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This collection of articles is meant to spark discussion as you go through the traditional seder. I have loosely grouped them along the text of the traditional seder, but they can be discussed at any time (may I suggest during the meal?)Due to time constraints, there was a lot I could not include, such as discussions of sex trafficking, labor rights, the conversations that black parents have to have with their sons for fear they will be shot by the police, a band in South Africa using music to fight for justice, or the Israeli elections. For every connection between the haggadah and modern events there are dozens more that could be made. The questions above the excerpts are meant to spark discussion not be limiting. These are for the most part excerpts of longer, excellent articles, and I encourage you to go back to the source and read the full articles. These discussions need not begin and end at the seder.

Many many thanks to all who contributed. 


Source :

LA Times : Hangover-free wine may soon be here

By Jenn Harris

March 18, 2015

T o put it lightly, wine hangovers are the worst thing ever. After polishing off a bottle of your favorite red, the next morning is a foggy haze of nausea, a headache that may or may not split your forehead open, and an unshakable feeling that your neighbor has been playing

"Call Me Maybe" on repeat all night just to torture you.

Instead of giving up your favorite Pinot Noir, the scientists at the University of Illinois are here to help. They've created a modified yeast that could actually reduce the elements in wine that cause a hangover.

Yong-Su Jin, an associate professor of microbial genomics at the university, and his team, developed a way to engineer Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a species of yeast often used to ferment beer and wine.

"Wine, for instance, contains the healthful component resveratrol," Jin said in a release. "With engineered yeast, we could increase the amount of resveratrol in a variety of wine by 10 times or more."

Using an enzyme that acts as a "genome knife," capable of cutting across multiple copies of genes to create mutations, it is also possible to add ginseng, say, or other beneficial components to the wine yeast, Jin said.

"Scientists need to create designed mutations to determine the function of specific genes," said Jin. "Say we have a yeast that produces a wine with great flavor and we want to know why. We delete one gene, then another, until the distinctive flavor is gone, and we know we've isolated the gene responsible for that characteristic."

Now if someone could just get to work on making a hangover-free dirty martini. 

Maggid - Beginning
Source : NPR:

In this section of the haggadah, we don't only invite the poor to share our food; we invite them to join our tables ( כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח.) , to break bread with us (literally, in Yachatz). Poverty is not only something that impacts the stomach. Robert Putnam, the author of the book Bowling   Alone,  argues in his new book  Our Kids  that poor kids lack the social networks that rich kids use to their advantage. In what ways does your community make you rich? For an additional, extended write-up of this, see  The Washington Post's " The terrible loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America"

NPR: 'Bowling Alone' Author Tackles The American Dream

March 7, 2015

SIMON: Can you explain what you call the savvy gap in this day and age?

PUTNAM: Yeah. It's one of the things that we discovered when we talked to rich kids and poor kids around America, that we didn't expect - but kids, like my grandchildren and, like, you know, probably, like, your children or grandchildren, all across America have a lot of adults in their life that are reaching out to help them. They tell them about what it means to go to college.

SIMON: Yeah.

PUTNAM: They describe, you know, how you can get through high school properly and where you can find a fellowship and - the bottom line of all of the statistics in our study is that poor kids are increasingly isolated from everyone. They just don't have stable, responsible adults in their lives much of the time. And that means they're just really ignorant. Not because they're stupid, but because they don't have mentors and adult helpers that most of us had when we were growing up.

SIMON: I have to step in for a moment, professor. Did you mean to call poor people ignorant?

PUTNAM: What I meant to say was that they were unaware of the opportunities and challenges around them. They lack savvy. They don't lack IQ, they lack savvy.

SIMON: Does the Internet, this powerful force in our lives, level some of these gaps or irritate them?

PUTNAM: All kids nowadays, rich and poor, have smartphones and access to the Internet, and that you might think levels the playing field. But kids coming from well-off homes tend to use the Internet in ways that are helpful to their upward mobility. They learn about jobs, and they learn about schools and so on. And poor kids tend to use it really much more for just entertainment. So the Internet, in effect, kind of mirrors the disadvantages poor kids have in the real world.

SIMON: Wasn't the hope that good public schools would somehow level the playing field of opportunity and make upward mobility possible?

PUTNAM: Yes, historically that's been the role from the very beginning. That's less true in America now. Rich kids are mostly now going to school with other rich kids, and poor kids are going to school with other poor kids. And that is putting a wedge in the ability that the schools have to narrow that gap.

SIMON: I was startled by - to read the words of a young woman named Mary Sue in your book who says, I'll quote it, "Love gets you hurt, trust gets you killed."

PUTNAM: Yeah. In her experience, she can't trust other people. That's not paranoia, that's real experience. And this shows up in national data. We see nationally that poor kids are much less likely to trust anybody.

Maggid - Beginning
Source : The Dinner Party Download:

Should we worry about what the price of our food means for the people around us? Does raising the cost of staples by making them into something rarefied and unique add variety to our lives or does it separate us from people who eat to sustain themselves?

The Dinner Party Download: The Value of Four-Dollar Toast

February 14, 2014

Brendan Francis Newnam:When did the San Francisco toast trend begin?

John Birdsall:Really about a year ago, when a place called The Mill opened. And The Mill has two businesses inside. One is Four Barrel Coffee. The other one is Josey Baker Bread. And Josey Baker is a great guy who just really loved bread and he started a bread CSA a few years ago.

He was bartending at the time and he would make bread at home, really studied bread-making, and then you could pick up your loaves at the bar and eventually, he saved up enough money that he got a baking space and so now he shares space with Four Barrel Coffee.

Brendan Francis Newnam:So it sounds like Josey really cares about his bread, he’s a craftsman, and I’m looking at this toast and it is beautiful, it’s thick, there’s variations; you’re having a raisin bread, I’m having a dark rye. It’s hearty bread. Still, people writing about the toast, though, haven’t focused exclusively on the quality of the bread. The price tag raised a few eyebrows.

John Birdsall:Right. So the way that $4 toast became this kind of meme in San Francisco was that a few tech writers jumped on it. Last summer, this story in Venture Beat was titled “$4 Toast: Why The Tech Industry Is Ruining San Francisco.”

The thing to know about San Francisco right now is that it’s really awash in tech money. And $4 toast became a symbol of this new tech class, really. You know, everyone thinks of them as these 25-year-old engineers who are making tons of money buying a prime real estate in places where other San Franciscans are priced out of.

Brendan Francis Newnam:So it’s like a gentrification debate.

John Birdsall:Right, exactly. And $4 toast became the convenient symbol of everything that’s wrong about the new tech economy.

Brendan Francis Newnam:Because that’s a lot of money for a slice of toast. It sounds like a lot of money for a slice of toast, right?

John Birdsall:$4 dollars for a thick slice of toast that took intention and time and patience. And this whole other network of farmers who are raising grains in a certain way and, you know, a miller who is milling it in a certain way. I feel like I’m buying that whole system, and I’m helping to keep that system alive.

You know, a lot of people in San Francisco and the tech industry, they’re creative people, kind of making stuff that exists in the cloud somewhere. It’s not tangible. And the thing about Josey Baker’s bread is that it’s tangible, it takes time and patience and it takes knowledge. And so there’s kind of a fascination by this tech creative class for things like that.

Brendan Francis Newnam:So I don’t really know where I come down on this. I’m a little torn. On the one hand, I’m like, yeah, this is quality stuff. We pay money for a latte, and the beans and coffee really don’t cost that much money, that’s a huge mark-up. But something about toast…it just seems silly that just heated up bread would be over maybe even $2 dollars.

John Birdsall:Well, two things. One, you know, San Francisco has this amazing and very old bread culture…

Brendan Francis Newnam:Sourdough, you’re talking about?

John Birdsall:…Yeah, exactly. So our sourdough tradition goes back to the 19th century. Even in the 20th century, you know, over in Berkeley, Steve Sullivan of Acme Bread, started making levains, started making spontaneously fermented sourdough along French lines. And so bread is one of those great foods of San Francisco. So to pay a premium for bread here doesn’t seem outrageous to a lot of people.

Brendan Francis Newnam:It’s in San Francisco’s DNA, so people are comfortable buying high quality product and spending a little bit more money for it.

John Birdsall:Right. The other thing is that in the West, we sort of look to American traditions and European traditions — like English traditions — and think of toast as something that’s very insignificant. In fact, if you look East rather than West, you know, if you look to Asia — especially Japan — you see this very old cafe culture that’s devoted to toast. There are these very old cafes in Tokyo — like Paulista Cafe, which is over 100 years old — and their specialty is these toast sets. So it tends to be middle-aged businessmen who go there, they’ll buy coffee and they’ll buy a single, thick slice of toast that’s been buttered and sliced.

Maggid - Beginning
Source : Huffington Post and Mother Jones http://www.m

The GOP's proposed budget would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, and would change the way the funding is distributed." Whether we are talking about food stamps, housing assistance or education benefits -- all are made more difficult when Washington forgets the limits of its own understanding and power," Chairman of the House Budget Committee,Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)'s budget outline says,"When that happens, social and safety net programs stop being a bridge to a more secure future and rather become a barrier to success."

What is the role of government in providing welfare and safety nets for the poor, and to what extent should they be regulated?

Mother Jones:  People on Food Stamps Make Healthier Grocery Decisions Than Most of Us:Which is why we shouldn't tell them what to buy.

March 9, 2015

By Tom Philpott

The Dollar General in Austin's gritty northeast—the neighborhood where I grew up—is a squat, warehouselike structure about twice the size of a suburban convenience store. Amid the dull flicker of fluorescent lights and the grinding hum of a compressor struggling to power a long freezer case, I'm in search of affordable and nutritious food with Melissa Helber, social-services outreach supervisor of a local food bank. The pickings are slim: We wander past two-liter jugs of Dr Pepper at the incredible price of four for $5; value-size boxes of Chocolate Lucky Charms cereal, $3.50; a wall of bagged candy, $1 each. Helber says the prices are why many of her clients shop here: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is stingy (about $11 a day for a family of three around here), but it'srelatively open on how recipients spend their benefits[1]. It bans alcohol and "hot food"—say, a rotisserie chicken—but almost everything you could find in Dollar General's grocery section, from sodas to M&M's, is fair game.

If you're wondering why SNAP would subsidize junk food, you're not alone. Recently, the program has been in the headlines mostly because ofRepublican efforts to slash benefits[2]. But even among its supporters, there has been a growing movement to rethink how the benefit is targeted. In a 2012 report, a high-profile group of nutrition researchersurged the US Department of Agriculture[3]to run pilot programs to test the effect of banning junk food from SNAP purchases (PDF). In a June 2013letter to Congress[4], a group of mayors, including Chicago's Rahm Emanuel and Newark's Cory Booker (now the junior senator from New Jersey), echoed that call.

The argument has undeniable appeal: Why should the already-frayed federal safety net underwrite Coca-Cola's balance sheet? But the junk-food industry has fought hard to maintain the status quo, lobbying heavily against attempts to impose limits.

Instinctively, I'd find myself on the side of the reformers—anything to ratchet down Americans' consumption of empty calories. But deeper into the aisles of Dollar General, I begin to waver. Helber asks me to consider a single mother supporting two kids on a wage of about $9.50 an hour—a typical income for the people served by her food bank, even amid Austin's ever-soaring tech economy. Helber points out some of the hard decisions the mother would have to make. At $5, a pound of hamburger would be a solid choice—but she'd still have to get buns, condiments, and sides. By contrast, individual pepperoni pizzas are just a buck each, as is a five-pack of chicken-flavored ramen noodles. 

So what about offering SNAP shoppers a carrot of incentives rather than a stick of restrictions? One USDA pilot program [5] in Massachusetts provides a credit of 30 cents for every SNAP dollar spent on fruits and vegetables. The preliminary data shows the program resulted in a 25 percent increase in produce consumption. A similar program that doubles SNAP expenditures at farmers markets [6]—you get $2 worth of fresh produce for every SNAP dollar you spend—has shown similar promise.

But programs like these cost money—and the prevailing debate in Washington now is about how to cut SNAP funding, not how to improve it. Those in favor of gutting the program argue that its $80 billion annual price tag is too heft. But 65 million Americans [7], about 1 in 5, have incomes low enough to qualify for SNAP—that is, income at or below 1.3 times the federal poverty line. Of them, around 47 million [8]—nearly half of them children—actually get benefits. And more than 50 percent of all benefits go to households with incomes of less than half of the poverty line (about $9,800 for a family of three in 2013).

Then there's the problem of access. Most incentive programs assume that you can easily get to a store that sells fresh produce—which you won't find at most Dollar Generals. The USDA estimates that 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts [9], poor neighborhoods where the nearest grocery store is more than a mile away. (A mile might not sound that far, but for those without reliable transportation, it is: Imagine lugging home a week's worth of food on foot, with kids in tow.)

I left the Dollar General realizing that dictating what you can buy with food stamps is the kind of thing that only sounds good to people who don't actually have to survive on a poverty income. No one denies me the occasional candy bar or Coke; why would I feel entitled to exert that kind of control over poor people? And guess what: SNAP recipients already eat more virtuously than the rest of us. A 2008 USDA report found that they are less likely than those with higher incomes to consume at least one serving of sweets or salty snacks per day. More recently, a 2015 USDA study [10] concluded that, adjusting for demographic differences, people who take SNAP benefits don't consume any more sugary drinks than their low-income peers who aren't in the program.

Given those findings, limiting SNAP families' already-limited choices is just a gratuitous slap in the face. I say, drop the stick and subsidize carrots. There's precious little appetite in Congress to broaden programs that give SNAP families incentives to buy vegetables; the 2014 farm bill, signed by President Obama last February, included $8.6 billion in overall funding cuts [11] to the program over the next decade (a fraction of what SNAP's GOP critics pined for). But the idea of subsidizing real-food purchases for SNAP households isn't dead—the farm bill also delivered $20 million annually over the five next years [12] to continue evaluating the already-existing pilot projects.

Maggid - Beginning
Source :

Whose responsibility is it to feed the poor? What is the difference between feeding the poor and making sure they haveaccess to the full menu of services they need for health? Whole Foods Change The Way Poor People Eat?

November 14, 2014

Challenging elitism, racism, and obesity with a grocery store may sound crazy.Here’s what happened when Whole Foods tried to do it in Detroit.

ByTracie McMillan

To understand what led Whole Foods to put a grocery store in Detroit, you need to understand three things: The city’s reputation, its officials’ interest in changing it, and, most of all, Whole Foods’ larger aspirations. When Robb first began eyeing Detroit in 2009, the city was mostly known for crime, abandonment, and being a place from which, as one NPR broadcast said, “grocers flee.” Dateline NBC’s Chris Hansen compared Detroit to “some ravaged foreign nation” and portrayed residents hunting raccoons for food. “There are more than 400 liquor stores in Detroit. But if you want to buy food, good luck,” he said, adding—erroneously —that the city held just eight supermarkets, all of them discount stores. Empty, savage, and foodless: This was Detroit’s reputation when Robb first went there.

Indeed, Robb might never have considered opening a store in Detroit if he hadn’t had lunch with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a personal friend, on a trip to Washington, D.C., shortly after President Obama— and Vilsack—took office. Robb had been paying attention to studies around food access, and watched the first lady’s initial steps around food issues with interest; maybe, he thought, Whole Foods had a role to play. When he mentioned this to Vilsack, the secretary said he had recently met with a group of black ministers from Detroit who were asking for help addressing grocery store access in their city. He offered to put Robb in touch with city officials. ...

The store opened in June 2013 at the southern border of Midtown, a rebranded neighborhood that used to be known as the Cass Corridor, the city’s roughest skid row. Despite being in a city built for cars, the Whole Foods is an unusually walkable destination. Sitting at the corner of Mack and Woodward, it is across the street from the symphony, a block from an expanding medical complex (including Ruff’s son’s weight loss clinic), and a 15-minute walk from three college campuses. And, because it sits within five minutes of every freeway, it is also an easy stop for suburban commuters. From the store’s entryway, you cannot see any of the nearby signs of Detroit’s older reputation: burned out apartment buildings and vacant lots where the homeless gather, a check cashing joint adjacent to a liquor store. One black resident of Midtown, a marketer, compared his neighborhood’s relationship with the rest of the city to the protected section of Baghdad during the Iraq war. Midtown, he told me, is Detroit’s “Green Zone.” ...

Our class today is about savvy shopping,” she began, gesturing at a PowerPoint on a wall-mounted flatscreen television. White, trim, and plainly dressed, with long brown hair and low-top Converse sneakers, Musilli had moved to Detroit in 2011 to develop community partnerships for Whole Foods, attending city council meetings and doing ground-level outreach like teaching the budgeting class— which she’d started holding two years before opening day in a storefront office.

Earlier in the year, Musilli and I had discussed city residents’ initial response to the idea of the store. “People said, well, how do you expect Detroiters to afford this?” Musilli told me. “Many times those were not Detroiters, and those were white people saying ‘How are those people going to afford your food?’ ” There is such a stark hostility between the city’s affluent suburbs and Detroit, that it seemed possible that unnamed white suburbanites had sneered at Detroiters’ interest in Whole Foods. But it also was possible, I thought, that Musilli was telling this story to deflect attention from discussions of price...

There seem to be few things that irk Whole Foods representatives more than the phrase “Whole Paycheck,” a phrase that I remember Robb casually mentioning to me as an annoyance more than once. His dislike of the phrase was the first thing that came to mind when, on the Detroit store’s

opening day, Robb invited me to sit down, looked at me unblinkingly and said that if Whole Foods felt my story wasn’t going in the direction they wanted, he would stop cooperating.

Whether they knew the moniker or not, one of Detroiters’ worries about Whole Foods before it opened was price, which ranked as a top concern when the company solicited community input about the store. In my early conversations with Whole Foods for this article, I heard a lot about how prices were key to making the store accessible to residents; how the Detroit store was trying to counter its reputation for sticker-shock by limiting wine prices to $20, the same per-pound limit it set for meat; and how, in Robb’s words, those changes meant the store could serve “all of Detroit.” Even as Musilli tried to persuade shoppers like Ruff that cage-free eggs were worth the higher price, Robb was making the slightly contradictory case to reporters like me that Whole Foods’ prices were competitive with other stores...

“She told me you could help me,” said Brown, gesturing to a woman at the meat counter. Woolbright nodded and Brown began, without prompting, to list her health problems: epileptic seizures, diabetes, COPD. She didn’t drive. She had recently found herself eating cookies and chain smoking until the wee hours of the morning. “I’m not eating the right foods, I’m eating those Oreos,” she told me later, shaking her head. “I am. I’m going through them mothers like ...” Her voice trailed off, incredulous and embarrassed. “And I say to myself, something’s wrong ... I have to stop. So that’s why I’m here.”

Woolbright listened to Brown thoughtfully, then disappeared into the aisles, returning with an armful of food and a game plan. She held up a can of McCann’s steel-cut oats. “In the morning you have to put something bulky, heavy in your stomach. If you don’t weigh it down you will continue to crave high calorie foods.” She suggested making a big pot of oats on Sundays, and eating from that during the week, sweetening it with bananas or maple syrup. More advice followed: Canned beans, no sodium added, are a quick way to fill up. Whole wheat pasta cooks quickly and has whole grains. Oats were good for a green smoothie; she recommended buying a NutriBullet blender at Walmart. Brown nodded appreciatively and promised to email Woolbright if she had more questions, but she left the beans and oatmeal behind.

The changes Woolbright suggested weren’t complicated, but I had a hard time seeing even myself making them. The idea of reheating porridge for the week was distinctly unappealing. Buying a $100 blender for breakfast smoothies seemed unrealistic, particularly for someone living, as Brown did, on disability checks.

On that first visit to Whole Foods, Brown didn’t buy the store’s organic cookies or other junk food, but she didn’t heed much of Woolbright’s advice, either. As I accompanied her through the store, Brown seemed excited by the options before her. She bought Balinese barbecue tofu salad from the deli, a rotisserie chicken, turkey patties with spinach, chicken shish kebabs, a peach smoothie, and—in a nod to Woolbright’s advice—some produce, including five non-organic bananas. It all looked fresh, delicious, and wholesome, but the total came to $66.05, about one-third of Brown’s monthly grocery budget. With discipline, I guessed, it could cover lunch and dinner for about a week. ...

It was difficult to get Brown to talk for long about either supermarkets or changing her habits. Instead, discussions that started off with a grocery store quickly veered off course, derailed by the problems that preceded any thoughts Brown had about health. Without a car, unable to walk far, and living in acity with unreliable public transit, Brown mostly took cabs or depended on friends and family with cars. Her medications included prednisone, a steroid that made her ravenous. (She blamed it for her Oreo binges.) When Brown moved this spring, her new apartment in Hamtramck had no stove, further limiting her meal options.

Brown shared this list of obstacles nearly every time I asked her whether she had followed Woolbright’s advice. Sometimes she would talk about how much she had liked Woolbright, but after a phone consultation last summer, when Brown took down some notes about shopping, she said they hadn’t been in touch. When Brown moved, she lost the scrap of paper on which she’d written down Woolbright’s advice.

Brown was obese and unhappy about it. “I don’t want to be this way; I don’t,” she told me. But it was difficult to see grocery stores as a primary factor in her weight problem. On one visit last summer, her breakfast had been white bread, turkey, Miracle Whip, and mustard, an attempt at following Woolbright’s suggestion to eat lean meats. Though that sandwich was not a kale salad, it was also not a Big Mac and fries. When I returned this fall, I asked Brown how she was doing with following Woolbright’s advice, and she showed me to a lidless Tupperware in her refrigerator with corn kernels and green beans. “I’m a veggie person, really. I like broccoli and beans and corn,” she said. What little other food she had looked nominally healthy: chicken thighs, eggs, cheese slices, a jug of water, and a jug of Minute Maid punch (three for $5 at her neighborhood supermarket), condiments in the door. The problem, she said, was her sweet tooth. Last summer, it had been the Oreos; this year, money was tighter, so it was pancakes and syrup.

What seemed to be tripping Brown up wasn’t knowledge about nutrition so much as a debilitating sense that anything she tried to change—what she ate, how she spent her days—could spiral out of control, whether because of depression or finances or transport or health. Going to the store meant worrying about getting someone to drive her, she told me, and once there she had to worry about the driver getting upset with her for taking too long. Then she had to worry about trying to cook—she had only a microwave and a George Foreman grill—and even so she couldn’t stand long enough to cook much, anyway. At nearly 300 pounds, getting to a healthy weight felt insurmountable. Most days it felt easier, more predictable, less likely to result in failure, to just keep doing what she was doing.

-- Four Questions
Source : New York Times:

On T he New York Times' blogs Opinionator and Motherload, Justin Mcbrayer and K.J. Dell'Antonia debate whether we should teach moral teachings as facts or opinions. A Seder has elements of passing down tradition and values and yet opens with questioning. With the four sons, however, there is an implication that some questioning goes too far. What is the value in teaching our children to question what is before them? What is the risk?

Opinionator: Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

By Justin P. McBryer

March 2, 2015

What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it isnot true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?

I was. As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshmen in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture....

A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes....

How does the dichotomy between fact and opinion relate to morality? I learned the answer to this question only after I investigated my son’s homework (and other examples of assignments online). Kids are asked to sort facts from opinions and, without fail, every value claim is labeled as an opinion. Here’s a little test devised from questions available onfact vs. opinion worksheetsonline: are the following facts or opinions?

— Copying homework assignments is wrong.

— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.

— All men are created equal.

— It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.

— It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.

— Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.

— Drug dealers belong in prison.

The answer? In each case, the worksheets categorize these claims as opinions. The explanation on offer is that each of these claims is a value claim and value claims are not facts.This is repeated ad nauseum: any claim with good, right, wrong, etc. is not a fact.

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

Indeed, in the world beyond grade school, where adults must exercise their moral knowledge and reasoning to conduct themselves in the society, the stakes are greater. There, consistency demands that we acknowledge the existence of moral facts. If it’s not true that it’s wrong to murder a cartoonist with whom one disagrees, then how can we be outraged? If there are no truths about what is good or valuable or right, how can we prosecute people for crimes against humanity? If it’s not true that all humans are created equal, then why vote for any political system that doesn’t benefit you over others?

Our schools do amazing things with our children. And they are, in a way, teaching moral standards when they ask students to treat one another humanely and to do their schoolwork with academic integrity. But at the same time, the curriculum sets our children up for doublethink. They are told that there are no moral facts in one breath even as the next tells them how they ought to behave.

We can do better. Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard

-- Four Questions
Source : NYTimes Motherload:

Here is KJ Dell'Antonia's rebuttal to James McBryer's blog post. 

Motherload: Why Schools Should Undermine Moral Teachings

By KJ Dell'Antonia

March 2, 2015 

“The curriculum sets our children up for doublethink,” he [McBrayer] writes. “They are told that there are no moral facts in one breath even as the next tells them how they ought to behave.”

Rather than “dangerous,” isn’t this exactly what we as a society have decided to ask of our public schools? Which is more “dangerous” to our democratic ideal: agreeing (as a society) to teach students that every value is an “opinion,” or allowing some group to do what he describes as the “hard work” of “carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct?”

As much as we may prefer to line up statements like “killing for fun is wrong” on one side of a line and “cheese tastes good” on the other, history (that bastion of disputed fact, inevitably taught through the lens of opinion) teaches us that such a line is porous. It takes only seconds to come up with “moral facts” we have disregarded in recent years and others that remain in hot dispute.

Professor McBrayer draws a line from the second grader required to deem “cheating is wrong” as “opinion” on a multiple-choice test to a college student, adrift in a world of moral relativism, arguing that “It is wrong to kill for fun” is just a cultural construct.

But one could draw a similar line from the second grader who has learned to check the “opinion” box on “vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat,” who then grows up to make a different dietary choice than his parents — or perhaps one who grows up to hold a different opinion about homosexuality, or race or the beliefs of others, than that taught to him as a “moral fact” at home.

Schools may indeed be undermining the teaching of moral values by declaring them opinions, but the strongest among those values — those that one could argue should get the status of “moral fact” — are those that stay strong because so many of us so passionately choose to share them. The statement among all these examples hardest to relegate to the “opinion” category, “all men are created equal,” is anything but fact (moral or otherwise) in much of the world and arguably in our own country. It’s a powerful opinion, one that, like Tinker Bell, requires our most fervent belief to keep it aloft. It’s also an opinion that, again and again, has required us to set aside beliefs once held so true as to be considered self-evident. It’s an opinion — a value — that has itself evolved.

By letting that value, and others, remain opinion, questionable at will by second graders and college students alike, we give those opinions the power to change, and the power to change us. So as a parent, I will teach the morals, the values and my opinions. The schools will teach my children to question me. In that way, we all end up on the right side of history.

-- Four Children
Source : The Root:
"#IfTheyGunnedMeDown Shows How Black People Are Portrayed in Mainstream Media"

Michael Brown was shot and killed by Daren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, August 9. His body was left on the scene for hours. His death and lack of respect for his body were the final straw for Ferguson residents. Protests over racism and police brutality started in Ferguson and speed throughout the country, especially in light of lack of indictments and the deaths of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. On Twitter, black men sought to illustrate biases in the news when the victim is black. Michael Brown was no angel, but everyone has multifaceted personalities.How dothe media and our own perceptions shape how we label people as smart, good, pure, simple, or silent? Victim or thug?

The Root: #IfTheyGunnedMeDown Shows How Black People Are Portrayed in Mainstream Media

The hashtag demonstrates that the narrative the media continues to portray regarding black people isn’t always truthful.

August 11, 2014

By Yesha Callahan

It’s safe to say that Brown has become a victim of what I like to refer to as the “Trayvon Martin effect”in the media.

Trayvon, who was killed by George Zimmerman, was depicted as a gold-grill-wearing, weed-smoking teenager in the photos used by the media. There were no photos of Trayvon smiling with his family members or being just your average happy teen, which his family members said he was. Similarly, the photos of Brown that have been picked up by the media included him throwing up a peace sign, which conservative media has translated into a “gang sign.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find mainstream media showing Brown at his high school graduation or with members of his family. Ironically, all of those photos exist courtesy of Brown’s Facebook page. Unfortunately, because of Ferguson police, we’ll never be able to see a photo of Brown attending his first day of college today.


-- Four Children
Source :
"I Am Malala"

On the afternoon of 9 October 2012, Malala Yousafzai--whohad already gained a reputation for advocating for girls' education in the face of the Taliban shutting down girls' schools in her town--boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. One bullet hit the left side of Yousafzai's forehead, travelled under her skin through the length of her face, and then went into her shoulder.

After she recovered, she continued to advocate for girls' education in Pakistan, and, in 2014 , she won the Noble Peace Prize. During her speech she said,

The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends who are here today, on our school bus in 2012, but neither their ideas nor their bullets could win.

We survived. And since that day, our voices have grown louder and louder.

I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.

It is the story of many girls.

Today, I tell their stories too. I have brought with me some of my sisters from Pakistan, from Nigeria and from Syria, who share this story. My brave sisters Shazia and Kainat who were also shot that day on our school bus. But they have not stopped learning. And my brave sister Kainat Soomro who went through severe abuse and extreme violence, even her brother was killed, but she did not succumb....Though I appear as one girl, though I appear as one girl, one person, who is 5 foot 2 inches tall, if you include my high heels. (It means I am 5 foot only) I am not a lone voice, I am not a lone voice, I am many....I am Malala. But I am also Shazia....Iam those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.

Malala is giving voice to the voiceless, literally speaking for those who do not know how to ask because they never had a chance to go to school. The haggadah has a central message about teaching and learning. We may not have thestrength of Malala, who was 15 when she was shot in the face, and 17 when she became the youngest person to win the Peace Prize. What can we do to make sure education and the promotion of education is a value we promote year round?

Nobel Lecture by Malala Yousafzai

December 10,2014.

Bismillah hir rahman ir rahim. In the name of God, the most merciful, the most beneficent.

Your Majesties, Your royal highnesses, distinguished members of the Norweigan Nobel Committee,

Dear sisters and brothers, today is a day of great happiness for me. I am humbled that the Nobel Committee has selected me for this precious award.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support and love. Thank you for the letters and cards that I still receive from all around the world. Your kind and encouraging words strengthens and inspires me.

I would like to thank my parents for their unconditional love. Thank you to my father for not clipping my wings and for letting me fly. Thank you to my mother for inspiring me to be patient and to always speak the truth- which we strongly believe is the true message of Islam. And also thank you to all my wonderful teachers, who inspired me to believe in myself and be brave.

I am proud, well in fact, I am very proud to be the first Pashtun, the first Pakistani, and the youngest person to receive this award. Along with that, along with that, I am pretty certain that I am also the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who still fights with her younger brothers. I want there to be peace everywhere, but my brothers and I are still working on that.

I am also honoured to receive this award together with Kailash Satyarthi, who has been a champion for children's rights for a long time. Twice as long, in fact, than I have been alive. I am proud that we can work together, we can work together and show the world that an Indian and a Pakistani, they can work together and achieve their goals of children's rights.

Dear brothers and sisters, I was named after the inspirational Malalai of Maiwand who is the Pashtun Joan of Arc. The word Malala means grief stricken", sad", but in order to lend some happiness to it, my grandfather would always call me Malala – The happiest girl in the world" and today I am very happy that we are together fighting for an important cause.

This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.

I am here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice… it is not time to pity them. It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action so it becomes the last time, the last time, so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education.

I have found that people describe me in many different ways.

Some people call me the girl who was shot by the Taliban.

And some, the girl who fought for her rights.

Some people, call me a "Nobel Laureate" now.

However, my brothers still call me that annoying bossy sister. As far as I know, I am just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants to see women having equal rights and who wants peace in every corner of the world.

Education is one of the blessings of life—and one of its necessities. That has been my experience during the 17 years of my life. In my paradise home, Swat, I always loved learning and discovering new things. I remember when my friends and I would decorate our hands with henna on special occasions. And instead of drawing flowers and patterns we would paint our hands with mathematical formulas and equations.

We had a thirst for education, we had a thirst for education because our future was right there in that classroom. We would sit and learn and read together. We loved to wear neat and tidy school uniforms and we would sit there with big dreams in our eyes. We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could also excel in our studies and achieve those goals, which some people think only boys can.

But things did not remain the same. When I was in Swat, which was a place of tourism and beauty, suddenly changed into a place of terrorism. I was just ten that more than 400 schools were destroyed. Women were flogged. People were killed. And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares.

Education went from being a right to being a crime.

Girls were stopped from going to school.

When my world suddenly changed, my priorities changed too.

I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed.

I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.

We could not just stand by and see those injustices of the terrorists denying our rights, ruthlessly killing people and misusing the name of Islam. We decided to raise our voice and tell them: Have you not learnt, have you not learnt that in the Holy Quran Allah says: if you kill one person it is as if you kill the whole humanity?

Do you not know that Mohammad, peace be upon him, the prophet of mercy, he says, do not harm yourself or others".

And do you not knowthat the very first word of the Holy Quran is the word Iqra", which means read"?

The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends who are here today, on our school bus in 2012, but neither their ideas nor their bullets could win.

We survived. And since that day, our voices have grown louder and louder.

I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.

It is the story of many girls.

Today, I tell their stories too. I have brought with me some of my sisters from Pakistan, from Nigeria and from Syria, who share this story. My brave sisters Shazia and Kainat who were also shot that day on our school bus. But they have not stopped learning. And my brave sister Kainat Soomro who went through severe abuse and extreme violence, even her brother was killed, but she did not succumb.

Also my sisters here, whom I have met during my Malala Fund campaign. My 16-year-old courageous sister, Mezon from Syria, who now lives in Jordan as refugee and goes from tent to tent encouraging girls and boys to learn. And my sister Amina, from the North of Nigeria, where Boko Haram threatens, and stops girls and even kidnaps girls, just for wanting to go to school.

Though I appear as one girl, though I appear as one girl, one person, who is 5 foot 2 inches tall, if you include my high heels. (It means I am 5 foot only) I am not a lone voice, I am not a lone voice, I am many.

I am Malala. But I am also Shazia.

I am Kainat.

I am Kainat Soomro.

I am Mezon.

I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.

Sometimes people like to ask me why should girls go to school, why is it important for them. But I think the more important question is why shouldn't they, why shouldn't they have this right to go to school.

Dear sisters and brothers, today, in half of the world, we see rapid progress and development. However, there are many countries where millions still suffer from the very old problems of war, poverty, and injustice.

We still see conflicts in which innocent people lose their lives and children become orphans. We see many people becoming refugees in Syria, Gaza and Iraq. In Afghanistan, we see families being killed in suicide attacks and bomb blasts.

Many children in Africa do not have access to education because of poverty. And as I said, we still see, we still see girls who have no freedom to go to school in the north of Nigeria.

Many children in countries like Pakistan and India, as Kailash Satyarthi mentioned, many children, especially in India and Pakistan are deprived of their right to education because of social taboos, or they have been forced into child marriage or into child labour.

One of my very good school friends, the same age as me, who had always been a bold and confident girl, dreamed of becoming a doctor. But her dream remained a dream. At the age of 12, she was forced to get married. And then soon she had a son, she had a child when she herself was still a child – only 14. I know that she could have been a very good doctor.

But she couldn't ... because she was a girl.

Her story is why I dedicate the Nobel Peace Prize money to the Malala Fund, to help give girls quality education, everywhere, anywhere in the world and to raise their voices. The first place this funding will go to is where my heart is, to build schools in Pakistan—especially in my home of Swat and Shangla.

In my own village, there is still no secondary school for girls. And it is my wish and my commitment, and now my challenge to build one so that my friends and my sisters can go there to school and get quality education and to get this opportunity to fulfil their dreams.

This is where I will begin, but it is not where I will stop. I will continue this fight until I see every child, every child in school.

Dear brothers and sisters, great people, who brought change, likeMartin Luther KingandNelson Mandela,Mother TeresaandAung San Suu Kyi, once stood here on this stage. I hope the steps that Kailash Satyarthi and I have taken so far and will take on this journey will also bring change – lasting change.

My great hope is that this will bethe last time, this will be the last time we must fight for education. Let's solve this once and for all.

We have already taken many steps. Now it is time to take a leap.

It is not time to tell the world leaders to realise how important education is - they already know it - their own children are in good schools. Now it is time to call them to take action for the rest of the world's children.

We ask the world leaders to unite and make education their top priority.

Fifteen years ago, the world leaders decided on a set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals. In the years that have followed, we have seen some progress. The number of children out of school has been halved, as Kailash Satyarthi said. However, the world focused only on primary education, and progress did not reach everyone.

In year 2015, representatives from all around the world will meet in theUnited Nationsto set the next set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals. This will set the world's ambition for the next generations.

The world can no longer accept, the world can no longer accept that basic education is enough. Why do leaders accept that for children in developing countries, only basic literacy is sufficient, when their own children do homework in Algebra, Mathematics, Science and Physics?

Leaders must seize this opportunity to guarantee a free, quality, primaryandsecondary education for every child.

Some will say this is impractical, or too expensive, or too hard. Or maybe even impossible. But it is time the world thinks bigger.

Dear sisters and brothers, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don't. Why is it that countries which we call strong" are so powerful in creating wars but are so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it, why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so hard?

We are living in the modern age and we believe that nothing is impossible. We have reached the moon 45 years ago and maybe will soon land on Mars. Then, in this 21st century, we must be able to give every child quality education.

Dear sisters and brothers, dear fellow children, we must work… not wait. Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute. Me. You. We. It is our duty.

Let us becomethe firstgeneration to decide to bethe last, let us becomethe firstgeneration that decides to bethe lastthat sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods, and wasted potentials.

Let this be thelast timethat a girl or a boy spends their childhood in a factory.

Let this be the last time that a girl is forced into early child marriage.

Let this be the last time that a child loses life in war.

Let this be the last time that we see a child out of school.

Let this end with us.

Let's begin this ending ... together ... today ... right here, right now. Let's begin this ending now.

Thank you so much.

-- Four Children
Source :

First Al- Shabab , then ISIS, came recruiting in the Twin Cities, tearing families apart. Is there any way to understand how a good kid on track to go to college ends up in Syria working for ISIS?

NPR's All Things Considered :For Somalis In Minneapolis, Jihadi Recruiting Is A Recurring Nightmare

By Dina Temple-Raston

February 18, 2015

Bihi's nephew was a Minneapolis teenager named Burhan Hassan, who joined a handful of young men from the Twin Cities and traveled to Somalia to join a terrorist group there called al-Shabab. Hassan died there several years ago. Between 2006 and 2011, some 27 Somali-Americans from the community disappeared to fight in Somalia.

That's important to what's going on now because officials believe that prior connection to jihad is one reason why ISIS has been so successful at recruiting in Minnesota today.

Since the end of 2013, law enforcement officials say, eleven men and one woman with ties to the Twin Cities have traveled to Syria. Another dozen or so either have tried to travel there before authorities intercepted them, or are believed to be preparing to go. What's more, officials say, the ISIS travelers are young: 15 and 16-year-olds are signing up.

Parents in the community are frightened. They have experienced this before, and there is a sinking feeling among parents that they'll be losing their children again.

"They are more afraid now than ever before because ISIS is something worse than anything we have ever seen," said Bihi.

Officials believe ISIS is taking advantage of the recruiting infrastructure al-Shabab developed almost a decade ago.

Back then, the departures came three or four friends at a time. They would suddenly vanish. Eventually parents would get text messages from their sons saying they had gone to Somalia to fight in the civil war.

Bihi's nephew, Burhan Hassan, left with a handful of other young men on election night 2008. Bihi and Hassan's mother thought he hadn't come home because he was out celebrating the election of America's first black president; instead he was boarding a plane to Africa.

Authorities never captured a mastermind in those al-Shabab cases. Instead, they managed to arrest someone they believed was a midlevel player — a local janitor who had connections to al-Shabab. He was convicted of, among other things, helping recruit the young men and financing their trips.

In the latest recruitment cases, law enforcement officials believe that a page has been torn from al-Shabab's playbook, and that there is someone — or a group of people — on the ground in Minnesota recruiting for ISIS.

Bihi says nothing else makes sense.

"I do not believe that a kid gets up in the morning — a normal kid — and decides not to go to school, but decides to open a Google and Google al-Shabab or ISIS, and to self-radicalize," he said. "There has to be someone helping them on the ground. These kids don't know how to make plans to travel, they don't have money, but somehow they are managing to leave anyway. Someone must be helping them."


One of the wrenching themes to come out of this week's conference on countering violent extremism conference just how difficult recruiting and radicalization is for the families.

I met Abdullahi Yusuf's parents in Brandl's law offices last week. Sidik Yusuf is tall and thin. He's a driver in the Twin Cities. His wife Sarah wears a hijab and twists a tissue while she talks. They seemed shocked at finding themselves in law offices talking about a son who was arrested on terrorism charges. He had never been in trouble before.

"Abdullahi is my son," Sidik Yusuf says. "Now is 18 years and a half almost started 18. He come to this country when he was three years old and finished his education until the 12th grade."

He talked about how good Abdullahi was at math, how he played football on the high school team. How worried he became when his tall, skinny son was tackled.

"He doesn't have much muscles," he explained.

Sidik Yusuf didn't want to talk directly about his son's case, but said his family wasn't the only family dealing with young men stolen by ISIS.

"I think any parent can understand — who have a child or raised a child — knows what's the value of the children," Sidik Yusuf said. "Of course it is heartbreaking. That's the thing anybody can understand."

-- Exodus Story
Source : The Atlantic:

".וְאִלּוּ לֹא הוֹצִיא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם, הֲרֵי אָנוּ וּבָנֵינוּ וּבְנֵי בָנֵינוּ מְשֻׁעְבָּדִים הָיִינוּ לְפַרְעֹה בְּמִצְרָיִם"

In his article, "The Case For Reparations, "Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that he impacts of slavery lasted long after slavery was abolished in the form of racist policies, both official and unofficial, particularly as they relate to housing.What responsibility, as Jews, do we have to try to understand and right wrongs against other oppressed groups?

The Atlantic:  The Case for Reparations

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

ByTa-Nehisi Coates

June, 2014

The lives of black Americans are better than they were half a century ago. The humiliation ofWhites Onlysigns are gone. Rates of black poverty have decreased. Black teen-pregnancy rates are at record lows—and the gap between black and white teen-pregnancy rates has shrunk significantly. But such progress rests on a shaky foundation, and fault lines are everywhere. The income gap between black and white households is roughly the same today as it was in 1970. Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, studied children born from 1955 through 1970 and found that 4 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks across America had been raised in poor neighborhoods. A generation later, the same study showed, virtually nothing had changed. And whereas whites born into affluent neighborhoods tended to remain in affluent neighborhoods, blacks tended to fall out of them.

This is not surprising. Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do. Effectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net. When financial calamity strikes—a medical emergency, divorce, job loss—the fall is precipitous.

And just as black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth, so too do they remain handicapped by their restricted choice of neighborhood. Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods,” Sharkey writes, “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.”

The implications are chilling. As a rule, poor black people do not work their way out of the ghetto—and those who do often face the horror of watching their children and grandchildren tumble back.

Even seeming evidence of progress withers under harsh light. In 2012, the Manhattan Institute cheerily noted that segregation had declined since the 1960s. And yet African Americans still remained—by far—the most segregated ethnic group in the country.

With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin. The resulting conflagration has been devastating.

One thread of thinking in the African American community holds that these depressing numbers partially stem from cultural pathologies that can be altered through individual grit and exceptionally good behavior. (In 2011, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, responding to violence among young black males, put the blame on the family: “Too many men making too many babies they don’t want to take care of, and then we end up dealing with your children.” Nutter turned to those presumably fatherless babies: “Pull your pants up and buy a belt, because no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt.”) The thread is as old as black politics itself. It is also wrong. The kind of trenchant racism to which black people have persistently been subjected can never be defeated by making its victims more respectable. The essence of American racism is disrespect. And in the wake of the grim numbers, we see the grim inheritance....

But while the people advocating reparations have changed over time, the response from the country has remained virtually the same. “They have been taught to labor,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1891. “They have been taught Christian civilization, and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish. The account is square with the ex‑slaves.”

Not exactly. Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us....

In a time when telecommunications were primitive and blacks lacked freedom of movement, the parting of black families was a kind of murder. Here we find the roots of American wealth and democracy—in the for-profit destruction of the most important asset available to any people, the family. The destruction was not incidental to America’s rise; it facilitated that rise. By erecting a slave society, America created the economic foundation for its great experiment in democracy. The labor strife that seeded Bacon’s rebellion was suppressed. America’s indispensable working class existed as property beyond the realm of politics, leaving white Americans free to trumpet their love of freedom and democratic values. Assessing antebellum democracy in Virginia, a visitor from England observed that the state’s natives “can profess an unbounded love of liberty and of democracy in consequence of the mass of the people, who in other countries might become mobs, being there nearly altogether composed of their own Negro slaves.”

V.The Quiet Plunder

The consequencesof 250 years of enslavement, of war upon black families and black people, were profound. Like homeownership today, slave ownership was aspirational, attracting not just those who owned slaves but those who wished to. Much as homeowners today might discuss the addition of a patio or the painting of a living room, slaveholders traded tips on the best methods for breeding workers, exacting labor, and doling out punishment. Just as a homeowner today might subscribe to a magazine like This Old House, slaveholders had journals such as De Bow’s Review, which recommended the best practices for wringing profits from slaves. By the dawn of the Civil War, the enslavement of black America was thought to be so foundational to the country that those who sought to end it were branded heretics worthy of death. Imagine what would happen if a president today came out in favor of taking all American homes from their owners: the reaction might well be violent.

“This country was formed for the white, not for the black man,” John Wilkes Booth wrote, before killing Abraham Lincoln. “And looking upon African slavery from the same standpoint held by those noble framers of our Constitution, I for one have ever considered it one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation....

In 2010, Jacob S. Rugh,then a doctoral candidate at Princeton, and the sociologist Douglas S. Massey published a study of the recent foreclosure crisis. Among its drivers, they found an old foe: segregation. Black home buyers—even after controlling for factors like creditworthiness—were still more likely than white home buyers to be steered toward subprime loans. Decades of racist housing policies by the American government, along with decades of racist housing practices by American businesses, had conspired to concentrate African Americans in the same neighborhoods. As in North Lawndale half a century earlier, these neighborhoods were filled with people who had been cut off from mainstream financial institutions. When subprime lenders went looking for prey, they found black people waiting like ducks in a pen.

“High levels of segregation create a natural market for subprime lending,” Rugh and Massey write, “and cause riskier mortgages, and thus foreclosures, to accumulate disproportionately in racially segregated cities’ minority neighborhoods.”

Plunder in the past made plunder in the present efficient. The banks of America understood this.

-- Exodus Story
Source : The Atlantic:

The attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris left many wondering if  this round of "in every generation" is different. Is the tenor of anti-Semitism in Europe now different than it has been since the Holocaust?  Should Jews leave Europe or stay and rebuild their communities in Europe? 

Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?

By  Jeffrey Goldberg

April, 2015

I asked him a very old Jewish question: Do you have a bag packed?

“We should not leave,” he said, “but maybe for our children or grandchildren there will be no choice.”

Reports suggested that a number of people were dead at the market. I said goodbye, and took the Métro to Porte de Vincennes. Stations near the market were closed, so I walked through neighborhoods crowded with police. Sirens echoed through the streets. Teenagers gathered by the barricades, taking selfies. No one had much information. One young man, however, said of the victims, “It’s just the  Feuj. ”  Feuj, an inversion of  Juif— “Jew”—is often used as a slur.

I located an acquaintance, a man who volunteers with the Jewish Community Security Service, a national organization founded after a synagogue bombing in 1980, to protect Jewish institutions from anti-Semitic attack. “Supermarkets now,” he said bleakly. We made our way closer to the forward police line, and heard volleys of gunfire. The police had raided the market; the suspect, Amedy Coulibaly, we soon heard, was dead. So were four Jews he had murdered. They had been shopping for the Sabbath when he entered the market and started shooting.

France’s 475,000 Jews represent less than 1 percent of the country’s population. Yet last year, according to the French Interior Ministry, 51 percent of all racist attacks targeted Jews. The statistics in other countries, including Great Britain, are similarly dismal. In 2014, Jews in Europe were murdered, raped, beaten, stalked, chased, harassed, spat on, and insulted for being Jewish.  Sale Juif —“dirty Jew”—rang in the streets, as did “Death to the Jews,” and “Jews to the gas.”

The epithet  dirty Jew, Zola wrote in “J’Accuse …!,” was the “scourge of our time.” “J’Accuse …!” was published in 1898....

The Shoah served for a while as a sort of inoculation against the return of overt Jew-hatred—but the effects of the inoculation, it is becoming clear, are wearing off. What was once impermissible is again imaginable. Memories of 6 million Jewish dead fade, and guilt becomes burdensome. (In  The Eternal Anti-Semite, the writer Henryk Broder popularized the notion that “the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”) Israel is coming to be understood not as a small country in a difficult spot whose leaders, especially lately, have (in my opinion) been making shortsighted and potentially disastrous decisions, but as a source of cosmological evil—the Jew of nations.

An argument made with increasing frequency—motivated, perhaps, by some perverse impulse toward psychological displacement—calls Israel the spiritual and political heir of the Third Reich, rendering the Jews as Nazis. (Some in Europe and the Middle East take this line of thought to an even more extreme conclusion: “Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism,” the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said last year of Israel.)

The previously canonical strain of European anti-Semitism, the fascist variant, still flourishes in places. In Hungary, a leader of the right-wing Jobbik party called on the government—a government that has come under criticism for whitewashing the history of Hungary’s collaboration with the Nazis—to draw up a list of all the Jews in the country who might pose a “national-security risk.” In Greece, a recent survey found that 69 percent of adults hold anti-Semitic views, and the fascists of the country’s Golden Dawn party are open in their Jew-hatred....

But what makes this new era of anti-Semitic violence in Europe different from previous ones is that traditional Western patterns of anti-Semitic thought have now merged with a potent strain of Muslim Judeophobia. Violence against Jews in Western Europe today, according to those who track it, appears to come mainly from Muslims, who in France, the epicenter of Europe’s Jewish crisis, outnumber Jews 10 to 1.

That the chief propagators of contemporary European anti-Semitism may be found in the Continent’s large and disenfranchised Muslim immigrant communities—communities that are themselves harassed and assaulted by hooligans associated with Europe’s surging right—is flummoxing to, among others, Europe’s elites. Muslims in Europe are in many ways a powerless minority. The failure of Europe to integrate Muslim immigrants has contributed to their exploitation by anti-Semitic propagandists and by recruiters for such radical projects as the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Yet the new anti-Semitism flourishing in corners of the European Muslim community would be impoverished without the incorporation of European fascist tropes. Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a comedian of French Cameroonian descent who specializes in Holocaust revisionism and gas-chamber humor, is the inventor of the  quenelle , widely understood as an inverted Nazi salute. His followers have taken to photographing themselves making the  quenelle  in front of synagogues, Holocaust memorials, and sites of past anti-Jewish terrorist attacks. Dieudonné has built an ideological partnership with Alain Soral, the anti-Jewish conspiracy theorist and 9/11 “truther” who was for several years a member of the National Front’s central committee. Soral was photographed not long ago making the  quenelle  in front of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.

The union of Middle Eastern and European forms of anti-Semitic expression has led to bizarre moments. Dave Rich, an official of the Community Security Trust, a Jewish organization that monitors anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, wrote recently: “Those British Muslims who verbally abuse British Jews on the street are more likely to shout ‘Heil Hitler’ than ‘ Allahu akbar ’ when they do so. This is despite the fact that their parents and grandparents were probably chased through the very same streets by gangs of neo-Nazi skinheads shouting similar slogans.”

The marriage of anti-Semitic narratives was consummated in January of last year, during a so-called Day of Rage march in Paris that was organized to protest the leadership of the French president, François Hollande. The rally drew roughly 17,000 people, mostly far-rightists but also many French Muslims.

“On one side of this march, you had neonationalist and reactionary Catholics, who had strongly and violently opposed gay marriage, and on the other side young people from the banlieues [suburbs], supporters of Dieudonné, often from African and North African background, whose beliefs are based in opposition to the ‘system’ and on victimhood competition,” Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, the Paris director of the American Jewish Committee, told me. “What unites them is their hatred of Jews.” That day, on the streets of Paris, the anti-Hollande message was overtaken by another chanted slogan: “ Juif, la France n’est pas à toi ”—“Jew, France is not for you.”...

The fight against anti-Semitism led by Merkel, Valls, and Cameron appears to be heartfelt. The question is, will it work? After the January massacres in Paris, the French government deployed several thousand soldiers to protect Jewish institutions, but it cannot assign soldiers to protect every Jew walking to and from the Métro. The governments of Europe are having a terrible time in their struggle against the manifestations of radical Islamist ideology. And the general publics of these countries do not seem nearly as engaged in the issue as their leaders. The Berlin rally last fall against anti-Semitism that featured Angela Merkel drew a paltry 5,000 people, most of whom were Jews. It is a historical truism that, as Manuel Valls told me, “what begins with Jews doesn’t end with Jews.” But this notion has not penetrated public opinion.

Nevertheless, comparisons to 1933 remain overripe.

“It’s not 1933 all over again, because it’s not generally acceptable to try to mobilize political power by making explicitly anti-Semitic arguments,” David Nirenberg, a scholar of anti-Semitism at the University of Chicago, told me. “We’re not at a moment when you can make a mass democratic argument about Jews as aliens. The danger here, and the reason French Jews, for instance, fear not having Manuel Valls in office forever, is that if political power isn’t willing to protect European Jews against minority movements that legitimate themselves through anti-Zionist discourse, no one is going to protect them.”...

A large majority of American Jews feels affection for Israel, and is concerned for its safety, and understands the role it plays as a home of last resort for endangered brethren around the world. But very few American Jews, in my experience, believe they will ever need to make use of the Israeli lifeboat. The American Jewish community faces enormous challenges, but these mainly have to do with assimilation, and with maintaining cultural identity and religious commitment. To be sure, anti-Semitism exists in the United States—and in my experience, some European Jewish leaders are quite ready to furnish examples to anyone suggesting that European Jews might be better off in America. According to the latest FBI statistics, from 2013, Jews are by far the most-frequent victims of religiously motivated hate crimes in America. But this is still anti-Semitism on the margins. A recent Pew poll found that Jews are also the most warmly regarded religious group in America.

For millennia, Jews have been asking this question: Where, exactly, is it safe? Maimonides, the 12th-century philosopher, wrestled with this question continually, asking himself whether it was better for Jews to live in the lands of Esau—Christendom—or in the lands of Ishmael.

“The thing about this question is that it is always about a decision made at a specific point in time,” David Nirenberg, the University of Chicago scholar, told me. “If you looked around the world in 1890, you might have said Germany and England were the best places. If you’re looking around the world in 1930, you could have made a good argument that the United States was not a great place for Jews.”


A large majority of American Jews feels affection for Israel, and is concerned for its safety, and understands the role it plays as a home of last resort for endangered brethren around the world. But very few American Jews, in my experience, believe they will ever need to make use of the Israeli lifeboat. The American Jewish community faces enormous challenges, but these mainly have to do with assimilation, and with maintaining cultural identity and religious commitment. To be sure, anti-Semitism exists in the United States—and in my experience, some European Jewish leaders are quite ready to furnish examples to anyone suggesting that European Jews might be better off in America. According to the latest FBI statistics, from 2013, Jews are by far the most-frequent victims of religiously motivated hate crimes in America. But this is still anti-Semitism on the margins. A recent Pew poll found that Jews are also the most warmly regarded religious group in America.

For millennia, Jews have been asking this question: Where, exactly, is it safe? Maimonides, the 12th-century philosopher, wrestled with this question continually, asking himself whether it was better for Jews to live in the lands of Esau—Christendom—or in the lands of Ishmael.

“The thing about this question is that it is always about a decision made at a specific point in time,” David Nirenberg, the University of Chicago scholar, told me. “If you looked around the world in 1890, you might have said Germany and England were the best places. If you’re looking around the world in 1930, you could have made a good argument that the United States was not a great place for Jews.”

Last spring, on a visit to Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, the former Soviet republic situated between Romania and Ukraine, I met a delightful group of Jews in their teens and 20s, most of whom had learned only recently that they were Jewish. This is a common occurrence in Europe’s east; the collapse of communism has allowed Jews to admit to themselves, and to their children, the truth of their origins. (This is becoming a phenomenon in other countries as well. A 2008 genetic study found that about 20 percent of the populations of Spain and Portugal have some Jewish heritage.) Barbara Spectre, the Jewish educator in Sweden, calls these people the “dis-assimilated.” The youth group I encountered meets each week to learn Jewish prayers and sing Jewish songs.

The modest rebirth of Jewish life in Chișinău is a remarkable thing, because Chișinău, which is known in Russian as Kishinev, was the location, in 1903, of one of the most terrible pogroms in European history—a pogrom that turned tens of thousands of Jews toward Zionism, and sent many more on the path to America. Included in this latter group was a branch of my family. My grandfather grew up in a pogrom-afflicted village, not far from Kishinev, called Leova.

One afternoon, I met Moldova’s then–prime minister, Iurie Leancă, to discuss the return of another sort of European historical pathology—Vladimir Putin’s attempt to rebuild the Russian empire at the expense of, among others, Leancă’s small and hapless country. The prime minister, a progressive, pro-Western politician, was eager to make his case for American support, but he was especially eager to tell me of his sadness that Moldova is home to so few Jews today. He was touchingly sincere; my grandfather would have been moved—and incredulous. As I was leaving, the prime minister mentioned that he was trying to raise funds to build a Jewish museum in Chișinău. The parliament is willing, he said, but the country is poor. “A friend of mine said I should ask the Rothschilds for help,” he said. “Do you know any Rothschilds?”

The next day, I drove an hour southwest to Leova. My grandfather had painted vivid pictures of his shtetl youth, and Leova, which has not left poverty in the intervening century, came alive before my eyes. Here was the river where he watered the half-blind family horse; here was the Jewish cemetery; here, down a muddy path, was the old synagogue; here was the church where the priests denounced the Christ-killers.

There are no Jews left in Leova. What used to be the synagogue is now a gymnasium; the caretaker tried to sell it to me. The Holocaust history of Leova is incompletely known, but the last Jews appear to have been rounded up in late 1941 by Germany’s Romanian allies. According to records in the Moldovan State Archives, this group included six people who I believe were part of my grandfather’s family, among them five children, ages 15, 12, 9, 7, and 3. Their last known destination was a concentration camp in Cahul, in what is today southern Moldova.

I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly. But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew—which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.

-- Exodus Story
Source : The New Yorker

The Haggadah offers one linear story from Yakov through the exodus from Egypt,  with a surprising emphasis on Lavan, raising questions about what parts of our origin stories we highlight and what parts get less attention. How do we re-interpret the stories for our own times?  Lin-Maunuel Miranda is raising similar questions in his new musical about Alexander Hamilton.

A new musical brings the Founding Fathers back to life—with a lot of hip-hop.

By Rebecca Mead

Miranda saw Hamilton’s relentlessness, brilliance, linguistic dexterity, and self-destructive stubbornness through his own idiosyncratic lens. It was, he thought, a hip-hop story, an immigrant’s story. Hamilton reminded him of his father, Luis A. Miranda, Jr., who, as an ambitious youth in provincial Puerto Rico, had graduated from college before turning eighteen, then moved to New York to pursue graduate studies at N.Y.U. Luis Miranda served as a special adviser on Hispanic affairs to Mayor Ed Koch; he then co-founded a political consulting company, the MirRam Group, advising Fernando Ferrer, among others. On summer breaks during high school, Lin-Manuel worked in his father’s office; later, he wrote jingles for the political ads of several MirRam clients, including Eliot Spitzer, in his 2006 gubernatorial bid. Chernow’s description of the contentious election season of 1800—the origin of modern political campaigning—resonated with Miranda’s understanding of the inner workings of politics. And the kinds of debate that Hamilton and his peers had about the purpose of government still took place, on MSNBC and Fox.

Hamilton also reminded Miranda of Tupac Shakur, the West Coast rapper who was shot to death in 1996. Shakur wrote intricate, socially nuanced lyrics: Miranda particularly admired “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” a verse narrative about a twelve-year-old girl who turns to prostitution after giving birth to her molester’s child. Shakur was also extremely undiplomatic, publicly calling out rappers he hated. Miranda recognized a similar rhetorical talent in Hamilton, and a similar, fatal failure to know when enough was enough. There was extraordinary dramatic potential in Hamilton’s story: the characteristics that allowed him to rise also insured his fall. When the organizers of the White House event called, Miranda proposed a rap about Hamilton, and they said yes....

“Hamilton” is not a gimmicky transposition of early American history to a contemporary urban setting. Miranda’s Founding Fathers wear velvet frock coats and knee britches, not hoodies and jeans. The set, by David Korins, is a wooden scaffold against exposed brick; the warm lighting suggests candlelight, and the stage is equipped with ropes and iron fixtures that evoke the shipbuilding—and nation-building—of eighteenth-century New York City.

Miranda presents an Alexander Hamilton of incandescent focus, abounding talent, and barely suppressed fury. Hamilton was known to pace and mutter to himself while composing his treatises, and onstage the rap soliloquy feels startlingly apt as his preferred mode of self-expression: “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory / When is it gonna get me? / In my sleep? / Seven feet ahead of me? / If I see it coming do I run or do I let it be?” Miranda transposes Cabinet meetings into rap battles where participants face off while surrounded by whooping supporters. The debate over whether a national bank should be established to assume the states’ debts—Hamilton’s farsighted invention—becomes an animated exchange, in which he emerges victorious by disparaging Thomas Jefferson: “Always hesitant with the President / Reticent—there isn’t a plan he doesn’t jettison.”

It does not seem accidental that “Hamilton” was created during the tenure of the first African-American President. The musical presents the birth of the nation in an unfamiliar but necessary light: not solely as the work of élite white men but as the foundational story of all Americans. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington are all played by African-Americans. Miranda also gives prominent roles to women, including Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), and sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry). When they are joined by a third sister, their zigzagging harmonies sound rather like those of Destiny’s Child. Miranda portrays the Founding Fathers not as exalted statesmen but as orphaned sons, reckless revolutionaries, and sometimes petty rivals, living at a moment of extreme volatility, opportunity, and risk. The achievements and the dangers of America’s current moment—under the Presidency of a fatherless son of an immigrant, born in the country’s island margins—are never far from view....

Rearsals for “Hamilton” took place in a rented studio space just off Times Square. One afternoon in early December, the cast worked on “My Shot,” the propulsive number set on the eve of the Revolution. Almost the entire company was performing, learning the strenuous hip-hop-inflected dances of the show’s choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler. Miranda’s music, now fully orchestrated, by Alex Lacamoire—like Blankenbuehler, a veteran of “In the Heights”—built to a delirious crescendo. A young actor, Anthony Ramos, charged with exultant fury across the stage, playing John Laurens, a slave owner’s son who was a close friend of Hamilton’s. During the Revolution, Laurens proposed to recruit slaves as soldiers, promising them freedom upon victory, and sought to form a black regiment; he was killed in action during one of the war’s final battles, in 1782. “Don’t this shit make my people wanna rise up!” Ramos chanted, leading an escalating chorus of revolt.

Miranda, who had grown his hair to his shoulders for the role, had a haunted air, his eyes ringed with fatigue—in early November, he and Nadal had their first child, Sebastian. Nevertheless, Miranda shifted energetically between roles: one moment he was swaggering downstage with the ensemble, insolently extending his fingers and thumb above his head, as if he were shooting a gun; the next he was tapping on his computer or his phone. “I have a lot of apps open in my brain right now,” he said. “The script, learning choreography, and Twitter. And the news.”

That afternoon, in New York, a grand jury announced that it would not indict the police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was choked to death last summer, after being apprehended for selling loose cigarettes. A week earlier, there had been riots in Ferguson, Missouri, after a grand jury there also failed to indict a white policeman, Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of an African-American man, Michael Brown. “We’re screaming ‘Rise up,’ and a lot of people are feeling that way,” Miranda said.

After Miranda’s White House performance, in 2009, the party had moved to a reception area in the lobby, where Miranda had discovered a d.j. playing hip-hop. He had felt astonished: America finally had a President who didn’t feel like a throwback, who lived in the same world that he did. If the events of the previous weeks had offered painful evidence that this promise of inclusion remained unfulfilled, Miranda still had the power of words to offer. While marchers started assembling on the streets of Manhattan for evening demonstrations, Miranda tweeted Hamilton’s lines from “My Shot”: “If we win our independence / Is that a guarantee of freedom for our descendants? / Or will the blood we shed begin an endless / Cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?”

In a quieter rehearsal room that afternoon, Miranda and Jackson worked with Kail on another scene: an early encounter between Washington and Hamilton after the devastating Battle of Brooklyn, in August, 1776. In the song “Right Hand Man,” Washington summons Hamilton and informs him that he needs his services more as a secretary than as a soldier: “Head full of fantasies of dying like a martyr? / Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.” Hamilton protests—he wants to be given the command of a battalion.

Kail asked Miranda what he thought was in Hamilton’s mind. “I think he’s in defensive mode, until he sees Washington open up,” Miranda replied. “I am thinking of Al Pacino, in ‘The Godfather,’ when he hears the train approaching—it’s, like, he’s going all in, or he’s not. Is he going to pop the police chief and Sollozzo, or is he, like, going to have dinner?” Hamilton, Miranda said, had been determined to get the “martyr win,” and was always the last to leave the battlefield. Now Hamilton was rapidly calculating the greater impact he might have by being at Washington’s side—a calculation that needed to be conveyed within a single bar of music. “Even here, he is saying, ‘I’m going to use this to rise,’ ” Miranda said. “ ‘I thought I was going to rise on the battlefield. But I am going to have to do it this way.’ ”

Running through the song a few times, Miranda played with the delivery of Hamilton’s response to Washington’s proposal: “I am not throwing away my shot.” A few songs earlier, that refrain had implied Hamilton’s willingness to lose his life in battle; now it signified his recognition of an opportunity to establish a legacy that would outlast him. In the script, Washington interrupts Hamilton with a single word—“son”—capturing his paternal feeling for his young lieutenant. (Chernow writes that Hamilton was falsely rumored to be Washington’s illegitimate child.) But in Jackson’s delivery “son” also had a hip-hop resonance, implying brotherhood and parity.

Miranda, Jackson, and Kail turned the lines over, looking for the best way to convey Washington’s comprehension of Hamilton’s new intention—allowing the audience to register Hamilton’s sense of himself evolving from soldier to future statesman. Miranda studied the script that he’d written. “I wonder if it’s as simple as Washington not saying ‘son’ but saying ‘good,’ ” he said. “And that ‘good’ means ‘You’re hired.’ And then Hamilton is unleashed in this new capacity.”

-- Exodus Story
Source :

וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים--כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה, לוֹ: פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה, וְהָיָה כִּי-תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא עַל-שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם-בָּנוּ, וְעָלָה מִן-הָאָרֶץ

Pacific Standard:  Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 23, 2014 

..After Wenger explained why Rodrigo would not return, the class of 10-year-olds, many of whom had known him since kindergarten, was shocked. “How is that fair?” she says they asked. “That’s ridiculous!” The kids “tried to make Rodrigo feel better” by making him a video and sending him a Valentine in February—and their parents helped the kids to write to their Congressmen and speak out in the media.

More and more children like Rodrigo are crossing the border, many without parents or guardians. During the past nine months, 57,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught trying to cross the border, double what it was during the same period last year.

In the face of this humanitarian crisis—which experts blame on Central American drug wars—many native-born Americans have reacted with fear and revulsion.

Earlier this month in Murrieta, California, angry protesters blocked buses full of undocumented children and women on their way to a holding facility. “Send the illegals back,” read a typical sign. GOP policy backs the protesters: The only immigration-related bill passed by the House is an amendment that would revoke a program that has given 600,000 youth legal status and deportation protection. All other efforts to reform the immigration system have been blocked by the GOP and a small number of Democratic allies.

Why do immigrants provoke such strong feelings of both empathy and revulsion, a polarization that pits fourth graders in Berkeley against the citizens of Murrieta? What characteristics and qualities do Rodrigo’s classmates possess that the bus-stoppers do not? These are questions that psychologists and sociologists have been exploring for years—and their answers suggest how we can reduce the revulsion and foster a stronger sense of empathy with newcomers....

In fact, the research suggests that immigrant rights advocates face many, many psychological barriers in pursuit of their goals. Fear of foreigners might well be the most intractable of all human prejudices because it is so tightly linked to survival and natural selection.

“At the end of the day, we’re motivated by resource-distribution,” says University of California-Berkeley psychology professor Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, who studies stereotypes and intergroup relations. When newcomers arrive in the midst of a stable population that’s already worked out who gets what, “the most common human reaction is to hog resources, not to share.”

It’s a problem that arises from one of our best, most unique qualities: Human beings are extremely social animals that are very dependent on our group membership for food, shelter, and security. “We care deeply about our in-groups,” Fiske says. “But the downside is that you’re then excluding people who are not in the in-group.”

This is a social pattern that can be mapped in our bodies, down to a molecular level. Threat centers in the brain light up on perceiving an out-group member, while neurotransmitters like oxytocin seem to facilitate both in-group bonding and out-group exclusion.

The biological architecture of prejudice also hints at the fear that immigrants bring disease—people from faraway ecologies may carry different pathogens, activating knee-jerk disgust, as Mark Schaller and colleagues at the University of British Columbia have documented.

That’s why many American cities are excluding immigrants based on health concerns. As Mayor Alan Long of Murrieta, who led the protests to stop the buses, recently said in an interview, “you don’t ship people that are ill and contagious all over the country.” His fellow protesters held signs reading “Save our children from diseases.”...


If xenophobia has such deep evolutionary and psychological roots, what explains Ms. Wenger’s fourth-grade class, which rallied to support their friend Rodrigo after he was sent back to Mexico?

Both liberals and conservatives have claimed that the most important fact of the Berkeley case is that they are children. For some liberal commentators, Wenger’s class stands as proof that children are born without prejudice, and that hate must be taught. Conservatives have a different take, suggesting that the embrace of an undocumented immigrant in their midst is just the result of an inexperienced, childish perspective. “That's what I want a bunch of fourth graders making legislation,” wrote one commentator on the right-wing site “MACARONI AND CHEESE EVERY DAY FOR SUPPER!!!!”

But both groups are wrong, the research suggests.

From a very young age, children start sorting themselves into in-groups and out-groups, so the potential for prejudice is there before social conditioning takes hold, contrary to what many liberals believe. But in this case, says the research, their age is not as important as the fact that many of them had sat in the same classroom as Rodrigo for almost five years, in one of the most racially integrated and culturally diverse school districts in the nation....

This is what social scientists call the contact hypothesis—the simple idea that contact between groups facilitates tolerance and cooperation. Research finds that its effects are deep and long lasting, which is why conservatives are wrong to malign Rodrigo’s classmates as childish: They’ll likely take that multicultural perspective into adulthood....

In Murrieta, the town’s mayor led the anti-immigrant protests. In Berkeley, teachers and administrators never lose an opportunity to talk about the value of diversity. As the district’s website says, “Berkeley Unified School District believes that diversity in our student population enriches the educational experiences of students.” The leadership’s framing emphasizes that newcomers strengthen the community with new ideas and energy, as opposed to threatening its integrity.

“The views and messages from authorities really matter,” Mendoza-Denton says. “Because difficult intergroup situations are ambiguous—and in ambiguous situations people look to leaders to set the tone. That’s got to be really consistent across different levels of leadership.” As part of that leadership, people need to hear solutions, to mitigate the fear that compassion will lead to feeling overwhelmed....

“When shaping immigration policy, we should be holding in the front of our minds that we’re talking about real families, real kids, who have hopes and incredible stories,” she says. “If we can’t hold those real people at the forefront of any discussion around immigration policy, then we just fall into rhetoric. We end up just saying ‘A rule’s a rule’ or ‘We have something that other people shouldn’t be able to get’ or ‘We’re going to be damaged because of these hordes of people coming through.’”

Wenger’s advice to the protesters of Murrieta? “Sit down and have supper with immigrants,” she says. “Ask them their stories.”

It would be a start.

-- Exodus Story
Source : Slate:

Slate:  We’ll Always Have Paris

By William Saletan 

March 15, 2015 

“Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?” That’s the question Jeffrey Goldberg raises in a richly reported article in the Atlantic. He concludes that perhaps they should, due to resurgent anti-Semitism. “For Jews who would like to stay Jewish in some sort of meaningful way,” he writes, “there are better places than Europe.”

Goldberg is a marvelous writer, and his article is sobering. But his answer is incomplete. Identity isn’t just about your ethnicity or your faith. It’s also about your nationality. For Frenchmen who would like to stay French in some meaningful way, there are better religions than Judaism. That doesn’t mean it’s time to leave Judaism.

So let’s turn the question around. How can we help Jews stay in Europe? What’s the best way to reassure a French Jew that she can keep both her country and her religion?

Goldberg’s article doesn’t explicitly answer that question. But it does illuminate the structure of the problem. Once you understand that structure, you get a general idea of how the problem could be solved. You also begin to see how much worse things could get if we try to solve it in the wrong way.

In the article, the person who comes across as understanding the problem most clearly is Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front. She says anti-Semitism watchdogs in her country have been looking the wrong way. They’re on guard against old-style Nazism. “While they were fighting against an enemy that no longer existed,” she tells Goldberg, “an anti-Semitism was gaining force in France stemming notably from the development of fundamentalist Islamist thought.”

Goldberg’s reporting bears out her point. Though he’s careful not to disparage Muslims as a group, the anti-Semitic massacres he recounts—Toulouse in 2012, Brussels in 2014, Paris in 2015—were all the work of jihadists. He also finds anti-Semitic patterns in his interviews with European Muslims. This isn’t your führer’s anti-Semitism. It has been brought to Europe by immigrants.

Goldberg says European anti-Semitism “would be impoverished without the incorporation of European fascist tropes” such as the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute. But his reporting suggests almost the opposite: Anti-Semitism is flourishing among Muslims in Europe not because they understand Nazism, but because they don’t. To them, anti-Semitism is a salute. Their families weren’t in Europe when the salute was accompanied by the extermination of 6 million Jews. They haven’t absorbed the history, the horror, or the shame. They missed the inoculation.

Two incidents recounted in Goldberg’s article illustrate the effect. One involves a Danish imam who was speaking at a Berlin mosque last year. He said of Jews: “Count them and kill them to the very last one. Don’t spare a single one of them.” After his statement was exposed, he pleaded that he “never meant all Jews.” That’s the kind of excuse you would never offer if you understood the Holocaust. Understanding the Holocaust means understanding that when somebody says, “Kill all the Jews,” he means, “Kill all the Jews.”

So let’s turn the question around. How can we help Jews stay in Europe? What’s the best way to reassure a French Jew that she can keep both her country and her religion?

Goldberg’s article doesn’t explicitly answer that question. But it does illuminate the structure of the problem. Once you understand that structure, you get a general idea of how the problem could be solved. You also begin to see how much worse things could get if we try to solve it in the wrong way.

In the article, the person who comes across as understanding the problem most clearly is Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front. She says anti-Semitism watchdogs in her country have been looking the wrong way. They’re on guard against old-style Nazism. “While they were fighting against an enemy that no longer existed,” she tells Goldberg, “an anti-Semitism was gaining force in France stemming notably from the development of fundamentalist Islamist thought.”

Goldberg’s reporting bears out her point. Though he’s careful not to disparage Muslims as a group, the anti-Semitic massacres he recounts—Toulouse in 2012, Brussels in 2014, Paris in 2015—were all the work of jihadists. He also finds anti-Semitic patterns in his interviews with European Muslims. This isn’t your führer’s anti-Semitism. It has been brought to Europe by immigrants.

Goldberg says European anti-Semitism “would be impoverished without the incorporation of European fascist tropes” such as the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute. But his reporting suggests almost the opposite: Anti-Semitism is flourishing among Muslims in Europe not because they understand Nazism, but because they don’t. To them, anti-Semitism is a salute. Their families weren’t in Europe when the salute was accompanied by the extermination of 6 million Jews. They haven’t absorbed the history, the horror, or the shame. They missed the inoculation.

Two incidents recounted in Goldberg’s article illustrate the effect. One involves a Danish imam who was speaking at a Berlin mosque last year. He said of Jews: “Count them and kill them to the very last one. Don’t spare a single one of them.” After his statement was exposed, he pleaded that he “never meant all Jews.” That’s the kind of excuse you would never offer if you understood the Holocaust. Understanding the Holocaust means understanding that when somebody says, “Kill all the Jews,” he means, “Kill all the Jews.”

The other episode took place in Lebanon. Hezbollah, the radical Muslim militia that dominates that country, has been working to keep  The Diary of Anne Frank  out of Lebanese schools. This kind of denialism, perpetrated in the Middle East, makes people susceptible to anti-Semitism when they grow up and emigrate to Europe. If you don’t grow up in a place that experienced the Holocaust, and if you don’t learn about the Holocaust in some other way, you’ll behave like somebody who doesn’t get it.

I don’t mean to suggest that Muslims don’t understand anti-Semitism. They do. But the anti-Semitism they’re familiar with is the anti-Semitism of resentment, not the anti-Semitism of genocidal success. Goldberg describes a French Jew whose parents fled Tunisia in 1967, “driven out by anti-Jewish rioters who were putatively distressed by Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War.” The key word in that sentence is  victory. If Israel had lost—if the Jews of Palestine had been annihilated—Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa might understand anti-Semitism the way Europeans do. Anti-Semitism isn’t about a chant or a salute. It’s about piles of corpses.

Nor do I mean to exonerate the majority of Europeans who are neither Muslim nor Jewish. They’ve played their part in the intimidation of Jews by not playing their part in stopping it. Goldberg credits leaders of Germany, France, and Britain for denouncing anti-Semitism. But he points out that “the general publics of these countries do not seem nearly as engaged in the issue as their leaders. The Berlin rally last fall against anti-Semitism that featured Angela Merkel drew a paltry 5,000 people, most of whom were Jews.” And the silence of the majority leaves Jews feeling isolated. “Everyone is saying ‘ Je suis Charlie ’ today,” a Jewish student in Paris tells Goldberg, alluding to outrage over the murder of cartoonists at  Charlie Hebdo. “But this has been happening to the Jews for years and no one cares.” Another student, using the French term for “Jewish,” suggests: “It would be nice if someone would say ‘ Je suis Juif. ’ ”

Why don’t non-Muslim Europeans care more about the new anti-Semitism? One reason is that they aren’t Jews. But another reason is that they aren’t Muslims. They’re neither the victims nor the perpetrators. They feel neither the threat nor the responsibility.

Le Pen seems to understand much of this. Goldberg explains that she’s trying to recast the National Front—a right-wing French party with a history of anti-Semitism—as a protector of Jews. Her message, according to Goldberg, is that “the rise of Islamism in France poses an existential threat to the republican idea, and to the bedrock principle of  laïcité , or secularism.” Yes, the National Front is a threat to Muslims. But Muslims are a threat to Jews, by her logic, so the National Front is a friend to Jews.

Le Pen’s solution, Goldberg reports, is to “strip ‘jihadists’ of their citizenship, end immigration, and reinforce  laïcité  by limiting the public expression of religion.” She implies that this would squelch the new anti-Semitism. But she can’t explain why it wouldn’t revive the old anti-Semitism.

Goldberg points to the French right’s campaign to outlaw Muslim veils. The rationale is that such veils are an affront to French secularism and solidarity. He asks Le Pen whether she would also bar Jews from wearing a kippah in public. “I think the meaning is not the same,” she tells him. “We know very well that the proliferation of the wearing of the veil—and in certain neighborhoods, the burka—is a political act.” But it’s easy to say the same about the kippah. Anyone who wants to turn the power of the state against Jews will simply reinterpret the kippah as a political statement.

Le Pen tells Goldberg, “I don’t see Jews as a  community. ... I see fellow countrymen who are of Jewish faith but who are fellow countrymen, and I think that all French have the right to see themselves protected from the threats that weigh on them.” She presents this as a simple statement of nondiscrimination. But when you read the statement in light of her efforts to suppress religious expression, there’s a worrisome undertone. Fundamentally, we’re all French. So shut up about your faith.

If I were a Jew in Europe, I don’t think I’d leave. Growing up in Texas, I had many encounters—slurs, threats, occasional minor violence—similar to those described by Goldberg as anti-Semitic. They were anti-Semitic. I just had to deal with them. One thing that helped me get through it was the belief that my tormentors represented an ignorant, dying past. The best way to help today’s European Jews is to give them the same confidence, by working on the ignorance at the heart of Muslim anti-Semitism. To do that, you have to focus on the ignorance, not the Islam.

-- Ten Plagues
Source : National Geographic:

​California is facing a drought that may change the  face of the U.S. agriculture business, if there is the political will to deal with the problems that run much deeper than turning off the sink and not watering the lawn.

National Geographic:  If You Think the Water Crisis Can't Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained

By Dennis Dimick

August 21, 2014

Aquifers provide us freshwater that makes up for surface water lost from drought-depleted lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. We are drawing down these hidden, mostly nonrenewable groundwater supplies at unsustainable rates in the western United States and in several dry regions globally, threatening our future.

We are at our best when we can see a threat or challenge ahead. If flood waters are rising, an enemy is rushing at us, or a highway exit appears just ahead of a traffic jam, we see the looming crisis and respond.

We are not as adept when threats—or threatened resources—are invisible. Some of us have trouble realizing why invisible carbon emissions are changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and warming the planet. Because the surface of the sea is all we see, it's difficult to understand that we already have taken most of the large fish from the ocean, diminishing a major source of food. Neither of these crises are visible—they are largely out of sight, out of mind—so it's difficult to get excited and respond. Disappearing groundwater is another out-of-sight crisis.

Groundwater comes from aquifers—spongelike gravel and sand-filled underground reservoirs—and we see this water only when it flows from springs and wells. In the United States we rely on this hidden—and shrinking—water supply to meet half our needs, and as drought shrinks surface water in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, we rely on groundwater from aquifers even more. Some shallow aquifers recharge from surface water, but deeper aquifers contain ancient water locked in the earth by changes in geology thousands or millions of years ago. These aquifers typically cannot recharge, and once this "fossil" water is gone, it is gone forever—potentially changing how and where we can live and grow food, among other things.

A severe drought in California—now approaching four years long—has depleted snowpacks, rivers, and lakes, and groundwater use has soared to make up the shortfall. A new report from Stanford University says that nearly 60 percent of the state's water needs are now met by groundwater, up from 40 percent in years when normal amounts of rain and snow fall.

Relying on groundwater to make up for shrinking surface water supplies comes at a rising price, and this hidden water found in California's Central Valley aquifers is the focus of what amounts to a new gold rush. Well-drillers are working overtime, and as Brian Clark Howard reported here last week, farmers and homeowners short of water now must wait in line more than a year for their new wells.

In most years, aquifers recharge as rainfall and streamflow seep into unpaved ground. But during drought the water table—the depth at which water is found below the surface—drops as water is pumped from the ground faster than it can recharge. As Howard reported, Central Valley wells that used to strike water at 500 feet deep must now be drilled down 1,000 feet or more, at a cost of more than $300,000 for a single well. And as aquifers are depleted,the land also begins to subside, or sink.

Unlike those in other western states, Californians know little about their groundwater supply because well-drilling records are kept secret from public view, and there is no statewide policy limiting groundwater use. State legislators are contemplating a measure that would regulate and limit groundwater use, but even if it passes, compliance plans wouldn't be required until 2020, and full restrictions wouldn't kick in until 2040. California property owners now can pump as much water as they want from under the ground they own.

California's Central Valley isn't the only place in the U.S. where groundwater supplies are declining. Aquifers in the Colorado River Basin and the southern Great Plains also suffer severe depletion. Studies show that about half the groundwater depletion nationwide is from irrigation. Agriculture is theleading use of water in the U.S. and around the world, and globally irrigated farming takes more than 60 percent of the available freshwater.

The Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to 40 million people in seven states, is losing water at dramatic rates, and most of the losses are groundwater. A new satellite study from the University of California, Irvine and NASA indicates that the Colorado River Basin lost 65 cubic kilometers (15.6 cubic miles) of water from 2004 to 2013. That is twice the amount stored in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., which can hold two years' worth of Colorado River runoff. As Jay Famiglietti, a NASA scientist and study co-author wrote here, groundwater made up 75 percent of the water lost in the basin.

Farther east, the Ogallala Aquifer under the High Plains is also shrinking because of too much demand. When the Dust Bowl overtook the Great Plains in the 1930s, the Ogallala had been discovered only recently, and for the most part it wasn't tapped then to help ease the drought. But large-scale center-pivot irrigation transformed crop production on the plains after World War II, allowing water-thirsty crops like corn and alfalfa for feeding livestock.

But severe drought threatens the southern plains again, and water is being unsustainably drawn from the southern Ogallala Aquifer. The northern Ogallala, found near the surface in Nebraska, is replenished by surface runoff from rivers originating in the Rockies. But farther south in Texas and New Mexico, water lies hundreds of feet below the surface, and does not recharge.Sandra Postel wrote here last month that the Ogallala Aquifer water level in the Texas Panhandle has dropped by up to 15 feet in the past decade, with more than three-quarters of that loss having come during the drought of the past five years. A recent Kansas State University study said that if farmers in Kansas keep irrigating at present rates, 69 percent of the Ogallala Aquifer will be gone in 50 years....

As drought worsens groundwater depletion, water supplies for people and farming shrink, and this scarcity can set the table for social unrest. Saudi Arabia, which a few decades ago began pumping deep underground aquifers to grow wheat in the desert, has since abandoned the plan, in order to conserve what groundwater supplies remain, relying instead on imported wheat to feed the people of this arid land.

Managing and conserving groundwater supplies becomes an urgent challenge as drought depletes our surface supplies. Because groundwater is acommon resource—available to anyone with well—drilling equipment-cooperation and collaboration will be crucial as we try to protect this shrinking line of defense against a future of water scarcity.

-- Ten Plagues
Source :

The Guardian: Back from the brink of extinction: hunting for the world's rarest frog

by Oliver Milman

March 9, 2015

If you’re planning on scouring a vast Australian mountain range looking for what is probably the rarest frog in the world, scientists suggest a rudimentary approach works best.

“We shout out ‘hey frog, hey frog’ and listen for a call back,” says David Hunter, a threatened species officer at the New South Wales state government. “I hate to think how many times I’ve shouted that out.”

A more technological approach – camera traps, for example – wouldn’t really work given the endangered southern Corroboree frog measures just 3.5cm in length.

The frogs – the females are largest and pear-shaped when carrying eggs – are coloured by flashes of bright yellow as a warning to predators of the toxins developed from the gobbling up of ants. But the frogs aren’t fully visible unless you stoop down for a close look.

The other key difficulty in finding the frog is the vanishingly tiny numbers of the species’ population. In January, Hunter and his team found there were just four frogs – two male, two female – in Kosciuszko national park in the southern part of New South Wales, its entire range.

Such a miniscule band of wild survivors – four in the entire world – means the southern Corroboree is “effectively extinct”, Hunter says.

But the combined effort of Australians academics, zoos and governments mean that the frog is being dragged back from the brink – with potentially huge implications for other amphibian species around the world that have been decimated by a deadly fungus.

Chytrid fungus has spread across six continents and has been blamed for causing the decline or extinction of around 200 frog species since the 1970s. In Australia, six frog species are thought to have been wiped out by the fungus, which is carried in water and by other frogs. The fungus causes a disease called chytridiomycosis on the skin that fatally impairs frogs’ ability to maintain electrolyte, water and oxygen levels.


The southern Corroboree frog was seemingly destined to be its next victim. But a pioneering collaboration has seen southern Corroboree frog numbers steadily climb in captivity, with last week containing an important milestone in a plan to reintroduce the animals back into the wild.

Amphibian experts from Melbourne Zoo and Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, along with NSW government wildlife officials, released 80 frogs into an enclosed, fungus-free area of Kosciuszko national park. 

The release, the first time that adult Corroborree frogs have been reintroduced back into the mountains that once teemed with millions of the animals, could mark a key turning point in the global effort to reverse plummeting amphibian numbers.

“This is huge, it doesn’t get any bigger for frog people,” explains Jon Birkett, head of Melbourne Zoo’s reptile house.

Birkett has been carefully nurturing Corroborree frog numbers since the 1970s, initially in fish tanks and now in more sophisticated quarantined premises that prevents any chance of the fungus reaching the frogs. Melbourne now has 196 frogs, while Taronga has more than 400.

The idea is that if the released frogs can survive and thrive in the enclosures, their copious offspring – females can lay up to 30 eggs at a time – could be reintroduced more widely and help develop better resistance to the fungus, which entered the Kosciuszko region in the 1980s.

“We can facilitate the co-evolutionary relationship between the pathogen and the frog to produce more resistant animals,” says Hunter. “Just by keeping these frogs alive in the wild, we’ll be producing healthier, stronger animals and help the evolution of them alongside this pathogen.

“It’s hugely exciting. We don’t see having the frogs in captivity as an adequate end point for this species. We need to have them back out in the wild where they are part of the ecosystem.”

Hunter said the released frogs’ offspring could be distributed more widely within a year and, if successful, the colony would represent a breakthrough in the effort to reverse the worrying decline of many frog species.

“This pathogen is a global problem and anything we can do here can be applied elsewhere in the world,” he said. “It has huge potential. Keeping animals in captivity is resource intensive and here we are trying to maintain frog populations at very low cost. If it works, it’ll look after itself. It is, as far as I’m aware, a world first for an endangered frog.”

Frogs are often overlooked in what’s termed the sixth great extinction event that is sweeping the globe. Large mammals – tigers, polar bears, orangutans and so on – tower over amphibians in both stature and the public’s spasmodic attention on conservation.

But times are desperate. About a third of the world’s amphibians are now endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation. Climate change, as well the chytrid fungus, poses a major risk to frogs, especially for the likes of the southern Corroborree, which lives in an alpine region and may struggle to adapt to a warmer, dried out environment.

Without really knowing much about it, Australia, and the world, is losing some incredible creatures. For example, the fungus has already killed off the gastric brooding frog, a creature that swallowed it eggs, developed its young in its stomach and gave birth via its mouth.

The next year or so will give a clearer indication whether the southern Corroborree will become another lost species or whether an improbable, almost audacious, recovery effort can be pulled out.

“I’m personally optimistic that we can have them back out into the wild in good numbers,” Hunter, who has worked on the issue for 18 years, says.

“We have such a unique environment in Australia so it’s a huge tragedy to think that future generations might not have the opportunity to experience remarkable animals like the Corroborree frog in the wild.

“I really think that would be a massive loss to humanity.”

-- Ten Plagues
Source : NYTimes:

A plague like Ebola can ravage a country, especially one as precarious as Liberia. But the toll goes beyond the deaths. It rips the very fabric of the communities. 

Ebola’s Cultural Casualty: Hugs in Hands-On Liberia

By Helene Cooper

October 4, 2014 

MONROVIA, Liberia — It is hard enough to push away family and friends, shunning an embrace or even a shake of the hand to protect yourself from Ebola.

But imagine trying not to touch your 2-year-old daughter when she is feverish, vomiting blood and in pain.

Precious Diggs, a 33-year-old contractor for a rubber company, had heard all the warnings from the legions of public health workers here in Liberia. She had seen the signs that dot the road from Harbel, where she works, to the capital, Monrovia, some 35 miles away: “Ebola is Here and Real!” they say. “Stop the Denial!”

But when her toddler, Rebecca, started “toileting and vomiting,” there was no way her mother was not going to pick her up.

“Na mind, baby,” Ms. Diggs whispered in her baby’s ear. “I beg you, na mind.”

Continue reading the main stor

Here in the heart of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, the question of whether to touch a stranger has only one answer: You don’t. But even in more intimate circles, in families and among lifelong friends, Liberians are starting to pull away from one another, straining against generations of a culture in which closeness is expressed through physical contact.

Liberia — from the elite doyennes who spend their days sending houseboys to the market to fetch oranges for them, all the way to the young boys on Tubman Boulevard who run up to cars hawking plastic bags of ice — used to be a tactile place. Everybody kissed friends, strangers and cousins, regardless of whether people met every day or had not seen one another in 20 years.

In a version of the genteel affectations that freed American slaves brought with them two centuries ago when they came here, the double-cheek kiss, for decades, was the standard greeting.

People often held hands while singing hymns at First United Methodist Church on Ashmun Street on Sundays, and after services sometimes took up to an hour to disperse, going systematically from cheek to cheek.

At parties in Monrovia, new arrivals went from person to person around a room, taking the hand of each seated guest as they bent down to kiss and chat. Sometimes it could take 15 to 20 minutes to make the rounds at a house party of just 10 people. When it was time to leave, the ritual began again.

That’s all gone now. Ebola is spread through bodily fluids: vomit, blood, feces, tears, saliva and sweat. Close contact has become taboo.

The Liberian government has decreed that taxis — which used to cram in six, seven, eight people, and in a recent case, four goats even — are allowed to take just three people in the back seat: fewer riders to touch one another.

Sylvester Vagn, 40, who was a corporate driver with a tech company before he was laid off a few months ago, said Thursday that even with only two people sharing the taxi with him, he still now jams his body against the door. Whichever arm is closest to his fellow passengers, he places it across his body and practically out the window.

“I sit so, with my head so,” he said, demonstrating how he leans his head as far away as possible. “And I bring jacket.”

Continue reading the main story

Clara K. Mallah, 27, wears long sleeves, pulling them over her hands whenever her 3-year-old niece comes running up to her. Ms. Mallah, a national translator with an international organization in Monrovia, makes an exception only for her 52-year-old mother, a diabetic amputee who never leaves the house. Even so, Ms. Mallah has trepidation.

“If my mom could walk,” she said, “I wouldn’t touch her.”

Those close family ties expose the fragility of the belief that you can completely protect yourself from Ebola by keeping your hands to yourself. Can you really not touch an ailing mother?

Ephraim Dunbar couldn’t. When Mr. Dunbar, 37, got a phone call in late August that his mother had taken ill, he rushed to her house in Dolos Town, the enclave near Harbel where dozens of people have succumbed to Ebola. He found her in bed, vomiting blood.

His mind went immediately to the precautions against the virus. He did his best not to touch her. But as she grew worse, unable to keep anything down, he gave her milk, and tried to soothe her. His skin touched hers.

His mother died the next day.

Just after his mother’s funeral, Mr. Dunbar’s own forehead got hot with fever. For 15 days, he stayed at John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, fighting the disease. It was a fight he eventually won. But when he got out of the hospital, he found out that four of his sisters, his brother, his father, his aunt, his uncle and his two nephews had died. His entire family, wiped out in days.

On Friday, Mr. Dunbar said he would do nothing different. “That’s my ma,” he said, “that she the one born me.”

Levy Zeopuegar’s Achilles’ heel was his oldest sister, Neconie — “one father, one mother,” he described her in the Liberian way of distinguishing the special bond of full siblings in a country where half brothers or half sisters are common.

When Neconie got sick, her brother chartered a private car to take her to the hospital and climbed in with her. When the driver pointed out that blood was pooling from her nose, Mr. Zeopuegar turned to her with a towel.

Neconie died. Her husband, also in the car, died. Mr. Zeopuegar almost died as well, spending 19 days in the Ebola treatment unit in Harbel. For days, he hiccupped blood, feeling each day was his last, until finally, one morning, he woke up and knew he would live.

“You have to understand,” he tried to explain. “This Ebola thing. You will see your son or daughter sick in bed and say, ‘I not touching her?’ That is impossible.”

And yet, that is what Liberians must do to combat the virus. On the streets of Monrovia, it sometimes seems impossible. Children still run around in local markets pushing and playing. People in wheelchairs still roll up to cars at red lights, palms outstretched. Boys still push their way through the densely crowded West Point neighborhood.

Many people say they have not felt the warmth of human skin in months. Many do not shake hands or kiss any more. No caressing. No hugging.

But some still do. Sister Barbara Brillant, dean of Mother Patern College of Health Sciences at St. Theresa’s Convent, last week was driving down the street when she saw a young couple holding hands.

“Stop holding hands!” she yelled out the car window.

“They looked at me like I was crazy,” Sister Barbara said later.

So when 2-year-old Rebecca got sick, Precious Diggs picked her baby up. Rebecca did not make it, and died days later.

She passed Ebola on to her mother.

Weeks later, Ms. Diggs was released from a treatment unit. She sat in front of the discharge tent with a row of eight people, all recovered from the disease, all waiting to walk out into new and starkly different lives.

-- Ten Plagues
Source : NPR:

Jill Levore's book Ghettoside argues that black boys are being murdered by their peers and their murders are being ignored by the police. In following the stories of a few victims in LA she finds the good cops among the indifferent and explores how a distrust in the police and a disbelief that the police would work for the community leaves disaster in its wake. 

NPR Fresh  Air: 'Ghettoside' Explores Why Murders Are Invisible In Los Angeles

Janurary 26, 2015 

Dave Davies, Host

LEOVY: There's no way to fit it in any kind of understanding of the natural order of things. It's always going to feel colossally wrong. It's going to feel like something's been taken from you arbitrarily by another human being. The way people respond to homicide deaths of loved ones - it's the worst pain that I've seen a human being experience that isn't physical. It's astounding what people go through, and it often gets worse as the years go by, instead of better. Doing "The Homicide Report," I had people who contacted me who had lost their loved ones 20, 30 years before, and would say, you know, I'm just going through my hardest phase now.

There was a woman I interviewed. Her son was a black man, I think in his 20s or 30s, maybe even a little bit older - an adult, black man that got no coverage. She would go to the cemetery at night, and she would lie, overnight, spread-eagled on the grave. It's - I've heard stories like that from other people, too. The other version of it that I've run into is going to the spot on the street where the son is killed and lying there.

You know, I had a mother - in one of the anecdotes that I didn't include in the book - who, at the funeral, after they cemented the vault in the wall where her son was, she flattened herself against the wet cement, and they - the relatives had to peel her off. She would've climbed in there, I think, if she could have.

DAVIES: The first section of your book is called The Plague. What's the plague you're referring to?

LEOVY: Well, most simply, it refers to the quotation I use for the book, which is from Albert Camus's novel, "The Plague." I love the metaphor of the plague because Camus is talking about bubonic plague in a quarantined Algerian city, a walled city, and that's exactly - especially in the years where the homicide rate was much higher, that's how South LA felt. There were neighborhoods that felt like a walled city. One of the officers I interviewed for the book says it's like I'm not even in America, anymore. This is a place with different rules and radically different daily events.

And then in very public health terms, it is a plague. The rate of homicide for black Americans has been five to eight times the white rate, going back decades. Year after year after year, we're talking about thousands and thousands of people. I think - I have in my footnotes, 1995, which was after the big crime wave of the early '90s - 1995 to 2005 - that decade of falling crime - total homicides in the U.S., I think, are 187,000. Well, about 90,000 of those victims were black, mostly black, adult men. And they're 13 percent of the population. And so that's astounding - those numbers.

DAVIES: You note that black men in particular are being, you know, murdered at an alarming rate. How many of these murderers get solved? Well, looking at numbers from LAPD from about '88 through the early 2000s, around 40 percent, if the victims are black men. And I have no reason to think that that's different with agencies, by the way. I've done sort of spot surveys of sheriffs and other agencies. It seems to be pretty consistent across the board. On paper, it's going to look a little more. When they report it to the federal government, they add in what's called cleared others.

DAVIES: That's cleared others - cleared meaning solved, yeah.

LEOVY: Yes, and so that gets you maybe up to the high 40s, low 50 percent. But you also have to consider that injury shootings, which are very similar to homicides, have much lower solve rates - in the LAPD, maybe 25 percent if you don't count cleared other. So if you put that all together, it ends up with better-than-average odds of getting away with it if you injure somebody by shooting them or kill them.

DAVIES: So there's all these families who want justice for their victims, and it doesn't happen, at least not from the police. What's the impact on the community of the failure to solve so many of these shootings?

LEOVY: A pervasive atmosphere of fear, rampant intimidation because, I think, the killers are emboldened. I did a story in the early 2000s where a colleague, Doug Smith, and I looked at all the unsolved homicides in LAPD South Bureau over about 15 years. And we came up with the finding that there were 40 or so unsolved homicides per square mile...


LEOVY: ...In the South Bureau area of the LAPD. So think about what that means in real terms. It's one thing if you hear, vaguely, of a homicide that doesn't involve anyone you know far away from you. It's another if it happens on your street. And it's another, still, if you know who did it, and they never get arrested. And by the way, they did it again, and they still didn't get arrested. And maybe there's three or four others around you. Imagine what that does to people and what that does to their own assessment of safety and how they're going to respond.

I spoke to a mother, once, in South Bureau - black woman - her son had just been murdered. I think this was maybe a couple of days after the murder. I had gone to her door. And it was one of these cases where the police just had no witnesses. The case wasn't going anywhere. The mother told me that since the murder, the killers, who she knew, who were, I think, the gang members who lived on her street, had been knocking on her door and taunting her and laughing at her - her grief. She had another surviving son, and he was, I think, 15, 16. And you could see that he was thinking really, really hard about this situation. And that's something you see all the time. I go to a lot of funerals, and I always study the pallbearers because they're generally young men the same age as the victim. And you can just see the smoldering anger and grief in their faces and how they're trying to hold it down and try not to cry. And then they march out and collect in knots in the parking lot after the funeral, and you could tell what they're talking about. They're talking about, what we do now?

DAVIES: You write that when there's a homicide, you describe situations where there's a murder scene, and a crowd naturally gathers. And things are said at the police lines that reflect a lot of the community's attitude towards the police and what they perceive as their attitude toward the crimes and the victims. Do you want to talk a bit about that?

LEOVY: Police hear that all the time. They hear that all the time. You don't care because he's black. You're not going to solve it because he's black. And it's very interesting, I - in terms of Ferguson and some of the other recent controversies - I was thinking that this is so complicated because there is, very definitely, a standard black grievance against police that you hear in South LA, that has to do with the generally understood problem - too much consent searches, we say, in LA, too much stop-and-frisk, too heavy of law enforcement, too much presumption of guilt when you take stops.

What I hear, when I'm in these neighborhoods, is a combination. It's a two-pronged grievance. There's another half of that. And the other half is, I get stopped too much for nothing, and the police don't go after the real killers. They don't go after the really serious criminals in this neighborhood. They're stopping me for what I've got in my pocket, but I know someone who got killed down the street. And they haven't solved the homicide, and yet, that second half seems to never break out and make it into the national dialogue about it. To me, it has always been that double-sided grievance of too much of the wrong kind of policing, not enough of the policing we actually want in these neighborhoods....

LEOVY: You know, I think it varies across the police force. One of the fascinating things to me is the way people change. A lot of officers that work in gang unit or were patrol officers end up sort of graduating into homicide units, and I've seen this over the years. They change once they start working homicide. One of the detectives in my book says, you know, I worked patrol for so many years and I never saw this. I never saw the pain to the extent that is present in homicide work. So there's this kind of personal transformation that people go through. I think you hear - you hear harder views from other functions in the police department. Homicide work is so different because it's intimate because it involves long-term relationships with families because it really gets the police officer into homes and into people's emotional lives, both witnesses and bereaved families. And not a lot of police work is like that. And there is a lot of work - and I would actually extend this to some fire department employees, some of the medical staffers who you see working - where it's very glancing, where you just have momentary contact with people and then you have to move on. You see these glimpses of misery. You can't do anything with it and you just have to go on to the next call. And I think that you see a lot of exasperation in people and to me that's a defense mechanism.

-- Ten Plagues
Source :

Thousands join Al Sharpton and Tamir Rice's mother, Samaria, at 'Justice for All' march against police violence

By Sabrina Eaton 

December 13, 2014 

WASHINGTON, D. C. - The mother of Cleveland police shooting victim Tamir Rice took to a national stage on Saturday to call for justice for her son and thank the nation for its support during her time of bereavement.

Samaria Rice joined family members of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other black males who were killed by police officers to lead a Washington, D.C. march that called for government action to address police brutality. Thousands of people from across the country attended, including several busloads from Northeast Ohio.

"I have one thing to say to the police force: Don't shoot. Our children want to grow up," Rice said before the march. "And to all the families experiencing the same pain as me, we will have justice of a God of our understanding."

A Cleveland police officer fatally shot Rice's 12-year-old son, Tamir, on Nov. 22 as he played with a toy gun outside the Cudell Recreation Center. A 9-1-1 caller who reported the boy pointing a gun at people told dispatchers the gun was "probably fake," but that detail wasn't relayed to the officers who responded to the call, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback.

Loehmann shot the boy moments after their police car pulled up to the gazebo where he played.

Participants in the march and rallies cited Rice's shooting and a litany of other deaths as they called for national reforms in how police officers are investigated after they use deadly force, and how information in those cases is presented to grand juries. They also urged other reforms, including use of police body cameras.

"We're not anti-police, but we're anti-brutality," Rev. Al Sharpton, who organized the march, told the crowd.

In a speech after the protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, Rice cited an autopsy report released yesterday that declared her son's death a homicide. She called for arrest of the officer who shot her son, and for him to be brought before "a criminal jury so he can get the opportunity to prove his innocence."

"My son was 12 years old," she told the crowd. "Just a baby. My baby. The youngest out of four. He is here with me right now and this is what he would want me to do. I want to thank the nation and the world for the support, because that's the only way I'm standing up right now. The only way."

Rice's attorney, Walter Madison, noted that Cleveland police hired Loehmann despite an assessment by his past employer, the Independence Police Department,that Loehmann's handgun performance was "dismal" and he shouldn't stay on the job.

"They hire a person with poor records in training and he deviates from all training and he escalates the situation with a small child," Madison said. "He ends up gunning down this child in 1.5 seconds. In a blink, he makes a decision to open his holster and empty bullets into the belly of this baby."

Madison accused police-friendly prosecutors of skewing evidence presented to grand juries in police brutality cases to prevent officer indictments. He called for changes in a process that he said gives police officers "paid vacations" while they're being investigated for possible felonies, that gives them long periods of time to collaborate with police union lawyers so the officer can tell his story to a grand jury "from his counsel's perspective."

Protesters at the march repeatedly chanted slogans such as "No Justice, No Peace," and "All Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter." They waved signs that pictured Tamir Rice and other black youths killed by police, including John Crawford III, who was shot in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart as he held an air rifle he obtained from a store shelf.

A Greene County grand jury declined to charge the officers who shot Crawford, but the U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation into the case.

Ohio Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat who heads the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, attended the event with Crawford's family to draw attention to their plight.

"These incidents are happening across the country," said Reece. "Thousands of diverse citizens, black, white, Latino, young and old are out here marching across the country. And many have lost faith in the entire justice system."

Several busloads full of protestors from the Cleveland participated in the event.

"We're hoping this energizes and motivates us to go home and make changes in our own neighborhoods," said Rev. Michele Humphrey, the pastor of Imani United Church of Christ in Cleveland, who attended with a group from her church.

Church member Marril Boose, a personal trainer from Cleveland Heights, said he has personally experienced racial profiling many times.

"If you see a white person pulled over by police, he is treated fine," said Boose. "I'm told to get out of the car, turn the engine off and put your hands on the roof. We are all supposed to be protected and served and treated equally."

Camille White, an Akron native who who works as a doctor for a government contractor in the Washington, D.C. area, said police need to be held accountable for their actions.

"This is about the fact that murderers are getting off," added Susan Schnur of Cleveland, who attended the march with a group dedicated to the legacy of Cleveland's first African-American mayor, Carl Stokes. 

"It is not all policemen," she continued. "But when these crimes happen around the country, nothing ever happens. When police officers are killed on duty, their killers get convicted. These families want justice."

Two protests took place in Greater Cleveland on Saturday, one inside the West Side Market and one outside the Beachwood Place mall. One protester outside the mall, Raven Evans, said she wanted to remind people about Tanisha Anderson, who died in police custody on Nov. 13. “People don’t realize black women are being killed too,” Evans said.

-- Cup #2 & Dayenu
Source :

At the 50th anniversary commerartion of Selma, President Obama pointed out that Selma was the catalyst for a lot of changes,  and that there were also many more changes that needed to come. Is there ever a point where we can actually say we have brought about enough change? 

Remarks by the President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches

"As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided.  Many are sites of war -- Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg.  Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character -- Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.  In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history -- the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher -- all that history met on this bridge. 

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.  And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America -- that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation.  The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them.  We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice....

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing.  But they gave courage to millions.  They held no elected office.  But they led a nation.  They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.  (Applause.)

What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.  Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them.  Their faith was questioned.  Their lives were threatened.  Their patriotism challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?  (Applause.)  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course? 

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?  (Applause.)

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.  That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance.  It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:  “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  (Applause.) 

These are not just words.  They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.  For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work.  And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma.  That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.  (Applause.) 

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.  It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.  (Applause.) 

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.  (Applause.)  

That’s what makes us unique.  That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity.  Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall.  Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid.  Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.  They saw what John Lewis had done.  From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom. 

They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama.  They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed.  Political and economic and social barriers came down.  And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office.  (Applause.)   

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American.  Women marched through those doors.  Latinos marched through those doors.  Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities -- they all came through those doors.  (Applause.)  Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past. 

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.  And what a solemn debt we owe.  Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.  If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.  (Applause.)  The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism.  For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country.  And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar.  It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.  But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed.  What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic.  It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom.  And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.  (Applause.)

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America.  If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s.  Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed.  Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago.  To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better. 

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes.  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.  We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. 

We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won.  We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.  “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.” 

There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem.  And this is work for all Americans, not just some.  Not just whites.  Not just blacks.  If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination.  All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now.  All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children.  And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.  (Applause.) ...

Source : AP:

Associated Press Investigation:Are slaves catching the fish you buy?

March 25, 2105

BENJINA, Indonesia — The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage, hidden on a tiny tropical island thousands of miles from home.

Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States.

But the eight imprisoned men were considered flight risks — laborers who might dare run away. They lived on a few bites of rice and curry a day in a space barely big enough to lie down, stuck until the next trawler forces them back to sea.

"All I did was tell my captain I couldn't take it anymore, that I wanted to go home," said Kyaw Naing, his dark eyes pleading into an Associated Press video camera sneaked in by a sympathetic worker. "The next time we docked," he said nervously out of earshot of a nearby guard, "I was locked up."

Here, in the Indonesian island village of Benjina and the surrounding waters, hundreds of trapped men represent one of the most desperate links criss-crossing between companies and countries in the seafood industry. This intricate web of connections separates the fish we eat from the men who catch it, and obscures a brutal truth: Your seafood may come from slaves.

The men the AP interviewed on Benjina were mostly from Myanmar, also known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world. They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish. Their catch was then shipped back to Thailand, where it entered the global stream of commerce.

Tainted fish can wind up in the supply chains of some of America's major grocery stores, such as Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway; the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart; and the biggest food distributor, Sysco. It can find its way into the supply chains of some of the most popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. It can turn up as calamari at fine dining restaurants, as imitation crab in a California sushi roll or as packages of frozen snapper relabeled with store brands that land on our dinner tables.

In a year-long investigation, the AP talked to more than 40 current and former slaves in Benjina. The AP documented the journey of a single large shipment of slave-caught seafood from the Indonesian village, tracking it by satellite to a gritty Thai harbor. Upon its arrival, AP journalists followed trucks that loaded and drove the seafood over four nights to dozens of factories, cold storage plants and the country's biggest fish market.

The tainted seafood mixes in with other fish at a number of sites in Thailand, including processing plants. U.S. Customs records show that several of those Thai factories ship to America. They also sell to Europe and Asia, but the AP traced shipments to the U.S., where trade records are public.

By this time, it is nearly impossible to tell where a specific fish caught by a slave ends up. However, entire supply chains are muddied, and money is trickling down the line to companies that benefit from slave labor.

The major corporations contacted would not speak on the record but issued statements that strongly condemned labor abuses. All said they were taking steps to prevent forced labor, such as working with human rights groups to hold subcontractors accountable.

Several independent seafood distributors who did comment described the costly and exhaustive steps taken to ensure their supplies are clean. They said the discovery of slaves underscores how hard it is to monitor what goes on halfway around the world.

Santa Monica Seafood, a large independent importer that sells to restaurants, markets and direct from its store, has been a leader in improving international fisheries, and sends buyers around the world to inspect vendors.

"The supply chain is quite cloudy, especially when it comes from offshore," said Logan Kock, vice president for responsible sourcing, who acknowledged that the industry recognizes and is working to address the problem. "Is it possible a little of this stuff is leaking through? Yeah, it is possible. We are all aware of it."

The slaves interviewed by the AP had no idea where the fish they caught was headed. They knew only that it was so valuable, they were not allowed to eat it.

They said the captains on their fishing boats forced them to drink unclean water and work 20- to 22-hour shifts with no days off. Almost all said they were kicked, whipped with toxic stingray tails or otherwise beaten if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing, as they hauled in heavy nets with squid, shrimp, snapper, grouper and other fish.

Some shouted for help over the deck of their trawler in the port to reporters, as bright fluorescent lights silhouetted their faces in the darkness.

"I want to go home. We all do," one man called out in Burmese, a cry repeated by others. The AP is not using the names of some men for their safety. "Our parents haven't heard from us for a long time. I'm sure they think we are dead."

Another glanced fearfully over his shoulder toward the captain's quarters, and then yelled: "It's torture. When we get beaten, we can't do anything back. ... I think our lives are in the hands of the Lord of Death."

In the worst cases, numerous men reported maimings or even deaths on their boats.

"If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us," said Hlaing Min, 30, a runaway slave from Benjina. "There must be a mountain of bones under the sea. ... The bones of the people could be an island, it's that many."...

The U.S. counts Thailand as one of its top seafood suppliers, and buys about 20 percent of the country's $7 billion annual exports in the industry. Last year, the State Department blacklisted Thailand for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, placing the country in the ranks of North Korea, Syria and Iran. However, there were no additional sanctions.

Thailand's seafood industry is largely run off the backs of migrant laborers, said Kendra Krieder, a State Department analyst who focuses on supply chains. The treatment of some of these workers falls under the U.S. government's definition of slavery, which includes forcing people to keep working even if they once signed up for the jobs, or trafficking them into situations where they are exploited.

"In the most extreme cases, you're talking about someone kidnapped or tricked into working on a boat, physically beaten, chained," said Krieder. "These situations would be called modern slavery by any measure."

The Thai government says it is cleaning up the problem. On the bustling floor of North America's largest seafood show in Boston earlier this month, an official for the Department of Fisheries laid out a plan to address labor abuse, including new laws that mandate wages, sick leave and shifts of no more than 14 hours. However, Kamonpan Awaiwanont stopped short when presented details about the men in Benjina.

"This is still happening now?" he asked. He paused. "We are trying to solve it. This is ongoing."

The Thai government also promises a new national registry of illegal migrant workers, including more than 100,000 flooding the seafood industry. However, policing has now become even harder because decades of illegal fishing have depleted stocks close to home, pushing the boats farther and deeper into foreign waters.

The Indonesian government has called a temporary ban on most fishing, aiming to clear out foreign poachers who take billions of dollars of seafood from the country's waters. As a result, more than 50 boats are now docked in Benjina, leaving up to 1,000 more slaves stranded onshore and waiting to see what will happen next.

Indonesian officials are trying to enforce laws that ban cargo ships from picking up fish from boats at sea. This practice forces men to stay on the water for months or sometimes years at a time, essentially creating floating prisons.

Susi Pudjiastuti, the new Fisheries Minister, said she has heard of different fishing companies putting men in cells. She added that she believes the trawlers on Benjina may really have Thai owners, despite the Indonesian paperwork, reflecting a common practice of faking or duplicating licenses.

She said she is deeply disturbed about the abuse on Benjina and other islands.

"I'm very sad. I lose my eating appetite. I lose my sleep," she said. "They are building up an empire on slavery, on stealing, on fish(ing) out, on massive environmental destruction for a plate of seafood."...

The seafood the slaves on Benjina catch may travel around the world, but their own lives often end right here, in this island village.

A crude cemetery holds more than graves strangled by tall grasses and jungle vines, where small wooden markers are neatly labelled, some with the falsified names of slaves and boats. Only their friends remember where they were laid to rest.

In the past, former slave Hla Phyo said, supervisors on ships simply tossed bodies into the sea to be devoured by sharks. But after authorities and companies started demanding that every man be accounted for on the roster upon return, captains began stowing corpses alongside the fish in ship freezers until they arrived back in Benjina, the slaves said.

Lifting his knees as he stepped over the thick brush, Phyo searched for two grave markers overrun by weeds — friends he helped bury.

It's been five years since he himself escaped the sea and struggled to survive on the island. Every night, his mind drifts back to his mother in Myanmar. He knows she must be getting old now, and he desperately wants to return to her. Standing among so many anonymous tombs stacked on top of each other, hopelessness overwhelms him.

"I'm starting to feel like I will be in Indonesia forever," he said, wiping a tear away. "I remember thinking when I was digging, the only thing that awaits us here is death."

Source : and http://www.bus
And The Oscar for Best Original Song Goes To...

Common and John Legend Won The Academy Award For Best Original Song for their Song "Glory" in the movie Selma. 

The song reflects on how history of fighting for freedom shapes us and how at the events of Selma are also intertwined with the battles for justice still going on today.. What role does song play in praise? In protest?

Common and John Legend: "Glory" S ong and Acceptance Speech 

One day, when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh, one day, when the war is one
We will be sure, we will be here sure
Oh, glory, glory
Oh, glory, glory

Hands to the Heavens, no man, no weapon
Formed against, yes glory is destined
Every day women and men become legends
Sins that go against our skin become blessings
The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtaposition in us
Justice for all just ain't specific enough
One son died, his spirit is revisitin' us
Truant livin' livin' in us, resistance is us
That's why Rosa sat on the bus
That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up
When it go down we woman and man up
They say, "Stay down" and we stand up
Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up
King pointed to the mountain top and we ran up

One day, when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh, one day, when the war is one
We will be sure, we will be here sure
Oh, glory, glory
Oh, glory, glory glory

Now the war is not over
Victory isn't won
And we'll fight on to the finish
Then when it's all done
We'll cry glory, oh glory
We'll cry glory, oh glory

Selma's now for every man, woman and child
Even Jesus got his crown in front of a crowd
They marched with the torch, we gon' run with it now
Never look back, we done gone hundreds of miles
From dark roads he rose, to become a hero
Facin' the league of justice, his power was the people
Enemy is lethal, a king became regal
Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle
The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful
We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through
Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany
Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people's energy
Welcome to the story we call victory
Comin' of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory

One day, when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh, one day, when the war is one
We will be sure, we will be here sure
Oh, glory, glory
Oh, glory, glory glory

When the war is done, when it's all said and done
We'll cry glory, oh glory


Common: First off, I’d like to thank God that lives in us all. Recently, John and I got to go to Selma and perform “Glory” on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope. Welded with compassion. And elevated by love for all human beings 
John Legend: Thank you. Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.