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A THANKSGIVING TOASTFriends,If your family and friends are...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 7:59am in

A THANKSGIVING TOAST

Friends,If your family and friends are anything like mine, there will be a lot of talk today over turkey. Some of it will be gossip. Some of it, about sports or jokes or jobs or plans. 

But some of your guests (perhaps even you) will want to talk about the distressing state of the nation and the world.Your cousin Sue worries about climate change and how little was accomplished in Glasgow. Your Trumpish uncle Bob can’t keep his mouth shut about Biden’s failures in Afghanistan and at the border. Your son Jared, back from college, wants to talk about systemic racism. Your friend Sid can’t stop worrying about the pandemic, or assault weapons, or hate crimes, or near-record inequality, or the opioid epidemic, or soaring homelessness, or voter suppression. Your daughter Sarah chimes in about the continuing menace of Donald Trump and lawmakers too timid to stand up to him.

All reasons for concern (except for those of your Trumpish uncle Bob), but I’d hope someone at your table also notes that America has gone through worse times, and have in some ways emerged better.

When I graduated college in 1968, I thought America would never recover. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, as had Robert F. Kennedy. Our cities were burning. Tens of thousands of young Americans (including several friends) were being ordered to Vietnam to fight an unwinnable and unjust war that ultimately claimed over 58,000 American lives and the lives of over 3 million Vietnamese. The nation was deeply and angrily divided. Young people were tear-gassed at the Democratic National Convention. And then in November of that year, Richard Nixon was elected president. 

But we did recover. We enacted the Environmental Protection Act. Eventually we achieved marriage equality for gays and lesbians. We elected a Black man president of the United States. We passed the Affordable Care Act. In 2018 we elected a record number of women, people of color, and LGBTQ representatives to Congress, including the first Muslim women.​ ​Eighteen states raised their minimum wages. In 2020, Trump was sent packing, and Democrats took over the Senate and the House.

COVID was a horror but Congress created a safety net that prevented millions from falling into deep poverty because of it. More than 70 percent of us are now vaccinated against it. We will soon be investing over $1 trillion repairing our crumbling roads and bridges and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. And it seems likely (although hardly a certainty) that American families will get help with childcare and universal pre-K, and more.

What about the future? No one can tell, but there are some reasons for optimism. For one thing, we are on our way toward becoming a nation of startling diversity. ​Most Americans under 18 are now people of color. ​In ten years, most under ​35​ will be. In thirty years, most of us. That diversity will be a huge source of strength — as our growing diversity has strengthened us since our founding.

For another, our young people are determined to make America and the world better. I’ve been teaching for 40 years and I’ve never taught a generation of students as dedicated to public service and as committed to improving the nation and the world, as the generation I’m now teaching. 

I should also point out that ​60 percent of today’s college students are women​, an astounding achievement. It portends more women in leadership positions – in science, politics, education, nonprofits, and in corporate suites. This will also be a great boon to America, and the world.

I’m no technophile but I can’t help being impressed by what science and technology are accomplishing, such as the COVID vaccines that have saved countless lives, and solar and wind energy sources that are rapidly replacing carbon fuels. With the right laws and incentives, science and technology could solve many more of the problems that plague the nation and the world.

I don’t want to minimize our current plight. I’m deeply worried about climate change, systemic racism, and growing attacks on our democracy. I’m not going to tell any of my friends or relatives over dinner today that they’re wrong to feel angry or to despair. 

But I will remind them of this nation’s resilience, and the many ways the future could be bright. And when we raise our glasses for a toast, I will ask that they never give up fighting for a more just society. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

U.S. Homebuyers Could Soon Get Help with the Down Payment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/11/2021 - 7:00pm in

By 2018, Tasha G. was tired of the hassles of renting. A single mother of two boys, the 37 year old from Broward County, Florida grappled constantly with her negligent landlord, who she says would rarely make basic repairs to her apartment, even while the threat of him raising the rent beyond what she could afford loomed constantly. 

Tasha, a medical coder, picked up a second coding job, with which she paid off her credit cards and saved up $5,000 for a down payment on a home. But even with her good credit and that cash on hand, she couldn’t afford the appraisals and inspections that home sales require and found herself locked out of the local real estate market.

Frustrated but undeterred, she continued to work, save and educate herself. Her research turned up a company called Down Payment Resource that connects prospective home buyers with local, county and state programs that help people buy their first home. Tasha applied to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s down payment assistance program and, after taking a home buyer’s education course, was able to get a $7,000 forgivable loan towards her down payment.   

The down payment loan plus the $5,000 she’d saved allowed Tasha to pay for a down payment and closing costs on a condo. The mortgage and HOA fees are about the same as her old rent. Tasha and her boys just celebrated their one-year anniversary as homeowners.   

“Without the down payment assistance I don’t think I would be in the home right now,” she says. “It means a lot [to own my home]. I’m already starting to see how the value of my condo is going up. It’s amazing.” 

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Florida’s is one of more than 2,500 local and state down payment assistance programs meant to help mostly low-income and first-time homebuyers surmount a hurdle that often keeps homeownership out of reach. Now, if legislation working its way through Congress makes its way into law, that patchwork of programs could be complemented by a national down payment assistance program to help more Americans leap that hurdle. 

Proponents see down payment assistance as a method to help narrow the country’s intertwined racial homeownership and racial wealth gaps. Thanks to decades of discriminatory lending practices like redlining and outright bans on home sales to non-white residents, today there is a stark gap in white and Black homeownership in the U.S. Some 44 percent of Black families own their home compared to 74 percent of white families. Many factors contribute to the persistence of this problem, but one big one is the down payment, a large lump sum of cash that often requires a degree of privilege to scrape together. 

“We don’t have a mother or father to give us a down payment,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge in her Senate confirmation hearing last January. By “we” she was referring to communities of color. “We don’t have the wherewithal, the same kind of income, the same kind of access. It is like we were starting out of the blocks with someone who was ahead of us by 100 yards.”

marcia fudgeMarcia Fudge. Credit: House Agricultural Committee

The $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act would give people of color and other lower-income Americans a chance to catch up in the housing race. Recently passed by the House of Representatives, the Act includes $10 billion to help first-generation home buyers get a foothold in the housing market.

If the Senate also passes the Build Back Better Act, it will create the federal First Generation Downpayment Fund, which would provide down payment assistance to first-generation, first-time home buyers earning no more than 120 percent of the median income where they live. Qualified applicants are eligible to receive up to $20,000 or 10 percent of the home price, whichever is higher, to put toward a down payment. The legislation defines a first-generation home buyer as someone whose parents or guardians do not currently own a home or, if no longer living, did not own a home at the time of their deaths.

According to research from Urban Institute, about 4.4 million Americans would qualify based on the criteria of being renters whose parents haven’t owned a home in the past three years (a real estate industry definition for first time homebuyers). Of those 4.4 million, 1.58 million are Black, 1.22 million are Latino and 1.32 million are white.

The bill does not say exactly how the program could be used to target racial disparities. But it does specify that when funding is distributed to states to grant out, “racial disparities in homeownership” will be one factor among several that determines how much money each state will get.

A fragmented homeownership history

America’s racial homeownership gap was crystallized by the post-war home building boom that birthed the modern housing market nearly a century ago. After World War II, members of the rising middle class bought their first homes with federally backed low-interest loans. Later, they were able to draw on the equity of those homes to help their grown children afford the down payment on their own first homes. Those children, in turn, used their home equity to help out the next generation, and so forth. Through this process, families built a comfortable cushion of generational wealth. 

floridaHousing being built in Key West, Florida during World War II. Credit: Monroe County Library Collection

But Black Americans and other communities of color were mostly locked out of that process. Money lenders rejected them, realtors shunned them and sellers refused to entertain their offers. This wall of discrimination contributed to a racial wealth gap that persists to this day. In 2016, the median white household had $171,000 of wealth, 10 times that of the $17,150 wealth of median Black households.

“The benefit of having a public policy around down payment assistance goes right to the fact that, for multiple generations, people of color were not provided the same access to homeownership opportunities,” says Janneke Ratcliffe, associate vice president of Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center.      

In effect, federal down payment assistance would do for people of color what mothers and fathers have been doing for more privileged buyers for decades. A 2019 survey by the National Association of Realtors found that 32 percent of first-time homebuyers received a gift or loan from family or friends to help with the down payment. Parents without accumulated wealth or home equity to draw from can’t be the Bank of Mom and Dad for their home-buying children. But the federal government can play a similar role. 

The fund created by the Build Back Better Act would be this country’s first national program, placing the U.S. alongside at least five other nations offering countrywide down payment assistance: England, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Modeling other countries’ success 

A newly published paper from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies analyzes those five national down payment programs to draw lessons on what the U.S. program should and shouldn’t do. 

The paper was authored by Benjamin Ward, who recently received his masters from Harvard’s Goldman School of Public Policy. He says his interest in down payment as public policy comes from seeing many of his friends and peers, even those earning fairly high wages, struggling to purchase homes unless they got money from their parents. 

“I’m concerned we’re heading down this path of where your ability to buy a home is contingent on your parents owning a home,” Ward says. “That’s a fast track to feudal society where there’s a land-owning class and a non-land-owning class, and whatever class you’re born into depends on your life chances.” 

florida housingA housing development in Tampa. Credit: Florida Community Loan Fund

One key lesson from other countries’ down payment programs is that financial institutions and homebuyers are more likely to participate in a uniform, widespread program than one that’s tightly tailored to a specific region. In Australia, where Ward is from, the nationwide First Home Owner Grant provides some variation in grant size by state. But the eligibility requirements are simple and uniform countrywide. Banks are very comfortable with the program and fill out the paperwork for home buyers as part of the loan process. As a result, more than 80 percent of first-time home buyers receive the grant.

“There are different needs and costs in different housing markets in the U.S.,” says Ward.

“You definitely need some level of variation. But if things like eligibility criteria and reporting requirements and application processes become fragmented across states and local jurisdictions, I don’t see that as a very fundamental change in the current set up other than pumping more money into the system.”

The varied success of other countries’ programs show that the U.S. needs to strike a balance between targeting the program tightly enough that it serves those who most need assistance and ensuring there’s enough participation to create ongoing political support.

For instance, England’s down payment assistance program has no income limits and is open to both first-time and repeat homebuyers. The government does attempt to target funds to those who need it by taking a share of the value if the home is later sold and by collecting interest on the home’s equity. Those who don’t need assistance are less likely to want to share their home’s equity, and therefore less likely to seek out the funding. Nonetheless, thanks to the broad eligibility, 63 percent of participants in England’s program could have purchased a home without the assistance.

Critics of both the proposed U.S. program and the ones in other countries fear that down payment assistance can actually exacerbate housing affordability by increasing demand without increasing supply. Ireland, England and Australia attempt to address inflation concerns by limiting down payment assistance to home buyers purchasing new homes. In New Zealand, first-time home buyers can get $5,000 towards a down payment on an existing home and $10,000 for new homes.

With $10 billion, the U.S. down payment assistance program could assist at least 500,000 people. It would likely help even more, since in many housing markets, buyers wouldn’t need the program’s maximum $20,000 down payment for their home. 

“Five hundred thousand additional homeowners is a great step in the right direction,” says Ratcliffe. “Especially if it’s targeted in a way that really serves people who have been cut out of homeownership in the past.”

The post U.S. Homebuyers Could Soon Get Help with the Down Payment appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Nobody Who Says “You Can Criticize Washington AND Beijing” Actually Does

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/11/2021 - 12:33pm in

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/af0fe99a581053dc025fbbd39f56f320/href

Whenever I criticize the US empire’s manipulations and aggressions on a nation which disobeys its dictates I always get comments from people saying “You know, Caitlin, two things can be bad at once. You can criticize both.”

They say it like it’s some kind of profound esoteric insight being passed down from on high instead of a generic response I hear from westerners every single day. Like, oh, you mean I can criticize two things instead of just one thing? You just blew my mind. Thanks for baptizing me with your magic wisdom sauce, Gandalf.

Of course it’s possible to criticize both the US and its targets. That’s obvious to anyone with functioning gray matter between their ears. The issue is that westerners, especially westerners who hasten to urge you to be more critical of governments targeted by western imperialism, do not do this.

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Lately this happens most often with China, since that’s where the propaganda brainwashing has been most concentrated lately. I’ll say something about how the US empire is the clear and obvious aggressor in the escalating tensions between the two nations or how Australians are being brainwashed into supporting a war over Taiwan with astonishing forcefulness, and some internet genius will wheelbarrow his gigantic brain into my notifications with the comment “Caitlin it’s possible to criticize both the US and China.”

And if there were enough time in the day for me to respond to all of these galaxy-brained intellectual giants I would tell them something like, “Okay. But you don’t. Or if you do it’s not in proportion to how deserving of criticism they both are.”

The US empire has killed millions and displaced tens of millions in its still-ongoing global “war on terror” since 9/11. It is circling the planet with hundreds of military bases, its sanctions and blockades are starving people to death en masse every single day, and it actively works to destroy any nation whose government disobeys its commands.

Nothing China is doing rises anywhere near this level of evil, either within its own borders or on the world stage. This is evident even if you believe every single claim the western empire has been asserting about the Chinese government’s behavior (which would of course be a very silly thing to do). The only way to make China look remotely comparable to modern US murderousness is to dredge up events which happened decades in the past or speculate about things China might possibly do in the future, none of which is relevant to discussions about what’s happening in real life as it actually presently exists.

These two power structures are not equally worthy of criticism. They are not even comparable. The US and its tight network of allies are indisputably far, far more worthy of criticism than the government of China. But in the western world this reality is not reflected in the criticisms that are voiced; in fact it’s as ass backwards as you could possibly get it. China is criticized far more, and US imperialism is criticized far less.

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People who suffer conniptions over someone’s failure to adequately criticize China or any other empire-targeted nation universally embody this dynamic. They don’t criticize the US empire, or if they do they don’t do so in a way that reflects how worthy of criticism those power structures are. Washington is plainly far, far more worthy of criticism than Beijing, but those who bleat “You can criticize BOTH” are never far more critical of Washington than Beijing. Typically, they are considerably less critical.

It’s because of this extremely wild imbalance that you rarely if ever see me criticizing Beijing or any other empire-targeted government. It’s not because those governments are perfect angels, it’s because western propaganda already has the scales tipped far toward criticism of US-targeted nations when a fair and impartial media would be criticizing the far more destructive US power alliance far more. There’s no reason for me to provide criticisms of a foreign government that people can get by simply switching on the nearest television and waiting a few minutes.

The only reason to find it outrageous that someone doesn’t criticize a US-targeted nation is if you’ve been conditioned to expect such criticisms to be the norm. This conditioning is not an accident; it’s the result of decades of mass-scale media propaganda geared toward manipulating the public into accepting the existence of a globe-spanning empire which murders people by the millions with total impunity.

The correct course of action is not to go along with that conditioning, but to go against it. And, hopefully, open up enough cracks in it to let some light shine through.

________________________

My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Call It The Department Of Aggression, Not ‘Defense’: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/11/2021 - 12:12pm in

Most of what consumes human attention is narrative; stories about what’s happening, which can be easily manipulated by the powerful. Things that are not narrative include weapons, troops, and resources. You can punch through the narrative distortion by just watching where the weapons, troops and resources go.

If you believe the mainstream narrative about any US-targeted nation you will wind up on the wrong side of debates about that nation. This is because the US empire is the single most corrupt and murderous institution on earth and its power is held in place by lies and propaganda.

It’s so obnoxious how the empire destroys entire countries and sows chaos, destruction and poverty around the world and the only mainstream pushback we ever see against any part of this is opposition to the arrival of immigrants who are fleeing that devastation.

Hey remember when it was confirmed that the CIA still plots assassinations of journalists, with a known plan drawn out in 2017 against Julian Assange, and then nothing whatsoever was done about this horrifying fact?

I still routinely run into people online who think Assange’s extradition case is about the 2016 WikiLeaks publications. It’s probably believed by a majority of politically active liberals, even though the news media never actually told them this. Gaslight people enough about reality and eventually they’ll start gaslighting themselves.

It’s silly to call the US war machine the Department of Defense. The US military doesn’t do “defense”, it does nonstop unprovoked aggression around the world. Defense is what the nations who resist US acts of aggression against them are doing.

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Propaganda targets government policymakers as much as the general public. Policymakers get most of their information about the world not from secret briefings but from mainstream news reporting and its various amplifiers within their circles. That’s why so-called free democracies get to claim they don’t have domestic propaganda: because the official elected governments aren’t the ones distributing that propaganda, and are in fact often its targets. The distributors of propaganda are unaccountable power structures who nobody gets to vote for.

All US elections are fraudulent on the national level. None of them ever permit real opposition. It’s a one-party system controlled by plutocratic and military institutions fraudulently disguised as democracy. Shut the fuck up about Latin American elections.

Western civilization is so free and democratic that its rulers allow regular elections to determine which of their puppets will represent them and advance their interests going forward.

The sensible position is to focus on criticizing the most powerful and destructive government on earth, which is indisputably the USA. That is the real conversation. It is those who try to divert that discussion to criticism of other governments who are guilty of “whataboutism”.

“The US is indisputably far more murderous than China and our criticisms should reflect this.”

“You’re doing a whataboutism!”

“No, you are. Stop trying to divert the conversation from criticisms of the most powerful and destructive government with whataboutisms about China.”

The political/media class spent years hammering a Russia scandal that was obviously bogus from the beginning and is being proven so more and more as time passes, and this same class still has the gall to act outraged that people distrust it about Covid. They caused that distrust.

All you need to know about Russiagate is that it began with unsubstantiated claims made by the US intelligence cartel and ended in cold war escalations against a nation long targeted by the US intelligence cartel. All the rest was just unethical political and media opportunism.

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It’s very revealing how many of those “Vote Democrat for damage reduction and then fight the power with direct action” lefties always do the voting Democrat part but never the direct action part.

Socialists who promote imperialist narratives are like that guy who got unplugged from the Matrix and then agreed to betray his comrades in exchange for being plugged back in.

Anti-imperialism sorts out the real ones from the phonies because you can gain a massive following and lots of cred in leftist circles championing economic justice and opposing police abuse while tacitly supporting western imperialist foreign policy, but the reverse isn’t true. You can get amazingly far in left punditry by being basically a garden variety shitlib plus the occasional “defund the police”-type remark, but you can’t get far in left circles by just talking about foreign without also talking about domestic policy, so if they do you know it’s not about building a brand.

“We must eliminate white supremacy,” said the political and economic institutions whose entire existence is built on the murder and exploitation of darker-skinned populations in the Global South.

Shitlib institutions give mountains of lip service to disadvantaged groups to distract from their refusal to ever cede any ground to the left on capitalism or imperialism, which is funny because both of those things are disproportionately destructive to disadvantaged populations.

_____________________________

My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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The Exchange Program Sending American Teens Across State Lines

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/11/2021 - 7:00pm in

A new pilot domestic exchange program is connecting high schoolers who recently graduated with others who come from different backgrounds, have different experiences and live in different areas of the U.S.

The American Exchange Project is an exchange program “with a twist,” says executive director David McCullough, III.

“You actually never leave America,” he says. “So we send students to towns that are demographically and geographically very different from where they are.”

For example, someone who grew up in what is considered a liberal town may travel to a more conservative area and someone from an urban area may go to a more rural area. “The whole idea is for our American young people to learn a little bit more about their country — from the people in places they call home — and to dive into another culture, another socioeconomic class, another set of political beliefs, and maybe build a little bit of empathy for people who are different from them.”

Jake Merritt from Wellesley, Massachusetts works on a cattle ranch in Kilgore, Texas. Credit: The American Exchange Project

During the in-person exchange trips, the students split time between planned activities that exposed them to local life, reflection activities and conversations, and open time to hang out with each other. They all stay with host families, but during the day, they’re together as a group taking part in various activities. Twenty students traveled to four different locations through the pilot program: Palo Alto, California; Kilgore, Texas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Wellesley, Massachusetts.

When the students from Texas and Louisiana toured the public school system in Wellesley, Massachusetts — a Boston suburb — they were flabbergasted, McCullough says. They learned that many families move to the area just for the education system, an approach that many from the South are not able to do because their families have been rooted in one place for several generations.

“So kids in Wellesley don’t have that same sense of place that kids from the South have, right?” he says.

In another instance, the students from Wellesley who are very aware of climate change and its effects and the petrochemical industry met with a student in Texas whose parent works in the industry. It gave a new layer to the issue to learn about the many people who would lose their jobs without such industries, McCullough says.

Students from Louisiana, Texas and Massachusetts gather in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Credit: The American Exchange Project

“And so for them, it felt like a real-life example and also created a much more nuanced problem,” he adds.

AEP is for seniors who have graduated from high school, and there are no academic or extracurricular requirements to take part, McCullough says. What may be most attractive to would-be exchange students is that the program is entirely free for students.

“Whoever you are, wherever you come from, you’re right for our program,” he adds.

Students from Texas at the Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, California. Credit: The American Exchange Project

Funding comes from community foundations, individual donors and communities, he says.

“If we want to fix our democracy, if indeed polarization is the issue that is on the forefront of most Americans’ minds, we want to do something about it and we need to start donating,” he says. “And giving money at every level to organizations that help fix polarization. It’s not enough to just talk about these issues and promote how bad they are.”

When 18-year-old Maëlys Ciezki moved to San Diego during the height of the pandemic last year, she felt like she was starting over, knowing few people and with little to do aside from virtual learning.

When she heard about a program connecting students from all over the country, she thought she should give it a try. At the time, the program was online.

“It just sounded interesting,” she says. “It was introduced as a bunch of virtual meetings with kids from all over the country. And we would just discuss different topics at each virtual hangout. And since I didn’t have anything better to do after school, I went ahead and joined.”

Matthew Murray from Stamford, Connecticut talks with Reece Nichols, a resident of Kilgore, Texas and owner of the 5 Cent Cattle Ranch. Credit: The American Exchange Project

During the virtual hangouts, Ciezki and a handful of other students taking part in the American Exchange Project would discuss everything from food to politics.

“Sometimes it would be silly debates,” she says. “And sometimes it would be something more intense, like, what do we think about gentrification?”

From 2019 to early 2021, hundreds of students took part in about 500 virtual discussions, says McCullough, the grandson of the noted historian and author.

Ciezki opted to travel to Palo Alto on her exchange trip.

“Because you’re around people who are your age, you hear a lot of points of view, but since they’re your age, you’re more apt to listen,” a student said. Credit: The American Exchange Project

During the trip, she says that the group bonded a lot more than she expected. One person, in particular, seemed the exact opposite of her on paper, she says.

“But by the end of the week, he ended up being one of my favorite people, if not my favorite,” she adds. “A person that I met on that trip, his presence became very comforting to me.”

The group, she says, may come from different experiences and backgrounds but they listened to the same music (Olivia Ridrigo) and have similar hobbies. She believes this is why it’s beneficial for young people to get together with other young people.

“Because you’re around people who are your age, you hear a lot of points of view, but since they’re your age, you’re more apt to listen,” Ciezki says, adding that there were kids on both sides of the political spectrum as well as other issue areas.

The group still keeps in contact through social media, she says.

McCullough hopes the program catches on. It’s already scaling up. The plans for the next exchange will involve about 40 communities and as many as 250 teenagers. Ultimately, he would like to see the program become legislatively enacted, making it a state, municipality or federally sponsored initiative.

“There are problems in our country right now and they’re not going to get better unless we do something about it,” McCullough says. “And they’re certainly not going to get better if we avoid them and stay at a distance. And while these issues are created by adults, they’ve fallen to young people to solve.”

This story was originally published by Next City. It is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

The post The Exchange Program Sending American Teens Across State Lines appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Assange Persecution Is Western Savagery At Its Most Transparent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/10/2021 - 11:41am in

Listen to a reading of this article.

The first day of the US appeal of the Julian Assange extradition case saw grown adults arguing in a court of law that the US government could guarantee that it would not treat the WikiLeaks founder as cruelly as it treats its other prisoners.

I wish I was kidding.

In their write-up on Wednesday’s proceedings, The Dissenter’s Kevin Gosztola and Mohamed Elmaazi report that the prosecution argued that “the High Court should accept the appeal on the basis that the U.S. government offered ‘assurances’ that Assange won’t be subjected to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) or incarcerated in ADX Florence, a super-maximum prison in Colorado.”

What this means is that in order to overturn the January extradition ruling which judge Vanessa Baraitser denied on the basis that the notoriously draconian US prison system is too cruel to guarantee Assange’s health and safety, the prosecution has established as one of their grounds for appeal the claim that they can offer “assurances” that they would not inflict some of their most brutal measures upon him. These would include the aforementioned Special Administrative Measures, wherein prisoners are so isolated that they effectively disappear off the face of the earth, or sending him to ADX Florence, where all prisoners are kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.

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What’s ridiculous about these “assurances”, apart from the obvious, is that within its own legal argument the US government reserves the right to reverse those assurances at any time and impose SAMs or maximum security imprisonment upon Assange if it deems them necessary. As Amnesty International explains:

“They say: we guarantee that he won’t be held in a maximum security facility and he will not be subjected to Special Administrative Measures and he will get healthcare. But if he does something that we don’t like, we reserve the right to not guarantee him, we reserve the right to put him in a maximum security facility, we reserve the right to offer him Special Administrative Measures. Those are not assurances at all. It is not that difficult to look at those assurances and say: these are inherently unreliable, it promises to do something and then reserves the right to break the promise.”

So the prosecution’s legal argument here is essentially “We promise we won’t treat Assange as cruelly as we treat our other prisoners, unless we decide we really want to.”

This is not just a reflection on the weakness of the extradition appeal, it’s a reflection on the savagery of all the so-called free democracies that have involved themselves in this case.

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This same prosecution argued that Assange should not be denied US extradition from the UK on humanitarian grounds as in the case of activist Lauri Love because Love suffered from both physical and psychological ailments while Assange’s ailments are only psychological. They stood before the court and made this argument even as Assange was visibly pained and unwell in his video appearance from Belmarsh, which he was only able to attend intermittently due to his frail condition.

“For my newspaper, I have worked as media partner of WikiLeaks since 2009,” tweeted journalist Stefania Maurizi who attended the hearing via video link. “I have seen Julian Assange in all sorts of situations, but I have never ever seen him so unwell and so dangerously thin.”

So they’re just openly brutalizing a journalist for exposing US war crimes, while arguing that they can be trusted to treat him humanely and give him a fair trial if granted extradition. This after it has already been confirmed that the CIA plotted to kidnap and assassinate him during the Trump administration, after we learned that the prosecution relied on false testimony from a convicted child molester and diagnosed sociopath, after it was revealed that the CIA spied on Assange and his lawyers in the Ecuadorian embassy, and after intelligence asset Jeffrey Epstein famously died under highly suspicious circumstances in a US prison cell.

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The worst atrocities in history have all been legal. All the worst examples of genocide, slavery, tyranny and bloodshed have been allowed or actively facilitated by the state. The persecution of Assange is geared toward entering the imprisonment of journalists into this category.

The goal is to set a legal precedent which allows journalists who expose the crimes of the powerful to be persecuted not covertly as is normally done in “free democracies”, but right out in the open. To tell journalists “We’ll just throw you in prison if you cross us.”

What makes this precedent uniquely dangerous is that it is not just threatening to imprison American journalists who expose US crimes, but any journalist anywhere in the world. This is an Australian journalist in the process of being extradited from the UK for publishing facts about US war crimes in the nations it has invaded. The aim is to set up a system where anyone in the US-aligned world can be funneled into its prison system for publishing inconvenient facts.

This is the savagery of the western world at its most transparent. It’s not the greatest evil the US-centralized empire has perpetrated; that distinction would certainly be reserved for its acts of mass military slaughter that it has been inflicting upon our species with impunity for generations. But it’s the most brazen. The most overt. It’s the most powerful part of the most depraved power structure on earth looking us all right in the eyes and telling us exactly what it is.

And if we can really look at this beast and what it is doing right now, really see it with eyes wide open, it reveals far more about those who rule over us than anything any journalist has ever exposed.

___________________________

My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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PM Sends Message Of Support To All Residents of Albury Affected By The Earthquake

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/09/2021 - 8:28am in

Prime Minister for Sydney Scott Morrison has taken time away from his American jaunt to send a message of support to residents of the NSW Victoria border town of Albury who were affected by yesterday’s earthquake.

To the people of Albury I just want you to know that your Prime Minister is here for you,” said the PM. ”Admittedly, I’m not there physically but mentally I am there.”

”As we speak I am looking at having resources from other parts of Australia redirected to NSW to help with the recovery.”

When asked why he was so focused on Albury and NSW rather than Melbourne where the actual earthquake did the most damage, the PM said: ”I reject the premise of your question.”

”May I remind you and the people of Victoria that we are all this together.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am trying to contact the President of France. No luck with the telephone thus far so I might do as Barnaby suggested and send him a French letter.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

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PM’s Creepy Mate Asks Him To Bring Back Some Duty Free Ivermectin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/09/2021 - 7:00am in

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s creepy mate George Christensen has asked him to bring back some duty free Ivermectin when the PM returns from his trip to America.

”George is a good bloke. He did offer to drop me at the airport, but it turns out he had an important lockdown protest to attend,” said the PM. ”He did ask me to bring back some duty free Ivermectin though.”

”Lucky he didn’t ask me to bring back any duty free Tia Maria though, as I thought I might grab a bottle or two of that for Jen.”

When asked why he refused to pull his creepy mate George Christensen into line over his anti-lockdown and anti-science stance, the PM said: ”I reject the premise of your question.”

”No one is tougher on old mate George than myself. Why, just the other day he ate the last chicken wing and I was the first to admonish him.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a long flight to America and I need to pick up some reading material for the trip. Christian Porter recommended me this great book on blind trusts that sounds interesting.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

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Australia Continues Its Plunge Into Authoritarianism And Military Brinkmanship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 11:53am in

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/be314b2166944c79d5d49ce93aafb80a/href

Australia has joined the US and UK in an “enhanced trilateral security partnership” called AUKUS with the unspoken-yet-obvious goal of coordinating escalations against China. Antiwar reports:

President Biden and the leaders of Australia and the UK announced a new military agreement on Wednesday aimed at countering China. The pact, known as AUKUS, will focus on the sharing of sensitive military technologies, and the first initiative will focus on getting Australia nuclear-powered submarines.

US officials speaking to CNN described the effort to share nuclear propulsion with another country as an “exceedingly rare step” due to the sensitivity of the technology. “This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects,” one unnamed official said.

This deal will replace a planned $90 billion program to obtain twelve submarines designed by France, an obnoxious expenditure either way when a quarter of Australians are struggling to make ends meet during a pandemic that is four times more likely to kill Australians who are struggling financially. This is just the latest in Canberra’s continually expanding policy of feeding vast fortunes into Washington’s standoff with Beijing at the expense of its own people.

If readers are curious why Australia would simultaneously subvert its own economic interests by turning against its primary trading partner and its own security interests by feeding into dangerous and unnecessary provocations, I will refer them once again to the jarringly honest explanation by American political analyst John Mearsheimer at a debate hosted by the Australian think tank Center for Independent Studies in 2019. Mearsheimer told his audience that the US is going to do everything it can to halt China’s rise and prevent it from becoming the regional hegemon in the East, and that Australia should align with the US in that battle or else it would face the wrath of Washington.

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“The question that’s on the table is what should Australia’s foreign policy be in light of the rise of China,” Mearsheimer said. “I’ll tell you what I would suggest if I were an Australian.”

Mearsheimer claimed that China is going to continue to grow economically and will convert this economic power into military power to dominate Asia “the way the US dominates the Western Hemisphere”, and explained why he thinks the US and its allies have every ability to prevent that from happening.

“Now the question is what does this all mean for Australia?” Mearsheimer said. “Well, you’re in a quandary for sure. Everybody knows what the quandary is. And by the way you’re not the only country in East Asia that’s in this quandary. You trade a lot with China, and that trade is very important for your prosperity, no question about that. Security-wise you really want to go with us. It makes just a lot more sense, right? And you understand that security is more important than prosperity, because if you don’t survive, you’re not gonna prosper.”

“Now some people say there’s an alternative: you can go with China,” said Mearsheimer. “Right you have a choice here: you can go with China rather the United States. There’s two things I’ll say about that. Number one, if you go with China you want to understand you are our enemy. You are then deciding to become an enemy of the United States. Because again, we’re talking about an intense security competition.”

“You’re either with us or against us,” he continued. “And if you’re trading extensively with China, and you’re friendly with China, you’re undermining the United States in this security competition. You’re feeding the beast, from our perspective. And that is not going to make us happy. And when we are not happy you do not want to underestimate how nasty we can be. Just ask Fidel Castro.”

Nervous laughter from the Australian think tank audience punctuated Mearsheimer’s more incendiary observations. The CIA is known to have made numerous attempts to assassinate Castro.

So there you have it. Australia is not aligned with the US to protect itself from China. Australia is aligned with the US to protect itself from the US.

https://medium.com/media/e14beb7a1250a5d8f60618edecafa8bc/href

This new move happens as Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner announces his government’s policy for Covid-19 restrictions once the territory’s population is 80 percent vaccinated which will include “lockouts” during outbreaks wherein people will only be allowed to work and move freely in society if they verify that they are vaccinated using check-in measures which Gunner literally calls a “freedom pass”.

“I’ll say it again and again. If you want your life to continue close to normal, get your jab,” Gunner said. “For vaccinated people, the check-in app will basically be your freedom pass. For people who make the choice to not get vaccinated, no vax means no freedom pass. We’re working with other governments now to get this technology ready.”

This is in alignment with what we’ve been told to expect as the rest of Australia prepares to roll out the use of vaccine passports.

And we continue to see other authoritarian escalations in Australia which have nothing to do with Covid as well. Authorities have been proposing new legal provisions which will allow Australian visas to be cancelled and citizenship revoked in entirely secret proceedings based on information provided by secretive government agencies. The horrifying Identify and Disrupt bill which allows Australian police to hack people’s devices, collect, delete and alter their information and log onto their social media was passed through Parliament at jaw-dropping speed last month. Neither of these escalations are Covid-related.

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People who just started paying attention to Australian authoritarianism during Covid often get the impression that it’s entirely about the virus, but as we discussed previously the actual fundamental problem is that Australia is the only so-called democracy without any kind of statute or bill of rights to protect the citizenry from these kinds of abuses. This is why Australia is looked upon as so freakish by the rest of the western world right now: because, in this sense, it is. People call it a “free country”, but there has never been any reason to do so.

Covid has certainly played a major role in the exacerbation of Australian authoritarianism, but it’s a problem that was well underway long before the outbreak. Back in 2019 the CIVICUS Monitor had already downgraded Australia from an “open” country to one where civil space has “narrowed”, citing new laws to expand government surveillance, prosecution of whistleblowers, and raids on media organizations.

This slide into military brinkmanship and authoritarian dystopia shows no signs of stopping. The abuses of the powerful will continue to grow more egregious until the people open their eyes to what’s going on and begin taking action to steer us away from the existential dangers we are hurtling toward on multiple fronts. If there is any good news to be had here, it’s that if such a miracle ever occurs it will then be possible to immediately course correct and start building a healthy society together.

_____________________

My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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PM Declares New Submarines Will Be Paid For By A Blind Trust

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 8:28am in

Prime Minister for Sydney that fellow from Australia Scott Morrison has today announced that Australia’s new nuclear submarines will be paid for by a blind trust to be administered by the alleged Minister for Industry Christian Porter.

”How good is it to have a new fleet of distractions, er, submarines coming to Australia? Asked the PM. ”It was a real treat to get a call from President Biden today. After we established that I was the Australian Prime Minister and not the Austrian one, we had a good old chat about under water matters.”

”President Jo loved it when I told him that this deal definitely TRUMPS all others, poor guy couldn’t speak for a few minutes. All he could do was sigh.”

When asked why the Government feels the need to pay for the Submarines with a blind trust, the Prime Minister said: ”I reject the premise of your question.”

”As it stands there is nothing wrong with a blind trust. I have asked my team to investigate them and until they release the results of that investigation sometime in 2035 they shall be able to be used.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and set up a blind trust to take care of any future bills I may receive from Engadine Maccas.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

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