This Thomas Jefferson Bio for Kids Seems to Be Missing Something

October 28, 2016 Featured, History, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 216

A friend and former coworker shared these photos on Facebook. Her daughter picked up a book from the school library about Thomas Jefferson–specifically it’s “Thomas Jefferson” by author Doraine Bennett, published in 2012 by Georgia-based State Standards Publishing as part of their “America, My Country: American Heroes” series.

Does it seem like something is missing to you?

Thomas Wanted Freedom excerpt says "Jefferson believed people should be free."

This section, entitled “Thomas Wanted Freedom,” reads: “Thomas believed people should be free. People in America were not free. The king of England ruled them. Thomas did not think this was fair. Thomas went to meetings with other men. They wanted to make their own laws.”

"Thomas at Home" section of Thomas Jefferson biography

And “Thomas at Home” tells the story of Monticello: “Thomas’s father died. Thomas was fourteen. The plantation belonged to Thomas now. He wanted to build a house. He drew a plan for the house. Workers built the house. Thomas called the house Monticello. The name means little mountain. Thomas liked working on the house….”

Referring to Jefferson’s slaves only as “workers” strikes me as particularly eggregious.

My friend and her husband contemplated writing a few things in the margins, but ultimately have decided to visit the school Principal and recommend this book be pulled from the library. Granted, it’s clearly intended to be easy to read and understand (the publisher recommends the series for young children, those with learning or physical disabilities, English language learners, and those who lag behind in reading skills) but that doesn’t justify the whitewashing of American history.

The comments they received on Facebook were entertaining as well. “When was this book published,” one person asked. When the response came back “2012,” you could almost HEAR a gasp.

On their web site, the publisher brags, “Our focus on state-specific studies is unique in the market. While other publishers may provide state studies books, they may not fully cover the topics required in that state’s standards, or be written at grade level.” They also point out that their books meet Common Core ELA requirements. I sincerely hope that the state of Georgia has not established educational standards barring mention of slavery–though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texas State School Board is to thank for this.

 

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America’s Opiate Epidemic is Our Worst Ever, Unnoticed

October 27, 2016 Featured, In The News Comments (0) 276

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard something about an opiate epidemic in the United States. But if you’re like me, you might have no idea how bad that epidemic really is. More than a quarter of a million Americans have died from overdoses in the last 15 years, and the problem is getting worse. And yet many of us know nothing about it.

I’ve heard bits and pieces about the problem in various places. As the candidates for the 2016 election have made appearances in various towns, people have asked about the heroin epidemic–and that’s part of the problem, because it’s not really a heroin epidemic per se. As an opiate, heroin certainly plays a role, but prescription drugs are at least as common as heroin, if not more common. And notably, the prescription pad is generally where this epidemic originates.

Hooked by the Prescription Pad

Doctors writing prescriptions are probably to blame for one of the more odd and interesting aspects of this epidemic: It’s running rampant through communities of white Americans, particularly middle-class and upper middle-class whites, but is much less problematic in communities of color. That runs counter to stereotype and past patterns of drug addiction1, and experts point to racial stereotype and bias as the likely explanation.

Put simply, doctors are statistically less likely to write opioid prescriptions for black patients. Studies suggest that doctors worry about black patients becoming addicted or selling their prescription drugs on the street. White patients trigger no such concern, and many critics believe doctors have been much too quick to prescribe opiates for white patients. In effect, racial bias has shielded the black community from a devastating epidemic.

In response to the perceived over-prescription, a movement arose to limit or stop opioid prescriptions entirely, but this is partly blamed for pushing Americans hooked on prescription opioids like vicodin and oxycontin toward illegal opioids like heroin. VICE recently ran a good piece about the consequences for patients with chronic pain who believe they need opiates. When their doctors refuse to continue the prescription, many turn to illegal drugs. Some simply suffer through the limitations of daily pain; others commit suicide.

A personal aside here: In 1995, I fractured a vertebra in my back, and my physician at the time wanted to send me home with a 30-day morphine prescription. A nurse cautioned my parents that at the end of a month I would be a “screaming addict,” and so my parents balked and instead I got 30 days worth of enormous ibuprofen tablets. One more reason to appreciate their judgment.

Life in the Bubble

I finally woke up to the severity of America’s opioid problem thanks to The United States of Anxiety, a joint production of WNYC and The Nation magazine. I highly recommend the podcast, which not only touches on the addiction issue, but other matters of race and class that have led the US to the situation we find ourselves in today.

One of the points made on that program is about the way we today live within “echo chambers,” physically and intellectually isolated from those who differ fro us, and how that can create a bubble in which we are unaware of issues affecting other communities. I’ve long recognized that phenomenon in politics, but the idea that it would lead to a hidden epidemic killing hundreds of thousands of Americans is startling.

One expert points to the fact that the epidemic has been ongoing since about 2001, and yet President Obama barely mentioned it until 2015. The reason, he suspects, is that the President himself is in a bubble, and he just didn’t know about it.

That’s astounding, and immensely problematic. But it’s hard for me to be too judgmental, when I myself had no idea.

On this same subject I’d also highly recommend you check out an episode of the NPR podcast Embedded, which takes listeners inside an HIV outbreak in Indiana linked to abuse of the prescription opioid Opana. It’s pretty dark, but as I listened I found myself questioning whether drug companies are deliberately producing presciption opioids with the intent of addicting users.

  1. The crack epidemic of the 1980s, for instance, was generally seen as a black problem, but the use of cocaine (of which crack is just one form) was consistent across all races; white people just tended to use powdered cocaine more frequently than crack. The way this particular epidemic was represented in the media is another illustration of the way race shapes the way Americans perceive reality. ?

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It’s Time for the Republican Party to Abandon its Racist Base

October 20, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 298

As the third and final debate of the 2016 Presidential Election concluded last night, it was clear to anyone that Donald Trump’s collapse was complete. After a performance in which he threatened to end 215 years of peaceful transition of Presidential power, vascilated between condemning and admiring Vladimir Putin, and lashed out at the last minute by labeling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman,” even the most die-hard conservative commentators had to admit that he’d lost.

Except, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani, who has transformed from America’s mayor to America’s greatest sycophant.

But Trump’s catastrophic collapse is not his alone. Certainly the election is far from over, but polling data shows that barring some unforeseen development, Hillary Clinton will win the election in a landslide so dramatic that the Democrats will likely take the Senate and possibly–even in spite of prohibitive gerrymandering–the House. As one could tell watching Bill Kristol practically collapse into tears on Morning Joe, the Republican Party is in dire straits, done in by an identity crisis and a fundamental sickness of which Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Only a scant 22 months ago, the Republicans were picking up massive gains in every body of government, from Congress to Gubernatorial mansions to state and local offices. As the 2014 election set records for low turnout, Tea Party Republicans seemed the only people motivated to go to the polls and signify their disapproval of President Obama and his policies.

But was it really ever about his policies? Trump’s rise provides evidence for something many on the left, myself included, have been saying since the earliest days of the Tea Party: That their energy and anger was never really about taxes or sovereignty or the Constitution, it was about race, white nationalism, and xenophobia. This was clear from the start to anyone who paid attention; people claiming to be driven by tax policy didn’t know anything about actual tax policy; what they “knew” was that President Obama was an African Muslim bent on taking their guns and destroying America.

This is the energy Donald Trump seized, and rode past 17 other candidates, all of them (arguably) more qualified than him, to the Republican nomination, despite the party establishment’s best efforts to stop him.

But why? Why couldn’t the Republicans trust their voters to choose policy and electability over racism and xenophobia, to save them from certain doom at the hands of Donald “The Groping Narcissist” Trump?

Simple. Because Republican policy has been broken for years, so broken that to get voters to support them, the GOP built a coalition of hate and fear. But as the population of people to be feared has grown, and more people added to the list, that coalition has found themselves outnumbered and incapable of winning the important elections.

Republicans knew as early as the 1960s that they could not win elections on the merits of their policies. The roots of Donald Trump’s rise are in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which used coded rhetoric and stoked latent Confederate resentment after the Civil Rights Era to win white racists to the Republican Party. Nixon replaced Johnson’s War on Poverty with a War on Drugs, which was only ever really a war on black communities.

By the 1980s it was Ronald Reagan, telling the story of a fictional “inner-city welfare queen,” playing on racism to get poor whites to vote against welfare programs from which they benefitted; but racism alone was not enough to win every election, so in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Republicans formed a pact with the so-called “Moral Majority,” the American theocratic movement that feared gays, abortion, and atheists.

Muslims, who through the 70s and 80s took a back seat as villains to the Soviets, would have to wait until the end of the Cold War to be labeled as the greatest enemies of the state, and while murmurs of white anxiety about Mexican immigrants were heard, it would not be until the 1990s, when recession made the job-destroying consequences of Republican policy vividly apparent, that white conservatives began pointing fingers at Mexico and the need for southern border security.

But the predominantly white population on which these tactics worked was ever shrinking as a percent of voting population, and as culture shifted and LGBTQ Americans gained mainstream acceptance the GOP lost one of their wedge issues. Republicans had a wake-up call in 2012, and in the miniature identity crisis that followed considered the need to alter immigration and jobs policies to appeal to Latinx Americans, soften on anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and otherwise shift to invite a wider section of America’s increasingly diverse voting base.

Instead, the party went the other way, intensifying their rhetoric until they alienated even those relatively few diverse voters who still aligned with them. Rather than work to embrace minority populations (who, combined, now constitute a majority of Americans) the Republicans advanced new voting requirements to prevent those minorities from voting, a desperate and despicable ploy to preserve the power of their alliance just a little bit longer.

Many experts cited Republican fears about alienating their base, and the need to win local and primary elections dominated by Tea Party voters. The implied assumption there, however, and one that I believe is correct, is that softening would not successfully attract new voters because Republican policies are fundamentally flawed. This is why there are no more Rockefeller Republicans, and almost no more of Bush’s “compassionate conservatives.” The only way to get people other than the most wealthy corporate elite to vote against their own self-interest and to support the Republican party is to appeal to their hatred and bigotry.

And so the GOP candidates and party establishment finds themselves now, cursed with a candidate who cannot win–and whose catastrophic candidacy seems poised to drag the entire party down with it–as the inevitable product of a machine they created.

The only solution? If the Republican Party wants any chance at winning major elections in the future, it must evolve. The United States is never going back to the way things were in the 1950s, and it is past time that one of our two major parties stop pretending otherwise.

Our immigration system is antiquated and broken, and voters will embrace realistic, reasonable immigration reform. Closed borders and isolationism are neither practically feasible nor appealing to Americans who embrace our diversifying culture. No more mythology about immigrants bringing crime and drugs; reforming the way ICE approaches immigration enforcement and transforming it into something humane and decent would win a lot of votes.

No more “tough on crime” laws. Mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws are devastating to communities and carry a huge tax burden to enforce. In recent years, the curtain has been drawn back to reveal the ugly reality of American law enforcement. Modern policing is oppressive and incompatible with any party that claims to value a small government that doesn’t intrude in people’s lives. Put forward meaningful reforms on law enforcement, including community policing and sentencing guidelines.

While you’re at it, bring the War on Drugs to a definitive end. The idea is totally compatible with the core values of reducing regulation, shrinking government, and minimizing tax-funded public expense. The War on Drugs costs Americans billions every year, it destroys families and communities, and it doesn’t do anything to prevent drug abuse. Legalize drugs, tax their sales (Republicans prefer use taxes to income taxes, right?) and use the revenues to fund rehabilitation and education that might actually solve drug abuse problems–like the catastrophic opioid epidemic that generally already begins with the legal use of prescription drugs.

Abandon the anti-science stance that allows you to deny climate change is an existential crisis, and bring the same energy and enthusiasm to that problem that the GOP does to all other matters of national security. Stop allowing corporations to pretend carbon emissions aren’t the problem, and instead work with them to incentivize solutions.

It’s time to reevaluate all Republican policies, but especially the most hard-line, because the beliefs to which you cling hardest are the ones with the least rational justification. Trickle-down does not work, that’s a proven fact. Christianity has never been our official religion, and it never will be, so stop trying to force it on us. The Second Amendment affords Americans the right to self-defense, but right now Americans need defense from the Second Amendment.

All of these reforms would change the GOP from an out-of-touch relic that relies on trickery and manipulation to achieve any power, and provide a viable second party alternative to voters who feel frustrated by our broken political system. Would they alienate the racist white voters who have come to define the Republican Party? Abso-fucking-lately they would. The GOP would need to be prepared for a lot of angry phone calls, bigotry, and death threats of the variety those on the left currently receive on a daily basis. You’d probably also see a number of GOP politicians jump ship to become independents or join the Liberarian Party.

But that’s okay; embracing meaningful changes in policy would attract conservative-leaning voters who right now align as reluctant Democrats, or feel totally disenfranchised. In all likelihood, a GOP that kept to conservative principles while embracing science and realistic policy measures would lure bright centrist politicians away from the Democratic Party to replace fringe Tea Party extremists who jump ship.

And perhaps most importantly, such changes would again provide the American voter with two viable parties from which to choose. As a very left-leaning Democratic voter myself, I desperately want a reasonable and attractive Republican Party to force my politicians to work hard and put forward real solutions to our problems.

Will the Republican leadership see it this way? Almost certainly not. For one thing, appeals to racism have been so intrinsic to the party for so long that many of the officials themselves are racists. Others are corporate shills who aren’t interested in doing work that actually benefits the country, just the next rhetorical trick that will keep Americans voting against their own self-interest. My expectation is that the GOP will keep on the same path, maybe even further intensifying their rhetoric, until their victories are limited only to the whitest and most bigoted state and local offices, and congressional districts so gerrymandered they look like the letters of some alien language.

But wouldn’t it be nice if Trump were the last of the racist Republians? If Nixon’s Southern Strategy was finally laid on the ash-heap of history, as they say, and America entered 2017 with two rival political parties ready to face the realities of the 21st century instead of trying to turn back the clock?

Human progress moves slowly; that’s a fact. In government, in the United States, it is almost incentivized to move slower still. But Donald Trump and his catastrophic, embarassing bid for the Presidency is a death knell for the Republican Party. The question is whether it can reinvent itself and rise, or be itself consigned to the ashes.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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New York City’s Naked Hillary Statue is a Misogynist Political Cartoon

October 18, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (2) 786

This morning, an artist named Anthony Scioli staged a political protest in downtown Manhattan by erecting a mostly-naked statue of Hillary Clinton near Bowling Green park. The move appears to be a reaction to the naked Donald Trump statue displayed in Union Square in August by an anarchist collective called INDECLINE.

Note: I could find no photos of either the Hillary or Trump statue that I could use without violating the photographer’s copyright; click the links above to see the statues for yourself.

Politically, Scioli has every right to stage his protest. New York City requires a permit for such a display, and counter-terrorism(!) police reportedly told him he had to remove his statue less than three hours after it went up, but not before morning commuters tore it down and engaged in a street-brawl about whether it belonged.

As an artistic and political statement, Scioli’s statue is troubling and speaks to much of what’s wrong with the way Hillary’s critics approach her, especially in contrast with the artistic choices around “Naked Trump.”

Let’s begin with the most obvious and attention-getting aspect of Naked Hillary: Her swollen, naked belly and exposed breasts. The artist who created Naked Trump crafted a very realistic human form that, while overweight, closely approximated Donald Trump’s actual physique. The one (likely) exaggeration was the statue’s obvious micropenis.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, has a body resembling a fertility goddess or R. Crumb cartoon, a grotesque parody of the female form. It bears almost no resemblance to Hillary Clinton’s actual figure. Instead, it is a commentary on the female form itself. The statue’s shape reflects the way Hillary’s critics view her: Burdened and disfigured by her femininity. Were this the artist’s primary statement, one could almost see this as a commentary on the way our society regards women; in combination with the statue’s other aesthetic and symbolic choices, however, such a reading is impossible.

Naked Hillary is posed mid-gesticulation, her arms spread wide as her mouth and eyes expand in wild-eyed frenzy. Once again, the choice contrasts with that to depict Naked Trump at rest, a placid if somewhat self-satisfied expression on his face. Especially when one considers that Trump is by far the more bombastic of the two, this choice again says more about the artist than about Hillary herself. Hillary Clinton is many things, but frenzied is not one of them. Instead, the wild expression and contorted open mouth reflect a primary objection from her critics: She is an outspoken woman.

From behind her belly and beneath her open shirt emerges the glib face and hand of her husband Bill; because god forbid any woman, even the likely first female President, be regarded as an individual human being apart from the man who defines her. It’s not entirely clear what purpose Bill serves; his expression and reaching hand likely hint at his well-known reputation, but in a surprisingly subtle move (considering the other symbolic choices) he is sans-cigar.

[EDIT, 12:30PM: From the photos available earlier this morning I took this to be Bill Clinton, but from later photos, it’s clearly not. It appears to be a banker fondling her and kissing her breast, adding another layer of troubling symbolism to the piece (why must alleged corruption be portrayed via sexual symbology? Because she’s a woman??) but doesn’t much alter the overall thesis as I’ve laid it out here. Just note that it is definitely not Bill.]

Below Bill’s hand, Hillary’s nether-regions are clad in a simple pair of white panties, because even in retaliating for Naked Trump, the artists regard female genitalia as too vulgar and offensive to be exposed in public. From there down, Hillary is transformed into a literal devil, her human legs replaced by hairy goat legs and hooves. Beneath her left hoof is a pile of papers; it’s hard to say with certainty from the photos online, but they would appear to be a mountain of emails. Her right hoof crushes a Google-style marker denoting a location on the map she stands upon, soaking it in blood that spills into the ocean.

Though the map is distorted, it’s almost certain that the marker denotes… wait for it… BENGHAZI.

The Naked Trump statue that made headlines in August was a simple artistic statement: It stripped The Donald of his glamor, of his character, of his bluster and his dignity and depicted him as nothing more than a man. Yes, the representation was distorted in some subtle ways to embarrass him: the tiny penis, the saggy skin and hanging jowl. But the artistic statement was to emphasize his humanity.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, is anything but human. She is a cartoon, so burdened by the symbols of right-wing knocks against her that no actual person remains. The statue’s artistic choices illustrate more about her critics than the candidate herself. Hillary’s attackers see her female-ness, they see the manufactured scandals they’ve associated with her, they see her refusal to sit down and keep quiet, and they see her husband as an intrinsic part of her personhood. The thing they are incapable of seeing is her humanity.

In the end, the Naked Hillary statue shares much with the right-wing movement against Hillary. It is wholly unoriginal and reactionary, exaggerated until it has little resemblance to reality, and based more on an imaginary character named Hillary Clinton than on the actual human politician by that name. It is fundamentally misogynist, and so burdened by decades of talking points and fake scandals that it can’t make an original statement of criticism. It’s less a “protest” than a political cartoon, one that repeats the same tired message Republicans have been reciting for the better part of 30 years.

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You Don’t Have to Like Hillary Clinton to Vote for Hillary Clinton

October 17, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 282

As the election draws nearer, and evidence mounts that Donald Trump really is the worst candidate ever to have a real shot at President of the United States, one common refrain from those who still support Trump (and those who intend to vote third-party or stay home) is that they just don’t like Hillary Clinton.

I am not one of those people who thinks it’s unreasonable to dislike Hillary. And we’ll tease that apart in a moment to consider the factors, fair and unfair, that make Hillary unlikable, but first I want to make this clear: Hillary Clinton is arguably the most qualified and competent person ever to run for President. She has dedicated her entire life to public service, and part of the reason she fails to connect on a human level is that she’s just so damn caught up in policy details. Oh, and her opponent is a priapic sex-monster who is either virulently racist or willing to embrace virulently racist voters to win, an irrelevant distinction.

The point is, you don’t need to like Hillary Clinton to think she’s the right choice in this election, or to cast your ballot for her. Continue Reading

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Here is a Cute Kitty, Just Because

October 14, 2016 Animals, Featured, New York City Comments (1) 343

I walk past this kitten every morning on my way to work, along with another (a sibling, presumably?) with whom he or she shares an Upper East Side pet store window.

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Trump’s Victims are Sacrificing Themselves for All of Us

October 13, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 231

No one looks forward to accusing a national celebrity, a candidate for President, of rape or sexual assault. No one WANTS to be in the national media talking about a violation of their body, to be asked probing questions that violate their privacy, to be called a liar and an opportunist and a slut.

No woman in the country is ignorant to the experience of such an accusation, even when her abuser is not famous. Your life becomes defined by the worst thing that ever happened to you, your identity buried beneath that of the person who violated you. And for every woman who came forward and was believed, there are dozens, hundreds maybe, who came forward and were ignored.

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Chris’s Quest to Like Coffee

October 4, 2016 Featured, Personal Comments (0) 240

In my near-38 years on this Earth, I have never learned to appreciate one of the most popular and commercially successful agricultural products our planet has to offer. Coffee is woven into American social fabric like almost nothing else, to the point where the word is almost synonymous with conversation; and yet for the last decade or so I have begun each morning not with a hot cup of Ethiopian Coffea, but a cold can of Diet Coke. Which, frankly… people look at you funny.

So I have embarked on a quest to learn to love the roasted black bean, though it’s not the first time in my life I’ve made such an attempt. I’ve tried coffee drinks a few times in my life, usually getting them to within a half inch of my face before recoiling. In the early 2010s I went so far as to purchase a bag of blonde roast beans (having heard those were less harsh and more friendly to beginners) and brewed them up in the French press I keep at home for guests. It didn’t go well. This time, I will succeed. Continue Reading

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