Jessica S. Henry: Killing To Heal?: One Year After The Boston Bombing

Jessica S. Henry: Killing To Heal?: One Year After The Boston Bombing 2014-04-17

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. The bombing was a stunning display of domestic terror that blew apart an April day that should have been full of celebration and accomplishment. Three people, including an eight-year-old boy, were killed and two-hundred people were injured, some severely, in the explosion. A fourth man was killed during the police investigation.

The crime, indeed, was heinous, and the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was not particularly sympathetic. It perhaps comes as no surprise that this past January, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder announced the federal government would seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. But the death penalty, even in this horrible case, is unlikely to serve the interests of the people of Massachusetts and the taxpayers of America. Instead, it only likely extends the suffering of all involved, and hurts the credibility of the United States in the international human rights arena.

The people of Massachusetts and the residents of Boston specifically, are not clamoring for the death penalty. Indeed, a 2013 survey of Boston residents, conducted several months after the bombing, found that 57 percent favored life without parole over the death penalty for the suspect. In other words, a majority of residents believed that the death penalty was not the answer in this case. Boston's ambivalence toward capital punishment is consistent with the State of Massachusetts at large. The last execution in Massachusetts took place in 1947. In 1984, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts declared capital punishment to be unconstitutional. Attempts by then-Governor Romney, among others, to reinstate the death penalty gained no traction.

But this is not a Massachusetts prosecution. It is a federal prosecution, spearheaded by Holder, who is personally opposed to capital punishment. The Tsarnaev prosecution will be the most high profile death penalty case since Timothy McVeigh was charged in the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead and over 600 wounded.

The McVeigh prosecution cost taxpayers over $13.8 million dollars. And that trial took place in 1997. Federal capital prosecutions are expensive. The average cost to the taxpayer of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932. This is roughly eight times more expensive than a non-capital murder case. Capital cases, by definition are bound to cost more -- a lot more -- because as the Supreme Court has said, "death is different." In capital cases, for example, pre-trial motion practice and jury selection are far more complicated and extensive than non-capital cases. Defendants have a bifurcated trial in which the jury first decides guilt and second determines the penalty. And then there are years of protracted appeals. All of this takes more time and resources than non-death penalty cases, and comes with a much higher price tag.

Yet, for all that expense, the federal death penalty rarely results in an execution. Since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988, over 70 defendants have been sentenced to death, but only three have been executed. One of those three was Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001 only after voluntarily dropping his appeals. The vast majority of federal death row inmates, however, will languish on death row, serving a sentence that is rarely implemented and often only after lengthy years of litigation. This draws out the pain and uncertainty for victims, defendants, and their families alike.

If cost and uncertainty were not enough, the federal government also could have declined to bring capital charges simply because the use of capital punishment is hurting our moral legitimacy in the international arena. The United States is an international outlier in the developed world for its support of the death penalty, ranking only behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq in its use of death penalty as a lawful sentence. Since many nations consider the death penalty to violate human rights, the United States' continued support of capital punishment makes it hard for us to have legitimacy when we seek to police human rights abuses.

The federal government also risks enabling Tsarnaev to martyr himself in front of the entire world. Tsarnaev could use the capital trial as an opportunity to broadcast his radical views and to accept the punishment of death as a moment of extremist jihad. A non-capital trial would have diluted that argument, and allowed Tsarnaev to fade into obscurity, inside an anonymous prison cell, for the rest of his natural life; a punishment that is as slow and tedious as it is severe.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, the federal government brought these capital charges to push Tsarnaev into a plea agreement for a life without parole sentence. The irony, of course, is that a state prosecution could have resulted in exactly the same outcome and just as effectively would have spoken for a majority of the people of Massachusetts.

Tsarnaev, if found guilty of these charges, committed a terrible crime. Proponents of capital punishment argue that if ever a case deserved a death sentence, it is this one. But perhaps it is time to rethink whether any case should be punished by death. Tsarnaev can be appropriately punished without an execution, with less expense, more certainty, and no loss to the United States of international standing.

Mpho Tutu: Look What Has Happened To Us

Mpho Tutu: Look What Has Happened To Us 2014-04-17

I still can't describe my own feelings fully. Nausea, disgust, fear, confusion, and grief overwhelmed me. Our friend and housekeeper, Angela, lay on the floor of my daughter's room. The blood from her brutalized body pooled around her. The days and weeks that followed were a blur of a life upended. Our home was now a crime scene.

We miss her, she had made her mark on our lives. Her quirks and her kindness had become a part of our story and our family. Her laughter had filled our home. Her absence is a sad, scary shadow. The home we had shared is no longer home. We cannot live there. "Was anything stolen?" the young policeman asked. A life was stolen. No, more than one life was stolen. There was one dead body, but so many lives were changed irrevocably, snatched away, stolen. Sometimes I feel sad for the murderer, unutterably sad. At other times I feel angry. How could anyone be so vile? How could any person be so brutal? Why Angela? What harm had she done anyone? There are moments when the anger turns to rage, and there are moments when I want to strike back!

I had no idea of all the pieces involved in living through something like this. It takes a demolition to see the bones of a building. It's like somebody had blasted away the veneer and I could see all the tracery of connections. We are so deeply connected to one another -- our family, Angela, Angela's family. The reverberations are vast and ceaseless.

I had landed in grief and guilt. I heard the screams of Angela's mother and children on the phone. How do you ever recover from hearing that kind of anguish, those wails of pain and loss? But I felt it was my responsibility to tell them. They had so many questions, and it was so difficult because they didn't get to see her. I saw her.

At first there was just grief and guilt, but then the fury came. This person not only stole Angela's life, they stole our freedom and our sense of safety, our sense of place and even our home. We can never go back there.

The fury still comes and goes. I hear so many voices and questions in my head. I feel like I've lost the power to protect my children and keep them safe. How did evil get so close to my children? How did I let it get so near? As a mother, it's a horrible feeling. I can't make the world safe for them. It makes everything feel so out of control. I have so much fear and so much anxiety and always this sadness and grief mixed in and touching everything and everyone.

But somewhere within discovering the texture and quality of my hurts, of pulling apart the strands of what I was feeling and giving them the attention they needed, I also realized that I'm sad for the person who killed her. Can you imagine what it would take for someone to kill another person so brutally and not have it affect their psyche? When you harm another, you also harm yourself.

I can tell you this feeling of sadness and empathy for the murderer was something of a shock to me, and I believe this was my personal open door to forgiving. It was only after I engaged in all the formal rituals for grieving and leaned on those who could validate my anger and fear, and after I was able to connect with my community and all who came together to share my loss with me, that I was able to consider forgiveness. Ritual helps us heal, and ritual helped me heal and become ready to consider the person who murdered Angela, their story, their pain. Ultimately, I knew I had to find a way to rewrite the story of our connection so that my family did not remain trussed and bound to the carnage this person created.

Most of the time I feel as if I've forgiven the killer. I don't wish this person comeuppance. I feel profoundly sad for this person and for all of us. I've accepted the facts of what happened and the ripple effects of the trauma. There are moments, however, when the trauma of Angela's death resurfaces in our family, and I feel all the anger and rage and sadness acutely, but this doesn't mean I don't forgive. I've had to realize that I forgive not for the perpetrator, but for my daughters to heal, for me to heal, and for all of us to go on and live our lives without fear and hatred being the defining details. The story of Angela's murder and her murderer will always be a part of our story, a part of my daughters' childhood, but I forgive, so that it is not the main plot of our life story, and so that we can go on to write new stories, better stories, happier stories.

I still have this incredible sadness. We all do. I can't know whether to renew or release the relationship? I don't know. The truth is, I'm not there yet.

I have forgiven the person who killed Angela. She was killed by another human being, a person with a story too. It's our story now. And Angela's story. And her family's story. There are so many individual stories, but we share this one story. That's the biggest difference I've seen in this forgiveness process. It's gone from "my story" to "our story." It's no longer about my pain, but our pain. There is a comfort in that, a solace.

Intellectually, I have forgiven, and I know this because I have no desire to exact retribution, nor do I wish them ill. The killer does not owe me anything. Emotionally, I'm not quite there yet, because it still hurts, and I know there is still healing work to be done.

Whoever is ultimately proven to have killed Angela, I know it would help move things along more quickly if I could know why this person did what they did. I want to know what they were thinking and why they couldn't have asked for help for whatever they were going through. Why did Angela have to pay such a price? How was her life worth so little to him?

I think I would also need to know that what this person did matters to them. I would need to know that they wrestle with the fact that they took a life. I would want to know if their soul hurts and is pained by what they have done. It won't change anything, but it will help me understand. I would want to understand this person so that I can know what we need to do differently, so that no one gets to such a place of desperation that a thing becomes more important than a life.

If I could speak to the person who killed Angela, I would tell them that I don't have the words to say just how sad I am. I would say, "Look what has happened to us."

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge, which is a free 30-day online program developed by Desmond and Mpho Tutu to teach the practical steps to forgiveness they share in their new book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. Learn about the campaign here, and sign up to participate yourself. Read all posts in the series here.

Sen. Claire Mccaskill: Targeting Sexual Assaults On Campuses -- Starting With

Sen. Claire Mccaskill: Targeting Sexual Assaults On Campuses -- Starting With The Facts On The Ground 2014-04-17

It's just as much a rape to take advantage of a classmate who's incapacitated in a dorm room as it is to assault a stranger at gunpoint.

I fear that too many students at our colleges and universities think there's a difference -- that if they had too much to drink, or hung out with the wrong people at the wrong place, that somehow it's their fault that they were sexually assaulted.

It's not. You don't need to have perfect judgment to be the victim of a sexual assault.

And after the past year saw a focused effort in Congress to address sexual assaults in the U.S. military -- resulting in a host of sweeping reforms to protect and empower victims and hold perpetrators and commanders accountable -- it's becoming clear to me that we may face similar systemic challenges on our college campuses. Challenges such as severe underreporting of assaults, and confusion over where to go for help.

That's why, this week, I launched a survey of hundreds of colleges and universities across the country. This survey is the first congressional inquiry of its kind, and I'm asking for detailed answers on how sexual assaults on campuses are reported, how they're investigated, what resources are available to victims, how students are notified of those services, what kinds of data the schools collect, what security procedures are used, and what relationships the schools have with local law enforcement.

Our survey -- being conducted through my Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight -- is also aimed at helping us gauge the effectiveness of federal oversight and enforcement under federal civil rights law, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, and the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act, commonly known as the Clery Act. Title IX prohibits schools that receive federal funds from discrimination on the basis of sex -- including sexual harassment and violence.

These federal laws already require schools to report certain data on these crimes, but there's near-universal agreement that these data are insufficient to truly understand the scope of the problem, and that -- as in all jurisdictions -- the crime of sexual assault is vastly underreported.

The colleges and universities participating in our survey will represent different types of institutions (public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit) and vary in size.

My hope is that it will give us a window into exactly how our colleges and universities today act -- or sometimes, fail to act -- to protect students and bring perpetrators to justice. Just like the challenges we grappled with in confronting sexual assaults in our military, we need to ensure we have a firm grasp on the policies in place, and the reality on the ground, to inform any specific solutions.

We especially need these data, because the scope of the challenge could be staggering:

According to the available statistics, 19 percent of undergraduate women have been the victims of sexual assault. Because many crimes aren't reported, though, that number is probably higher. A 2000 Justice Department report estimated that less than 5 percent of victims of rape attending college report their attack. An investigative series from the Center for Public Integrity in 2010 found that in many cases, victims wishing to report sexual assault faced confusion over how to do so, confusion over acceptable standards of conduct and definitions of sexual assault, and a fear of punishment for activities preceding some assaults, such as underage drinking.

The challenges we face in confronting sex crimes on our campuses are likely as varied as the campuses on which they happen. But it's already clear we have a lot of work ahead to tackle the systemic issues at play.

None of our children should be left on their own after being victimized, and our schools must provide the highest level of responsiveness to ensure victims are empowered, and perpetrators are held accountable.

As a former prosecutor, and as a mother of college-age daughters, I'm determined to give a voice to those victims.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is a former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes, and former Jackson County, Mo. Prosecutor -- where she established the Kansas City region's first unit devoted to combatting domestic and sexual violence

Lincoln Mitchell: California And The Republican Party

Lincoln Mitchell: California And The Republican Party 2014-04-17

Forty years ago Jerry Brown won a Democratic primary defeating runner up Joseph Alioto, the longtime mayor of San Francisco, soundly. Brown then went on to defeat State Controller Houston Flornoy by a margin of less than three percent. Nationally, 1974 was a Democratic year as the Republican brand was badly tarnished by the Watergate scandal, but in California the scion of the state's most famous Democratic political family was barely able to squeak by to victory.

A lot has changed in California politics since then. After going Republican in every presidential election but one between 1952 and 1988, Democratic presidential nominees have carried the state, often with great ease in every presidential election from 1992 to the present. The state has also had two Democratic senators since 1992. Changing demographics in California, most notably the declining proportion of the population that is white have contributed to California's increasingly Democratic character, but that does not entirely explain what has happened to the Republican Party in California.

Jerry Brown initially served two terms as governor, but between 1982 and 2010, the governor's seat was more often than not in Republican hands. The only Democrat to win election to that office during that period, Gray Davis, was recalled, albeit on relatively flimsy pretexts in 2003 five years after first winning election as governor. Brown, of course, returned and won election as governor again after a 28-year odyssey during which he spent time in India, ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992, and served as mayor of Oakland and attorney general for the state of California. Now 40 years after winning the governor's seat the first time in a tough election, Brown faces no serious opposition in his bid for a fourth term.

Either Jerry Brown is an extraordinary politician or the California Republican Party is in bad shape. Most likely both these things are true. The Democratic Party dominance of statewide elections is now quite extreme. No Republican in California has come within ten points of a Democrat in a US senate race this century. Since the Republicans last won the state in a presidential election, only George W. Bush has come within ten points of carrying the state, losing 54-44 in 2004. The Democrats have also had strong majorities in both houses of the state legislature for close to 20 years.

The veritable collapse of the Republican Party in California is not news, but it is worth considering, particularly given the party's failure, again, to even have a serious campaign for governor in 2014. California is the most populous state in the country, but it was at the center of the Republican Party for most of the years from 1952-1992, a period of ascendancy for the Party nationally. The national ticket in most of those years included national politicians, notably Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with roots in California. Many big states are aligned with one party, but California is different both because of the Republican's strong recent history there but also because the diversity of the state that makes it both a harbinger of what the country will become and a place that should be a battleground for competing ideas and visions. In recent years, however, the Republican Party was not made itself relevant in that battleground.

When California was a reasonably Republican-leaning state during most of the last few decades of the twentieth century, Republican ideologues and other pundits constantly told us that national trends started in California. The anti-tax movement, for example, began in California with Proposition 13 in 1978. Similarly, the right-wing backlash to civil rights gains for various group beginning in the mid-1960s, also had its roots in California where Ronald Reagan was elected governor on a very conservative platform back in 1966.

Although it is not described that way so much anymore, California may be a good indicator of what the US will look like in the next decades. The ethnic diversity of the state, the growing acceptance of a set of liberal social policies on issues ranging from medical marijuana to marriage equality, and a political minority that is disproportionately old, white and angry are all part of political life in California, and all bode very poorly for the Republican Party. Similarly, an enduring failure to nominate candidates that appeal beyond its base is also a problem for the Republican Party in California and nationally.

Although viewed outside of California as a left-winger, Jerry Brown has mostly governed as a centrist. While this has frustrated some on the left, it has also demonstrated that when the Republicans abandon the center, as they have in California, it is very easy for Democratic executives to govern, and get reelected, from the center.

Michael Wood: The Surprising Word That Doesn't Translate Into Other Languages

Michael Wood: The Surprising Word That Doesn't Translate Into Other Languages 2014-04-17

The words and phrases that resist translation are often the difficult ones, visibly sedimented with history and shifting meanings. But one of the many pleasures of working on this book was thinking about the strange international life of apparently simple words. A word like justice, for example, which has or ought to have its counterpart in almost any language we can imagine, and which might seem to translate easily. A basic assumption could be that putting justice into practice is about as difficult as anything can be, but there will be a reasonable range of agreement about the theory. This assumption is not false, but it is incomplete, and we can learn from what it misses.

Here are three literary examples: a translation using the English word justice for a corresponding (or not) Russian word; the possibly different meanings of the French and English words justice, spelt exactly the same; and the question of translating an English word into English. I want to recall here, because it is so useful, Barbara Cassin's brilliant definition of the untranslatable: not what we can't translate or don't translate but what we can't stop translating and retranslating.

What does Ivan Karamazov mean when he speaks, at least in Constance Garnett's translation, of justice? He has evoked a horrific set of narratives about cruelty to children and is about to tell his tale of the Grand Inquisitor. Ivan insists that he wants justice--the word is vozmezdie, which means all kinds of things, as words do: requital, retaliation, payment, recompense, even nemesis. Pevear and Volokhonsky decide on retribution. In context it suggests something like closure, or satisfaction (in the sense of a man demanding satisfaction in a duel, for example). Ivan goes on to talk of harmony, which is clearly a related idea, but he doesn't want it if the tortured children have to pay for it:

I need justice/retribution/satisfaction... and justice/retribution/satisfaction not somewhere and sometime in infinity, but here and now, on earth... I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion, and the murdered man rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly finds out what it was all for.

The universe will cry out, Ivan says, in his personal version of Psalm 119, "Just art thou, O Lord, for thy ways are revealed." The question is not whether we can broadly understand or roughly translate this argument but whether we can get our heads around the range of ideas in play. That act of comprehension, according to its range or tilt, is going to alter the argument itself.

My second example involves asking whether the French word justice means the same thing as the English word justice. For Marcel Proust the chief meaning of justice is vengeance or punishment, and he doesn't like it. We may ask how a man can be against injustice, as Proust undoubtedly was and against justice as well. His novel is one sort of reply.

Almost buried in one of the later volumes of In Search of Lost Time is a sentence that won't leave your mind once you've paused over it. It ends in this way, evoking that relation which almost always exists in human punishments. and which means that there is almost never either a just verdict or a judicial error but a sort of harmony between the mistaken idea the judge has of an innocent act and the guilty facts of which he is unaware.

Scepticism about justice was a reasonable stance in the time of Dreyfus and has been a reasonable stance in countries and times much closer to us--as Louis Begley's recent book about Dreyfus suggests. And a fantasy of displaced but unerring justice ("there is almost never a judicial error") may represent not the sinister view that evil is everywhere but the charmed, haunted view that a non-existent God knows all my secrets. Is this a little paranoid? Yes. But we might like to recall Adorno's version of the truism that even paranoids have enemies. What he says is that even reality traffics in the suggestions of paranoia: Psychology knows that he who imagines disasters in some way desires them. But why do they come so eagerly to meet him?

I don't know how close the English word justice can get us to any of this.

My last example involves the ways in which we may take a single word in one language to mean quite different things. Here's a famous use of the word justice in English which moves us powerfully by its directness and simplicity--and leaves us wondering where we have been moved to. In his introduction to A Vision (1928), his extraordinary account of what the spirits taught him about cycles of history and sidereal time, Yeats reports that he has often been asked whether he believes in the "actual existence of (his) circuits of sun and moon." His answer is rather complicated, but ends plainly. They have, he says, "helped me to hold in a single thought reality and justice."

I've returned to this phrase a lot over the forty years or so since I first read it, and I've always thought I knew what it meant. I still think I know what it means, but I'm now shocked that I haven't been more shocked at the meaning. Yeats is saying, isn't he, that reality and justice are ordinarily so far apart that only a vast otherworldly metaphysical system will allow him to think of them together. Outside of such a dispensation, reality is not just, and justice is not a reality. Is this what we think, is this something we can almost casually accept?

The concept of the untranslatable does not mark the failure of translation but the place where it begins.

Michael Wood is the co-editor of Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon [Princeton University Press, $65.00].

Ann Jones: How America's Wars Came Home With The Troops

Ann Jones: How America's Wars Came Home With The Troops 2014-04-17

Up Close, Personal, and Bloody

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

After an argument about a leave denied, Specialist Ivan Lopez pulled out a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and began a shooting spree at Fort Hood, America’s biggest stateside base, that left three soldiers dead and 16 wounded.  When he did so, he also pulled America’s fading wars out of the closet.  This time, a Fort Hood mass killing, the second in four and a half years, was committed by a man who was neither a religious nor a political “extremist.”  He seems to have been merely one of America’s injured and troubled veterans who now number in the hundreds of thousands.

Some 2.6 million men and women have been dispatched, often repeatedly, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and according to a recent survey of veterans of those wars conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one-third say that their mental health is worse than it was before they left, and nearly half say the same of their physical condition.  Almost half say they give way to sudden outbursts of anger.  Only 12% of the surveyed veterans claim they are now “better” mentally or physically than they were before they went to war.

The media coverage that followed Lopez’s rampage was, of course, 24/7 and there was much discussion of PTSD, the all-purpose (if little understood) label now used to explain just about anything unpleasant that happens to or is caused by current or former military men and women. Amid the barrage of coverage, however, something was missing: evidence that has been in plain sight for years of how the violence of America’s distant wars comes back to haunt the "homeland” as the troops return.  In that context, Lopez’s killings, while on a scale not often matched, are one more marker on a bloody trail of death that leads from Iraq and Afghanistan into the American heartland, to bases and backyards nationwide.  It’s a story with a body count that should not be ignored.

War Comes Home

During the last 12 years, many veterans who had grown “worse” while at war could be found on and around bases here at home, waiting to be deployed again, and sometimes doing serious damage to themselves and others.  The organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has campaigned for years for a soldier’s “right to heal” between deployments.  Next month it will release its own report on a common practice at Fort Hood of sending damaged and heavily medicated soldiers back to combat zones against both doctors’ orders and official base regulations. Such soldiers can’t be expected to survive in great shape.

Immediately after the Lopez rampage, President Obama spoke of those soldiers who have served multiple tours in the wars and “need to feel safe” on their home base. But what the president called “that sense of safety... broken once again” at Fort Hood has, in fact, already been shattered again and again on bases and in towns across post-9/11 America -- ever since misused, misled, and mistreated soldiers began bringing war home with them.

Since 2002, soldiers and veterans have been committing murder individually and in groups, killing wives, girlfriends, children, fellow soldiers, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, and -- in appalling numbers -- themselves. Most of these killings haven’t been on a mass scale, but they add up, even if no one is doing the math.  To date, they have never been fully counted.

The first veterans of the war in Afghanistan returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2002.  In quick succession, four of them murdered their wives, after which three of the killers took their own lives. When a New York Times reporter asked a Special Forces officer to comment on these events, he replied: “S.F.’s don’t like to talk about emotional stuff.  We are Type A people who just blow things like that off, like yesterday’s news.”

Indeed, much of the media and much of the country has done just that.  While individual murders committed by “our nation’s heroes” on the “home front” have been reported by media close to the scene, most such killings never make the national news, and many become invisible even locally when reported only as routine murders with no mention of the apparently insignificant fact that the killer was a veteran.  Only when these crimes cluster around a military base do diligent local reporters seem to put the pieces of the bigger picture together.

By 2005, Fort Bragg had already counted its tenth such “domestic violence” fatality, while on the West coast, the Seattle Weekly had tallied the death toll among active-duty troops and veterans in western Washington state at seven homicides and three suicides.  “Five wives, a girlfriend, and one child were slain; four other children lost one or both parents to death or imprisonment. Three servicemen committed suicide -- two of them after killing their wife or girlfriend.  Four soldiers were sent to prison.  One awaited trial.”

In January 2008, the New York Times tried for the first time to tally a nationwide count of such crimes.  It found “121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war.” It listed headlines drawn from smaller local newspapers:  Lakewood, Washington, “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife”; Pierre, South Dakota, “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress”; Colorado Springs, Colorado, “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

The Times found that about a third of the murder victims were wives, girlfriends, children, or other relatives of the killer, but significantly, a quarter of the victims were fellow soldiers.  The rest were acquaintances or strangers.  At that time, three quarters of the homicidal soldiers were still in the military.  The number of killings then represented a nearly 90% increase in homicides committed by active duty personnel and veterans in the six years since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.  Yet after tracing this “cross-country trail of death and heartbreak,” the Times noted that its research had probably uncovered only “the minimum number of such cases.”  One month later, it found “more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or [fatal] child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans.”

More cases were already on the way. After the Fourth Brigade Combat team of Fort Carson, Colorado, returned from Iraq later in 2008, nine of its members were charged with homicide, while “charges of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault” at the base rose sharply. Three of the murder victims were wives or girlfriends; four were fellow soldiers (all men); and two were strangers, chosen at random.

Back at Fort Bragg and the nearby Marine base at Camp Lejeune, military men murdered four military women in a nine-month span between December 2007 and September 2008.  By that time, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright had identified at least 15 highly suspicious deaths of women soldiers in the war zones that had been officially termed “non-combat related” or “suicide.” She raised a question that has never been answered: “Is there an Army cover-up of rape and murder of women soldiers?”  The murders that took place near (but not on) Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, all investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities, raised another question: Were some soldiers bringing home not only the generic violence of war, but also specific crimes they had rehearsed abroad?

Stuck in Combat Mode

While this sort of post-combat-zone combat at home has rarely made it into the national news, the killings haven’t stopped.  They have, in fact, continued, month by month, year after year, generally reported only by local media.  Many of the murders suggest that the killers still felt as if they were on some kind of private mission in “enemy territory,” and that they themselves were men who had, in distant combat zones, gotten the hang of killing -- and the habit. For example, Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old Army veteran, went to a party in Seattle in 2012 and got into a gunfight that left four people wounded.  He then fled to Mount Rainier National Park where he shot and killed a park ranger (the mother of two small children) and fired on others before escaping into snow-covered mountains where he drowned in a stream.

Barnes, an Iraq veteran, had reportedly experienced a rough transition to stateside life, having been discharged from the Army in 2009 for misconduct after being arrested for drunk driving and carrying a weapon. (He also threatened his wife with a knife.) He was one of more than 20,000 troubled Army and Marine veterans the military discarded between 2008 and 2012 with “other-than-honorable” discharges and no benefits, health care, or help.

Faced with the expensive prospect of providing long-term care for these most fragile of veterans, the military chose instead to dump them.  Barnes was booted out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, which by 2010 had surpassed Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, and Fort Carson in violence and suicide to become the military’s “most troubled” home base.

Some homicidal soldiers work together, perhaps recreating at home that famous fraternal feeling of the military “band of brothers.” In 2012, in Laredo, Texas, federal agents posing as leaders of a Mexican drug cartel arrested Lieutenant Kevin Corley and Sergeant Samuel Walker -- both from Fort Carson’s notorious Fourth Brigade Combat team -- and two other soldiers in their private hit squad who had offered their services to kill members of rival cartels. “Wet work,” soldiers call it, and they’re trained to do it so well that real Mexican drug cartels have indeed been hiring ambitious vets from Fort Bliss, Texas, and probably other bases in the borderlands, to take out selected Mexican and American targets at $5,000 a pop.

Such soldiers seem never to get out of combat mode.  Boston psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, well known for his work with troubled veterans of the Vietnam War, points out that the skills drilled into the combat soldier -- cunning, deceit, strength, quickness, stealth, a repertoire of killing techniques, and the suppression of compassion and guilt -- equip him perfectly for a life of crime. “I’ll put it as bluntly as I can,” Shay writes in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, “Combat service per se smooths the way into criminal careers afterward in civilian life.”  During the last decade, when the Pentagon relaxed standards to fill the ranks, some enterprising members of at least 53 different American gangs jumpstarted their criminal careers by enlisting, training, and serving in war zones to perfect their specialized skill sets.

Some veterans have gone on to become domestic terrorists, like Desert Storm veteran Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma federal building in 1995, or mass murderers like Wade Michael Page, the Army veteran and uber-racist who killed six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012. Page had first been introduced to the ideology of white supremacy at age 20, three years after he joined the Army, when he fell in with a neo-Nazi hate group at Fort Bragg.  That was in 1995, the year three paratroopers from Fort Bragg murdered two black local residents, a man and a woman, to earn their neo-Nazi spider-web tattoos.

An unknown number of such killers just walk away, like Army Private (and former West Point cadet) Isaac Aguigui, who was finally convicted last month in a Georgia criminal court of murdering his pregnant wife, Sergeant Deirdre Wetzker Aguigui, an Army linguist, three years ago. Although Deirdre Aguigui’s handcuffed body had revealed multiple blows and signs of struggle, the military medical examiner failed to “detect an anatomic cause of death” -- a failure convenient for both the Army, which didn’t have to investigate further, and Isaac Aguigui, who collected a half-million dollars in military death benefits and life insurance to finance a war of his own.

In 2012, Georgia authorities charged Aguigui and three combat veterans from Fort Stewart with the execution-style murders of former Private Michael Roark, 19, and his girlfriend Tiffany York, 17.  The trial in a civilian criminal court revealed that Aguigui (who was never deployed) had assembled his own private militia of troubled combat vets called FEAR (Forever Enduring, Always Ready), and was plotting to take over Fort Stewart by seizing the munitions control point.  Among his other plans for his force were killing unnamed officials with car bombs, blowing up a fountain in Savannah, poisoning the apple crop in Aguigui’s home state of Washington, and joining other unspecified private militia groups around the country in a plot to assassinate President Obama and take control of the United States government.  Last year, the Georgia court convicted Aguigui in the case of the FEAR executions and sentenced him to life.  Only then did a civilian medical examiner determine that he had first murdered his wife.

The Rule of Law

The routine drills of basic training and the catastrophic events of war damage many soldiers in ways that appear darkly ironic when they return home to traumatize or kill their partners, their children, their fellow soldiers, or random strangers in a town or on a base.  But again to get the stories we must rely upon scrupulous local journalists. The Austin American-Statesman, for example, reports that, since 2003, in the area around Fort Hood in central Texas, nearly 10% of those involved in shooting incidents with the police were military veterans or active-duty service members. In four separate confrontations since last December, the police shot and killed two recently returned veterans and wounded a third, while one police officer was killed.  A fourth veteran survived a shootout unscathed.

Such tragic encounters prompted state and city officials in Texas to develop a special Veterans Tactical Response Program to train police in handling troubled military types.  Some of the standard techniques Texas police use to intimidate and overcome suspects -- shouting, throwing “flashbangs” (grenades), or even firing warning shots -- backfire when the suspect is a veteran in crisis, armed, and highly trained in reflexive fire.  The average civilian lawman is no match for an angry combat grunt from, as the president put it at Fort Hood, “the greatest Army that the world has ever known.”  On the other hand, a brain-injured vet who needs time to respond to orders or reply to questions may get manhandled, flattened, tasered, bludgeoned, or worse by overly aggressive police officers before he has time to say a word.

Here’s another ironic twist. For the past decade, military recruiters have made a big selling point of the “veterans preference” policy in the hiring practices of civilian police departments.  The prospect of a lifetime career in law enforcement after a single tour of military duty tempts many wavering teenagers to sign on the line. But the vets who are finally discharged from service and don the uniform of a civilian police department are no longer the boys who went away.

In Texas today, 37% of the police in Austin, the state capitol, are ex-military, and in smaller cities and towns in the vicinity of Fort Hood, that figure rises above the 50% mark.  Everybody knows that veterans need jobs, and in theory they might be very good at handling troubled soldiers in crisis, but they come to the job already trained for and very good at war.  When they meet the next Ivan Lopez, they make a potentially combustible combo.

Most of America’s military men and women don’t want to be “stigmatized” by association with the violent soldiers mentioned here.  Neither do the ex-military personnel who now, as members of civilian police forces, do periodic battle with violent vets in Texas and across the country.  The new Washington Post-Kaiser survey reveals that most veterans are proud of their military service, if not altogether happy with their homecoming.  Almost half of them think that American civilians, like the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t genuinely “respect” them, and more than half feel disconnected from American life.  They believe they have better moral and ethical values than their fellow citizens, a virtue trumpeted by the Pentagon and presidents alike.  Sixty percent say they are more patriotic than civilians. Seventy percent say that civilians fail absolutely to understand them.  And almost 90% of veterans say that in a heartbeat they would re-up to fight again.

Americans on the “home front” were never mobilized by their leaders and they have generally not come to grips with the wars fought in their name. Here, however, is another irony: neither, it turns out, have most of America’s military men and women. Like their civilian counterparts, many of whom are all too ready to deploy those soldiers again to intervene in countries they can’t even find on a map, a significant number of veterans evidently have yet to unpack and examine the wars they brought home in their baggage -- and in too many grim cases, they, their loved ones, their fellow soldiers, and sometimes random strangers are paying the price.

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project (Haymarket, 2013).

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.

Bon Appetit: This Is Everything Chunk Eats In The Goonies

Bon Appetit: This Is Everything Chunk Eats In The Goonies 2014-04-17

by Rochelle Bilow

2014-04-16-chunkthegoonies620x6201397145352.jpeg

Last week at a Bon Appétit editorial meeting, someone casually mentioned that a sequel to The Goonies, the beloved movie about quirky, lovable, treasure-seeking kids, was in the works. I had never seen the 1985 classic, but listened in as my colleagues waxed poetic about their love of the film.

Since this is a food publication, much of their talk swirled around how much Chunk (Jeff Cohen) consumes throughout the film -- apparently, a lot. It was decided that, for my own personal emotional development, I would have to watch the film closely and count each and every one of Chunk's culinary escapades. I vowed to be vigilant.

So, last night, that is what I did. Before starting the film, I shot off a quick email to my editor -- what was the name of the character I was supposed to be watching? I had forgotten. He wrote back in one word: Chunk.

Ah, yes.

00:04:13 Pizza and some milk (in a Pepsi cup)

Our first food sighting! Chunk's playing video games at an arcade when a high speed chase whips by. In his excitement ("Oh, a police chase!") Chunk runs to the window and slams his pizza -- which looks very heavy on the tomato sauce -- and jostles his cup, spilling milk all over the glass, and himself. Chunk is upset. I would be too. Now, I must note here it seems a milkshake would be the obvious beverage of choice. I rewound the DVD four times, and can safely conclude that if it is not indeed a cup of milk, it is a very poorly made shake.

00:6:34 Pepsi and potato chips

Okay, we are introduced to a character named Mouth (Corey Feldman -- awesome), who rolls up to Mikey (Sean Astin) and Brand's (Josh Brolin, looking fine as ever) house with a can of Pepsi in hand, then helps himself to a handful of chips. I feel conflicted about whether or not I should include this in the roundup, as it's not explicitly Chunk. But it feels... important.

00:7:30 The truffle shuffle

The truffle shuffle. I have heard about this, and now I understand it. There are neither ganache-covered chocolates nor foraged fungi; the only shuffling is of Chunk's ample belly. I know it's meant to be cruel, but kid pulls it off.

00:8:33 Godfather's pizza

Chunk's relaying the story of the police chase to the gang -- but no one seems to believe him because Chunk is apparently a pathological liar. "I bet it was even more amazing than the time you ate your weight in Godfather's Pizza," says Mouth. Well, I personally believe him.

00:10:45 Chips

Chunk eats potato chips.

00:21:01 Evil men in suits make Chunk feel ill

"You know, I think they made me lose my appetite."

00:21:51 Whipped cream

"Oh God, am I depressed," Chunk mutters as he squirts canned whipped cream directly into his mouth. Good to know we're not the only emotional eaters around here.

00:25:33 Chunk is hungry

"Guys, I'm hungry. I know when my stomach growls, there's trouble." Hungry for adventure, amirite?

SEE MORE: 10 Celebrities Who Are Obsessed With Cheese

00:25:44 Chunk is worried about his eating schedule

"Now I'm gonna be late for dinner, and my mom's gonna yell at me. And she's not gonna let me eat my dinner, and she's gonna punish me."

00:25:53 Chunk would like some chocolate

"Anybody got a candy bar? A Baby Ruth?" I am disappointed by this, because I have always found Baby Ruth candy bars to be unsatisfyingly dry, and would almost always choose a Snickers over one.

00:30:00 Chunk's hankering for a fizzy beverage

"Soda pop! Oh boy, am I thirsty!" And then, upon finding the vending machine empty, "Damn it." It is a Pepsi machine, and I am starting to realize which soft drink manufacturer bought product-placement rights to this film.

00:32:47 Chunk makes a brilliant food reference In a flurry of anxiety, Chunk describes a car as having "bullet holes the size of matzo balls!"

00:36:29 Chunk has dinner on the brain. Still

"Mikey, come on. It's dinner time, our parents are worried..."

00:38:55 Chunk gets stereotyped

Sloth (John Matuszak) growls in the distance, and poor Chunk gets blamed: "Chunk, I hope that was your stomach," says Stef (Martha Plimpton).

00:40:50 Chunk gets stereotyped. Again

As Mikey tries to dig for the buried treasure, Mouth suggests: "Listen, why don't we just pour chocolate all over the floor and let Chunk eat his way through!" Mouth, you are officially a bully.

00:43:18 Chunk discovers a freezer in the abandoned restaurant

"I smell ice cream... They've got pralines and cream, they've got Mississippi mud, and they got chocolate eruption, and they got apple, and they got grape. They got grape, and super duper chocolate eruption, and..." Holy hell. They also have a dead person.

00:44:22 Chunk wants some pizza

The bad guys return -- with pizza. Chunk's driven wild: "Pizza... pepperoni," he whispers feverishly.

00:53:45 Chunk tells all

The bad guys -- the Fratelli family -- have nabbed Chunk and begin interrogating him. "And my mom sent me to this summer camp for fat kids and then once during lunch I got nuts, and I pigged out, and they kicked me out."

SEE MORE: The Best Cooking Tricks We've Picked Up Over the Years

01:05:15 Chunk and Sloth watch cooking shows and share a candy bar

This scene is gold. Pure. Gold. Sloth literally breaks his chains OUT OF THE WALL to collect a Baby Ruth that has fallen on the floor. Essentially, how I feel every day at about noon. (Also, wait. Chunk had that in his pocket all along? I will suspend my disbelief and assume he had forgotten about it until this very moment.)

01:09:10 More sharing of candy

Sloth is feeding Chunk the Baby Ruth. There is much kissing (from Sloth) and crying (from Chunk). It feels, still, important to the development of their relationship.

01:12:10 "Rocky Road"

I've heard that this is kind of an epic scene. I now understand why. And I want ice cream.

01:32:00 WHERE IS CHUNK?

It's been ages since we've seen or heard Chunk salivate over junk food. I'm getting worried. Is he okay? Scared? Hungry?

01:38:00 Chunk finally gets some pizza

Well, geez. That was a thrilling couple of hours! (Spoiler alert!) Treasure has been collected, the bad guys have been captured, and the Goonies have been rescued. Chunk's mother is there to greet him, on the beach, with a box of "Domino's Pizza, your favorite!" I feel happy for Chunk. I feel relieved.

Total food references: 22

Total times Chunk appears on screen with food: 9

Total times Chunk actually consumes food on screen: 3

Estimated calories consumed by Chunk: 2,791.5

A handful of potato chips (roughly 5 chips): 38

A few squirts of whipped cream (say, 6 tablespoons): 45

Half a Baby Ruth bar: 148.5

1 Dominoes extra cheese pizza (to be eaten): 2,560

What I ate while watching this movie: Two glasses of rosé, half a kabocha squash, an entire head of kale (I am not ashamed), and a handful of pecans.

See more from Bon Appetit:

25 Ways to Use Sriracha

10 Snacks You Thought Were Healthy But Aren't 10 Restaurants from Books and Movies That Became Real

27 Non-Boring Chicken Recipes

Lynn Harris Leshem: I'm Not Tired!!!

Lynn Harris Leshem: I'm Not Tired!!! 2014-04-17

I'm not tired. For the first time in as many years as I can remember, I'm not tired. I can't complain of being exhausted, overwhelmed or overworked. I can't say, as I did for many years, that I feel tired. What I can say, at the end of the day, as I prepare for bed having washed and brushed and scrubbed and polished, is that I feel sated, that I've lived a full day. But what does that mean?

Every year at this time, Jews gather around the Passover table and tell the tale we've been telling for centuries -- the tale of freedom from slavery. This year, my husband gave a gorgeous preamble to our feast and asked that we each take a few moments to consider the story as metaphor, and to think about what it is that enslaves us. For me, the answer is always the same -- fear. But this year, I pushed hard to be more articulate about my fears in the effort to conquer them. And what I thought about was this: for the past twenty-five years I lived with a routine.

And by routine I don't mean to imply a job that was boring or rote. For twenty-five years, I've been an executive in the movie business. What I loved about my job was the variety at the very heart of it -- every day was different, every movie presented a new challenge. And as a studio executive, stability was also at the heart of my day: I had an office to go to, staff meetings to attend, bosses to inform. By my twenty-fifth year, I was wearing down. I can't guess how many times I complained of being exhausted. And I'm sure no one noticed because I'm sure they were complaining too. We, those of us who've been running on the corporate wheel for many years, become inured to the wretched tune of exhaustion. And at a certain point, we may not even articulate it -- it may just be the one thing that defines and binds us. "I've had such a hard week," "I'm beat," "I'm a wreck," "I can't believe how exhausting this day/week/month/year has been." It's almost as common a response to "How are you?" as "Fine" used to be.

Then, a few months ago, I left that routine and for the first time in twenty-five years, I find myself without a corporate net, without a traditional job. More importantly, I find myself without a routine.

So what do you do when you wake up on the morning of the first day of your new life without an official job? What do you do when you don't have bosses to report to, staff meetings to attend, and boxes to tick? What do you do when the artifice of the security of routine is revealed? Here's what I did. I got out of bed anyway. I worked out -- maybe I took a little longer with my morning routine, a few extra minutes on the elliptical, sipped a more leisurely cup of tea, read a full newspaper rather than just the headlines. And then I got busy. I started reading books I had wanted to read for months. And in those books I found inspiration -- to read more, ask more questions, switch on my snoozing brain and let it start to rev at a more creative speed. I started generating my own ideas, starting writing and researching and germinating those little seeds. Maybe they sprout, maybe they don't. But whatever the result, it will be because of MY energy, MY input, MY efforts. I spent more time with my husband; listening to his desires and talking about ways we could partner in the future so that our marriage encompassed our whole selves and not just our exhausted, post workday selves. I spent more time connecting with my step kids, my friends, some writers and directors I hope to work with. And I noticed something. When I run into people -- friends I've known for a long time or acquaintances through work, they all said the same thing: "You look so relaxed!" And the truth is, they were right. I was more relaxed. More than relaxed, I was happy.

Now, this is not to suggest that my freedom doesn't come with its fair share of anxiety -- fear I'll never work again, fear I won't be able to earn a living, fear I'll fall off the movie business map and die poor and in obscurity. Of course these fantasies race through my brain on a fairly regular basis. But what prevails is the pulsing sensation of vibrancy fed by the freedom to read, write, think, walk and connect with interesting people. And what I want to hold on to, whether I decide to continue on my own as an independent producer or whether I dive back into a job, is this feeling of vibrancy. I want to make sure that I take away from this experience a true understanding of what time is spent on real creativity and what time is frittered away in unnecessary meetings. And I want to make sure to carve out time that is meant just for my brain -- just for reading something that may have NOTHING at all to do with a project or the movie business but is something I want to read. It may spawn a new idea. It may not. But it will enrich my life. And that's what's been missing.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending Tina Brown's WOMEN IN THE WORLD conference in New York. Had I been still in my corporate routine, I would have refused the invitation. "Too busy" would have been my reply. And I would have missed out on a series of inspirational speakers and wonderful connections. When a new acquaintance would ask what I do, I would say, "I'm in a transitional phase" with great hesitation. Yet the statement was always received with excitement and led to conversations about the importance of transition, the importance of taking the time to get to know yourself again and get to know those closest to you, and mostly the concept of MAKING time -- that making time leads to regeneration of spirit, energy, motivation. I realized that this time of renewal is leading to some of the most interesting and exciting opportunities of my career. These are, by far, the most exciting days of my life. They are also, of course, the most terrifying. This is what it feels like to fly without a net.

So here's where I come out: living every day to its fullest doesn't have to mean cramming three days worth of life into a one day bag. It doesn't have to mean living the most extraordinary, action-packed, blisteringly important day of your life. It just means a full day -- a day on which you loved your best, lived your best, fought your best, ate your best. Some of those days are riddled with disappointment -- a project that fizzles out, a schedule frustrated by traffic or other unforeseen wrenches, a little rejection, a few steps forward and a few more back. And some days it's hard to get out of bed, hard to imagine another day without routine. And those are also the days that are just as likely to turn with a surprise phone call or unexpected opportunity. My experience of transition is terrifying and exciting. Transition is forcing me to change. I can say I am more open, more humble, more scared and more motivated. But mostly I can say that what I'm not is tired. You don't have to quit your job or get fired to re-examine your priorities. And you shouldn't have to go through a major transition to figure out ways to renew, rejuvenate and reclaim your life. Just fight for a little bit of space for yourself to not be tired.

Lynn Harris Leshem recently left Warner Bros. where she served the past decade as Executive Vice President, Production. She has been in the entertainment industry for twenty-five years and is finally not tired.

John Feffer: Why Is Obama Listening To Ted Cruz?

John Feffer: Why Is Obama Listening To Ted Cruz? 2014-04-17

I just heard the news: The United States has changed its mind about Jens Stoltenberg, the new head of NATO. The U.S. Congress has passed a resolution blocking his appointment. Apparently, during his youth, Stoltenberg threw stones at the U.S. embassy in Oslo. As such, he constitutes a threat to American national security, and Congress is rightly taking a stand.

Oh, I'm sorry, I must have misheard. It wasn't the new NATO chief that the United States is blocking. Rather, it's Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, who, in addition to having a suspiciously Bulgarian background, was a member of a Marxist underground movement in the 1960s. Congress doesn't want her speaking at the UN, so they've revoked her visa.

Oops, my mistake, it wasn't Dilma Rouseff. It was Chinese dissident Xu Youyu. Even though he is a signatory of the Charter 08 manifesto calling for political reform and democratization in China, he was a Red Guard in his youth, and we all know how dangerously radical they were. So it's good that the U.S. Congress is unanimously blocking his entry into this country.

No, not Xu Youyu? Oh, you said Xi Jinping? Gosh, I often get those Chinese names mixed up. Well, of course, the U.S. Congress shouldn't let Xi Jinping come here. He's the head of the most powerful Communist Party in the world! He was a Communist in his youth. And his father was a Communist bigwig as well. Anti-Americanism clearly runs in his veins. We can't let people like that into the United States!

If this all sounds absurd to you, well, you don't know Ted Cruz, the grandstanding Tea Party Republican from Texas. Last week, Cruz sponsored a Senate bill demanding that Iran rescind its choice as UN envoy, Hamid Aboutalebi. Apparently, Aboutalebi worked as a translator when he was in his twenties, and helped the Iranian students who took Americans hostage back in 1979. Admittedly translation is a dicey profession -- "to translate is to betray," as the Italian saying goes. And I suspect that Ted Cruz considers bilingualism itself to be fundamentally anti-American (why on earth did that Aboutalebi fellow opt to speak a language other than English?).

But it was something else that stuck in Cruz's craw. He felt that Iran was clearly rubbing the hostage crisis in our faces once again. "We, as a country, can send an unequivocal message to rogue nations like Iran that the United States will not tolerate this kind of provocative and hostile behavior," Cruz said.

Cruz neglected to point out that Aboutalebi is an experienced diplomat who has worked in Iranian missions in Australia, Belgium, and Italy. The Texas firebrand, who would never let a bunch of foreigners tell America what to do, has seemingly forgotten that the United States hasn't run Iranian foreign policy since the days of the Shah. But here's the most important point that Cruz, who has a law degree from Harvard University, has overlooked: Iranians have a sovereign right to choose whomever they want to represent them at the UN, just as Texans have the right to choose whatever Ivy League meathead they want to represent them in Congress. And the United States has an obligation under a 1947 agreement with the UN to grant entry visas to diplomatic representatives.

If the story stopped with Ted Cruz, it would be only an amusing anecdote. But, unbelievably, Cruz's measure won the unanimous support of both the Senate and the House. Unanimous? There was no one willing to stand up to bullyboys Ted Cruz and his ally Charles Schumer (D-NY)? Schumer, by the way, has already threatened to blow up the interim nuclear agreement with Iran by supporting a new round of sanctions.

Okay, so Congress is stupid, and that stupidity is bipartisan. But then the Obama administration, instead of reminding Congress that its scope of authority is limited to the territorial boundaries of the United States, actually told Iran that it wouldn't issue a visa to Aboutalebi. Mind you, the Iranian diplomat wasn't coming over here to lobby on K Street or something similarly nefarious. He was going to work for an international organization that just happens to be located in New York.

Iran has, quite rightly, refused withdraw its choice. Tehran is now pursuing a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

You might be surprised to learn that even North Koreans are given visas to represent their mission at the UN. Washington doesn't have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Until rather recently, North Korea was on the list of terrorism-supporting countries. The visas given to the North Korean diplomats are rather restrictive -- they can't travel beyond a 25-mile radius of Manhattan (a distinction they share with UN diplomats from Syria and, yes, Iran). But hey, the North Koreans are still let into the country. I hesitate to write all of this, just in case Ted Cruz discovers that there are North Koreans currently in the United States and decides to sponsor a bill expelling them.

Sure, I can imagine a circumstance in which the United States legitimately blocks the entry of a UN envoy. I wouldn't want a serial killer or the head of a criminal enterprise hanging out at the UN. I wouldn't want an ideologue who denies the existence of the UN or warms to the idea of lopping off 10 stories of the UN building (oops, that was an American, John Bolton, who was a diplomat in name alone). Except for these extreme cases, I'd let all professional diplomats come to New York, regardless of their political beliefs or what they did in their twenties. Let them work at the UN, experience the multiculturalism of New York, and be entranced by the city's excellent delicatessens. If an overstuffed corned beef sandwich on rye doesn't make you pro-American, nothing will.

"It's my party and I'll cry if I want to," sang Leslie Gore back in the 1960s. That's how Ted Cruz and Charles Schumer feel about Iran spoiling their us-versus-them worldview by agreeing to negotiate over its nuclear program. That's how Congress apparently feels about another country exercising its sovereign right to appoint its own diplomats. And that's how the United States feels about the rules of the global disco. It's our party -- and if you don't party by our rules, you're not invited.

Cross-posted with Foreign Policy In Focus

Emma Gray: Mellie Grant Is The Unsung Antihero Of ‘scandal'

Emma Gray: Mellie Grant Is The Unsung Antihero Of ‘scandal' 2014-04-17

"I want his head in the fire and I want to see him burn. I have been destroyed while I have made him president. It is my turn," first lady Mellie Grant told political fixer (and her husband's not-so-secret lover) Olivia Pope on the penultimate episode of this season's "Scandal."

Amidst a months-long conversation about likable female characters (do we expect fictional women to be likable -- and is being likable a bad thing?) and unlikable female characters (the vitriol Anna Gunn received for portraying "Breaking Bad's" Skyler White spurred her to pen a NYTimes op-ed), the women of Shonda Rhimes' hit political thriller slipped somewhat under the radar. But over the last three years, Mellie Grant has steadily proven to be one of the most interesting female characters on network television -- likability be damned. She joins the ranks of the few and far between female antiheroes, right up there with "House of Cards'" Claire Underwood.

All of the characters on "Scandal" are of questionable moral character, and all the more fun for it. Little makes for better television than watching Mellie tear down her tortured, lovelorn husband, plot with chief of staff Cyrus Beene, and alternately verbally abuse Olivia and beg for her help. (And, of course, drink. There is nothing better than Drunk Mellie.)

When we first met "Scandal's" first lady, she was a barrier to Olivia and President Fitz's relationship -- the buttoned-up, Stepford-looking wife who refused to let her husband leave her for another woman and ruin his political image. But this season, Mellie has become a fully-fledged human, a woman who stifled her own ambitions and happiness for the sake of her husband's career, and is just as interesting as Olivia Pope herself. (Side note: Why do either of these badass women want to be with Fitz? He's not only a murderer, but by all accounts, a totally ineffectual and reckless President who would risk his constituents getting blown up in a terror attack to escape the confines of the White House.)

Mellie is ruthless when she feels threatened -- and whip-smart. "The upsetting thing about being as educated as I am and as intelligent as I am is that being first lady is profoundly boring," she tells Fitz in Season 3's premiere. It's easy to believe that a woman who admits she would rather run a war or the CIA than be a figurehead on the President's arm would have a hard time watching her husband and his sociopathic advisors make all of the big decisions.

"It's so easy to disregard or underestimate Mellie," actress Bellamy Young told BuzzFeed's Louis Peitzman of the character she portrays. "She can be so hyperbolic. She has big hair. But she is a smart, smart woman. She is often the smartest woman in the room."

And this season we've seen more of Mellie's backstory. We learned that she was raped by Fitz's father, that she tried to commit suicide and was stopped by now-VP Andrew Nichols, that she very nearly fell in love with Andrew, and that she kept her assault to herself in order to keep Fitz on his political track. And, as NYMag's Margaret Lyons pointed out, fleshing out Mellie's story wasn't a way for the writers to make her more likable, but a way to make us understand her motivations and character on a deeper level.

Because after years of pushing her own needs down and tacitly tolerating her husband's affairs, our dear first lady has reached a breaking point.

"If you knew the sacrifices that I have made, the things that I have given up and the pieces of myself that I have given away for you, and you treat me this way," Mellie tells Fitz in one of the most compelling scenes of the season. "You declare war on me and you shame me and you make me beg for scraps when I have done nothing but fight for you." Of course, this is partially Mellie's revisionist history -- she and Fitz have emotionally tortured each other, it's not a one-way bad marriage -- but Young is at her most electrifying when she's expressing Mellie's pent-up anger.

It is refreshing to see a woman on-screen who is allowed to be both sympathetic and patently awful at times. "Mellie is not the 'scorned woman' or the 'bitch wife' she's sometimes reduced to," writes Peitzman. In fact, it is her flaws and complicated moral grounding that make her so wonderful to watch.

Mellie may not be a "good" person, but she's a fascinating, hooch and whiskey-guzzling, political badass. The beauty of watching a TV antihero is that while you may not like the fictional first lady, you've probably found yourself cheering Mellie on. More of that, please.

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Robert Reich: Antitrust In The New Gilded Age

Robert Reich: Antitrust In The New Gilded Age 2014-04-17

We're in a new gilded age of wealth and power similar to the first gilded age when the nation's antitrust laws were enacted. Those laws should prevent or bust up concentrations of economic power that not only harm consumers but also undermine our democracy -- such as the pending Comcast acquisition of Time-Warner.

In 1890, when Republican Senator John Sherman of Ohio urged his congressional colleagues to act against the centralized industrial powers that threatened America, he did not distinguish between economic and political power because they were one and the same. The field of economics was then called "political economy," and inordinate power could undermine both. "If we will not endure a king as a political power," Sherman thundered, "we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life."

Shortly thereafter, the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed by the Senate 52 to 1, and moved quickly through the House without dissent. President Harrison signed it into law July 2, 1890.

In many respects America is back to the same giant concentrations of wealth and economic power that endangered democracy a century ago. The floodgates of big money have been opened even wider in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in "Citizen's United vs. FEC" and its recent "McCutcheon" decision.

Seen in this light, Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time-Warner for $45 billion is especially troublesome -- and not just because it may be bad for consumers. Comcast is the nation's biggest provider of cable television and high-speed Internet service; Time Warner is the second biggest.

Last week, Comcast's executives descended on Washington to persuade regulators and elected officials that the combination will be good for consumers. They say it will allow Comcast to increase its investments in cable and high-speed Internet, and encourage rivals to do so as well.

Opponents argue the combination will give consumers fewer choices, resulting in higher cable and Internet bills. And any company relying on Comcast's pipes to get its content to consumers (think Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, or any distributor competing with Comcast's own television network, NBCUniversal) also will have to pay more -- charges that will also be passed on to consumers.

I think the opponents have the better argument. Internet service providers in America are already too concentrated, which is why Americans pay more for Internet access than the citizens of almost any other advanced nation.

Some argue that the broadband market already has been carved up into a cartel, so blocking the acquisition would do little to bring down prices. One response would be for the Federal Communications Commission to declare broadband service a public utility and regulate prices.

But Washington should also examine a larger question beyond whether the deal is good or bad for consumers: Is it good for our democracy?

We haven't needed to ask this question for more than a century because America hasn't experienced the present concentration of economic wealth and power in more than a century.

But were Senator John Sherman were alive today he'd note that Comcast is already is a huge political player, contributing $1,822,395 so far in the 2013-2014 election cycle, according todata collected by the Center for Responsive Politics -- ranking it 18th of all 13,457 corporations and organizations that have donated to campaigns since the cycle began.

Of that total, $1,346,410 has gone individual candidates, including John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid; $323,000 to Leadership PACs; $278,235 to party organizations; and $261,250 to super PACs.

Last year, Comcast also spent $18,810,000 on lobbying, the seventh highest amount of any corporation or organization reporting lobbying expenditures, as required by law.

Comcast is also one of the nation's biggest revolving doors. Of its 107 lobbyists, 86 worked in government before lobbying for Comcast. Its in-house lobbyists include several former chiefs of staff to Senate and House Democrats and Republicans as well as a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

Nor is Time-Warner a slouch when it comes to political donations, lobbyists, and revolving doors. It also ranks near the top.

When any large corporation wields this degree of political influence it drowns out the voices of the rest of us, including small businesses. The danger is greater when such power is wielded by media giants because they can potentially control the marketplace of ideas on which a democracy is based.

When two such media giants merge, the threat is extreme. If film-makers, television producers, directors, and news organizations have to rely on Comcast to get their content to the public, Comcast is able to exercise a stranglehold on what Americans see and hear.

Remember, this is occurring in America's new gilded age -- similar to the first one in which a young Teddy Roosevelt castigated the "malefactors of great wealth, who were "equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil."

It's that same equal carelessness toward average Americans and toward our democracy that ought to be of primary concern to us now. Big money that engulfs government makes government incapable of protecting the rest of us against the further depredations of big money.

After becoming President in 1901, Roosevelt used the Sherman Act against forty-five giant companies, including the giant Northern Securities Company that threatened to dominate transportation in the Northwest. William Howard Taft continued to use it, busting up the Standard Oil Trust in 1911.

In this new gilded age, we should remind ourselves of a central guiding purpose of America's original antitrust law, and use it no less boldly.

ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix Instant Watch. Watch the trailer below:

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Who Are The Koch Brothers And What Do They Want?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Who Are The Koch Brothers And What Do They Want? 2014-04-17

As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires and large corporations can now spend an unlimited amount of money to influence the political process. The results of that decision are clear. In the coming months and years the Koch brothers and other extraordinarily wealthy families will spend billions of dollars to elect right-wing candidates to the Senate, the House, governors' mansions and the presidency of the United States. These billionaires already own much of our economy. That, apparently, is not enough. Now, they want to own the United States government as well.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court handed down the 5-4 ruling in Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission. A few weeks ago, they announced another horrendous campaign finance decision in McCutcheon vs. FEC giving even more political power to the rich. Now, many Republicans want to push this Supreme Court to go even further. In the name of "free speech," they want the Court to eliminate all restrictions on campaign spending - a position that Justice Thomas supported in McCutcheon - and a view supported by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Importantly, as a means of being able to exercise unprecedented power over the political process, this has been the position of the Koch brothers for at least the last 34 years.

The Koch brothers are the second wealthiest family in America, making most of their money in the fossil fuel industry. According to Forbes Magazine, they saw their wealth increase last year from $68 billion to $80 billion. In other words, under the "anti-business", "socialist" and "oppressive" Obama administration, their wealth went up by $12 billion in one year.

In their 2012 campaigns, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each spent a little more than $1 billion. For the Koch brothers, spending more than Obama and Romney combined would be a drop in their bucket. They would hardly miss the few billion dollars.

Given the reality that the Koch brothers are now the most important and powerful players in American politics, it is important to know what they want and what their agenda is.

It is not widely known that David Koch was the Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate in 1980. He believed that Ronald Reagan was much too liberal. Despite Mr. Koch putting a substantial sum of money into the campaign, his ticket only received 1 percent of the vote. Most Americans thought the Libertarian Party platform of 1980 was extremist and way out of touch with what the American people wanted and needed.

Fast-forward 34 years and the most significant reality of modern politics is how successful David Koch and like-minded billionaires have been in moving the Republican Party to the extreme right. Amazingly, much of what was considered "extremist" and "kooky" in 1980 has become part of today's mainstream Republican thinking.

Let me give you just a few examples:

In 1980, Libertarian vice-presidential candidate David Koch ran on a platform that called for abolishing the minimum wage. Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, not only does virtually every Republican in Congress oppose raising the $7.25 an hour minimum wage, many of them, including Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and John McCain, are on record for abolishing the concept of the federal minimum wage.

In 1980, the platform of David Koch's Libertarian Party favored "the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs." Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of one percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party, as seen in the recently passed Ryan budget, is to end Medicare as we know it, cut Medicaid by more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade, and repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Under the Ryan plan, at least 40 million people -- 1 in 8 Americans -- would lose health insurance or fail to obtain insurance by 2024. Most of them would be people with low or moderate incomes."

In 1980, the platform of David Koch's Libertarian Party called for "the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system." Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party is that "entitlement reform" is absolutely necessary. For some, this means major cuts in Social Security. For others who believe Social Security is unconstitutional or a Ponzi scheme this means the privatization of Social Security or abolishing this program completely for those who are under 60 years of age.

In 1980, David Koch's Libertarian Party platform stated "We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes ... We support the eventual repeal of all taxation ... As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately." Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, 75 Republicans in the House have co-sponsored a bill that Paul Ryan has said "would eliminate taxes on wages, corporations, self-employment, capital gains, and gift and death taxes in favor of a personal-consumption tax."

Here is what every American should be deeply concerned about. The Koch brothers, through the expenditure of billions of dollars and the creation and support of dozens of extreme right organizations, have taken fringe extremist ideas and made them mainstream within the Republican Party. And now with Citizens United (which is allowing them to pour unlimited sums of money into the political process) their power is greater than ever.

And let's be very clear. Their goal is not only to defund Obamacare, cut Social Security, oppose an increase in the minimum wage or cut federal funding for education. Their world view and eventual goal is much greater than all of that. They want to repeal every major piece of legislation that has been signed into law over the past 80 years that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick and the most vulnerable in this country. Every piece of legislation!

The truth is that the agenda of the Koch brothers is to move this country from a democratic society with a strong middle class to an oligarchic form of society in which the economic and political life of the nation are controlled by a handful of billionaire families.

Our great nation must not be hijacked by right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers.

For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we must fight back.

Robert Redford: President Obama, Put The Arctic Off-limits To Big Oil

Robert Redford: President Obama, Put The Arctic Off-limits To Big Oil 2014-04-17

Four years ago this week, BP's Deepwater Horizon drill platform exploded. Eleven workers died that day. Their bodies were never found. Over the next 87 days, 210 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. It fouled fishing grounds, ravaged the coastline, and shut down tourism. The world got an ugly look at some of the terrible hidden costs of fossil fuels. Spill-related health problems plague the people and the wildlife of the Gulf to this very day.

I personally hoped that we, as a nation, would quickly learn from this tragedy and move swiftly to prevent a repeat disaster in our most vulnerable coastal environments. So it boggles the mind that Shell Oil is still determined to drill in one of the most fragile and remote ecosystems on Earth: the Arctic Ocean -- the last bastion of America's polar bears, endangered bowhead whales and other rare wildlife. For Native Alaskans who live along the coast, this ocean has been the source of their food security and a way of life since time immemorial.

It's sheer madness to drill in the Arctic -- in treacherous conditions of gale-force winds, 20-foot seas, sub-zero temperatures, shifting currents -- and for eight months of the year -- solid pack ice. If the oil industry was utterly unprepared for a blowout in the balmy Gulf of Mexico, how in the world can we trust them in a treacherous environment like the Arctic? Nobody knows how to clean up oil there, even during the open water season. And once the ice and long Arctic night close in, there'd be zero hope of plugging a blow-out or containing a spill.

Those harsh conditions also guarantee human and mechanical error. During a disastrous 2012 attempt at Arctic drilling, Shell Oil experienced fires, leaks, slipped anchors, emergency gear that was "crushed like a beer car," and a 30-mile iceberg that sent its ships fleeing.

A just-released Coast Guard report says Shell's reckless and failed attempt to tow its Arctic Ocean drill rig in 2012 was riddled with poor planning and judgment -- and involved numerous potential violations of the law.

Then, a couple of months ago, the Arctic caught a huge break. A federal appeals court ruled that in 2008, when the government approved drilling there, it wildly underestimated the risks of spills and other hazards. That has stopped all drill efforts for now. And it's created a golden opportunity for President Obama to chart a new course by putting the Arctic completely off-limits to Shell and every other oil company -- for good.

It also sets the president up to lead the fight against climate change. Left to their own devices, oil companies will drill and unleash every last bit of carbon-polluting crude they can get their hands on. Just two weeks ago ExxonMobil said it "takes the risk of climate change seriously," but that they'd go right on digging and burning all their oil reserves.

To be blunt, that is crazy talk. There's a clear scientific consensus that pumping that much carbon into the atmosphere will change life on Earth as we know it.

That's why I made this video, calling on all Americans to stand up to Big Oil by asking President Obama to ban oil drilling in the Arctic and lead the way to a future powered by 100% clean energy. Please make your own voice heard at www.DemandCleanPower.org. But don't delay. In a court filing last week, Shell indicated it's counting the days till it can get back into the Arctic. We have to make sure that never happens.

Bert Mccracken: The War On Drugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sadism."

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

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

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

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

Deadly Ideology

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

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

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

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

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

The Shameful Death of Charlene Dill

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

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

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

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

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

But how can they live with themselves?

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

Fifty Shades of Red

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

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

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

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

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