Bert Mccracken: The War On Drugs

Bert Mccracken: The War On Drugs 2014-04-17

Although Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971, we must look to an economic and historic analysis of anti-drug laws in the U.S. to put the "war" into context. In the late 18th and well into the 19th century, before the drug-conviction craze, the issue of addiction was dealt with as a public-health issue and not as a criminal one. Addicts received help through treatment and were seen as deserving of empathy -- or, at the very least, understanding and sympathy -- instead of punishment. At the start of the 20th century, the introduction of drug-prohibition laws seemed almost undeniably linked with ethnic minorities: Asians were associated with opium or heroin; Latinos were tied to hemp or marijuana; and later, African Americans were linked to crack cocaine while low-income whites were associated with methamphetamine. But whatever the new drug of choice was at the moment, the propaganda and rhetoric stayed the same.

When exclusionary government programs (e.g., the Federal Housing Administration of the New Deal) segregate people from the economic centers of society, the segregated people will create their own economics. Prohibition laws make perfect sense if they decrease accessibility of illicit drugs, reduce crime rates, play a part in reduction of potency, or keep black-market economies from creating millionaires (even billionaires) out of criminals. But in the last 43 years, drugs have become more accessible and more potent, and drug rings have run amok, creating billions of tax-free dollars for dealers and suppliers. Meanwhile, drug-related crime has risen.

With over $51 billion spent per year, the United States will arrest over 1.5 million people for nonviolent crimes, and the ethnic discrepancies are atrocious. With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States puts one out of every 100 adults in prison. With law enforcement focusing on low-income and urban areas, the number of blacks and Latinos in American prisons far outweighs the number of whites. This in no way reflects the specific rates of drug use among these ethnic groups.

Take crack, for example. In 1986 Ronald Reagan passed numerous "mandatory minimum sentence" drug laws, with crack receiving the harshest punishments. The disproportionate extremes in penalties were flabbergasting: a 100-to-1 disparity between powder cocaine and crack, with 5 grams of crack being treated the same in a court of law as 500 grams of powder, the only difference being baking soda, water and heat.

Today's disparities are slighter, yet they still exist. And even with fairer ratios in discrepancies in drug sentencing, the mandatory-minimum laws stand. African Americans account for about 15 percent of crack users (proportional to their population), but somehow they represent 90 percent of the crack defendants in the federal court system. The war-on-drugs economy now leaves entire populations of small communities dependent on prisons as their primary means of income. With over $1 trillion spent so far on this war on drugs, it seems to me that the war generals should reassess their "tactics."

I will end with a question, because I am not willing to undermine my own enthusiastic-yet-mediocre intellect and pretend that policy and politics should have anything to do with morals: What have we achieved so far with the war on drugs? And once we have internalized the answer, should we not try something else besides war?

Richard (rj) Eskow: Gop 'sadism': Blunt Talk With Alan Grayson About A Young M

Richard (rj) Eskow: Gop 'sadism': Blunt Talk With Alan Grayson About A Young Mother's Death 2014-04-17

Why did Florida's Republicans let a hard-working young mother of three die rather than accept Federal funding which would've provided her with health insurance?


According to Rep. Alan Grayson, that - along with extreme ideology and a certain amount of political expediency - explains why Gov. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, along with a number of his fellow Republican governors, refused to accept ACA funding to expand Medicaid coverage.

"How (else) can you explain it?" asked Grayson in our recent broadcast interview. "Republicans have been blinded by their own ideology."

"Every single member of the State Legislature in Florida has healthcare - every single one of them - and yet they voted to deny that health coverage to almost a million other people."

As Grayson points out in this clip, they also voted to deprive Florida's economy of billions of dollars in federal funding. And now Charlene Dill is dead.

Deadly Ideology

A Harvard study estimates that 8 million people will remain uninsured as a result of this action by 25 governors.  The study estimates that this will lead to more than seven thousand unnecessary deaths per year, a rate of roughly 19 people each day. That includes 1,158 deaths per year - or more than three every day - in the state of Florida as the result of Gov. Scott's actions.

That grim figure is made even harder to swallow because, as Grayson explains here, Gov. Rick Scott made an enormous sum of money from the Medicare fraud committed by his corporation while he was CEO. And, as Grayson explains, Scott continues to make decisions as governor which benefit that corporation.

Some of us feel that the Affordable Care Act's  should have provided a public option or some other form of government-sponsored universal coverage, that it depended too much on for-profit health insurers, and that a transition to Medicare for All should have been its ultimate goal.

But it is certainly possible to hold those views and still recognize that Medicaid expansion provides enormous social value - or, to put it more simply, that it can save many lives. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, two of the Harvard study's co-authors, are physicians who have been prominent critics of the ACA from the left. They nevertheless recognize that there will be a tragic human cost for failing to implement this part of the bill.

A young woman in Florida has already paid it. We discussed her life and death in this extended segment of an in-depth interview with Rep. Grayson.

The Shameful Death of Charlene Dill

Charlene Dill was everything conservatives claim to admire and support. She was a 32-year-old mother of three who was working three jobs in order to build a better life for herself and her three children. (We discussed her life, and the Republican attitude toward it, here.)

Charlene Dill knew she had a potentially fatal heart condition, but she couldn't afford health insurance. Charlene made $11,000 last year, which disqualified her from standard Medicaid eligibility. She was, however, eligible for coverage under the ACA Medicaid expansion program.

Unfortunately Gov. Rick Scott, like a number of other GOP governors, refused to accept the funds on ideological grounds - and for reasons of partisan political advantage. If he and his GOP colleagues hadn't done that, Charlene Dill would almost certainly still be alive today.

I interviewed Charlene Dill's Congressman, Rep. Alan Grayson (D), on The Zero Hour and asked what kind of political psychology allows Republicans like Rick Scott to deny Federal funds which could save lives like hers.

"One rationale is sadism," said Grayson. "Some people out there might actually enjoy the fact that people are denied the care they need to stay healthy and alive."

But how can they live with themselves?

"I suppose their ideology instructs them that if you can't afford health insurance you shouldn't get it."

Fifty Shades of Red

Grayson's characterization may seem extreme. But, as Grayson reminded us during the interview, attendees at a Republican presidential debate repeatedly cheered the idea of letting the uninsured die back in 2011. Today, with their treatment of Medicaid expansion funds, Red State Republicans seem strikingly cavalier about inflicting suffering and even death upon their own constituents.

Sadism may sell a lot of books and movie tickets, but it's a frightening ideology. As Grayson set of Republicans like Rick Scott, "They're willing to put up with any sort of pain - as long as it's someone else's."

Conservatives insist every poor person should get a job - then they punish them for it. They demand that poor people pull themselves up by their bootstraps, then make them pay for it - perhaps with their lives - when they try.

Sometimes tragedies need a public face in order for their full impact to be felt.  The next time a Republican politician talks about the noble and inspiring model of a self-sacrificing mother or father - or tries to say they have a better vision for America's future - Americans should remember Charlene Dill.

The Zero Hour Campaign for America's Future

Chris Weigant: Are Political Lies Constitutional?

Chris Weigant: Are Political Lies Constitutional? 2014-04-16

Are political lies constitutionally-protected free speech? That's an intriguing question, and one that the Supreme Court is going to take up next week. What makes the question interesting is how a valid argument could be made either way, no matter what your personal politics. Both sides resent well-funded politicians who blanket the airwaves with what they see as the baldest of falsehoods, but on the other hand political free speech is an absolute bedrock of the American system of government. Where do you draw the line? Should a line even be drawn?

The case before the Supreme Court may not answer such fundamental questions. The justices could easily narrowly rule on technical aspects of the case and by doing so punt it back to a lower federal court. But the questions themselves are valid ones, and may eventually wind up before the high court in one case or another.

The case being heard came about because a third-party group wanted to rent some billboards in Ohio to target a sitting House member during a campaign. What the billboards would have stated was not, in fact, true. Ohio has a law on its books (as do at least 15 other states) which bans such false statements about candidates. Therefore the case wound up in court.

Those are the facts of the case, stripped of political details. The key question -- the one that the Supreme Court is likely to punt on, at least this time around -- is whether such state laws are valid, or whether the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech makes such laws unconstitutional.

Does the state have a right to vet campaign statements? At first glance, it would seem to be a welcome check on the flood of negative advertising that each and every election generates. If candidates (and political groups) were limited to only speaking the truth, it would certainly get rid of the worst of these ads. And it's hard to find anyone willing to take a stand for the position: "More ads! Worse ads!" Except maybe the campaign consultants who get rich from this process, that is.

But unpopular speech -- in particular, unpopular political speech -- was what the First Amendment was created to preserve. To be a First Amendment absolutist means defending the rights of Nazis (or the KKK, or Fred Phelps) to publicly state their beliefs, no matter how noxious. Political campaign speech seems to be at the heart of this concept, because it is not merely marching in the streets or protesting an event, it is advocating for who will represent the people in government. Advocating for political change, in other words, by the most direct method available: the ballot box. Seen in this light, even political lying has to be considered protected political speech.

Of course, the other side has a good argument as well, which can be boiled down to the famous Mark Twain quote: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." If political candidates are forced to spend all their time and energy setting the record straight with the truth, they will have no time to get their own positive message out. This becomes acute when one side (or one candidate) can heavily outspend the other. The one with the bigger advertising budget can bury an opponent with lies, and even if some are successfully debunked for the public, some of them will stick. Is this really how we want our democracy to function?

But the real problem with state laws which forbid political lies boils down to: who decides? Even if you think such a law might improve the tenor of our politics, do you really want elected officials making the case-by-case decisions on what is true enough to be allowable versus what is factually so inaccurate that it cannot be shown to the public? Or maybe unelected officials? Because to enforce such a law, that is precisely what would be needed -- an Office of Political Truth of some sort. And it's pretty easy to project a negative outcome of such powers. For instance, what would happen if a majority of such a board of decision-makers were from the opposing party? How fair would they actually be? Elections could quickly devolve into nothing more than a series of protracted legal battles before such a commission, with each side filing complaints by the dozen. Is that really how electioneering should be regulated?

The idea of allowing nothing but truth into politics is a noble one. The problem is, it's not a very practical one (even ignoring the constitutionality issue for a moment). It would require some sort of election referee on the sidelines, calling fouls and being a gatekeeper for what is allowable play on the field of politics. There's a legal term for this, however: "prior restraint." This means giving the government the power to -- in advance -- decide what people can and cannot say. To use an extreme example, it would be like having newspapers submit all their editorials to the government for pre-approval before publication -- which is a chilling concept to even contemplate. Now, as I said, this is an extreme example, because certain types of ads obviously do require some sort of government intervention. An ad which actively called for one candidate to be assassinated would, quite obviously, be illegal (because of the threat of violence, which is a separate crime). But should this be extended to making lies about policies illegal as well?

Ugly politics is not new to America, no matter what you hear from pundits with absolutely no knowledge of our history. Lies are not new in the political arena. Even vicious lies. They've been around since our very beginnings as a nation, in fact. But the traditional way of combating offensive political speech is with more political speech. If neo-Nazis or the KKK want to hold a public rally, then organize a counter-rally and shout them down! If a political ad appears which lies about a candidate, then expose the lie and do your best to discredit both the other candidate and whoever put up the first ad. There are two main ways of doing so, in fact. The first is to attack the opponent as a big fat liar: "If he lies to you about this, then how can you trust him to represent you?" The second (often very effective in local races) is to paint the ad as coming from "outside influences" or "outsider money" that doesn't represent your state and your people: "Money from outside our great state is pouring in to tell lies. My opponent is fine with people from outside our borders running his campaign -- which tells you what is most important to him. I will represent the good people of this state rather than being beholden to all these outside special interests." Some combination of these basic themes is the traditional response, because they are very effective at reframing the entire debate and causing a backlash against ads which do contain obvious lies. Additionally, in the past decade or so, newspapers and other media sources have begun to take it upon themselves to "truth squad" statements being made by politicians or political ads -- which helps referee the fray to at least some extent.

Of course, this still leaves the problem of unequal campaign finances. When one side can outspend the other, then one side's message gets out to the people and one side's doesn't get heard. That is indeed a problem, but it is a much bigger problem than policing ad copy. No matter how fair ads could be made by an Office of Political Truth, the monetary disparity would remain. Perhaps this would lead to a slightly-politer avalanche of ads from one candidate, but the opponent would still wind up buried nonetheless.

Free speech is a fundamental issue. The case before the Supreme Court does not fall easily on partisan lines, believe it or not. The group which wanted to put the billboards up is the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. The billboard they wanted to put up would have accused a sitting Democrat of supporting taxpayer-funded abortion, because he had supported the Obamacare law. This is inaccurate, factually. Which the Obama White House does indeed argue. But the Obama administration also supports the Susan B. Anthony List's legal argument: that political free speech should allow even billboards which lie about Obamacare. Ohio's attorney general (a Republican) had his office file a brief in the case defending the state law's position, but he also filed another brief, stating his personal beliefs that the law "may chill constitutionally protected political speech." Partisans from both sides of the aisle can be conflicted over the details of the case, while still expressing a clear signal on the larger implications of constitutionality, in other words.

As I said, it is a noble goal to attempt to legislate that "nothing but the truth" be allowed into political discourse during an election. But it is also an impossible goal -- a Utopian vision which the United States Constitution simply does not allow. The very concept of government policing political speech in such a fashion -- attempting to be a gatekeeper for the truth -- would quickly devolve into either complete toothlessness (see: the F.E.C., for example) or it would just as speedily descend into the horrors of ugly partisanship ("our side never lies, and our opponents always lie") if the membership of the gatekeepers became another political tug-of-war. Imagine one politician having free rein to say whatever she wished, while an opponent had nine out of ten ads rejected (costing valuable time and money during campaign season).

The Supreme Court is not likely to make a basic ruling on this case. They will likely quibble over legal "standing" to bring the case, and will likely punt it back to a lower court in one fashion or another. This will avoid the question, and postpone a real decision. But whenever they do get around to ruling on state laws which mandate truth in political advertising, they should clearly see that while the intent of such laws may indeed be good and pure, the Constitution simply doesn't allow such purity in our political discourse. Popular political speech needs no protection from the First Amendment -- it never has. It is unpopular political speech -- even downright lies -- which need defending by the courts. As ignoble and as impure as that may sound.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Bernard-henri Lévy: April Diary

Bernard-henri Lévy: April Diary 2014-04-16

It is curious that that the supposed "insult to the nation" delivered by those who dared to point out France's closeness to the genocidal regime in Rwanda caused more uproar, provoked more indignation, and, it seems, elicited more emotion than did the outrage inflicted on the 800,000 victims of the genocide. I know that France is debating that closeness. I understand how President Kagame's words may have caused offense. But was it really necessary for the Gallic rooster, while flashing its spurs, to neglect to give the dead their due or to fulfill the duty to remember, as most of the democracies, but not France, managed to do?

Alexandre Arcady's film on the Calvary of Ilan Halimi, the young French Jew who, in January 2006, was kidnapped and tortured to death because he was a Jew, will open in Paris at the end of the month. In one astonishing scene, the abductors send Ilan's family a cassette in response to their request for proof that their son is alive. On that cassette, we hear the young man say, essentially, "I am a Jew; my father is a Jew; my mother is a Jew"--the same words uttered by Daniel Pearl in a similar situation several years earlier. I cannot imagine that those words came to him by chance. My astonishment stems from the fact that when he was within an inch of death, when his body was an open wound and his soul a plaintive cry, barely alive, the young martyr could still find the strength for that glorification of the name accompanied by a miraculous act of coded transmission.

Is it a twinge of nostalgia for our shared past at France's esteemed Ecole Normale Supérieure? The satisfaction of having worthy adversaries? Or the fact that that adversary is one of the most eminent representatives in France of one of the occupations I most respect, that of the war reporter? Whatever the case, it was not without pleasure that I read Renaud Girard most recent book, Le monde en marche (World on the move, CNRS Editions, 2014), which collects the best of the chronicles and reports that have appeared in recent years in Le Figaro. I swear. I protest. About Rwanda, I believe the opposite of what Girard writes. But I lap it up. The events he recounts replay in my mind. And, confronted with this page cabled from Mogadishu or that page offering a surprising glimpse into the mystery of modern China, I recapture the joy of "young friends" (in the sense of Sartre, Nizan, and their cohort) acknowledging the contributions that each has made.

Beny Steinmetz is reputedly the richest man in Israel as well as one of its most prodigious philanthropists. I picture him, ten years ago, at his home in Arsuf, near Tel-Aviv, on the occasion of a fundraising dinner he gave on behalf of the Institute for Lévinassian Studies, which Alain Finkielkraut, Benny Lévy, and I founded. At the time of the dinner, Benny Lévy had just died, leaving Alain and I to speak for the institute. I remember Steinmetz, at once generous and intrigued, signing the first check and putting the first questions to us, as impassioned by Jewish philosophy as he was determined to rescue a forum for thought that was, at the time, imperiled. Yet on April 12 I read a British newspaper account that depicts Steinmetz as the villain in a bad spy novel, a fantastic tale of intrigue that leads us from the Guinea of President Alpha Condé, who has fast become an expert in opacity and electoral fraud, to traps set by the FBI. Maybe I'm naïve, but I don't believe it. I cannot bring myself to believe that the same man would be capable of both acts.

Dumézil's advice to Michel Foucault: "Do not write anything that has not been spoken, and do not say anything that is not destined to be written." On the one hand, we have Flaubert's theory of testing a text by reading it aloud--that's familiar. On the other hand, we have the less-known concept that a word, even when spoken, contains a secret writing that is its watermark of meaning and that establishes its value. I have that concept in mind whenever I give a speech, as I did this morning in Paris to open the congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis. What is the real? Why is it, in Lacan's thinking, a synonym for the unnamable and impossible? Am I at odds with it, or is it at odds with me? All of that is improvised but at the same time, and appropriately, mysteriously written.

My other book for the week--and another "young friend." This one I met much earlier, in the late 1960s, at the height of the red years of which the Ecole Normale was the epicenter. I am referring to Alexandre Adler and his Quand les Français faisaient l'histoire (When the French made history, Grasset, 2014), which is devoted to the French Resistance. Every page stirred me. De Gaulle, Jean Moulin, Pierre Brossolette, Daniel Mayer, Pierre Mendès-France, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, and Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont--plus the shadow of my own magnificent father, who early on joined the International Brigades in Spain. Was that not the noblest company in the world, Adler asks. It is in my eyes. And would it not be the best possible example of honesty, bravery, and hope for today's morose France?

This month the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre is presenting the most dazzling and, paradoxically, most modern production of "The Misanthrope," staged by French actor and director Michel Fau. Modern, despite the fact that the costumes are true to the period, the diction more than classic, and the lines delivered as they would have been in Molière's time: but with a complete absence of eroticism--degree zero of seduction. We watch a grimacing Alceste, heavily made up, whose diatribes against the human race and its inevitable foibles sound like terrorist imprecations or the vituperations of Pol Pot. And, at the end, in the center of a tableau vivant that is as dark as a Goya, we watch as Célimène is verbally stoned by Philinte, Oronte, Eliante, Arsinoé, Acaste, Clitandre, Du Bois, and Alceste himself. If you happen to be in France this month, do not miss it. It is sensational.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy

Kateri Allard: To The Mother Of My Patient

Kateri Allard: To The Mother Of My Patient 2014-04-16

Apparently, I stopped believing in miracles. I'm not sure when it happened, or actually even why.

Growing up, I never believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and due to a mishap involving my first lost tooth and a furnace vent, the Tooth Fairy and I didn't coexist in my reality for long, either. Yet I always, since before I can remember, believed in miracles.

Until this past week, when I realized that I don't believe any longer.

Maybe it came from years of seemingly-unanswered prayer for miraculous healing from Crohn's disease.

Perhaps it's from years of working around sick and often dying children, watching time and time again as a child slips away from the arms of a pleading, bargaining, begging mother.

Maybe it comes from an unwarranted sense of control paired with perceived understanding of the world around me. The world was mysterious when I was a child, so miracles were welcome wonders. Now, there doesn't seem to be space for them in this world I so intelligently understand.

I have stopped hoping as the parents around me hope. I have stopped praying as they do on their knees, on their feet, surely even as they lay in bed before tossing and turning for brief moments of sleep as their world crumbles down around them.

What's worse, I have grown irritated by the irrational, unrealistic, recklessly optimistic attitudes around me, often muttering in the privacy of my own head, "Are we looking at the same child, are we seeing the same thing? How can you possibly have hope? How can you possibly imagine a positive outcome?"

I have become the Grinch who stole miracles, packing my bag full of the last ounces of joy and hope, certain that no positive will come. Wishing for it, hoping for it, clinging to it is a waste of time and energy. My heart is two sizes too small. I am worse than a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.

I recently cared for a patient near the end of his life. Medically speaking, his situation was hopeless, which as a nurse makes me feel hopeless, helpless, defeated, and failed. My usually-sunny disposition melts away under my sarcasm and snark.

Because I no longer believe in miracles.

His mother came in to see him. I had prepared myself to support her, imagining she would crumble into a pile of tears, falling apart being the only possible manifestation of the hopeless emotions I was feeling amplified by her mother's love.

Our God is faithful, she said, with a smile on her face, the sunshine of hope in her eyes.

Cancer is faithful, I snipped back in my mind.

We still believe He can heal him, she continued, as if she had heard what I was thinking.

I believe that if I went home and the doctors went home, cancer would win lady, right here, right now. It is over; we lost this one. For a brief moment, my frustration turned to guilt for my lack of faith, then to jealousy for her overflowing devotion to a God I sometimes long to hear, likely due to my recent failure to ask for Him to speak.

I pulled myself back to the reality of where I stood with her. I provided updates, what we were doing for him, what his body was doing in return. In a laundry list of updates, perhaps two things were positive. She thanked me for the information, repeating back the minor positive notes I had given.

Again I began to feel my irritation welling up. Do you really not understand the gravity of this illness? I wanted to ask.

And then, yet again, as if she had heard me, she replied with this. Shrinking me back to size, putting me back in my place: A positive attitude gives us power over our circumstances, rather than allowing our circumstances to have power over us. I was stunned. Here I was, judging her positive attitude as a fault or a flaw. Completely disregarding the choice that it was. Similar to the choice she was making to believe God for a miracle. It wasn't blind faith. It wasn't negligent belief. It was strength and devotion. The choice to believe in something more powerful than me, more healing than the doctors on our team.

When I came out of the room, tears welling in my eyes, I sat at my computer and looked down at a small plate of candies she must have left for me on her way into the room. A hand written note was laid above them:

Kate, your devotion is so appreciated, S.

S, it is your devotion that I am appreciating today. And because of you, mother of my patient, I am beginning again to believe in miracles. Because in the depth of despair over losing your beloved son you took me into your arms and guided me back onto a track where love is real, positive thinking is a choice that saves us, and miracles do happen.

So today, I too am praying for a miracle for your son. And as I pray, with a positive attitude and a humbled heart, I am referring to Psalm 30, my personal favorite, and one I know we both can love.

Meg Lowman: Let Your Kids Get Muddy Once In A While

Meg Lowman: Let Your Kids Get Muddy Once In A While 2014-04-16

"To me, a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug." --Helen Keller

As a child, I loved the natural world. Maybe it had something to do with growing up in a small town in upstate New York where the distractions of big-city lights were absent. Maybe it was because nature had so many secrets and I was thrilled to be a detective, uncovering them one by one. My neighbor Betsy and I built a tree fort and created rooms walled by foliage. We collected wildflowers instead of Barbie dolls. We put band-aids on earthworms inadvertently chopped by our dads' lawnmowers. We diligently rescued and cared for baby birds that had fallen from their nests. We called our fort "Hullabaloo," alluding to the action-packed activities of our backyard world.

I'm sure that when people from my generation think back to their childhoods, many recall a tree house, a Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts camping trip, family picnics, or a passion for fishing, hunting, or horseback riding. Most of us had an occasional appetite for dirt -- maybe even ingested a few delicious bugs here and there -- as we explored backyards and nearby vacant lots. As someone who grew up in such a world, I enthusiastically encourage parents to bring back that halcyon childhood pastime of letting kids get muddy once in a while.

I have more than my own experience to show as evidence that this is a good thing: Study after study indicates that children grow up healthier and happier when they experience a direct connection to nature. Just as importantly, those young people are also far more likely to value the natural world when they've developed a connection to it. The need for this has never been greater than it is today.

Our natural world is extraordinary in its diversity and complexity, but it's also under tremendous threat. In the past decade, countless tropical rainforests and coral reefs, as well as marshes and prairies closer to home, have been lost forever due to human activities, and many more are critically endangered. These areas don't just house animals and plants found nowhere else on the planet; they also provide important economic services that benefit human health. Streams cleanse fresh water; forests reduce erosion and flooding; tree canopies provide medicines; mangroves protect against storm surge; and insects pollinate crops. The natural world represents an economic backbone for the future of local communities by bolstering tourism, real estate, and local people's livelihoods.

The problem is that at a time when our precious natural world faces unprecedented threats, we're also in the midst of a crisis in science education. Federal funding for scientific research has been slashed relative to inflation. Nationwide, the science literacy of our citizens has eroded, resulting in a loss of talent that once gave our technology an edge. This has far-reaching implications and represents perhaps the most critical global challenge we face today -- one that America, and the world, cannot afford to lose.

So where to begin? Some of the solutions, I feel, can be found at home, in the way we raise our kids. As far back as 2002, there was already evidence of an expanding divide between "virtual" and "real" nature, especially in the minds of children. A survey reported in the journal Science, for example, found that more children recognized the creatures in the electronic game Pokémon than could identify real creatures such as otters or beetles. Today, kids know more about the complexities of Xbox and Android platforms than the food webs we rely on for our meals. If our children are lucky enough to learn about forests and shorelines at all, it's generally via two-dimensional computer screens instead of wading through tidepools or gazing into the treetops.

Damages to Earth's living systems are fast approaching irreversible "tipping points," and although we now have a wealth of technological tools at our disposal -- both to understand the threats and to assist with solutions -- there's still no substitute for a connection to the real world when it comes to understanding the complexity of natural systems. This is where science literacy truly begins.

Forging a connection between child and nature is one of the best and simplest ways to inspire young people to make good decisions about personal health, climate change, and sustainable use of natural resources. They need to know what affects the chemistry of the ocean, why tropical rain forests are critical to life in the temperate regions, how millions of years are required to create petroleum from dead plants, and why mercury builds up in fish. (It's also useful to be able to identify poison ivy!) This understanding becomes realest and most meaningful when a person is connected to the natural world.

Although my love of nature was spawned by early childhood explorations, it truly blossomed when I became a parent. Being a mom made me think more deeply about my children's environment. Clean air, pure drinking water, seeing a beach at sunset, and hearing bird songs in the early morning are some of our greatest treasures, and perhaps our children's most valuable inheritance. I believe that science literacy is one of the most important tools to assure quality of life in the future, and I hope this blog series will provide enough interesting detail and fascinating scientific facts to inspire anyone who reads it to love nature just a little bit more -- and to get out there and enjoy it.

For Earth Day (April 22), why not pledge to share the natural world with a young person -- your children, grandchildren, or a kid down the street -- for the rest of the year? Help bridge the divide for the next generation between virtual and real nature, and show them just how much fun getting muddy can be.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Restoring Louisiana's Coast Will Require Restoring Its

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Restoring Louisiana's Coast Will Require Restoring Its Democracy -- Governor Jindal Is Trying To Undermine Both 2014-04-16

The Mississippi's River southernmost delta is home to a rich ecosystem, robust, culture and booming economy. Wetlands provide critical storm protection for the Louisiana's coast. A recent poll by America's Wetland Foundation found that 74 percent of Louisiana residents "consider saving the coast to be the most important issue [in the state] of our lifetime." For Delta citizens, flood protection is a matter of survival. Louisiana wetlands are disappearing at a rate of approximately 1 football field every hour and coastal communities are already washing into the Gulf of Mexico. To date, roughly 2,000 square miles of land have disappeared under water and the erosion is accelerating. The disappearing land once buffered communities including New Orleans from catastrophic storm surges.

Managing the Mississippi River Delta is a daunting challenge, but the greatest barrier to restoration and flood protection is politics. Last year, a board of flood experts, acting to protect New Orleans, ignited a battle that has starkly pitted the public welfare against the sycophantic fealty of Louisiana's toadying politicians to a rapacious oil and gas industry.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority -- East (SLFPA-E) oversees the greater New Orleans levee system. The deterioration of the wetlands that protect the levees surrounding New Orleans led the SLFPA-E to file suit against 97 oil and gas companies. While the Army Corp of Engineers diversion projects have contributed to wetland shrinkage by starving the delta of sediments, study after study, including those conducted by the state and the oil industry, point to oil and gas activities as a principle culprit in the loss of Louisiana's wetlands. The petroleum titans have dredged approximately 10,000 miles of canals through Louisiana's fragile wetlands in their thirst for oil and gas allowing wave action and salt water from the Gulf to infiltrate and destroy what is left. State issued dredge permits require these companies to restore the injured wetlands. Petroleum industry practice is to ignore those permit mandates.

SLFPA's suit seeks to force these companies to finally repair the damage they have inflicted on coastal wetlands as the law requires.

These permit violations are not victimless crimes. In breaking the laws that require wetland restoration, these companies endanger everyone who depends on Louisiana's productive and delicate coasts. The protection of the many should take precedence over the protection of the money, but Louisiana's servile politicians seem more concerned with protecting cash flow for the most profitable industry in history -- an industry that provides local pols their largest source of campaign lucre.

Genuflecting to Big Oil's pressure, the industry's chief indentured servant, Governor Bobby Jindal, is leading an attempt to kill the suit by orchestrating the replacement of several members of the levee authority. Jindal's caper violates state laws that guarantee that body's political independence. Urged on by the Governor, crooked Legislators are currently advancing bills to undermine the levee board and retroactively kill the lawsuit. Louisiana is a classic corporate kleptocracy. There is no sunshine in Baton Rouge ; Like so many cockroaches Big Oil's state house sock puppets are working their mischief in the darkness with no accountability or public participation.

A Louisiana elected official once said "the flag of Texaco flies over the Louisiana State Capitol." Right now that flag is flapping in the face of every citizen. Tax-hating governor Jindall now wants to spend tens of millions of dollars of tax payer money to plug oil canals which companies are required by law to plug themselves. That money pales beside to the $50 billion cost of the state's Master Plan to protect the coast. Jindal's funding proposal caper will protect his oil industry patrons and stick the public with the bill: taxpayers will cover the costs of damage caused by oil companies.

A recent poll by the nonprofit, Restore Louisiana Now, found that 90 percent of state residents believe the oil and gas industry should pay it's fair share, and 75 percent believe the governor has no business shielding the oil and gas industry from the costs of its misbehavior.

As Seneca observed "To greed, all of nature is insufficient".

Jason Endacott: Why We Chose To Opt Out

Jason Endacott: Why We Chose To Opt Out 2014-04-16

Thousands of children in our state are headed into schools today to take standardized tests mandated by the federal government under No Child Left Behind. Our fourth grade son won't be one of them.

Opting your children out of standardized tests is a very personal decision, and one that has been far more difficult to make than we originally thought it would be. There has been a lot of attention given in the media lately to children who won't be taking standardized tests and the parents who have chosen to opt them out. In response to this attention, those who have the most to gain from high stakes testing have begun to push back, even chastising parents for their personal choices.

Today's post is dedicated to explaining the personal decision we made to opt our son out of standardized testing. In writing this I don't hope to convince you to opt your own children out of future testing. In fact, that's why I waited until today to post this, to provide some food for future thought.

I'm an educator, an academic and a parent. In the current climate of education in the U.S. I have very little power over my kids' education in any of these three roles. As an educator I have watched politicians, corporations and wealthy philanthropists take more and more control over K-12 schools. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core State Standards are all examples of how education is guided by those with wealth and power rather than those with wealth of knowledge.

No Child Left Behind started us down this path in 2002 by tying federal money to standardized tests. Give the tests or lose out on millions in Title I funds that go to schools with the neediest children. President Obama used the billions of dollars that were part of his Race to the Top to program to double down on NCLB by enticing states to compete for grants. In return, states were expected to adopt a common set of college and career ready standards (CCSS) and institute teacher evaluation systems that used test scores to measure teacher performance.

In the future, these test scores will be based on the Common Core State Standards, a set of de facto national standards that were created undemocratically, were not written by single classroom teacher, endured absolutely no field testing, suffer from dubious developmental appropriateness, and were forced down the necks of states by the federal government during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

So its no wonder that we sometimes see schools and teachers losing their minds in order to make sure that their students do well on these tests. They are required to administer them, federal monies are attached to them, their performance evaluations depend on them, and the legislatures of some states are already looking for ways to make it easier to fire them. Standardized tests are a gun that is being held to the livelihood of every public school teacher in the United States. Knowing all this makes it easier to understand why some schools have turned to disturbing practices like DATA WALLS, forcing teachers to teach from scripted lesson plans that don't allow for differentiation, narrowing the curriculum to focus on tested subjects rather than a well-rounded education, and judging studentsby the numbers they produce.

Meanwhile, a $500 billion dollar national market has been created in education thanks to Common Core and the endless tests our states and schools purchase. The Education sector is now 9 percent of G.D.P in the United States. That. Is. A. Lot. Of. Money. And there is no shortage of "edupreneurs" who are jumping into that market to get their share of the pot. As a nation we have been convinced that our public schools are failing, that the "status quo" is unacceptable, that schools need standards and testing in order to succeed, and that market based reforms such as privatization, charter schools, vouchers and "dumping the losers" are the way to get it done. The only problem is that none of this is true. None of it. Don't believe me? Read this. Or this. Or this. Good old common sense says these reforms will work. High quality research says they don't. In fact, we have been trying to "save" our public schools with standards, testing and reforms for so long that they've actually become the "status quo".

It is the test that binds all of this insanity together. Without the tests, the reformers have nothing to threaten schools with. Without the tests, the federal government loses power over states. Without the tests, schools would be able to stop assigning multiple choice tests to kindergarteners. Without the tests, there would be no way for education reformers to convince you that your schools are much worse than they really are. Without the tests, there wouldn't be a target on our teachers.

But tests aren't really the problem, the real problem is how the tests are used. Tests are an important form of data that can help educators determine how students are doing and how they need to improve. When used for that purpose, tests are great. Still limited, but great. However, when used as a tool for propaganda, profit and pressure, tests are more punitive than positive. As long as high stakes standardized tests -- despite their limitations -- are used as the primary means for evaluating schools, they will continue to be far more valuable for punishing states, schools and teachers than for evaluating student achievement.

There isn't much I can do about this as an educator and an academic other than write and speak when I'm allowed. But as a parent I have the power to take control over the education of my child, and that's exactly what my wife and I have decided to do. Federal laws clearly give us the right as parents to guide the education of our children. While the Secretary of Education has recently pushed for changes to those laws in order to give corporations as much access to your child's data as any teacher or administrator has, he hasn't been able to take away our right to decide what's best for our child. Not yet anyway.

So we're exercising that right. We're taking one bullet out of the standardized test gun that is being held to the heads of our nation's schools and teachers. It's only one bullet, and there's millions more left in the chamber, but it is OUR bullet so that's what we're going to do.

Some would say that our decision actually hurts our child's school because they NEED those test scores in order to stave off the federal government's punishments under NCLB. Schools automatically "fail" under NCLB if schools don't test at least 95 percent of their students each year. We prefer to take the long view on that issue. Educators have become so concerned with meeting short term testing goals in order to avoid punishment that many of them have lost perspective and a vision for the big picture. We are far more concerned about what will happen if the status quo is allowed to continue unchallenged. We will not allow our child's test score to be used to punish schools or teachers.

Others ask, "How will you know what your child is capable of if you don't have test scores?" The answer to that is pretty simple. We trust our son's teachers. The privileging of standardized test score data above all other forms of information regarding a student's progress is a relatively recent phenomenon. There was a time when we trusted teachers to teach, assess, and evaluate the progress of our students. We believe this should still be the case. We don't need standardized tests to tell us what our kids are capable of. Our sons' teachers are more than capable of evaluating and communicating our son's capabilities in the class using the data they collect through classwork, teacher created assessments and other formative data points that aren't mandated by the federal government. Did you know that the new assessments for CCSS will be graded completely by a computer? Even students' writing will be scored by a computer. They'll tell you that algorithms can be constructed to evaluate a human's writing capacity. As an expert in how kids think and learn, I'll tell you that's ridiculous. Testing is one of the least authentic ways to determine what any child is capable of. Nowhere else in life do we try to determine what somebody is capable of by putting them in front of a test and asking them to fill in bubbles. Yet in in American public education, that's quickly becoming the ONLY way we determine what students are capable of.

These are only a few reasons why we have decided to opt our son out of high-stakes and punitive standardized tests. We don't expect everybody who reads this to agree with us. As I mentioned at the outset of this post, opting out is a very personal decision. In fact, it is the personal nature of the decision that makes it a legitimate one in our eyes. We just hope that reading this will give you something to think about as you make your own decision about your own child.

Cross-posted from EduSanity.

The Motley Fool: 3 Things Wealthy People Do Differently

The Motley Fool: 3 Things Wealthy People Do Differently 2014-04-16

The funniest thing I've noticed about rich people is how little their income has to do with their wealth. Mike Tyson earned $300 million during his career and went broke. An orphaned, unmarried administrative assistant died with millions in the bank. A lot of rich people aren't exceptionally talented at what they do. They just have quirks and habits that let them think differently about money than the rest of us.

Here are three I've noticed.

They are (mostly pleasant) sociopaths

I'm convinced that nearly every rich person has the characteristics of a sociopath. Not in a cruel, soulless way. But sociopaths can disregard emotional events that cause normal people to worry and panic. Great investors can do that, too. They can watch stocks fall 50 percent and shrug their shoulders or see 10 million people lose their jobs and remain unshakably calm. In her book Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas writes:

Sharks see in black-and-white. Scientists have suggested that contrast against background may be more helpful than color for predators in detecting potential prey, helping them to focus on crucial spatial relationships rather than extraneous details. I'm color-blind in a way that makes mass hysteria seem particularly striking in contrast to normal, expected behavior. My lack of empathy means I don't get caught up in other people's panic. It gives me a unique perspective. And in the financial world, being able to think opposite the pack is all you need.

Napoleon's definition of a military genius was "The man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy." Rich people are similar. They remain normal when everyone else can't.

They care about time periods most can't comprehend

There are four ways to invest:

Unsuccessfully Long-term (varying degrees of success) Short term, successful due to luck Short term, successful due to manipulation/fraud That's the complete list. Nos. 3 and 4 eventually become No. 1.

Long-term investing is the only sane choice. But it's unnatural. We're hardwired to grab immediate gains and avoid immediate threats. That's why we eat donuts and watch CNBC.

My friend Carl Richards made a great sketch last week:


As Carl notes, studies show that we have the same emotional connection to ourselves 30 years in the future as we do an unknown third-party today. Rich people have the rare ability to bridge that emotional gap. They are allergic to the short run. "If you look carefully," Bill Bonner writes in his book Family Fortunes, "almost all Old Money secrets can be traced to a single source: a longer-term outlook."

In August 1929, John Raskob wrote an article called "Everyone Ought to Be Rich." All you had to do was buy stocks and hold them for a long time, he wrote. Two months later, the market crashed. It fell 88 percent over the next four years. To this day, people cite Raskob's article as a sign of irrational hype. But was it? Anyone who bought stocks the day it hit the stands increased their wealth six-fold over the next 30 years, adjusted for inflation. Missing this is why everyone ought to be rich, but few are.

They don't give a damn what you think of them

Dilbert creator Scott Adams once wrote: "One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard goes something like this: If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it. It sounds trivial and obvious, but if you unpack the idea it has extraordinary power."

The price of being rich is really simple: You must live below your means.

But living below your means is hard. Most people want to be rich to impress other people. They do this by spending money, which is the surest way to have less of it.

The reason so many Americans are in dire financial shape is because their aspirations, desires, and wants have grown faster than their incomes. That's why the size of the median home has increased by 30 percent over the last 25 years while the median income has barely budged. For every $1 raise most people receive, their desires grow by perhaps $1.10. This is the express lane to disappointment.

Rich people avoid this trap. They care less about what others think of them than ordinary people do. They don't give a damn, actually. They can get a raise without buying a new car or have a great year in the market and not blow it on a new watch. A lot of them are after control over their time, which comes from having a wide gap between what they can afford to buy and what they actually buy. They are more impressed with retiring early than $90 T-shirts or $20 cocktails. It's classic Millionaire Next Door stuff.

Having the emotional backbone to drive an uglier car than you can afford, live in a smaller house you can afford, eat out less often than you can afford, and wear cheaper clothes than you can afford is rare. In my experience, less than 10 percent of people can do it in a meaningful way. It's the cost of being rich, and most people have no desire to pay the price.

"A miser grows rich by seeming poor," poet William Shenstone wrote. "An extravagant man grows poor by seeming rich." I don't think it's any more complicated than that.

Adam Winkler: Bloomberg Gives Boost To Gun Control

Adam Winkler: Bloomberg Gives Boost To Gun Control 2014-04-16

Today's announcement by billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg of the creation of Everytown for Gun Safety, a new political organization committed to electing pro-gun control legislators, is just the boost the gun control movement needs. The failure of Congress to enact reform in the wake of Newtown, despite widespread support in the polls, has discouraged many gun control supporters. When proposals to enhance background checks has 90 percent support but fail even to get through the Senate, gun control advocates have reason to be worried.

That's why Bloomberg's new organization is so important. Background check reform was defeated by the effective political mobilization of gun enthusiasts by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups. The NRA and its allies were able to swamp senators offices with calls, letters, and emails against reform. Senators, especially from swing states, became convinced that voting to improve background checks would stir up single-issue, pro-gun voters on Election Day. Not without reason has the NRA been considered one of the most powerful political players in Washington.

Bloomberg is promising to bring those same types of political operations used by the NRA to the gun control movement. Everytown for Gun Safety will be devoted to identifying and scoring pro-gun control candidates; providing them with contributions and independent expenditures; and turning out the vote for them on election day. Everytown also aims to be an active membership organization for supporters of gun safety laws -- connecting them up in a political network that will promote the sharing of information and additional means of raising funds. With $50 million in financing from Bloomberg, Everytown will have funding unprecedented among gun control groups devoted to political advocacy.

Bloomberg understands that the lack of political mobilization has cost gun control advocates. The NRA is effective because it can turn out voters for its candidates. The same is true of other major effective political groups, like Planned Parenthood. Although the gun control movement has other important political players, like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Gabrielle Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions, Bloomberg is promising to build an active membership organization with a few million members. That's something the gun control movement has never really had.

There are obvious hurdles to any gun control advocacy group. There are a lot of single-issue, pro-gun voters in America but not a lot of single-issue, pro-gun-control voters. Everytown, to be successful, will have to inspire more people who support gun control to make this the sole issue they vote on in primary and general elections. It's also easier for gun rights advocates to mobilize because they are united by a common hobby -- shooting -- and all that it entails. They network at gun ranges, read similar periodicals and websites, and follow the same Twitter feeds. That means that information can reach them easily and they can be political mobilized to call officials or support a given candidate. Gun control advocates aren't united in the same way, which makes mobilization more difficult.

Perhaps Bloomberg's $50 million will help. That's what he's betting on -- and why gun control supporters should be buoyed by today's news.

Susan Casey-lefkowitz: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Urge Obama To Make The Righ

Susan Casey-lefkowitz: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Urge Obama To Make The Right Choice And Reject The Keystone Xl Tar Sands Pipeline 2014-04-16

As the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline nears the end of its national interest determination process, 10 Nobel Peace Prize laureates are urging President Obama to deny the project, citing the moral imperative of protecting some of the world’s most vulnerable populations from the devastating effects of climate change. The laureates include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, landmine activist Jody Williams and others from around the world.

Nobel Laureate Ad Faces and Quote Politico April 2014.jpg

“You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change,” the Nobel laureates write in a letter sent to  Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Nobel peace prize winners—including Williams and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa— have previously written to Obama urging him to reject the controversial pipeline. This is the first time Carter, U.S. President from 1977-1981, and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, has also raised his voice in opposition. Others joining this letter include Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, and Betty Williams

In their letter, the Nobel laureates confirm that as the linchpin to driving massive expansion of extraction of the high carbon tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest, Keystone XL would add billions of tons of new carbon pollution to the atmosphere and worsen climate change.

Communities around the world are feeling the impacts of climate change on their health, safety and livelihoods. The most recent climate science community report shows a growing threat to our communications, transportation, security and food systems. As leaders struggle with what the need to fight climate change means in terms of energy decisions at home, the voice of moral leaders such as these Nobel Peace laureates becomes more important than ever. And they are sending a clear message that political leadership is essential to stand up to entrenched fossil fuel interests and to take the kinds of decisions that will put us on the path of a cleaner energy future.

“As you near a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, please do not underestimate its importance. A rejection would signal a new course for the world’s largest economy. You know as well as us the power of precedence that this would set,” the letter states. “This leadership by example would usher in a new era where climate change and pollution is given the urgent attention and focus it deserves in a world where the climate crisis is already a daily struggle for so many.”

The Nobel laureates note they stand in solidarity with the two million voices who have sent comments to the U.S. State Department in opposition to Keystone XL. And their letter comes in addition to letters in the past few weeks from more than 200 business leaders, and more than 100 scientists and economists pressing for rejection of the project, as well as an event in Washington, D.C. where voices from indigenous and landowner communities will call for rejection of Keystone XL.

You can let your voice be heard as well at

The Nobel laureates letter also appeared in a full-page ad in Politico and is reprinted here in full:

April 15, 2014

Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry,

You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change. As you deliberate the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, you are poised to make a decision that will signal either a dangerous commitment to the status quo, or bold leadership that will inspire millions counting on you to do the right thing for our shared climate. We stand with the 2,000,000 voices who submitted their comments in the national interest determination process rejecting the pipeline and ask you once again to stop Keystone XL.

The tar sands are among the world’s most polluting oil and their growth in Northern Alberta has costs not only for our shared climate, but for the First Nations communities whose air, water, land, and human rights are being devastated by rapid expansion of tar sands production and related infrastructure.  

The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would have meaningful and significant impacts in reducing carbon pollution. The myth that tar sands development is inevitable and will find its way to market by rail if not pipeline is a red herring. Oil industry projections are clear that to reach their production goals they would need all current pipeline proposals as well as rail; not either or. Industry experts agree that the Keystone XL project is the linchpin for tar sands expansion and the increased pollution that will follow, triggering more climate upheaval with impacts felt around the world.

This letter marks the third time that many of us have written to you to urge a rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Let this reflect the growing urgency we feel for the hundreds of millions of people globally whose lives and livelihoods are being threatened and lost as a result of the changing climate and environmental damage caused by our dangerous addiction to oil. 

You are among the first generation of leaders that knows better - leaders that have the knowledge, tools, and opportunity to pivot our societies away from fossil fuels and towards smarter, safer and cleaner energy. History will reflect on this moment and it will be clear to our children and grandchildren if you made the right choice.

As we have said in our previous letters, we have found hope in your words and promises to work to ensure a safer climate. We continue to be inspired by the millions of people who have made this an intergenerational movement of climate defenders with a goal of holding you accountable to these words.  As recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, we feel we have a moral obligation to raise our voices in support and solidarity for those across North America and the world that are fighting not only for impacted people and communities today, but for the generations to come that will bear the ultimate consequences of a failure to act.  

As you near a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, please do not underestimate its importance. While the climate crisis will require increasingly ambitious efforts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, this moment has the potential to empower a generation that needs affirmation that their leaders are listening and care about their future. A rejection would signal a new course for the world’s largest economy. You know as well as we do the powerful precedent that this would set. This leadership by example would usher in a new era where climate change and pollution is given the urgent attention and focus it deserves in a world where the climate crisis is already a daily struggle for so many.

We thank you again for your attention and we sincerely hope our next communication is to congratulate you on a significant step towards a safer climate.

Yours sincerely,

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, Nobel Peace Laureate (2002) — USA

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate (2003) — Iran 

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate (2011) — Liberia

Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Laureate (2011) — Yemen

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976) — Northern Ireland

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Laureate (1992) — Guatemala

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Laureate (1980) — Argentina

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate (1984) —

South Africa

Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976) — Northern Ireland 

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate (1997) — USA

Tavis Smiley: My Conversation With Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany

Tavis Smiley: My Conversation With Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany 2014-04-16

Join me tonight for my conversation with actress Tatiana Maslany. She has earned rave reviews, from critics and audiences alike, for her Golden Globe-nominated performance in the sci-fi clone saga Orphan Black. In season one, she played seven characters with strikingly different personalities and accents. Season two, which premieres on BBC America this Saturday, April 19, unleashes even more clones. In the clip below, Maslany explains how different music helps her get into character(s). Can you guess which clone's internal rhythm is musical theater?

For more of our conversation, be sure to tune in to Tavis Smiley tonight on PBS. Check out our website for your local TV listings:

Jennifer Tyler Lee: The Benefits Of Dark Chocolate On Easter

Jennifer Tyler Lee: The Benefits Of Dark Chocolate On Easter 2014-04-16

The benefits of dark chocolate abound, especially when it comes to reducing added sugars in your Easter baskets!


The Easter bunny is coming and he's hopping along with baskets full of sweet treats. As a parent trying to get your whole family eating healthy, that candy bonanza can be tough to navigate. One candy bar can put your child well over the proposed WHO guidelines for added sugars. And it's those added sugars that are creating the massive obesity epidemic in this country, as Laurie David's riveting new documentary, Fed Up, exposes.

Avoiding sugary treats altogether at holiday time is a tough bar to meet. That's where the benefits of dark chocolate come into play.

Dark chocolate has been linked to improved heart health. A recent study published in Scientific American suggested that dark chocolate may also benefit the microbes in our guts. Beyond those important health benefits, offering dark chocolate as an alternative is an easy way to help reduce added sugars in your family's diet--dark chocolate has a fraction of the added sugars that milk chocolate contains.

Instead of banning sweet treats from your baskets, substitute them with a healthier alternative (along with non-food treats, like sidewalk chalk eggs). Here are some easy things you can do to bring the benefits of dark chocolate to your baskets:

1) Stick to chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao content. 2) Enjoy, but in small portions. 3) Limit sweet treats to the weekends only. Fruit on weeknights. 4) Make your treats at home.

Our dark chocolate bark recipe is a delicious treat for the whole family. Bonus, it's great fun to make with your kids -- the recipe is easy and the rewards are high. Make a big batch and package it up in cello bags with raffia ribbons. Tuck your homemade dark chocolate treats in your baskets, and save a few to give as teacher thank you gifts. It's a wonderful way to enjoy the benefits of dark chocolate, along with the benefits of cooking together as a family. Double bonus.

Jennifer Tyler Lee is author of The 52 New Foods Challenge (Penguin Random House/Avery 2014) and the creator of the award-winning healthy eating game, Crunch a Color®. Her family cooking adventures have been featured at Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Rachael Ray's Yum-O!, Laurie David's Family Dinner, Pottery Barn Kids, and Whole Foods Markets. Her book, The 52 New Foods Challenge, releases November 2014.

DIY Dark Chocolate Bark Recipe | The 52 New Foods Challenge
Pauline Hawkins: Why I'm Resigning After 11 Years As A Teacher

Pauline Hawkins: Why I'm Resigning After 11 Years As A Teacher 2014-04-16

Dear Administrators, Superintendent, et al.:

This is my official resignation letter from my English teaching position.

I'm sad to be leaving a place that has meant so much to me. This was my first teaching job. For eleven years I taught in these classrooms, I walked these halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. This school became part of my family, and I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as a teacher. I met the most incredible people here. I am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I've had the pleasure of teaching.

I know I have made a difference in the lives of my students, just as they have irrevocably changed mine. Teaching is the most rewarding job I have ever had. That is why I am sad to leave the profession I love.

Even though I am primarily leaving to be closer to my family, if my family were in Colorado I would not be able to continue teaching here. As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.

Along with the salary issue, ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children.

I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.

It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement 12 years ago -- and it's only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.

I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they've been told they aren't good enough by a standardized test; they've been told that they can't be successful because they aren't jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.

I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher-I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students "right" answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed to be a proper education.

As unique as my personal situation might be, I know I am not the only teacher feeling this way. Instead of weeding out the "bad" teachers, this evaluation system will continue to frustrate the teachers who are doing everything they can to ensure their students are graduating with the skills necessary to become civic minded individuals. We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.

Since I've worked here, we have always asked the question of every situation: "Is this good for kids?" My answer to this new legislation is, "No. This is absolutely not good for kids." I cannot stand by and watch this happen to our precious children-our future. The irony is I cannot fight for their rights while I am working in the system. Therefore, I will not apply for another teaching job anywhere in this country while our government continues to ruin public education. Instead, I will do my best to be an advocate for change. I will continue to fight for our children's rights for a free and proper education because their very lives depend upon it.

My final plea as a district employee is that the principals and superintendent ask themselves the same questions I have asked myself: "Is this good for kids? Is the state money being spent wisely to keep and attract good teachers? Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers?" With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love. As Benjamin Franklin once said: "All mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move." I want to be someone who moves and makes things happen. Which one do you want to be?

Pauline Hawkins is an English instructor at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, CO, where she has been teaching for 11 years. She also initiated the student-run newspaper, The LHS Revolution, and is its adviser; the paper is in its tenth year of publication. Read more by Pauline at

Huff Tv: Watch: Arianna Discusses How To Thrive With 'tiger Mom' Author Amy Ch

Huff Tv: Watch: Arianna Discusses How To Thrive With 'tiger Mom' Author Amy Chua 2014-04-16

Arianna recently sat down for a discussion with Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School and author of the books "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and "The Triple Package." The two came together for an event at Yale entitled Strive Meets Thrive and spoke about Arianna's new book "Thrive: The Third Metric To Redefining Success And Creating A Life Of Well-Being, Wisdom, And Wonder."

"I am really excited that this has been called Strive Meets Thrive, rather than Strive vs. Thrive, because I really profoundly believe that there is no contradiction. Thrive is not against hard work or striving or big dreams or big accomplishments. It's about nurturing our human capital, so that actually we're even more effective at accomplishing all our dreams," said Arianna.

She went on to explain, "I feel this is an amazing moment for this conversation, because of two kind of mega-trends colliding. One is a growing recognition that the world the way it has been designed is unsustainable. That it's not working for women, it's not working for men, it's certainly not working for polar bears. And that we need to redesign workplaces, redesign the way we approach work, redefine what success is. And the second trend is that now for the first time we have an amazing amount of scientific findings validating ancient wisdom. So while, even two, three years ago, things like meditation and sleep and pauses were seen as new-agey, flakey California, you know, now we see them as performance enhancement tools."

Arianna recalled a story from seven years ago in which she woke up in a pool of blood in her office after collapsing from exhaustion. She described the incident as a "wake-up call."

"And that's what started me to redefine success, to go beyond the first two metrics that our culture basically has reduced success to: money and power slash recognition, fame, etc... to include a third metric which includes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving."


Strive Meets Thrive: Amy Chua in Conversation with Arianna Huffington from Yale Law School on Vimeo.