, her maiden name was Watson.

RS: Oh, OK. And they are out there, and they decide that they’re going to pass as white.

RC: Yes.

RS: And they’d gone through a few before; they’d been mulatto, they called–

RC: Yes, they were–depending on the census, and where they were. So like in South Carolina, in our town, they were mulatto. As a lot of my relatives were listed as mulatto, because they were very light-skinned black people. Then they moved to Philly, where they were like, OK, you’re black. And then, you know, when Willa Mae moved to New York, then she was black. And then to Nebraska, and she was white.

RS: White. And they just fit in with the white community.

RC: Yeah, for the most part. I mean, there were questions, I think, from the white people. Because they were like, well–you know, you’re not sort of blonde and blue-eyed, like the rest–I mean, Nebraska, back then in the forties and fifties, was mostly, I would say, Scandinavian, German, Polish immigrants, or descendants of those people. And so they did, they looked really different, and they stood out.

RS: But they were successful.

RC: But they were successful, because they were very determined in keeping the lie going.

RS: And taxpayers, and he’s an engineer.

RC: Yeah, and working, and part of society.

RS: And he had an official position.

RC: Yes.

RS: Right. So then, and what’s so powerful–we can’t show it, obviously, on radio; people should watch the documentary–when you see the family photo of the Nebraska people, it’s a picture of apple-pie America. You know, this is America, OK. And so suddenly you show up. And you know, you’re an artist. You’re a controversial figure. [Laughter] You perform comedy routines in nightclubs, and so forth, and you’re provocative and so forth. And you’re also a gay person–

RC: Yes.

RS: –and you don’t conceal it, right.

RC: No.

RS: Was that an issue at all?

RC: Ah, Becky Jo and I and Jeannene never really talked about that. Jeannene has a daughter that’s gay, so I think she’s–

RS: These are the Nebraska people.

RC: Yes, but Jeannene lives on the East Coast now. Well, she grew up in Chicago. But yeah, I mean, Becky Jo definitely is a Trump supporter; she’s a devout Catholic, so she’s pro-life, and would probably say she was anti-gay, but never said that directly to me.

RS: But it’s interesting in terms of what is–where are controversies. And this is one of the things I found fascinating about your movie. It seems to me–and I don’t want to minimize the hostility that gay people encounter. But we’ve had tremendous change. I just was in the–it is San Francisco, but in Terminal 1 of the airport, and there you have the whole history of gay life in San Francisco, and Harvey Milk–it’s named the Harvey Milk terminal. And people stop and they read it and everything. And it has a feeling of not being controversial, of just sort of obvious truth. Yes, we went through this dark period, and now we’re coming to our senses, and we recognize–you know, and so forth. That hasn’t happened in racial relations. Not in that way.

RC: No, and would say, like, that type of acceptance has happened on the coast. [Laughs] You know, I think the rest of the country is not exactly up to speed.

RS: I don’t want to minimize it. But even for the rest of the country, I suspect the fact that you are, were thought of as black, bringing news of black roots of the family, was far more of interest to them than that you are gay.

RC: Yes, I would say so. For sure.

RS: Right, yeah. And then you point out one of the Nebraska white people, so-called, has a gay offspring. And one of the interesting things about the gay issue is gays show up everywhere.

RC: Exactly. Straight people make gays. [Laughs] So.

RS: Yeah, and they show up as Catholics, and they show up, you know, all over the place. So you can’t–once gay people are out of the closet, you can’t dismiss them in that way, because it’s your nephew, it’s your child, what have you. OK. The sad thing–and watching your movie, it felt profoundly disturbing–this hasn’t crossed racial lines between black and white. We haven’t had that integration of ordinary life. You know, we haven’t had that acceptance, that respect. It holds.

We live in a racially deeply divided society, black-white, brown-white, and so forth. And you know, I would not have expected this if I thought back to the 1950s or something, where the treatment of gay people was in some ways worse than any other minority. But now, you know, OK, we got over that one. Even Donald Trump, he’s not particularly going to bash gay people or anything.

RC: Well, he’s, I mean, he’s going to try to take away our rights.

RS: He brought the first gay speaker to the Republican convention, Peter Thiel. I’m not going to try to make him, sugar-coat Donald Trump. But the interesting thing about your movie is it’s made by–you’re central to this film, and I should give the title again, “Passing: A Family in Black & White.” I think it’s a very powerful movie, and I’m trying to promote it here unabashedly. But what’s so interesting is the gay part, because you show up in the film with your significant other. I gather you’re getting married soon.

RC: Yes, that’s right.

RS: That’s a non-issue in this film. To the people, it seems to me. The real issue is this thing that you thought would have disappeared by now: race. Skin color. What’s that about?

RC: No, I don’t think it would have disappeared by now.

RS: Well, I thought it would.

RC: No.

RS: I actually thought as a kid–I’m much older than you are–I thought, wow, the civil rights movement, the end of segregation–you know, and all that–no. It holds. A really sharp, ugly edge–

RC: Yes, yes! Because every white person in this country is indoctrinated into white supremacy. Whether they want to be or not. Even the good liberals. You know. And it’s the work of white people to continue to undo that thinking. And read books like White Fragility, and call out their family members who are not up to speed, and still hold onto those values. Whether they think they’re holding onto them or not. They’re–it’s ever-present. So that work has to be addressed and taken on by white folks. And that’s why it still exists, because nobody wants to do it.

RS: Well, and also, I think, bringing it back to the film, one could make the argument that these folks in Nebraska want to hold onto it because it is privilege.

RC: Of course. Definitely.

RS: Right, I mean, that’s the key. And so they could say, hey, she’s a lot of fun to be with–

RC: [Laughs] But white privilege is even more fun than hanging out with Robin. That’s the key takeaway. [Laughs]

RS: Even–and you are actually, I don’t know, just eyeballing it, a successful member of this family. You have a reputation, they can look you up, you perform, you write, you make movies. You’re a success story. Probably as successful as any one of the Nebraska people, right? I don’t know.

RC: Yeah, I mean, the irony is I would say the black side of the family is more successful than the white side. Like, most of my cousins are doctors, lawyers, ah–

RS: The black cousins.

RC: Yes, yes. We are more successful.

RS: OK. But instead of embracing that and saying, hey, we come from good stock, look at these folks, you know, they’re doing great–there’s still a strong feeling that first of all, their neighbors might not feel that way. I don’t know, you’re the one who experienced it, you went to Nebraska.

RC: Right, I did.

RS: So what happened?

RC: Ah, what I found was the younger generation, like Katie and Josh, were willing to meet with me even though, you know, Katie was hesitant. And the older generation, being some of Becky Jo’s older children and Becky Jo’s siblings, were not interested in meeting me. I think that they just weren’t prepared to take on that type of conversation. Or the level of acceptance. I mean I think to this day, some of them still really don’t believe this is true.

RS: Have they done the biological testing?

RC: I think, yes, a few of them have. But the ones with the most doubt, they have not.

RS: And the ones that have done the testing, do they find–

RC: Oh yeah, for sure. You know, they’re–at this point, like, I am 66% black, like you know, 27% white or whatever. And so you know, they’re–they end up being like 15%, or like 20. It’s a small percentage, right. But like even my grandmother was probably, like, 50/50. So I mean, it’s very rare to be, like, 100% African as an African American, just because of the history of slavery.

RS: But it is interesting. And the Trump appeal is critical. You say one of your relatives in Nebraska does feel this way, or–?

RC: Yes.

RS: And the appeal, this nativist appeal, is quite dangerous precisely because it’s a way of explaining your own failures, or you know, it’s a way of trying to claim special privilege, and be opposed to anything done in society to make it fairer, whether it’s affirmative action or ending discrimination or what have you. And so it’s interesting. Your film really deals with an up-to-the-minute issue. This is not ancient history. And the reason it’s not ancient history is that racism survives precisely because it’s good for demagogues. And it’s a way of explaining away other contradictions in the society. You know, why are white workers not doing better in certain areas of Omaha or whatever, you know.

So let me–I want to–and that’s by way of an advertisement for this film. This is not an old subject of racism in South Carolina. It’s up to the minute, because it goes to–and again, I love this quote from you: “Culture almost outweighs blood.” And what it’s really saying is an illusion outweighs reality. The fact is, as you point out, we’re 60% this, 40% that, blah, blah, blah–you know, our makeup really is not traced to any particular bloodline. It’s the cultural perception of it–

RC: That makes you who you are, yes.

RS: And I tell you, one reason I got hooked on this movie of yours–I’m going to give the title just in case people are tired of hearing my voice—“Passing: A Family in Black & White.” And they can get it how?

RC: Ah, topic.com/passing.

RS: Good. And if people watch it, I really wish they would get back to me and tell me whether I read it wrong or so forth. But I had a personal connection with this, and maybe I’ll kind of wrap this up on this. And I suspect a lot of people have things in their family, wherever their family’s from, that reflect these kinds of tensions and false consciousness and everything else. But in my case, my father was a German Protestant–people who listen to these podcasts probably have heard me mention this too often, but it was a formative thing in my life–and my mother was a Russian Jew.

And I was born in ‘36. So the first 10 years, 12 years of my life, the big thing that I was aware of was there’s this horrible war going on, and the Jews were on the receiving end. And we had relatives who were killed, and all of our relatives were killed in Europe. And the people, the “krauts,” the Germans that were doing most of this–a lot of people took their anger out on the Japanese, but they weren’t doing that to the Jews. And people conveniently ignored the Italians, who were my neighbors in the Bronx. But somehow the Germans, they were doing it. And so after the war I went and found my German relatives and so forth, and tried to examine this. And there was one incident that happened, that when I was watching your movie, I thought, what you were going through–that was me. Because I found my father’s brother, who had been in the German army, and had been wounded at Stalingrad and so forth. And I finally got to, found his house, and found him.

And in my–I did study German, and I did hear Yiddish and German spoken at home, so I tried to explain who I was; his English wasn’t very good. And I tried to explain who I was, and I said–and so he suddenly said, “Oh, Arnold! Arnold!” And that’s my half-brother who’s all German Protestant. And I said, “No, nicht Arnold. Robert.” And he said “Oh, der Juden.” The Jew. And–but he didn’t mean it in some–I mean, it was a defining statement. It turned out we got along quite well, and my relatives in Germany were actually–like the guy you met in Nebraska, the younger ones were quite hip. And they were peaceniks, they supported the Greens, and everything else. And they all were quite clear about how evil the experience of the war. But nonetheless, they were Germans of another culture. And they really didn’t want to explore all this too much.

It was kind of an inconvenient truth. I’m a nice guy, I was interesting, they’d actually read my books. But you know what, Bob, don’t keep bringing this up. And for me, I couldn’t let it go. You know, I just couldn’t let it go. The question was, wait a minute, how did this happen? And the fact is, in this movie, that’s the tension that I detected. That the white part of the family really doesn’t want to examine this history any more than white America wants to examine this history, whether it’s about Native Americans, whether it’s about brown Americans, and certainly about black Americans. They just don’t want to think about it. And not just in Nebraska, but I suspect right here in Los Angeles near our school. It’s just–

RC: And it’s really sad. You know, it’s a disservice to our culture, to our world, to our communities.

RS: Well, worse than that, we keep repeating the same error. I mean, if we don’t understand that we can be–we whites–can and have been the brutes, have been the killers. And you know, one of the interesting things about Germany for me is that the German American population was the–and it still is, I think–the largest part of the white population in America. This was not the “other.” The immigrants in this country, that was the largest group, more than from England. And Germany was admired and had the highest level of science and teaching and so forth, and they were the greatest barbarians of modern time. Not some Arabs or Muslims or anybody else–no, German Christian, you know, white people. And we never examined that after. And I think the power of your film is we never really have examined racism, and that’s why it’s with us.

RC: Yes.

RS: The reality is, we don’t want to think about it. We want to think it’s an old story.

RC: Yeah, and white people are like–oh, why, you know, stop talking about slavery. Oh, another slavery movie. Oh, stop being triggered. You know, all those things.

RS: Yeah.

RC: They don’t want–like the woman who recently, you know, went to the plantation and was mad about the guide giving the detailed, you know, story from an African perspective. You know, she just wants to go and experience Southern life.

RS: But the power of your film, “Passing: A Family in Black & White”—you know, I must tell you. I give my son, Josh, who’s the producer of the show, great credit for getting guests that I wouldn’t have had–and I must tell you, as recently as yesterday, I wondered, what the hell did Josh do here, why did he have this guest?

RC: [Laughs]

RS: Because I, you know, was having trouble getting the film to play, and what is this about, and what’s really different here. And then I watched it and I was blown away. I was blown away at precisely how relevant it is. Because you can’t dismiss it. It’s not an abstraction. It’s your family. And there you are, you’re seeing these very nice white people–you know, the ones we get to meet. They’re very nice. But they’re also awkward in this situation. They also don’t want to go there. They don’t really want to visit this thing.

You are the inconvenient truth, made all the more inconvenient by the fact that you’re quite presentable, you’re reasonable, you’re nice. You didn’t come there to guilt them, you know. You’re a very good reporter in this film. You’re reaching out to them, you’re very nonthreatening. This is not a threatening film. So they should actually, under normal human circumstances, welcome this–oh! Cousin so-and-so’s here, a relative, great! Tell us about the family–right? That’s the way we mostly–

RC: Yes, you would think, but, you know.

RS: Yes, the way we mostly receive people who show up and say, hey, you know, my aunt was your father’s second cousin twice removed. And we say, oh yeah, well what do you know about him? Well, I’ve got some pictures–you had the scrapbook. You have the data. You are the family historian.

RC: And imagine seeing a picture of your grandmother at a black family reunion and still not believing that it’s true. Like, that’s how deep this issue is that you’re talking about, about white people not wanting to deal with race. Like, here is a photograph of her, sitting next to her brother-in-law, who’s a black, brown-skinned man. And they still almost can’t believe it.

RS: Yeah, no, they’re awkward.

RC: It’s wild.

RS: Well, that’s the power of this film, really. But it’s also, as I said at the very beginning of this, I really got into this because I see America as this crazy-quilt of different cultures. And I’m interested in talking to American originals, and everyone’s got some kind of crazy history in all this, not always–very often, not positive.

And what the power of this film is, there’s an undeniable humanity to it. That’s us. And yet there’s a “banality of evil,” to quote Hannah Arendt, also woven through it. Why don’t we receive the other? Why don’t we welcome? After all, Jesus in the Good Samaritan was supposed to be welcoming to the stranger. But here, in your own family, why don’t they say–oh, great! A relative has showed up!

RC: Well, we know the answer to that.

RS: Well, do we? Why don’t we end on that. What is the answer? Because it’s–no, you know the answer–

RC: Racism. Racism! And white supremacy, and white privilege, is the answer. It prevents–

RS: But those are words. What does it really mean to–

RC: It means that, like, a white person living in this country who has all the status, the comfort of being top on the totem pole, doesn’t want to relinquish that. Even if it’s blood-related. It’s more important to hold on to your status.

RS: Yes. Well, that’s a frightening idea. “Culture almost outweighs blood”–no, culture outweighs blood. You will–this is a real issue that people face. You would probably–one would–if culture outweighs blood, you’ll turn over your mother, your sister to the Gestapo if it saves you. If it conforms to an ideology that you’ve been lectured into.

RC: Exactly. Isn’t that what we’ve seen in history?

RS: Yeah. But you have, your film provides an insight into that. Really important truth. And so then it’s not really culture, it’s opportunism, it’s greed, it’s power that’s wrapped into that word. And you don’t want to surrender your advantage, your power, your corruption, your greed. You will sacrifice your siblings. That’s the theme of your movie.

RC: [Laughs] One of them, yes.

RS: Well, I think it’s an important observation. And it’s, I want to caution people, it’s not done in a scolding way. It’s done in a loving–you actually, the film extends to these people, it wants to include them, it wants to embrace them. There’s no built-in hostility in this film. It’s great journalism, from my point of view. Because you really are curious, you really are open. Hey, look! And there’s aunt so-and-so, and there’s cousin so-and-so. And they happen, they still look pretty black, but they say they’re white–and, wow!

You know, wonder what they’re doing, and wonder whether they know this, and won’t they be excited to see this picture. Well, you know, guess what. Maybe they’re excited, but they don’t want to show it too much. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re confused, right? And maybe they don’t want to confront the role of racism in our culture. That’s it for this edition of “Scheer Intelligence.” Our producer, and I got to give him particular credit here for bringing me with our guest Robin Cloud–who I must say, before I saw her film and before I watched all her great comedy and checked out her writing, did not know who Robin Cloud was. I’m blown away by this work. I think it’s a very powerful film.

RC: Thank you.

RS: So again, Joshua Scheer, the producer, creator of this show. Sebastian Grubaugh here at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has put this all together and done the engineering. And we’ll see you next week with another edition of “Scheer Intelligence.”

The post White Supremacy Is as American as Apple Pie appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Pizza Costs 75 Cents Extra in California

Mother Jones Magazine -

David Lazarus complains this morning about sneaky fees:

Take a close look at your receipt the next time you buy some tunes at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. You’ll see a 35-cent charge tacked on for “wages & benefits.” That’s not a state or local tax. It’s the company simply reaching a little deeper into your pocket to cover its costs of doing business.

Chris Carmena, Amoeba’s general manager, told me the 35-cent charge helps defray expenses related to minimum-wage requirements, paid sick leave and workers’ healthcare. “It obviously doesn’t cover all of our costs,” he said, “but it helps.”

Funny he should mention that. Last night we got a large 3-topping pizza from Pizza Hut for only $7.99. What a deal! Except that it included a 75-cent fee to defray “the rising costs in California.”

Cat shadow, as usual, is shown for scale.

Kevin Drum

Well, I have no doubt that costs are rising in California, though no particular new reason comes to mind at the moment. And at the very, very least, Pizza Hut should give us some warning of this fee on their website.

Aside from random griping, though, my real reason for posting this is to find out if the Hut is doing this elsewhere. I’m sure that some of you are willing to admit to buying pizzas from Pizza Hut (ours was, ahem, just an experiment). Has anyone from other states seen a similar fee?

UPDATE: Apparently I’m behind the curve on this. Here’s a recent op-ed from the OC Register:

In 2015, the state mandated that employers give their workers three days a year of paid leave….Then in March 2016, on the Saturday before Easter, Gov. Jerry Brown cut a backroom deal with labor union leaders and state lawmakers to ratchet up the minimum wage in California to $15 an hour by 2023 for smaller employers, and by 2022 for larger ones.

….“Due to a myriad of legislative and court decisions, some restaurants in California have elected to add a surcharge to their receipts to defray increased costs incurred over the last several years,” begins an article on the association’s website titled, “Understanding and Guidance on Surcharges.” The tone is matter-of-fact. “The increased costs of operating a restaurant can be attributed to minimum wage increases, health care, paid sick leave, restrictive scheduling, cost of food and supplies and increased pay equity between traditionally tipped employees and heart of the house employees.

The article offers advice on how to calculate taxes correctly and how to avoid getting sued by a city attorney, such as the one in San Diego who filed a slew of cases in 2017 charging some surcharging restaurants with false advertising and consumer fraud. Last November, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled in one of these cases that “the surcharge is not unlawful as a matter of law.” Similar rulings followed in similar cases.

….Stephen Zolezzi, CEO of the Food and Beverage Association of San Diego, said in 2018 that surcharges allow the restaurant industry to send a message.
“Yes, it’s a political statement,” he said. “We’re trying to show people the consequences of legislation that adds to the cost of doing business.”

I’m still curious if this is becoming common in any other states. Or is it just California?

A Revolutionary Writer for Our Darkest Days

TruthDig.com News -

After the 2016 EU referendum that changed the United Kingdom’s political trajectory for years to come, novelist Ali Smith had a revolutionary idea: writing a series of novels set in Brexit Britain, to be written and published in time to mirror the drama unfolding in her home country. What’s known as the “Seasonal Quartet,” due to each novel carrying the name of a season, is a breathtakingly beautiful series that has been showered with accolades from the moment the first book, “Autumn,” was published. 

Each volume, while fiction, captures many of the issues facing Brits in this brave new Brexit world, as just across the Atlantic, Donald Trump rules the U.S. with the same disdain for facts that many argue was behind the campaign that led the British public to vote for leaving the European Union. And yet, despite grim circumstances, Smith uses her considerable writing talents to uncover hope for a better future, often in the form of radical ideas and activism that shake characters and readers from complacency. In “Winter,” the second book in the series, the Scottish author tackles xenophobia and family divisions over politics by placing four incredibly different characters in one imagined Cornish household, where the all-too-human interactions among them become a catalyst for healing. “Spring,” the latest installment in the “Seasonal Quartet,” depicts a crossroads between strangers that are all changed in meaningful ways by their encounter with a young girl, not too unlike the real-life teen activist Greta Thunberg. That meeting forces them to question the dark, seemingly thoughtless paths they and the United Kingdom are barreling down.  

Related Articles by by

In a discussion about everything from refugees to Shakespeare, I caught up with Smith via email. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our exchange.

NATASHA HAKIMI ZAPATA: Why have you chosen seasons to title your novels set in Brexit Britain? What have you gained from structuring your “Seasonal Quartet” using this specific measure of time? Have you lost anything, or had moments when you wished you hadn’t chosen this framework? Did climate change and its impact on the seasons as we once knew them play a part in this creative choice?

ALI SMITH: I didn’t choose it—it just happened. In 2014 I handed in a manuscript to my publisher here in the U.K., Simon Prosser at Hamish Hamilton and Penguin, a book called “How to Be Both.” I’d missed its promised publishing deadline by a year or so, and I apologized to him. He laughed and said, “You haven’t missed the deadline, we can still bring the book out to time.”

I was amazed. “How to Be Both” is a novel with an ostensibly complex structure, one that exists in two forms that look on the surface exactly the same and are then randomly mixed in the print run, so that, depending on coincidence, when you pick up this book you might get one half at the beginning, or you might get the other half first instead. Sure enough, even given all the usual copy editing and proofing and printing schedule constraint, AND with this randomized structural print-mix thrown in, six weeks later I held the physical finished novel, in both its forms, in my hands. Not just that, it was a physical object of real care and beauty.

So then I began to wonder why the publishing process habitually takes so long, usually at least nine months, from handing in a manuscript to the finished thing. Since I began writing fiction, since roughly 1993, I’d been thinking about writing a series of books named after the seasons, and I’d always had them at the back of my head as a possibility maybe for when I was older.  This fast turnaround brought these books into focus for me in a new way. Because—what if you could write novels about time, but to time, so that you published them as close to their being written as possible and so that they held something truly contemporary somewhere in them, which would then be naturally offset by them tapping into the ever-cycling cycle of the changes and repetitions of season. And wouldn’t that be akin to what the novel actually means as a form—to when the Victorians published novels, when the novel still meant what it’s named for, something new, novel, the latest thing?

I asked Simon would it be possible—because I knew it would be asking a great deal of the publishing schedule team, who’d have to be generously on board for it or it wouldn’t work. He asked everyone who’d be working on the books. They all said enthusiastic yesses. The revelation of expertise, teamwork and galvanized spirit has been one of the most lovely and satisfying things about writing these books and bringing them to birth so succinctly—and frankly also so very beautifully—I very much love the U.S. editions too, but the U.K. editions are really something special in terms of design.

I started work on the first book, “Autumn,” at the end of 2015. 2016 brought the most unpredictable changes, all across the country here, then all across the Western world. It was another revelation to me of the way that the books we write choose their own time to come.

I couldn’t ever have planned this. But it’s right. The seasons are all about what changes and what, regardless of extreme change, stays the same. The novel is a revolutionary form too. It rolls forward, gathers its mosses.

Also, you can’t get away from the effect of global warming—let’s give it its real and alarming name—when you’re working with the seasons and watching the usual changes warp in real-time immediacy.

So the consciousness you’re asking about in your question—it’s not that I set out consciously in quite that way. But the writing of the books has been all about consciousness, about articulating what’s happening right now, in social and environmental terms and also increasingly in terms of the shifts and changes in the use of language in the public realm even just over the last couple of years, language, along with notions of time and social structure, being the physical material of any novel.

NHK: As I was reading “Spring,” I couldn’t help but see the 12-year-old protagonist Florence, who boldly enters spaces and scenarios many of her elders would not dare to in order to demand change, as a Greta Thunberg-like character. Why did you choose a child as a catalyst for change? Was Florence in some way modeled after the Swedish teen environmentalist who’s stood up to political leaders the world over? 

AS: “Spring” thieves some of its narrative from Shakespeare’s “Pericles.” Each of these novels has been as if befriended by one of Shakespeare’s late plays, the plays where, quite miraculously, he makes brand new form, one that always conjures impossible rebirth, out of a shredding and re-melding of elements of tragedy, history and comedy, the material of his earlier plays. (“Spring” is also befriended by a lot of other written and visual forms, but the workings of Shakespeare’s “Pericles” through it deliver the almost sardonic and quite blatantly impossible sense of hope.)

So Florence was already written, already a new drawn form of Shakespeare’s Marina, when I first encountered, in the news, in January this year, the brilliant shining Greta Thunberg speaking at Davos.

Marina is a child so good that Shakespeare can winkingly drop her feet first into the nastiest, seamiest of places and watch as she illuminates and scours clean those places. “Pericles” is about good and bad governance, how important the first is and how cataclysmic and catastrophic the latter—but above all it’s about an incorruptible goodness. Also, when you’re faced with what looks like an unshiftable dilemma, ask a child. Thunberg has articulated the future to us, because the future is hers and her generations’ inheritance. Her presence is the appearance on the world stage of the possible future—one of frankness and goodness and unselfishness up against the conglomerate business mindset that thinks right now that it owns and can use both us and the world. That’s the choice we face. As Thunberg says, the real power belongs to the people. I’m not surprised to see the whole world turn to listen. 

My Marina character, Florence, gets almost nothing changed. Yet what change she does achieve is downright impossible, unless we choose to change. Greta Thunberg is timely. She’s a threshold, a door open out of the dark.

NHZ: You carried out interviews with refugees and detainees at the United Kingdom Immigration Removal Centre for your latest novel. Are there stories you heard that impacted you but couldn’t quite make it onto the page in one form or another? 

AS: I had a great deal of help with information and knowledge I’d been trusted with by people who’ve been or are being illegally detained, and I also read and searched out what people who’ve been detained (the most invisible of people right now in the world, human beings rendered invisible by an industrialized system of detention) have been able to publish and voice against all the silencing odds about their time in detention. I also asked anonymous sources who work in the system to tell me about it as it is. But there’s more. There’s so much endlessly more, every day more. One man I spoke to, a man who’d been trafficked since the age of 4, and had arrived in the U.K. looking for help only to be trafficked again, until he’d escaped, and gone to the Home Office for help, and been arrested and incarcerated, said to me, “You have to tell people. People don’t know. They think it’s like the government tells them. You have to tell them what it’s like. So I have and I am.

NHZ: Some of the events you mention in your series, such as the Windrush scandal and London’s Grenfell Tower fire, are fresh out of the newspapers of the past several years. Is there ever a point when writing about contemporary events that it feels too recent to truly dissect or glean meaning from in writing? Or does the recentness help lend urgency to your work?

AS: The thing is, nothing’s really new. Windrush and Grenfell are just the latest age-old governmental selfishnesses. And one of the interesting things about the attempt at articulation of what’s happening around us right now is the sense of the metamorphic thing that can happen in the imaginative space the arts always create, personally, psychologically, socially, nationally, internationally, metaphysically—all these are of course umbilically connected. The novel genre frames reality, all our realities, brand new, ancient, in a way that asks of the imagination.

Also, I’m feeling well equipped—I’ve recently been rereading Muriel Spark; I reread everything she wrote last year around the centenary of her birth. Spark can write quite specifically about, say, Watergate, like she does in the novel called “The Abbess of Crewe,” and it can be about all the centuries of surveillance, powerplay and dodgy governmental dealings, as well as very much the specifics of a couple of years in the 1970s. Spark, merry about apocalypse, facing the 20th century’s own stormy times of rising fascism and emotional mass manipulation, always gestures toward the thinking mind, the reason we’ve a skull beneath the skin at all, as she might (given her great love of the metaphysical poets) have put it.

NHZ: While the series is set in a post-EU-Referendum U.K., I find it remarkable that you’re able to portray in detail the uncertainty of the moment without predicting what will come of the vote in terms of the U.K.’s as-of-yet undefined separation from the European Union. Do you have any predictions as to how Brexit will play out as a new autumn deadline looms and British politics remain in disarray? Do you have an ideal scenario in mind? 

AS: No. I think the current quite blatantly expedient political use of division and emotion locally and internationally has ripped a chasm and sown a neurosis and a reactive fury through almost everything—and was meant to. A small number of people have made a lot of money out of such volcanic political canyon-ing across the world.

But. We’ll sort it. We’re multifarious, and we’re astonishing. And division is a kind of lie to us, in our human multifacetedness. We won’t stand for it for long. I hope.

NHZ: There’s a layering of histories that occurs in “Spring.” For example, Culloden, the setting of the final brutal battle of the 1745 Jacobite rising, becomes the setting of a new, very different opportunity for a form of freedom. What did you hope your readers would come to understand about the time we live in with these collage-like moments?

AS: I didn’t set out to hope for anything, I just told it as it asked to be told and went with what the historic cycles provided.

But here’s an anecdote—I’d originally thought I’d maybe be writing this book partly about Switzerland, maybe based around the place where the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the great short story writer Katherine Mansfield (who grace the book fleetingly) had lived so close to one another one year in the 1920s without having ever met each other, and I’d planned a trip to see the place, Sierre, just for a couple of days. But then, on the morning before the day we were meant to leave, I put my head and shoulders inside a massive renaissance wooden chest that’s been in my partner’s family for something like four hundred years, it’s where we now keep the photo albums, I was in there looking for a photo of something I thought might be a help to the book, and that’s when history hit me hard on the head—the lid of the box came down and thumped me on the forehead and my forehead was too gashed open to allow air travel, so the planned Swiss trip was canceled. OK. We moved the dates. Then a dear friend died.  Her funeral was taking place on the new Swiss dates and there was no way we’d not be there at her service. At that service one of the pieces of music she’d chosen was a tune close to my heart, a tune called Highland Cathedral, a traditional Scottish bagpipe tune of great beauty.

With the closer-to-home mountains and sound of the Scottish highlands in my head, I sat on the floor in our front room a few days later and laughed out loud at how I’d sort of known all along that this book was meant to be set in the north of Scotland, which is a place that really feels, right now, like a quite different country is still possible, if we want it to be, both in the U.K. or out of it.

NHK: Despite the despair common in our times, and that several of your characters, such as Richard, experience, your novels still find ways to offer glimpses of radical hope. Where do you find reasons to be hopeful in today’s turbulent political and environmental context?

AS: We’re human. We’ll work it out. But we’d better get on to it. We have to move fast. Time—it’s not just of the essence. It is the essence.


The post A Revolutionary Writer for Our Darkest Days appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Border Patrol Has Killed At Least 97 People Since 2003. Hear Some of Their Victims' Stories

Democracy Now! -

U.S. Border Patrol agents have killed 97 people since 2003, including at least six Mexicans on Mexican soil. Democracy Now! traveled to the borderlands of Arizona earlier this month to cover one of these killings: the death of José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was gunned down by a Border Patrol agent in 2012. We met with Richard Boren of the Border Patrol Victims Network in Nogales, Arizona, at exactly the spot where agent Lonnie Swartz pointed his gun through the border wall to shoot and kill José Antonio. At this site, Richard Boren displayed a banner with images of José Antonio and other victims of Border Patrol and told us their stories.

Family of Mexican Teenager Slain by Border Agent Awaits SCOTUS Ruling to Determine If They Can Sue

Democracy Now! -

This fall, the Supreme Court will decide whether the parents of Sergio Hernández Güereca, a 15-year-old Mexican teen killed by a Border Patrol agent in 2010, can sue the American agent in a U.S. federal court. It’s been nearly 10 years since Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa Jr. shot across the El Paso-Juárez border and struck Hernández Güereca in the head. The central question in the case is whether a Mexican citizen killed on Mexican soil by a U.S. border agent is protected by the U.S. Constitution — allowing for the family members of victims to file civil lawsuits. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hernández Güereca’s case, the decision will likely impact other cross-border killing cases, including that of 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was shot and killed by Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz on the Mexico side of the border in 2012. We speak with Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who represents José Antonio Elena Rodríguez’s family in the civil lawsuit.

Justice for José Antonio: Family Demands Accountability for Mexican Teen Killed by U.S. Border Agent

Democracy Now! -

Nearly seven years ago, 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was killed in Nogales, Mexico, by U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz, who fired his gun from the U.S. side of the border. The teenager — who was unarmed — died face-down on the sidewalk just a couple of blocks from his home. Border Patrol has for years been plagued with hundreds of allegations of abuse and unnecessary use of deadly force, including the cross-border killings of at least six people on Mexican soil. Most cases are not investigated, and border agents are rarely criminally charged for using violent force. After nearly five years of legal delays, José Antonio’s mother, Araceli Rodríguez, and his grandmother, Taide Elena, brought Lonnie Swartz to trial for second-degree murder in 2017. A Tucson jury acquitted him and were deadlocked on manslaughter charges. In a second trial in November 2018, Swartz was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. During Democracy Now!'s trip to the borderlands, we spoke with José Antonio's family, including both Araceli Rodríguez and Taide Elena, at the exact spot where he was gunned down by Swartz. Araceli Rodríguez says, “He was murdered, and there has been no justice. He was killed, and the world is the same. He was murdered, and Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz is still free.”

"All-Out Attack": Trump's Anti-Immigrant Policies Target Children, Cancer Patients & Servicemembers

Democracy Now! -

On Tuesday, the Trump administration reportedly ended its “medical deferred action” program, which allows immigrants with serious health problems to stay in the U.S. for up to two years beyond the terms of their visas to receive critical treatment. Just one day later, it announced that some children born to U.S. servicemembers and government employees stationed overseas will no longer automatically receive citizenship. The policy changes come days after the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to allow the Trump administration to implement its rule banning almost all migrants from seeking asylum in the United States. Amid these crackdowns, border wall construction began this week on federally protected lands in the remote Arizona desert, and many immigrant families remain separated due to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which was supposed to have ended more than a year ago. We speak with Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Headlines for August 30, 2019

Democracy Now! -

Brain Scans, Saliva Tests, and Baby Teeth: Inside the Massive, Government-Funded Effort to Understand How Kids’ Brains Develop

Mother Jones Magazine -

When I first met 11-year-old Baron, his nose was deep in an open package of Fruit Snacks. He was drawing long breaths, like a torturous meditation, in an attempt to generate enough drool to fill a pinky-sized vial. When it was clear the gummies weren’t doing the trick, he tried staring at laminated photos of yummy foods—fudgy brownies, juicy raspberries, gooey mozzarella sticks.

While he gazed and sniffed, a research assistant at a lab next door to Stanford University carefully trimmed a few hairs from the crown of his head. The hair would be tested for nicotine and other drug exposure; the saliva, once he generated it, would be sent to another lab for DNA analysis. The next few hours were a marathon of data collection: Baron worked on vocabulary tests and memory games on an iPad; submitted to an hourlong MRI scan to track his neural activity while he completed tasks involving impulsivity and rewards; and answered dozens of questions posed by friendly researchers about screen time, exercise, substance use, sexual activity, suicidal ideation, family conflicts, and more.

Baron is one of nearly 12,000 kids across the country participating in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, the largest-ever longitudinal study of the maturing brain in the United States. If all goes according to plan, Baron and his peers will undergo an annual battery of genetic and psychological tests and biannual MRI scans for a decade, from roughly age 10 to 20. Each young subject will be evaluated at one of 21 research sites funded by the National Institutes of Health, from Yale University to SRI International, where Baron participates. They’ll also check in over the phone with RAs every few months, and occasionally wear Fitbits to track sleep and activity. Some participants have even donated baby teeth, which can provide information about exposure to various toxins dating back to their time in the womb.

Baron accumulates drool while a research assistant snips his hair.

Julia Lurie

Researchers expect this massive endeavor, receiving $30 million in federal funding per year, will transform our understanding of brain development. Neuroscientists are positively giddy about ABCD, and for good reason: It is larger and more racially and socioeconomically diverse than any comparable study to date.

“We’re going to be working with this dataset for decades,” said one scientist. “I think it’s going to be an absolute boon for sciences.”

“We’re going to be working with this dataset for decades,” said Jennifer Pfeifer, a University of Oregon developmental neuroscientist who is not involved with the study. “I think it’s going to be an absolute boon for sciences.”

The kids were recruited at a critical age: Most 10-year-olds are old enough to have the patience to sit through hours of tests, but young enough that they haven’t experienced the many critical neurological changes that come with the second decade of life. Over the course of the study, which is now in its second year, the cohort will have all sorts of experiences outside the lab that could affect their neurological development. They’ll be exposed to varying levels of pollution, screen time, sleep, and physical and emotional trauma. Some will become addicted to drugs. Some will suffer concussions. Some will develop the mental health issues that tend to emerge during adolescence, like depression and schizophrenia.

ABCD is practicing the increasingly popular “open science” philosophy: Its reams of data will not belong to the researchers but will be anonymized and released to the scientific community each year. “A lot of the other studies are only publicly released years and years after it’s done,” said Deanna Barch, chair of the brain science and psychology department at Washington University in St. Louis, an ABCD site. “The taxpayers are spending a ton of money to fund this study. Making it available is the only way to ensure as many different clever, creative minds can look at the data as possible.”

A number of studies have already come out based on the first year of ABCD data. Though it’s too early to draw any conclusions about cause and effect, researchers have made some striking observations. Barch’s team found that boys involved in sports tended to exhibit fewer symptoms of depression. (This didn’t hold for girls, however.) Another study found that living in poorer neighborhoods was associated with smaller amygdala and hippocampal volume, measures associated with slower cognitive processing. One paper looked at rates of suicidal ideation among kids who identify as gay or bisexual; another paper examined the prevalence of eating disorders.

The idea for ABCD originated in 2014, when researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), also part of the NIH, were being pressed by parents, pediatricians, and policymakers for information about the neurological effects of marijuana and e-cigarettes. There were lots of studies comparing brain scans of cannabis users to nonusers, but such studies run into a chicken and egg problem: Does something about certain kids’ brains predispose them to drug use, or does drug use lead to differences in their brains? To really understand the effect of marijuana, “what you need to do is recruit kids before they become addicted,” said Silvia Bunge, a University of California-Berkeley neuroscientist who is not part of the ABCD study. “Since such a small proportion of kids end up that way, you need to recruit a large sample.”

The chicken and egg problem plagues much of our understanding of brain development. When someone has a traumatic brain injury, doctors have no way of knowing if a brain scan is showing results of a concussion, or if the brain looked like that already. One of the aspirations of ABCD, said study director Gaya Dowling, is “to have something akin to height and weight growth charts that pediatricians use for the brain.”

As NIDA floated the idea of a large long-term study to examine the neurological effects of drug use, other NIH institutes became interested. “There’ll be a sub-group that drinks a lot of alcohol at, heaven forbid, 14 years old,” said George Koob, director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and an ABCD co-sponsor. “What does that subgroup look like? Is there any change in how the brain develops? Does it last, or does it recover?”

“What is the normal trajectory of healthy human neurodevelopment—and is there even a single trajectory?” 

By last fall, when recruitment of 9- and 10-year-olds was complete, the study had morphed to include 10 NIH institutes, 40 principal investigators, and hundreds of research staffers across the country. The focus is still substance use—NIDA covers more than half of the study cost—but the fundamental question the project sought to answer had broadened. As NIDA director Nora Volkow put it, “What is the normal trajectory of healthy human neurodevelopment—and is there even a single trajectory?” 

Baron’s mom, Jean, first heard about ABCD in 2017 through a recruitment flier sent to the parents of third and fourth graders in San Jose, California. It piqued her interest: She liked the idea of contributing to science. She liked that the study was prioritizing diversity—and that her child, a Chinese American from a middle class family, could participate. The financial incentive—about $300 for each annual battery of tests—didn’t hurt, either.

While previous neuroimaging studies have been limited to mostly white, well-to-do participants, the makeup of ABCD’s 12,000 participants roughly mirrors the US population: Fifteen percent of participants are black and 21 percent are Hispanic. Forty percent come from families in which neither parent earned a bachelor’s degree—a lower proportion than the general population, but higher than seen in most studies. “We tried to get people to participate that normally are very difficult to recruit and are therefore often not recruited” in longitudinal studies, said Martin Paulus, scientific director of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, an ABCD study site in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A 10-year study can be a hard sell to parents—particularly those who are aware of the thorny track record of government-funded studies involving minorities, such as the infamous Tuskegee experiment. “Many US communities have had very difficult intersections with research, with devastating cultural, physical, and health implications,” acknowledged ABCD researchers in a recent paper.

There’s also the question of how much privacy kids should have from parents. The study will keep all information collected confidential unless it poses an immediate health threat: Researchers won’t tell a parent if their kid admits to smoking weed or drinking, but they will notify a parent if a brain scan suggests the child has a tumor. An ABCD ethics group will provide guidance if and when the soon-to-be teenagers use more dangerous drugs like heroin and engage in other high-risk behavior.

Baron likes coming to SRI, where he gets to play games in between tests and picks out toys from a “treasure chest.” He leaves each visit with a printout of what his brain looks like in the MRI. It feels a bit like a daylong summer brain camp. But as Baron gets older, it will take a lot more than trinkets to make sure he keeps coming back. The study’s designers expect about 10 percent of the participants to quit over the coming years. Paradoxically, the kids who develop conditions that scientists are itching to understand—particularly substance use disorders or mental illnesses—can be the most likely to drop out of longitudinal studies. The trickiest participants to retain are those with severe depression who “don’t feel they want to do anything,” said Paulus. “We’re going to have to make sure we know where they live, knock on their doors, make sure we get them to come.”

The study’s success depends on a lot of big ifs: If the researchers can keep kids coming back through adolescence, if those teenagers engage in behaviors that fundamentally change their brains, if the scans pick up those changes, and if researchers across the country can keep collaborating for the next eight years—then, says Koob, the study will be a “gold mine.”

This Lawyer Is Bringing the Internet’s Worst Men to Heel

Mother Jones Magazine -

Listen up, assholes. Carrie Goldberg is coming for you. 

Since founding her law firm in 2014, the defiant, trash-talking New York lawyer has built a reputation for going after sexual predators from Harvey Weinstein to anonymous trolls and purveyors of nonconsensual pornography. In her new book Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls, Goldberg and co-author Jeannine Amber tell war stories from Goldberg’s fight on behalf of clients who have been abused or had their privacy violated online. Interwoven with their stories is an inventory of Goldberg’s tools for taking down bad guys on the internet, from copyright law to brash cease-and-desist letters. (“I’ll be taking over negotiations from here. Negotiations just ended.”)

Nobody’s Victim is a battle cry not just against the various subgenres of abusive men (and they are mostly men) responsible for extorting, threatening, harassing, stalking, or assaulting Goldberg’s clients, but also their enablers—the victim-blaming cops and judges, “chickenshit” school officers, and the tech moguls and venture capitalists who fund and build “the idiot inventions that ruin our lives.” She’s aiming high: Her much-watched lawsuit against the gay dating app Grindr, which she has asked the Supreme Court to review, has the potential to transform the way courts interpret a bedrock internet regulation, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

But the book also revisits the story Goldberg has told about her own origins, that after being stalked by a “psycho ex,” she became the lawyer that she desperately needed. She reveals that she was vulnerable to her ex’s manipulations in the first place because of a devastating date rape that left her psychologically and physically scarred. Goldberg’s year of recovery from the attacks by both men, learning to protect herself but also rediscover a sense of hope and purpose, is the origin of her singleminded focus. “I stopped inventorying the men who had fucked me over. I quit admonishing myself for making stupid choices and bad mistakes,” she writes. “Nothing mattered but the fight.”

I called up Goldberg to talk about the decision to share her own story, her battles against little men and Big Tech, and the differences between living in fear and staying vigilant.

Madison Pauly: You write that the guys you go after are “as boring and predictable as they are dangerous.” So you use a shorthand to refer to them—they’re either assholes, psychos, pervs, or trolls. Besides the obvious satisfaction of calling an asshole an asshole, how are these categories useful?

Carrie Goldberg: Categorizing things is the first step in being able to understand and respond to them. The psychos are the relentless stalkers who have put everything in their own life aside in order to focus on destroying their victim. Usually there’s a lot of anonymizing software that the offenders use. They’re pretty hard to physically locate, because they often have fled the area and are hiding from the law. In those cases, a cease-and-desist letter, lawsuit, or family court order isn’t going to suffice. The only way that they can actually be stopped is law enforcement.

MP: But the cease-and-desist order that wouldn’t work with a psycho might be more useful for a troll?

CG: Especially if they have something at stake. If they have something to lose; if their job or their family would be horrified about their conduct. There are certainly psychos who troll, and trolls who are psychos—you know, it’s a Venn diagram. But if you’re just being trolled, it generally is not as dangerous. It’s just sort of their nighttime hobby.

MP: You write that assholes, psychos, pervs, and trolls are motivated by something similar—“the same impulses that trigger other offenders to drive cars into groups of protestors and fire assault rifles into churches, synagogues, and schools.” What, in your view, is that shared motivation?

“When it does come to having offenders who can pay, I’m adamant that wealth distribution needs to happen.”

CG: A raging need for power and control. It all comes down to some person prioritizing their own right to be in this world—or online—over somebody else’s. We’re just talking about the choice of weapon. Some are going to be using an iPhone to send naked pictures and post them on a website. Others are going to be using a dating app to impersonate somebody and send men to their home expecting sex. And others will be grooming a 13-year-old they meet on a video game into sending sex pictures. There are communities now for people who hate women, are violent, and have access to guns [to] all come and—commune in.

MP: In the manosphere. Sorry, I can’t say that word without laughing.

CG: I’ve actually never said it out loud.

MP: Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend. As a lawyer, there are different ways you could have fought these people. You chose to focus on civil law and making somebody pay, literally, for the harm that your clients have suffered. Why that route?

CG: A lot of people think it’s crude to put a price on suffering. And, of course, it doesn’t undo the harm. But in this world we live in, money buys power. A client, even if she doesn’t want the money, can donate to an organization that fights for the things that she values, or she can donate it to a political candidate. A lot of people are sheepish when it comes to admitting, even when they’re in my office, that, yeah, I want to sue that motherfucker. I want all his money. And I’m like, good. Cause that’s what we’re going to do.

There are a lot of different kinds of work we do where the object is not money—cases where we’re just trying to get a restraining order for our clients, or we’re trying to get that motherfucker arrested, or we’re trying to get that content off the internet. But on the other hand, when it does come to having offenders who can pay, I’m adamant that wealth distribution needs to happen. That includes schools, religious institutions, online platforms, social media companies. If they can prevent it, or if they’re monetizing, in any way, the injuries my client has sustained, then I want them to pay for it.

MP: You’re unequivocal about wanting to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has prevented you from making tech companies pay for the way their platforms have been used by abusers. What’s your argument?

CG: It’s a 26-word law that went into effect in 1996, that says interactive computer services are not liable for “information content” provided by a third party. The problem is that over the following 23 years, courts have interpreted that law more and more broadly, so that internet companies cannot be held liable for the activities of their users—even when they know about their harassment, or sextortion or impersonation. It’s outrageous to me that the most omniscient and omnipotent industry in the history of the universe is basically outside the reach of our courts.

The broadest interpretation to date was our case, Herrick v. Grindr, where our client was impersonated by his ex-boyfriend on Grindr, the online gay dating app. He created profiles and then would use the geolocating functions to send strangers to our client’s home and job for sex. He was basically setting up our client to be raped. Grindr was in the exclusive position to be able to stop this, and they refused. They told us that they didn’t actually have the technology to identify and exclude users. So we sued them under product liability theory, saying that they’d released a dangerous product into the stream of commerce. Grindr didn’t even need to plead [that they were protected by Section 230]. The judge just decided that, and dismissed our complaint. 

MP: You just asked the Supreme Court to overturn that judge’s decision. If they do decide to take your case, and rule in your favor, would Section 230 go away?

CG: Only our lawmakers could repeal it. But if [the Supreme Court] takes the case, hopefully the outcome would be that they’ve fixed it a little bit. We’re basically saying you can’t just throw these cases out at the earliest possible moment. And then the second thing [we’re asking for is] a bright-line rule about what “information content” means. We’re suing [Grindr] for Grindr’s own conduct, and their own decision making. If that is information content, then everything that a tech company does, basically, is information content.

MP: You have this public persona, as you put it in the beginning of the book, as a “ruthless motherfucker.” Like your fierce Twitter presence, and the swearing, and cease-and-desist letters like the one you put in the book: “I’ll be taking over negotiations from here. Negotiations just ended.”

CG: I know! I actually really used that line.

MP: How does that unusual decorum for a lawyer end up working to your advantage or disadvantage?

“There are certainly psychos who troll, and trolls who are psychos—you know, it’s a Venn diagram.”

CG: I mean, I don’t go onto court and say fuck all the time. But many of our cases involve really, really graphic facts. Quotes from text messages or tweets of our clients being horribly threatened. I want all that stuff to be in front of the judge. I want them to see the gory details. I also feel that being underestimated is a superpower. Corporate lawyers who are defending a tech company are used to dealing with other corporate lawyers—and so I think it’s fun to throw them off.

MP: I can’t imagine the sheer panic if I were to find out if there were intimate photos of me on the internet. But if I did, what should I do next?

CG: Well, I’d say, take a deep breath. Call somebody. Then take screenshots. It’s going to be okay. You’re not the first person that it’s happened to. There’s a huge community of people who’ve been victims of nonconsensual porn. And there are lots of legal tools and advocacy tools that can be used—such as what’s called a DMCA, a takedown notice. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, they all have forms on their platforms to fill out, and bans on revenge porn. Google has a policy where they have the discretion to remove revenge porn from your search results.

MP: You’ve said that the guiding principle of your law firm is that every single one of us is moments away from crossing paths with someone hellbent on our destruction. And in your book, you recommend your clients read another book, The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker, which is about living in a state of vigilance. What does that book mean to you?

CG: The Gift of Fear is all about trusting your instincts, and your body’s physical perception to risky situations. As women, we tend to ignore our own physical responses to things, because we’re trying to accommodate somebody else, or we’re trying to go with the flow, or not cause waves. [When] I was reading that book, I was a few months into starting the firm. It was a revelation for me. I like how it organized the different fear responses that we have. Serial predators are looking for certain attributes and vulnerabilities. The more information that we can all have, the better we are.

MP: One thing I struggle with is the difference between advocating that level of preparation, and victim blaming. As women, we’re used to hearing, Well, why were you drinking so much? Why did you meet him alone? Why would you go out that late? What’s the line between being vigilant—knowing that psychos, stalkers, pervs, trolls are out there and could strike at any moment—and believing that if I’m not taking the precautions to avoid them, then it’s my fault if I’m targeted?

CG: I think it’s really simple. There’s only one party that’s ever going to be responsible for rape, or sexual assault, or stalking. It’s never the victim. I would love for a day to come where I’m put out of business because there aren’t predators and criminals and stalkers. But until that day comes, I want to tell everybody about the patterns, and who they are, and the forms that they take, and the weapons online and offline that they use. Because not only can it help us stay safer, we can pass on information on to our friends. But I know what you’re saying.

MP: So what are reasonable precautions that people should be taking online?

CG: Probably be careful about attributes of wealth. If your online profile talks about you being on the equestrian team and yachting and stuff, you’re going to be a bigger attraction, because you’re easier to blackmail. I think everyone needs to be really careful about sharing where they work, or the industry that they’re in. It’s also true that, when we physically are in somebody’s presence, we pick up on the vibe of the other person. If we’ve exchanged a lot of secrets with a date online, and we have already trusted them with all this intimate information, we’re going to be pressuring ourselves to really like the person when we actually meet. [We’ll] silence any red flags.

“It’s so good for other people who’ve gone through trauma to know that you can turn that shit into gold.”

MP: You start off the book by telling the neat version of your own origin story that you’ve been telling for years—that you had this psycho ex who started stalking you, and you became the lawyer that you needed to fight him at the time. But then, at the end of the book, you disclose that there was more to the story—including a really traumatic sexual assault right before you met your psycho ex. Would you tell me about coming to the decision to reveal that part of your own experience?

CG: I had no intention of including that story in this book. I had an amazing co-author, Jeannine Amber, who would ask me questions. She kept asking more and more about what state of mind I was in when I met my ex. It didn’t fully make sense to her how I so quickly became controlled by another person. So I sent her this really long email. At the time that I met my ex, I was in a deep depression because of this horrible incident. I told him about it before our first date. It’s exactly what we were talking about—I shared with him all this intimate information about me.

[Jeannine was] like, Well, we have to put this in the book. I was like, Fuck you, no fucking way.  This was always the thing that was mine. It’s my secret. And if people know this much about me, will they still want to hire my law firm? I answered my question by looking at all the stories that my clients had trusted me with—the graphic details of the worst things that have ever happened to them. We put that in complaints that are public, we talk about their most private information in courtrooms and sometimes in the media. If they can do that, then why am I not?

MP: I think about this when I write about stories a source, a survivor, has trusted me with. Part of me wants to just make other people stare at it—make them believe this happens, make them react. Because it’s not just an SVU plotline, it’s real.

CG: When you’re telling somebody else’s story you do want to hit somebody over the head with it. But it’s different being on the other side. You want somebody to learn the lessons, but you don’t want them to picture the gory details.

But it would be hypocritical of me to be telling everybody else’s stories, and telling the story of my law firm, without including the most traumatizing part of my story. I also think it’s so good for other people who’ve gone through trauma to know that you can turn that shit into gold. You can learn from it and be fueled by it. Trauma is a burden, but it can also be a gift, if that makes sense.

MP: How do you mean?

CG: I don’t think I would be who I am without the worst experiences that I’ve had. I was a different person entirely before. I was somebody who was content with a middle management job, and wasn’t a leader in my field. But because those incidents happened, they required a lot of affirmative decision making: Get a restraining order. Get protected. There were so many decisions that it’s like I became a new person, forced to trust myself. I stopped being afraid of the things that I had been afraid of my whole life—dumb things like worms, or phobias about speaking in public, or starting a business. I wasn’t afraid to fail. Because it couldn’t have been worse than living in physical fear.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

One Very Bad Habit Is Fueling the Global Recycling Meltdown

Mother Jones Magazine -

If you’re like me, you’ve looked at a paper coffee cup or an empty tube of toothpaste and thought, “Is this recyclable?” before tossing it in the recycling bin, hoping someone, somewhere, would sort it out. People in the waste management industry call this habit “wishcycling.” According to Marian Chertow, director of the Solid Waste Policy program at Yale University, “a wishcycler wants to do the right thing and feels that the more that he or she can recycle, the better.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but this well-intentioned reflex is doing more harm than good. Not only that, but wishcycling is playing a big role in the current global recycling meltdown.

This well-intentioned reflex is doing more harm than good.

First, a bit about the process. When my recycling is scooped up by a truck every week, it goes to a materials recovery facility (MRF) run by a company called Recology. After the goods travel through the facility’s jungle of conveyor belts and sorting machinery, they are shipped as bales to buyers in the United States and abroad, who turn that material into products like cereal boxes and aluminum cans.

But in an effort to get more people recycling, companies like Recology have become victims of their own success. In the early 2000s, many communities switched from a dual-stream system, where plastics and glass, and paper and cardboard, each had their own bins, to single-stream, in which all recyclables go into one bin and the sorting is done at the MRF. But when “we decided to put all the things together, we decided to create a contaminated system,” says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. It’s almost impossible, for example, to put paper in a bin with beverage containers without the paper getting wet, which makes it unrecyclable.

And it doesn’t help that many of us are wildly confused about what we should recycle. A decade ago, according to one estimate, 7 percent of the objects Americans put into their bins weren’t supposed to be there. Today, it’s 25 percent. “For every ton of material we get in, there’s 500 pounds of trash that has to be taken out of it,” says Brent Bell, vice president of recycling opera­tions at Waste Management, the country’s largest waste disposal company. This garbage ranges from recyclables that are too dirty to process—mayonnaise jars still coated in a thick layer of eggy goo, for example—to items that just shouldn’t be there in the first place, like plastic bags.

Nearly a third of us have no idea what types of plastic our municipalities accept.

Nearly a third of us have no idea what types of plastic our municipalities accept, according to a 2014 survey. When I did a quick audit of my household’s bin in April, I found three plastic sandwich bags, a plastic freezer bag, and a disposable razor—none of which are recyclable. (Though places like San Francisco let you recycle plastic bags if you bundle them.) Our uncertainty leads to climbing costs and waning productivity at recycling facilities; contamination costs Waste Management about $100 million annually, or 20 percent of its total budget.

In July 2017, our recycling system faced an even bigger setback: China, which had been buying about half of US plastic, announced it would ban the import of 24 materials, including mixed plastics, largely because the goods we sent them were too contaminated. The policy, which took effect on January 1, 2018, sent shockwaves through the industry.

“It’s a global recycling crisis,” says Johnny Duong, director of international sales at California Waste Solutions, a collection company whose costs have risen by 200 percent since the ban. The situation isn’t likely to improve anytime soon: China’s policy could displace an estimated 111 million metric tons of the world’s plastic waste by 2030. Some of that is going to Turkey, Vietnam, and Indonesia, but according to National Waste and Recycling Association spokesperson Brandon Wright, those countries can’t handle the volume because they don’t have China’s recycling infrastructure.

The United States doesn’t either. Author­ities in some cities have tried to change behavior through policy measures. Oakland, California, for example, fines residents $25 if they place “the wrong materials” in recycling containers three times within six months. Several states have banned single-­use plastic bags. At the federal level, it would help to follow the European Union’s lead and establish a national policy that defines what is recyclable rather than leaving that up to municipalities, says Kate O’Neill, an associate environmental professor at University of California–Berkeley and author of the forthcoming book Waste. The Environmental Protection Agency is still in the early stages of developing a national framework, a spokesperson tells me. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders proposes in his Green New Deal a national recycling program that’d require companies to pay to take back consumer scrap in order to build things like wind turbines, batteries, and other renewable energy equipment with as many recycled materials as possible.

For consumers, maybe the old mantra needs an update: Don’t just recycle—reduce and reuse. Zero-waste grocery stores offer shoppers house-cleaning products and bulk groceries without the plastic packaging. A new service called Loop, available in the mid-Atlantic since May, delivers items like ice cream and shampoo in reusable containers to people’s doors and collects the containers when they’re done. (It remains to be seen how many customers will be willing to pony up the deposit fees, which range from $1 to $15.75.)

When you do recycle, you should know what belongs in the bin: Rinsed plastic containers and glass bottles, cardboard, and beverage and food cans are almost always acceptable. Plastic bags, electronics, and paper covered with food generally are not. Neither are insulated coffee cups and toothpaste tubes, in most cases. And if you’ve checked your local guidelines to see if an item is recyclable and you still aren’t sure, it’s best to ignore your wishful instincts and throw it in the trash.


Subscribe to The Peace Coalition of Southern Illinois aggregator