Sunday, July 31, 2016

Like Magic, Muggles Make New Harry Potter Play Disappear From Bookstores - The New York Times

Like Magic, Muggles Make New Harry Potter Play Disappear From Bookstores - The New York Times:



"As the rain poured down, a man with a Harry Potter phoenix feather tattoo on his forearm waited patiently on a Brooklyn sidewalk."



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Donald Trump’s Confrontation With Muslim Soldier’s Parents Emerges as Unexpected Flash Point - The New York Times

Donald Trump’s Confrontation With Muslim Soldier’s Parents Emerges as Unexpected Flash Point - The New York Times:



"Donald J. Trump reeled on Sunday amid a sustained campaign of criticism by the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq and a rising outcry within his own party over his rough and racially charged dismissal of the couple."



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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Trump’s Thunderbolts - The New York Times

Trump’s Thunderbolts - The New York Times:



 "Donald Trump is mad at me. He thinks I’ve treated him “very badly.” But he returned my call on Friday night on his way to a rally in Colorado and agreed to do a lightning round on the Democratic convention. He began, naturally, by bragging about his convention ratings and bounce, but then we got down to specifics."



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American hero!

Donald Trump Criticizes Muslim Family of Slain U.S. Soldier, Drawing Ire








Video

Fallen Soldier’s Father Denounces Trump

Donald J. Trump belittled the parents of a slain Muslim soldier who had strongly 
denounced Mr. Trump during the Democratic National Convention, saying that the 
soldier’s father had delivered the entire speech because his mother was not “allowed” 
to speak.

Mr. Trump’s comments, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that will air on Sunday, were his most extensive remarks since Khizr Khan delivered on Thursday one of the most powerful speeches of the convention in Philadelphia. In it, Mr. Khan spoke about how his 27-year-old son, Humayun Khan, an Army captain, sacrificed his life in a car bombing in 2004 in Iraq as he tried to save other troops.
He criticized Mr. Trump, saying he “consistently smears the character of Muslims,” and pointedly challenged what sacrifices Mr. Trump himself had made. Mr. Khan’s wife, Ghazala, stood silently by his side.
Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, told Mr. Stephanopoulos that Mr. Khan seemed like a “nice guy” and that he wished him “the best of luck.” But, he added, “If you look at his wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say, she probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say, you tell me.”
The comment implied that she was not allowed to speak because of female subservience that is expected in some traditional strains of Islam. Mr. Trump also told Maureen Dowd of The New York Times on Friday night, “I’d like to hear his wife say something.”
The negative remarks about the mother of a dead soldier drew quick and widespread condemnation, and even given Mr. Trump’s history of retaliating when attacked, they were startling. They called to mind one of his earliest thrusts of the campaign, when he responded to criticism from Senator John McCain of Arizona, once a prisoner of war in Vietnam, by saying at an Iowa forum, “I like people that weren’t captured.”
But Mr. McCain has a long history in the public eye. The Khans, before their convention appearance, had spent no time in the public eye.
Continue reading the main story
In an interview on Saturday, Mr. Khan lashed out at Mr. Trump, saying, “He is devoid of feeling the pain of a mother who has sacrificed her son.”
“Trump is totally void of any decency because he is unaware of how to talk to a Gold Star family and how to speak to a Gold Star mother,” said Mr. Khan, referring to the term for surviving family members of those who died in war.
He said his wife did not talk on Thursday because she finds it too painful to speak about her son’s death. Ms. Khan herself spoke publicly on Friday to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, saying she “cannot even come in the room where his pictures are.”
When she saw her son’s photo on the screen behind her on the stage in Philadelphia, she said, “I couldn’t take it.”
“I controlled myself at that time,” she said. “It is very hard.”
In his interview with The New York Times, Mr. Khan said his wife did help him craft the remarks, and even told him to remove certain attacks he had wanted to make against Mr. Trump.
But on Saturday, he unmuzzled himself.
“Unlike Donald Trump’s wife, I didn’t plagiarize my speech,” Mr. Khan said, referring to how several lines from a Michelle Obama speech found their way into Melania Trump’s address at the Republican convention.
“I also wanted to talk about how he’s had three wives, and yet he talks about others’ ethics and their religion,” Mr. Khan said. “I wanted to say 10 other things about him, and she said, ‘Don’t go to his level. We are paying tribute to our son.’”
Mr. Trump’s comments provoked another avalanche of criticism on social media, and again put Republican leaders in a difficult position, facing fresh demands that they repudiate their presidential nominee.
Even before Mr. Trump’s remarks to ABC News, Mr. Khan had asked that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Paul D. Ryan, the House speaker, denounce Mr. Trump.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said on Saturday he had not seen Mr. Trump’s latest remarks, but referred to Mr. McConnell’s response late last year that a ban on Muslims entering the United States, proposed by Mr. Trump, would be unacceptable.
In the same interview, when Mr. Stephanopoulos said that Mr. Khan had pointed out that his family would not have been allowed into the United States under Mr. Trump’s proposed ban, the candidate replied, “He doesn’t know that.”
And when asked what he would say to the grieving father, Mr. Trump replied, “I’d say, ‘We’ve had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism.’”
Mr. Stephanopoulos also noted that Mr. Khan said that Mr. Trump had “sacrificed nothing,” and had lost no one.
“Who wrote that? Did Hillary’s scriptwriters?” Mr. Trump replied. “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve worked very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs.”
Reihan Salam, a conservative writer for National Review and a frequent Trump critic, said that the candidate had an opportunity to declare remorse for the Khans while still holding to his own views as a candidate.
“A more skillful communicator would have avoided comparing his sacrifice to that of a parent who had lost his adult son to violence in Iraq, for the obvious reason that there’s no way to win,” he said. “Instead, he might have asked why Humayun Khan had died in the first place — because of a war that many if not most Americans regard as a tragic blunder, that led to the deaths of thousands of Americans.”
“There was really no benefit for Trump in suggesting that Ghazala Khan had been muzzled, because she could easily come out and say that she had been too grief-stricken to speak, which she did.”
Tim Miller, a former communications director for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, called Mr. Trump’s comments “inhuman.”
Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said on Saturday: “It’s really despicable that anyone, let alone a presidential candidate, would choose to dishonor the service of an American who gave his life for this nation.”
Ms. Khan, he said, “was obviously there to support her husband who was offering what many people believe was the most impactful speech of the entire convention.”
“And you know,” Mr. Hooper said, “to just completely throw that away, what does that say about what Trump would be like as president?”
As is often the case, Mr. Trump, who has had no campaign events this weekend, managed with a few words to upstage his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who was making several stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania with her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.
“I was very moved to see Ghazala Khan stand bravely and with dignity in support of her son on Thursday,” Mrs. Clinton said Saturday in a relatively reserved statement. “This is a time to honor the sacrifice of Captain Khan and all the fallen.”
In the ABC News interview, Mr. Trump also hedged over whether he would participate in the three scheduled debates with Mrs. Clinton. He insinuated that she had worked to schedule two of the debates during football games so viewership would be lower.
He also said the National Football League had sent him a letter complaining about debate dates.
The debates were scheduled last September by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. And while Joe Lockhart, a spokesman for the National Football League, said the league was not happy about the scheduling, “we did not send a letter to Trump.”



Computer Systems Used by Clinton Campaign Are Said to Be Hacked, Apparently by Russians - The New York Times

Computer Systems Used by Clinton Campaign Are Said to Be Hacked, Apparently by Russians - The New York Times:



 "WASHINGTON — Computer systems used by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were hacked in an attack that appears to have come from Russia’s intelligence services, a federal law enforcement official said on Friday."



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Friday, July 29, 2016

Michael Smith's Law Blog: Fred Flintstone, World Records, and Rules With Shifting References

Michael Smith's Law Blog: Fred Flintstone, World Records, and Rules With Shifting References:



"While the rest of the country was watching the Democratic National Convention yesterday, my attention was drawn to a far more dramatic series of events: an ongoing set of videos in which contenders attempt to seize the world record for the fastest drawing of Fred Flintstone."



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Who Loves America?

Photo
CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
It has been quite a week in politics.
On one side, the Democratic National Convention was very much a celebration of America. On the other side, the Republican nominee for president, pressed on the obvious support he is getting from Vladimir Putin, once again praised Mr. Putin’s leadership, suggested that he is O.K. with Russian aggression in Crimea, and urged the Russians to engage in espionage on his behalf. And no, it wasn’t a joke.
I know that some Republicans feel as if they’ve fallen through the looking glass. After all, usually they’re the ones chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” And haven’t they spent years suggesting that Barack and Michelle Obama hate America, and may even support the nation’s enemies? How did Democrats end up looking like the patriots here?
But the parties aren’t really experiencing a role reversal. President Obama’s speech on Wednesday was wonderful and inspiring, but when he declared that “what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican,” he was fibbing a bit. It was actually very Republican in substance; the only difference was that the substance was less disguised than usual. For the “fanning of resentment” that Mr. Obama decried didn’t begin with Donald Trump, and most of the flag-waving never did have much to do with true patriotism.
Think about it: What does it mean to love America? Surely it means loving the country we actually have. I don’t know about you, but whenever I return from a trip abroad, my heart swells to see the sheer variety of my fellow citizens, so different in their appearance, their cultural heritage, their personal lives, yet all of them — all of us — Americans.

Hillary Clinton’s Convention: Day 4

Arguments, provocations and observations from Times Opinion writers.
That love of country doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, uncritical. But the faults you find, the critiques you offer, should be about the ways in which we don’t yet live up to our own ideals. If what bothers you about America is, instead, the fact that it doesn’t look exactly the way it did in the past (or the way you imagine it looked in the past), then you don’t love your country — you care only about your tribe.
And all too many influential figures on the right are tribalists, not patriots.
We got a graphic demonstration of that reality after Michelle Obama’s speech, when she spoke of the wonder of watching her daughters play on the lawn of “a house that was built by slaves.” It was an uplifting and, yes, patriotic image, a celebration of a nation that is always seeking to become better, to transcend its flaws.
But all many people on the right — especially the media figures who set the Republican agenda — heard was a knock on white people. “They can’t stop talking about slavery,” complained Rush Limbaugh. The slaves had it good, insisted Bill O’Reilly: “They were well fed and had decent lodgings.” Both men were, in effect, saying that whites are their tribe and must never be criticized.
This same tribal urge surely underlies a lot of the right’s rhetoric about national security. Why are Republicans so fixated on the notion that the president must use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” when actual experts on terrorism agree that this would actually hurt national security, by helping to alienate peaceful Muslims?
The answer, I’d argue, is that the alienation isn’t a side effect they’re disregarding; it’s actually the point — it’s all about drawing a line between us (white Christians) and them (everyone else), and national security has nothing to do with it.

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Which brings us back to the Vlad-Donald bromance. Mr. Trump’s willingness to cast aside our nation’s hard-earned reputation as a reliable ally is remarkable. So is the odd specificity of his support for Mr. Putin’s priorities, which is in stark contrast with the vagueness of everything else he has said about policy. And he has offered only evasive non-answers to questions about his business ties to Putin-linked oligarchs.
But what strikes me most is the silence of so many leading Republicans in the face of behavior they would have denounced as treason coming from a Democrat — not to mention the active support for Mr. Trump’s stance among many in the base.
What this tells you, I think, is that all the flag-waving and hawkish posturing had nothing to do with patriotism. It was, instead, about using alleged Democratic weakness on national security as a club with which to beat down domestic opponents, and serve the interests of the tribe.
Now comes Mr. Trump, doing the bidding of a foreign power and inviting it to intervene in our politics — and that’s O.K., because it also serves the tribe.
So if it seems strange to you that these days Democrats are sounding patriotic while Republicans aren’t, you just weren’t paying attention. The people who now seem to love America always did; the people who suddenly no longer sound like patriots never were.
NYT

Florida Confirms First Cases of Zika Likely Spread by Mosquitoes in Continental U.S. - The New York Times

Florida Confirms First Cases of Zika Likely Spread by Mosquitoes in Continental U.S. - The New York Times:



 "Four cases of Zika infection in Miami are highly likely to have been caused by infected mosquitoes, the state Department of Health said Friday — the first documented instance of local transmission in the continental United States."



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What Your Brain Looks Like When It Solves a Math Problem - The New York Times

What Your Brain Looks Like When It Solves a Math Problem - The New York Times:



 "Solving a hairy math problem might send a shudder of exultation along your spinal cord. But scientists have historically struggled to deconstruct the exact mental alchemy that occurs when the brain successfully leaps the gap from “Say what?” to “Aha!”"



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Who Loves America? - The New York Times

Who Loves America? - The New York Times:



 "It has been quite a week in politics."



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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Searching for 43 Missing Students Deep Inside the 'Real Mexico' - The New York Times

Searching for 43 Missing Students Deep Inside the 'Real Mexico' - The New York Times:



"There is a stark beauty in the portraits Emmanuel Guillén Lozano has done of the parents of Mexico’s 43 missing college students. Against a white backdrop duct-taped to a wall, he shows them looking right at you, engaging your gaze and your heart. They have T-shirts with slogans or photos of their missing sons, who have been missing since September 2014. Some have a tattoo or charm of a turtle, the mascot of the Ayotzinapa Normal School, where many of the students had just started their journey from impoverished campesino to future teacher."



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Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote by Michelle Alexander

Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.


Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we—black people—are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.

And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.

The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.

What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work?

No. Quite the opposite.

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, urban black communities across America were suffering from economic collapse. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs had vanished as factories moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, a new plantation. Globalization and deindustrialization affected workers of all colors but hit African Americans particularly hard. Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness, despair, and crack addiction swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class. Millions of black folks—many of whom had fled Jim Crow segregation in the South with the hope of obtaining decent work in Northern factories—were suddenly trapped in racially segregated, jobless ghettos.

On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.

We should have seen it coming. Back then, Clinton was the standard-bearer for the New Democrats, a group that firmly believed the only way to win back the millions of white voters in the South who had defected to the Republican Party was to adopt the right-wing narrative that black communities ought to be disciplined with harsh punishment rather than coddled with welfare. Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.

Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages, appealing to African Americans by belting out “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in black churches, while at the same time signaling to poor and working-class whites that he was willing to be tougher on black communities than Republicans had been.

Clinton was praised for his no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to racial politics. He won the election and appointed a racially diverse cabinet that “looked like America.” He won re-election four years later, and the American economy rebounded. Democrats cheered. The Democratic Party had been saved. The Clintons won. Guess who lost?

Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”

When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”

Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill, and Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. But on the campaign trail, she continues to invoke the economy and country that Bill Clinton left behind as a legacy she would continue. So what exactly did the Clinton economy look like for black Americans? Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.
An oft-repeated myth about the Clinton administration is that although it was overly tough on crime back in the 1990s, at least its policies were good for the economy and for black unemployment rates.

The truth is more troubling. As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn’t have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate.

Why is this not common knowledge? Because government statistics like poverty and unemployment rates do not include incarcerated people. As Harvard sociologist Bruce Western explains: “Much of the optimism about declines in racial inequality and the power of the US model of economic growth is misplaced once we account for the invisible poor, behind the walls of America’s prisons and jails.” When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent. This figure was never reported. Instead, the media claimed that unemployment rates for African Americans had fallen to record lows, neglecting to mention that this miracle was possible only because incarceration rates were now at record highs. Young black men weren’t looking for work at high rates during the Clinton era because they were now behind bars—out of sight, out of mind, and no longer counted in poverty and unemployment statistics.

To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to “end welfare as we know it.” In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).

They are not just gangs of kids anymore…they are ‘super-predators.’ —Hillary Clinton, speaking in support of the 1994 crime bill

Experts and pundits disagree about the true impact of welfare reform, but one thing seems clear:

Extreme poverty doubled to 1.5 million in the decade and a half after the law was passed. What is extreme poverty? US households are considered to be in extreme poverty if they are surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day in any given month. We tend to think of extreme poverty existing in Third World countries, but here in the United States, shocking numbers of people are struggling to survive on less money per month than many families spend in one evening dining out. Currently, the United States, the richest nation on the planet, has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the developed world.

Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”

Bill Clinton championed discriminatory laws against formerly incarcerated people that have kept millions of Americans locked in a cycle of poverty and desperation. The Clinton administration eliminated Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education to prepare for their release, supported laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions, and signed legislation imposing a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.
Perhaps most alarming, Clinton also made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history (even an arrest without conviction) and championed the “one strike and you’re out” initiative, which meant that families could be evicted from public housing because one member (or a guest) had committed even a minor offense. People released from prison with no money, no job, and nowhere to go could no longer return home to their loved ones living in federally assisted housing without placing the entire family at risk of eviction. Purging “the criminal element” from public housing played well on the evening news, but no provisions were made for people and families as they were forced out on the street. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow.

It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done. Generations have been lost to the prison system; countless families have been torn apart or rendered homeless; and a school-to-prison pipeline has been born that shuttles young people from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand-new high-tech prisons.

It didn’t have to be like this. As a nation, we had a choice. Rather than spending billions of dollars constructing a vast new penal system, those billions could have been spent putting young people to work in inner-city communities and investing in their schools so they might have some hope of making the transition from an industrial to a service-based economy. Constructive interventions would have been good not only for African Americans trapped in ghettos, but for blue-collar workers of all colors. At the very least, Democrats could have fought to prevent the further destruction of black communities rather than ratcheting up the wars declared on them.

Of course, it can be said that it’s unfair to criticize the Clintons for punishing black people so harshly, given that many black people were on board with the “get tough” movement too. It is absolutely true that black communities back then were in a state of crisis, and that many black activists and politicians were desperate to get violent offenders off the streets. What is often missed, however, is that most of those black activists and politicians weren’t asking only for toughness. They were also demanding investment in their schools, better housing, jobs programs for young people, economic-stimulus packages, drug treatment on demand, and better access to healthcare. In the end, they wound up with police and prisons. To say that this was what black people wanted is misleading at best.

By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps.

To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.

But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.

This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.

But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat—as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires. Yes, Sanders has raised millions from small donors, but should he become president, he would also become part of what he has otherwise derided as “the establishment.” Even if Bernie’s racial-justice views evolve, I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.

Of course, the idea of building a new political party terrifies most progressives, who understandably fear that it would open the door for a right-wing extremist to get elected. So we play the game of lesser evils. This game has gone on for decades. W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent scholar and co-founder of the NAACP, shocked many when he refused to play along with this game in the 1956 election, defending his refusal to vote on the grounds that “there is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I do or say.” While the true losers and winners of this game are highly predictable, the game of lesser evils makes for great entertainment and can now be viewed 24 hours a day on cable-news networks. Hillary believes that she can win this game in 2016 because this time she’s got us, the black vote, in her back pocket—her lucky card.

She may be surprised to discover that the younger generation no longer wants to play her game. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll all continue to play along and pretend that we don’t know how it will turn out in the end. Hopefully, one day, we’ll muster the courage to join together in a revolutionary movement with people of all colors who believe that basic human rights and economic, racial, and gender justice are not unreasonable, pie-in-the-sky goals. After decades of getting played, the sleeping giant just might wake up, stretch its limbs, and tell both parties: Game over. Move aside. It’s time to reshuffle this deck.

 Michelle Alexander is a legal scholar, human rights advocate, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press).

The Nation



































Tuesday, July 26, 2016

U.S. to Expand Program to Admit Central American Immigrants - The New York Times

U.S. to Expand Program to Admit Central American Immigrants - The New York Times:



"WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday announced a substantial expansion of a program to admit Central American refugees to the United States, conceding that its efforts to protect migrants fleeing dangerous conditions has been inadequate and left too many vulnerable people with no recourse."



'via Blog this'

Monday, July 25, 2016

Meet Luca, the Ancestor of All Living Things

Photo
William F. Martin says that the Last Universal Common Ancestor can be traced back to deep sea vents like this one off the Galápagos.

CreditUniversal History Archive/UIG, via Getty Images
A surprisingly specific genetic portrait of the ancestor of all living things has been generated by scientists who say that the likeness sheds considerable light on the mystery of how life first emerged on Earth.
This venerable ancestor was a single-cell, bacterium-like organism. But it has a grand name, or at least an acronym. It is known as Luca, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, and is estimated to have lived some four billion years ago, when Earth was a mere 560 million years old.
The new finding sharpens the debate between those who believe life began in some extreme environment, such as in deep sea vents or the flanks of volcanoes, and others who favor more normal settings, such as the “warm little pond” proposed by Darwin.
The nature of the earliest ancestor of all living things has long been uncertain because the three great kingdoms of life seemed to have no common point of origin. The kingdoms are those of the bacteria, the archaea and the eukaryotes. Archaea are bacteria-like organisms but with a different metabolism, and the eukaryotes include all plants and animals.
Specialists have recently come to believe that the bacteria and archaea were the two earliest kingdoms, with the eukaryotes emerging later. That opened the way for a group of evolutionary biologists, led by William F. Martin of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany, to try to discern the nature of the organism from which the bacterial and archaeal kingdoms emerged.
Their starting point was the known protein-coding genes of bacteria and archaea. Some six million such genes have accumulated over the last 20 years in DNA databanks as scientists with the new decoding machines have deposited gene sequences from thousands of microbes.
Genes that do the same thing in a man and a mouse are generally related by common descent from an ancestral gene in the first mammal. So by comparing their sequence of DNA letters, genes can be arranged in evolutionary family trees, a property that enabled Dr. Martin and his colleagues to assign the six million genes to a much smaller number of gene families. Of these, only 355 met their criteria for having probably originated in Luca, the joint ancestor of bacteria and archaea.
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Genes are adapted to an organism’s environment. So Dr. Martin hoped that by pinpointing the genes likely to have been present in Luca, he would also get a glimpse of where and how Luca lived. “I was flabbergasted at the result, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
The 355 genes pointed quite precisely to an organism that lived in the conditions found in deep sea vents, the gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes caused by seawater interacting with magma erupting through the ocean floor.
Deep sea vents are surrounded by exotic life-forms and, with their extreme chemistry, have long seemed places where life might have originated. The 355 genes ascribable to Luca include some that metabolize hydrogen as a source of energy as well as a gene for an enzyme called reverse gyrase, found only in microbes that live at extremely high temperatures, Dr. Martin and colleagues reported in Monday’s issue of Nature Microbiology.

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The finding has “significantly advanced our understanding of what Luca did for a living,” James O. McInerney of the University of Manchester wrote in a commentary, and provides “a very intriguing insight into life four billion years ago.”
Dr. Martin’s portrait of Luca seems likely to be widely admired. But he has taken a further step that has provoked considerable controversy. He argues that Luca is very close to the origin of life itself. The organism is missing so many genes necessary for life that it must still have been relying on chemical components from its environment. Hence it was only “half alive,” he writes.
The fact that Luca depended on hydrogen and metals favors a deep sea vent environment for the origin of life, Dr. Martin concludes, rather than the land environment posited in a leading rival theory proposed by the chemist John Sutherland of the University of Cambridge in England.
Others believe that the Luca that Dr. Martin describes was already a highly sophisticated organism that had evolved far beyond the origin of life, meaning the formation of living systems from the chemicals present on the early Earth.
Luca and the origin of life are “events separated by a vast distance of evolutionary innovation,” said Jack Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital, who has studied how the first cell membranes might have evolved.
From Dr. Martin’s data, it is clear that Luca could manage the complicated task of synthesizing proteins. So it seems unlikely that it could not also synthesize simpler components, even though the genes for doing so have not yet been detected, said Steven A. Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution. “It’s like saying you can build a 747 but can’t refine iron.”
Dr. Sutherland too gave little credence to the argument that Luca might lie in some gray transition zone between nonlife and life just because it depended on its environment for some essential components. “It’s like saying I’m half alive because I depend on my local supermarket.”
Dr. Sutherland and others have no quarrel with Luca’s being traced back to deep sea vents. But that does not mean life originated there, they say. Life could have originated anywhere and later been confined to a deep sea environment because of some catastrophic event like the Late Heavy Bombardment, which occurred 4 billion to 3.8 billion years ago. This was a rain of meteorites that crashed into Earth with such force that the oceans were boiled off into an incandescent mist.
Life is so complex it seems to need many millions of years to evolve. Yet evidence for the earliest life dates to 3.8 billion years ago, as if it emerged almost the minute the bombardment ceased. A refuge in the deep ocean during the bombardment would allow a longer period in which life could have evolved. But chemists like Dr. Sutherland say they are uneasy about getting prebiotic chemistry to work in an ocean, which powerfully dilutes chemical components before they can assemble into the complex molecules of life.
Dr. Sutherland, working from basic principles of chemistry, has found that ultraviolet light from the sun is an essential energy source to get the right reactions underway, and therefore that land-based pools, not the ocean, are the most likely environment in which life began.
“We didn’t set out with a preferred scenario; we deduced the scenario from the chemistry,” he said, chiding Dr. Martin for not having done any chemical simulations to support the deep sea vent scenario.
Dr. Martin’s portrait of Luca “is all very interesting, but it has nothing to do with the actual origin of life,” Dr. Sutherland said.
NYC

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