Jimmy Carter: Climate Change: Who Will Lead?

Jimmy Carter: Climate Change: Who Will Lead? 2014-04-21

With the latest warnings delivered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past few weeks, no world leader will ever be able to claim that they were caught off-guard by climate change.

As former heads of state ourselves, we've experienced global crises from within the corridors of power. Some may take the world by surprise, but sometimes the warning signals are such that there is no excuse not to act. The IPCC report is such a signal.

The report of Working Group II of the IPCC is the most sobering assessment, to date, of the risks posed to humanity by climate change, describing a range of threats in a clear yet measured tone. Around the world, people's crops and homes are in danger already. This will only get worse if nothing is done. Economic shocks and worsening poverty, exacerbated by a warming planet, will also increase the risk of armed conflict. It is the world's poorest who are the most vulnerable. The report does not dictate exact scenarios but tells us, with unprecedented authority, what we must be ready for.

For this reason, it is a compelling call to action for governments. We hope it can trigger decisive action -- notably on greenhouse gas emission reduction and financing for climate adaptation -- on the road to December 2015, when world leaders will meet at a major conference in Paris to agree a new climate deal.

This week we are coming to Paris, as Elders, to help build momentum towards this deadline. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this process. Climate change ignores national borders. Multilateral negotiations remain the best approach for the world to reach a comprehensive solution. We are calling for a robust, fair, universal, and legally-binding agreement in Paris in 2015.

The IPCC report does not just describe risks, it identifies opportunities. Solutions exist. The world possesses the tools and technology needed to reduce carbon emissions, build a more sustainable economy and end our reliance on fossil fuels. Many governments, businesses and community leaders are already showing the way in promoting renewable energy and developing affordable solutions to adapt to the present impacts of climate change.

As Elders, we believe the world should become carbon-neutral by 2050 in order to keep the warming of the planet below 2°C, without jeopardizing the development opportunities of the poor. The expertise says this is feasible but requires visionary leadership and bold, concerted action. Ultimately, it is down to governments and their leaders to show the way and make sure the transition to carbon neutrality is fair.

But it would be too easy to wash one's hands and blame politicians for their failure to address climate change. Any failure would be collective. Responding to climate change is everyone's responsibility.

With Paris in December 2015 in our sights, we particularly want to stress the importance of youth movements to create the necessary anticipation and expectation that often acts as the first spark of momentum.

Furthermore, it is youth movements that determine the dedication and dynamism with which their own generations will confront these same threats when it is their turn to lead.

And with an increasingly young global population it is the youth who, by default, are the most vulnerable and directly concerned by the threats of climate change.

On all counts, the youth should mobilize now.

We will hold a discussion with some of these young leaders in Paris. We will also hear from the people on the frontline of climate change, from Chad to the Philippines, and learn about the solutions they are developing to cope with its most devastating effects.

We hope that by sharing some of our experience, and having a dialogue between generations, we can encourage current leaders to seize the opportunity of the process leading up to Paris in December 2015.

Young people will inherit our planet, our successes and our failures. As Elders, we urge them not to underestimate their power, influence and responsibility to address the biggest challenge of our time.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Elders, in partnership with the Huffington Post, to mark Earth Day (April 22, 2014) and call on young people to create momentum in the run-up to of a major climate conference in Paris in December 2015. The Elders are a group of independent global leaders working for peace, justice and human rights, brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007.

On April 22 Jimmy Carter, Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson, members of The Elders, will hold a debate on climate leadership and youth in Paris at 17:00 CEST. The event will be live-streamed by the Huffington Post and on www.theElders.org. You can tweet your questions using #ScPoElders. Join the conversation and follow @TheElders on Twitter.

Steven Cohen: Why A Climate Treaty Or Carbon Tax Is Unlikely

Steven Cohen: Why A Climate Treaty Or Carbon Tax Is Unlikely 2014-04-21

The climate crisis is real and it requires an immediate and continuous response, but it is very unlikely that the response will be a treaty or a tax. For a long time I have been observing colleagues arguing that we must limit greenhouse gas emissions via a binding international treaty. Often the same colleagues will say that we need to limit emissions by pricing carbon to discourage its use. As economists are prone to say: all things held equal; that solution should work. Sadly, few things are held equal and so these two policy "solutions" are actually distractions, since they are both politically infeasible.

Let's start with the treaty idea. Kyoto in December 1997 was the high point of the treaty strategy, as nations agreed to reduce emissions. When the U.S. refused to go along, the international agreement began to unravel. Even though the treaty "went into effect in 2005," it's never been a meaningful policy. If the U.S. had ratified the agreement, it still wouldn't have mattered, since the treaty would never have been implemented anyway. Developing nations need energy to develop and developed nations continue to find more uses for energy than ever before. The resulting political pressure to develop and use energy is so strong that limits on greenhouse gasses are routinely ignored. In developed nations, improved energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but in the developing world, emissions are growing at a furious rate.

Energy is simply too central to economic life, and economic life too central to the political elite's power, to allow anyone to limit a nation's use of energy. That is why the likelihood of a climate treaty is so low. Climate change has low political salience because its causes are everywhere and its main impact is either in the future or difficult to predict.

This brings me to the carbon tax. What a simple and elegant solution. Simply price fossil fuels at their true cost, including their impact on the environment and the costs of damage from climate-induced extreme weather. The problem, again, is the importance of energy. Increased energy costs would have an impact on the price of everything. One could argue that it would force efficiency and push renewables into the marketplace and that the cost impact would be temporary; but economic life involves psychology and confidence, and the temporary negative could set in motion other negatives as well. Now couple the short-term negative economic impact of a carbon tax with America's political allergy to most forms of taxation. Which politician is going to campaign on that platform? It is true that you could design a tax that provides rebates to poor people and addresses other negative impacts, but don't waste your time--the probability of an American carbon tax is very, very low.

Well-respected scholars continue to make the case for carbon taxes, international treaties and nuclear power, oblivious to the political obstacles of each of those policy paths. A treaty cannot overcome the distinct and conflicting political perspectives caused by different rates of economic development. A tax cannot overcome America's antipathy to new taxes. Nuclear power cannot overcome "not in my backyard" objections to siting generation or waste facilities.

The late, great speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O'Neill famously argued that "all politics is local." In political science 101 we teach Harold Lasswell's eighty-year-old definition of politics as the process that determines "who gets what, when and how". Politics is about distributing and receiving benefits and costs. Robert Dahl added to Lasswell's definition by speaking of politics involving the "authoritative allocation" of benefits and costs. Combining Lasswell and Dahl, what do we get? We learn that economic power, tangible local impacts, physical force and legitimate legal authority matter. Policy is not a puzzle to be solved objectively, but a direction that must be adjusted to the currents of substantive and even symbolic notions of self-interest. There are too many interests aligned against the treaty and the tax for those policies to make it safely through the white water rapids of climate politics. We need to look for policies that do not have as many entrenched natural enemies. We need to find and cultivate friends instead of making and fighting enemies.

There are countless examples of policy adjustments to political interest. Here's a new and old example of what I mean: Obamacare: The reason why the Affordable Care Act looks the way it does was because the economic power of health insurance companies had to be accommodated. As single payer system might have been simpler and easier to administer, but it would have been killed by the insurance companies. Water Pollution Control: In 1972, when the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was passed over President Richard Nixon's veto, he used his executive authority to impound funding for water management planning. However, due to the pressure of the construction unions, engineering companies and state and local elected leaders, he allocated billions of dollars to construct sewage treatment plants. Nixon was against regulating water pollution and against planning that would guide the siting of sewage treatment plants, but he still ended up supporting the funding of those plants. Sewage treatment plants were sometimes sited in the wrong place, but they still resulted in dramatic improvements in America's water quality. Nixon may not have cared about water quality, but he understood the political benefits of pouring concrete.

Logic, rationality and elegant policy design typically take a back seat to bare knuckle, self-interested, and often local, politics. If we want to mitigate climate change, why not look at a policy design that offers hope instead of futility? Aren't there any policy perspectives that can avoid the difficulties of these standard approaches? I think there are.

Let's face the fact that our lifestyles and the aspirations of billions of people in the developing world will require more, not less, energy in the future. I think our policy goal should be to lower the price of energy and reduce the proportion of the GDP devoted to energy. We can do that by replacing fossil fuels, which will only get more expensive over time, with renewable energy, which has been getting less expensive over time. Most people who fill up their gas tank know that what used to cost $25 now costs $50. While there may be plenty of fossil fuel supplies left in the crust of the earth, it is increasingly complicated to get it out of the ground, transport it and burn it. Why don't we focus our brainpower on developing cheaper, more reliable and more convenient forms of renewable energy? Let's direct policy toward developing and implementing new renewable energy and energy storage technologies. Let's build smart grids, decentralized energy generation capacity and new forms of energy storage capacity. Let's turn our focus from reducing the use of dirty energy to increasing the use of clean energy. It's not hard to imagine a political leader running on that platform. Is it?

Our goal should be to have the new technology of renewable energy drive out the old technology of fossil fuels. It's been done before: tapes replaced records, CDs replaced tapes, and MP3s replaced CDs. Cars replaced horses and cellphones replaced landlines--and someday, the electric car will replace the internal combustion engine. Our policy focus should be on inventing new technologies through government-funded research and development and then commercializing those technologies through private enterprise. Government can help direct capital toward the commercialization of new technologies and can use its vast purchasing power to help speed the implementation of these new technologies. While some old line fossil fuel companies and energy utilities might resist, the new companies that will build these new technologies will provide a powerful counter weight to the political power of these declining businesses. It is also possible that the better run fossil fuel companies will become modern energy companies and move into the renewable energy business for real, not just in their green-washing commercials.

While a climate treaty or carbon tax is unlikely, addressing the climate crisis is inevitable. To do that, we need to avoid the distraction of unattainable policies and focus on policies that are politically feasible.

Roger A. Lohmann: An Affluence Of Commons

Roger A. Lohmann: An Affluence Of Commons 2014-04-21

Jeremy Rifkin's new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, The Collaborative Commons and the Eclipse of Capitalism, offers what might be termed a third vision of the future. He offers neither a Panglossian utopia nor a "doom and gloom" dystopia. Rather, he offers a serious extrapolations to a possible future built around several widely observed trends that have not previously been connected by those who are tracking them. Most of the major themes are mentioned in the title and subtitle: Declining marginal costs approaching zero constitute the latest development in the creative destruction of capitalism. The many different evocations of the commons in our time point to a future characterized by a civil society of nonprofit organization and "collaborative commons."

For anyone unfamiliar with the ongoing revival in our time of the commons notion, Part III, "The Rise of the Collaborative Commons" in particular should provide interesting reading. For those already familiar with the commons, Rifkin offers an interesting recitation of the high points. In that part, Rifkin weaves together a selection (but certainly not all) of the best known recent work in that area: Hardin, Ostrom, Hess, Bollier, Benkler, Lessig, Boyle, and others. It isn't altogether clear what Rifkin mean by the idea of a collaborative commons (or for that matter, nonprofits). His use of the former term is merely a slightly redundant adjective tacked on to make clearer what the author (or publisher?) feared might otherwise not be clear to readers: Collaboration and communication are in the essential nature of commons and contemporary commons governance is fundamentally collaborative. It is possible that he also seeks to flesh out Charlotte Hess' suggestion of new commons (mentioned in Part III), but the "old" commons of medieval primary industries (agriculture, forestry and fishing) were probably also collaborative in their own ways.

Questions abound: Does the Collaborative Commons represent some entirely new kind of stable societal arrangement; a successor to capitalism as Rifkin seems to suggest? Or will the collaborative commons merely be a transitional avenue to some other set of arrangements entirely? Rifkin is a good bit more confident than I about the long-term stability of commons. As he notes, the key point of vulnerability is the ability and willingness of commoners to defend their pooled resources against enclosure. The easy and quick 'capitalist' conquest of the original (1995 era) internet of knowledge commons which he reviews is not a very supportive example. 2014-03-31-FinalZMCSCoverArt.jpg The original ARPAnet and the tremendous excitement of "listservs" together with the academic/research vision of Tim Berners Lee for the world wide web (think HTTP) quickly evolved into the massive commercial internet order of Google, Amazon and online banking. Even more disturbing in this regard have been the seemingly successful oversight of online collaborative commons by the assorted modern-day Henry VIII's in China, Egypt, and the other authoritarian governments of the world. Whether the collaborative commons of social networkers, social producers and other commoners will be enclosed by market forces, governments or both is a key question here. Regardless, however, Rifkin is probably correct that commons will continue to serve at least a transitional role toward a future of some kind.

Rifkin's discussion of the emergence of an Internet of Things may be among the most convincing parts of his presentation, although the omission of banking, investing and finance from that category strike me as curious. The Bitcoin experiment, together with previous ventures like Paypal, and enumerable online banking and trading capabilities have certainly not yet reached full fruition.

His focus on energy, poverty and the eclipse of capitalism puts him in league with contemporary thinking on social enterprise and the "triple bottom line," and also points up what may be of the most serious weaknesses of Rifkin's rhetoric of the commons: I was constantly reminded of the bumper sticker philosophy, Think globally and act locally. There is little doubt that Rifkin has the first part of that injunction down pat, and I have few doubts about his personal commitment to the latter. My concern is that he may leave individual readers too easily with the impression that these and other common problems can only be solved globally.

This relates to thinking I've been doing recently about the capacity of commons to generate not only social capital (a topic covered in a chapter), but also the ability of commons to use the same capacities used in generating their own rules of self-governance to generate "new morals": practices, beliefs, and perhaps most importantly of all, new ethics and values. Only a few philosophers like Kant and John Rawls can successfully get their minds around universality, but all participants in all commons struggle regularly with such questions locally in everything from conduct on Facebook and the distribution of selfies to recycling practices.

This also relates to a concern about Rifkin's rather conventional handling of the general vs. particular qualities of the commons. Because his discussion is so general and global, it is easy to get the impression that there is really only one, global commons, yet as his examples suggest there are many and at all levels from the universal to the ultra local. The commons is actually an ideal type, like markets or language or government; the domain, not only of shared governance but also of pooled resources, shared mission and joint memberships.

Rifkin's universalist attentions are devoted almost exclusively to the public good -- what is good for all of us. He follows the conventional approach of most social and political theory in contrasting this with assorted private goods. In so doing, he slights the important role of common goods; those desirables that are not quite public and yet not quite private. The condition of the planet is without doubt a public good that affects all of us, but a great many environmental questions demonstrate this kind of intermediate quality, and taking on these matters as local common goods rather than as one universal problem that can only be solved planet wide is generally our approach.

But these are relative quibbles for future discussion. This is an outstanding book worthy of much thought and discussion.

Roger A. Lohmann is Emeritus Professor of Social Work at West Virginia University and an interdisciplinary scholar. Much of whose work has focused on applying the concept of the commons to voluntary action in the third sector. His recent work includes a book manuscript tentatively titled "Voluntary Action and the New Commons." He is also the author of the award-winning book "The Commons: New Perspectives on Nonprofit Organization, Voluntary Action and Philanthropy."

Megan Davies Mennes: To The Troll Who Called My Son Ugly

Megan Davies Mennes: To The Troll Who Called My Son Ugly 2014-04-21

Dear @JusesCrustHD,

Since I started blogging about my son Quinn and his disability, I knew this day would come. There's no shortage of trolls on the Internet who hide behind the anonymity of a screen name with the intent to be cruel, and I've seen their hostility many times before. In fact, in the wake of a recent robbery at the Down Syndrome Association of Houston's headquarters, in which $10,000 worth of technology was stolen, there was no shortage of ignorant comments on the news story reporting the incident. One user asked, "how will they learn to count to potato?" Another claimed that wasting computers on "retards" was stupid anyway and that the organization deserved to be robbed. These comments, while offensive, simply serve to showcase people's hate-fueled ignorance and aren't worth my time. I grimace when I read them, but realize there's little to be done about such stupidity. But last Saturday, you targeted my son personally and instead of being angry, I'd like to give you some advice: Don't be a d*ck. It will come back to haunt you.

I don't want to make assumptions about you, but I can only guess that you know little about the helplessness that parents feel when caring for a sick infant with respiratory issues. Quinn was sick last week, but was feeling much better by Friday. We decided to sit in the backyard and soak up the sun after school. There aren't many things in this world more beautiful than seeing your recently-ill child light up in a smile, and I snapped a few photos to celebrate his recovery, then posted them on Instagram with the hashtag "#downsyndrome." I love to look through those photos myself in my spare time, because damn if those kiddos aren't adorable. Of course, you feel differently because you, JusesCrustHD, found this photo and left a comment with one simple word:

Ugly.

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The fact that you find my child ugly is one thing. You are entitled to your opinion. But the fact that you intentionally search #downsyndrome to find pictures to insult (sadly, Quinn is not the only victim of your behavior; I came across many other inflammatory responses) is both childish and sad. Your profile is also full of offensive posts and crude statements. In one such photo, featuring two kids with Down syndrome and the word "wiitard," you get bent out of shape because many, MANY people called you on your prejudice. You claim it was a joke and that people should lighten up. But what about purposefully seeking out pictures of our children? What about the fact that a beautiful photograph of my son was tarnished by your hatred? That's not a joke. That's cyberbullying. Needless to say, I reported your profile.

This will not be the last time someone discounts my son because he is different. It will not be the last time someone makes a joke at his expense, but to actively seek out actual people to tease goes beyond cruel. It's inhuman.

I recognize that you want to see me get worked up about your little "joke." I'll be honest; it's hard not to be angry about it, but I can't allow myself to carry that weight on my shoulders. I can't allow myself to feel anything but sorry for an individual with so little tact. Because in end, you will be the one to face the consequences of your choices someday. There are few people in this world who tolerate that kind of backwards thinking, and you'll eventually mouth off to the wrong person. My guess is that you already have, which is why you hide behind a screen name.

God knows there were plenty of cruel adolescent boys in my time: boys who took pleasure in pranks and jokes at others' expense. There were even a few of them that were directed at me, but it gave me tough skin and I grew from the experience of facing such mistreatment. Maybe that's why I'm willing to let this one go; I know where most of those boys ended up, and it's nowhere I'd want to be. And as a teacher, I've seen kids like you crash and burn. Go outside. Read a book. Compliment someone. Most importantly, enlighten yourself; there's already enough cruelty in this world, and anyone worth their salt should be striving to make this place better, not worse.

I simply hope my own children learn to look past ignorant comments and actions and treat others with respect and dignity. We all deserve it, even you.

Sincerely,

A Proud Mama

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Tom Engelhardt: Too Big To Jail? Why Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination, And P

Tom Engelhardt: Too Big To Jail? Why Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination, And Perjury Are No Longer Crimes In Washington 2014-04-21

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

How the mighty have fallen.  Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars.  Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history -- the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program.  A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public.  It was considered a serious breach of national security.  On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a U.S. district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was "a very serious one" and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass." It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president’s ear.

In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains -- as yet -- a grim Washington fairy tale.  There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that's all.  He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.

A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the 13-month jail term.  Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to “an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.”  He stood before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009. 

Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence -- the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state.  Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that’s leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.

If this weren't Washington 2014, but rather George Orwell’s novel 1984, then the sign emblazoned on the front of the Ministry of Truth -- “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” -- would have to be amended to add a fourth slogan: Knowledge is Crime.

Seven Free Passes for the National Security State

With Cartwright as a possible exception, the members of the national security state, unlike the rest of us, exist in what might be called “post-legal” America.  They know that, no matter how heinous the crime, they will not be brought to justice for it.  The list of potentially serious criminal acts for which no one has had to take responsibility in a court of law is long, and never tabulated in one place.  Consider this, then, an initial run-down on seven of the most obvious crimes and misdemeanors of this era for which no one has been held accountable.

*Kidnapping: After 9/11, the CIA got into kidnapping in a big way.  At least 136 “terror suspects” and possibly many more (including completely innocent people) were kidnapped off the streets of global cities, as well as from the backlands of the planet, often with the help of local police or intelligence agencies.  Fifty-four other countries were enlisted in the enterprise.  The prisoners were delivered either into the Bush administration’s secret global system of prisons, also known as “black sites,” to be detained and mistreated, or they were “rendered” directly into the hands of torturing regimes from Egypt to Uzbekistan.  No American involved has been brought to court for such illegal acts (nor did the American government ever offer an apology, no less restitution to anyone it kidnapped, even those who turned out not to be “terror suspects”).  One set of CIA agents was, however, indicted in Italy for a kidnapping and rendition to Egypt.  Among them was the Agency’s Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady.  He had achieved brief notoriety for overseeing a la dolce vita version of rendition and later fled the country for the United States.  Last year, he was briefly taken into custody in Panama, only to be spirited out of that country and back to safety by the U.S. government.

*Torture (and other abuses): Similarly, it will be no news to anyone that, in their infamous "torture memos," officials of the Bush Justice Department freed CIA interrogators to “take the gloves off” and use what were euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” against offshore prisoners in the Global War on Terror.  These “techniques” included “waterboarding,” once known as “the water torture,” and long accepted even in this country as a form of torture.  On coming to office, President Obama rejected these practices, but refused to prosecute those who practiced them.  Not a single CIA agent or private contractor involved was ever charged, no less brought to trial, nor was anyone in the Bush Justice Department or the rest of an administration which green-lighted these practices and whose top officials reportedly saw them demonstrated in the White House.

To be accurate, a single member of the national security state has gone to prison thanks to the CIA’s torture program.  That was John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who tortured no one, but offended the Obama administrations by turning whistleblower and going public about Agency torture.  He is now serving a 30-month prison sentence “for disclosing a covert operative’s name to a reporter.” In other words, the only crime that could be prosecuted in connection with the Agency's torture campaign was one that threatened to let the American public know more about it.

Now, however, thanks to leaks from the embattled Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and torture program, we know that the Agency "used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters."  In other words, its agents went beyond even those techniques approved in the torture memos, which in turn means that they acted illegally even by the standards of the Bush administration.  This should be an obvious signal for the beginning of prosecutions, but -- not surprisingly -- it looks like the only prosecution on the horizon might be of whoever leaked parts of the unreleased Senate report to McClatchy News.

*The destruction of evidence of a crime: To purposely destroy evidence in order to impede a future investigation of possible criminal acts is itself, of course, a crime.  We know that such a thing did indeed happen.  Jose Rodriguez, Jr., the head of CIA clandestine operations, destroyed 92 videotapes of the repeated waterboardings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks, and alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, “tapes that he had been explicitly told to preserve as part of an official investigation.”  The Justice Department investigated his act, but never charged him.  He has since defended himself in a book, Hard Measures, saying that he was, in essence, “tired of waiting for Washington's bureaucracy to make a decision that protected American lives.”  He is still free and writing op-eds for the Washington Post defending the interrogation program whose tapes he destroyed.

*The planning of an extralegal prison system: As is now well known, a global network of extralegal prisons, or “black sites," at which acts of torture and abuse of every sort could be committed was set up at the wishes of the highest officials of the Bush administration.  This system was created specifically to avoid putting terror suspects into the U.S. legal system.  In that sense, it was by definition extralegal, if not illegal.  It represented, that is, a concerted effort to avoid any of the constraints or oversight that U.S. law or the U.S. courts might have imposed on the treatment of detainees.  This was a well-planned crime committed not under the rubric of war against any specific power, but of a global war without end against al-Qaeda and like-minded groups.

*The killing of detainees in that extralegal system: The deaths of detainees in CIA custody in offshore (or borrowed) prisons as a result of harsh treatment ordered by their Agency handlers was not considered a crime.  In two cases -- in the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq -- such deaths were investigated by the Justice Department, but no one was ever charged.  In the case of Gul Rahman, the prisoner in the Salt Pit, according to the Washington Post, “a CIA officer allegedly ordered Afghan guards in November 2002 to strip Rahman and chain him to the concrete floor of his cell. Temperatures plunged overnight, and Rahman froze to death. Hypothermia was listed as the cause of death and Rahman was buried in an unmarked grave.”  (In a rare case brought before a military court, a low-level Army interrogator was convicted of “killing an Iraqi general by stuffing him face-first into a sleeping bag,” and sentenced to “forfeit $6,000 of his salary over the next four months, receive a formal reprimand, and spend 60 days restricted to his home, office, and church.”)

*Assassination: Once upon a time, off-the-books assassination was generally a rare act of state and always one that presidents could deny responsibility for.  Now, it is part of everyday life in the White House and at the CIA.  The president’s role as assassin-in-chief, as the man who quite literally makes the final decision on whom to kill, has been all-but-publicly promoted as a political plus.  The drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, though “covert” and run by a civilian agency (with much secret help from the U.S. Air Force) are openly reported on in the media and discussed as a seeming point of pride by those involved.  In 2009, for instance, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta didn’t hesitate to enthusiastically praise the drone attacks in Pakistan as “the only game in town.” And best of all, they are “legal.”  We know this because the White House had the Justice Department prepare a 50-page document on their legality that it has refused to release to the public.  In these campaigns in the backlands of distant places where there are seldom reporters, we nonetheless know that thousands of people have died, including significant numbers of children.  Being run by a civilian agency, they cannot in any normal sense be “acts of war.”  In another world, they would certainly be considered illegal and possibly war crimes, as Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has suggested.  Top officials have taken responsibility for these acts, including the drone killings in Yemen of four American citizens condemned to death by a White House that has enthusiastically taken on the role of judge, jury, and executioner.  No one involved, however, will ever see a day in court.

*Perjury before Congress: Lying to Congress in public testimony is, of course, perjury.  Among others, we know that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper committed it in a strikingly bald-faced way on March 12, 2013.  When asked by Senator Ron Wyden whether the NSA had gathered “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans” -- a question submitted to him a day in advance -- Clapper answered, “No, sir.  Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”  This was a lie, pure and simple, as the Snowden revelations on the NSA’s gathering of phone metadata on all Americans (including, assumedly, our congressional representatives) would later make clear.  Clapper subsequently apologized, saying that he spoke in what he called “the least untruthful” way possible, which, were crime on anyone’s mind, would essentially have been a confession.  Congress did nothing.  Just in case you wondered, Clapper remains the director of national intelligence with the “support” of the president.

Mind you, the above seven categories don’t even take into account the sort of warrantless surveillance of Americans that should have put someone in a court of law, or the ways in which various warrior corporations overbilled or cheated the government in its war zones, or the ways private contractors “ran wild” in those same zones.  Even relatively low-level crimes by minor figures in the national security state have normally not been criminalized.  Take, for example, the private surveillance of and cyberstalking of “love interests,” or “LOVEINT,” by NSA employees using government surveillance systems.  The NSA claims that at least one employee was “disciplined” for this, but no one was taken to court.  A rare exception: a number of low level military figures in the Abu Ghraib scandal were tried for their abusive actions, convicted, and sent to jail, though no one higher than a colonel was held accountable in court for those infamously systematic and organized acts of torture and abuse.

Too Big to Fail, National Security-Style

All in all, as with the banks after the meltdown of 2007-2008, even the most obvious of national security state crimes seem to fall into a "too big to fail”-like category.  Call it "too big to jail."  The only crime that repeatedly makes it out of the investigative phase and into court -- as with Stephen Kim, Chelsea Manning, and John Kiriakou -- is revealing information the national security state holds dear.  On that, the Obama administration has been fierce and prosecutorial.

Despite the claims of national security breaches in such cases, most of the leakers and whistleblowers of our moment have had little to offer in the way of information that might benefit Washington’s official enemies.  What Kim told Fox News about the North Korean nuclear program was hardly likely to have been news to the North Koreans, just as the Iranians are believed to have already known what General Cartwright may have leaked to the Times about the origins of the Stuxnet virus.

Of course, leaking is a habit that’s often considered quite useful by those in power.  It’s little short of a sport in Washington, done whenever officials feel it to be to their advantage or the advantage of an administration, even if what's at stake are “secret” programs like the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan.  What’s still up in the air -- and to be tested -- is whether leaking information in the government’s supposed interest could, in fact, be a crime.  And that’s where General Cartwright comes in.  If there is, in fact, but a single crime that can be committed within the national security state for which our leaders now believe jail time is appropriate, how wide is the category and is knowledge always a crime when it ends up in the wrong brains?

If there were one man of power and prominence who might join Kim, Kiriakou, Manning, and Edward Snowden (should the U.S. government ever get its hands on him), it might be Cartwright.  It’s a long shot, but here’s what he doesn’t have going for him.  He was an insider who was evidently an outsider.  He was considered "a lone wolf" who went to the president privately, behind the backs of, and to the evident dismay of, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense.  He seems to have had few supporters in the Pentagon and to have alienated key Republican senators.  He could, in short, prove the single sacrificial lamb in the national security state.

In Washington today, knowledge is the only crime.  That’s a political reality of the twenty-first century.  Get used to it.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story.

Adam Levin: The Hr Decision That Could Sink Your Business

Adam Levin: The Hr Decision That Could Sink Your Business 2014-04-21

Your human resources department plays a vital role in how your company gets things done. It makes sure you are staffed properly, that benefits are administered and many other important obligations are met in a timely manner.

If the Heartbleed fiasco taught us anything, it's that there are myriad ways your company can be affected by security issues. Your HR department is vulnerable, too, and the most dangerous fallout comes increasingly from tax-related identity theft. Last year the, IRS issued more than $4 billion in misdirected tax refunds to fraudsters. On average, a victim has to wait more than six months to receive money stolen from them in this way, and they have to jump through a number of hoops to get it. The IRS has responded by making its filters more sophisticated and hiring more than 3,000 caseworkers, but the problem persists and is, in fact, growing to the consternation of government, law enforcement and taxpayers.

Brian Krebs reported on a new scam recently in which cyber thieves had stolen W-2s and other employee personal information from a cloud server provided by Ultimate Software's UltiPro. In addition to providing a place where HR professionals can store employee information and other vital HR files, the cloud also provides an irresistible opportunity for cyber criminals. According to Krebs, the crime ring that hacked into UltiPro had created crimeware that was even available for licensing to other criminals. It allowed the fraudsters to track tax returns filed fraudulently on behalf of almost every employee with a W-2 on file with the affected companies.

It used to be that a company's intellectual property and trade secrets -- from search engine algorithms to the secret sauce -- were the most important assets to protect. That's still the case, but increasingly employee information is just as valuable. Fail to protect it, and your company could be exposed to significant penalties and fines, as well as a wave of enterprise-killing lawsuits.

Good Housekeeping

The FTC has created Identity Theft Prevention tools for the workplace. Here are some best practices that will help: Remember that every line item of personally identifiable information (PII) that your company collects could be used to ruin someone's life, and that the potential to your company liability is enormous. Thoroughly vet your cloud service provider and check references. Only send double-encryption docs to the cloud. PII should be released on a need-to-know basis, and generally if the person who needs to know isn't the person whose PII is requested, you shouldn't share it. Remember that no job reference needs to include a request for PII. Create a role in your HR Department with oversight on compliance regarding how and when PII gets moved around, because transport provides opportunities for cyber crimes. Make sure all of your security procedures are up to date, and all software is updated, too. The security compliance officer that you've designated is the right person for the job. Design and implement a tough data retention and destruction policy. Shred any paper records containing information you wouldn't want a third party to have when you determine they are no longer useful to you. Don't use Social Security numbers as the unique identifier for your employees. (Unfortunately, this is still done at many companies!) Consider having a no-BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy among your HR staff, or make sure there is strict security compliance on personal equipment. We live in an age where the third certainty in life is that you will have to deal with a data breach. I've written elsewhere about preparing for that. At close of the day, you want the "R" in HR to stand for "resource" and not "radioactivity." By developing strict data security standards and properly training your HR personnel (continuously) to respect and utilize best practices, you can help your HR department to keep things running on time.

If you're concerned that the security practices in your workplace HR office has left your personal information vulnerable, there are ways to monitor for fraud that may have occurred in your name as a result. By checking your credit reports regularly, and by monitoring your credit scores for unexpected drops (which you can do for free on Credit.com), you may discover signs that your identity has been stolen.

Rana Florida: 5 Things Entrepreneurs Need From Their Cities

Rana Florida: 5 Things Entrepreneurs Need From Their Cities 2014-04-21

Every city hopes to attract the next Facebook, Google, Instagram or Twitter. To lure such entrepreneurial startups, they follow the same route that city leaders of their grandparents' generation did -- cutting taxes, easing regulations, and in general trying to create a business-friendly climate. But what are entrepreneurs really looking for in a city?

At the second annual Startup City: Miami, a conference that The Atlantic, The Knight Foundation and the Creative Class Group recently held, a number of notable entrepreneurs addressed exactly that question. Their answers came down to five key things:

1. A culture of yes. Bureaucrats may believe that they are formalizing best practices and fairness, but too often they shoot themselves in the foot by instituting cumbersome processes that discourage startups and new companies from doing business in their cities. "No, you can't do that." No, that's not how we do it." "No, that is not our process." New businesses add jobs, help neighborhoods, and expand the tax base. Cities need to train both their leadership and workforce to find their way to yes.

2. Talent. It's a simple concept. If you're going to launch a business you need a team of the best and brightest to help it succeed. Having access to a deep pool of skilled and ambitious workers is key.

3. Diversity. Entrepreneurs want to be able to draw on the talents of a diverse workforce with different perspectives, who can contribute new ideas and discover new things. They are looking for cities that are open and accepting of everyone, whether they are young, old, straight, gay, or of any racial background or national origin.

4. Amenities. Entrepreneurs value quality of place. They are bored with nerdistans and suburban office parks surrounded by acres of parking lots. They are looking for vibrant downtowns, with walkability, access to restaurants, arts and culture, and green spaces where they can recharge and re-engage.

5. Transportation networks. Entrepreneurs are constantly on the move. They need access to the international airports, highways, and local transit that can keep them connected to their customers, suppliers, and backers--whether they are halfway around the world or just across town.

Rana Florida is the author of the best-selling book Upgrade, Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary. 2014-04-07-Screenshot20140407at10.41.10AM.png

Susie Moore: 6 Ways Change Will Transform You

Susie Moore: 6 Ways Change Will Transform You 2014-04-21

Age 30, I am in my second marriage, third career, and fifth country of residence. I still crave and welcome change in my life. I gravitate toward people with wide and varied life experiences. Anyone who has ever read Who Moved My Cheese? or a similar text will know the importance of adapting to change -- especially change created against our will. This includes careers, relationships, living circumstances and, the older we get, even just "the times." These changes are inevitable whether or not we like we like them.

I would like to focus on change that we generate. Driving positive change in our lives. Taking risks. Shaking things up. Believe it or not, change is our biggest teacher. It is our examiner. Sometimes it feels like our enemy. But it will always be a love in our life when we look back.

Here are six ways that change transforms us:

1. We see things differently.

Routine allows us to go through life without thinking too much. Change forces us to look at things with fresh sight.

2. We have a beginner's mind.

This is a concept in Zen Buddhism, referring to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject for the first time. This openness makes us feel young and present. Only something unfamiliar can invoke this. In a new situation, we rely on ourselves and come back to who we truly are.

3. We are vulnerable.

Changes allow us to remember we don't know it all and we don't have all the answers. Surprisingly, everything still works out OK. Vulnerability does not mean that we are not safe.

4. We are humble.

Openness and vulnerability to new circumstances makes us humble and removes our ego. Humility is much closer to our higher self.

5. We are grateful.

Change can remind us of how much we have. Starting a new business venture or having the courage to leave an unhappy relationship can remind us that we are stronger than we understand, or that we have loving friends and family. When we go through change, we value most what remains constant.

6. We are enlightened.

Change changes us. It reminds us that the only real truth is who we are, our essence of being and the love we feel. This builds our inner strength and resolve for more change. And more change is guaranteed.

I read a story once about a girl in a European plane accident who said it was the best thing that happened in her life, despite some permanent injuries in her body. She said when she woke up in her recovery it was her first spiritual awakening. Her physical changes, the traumatic experience, the fatal outcome that was so close transformed her.

Change is liberating and healing and plain unavoidable. The more we welcome it, the more profoundly positive its impact. We know we can survive and overcome.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh said it best: "Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found."

Victor Stenger: Christianity And Modern Science

Victor Stenger: Christianity And Modern Science 2014-04-21

Christianity, as practiced by billions of people worldwide, still rests on a foundation that was erected by desert tribesmen who lived thousands of years ago in a tiny spot on a the surface of a planet that itself is, as we now know, an infinitesimal speck in an immense universe. Many of the original concepts of these tribesmen, as recorded in the Old and New Testaments and built upon over time by tradition, deeply conflict with the discoveries of modern science. Today's Christians must resolve these differences if they are to claim, as most do, that Christianity and science are perfectly compatible.

Other religions make similar claims, but allow me to focus on Christianity where we find the greatest efforts by apologists to reconcile their faith with science.

Perhaps 20 percent of American Christians regard the Bible as literal and inerrant, and so are unwilling to accept the facts revealed by science that contradict Scripture. As far as fundamentalists are concerned, they know the truth and science is simply wrong. They think scientists are all a bunch of frauds.

However, most Christians can judge, just from looking at the world around them with all its technological marvels, that science cannot be so simply dismissed. Science is the most successful and powerful activity humans have ever undertaken. In this essay I'm going to show what a difficult task science-savvy Christians have in reconciling many of the most basic tenets of their faith with science.

Let's start with the first words of the Bible, which are usually translated as: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." At the time these words were written, the conception of the universe that was common throughout Canaan and Mesopotamia was a more-or-less flat Earth resting on water. Above are the heavens in which the sun, moon, planets, and stars circle around Earth. And, in the Hebrew version, above it all God sits on his throne looking down upon his most beloved creation -- us.

Although more sophisticated cosmologies were developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, these were rejected by the Catholic Church when it took control of the Roman Empire in the fourth century of the Common Era. This ushered in the period known as the Dark Ages that did not end until the Renaissance a thousand years later.

Europe emerged from the Dark Ages in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the rise of the new science. The development of the telescope, first turned on the heavens by Galileo in 1609, provided irrefutable evidence that Earth is not at the center of the universe -- as was commonly believed until then. Instead, the telescope showed that Earth is just another planet revolving about the sun.

With this impetus, observation replaced divine revelation as the primary source of authority for our knowledge of the world. With that, Europe moved into the scientific age since that is the basic principle of science and the one most at odds with the principles of religion.

Over the next 400 years, telescopes and other instruments steadily improved and our knowledge of the cosmos expanded beyond anyone's imagination. In the twentieth century, instruments on Earth and in space discovered that our sun is just one of hundreds of billions of stars in a galaxy we know as the Milky Way. And, the Milky Way itself is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible universe.

Our universe originated 13.8 billion years ago in an explosion, called the big bang. The Hubble Space Telescope has detected galaxies that were over 13 billion light-years away from Earth when the light we observe first left them.

Most educated people are aware of these facts, but perhaps not the latest discoveries, which are even more mind-boggling.

I'm sure you have all read about the recent discovery of gravity waves from the early universe generated by the big bang. This provides strong evidence that immediately after it came into existence, our universe underwent an exponential expansion of many orders of magnitude called inflation. As a result, an even vaster part of our universe, originating from the same big bang, lies beyond what is visible from Earth -- where light has not had time to reach us in 13.8 billion years. This region is at least a hundred orders of magnitude larger than the portion we can see from Earth. If Earth is a speck of dust in the visible universe, our visible universe of 100 billion galaxies is but a speck of dust in an even vaster universe.

Furthermore, inflationary cosmology, supported by the new discoveries, implies that we live in an infinite and eternal multiverse composed of an endless number of universes of which ours is just one. This means there was no beginning, no creation. If there was no creation, then there was no Creator.

While we have not yet observed other universes, they are in principle detectable by their effects on the cosmic microwave background. Don't rule that out such an observation in the not-to-distant future. There are already some hints in the data from space telescopes. By the same token, if future observations should not show the expected deviation from spherical symmetry, the multiverse hypothesis might be falsified. This alone justifies treating the multiverse as a legitimate scientific hypothesis and discussing the philosophical and theological consequences.

Now, clearly scientific cosmology bears no resemblance to the cosmology described in Genesis, where Earth, the sun, and the stars were divinely created about 6,000 years ago. In fact, Earth and the solar system were formed 4.5 billion years ago, some 9 billion years after the big bang.

If Christians are to accept science, they have to admit that the Bible is not a reliable source of information about the natural world. And why should we believe it is a reliable source of information about anything? The creation story in Genesis is a myth. And, it is not the only story in the Bible that science can now prove is largely fiction.

Archaeology has revealed that Exodus and the conquests of Joshua are almost certainly fictional, and no evidence has been found for a great Jewish empire ruled by David and Solomon. At best they were minor tribal chieftains. How do Christians (and Jews) deal with these established scientific facts? No covenant with God? No Ten Commandments? No Promised Land?

Actually, intellectual Christians today are gradually disassociating themselves from the God of the Old Testament, who is certainly an unpleasant character. Thank goodness he is fictional. But it is not so easy to disregard the New Testament, which essentially defines Christianity.

A basic tenet of Christian belief holds that God is the creator of all there is, that the universe had a beginning a finite time ago and will end at some finite time in the future with the Second Coming, which has already been put off for 2,000 years. Jesus said it would happen in a generation.

But let's start with creation. The first major conflict with physical science that the science-savvy Christian must reconcile is the possibility, as I have said is strongly implied by inflationary cosmology, that the universe was not created but is part of a far greater reality that had no beginning and will have no end. How can there be a Creator if there was no creation?

Similarly, Christianity can hardly abandon its notion of a supreme being who has a special interest in humans, listening to their every thought, answering their prayers, and providing those he specially selects with eternal life. Without these minimal attributes, a belief system can no longer be called Christianity.

Throughout the Old Testament, God intervenes with his chosen people, the Jews, providing them with laws to follow and punishing them severely when they disobey those laws or show him disrespect by worshipping other gods, which they often did. In the New Testament, God goes even further in his direct involvement with humans by coming down to Earth himself in the form of a man, Jesus Christ, who dies to atone for humanity's sins. In just the last few months, we've learned from the Kepler space telescope, launched by NASA in 2009, that there are far more planets in the universe than astronomers ever imagined. It was previously thought that only stars like our sun could have planets, and they are relatively rare. We can now say that planets are common in most stellar systems including those with stars very different from the sun that are also more numerous.

We already know from our failure to find life outside Earth in our own solar system that life is not very common. But it is hard to imagine that the universe is not in fact teeming with life, perhaps very different from ours, but still life. And even if intelligent life is highly improbable, there are still likely to be trillions of planets with sentient life forms. According to Christians, all of this is presided over by their personal God. It's unthinkable that God only rules over Earth.

We have no scientific reason to think that life is so improbable that it only happened once, on one planet out of quadrillions in 13.8 billion years. Yet Christians believe that only they have a special relationship with God. In this view, of all the other sentient beings in God's creation, only humans required redemption. But, how does that reconcile with the Christian teaching that humans were made in the image of God? Shouldn't we be the least sinful creatures -- not the most? Shouldn't we be the least in need of redemption? Not the only ones. And, if we are God's favorites, why did he create this vast universe, wait nine billion years before making us, and then confine us to this tiny speck of dust rather than making it possible for us to live anywhere, even in space?

Moving from cosmology, we can't point to a single observed fact about the world around us that is indisputably the result of an action by a force outside of nature. That doesn't mean we have a natural explanation for everything. We never will. But no one has ever proved that a natural explanation for some particular phenomenon -- any phenomenon -- is impossible.

Christian theologians who agree that science has found no evidence for God have made heroic efforts to develop a plausible mechanism by which God can act in the physical world without that act being detected. I wrote about these in my 2009 book Quantum Gods. But I can't imagine why God would want to hide from us.

So far, the attempts to explain the hiddenness of God have not succeeded. The best apologists can do is come up with a modern deist god, who creates the world and then goes away, leaving it to carry on by its own means. But that's not the Christian God.

Let's move to biological evolution. I just have a short addition to the arguments between creationists and evolutionists that are, no doubt, already very familiar to readers.

While Catholics and moderate Christians claim to accept evolution, surveys indicate that most are not thinking of the theory of evolution, as it is understood by science. They say they believe in God-guided evolution, which is just another form of intelligent design. These Christians need to recognize that Darwinian evolution by natural selection has no design, intelligent or stupid. It has no need for guidance. Evolution is the result of random mutations and the unavoidable fact that only those organisms with the ability to survive, do survive. Natural selection is not a law of nature. It's a tautology.

Theologians correctly point out that we do not yet have an accepted theory for a natural origin of life. Evolution does not currently deal with that issue. It assumes that some form of primitive life already existed when the process of natural selection got underway. However, we have no reason to think that a natural origin of life is impossible. Life is basically a property that material systems develop when they reach a sufficiently high level of complexity.

It is commonly believed that complexity can only arise from an even higher level of complexity. This is dead wrong. There are many examples in nature showing how complex systems often spontaneously emerge from simpler ones. The best example is the way water passes naturally from a simple gas to a more complex liquid, and then to a very complex solid we call ice. Consider the complex beauty of a snowflake compared to the structureless water vapor from which it formed. It takes energy to reverse the process, to melt ice or vaporize a snowflake. In other words, an external action is needed to make complex things simple. No external action is needed to make simple things complex.

Next let's look at the world of human behavior, which is still in the purview of science since it involves observations. Christians certainly do a lot of highly visible public praying (despite Jesus discouraging the practice in Matt 6:5, calling it hypocritical). While not all prayers involve entreaties to God to take some action on behalf of the supplicant, many if not most have that purpose. In the two millennia since the birth of Christianity countless prayers have been offered. You would think that by now, God would have answered some for which the result could be independently verified.

In recent years, competent groups of scientists from reputable institutions such as Duke, Harvard, and the Mayo Clinic have tested for the efficacy of intercessory prayer on medical outcomes. They found none. Christians need to ask themselves why prayer is so ineffective.

You often hear it said that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Prayer is an example of how the absence of evidence that should be there but is not constitutes evidence of absence. The absence of evidence that prayer works can be considered evidence for the absence of a God who answers prayers.

Another basic tenet of Christian belief is the promise of eternal life. People have written best-selling books describing alleged visits to heaven while on the operating table, where they were close to death before being resuscitated. This is the so-called near-death experience. Some describe floating above the table and observing everything below. But controlled studies have failed to confirm any of their claims. Furthermore, there is no evidence that they were "brain dead" during what have all the earmarks of purely natural hallucinations.

A simple test can be made for any claimed religious experience. From the time of Paul's possible epileptic attack on the road to Damascus to now, no one returning from such a mystical event has been able to demonstrate its veracity by providing some revelation that could be verified. For example, a subject might meet Jimmy Hoffa in the next world and he tells her were where he's buried. If the authorities then go to the spot and dig up his bones, then we would have reason to take the existence of another world seriously. But nothing like this has ever happened.

The possession by humans of an immortal soul is fundamental to Christian belief. Christian tradition has long associated the mind with the soul. Otherwise, how can our thoughts and memories survive death? For almost two centuries, scientists, who were mostly Christians, have sought to find evidence for the soul. They have studied so-called psychic phenomena, such as ESP and mind-over-matter, which would indicate that the mind has supernatural powers. Although many positive claims have been reported, in all that time, no evidence for psychic powers has been found that stands up under scientific scrutiny.

The association of mind with the soul is further undermined by the fact that our thoughts and memories are affected by disease, drugs, and brain trauma. If consciousness is unphysical, why do we lose it under anesthesia or a blow to the head? If all our memories are stored in our physical brains, how can they survive when the brain crumbles into dust?

One of the most misused words in the English language is "spiritual." People use it to describe their more profound thoughts such as love or joy. Today many individuals who have become disenchanted with organized religion and all its negative effects on society describe themselves as "not religious but spiritual."

Even if not part of any religious tradition, the implication remains that another realm exists outside the realm of matter -- a realm of the spirit. However, we now know a lot about the brain from neuroscience. Brain imaging techniques, especially functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have located regions of the brain where certain thoughts, including emotions and even religious experiences, take place. There is absolutely no sign of any immaterial element in the process, no evidence for stuff called spirit.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, we will have neural network machines that think just as well as humans--if not better--and experience emotions. It's now past 2001, but Hal may be just around the corner.

Of course, we still have a lot more to learn about the brain. Scientists and philosophers have not yet reached a consensus on the nature of consciousness. But they have no reason to think that anything supernatural is involved.

I've covered a lot so let me summarize the points I have tried to make:

Archaeology has conclusively demonstrated that key events in the Old Testament, such as Exodus and the conquests of Joshua, never happened. There was no covenant with God. No Ten Commandments. No Promised Land. The universe is much vaster than most people realize and extends far beyond a horizon where light has not had time to reach us. Not only is Earth a tiny speck, our visible universe of 100 billion galaxies is also just a speck in the total cosmos generated by the big bang. Christians must reconcile this fact with their belief that humans are the special creation of God. Inflationary cosmology has just received a major boost with the discovery of primordial gravity waves. This makes it quite possible that the cosmos is infinite and eternal, a multiverse of many universes, in which case there was no creation since there was no beginning. If there was no creation, there was no Creator. The multiverse is a testable hypothesis. We have recently learned that the visible universe has quadrillions of planets in the habitable zones of stars. Our universe is very likely to be teeming with sentient life, though because of the immense distances we are unlikely to ever be in contact. Are we the only ones in the need of redemption? Most Christians who say they believe on evolution really do not. They believe in God-guided evolution, which is not Darwinian evolution. Complex systems in nature do not require something more complex to produce them. Many occur spontaneously from simpler systems. There is no evidence that prayers are answered. All our thoughts and memories reside in the physical brain. It is very unlikely that they will survive death. They will die when our brains die. Mystical experiences provide no evidence that they are not all in the head. In short, there are many conflicts between science and basic Christian beliefs that are irreconcilable. Science is not likely to change to accommodate Christianity. If Christianity changes to accommodate science, it will be difficult to still call it Christianity.

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This essay is based on a talk given to the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, April 16, 2014.

Leo W. Gerard: The Terrible Fear Of Paying The Poor Too Much

Leo W. Gerard: The Terrible Fear Of Paying The Poor Too Much 2014-04-21

Republicans in America suffer a crippling anxiety. It’s the terrible fear of corporations paying poor workers too much.

The GOP is so afraid that the nation’s lowest wage earners will get a raise that Republican politicians across the country are working overtime to outlaw wages above $7.25 an hour for these workers. 

They’re passing legislation forbidding towns and counties from raising the minimum wage in their jurisdictions. Republicans insist: no pay bump for those raking in $15,080 a year! On the other side, however, there’s no amount of pay, perks, private jets, premium health plans and golden parachutes that Republican politicians believe could possibly be too much for a CEO.

That Oracle CEO Larry Ellison took home $78,440,657 last year is completely reasonable in the minds of Republicans. That it would take a minimum wage earner 5,201 years to earn what Larry took out of his company for one 365-day period is, according to Republican-think, a morally correct calculation.

That is why Republicans are working so hard to prevent Walmart and McDonald’s workers from earning more money while, at the same time, doing nothing but congratulating Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus for grabbing $79.9 million for six weeks of work.

Republican Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, is among them. She signed a law last week forbidding towns in her state from increasing the minimum wage. Fallin, whose state lays claim to the third highest proportion of minimum wage earners in the country, a percentage that rose from 2011 to 2012, justified denying these workers a few extra pennies an hour by saying that would raise prices.

She and her GOP cohorts haven’t fussed at all, however, about the cable bill increases likely to result from Marcus’ proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the corporate marriage which would result in that $79.9 million dowry payment to him.

Republican state lawmaker Chris Kapenga of Wisconsin responded like Fallin to a proposal by the Milwaukee County Board to raise the minimum wage for county workers and contractors. Kapenga’s legislation would prohibit local governments from doing that – even though two other Wisconsin counties already had. Kapenga’s proposal, which would slice the paychecks of hundreds of Wisconsin workers, has not passed. The Democratic-sponsored proposal to raise the rate in Milwaukee to $11.32, the amount necessary for a full-time worker to stave off poverty for a family of four, did pass. 

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Republicans are on the wrong side on this. Seventy-one percent of Americans would vote to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour if given the chance, Gallup found last year. And it’s happening. As Republicans in the House block President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum to $10.10 an hour, states and cities are doing it themselves.

A dozen states and four cities increased their minimum wage rates beginning Jan. 1. Since then, five states and the District of Columbia approved raises. When all of these take effect, half of the states will mandate wages higher than the federal minimum. And, in November, eight more states are expected to offer voters referendums on raising their rates. 

Still, Republicans inveigh against advances for the poorest. They say increasing the minimum wage would hurt businesses. They don’t care how much an unreasonably low minimum wage hurts workers. And at the same time, they believe James A. Skinner is worth every penny of the $28 million McDonald’s paid him in 2012.

They don’t believe that there are a dozen Wharton School MBAs who could take his place tomorrow and, frankly, sell hamburgers just as well for say, $280,000 rather than $28 million. They don’t see how his excessive pay might affect dividends to shareholders or the cost of fries. They’re blind to the fact that the majority of McDonald’s fans are willing to pay a few more cents for a Happy Meal if it means a higher wage for the struggling young mother serving the fast food. Republicans don’t believe in paying a living wage to workers they disrespect, like the home health aides providing loving 24-hour care to the frail grandmas of GOP politicians across this country, like the housekeepers who clean GOP presidential hopefuls’ hotel rooms as they campaign across the nation, like the McDonald’s workers denied paid sick days who make extraordinary efforts not to cough on the fries that super-sized Republicans stuff in their faces. 

Republicans do believe, though, that the $31 million CVS hands CEO Larry J. Merlo has no effect on the pharmacy’s prices, that the $26 million Ralph Lauren hands its namesake CEO has no effect on the heart-stopping prices he charges for his foreign sweatshop-sewn clothes, and that the $31 million Estee Lauder grants CEO Fabrizio Freda has no effect on the eye-popping prices Lauder charges for its powder and perfume.

The GOP believes CEOs deserve to pocket in one year what it would take the average worker 331 years of labor to earn – a ratio calculated by the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch team this year. CEOs are just so important, so special, so irreplaceable, according to the GOP.

They’re so much better than the heart surgeon who spends all day every day meticulously saving people’s lives. They’re 331 times as important as the firemen who rush into a burning home to save a woman’s life.  They’re 331 time more valuable than the policemen and paramedics who ran toward the sound of an explosion a year ago in Boston to rescue bomb victims. To Republicans, those CEOs are 331 times more precious than the teacher who nurtures the shy child, encourages the faltering student or refuses to abandon the recalcitrant pupil.

Republicans’ fear of paying too much is terrible. Not because of GOP angst. No, because it causes underpaid workers to suffer. Because it means Republicans are so enthralled with the 1 percent who write supersized campaign checks that they devalue the contributions of everyday workers to the welfare of America.  Because it means Republicans will continue to blockade efforts to resolve the growing income inequality that is rupturing the economy and the social cohesion of this nation.  

Peter Dreier: My Vinyl Offer

Peter Dreier: My Vinyl Offer 2014-04-21

We raised our twin daughters on Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Ella Jenkins, Tom Paxton, and assorted other folk singers who recorded children's albums. They enjoyed them as toddlers and adolescents, but by 12 they had left them behind in favor of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. Now they are 17. As the father of teenage girls, I have spent many hours driving them places while they listen to their favorite songs and singers on the car radio. Most of this music (like Bruno Mars, Imagine Dragons, Jay-Z, Adele, and Pink) strikes me as simplistic or silly -- no doubt just like my parents felt about my favorite songs and singers in the 1960s. Even so, I have discovered that I actually like a few of my daughters' favorite singers, like Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran, Civil Wars, and the remarkable (though still little-known) Hudson Taylor. But when I try to sing along, or just move around to the beat, the girls give me that look that means: "Daddy, don't try to be cool. You're too old." So I figured that I'd never bond with my daughters over music.

2014-04-21-AmeliawithSimonGarfunkelalbumApril202014.jpg Amelia with her favorite album and her new record player (photo by Terry Meng)

But something happened a few months ago that may have turned the tables -- literally. I was cleaning out the shelves in our living room cabinet. That is where my wife and I store our record collection, comprised mostly of 33 rpm vinyl albums from the 60s and 70s. We brought them with us when we moved to Los Angeles over 20 years ago. We hadn't listened to even one of them in all that time, but it was hard to part with them, since, like old letters and high school sports trophies, they connect us to our past. When we drove from Boston to LA, we depended on tape cassettes, which had replaced vinyl albums, to keep us entertained. Within a few years, though, we'd moved on to the CD stage of history. And just recently, we've become familiar with the strange new world of I-tunes, which allow music-lovers to create their own highly individualized albums instead of buying the pre-packaged versions. I rarely thought about our collection of more than 200 LPs, but when I did, I assumed that they had become warped and unplayable, and would eventually be thrown in the trash to be recycled into some polluting plastic product. But a few months ago, our daughter Amelia started to look at our LPs and then started asking questions about them, including "will these still work?" I told her that the vinyl records had probably warped. And even if they were in mint condition, I pointed out, we didn't own a "record player" -- a phrase I hadn't used in years and which, to Amelia, probably sounded like "typewriter." But she was curious enough to pick out some albums that caught her fancy and bring them to the house of a friend whose parents did own one of those old-fashioned music-playing machines. She was hooked, and asked us if we could get her a record player. We did, and for the past few months she's been spending lots of time in her room -- by herself and with her friends -- listening to Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, and even Procol Harum, whose "Whiter Shade of Pale" album cover is one of the most psychedelic ever produced. (I remember the covers of most of my albums as well as I remember the music). At some point I may ask her to listen to some of my more obscure (but much-loved) albums -- like the McGarrigle Sisters, Nina Simone, Fairport Convention, Laura Nyro, Tim Hardin, Odetta, the Roches, and Richie Havens. But right now I'm enjoying listening to my old favorites and enjoying even more watching Amelia enjoy them. It is strange to realize that most of these albums are 45 or 50 years old, purchased when I was in high school and college. To Amelia, these are ancient artifacts of an earlier civilization. But they constitute great music and I'm happy to see her appreciating them and asking questions about the artists and their songs, including my own memories. So I've told her about seeing a young Bob Dylan at a Greenwich Village coffee house before he'd released his first album, going to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in Asbury Park when I was in high school, attending a Simon & Garfunkel concert even before the soundtrack to "The Graduate" made them super-famous, and spending nights in my college dorm room with friends trying to figure out what "I Am A Rock" meant. She's already heard my stories about every Pete Seeger concert I ever went to, including the Newport Folk Festival. In today's high-tech world, it is comforting to hear Amelia say that she likes hearing the scratchy quality of the songs on vinyl records, which she considers a marker of authenticity. And Amelia isn't the only teenager who has rediscovered vinyl LPs. She's part of a trend. Just like video stores, record stores have fallen on hard times. Big chains like Tower and Virgin have gone out of business. But some independent stores have recently gotten a big boost selling both used LPs and re-issued albums. (To appear trendy, even stores like Urban Outfitters sell vinyl records). Rusty Gordon, co-owner of Canterbury Records in Pasadena (which was started by his father in 1956 and is now one of Amelia's favorite hang-outs) told me that there's always been a demand for vinyl LPs among jazz and rock aficionados, but he noticed a big jump in vinyl sales about five years ago and an "extra surge" in the past six months. Five years ago, vinyl records accounted for about 5 percent of his store's sales. Today, new and used vinyl LPs constitute more than 15 percent of Canterbury's sales and the momentum is "still building," Gordon says. The 6 million vinyl albums sold in the United States last year account for only about 1.4 percent of all album sales, but the number is growing steadily. According to Nielson SoundScan, vinyl album sales increased by 44 percent in 2010, 39 percent in 2011, 19 percent in 2012 and another 32 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, CD sales declined 14.5 percent last year. Teenagers, Gordon said, make up a big portion of the new consumer market for vinyl records. They mostly buy re-issued classic rock and folk-rock albums (the Beatles, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel) and newly-minted albums by indy rock favorites like The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, and Mumford & Sons. One of the most popular vinyl re-issues among teenager consumers is the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album. (Amelia, however, has the original album, thanks to her dad). What explains vinyl's new-found popularity among today's teenagers? "They think it sounds better," Gordon told me. "Plus, it's about as far as you can get from MP3s. They like the artwork on the covers, too." Amelia's bonding with my old vinyl albums may be a passing fancy or the beginning of a life-long love affair with this music. And, of course, she hasn't abandoned her contemporary favorites, whom she still listens to on the radio and I-tunes, and whose concerts and other gigs she still attends with her teenage friends. But I do get a special chill up my spine when I hear "The Sound of Silence" and "Blowin' in the Wind" coming from her room. Peter Dreier teaches Politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Robert Kuttner: Can Democrats Go Long?

Robert Kuttner: Can Democrats Go Long? 2014-04-21

For more than 30 years, the right has been throwing long passes. The Democrats, with some fine individual exceptions in the Senate and House, have been playing an incremental game, eking out gains of a few yards at a time and often being thrown for big losses.

Guess which side has been winning.

Four decades ago, supply side economics was a joke. The idea that cutting taxes on the very rich was the key to prosperity had been laughed out of the debate as "trickle down economics." Now low taxes on the rich -- even the dead rich -- are national policy.

Forty years ago, Richard Nixon was fighting mostly on territory defined by Democrats. He had a universal health proposal somewhat to the left of the Affordable Care Act. Nixon was even for a guaranteed annual income, and that was before Watergate.

In the 1970s, both parties were environmentalist. Epic laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were approved with large, bipartisan majorities. Now, regulation is a dirty word.

Meanwhile, Democrats have made nice incremental progress on laws like the Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy to industry that allows corporations to pay their workers less and have government make up the difference) while the distribution of wage and salary income becomes steadily more unequal.

The Office of Management and Budget, under a Democratic president, waters down environmental regulations even before the Republican House of Representatives adds further obstacles.

The Democrats have made incremental gains at insuring more people, as the entire health system is so dominated by commercial players that it is becoming generally unaffordable, and more and more people are under-insured.

We've reformed a corrupted financial system with millions of pages of Dodd-Frank regulations to the point where the very complexity invites more corruption. Meanwhile, high-frequency traders and hedge fund operators are taking more and more of the total investment gains at the expense of regular people.

So why not take a leaf from the right's playbook. Why not say what we're really for, and have a long-term plan to lead public opinion there?

How about giving the financial system the drastic simplification that it deserves. No high frequency trading (which adds nothing except profits to insiders). No hedge funds exempt from the usual disclosure rules. No mega-banks that add only risk to the rest of the system?

How about national health insurance, pure and simple?

How about a minimum wage that's a true living wage?

How about a massive public investment program in deferred infrastructure and a green transition, to provide good domestic jobs along the way?

How about a "universal, portable pension" -- not the small-bore savings incentives offered by centrist policy wonks but an easy-to-grasp general expansion of Social Security.

How about planting a flag?

I know, I know, Congress won't vote for this stuff. But Congress isn't voting for the small-bore stuff either.

At first, Congress did not vote for the policies the right was offering, but the right kept pounding away. They eventually managed to get policies enacted and ideologies entrenched that harm most people.

Progressives, by contrast, begin with one big advantage. Public opinion is mostly on our side.

The voters actually support Medicare for All, and expanded Social Security, and higher minimum wages, controls on Wall Street, higher taxes on millionaires, and increased investment in infrastructure. It's only elites who oppose them. How about leadership that validates what voters want?

It's a thankless task for Democrats to run and govern as centrists. The policies do not solve large national problems. Voters see only more bureaucracy, and voters give up on politics.

Who, after all, promotes "third way" policies? Financial elites wearing their Democrat hat, that's who. It's a great strategy for neutering the people's party and scaring away voters.

Look at progressive causes that actually won big -- LGBT rights, disability rights, equal treatment in the workplace for women. They did not begin by asking for meager incremental gains. They began by making demands far outside the mainstream, and changing the mainstream.

So let's say what we're really for, and bring public opinion to it. It may take a decade or two. It may require a genuine progressive to get nominated for president, backed by a mass movement.

But if Democrats stick to the course they are on, they are likely to lose both the politics and the policies. It would be liberating, and energizing, to plant that flag.

Robert Kuttner's latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior Fellow at Demos, and teaches at Brandeis University's Heller School.

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Joe Peyronnin: Writing Off Putin

Joe Peyronnin: Writing Off Putin 2014-04-20

The White House may be signaling a new approach to its standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The headline in Sunday's New York Times reads, "In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin." While such a strategy may not address short-term issues, it may be the best approach in the long-term. President Putin's ultimate ambitions are not known, though it is clear he is using the seizure of Crimea and threats against Ukraine in part to strengthen his position at home. Russia's economy is struggling, and government is riddled with corruption and cronyism. Human rights abuses abound in Russia, as does suppression of free speech. Russia has slowly been slipping in relevance on the world stage.

President Obama has had great difficulty getting European support for crippling sanctions against Russia. The problem is that many European countries are heavily dependent on Russian gas and oil resources. And many global banks and businesses do not favor harsh tactics.

The challenge to reining in Putin is complicated further by Russia's role in difficult negotiations with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program, and the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. American troops and equipment are also passing through Russia to Afghanistan.

President Obama and President Putin have spoken by phone several times since the crisis in Ukraine began earlier this year. The American and Russian accounts of those conversations vary widely, but they agree that no real progress was achieved.

Last Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry brokered an agreement with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Ukraine and European diplomats. The agreement calls for pro-Russian gangs to give up the government buildings they seized and lists other steps to de-escalate the crisis. President Obama greeted the agreement with skepticism last Thursday, and pro-Russian groups continue to occupy the buildings. Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000 Russian troops remain in place just across Ukraine's eastern border.

President Obama and European allies have identified additional sanctions that can be imposed on Russia. And there are reports that the Pentagon is planning on expanding NATO's presence in Eastern Europe by deploying troops and fighter jets into Poland. Nonetheless, President Obama has ruled out going to war over Ukraine.

While the administration debates its long-term plans with Russia, The New York Times reports that there is a debate within the administration over how far to go in the short-term. Conservatives have been critical of the president's tactics for not being strong enough. But the president is focused on isolating Putin with sanctions and other forms of pressure. According to the Times, he has concluded, even if there is a resolution to the current Ukrainian crisis, "he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin," according to aides.

Given Russia's weak economy, President Putin cannot easily take on the additional costs of annexing Eastern Ukraine. Military intervention would be difficult and costly for Russia. Further, Putin has already cast himself, by his actions to date, as an unreliable partner to much of Europe.

Putin is a bully who cannot be ignored. But President Obama and Western allies are on the correct course by continuing to tighten sanctions and by applying other meaningful steps to isolate Putin. In time, even Putin's own people will likely tire of his act.

Julie Bergman Sender: Middle-aged And Invisible At Coachella

Julie Bergman Sender: Middle-aged And Invisible At Coachella 2014-04-20

Remember when you were a teenager -- or even in your early 20s -- and you walked into a party or a concert feeling a little uncomfortable and kind of unsettled until you finally see a familiar face?

Well, it wasn't anything like that last Saturday as I made my way through the throngs at Coachella -- where my 16-year-old was completely age-appropriate and I was, well... definitely not. There was no moment when I sighed with relief at finding that familiar face. I walked into Coachella feeling like just a woman at a concert and very quickly awoke to the harsh reality that I had walked into a strange anthropological experiment. I didn't just feel invisible -- I was invisible.

As a 50-year-old -- okay 53 -- the sea of faces is the first thing telling you that you are deeply out of your element. As I was packing to go, I fooled myself into thinking that I was checking the weather to see just how hot it was going to be and what I needed to bring to brave the 100- degree desert sun. But that was a lie. I was actually perusing the Google images of Coachella fashion. I thought I'd see what it took to look Coachella-ish or Coachella -esque. It took me about two seconds to get that this was not going to happen. Without going into too much detail, the cut-off shorts and keyhole mini dress were both out of the question.

So now I'm there, in my white jeans (slightly distressed at the knees) and black tank top (the safe 50-plus mommy uniform) doing my self-appointed duty of making sure that I hadn't thrown 16 years of pretty respectable parenting out the window in one indulgent move by letting my daughter run around at a rave.

I was a mom on a mission, which somehow made this experiment a little more bearable. I accept that Coachella has become one of those rites of passage for millennials and far be it from me to deny my child that... but along the way I had my own rite of passage: the one where you realize that you are invisible when walking through a vast crowd of strangers under 25 in their own world with their music, their friends, their selfies and their Instagram.

I felt a little crappy for a second -- that pang of coming to terms with something for the first time. In that moment the reality of my age rather than the illusion of it came into focus. Then and there, in the middle of the Empire Polo Field I accepted that indeed there are some things that I am now just too old for. Even if I didn't feel my age, whatever that means, -- which I don't -- it didn't mean that I am not my age and that a rave in the 100-plus degree desert with 40 mile an hour winds whipping the sand around was kind of a stupid place for me to be.

So I left and went back to the hotel. I was satisfied that by and large my 16-year-old would be safe and would likely come back covered in sand and thirsty but in one piece. As an aside I did consider how strange it was that Palm desert -- which is the west coasts' answer to retiring to Florida -- for six days a year becomes the coolest place to be for anyone under 25.

I wonder if that is the irony of the whole thing: The young come in and take over for a brief moment, while we as their parents are glimpsing the last gasps of knowing what our kids are doing as we look ahead to the hill we are about to be over.

So they have their rite of passage and we have ours.

But there is still overlap -- musical, emotional and historical. Unlike our parents, who mostly viewed their children's choice of music as noise, our ears are more attuned to handle and even enjoy some of what our kids are listening to. For instance, I listen to Vampire Weekend, 1975, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Lorde, Ed Sheeran, Kid Cudi among others with my daughter a lot. And in the spirit of everything old is new again, scores of artists are sampling "old" songs all the time. So we can still feel secure in the fact that we are not invisible to our children's generation within the confines of our cars and living rooms as long as we remember that we are everywhere else...

Diane Ravitch: Why Doesn't The New York Times Understand The Controversy Over

Diane Ravitch: Why Doesn't The New York Times Understand The Controversy Over Common Core? 2014-04-20

In story after story, the New York Times consistently misses the essence of the controversy surrounding Common Core.

Sunday's New York Times gives its lead article on page 1, column right, top of the fold, to the battle raging within the Republican Party, about the Common Core. On one side is Jeb Bush, standing up for the Common Core standards (presumably a moderate, let's not talk about his fight for vouchers and for the destruction of public education in Florida), while on the other are figures like Ted Cruz and other extremists of the party. Common Core, we are told, is now the "wedge issue" in the Republican party, with sensible people like Jeb Bush fending off the extremists.

A few weeks ago, the newspaper wrote an editorial enthusiastically endorsing the Common Core standards, while giving no evidence for its enthusiasm other than the promises offered by the advocates of Common Core.

Story after story has repeated the narrative invented by Arne Duncan, that the only opponents of the Common Core are members of the Tea Party and other extremists.

Occasionally a story will refer to extremists of the right and the left, as though no reasonable person could possibly doubt the claims made on behalf of the Common Core.

Of course, David Brooks' column on Friday echoed the now familiar trope of the Times, that only extremists could oppose this worthy and entirely laudable endeavor.

Missing is any acknowledgement of the many researchers who have challenged the wacky assumption that standards alone will cause everyone's achievement to rise higher and higher, despite no evidence for this assertion.

Missing is any recognition that there are reputable educators and scholars and parents who are disturbed either by the substance of the standards or by the development process (Anthony Cody, for example, just won the Education Writers Association's first prize award for his series of blogs challenging the claims of the Common Core).

Missing is the pushback from teachers that caused the leaders of the NEA and the AFT to call for a slowdown in implementation of the standards (the media sees this only as teachers' fear of being evaluated by tests).

Missing is the concern of early childhood educators about the developmental inappropriateness of the standards for the early grades, which reflects the fact that no early childhood educator participated in drafting the standards. Also missing from the writing group was any educator knowledgeable about children with disabilities or English language learners.

Missing is any acknowledgement that not a single classroom teacher was included in the small group that wrote the standards, and that the largest contingent on the "working groups" was from the testing industry.

Missing is any suggestion that the writing of the standards was not "state-led," but was the product of a small group of insider organizations inside the Beltway, heavily funded by one organization, the Gates Foundation.

Missing is any recognition that there is no appeals process, no means to revise standards that make no sense when applied in real classrooms with real students.

Missing is any awareness that the Obama administration made eligibility for $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funding contingent on state adoption of "college and career ready" standards, which turned out to be the Common Core standards. How else to explain their rapid adoption by 45 states?

Missing is any acknowledgement that there is very little connection between the quality of any state's standards and its performances on the NAEP, or that some states with standards higher than the Common Core dropped their proven standards so as to be eligible for the new federal funding.

Missing is any recognition that the Common Core standards are an essential ingredient in a Big Data plan that involves a multi-billion dollar investment in new hardware, new software, and new bandwidth for Common Core testing, all of which will be done (for no good reason) online.

Missing is the issue of value-added measurement of teachers and school-closings based on test scores, or the fact that major scholarly organizations (the American Educational Research Association, the National Academy of Education, and the American Statistical Association) have pointed out the inaccuracy and instability of VAM. Nor has it ever been reported by the Times that these same organizations have said that teachers' influence on variation in test scores ranges from 1-15 percent, with the influence of the family, especially family income and education, looming far larger.

Question: How can the nation's "newspaper of record" be so seriously indifferent to or ignorant of the major education issue of our day?