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Dispelling the Myths Behind "Bathroom Bills" and Other Forms of Transphobia

Truth-Out - 20 hours 37 min ago

Common and harmful misconceptions about trans and gender-nonconforming people are dismantled in the book "You're in the Wrong Bathroom!" The authors tell Truthout why they wanted to write a book that could enable allies to educate themselves, why no community is a monolith, and why they believe that understanding the origins of myths is "the first step toward dispelling them."

Laura A. Jacobs and Laura Erickson-Schroth. (Photos courtesy of Beacon Press)

What are the most harmful myths and misconceptions currently circulating about trans and gender-nonconforming people? Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs dismantle myths about gender, sexuality, biology and identity -- whether based on junk science, media misinformation or plain bigotry -- in their new book "You're in the Wrong Bathroom!" Order your copy by making a tax-deductible donation to Truthout today.

The 21 myths and misconceptions about trans and gender-nonconforming people dealt with in "You're in the Wrong Bathroom!" range from pernicious lies used to justify harmful legislation ("Trans People Are a Danger to Others, Especially Children") to preconceptions regarding how much social and legal progress has been made ("Getting Hormones and Surgery Is Easy" and "Laws Support Trans People"). They also include generalizations often made by well-meaning allies that do not encompass the full range of trans and gender-nonconforming experience ("Trans People Are 'Trapped in the Wrong Body'").

In the following interview, the authors told Truthout about why they wanted to write a book that could enable allies to educate themselves, why it's important to remember that the trans community is not a monolith, and why they believe that understanding the origins of myths is "the first step toward dispelling them."

Joe Macaré: What prompted you to take the specific approach of "You're in the Wrong Bathroom!"? Why structure the book around common myths and misconceptions?

Laura Erickson-Schroth: Because of the many myths about trans people that permeate our culture, we felt that structuring a book of essays around these myths could be an easily accessible and fun way to learn about trans lives.

Laura A. Jacobs: The book is part of Beacon's "myths" series and so follows the same format. As someone trans- and genderqueer-identified, my personal mission has been to expand services to trans and gender-nonconforming people, to educate those in and around our communities, and to deepen understanding of gender worldwide. I do this as a psychotherapist with clients, through appearances and writing in media, in lecturing at conferences and organizations, and by improving health care policy and access as chair of the board of directors for the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in Manhattan. To me, these all constitute forms of activism.

I was struck by the compassion and benefit of the doubt the book extends toward non-trans families, loved ones, friends and would-be "allies." How deliberate was this, and if deliberate, why do you think this is important?

Jacobs: No one transitions alone. We each exist within a web of connections, and the lives of those around us change as well. Though the burden is on allies to educate themselves, they are still individuals with opinions, feelings and needs.

There is no evidence that trans people are a threat to others in public restrooms.

In my work with clients, it is clear that centering the trans person while simultaneously addressing the needs of all involved reinforces those bonds for the benefit of all. Families grow closer. Friendships deepen. Our allies develop a more nuanced understanding of us as individuals and our lives as trans people, and we all gain from increased support, openness and compassion. And poking a potential ally in the eye with a sharp stick rarely improves the relationship.

Erickson-Schroth: We deliberately wrote the book with friends, family and other potential allies in mind, knowing that increased knowledge and exposure can change minds. Trans people, just like everyone else, need family and community support to live fulfilling lives, and we would love to help increase the number of people who can fill these roles.

You make the point that "bathroom bill" legislation relies on scaremongering which ignores both the lack of instances of trans persons being arrested for sexual assault in a bathroom, and the fact that public bathrooms are places in which gender is already highly scrutinized. Are these bills motivated by ignorance or plain cruelty?

Jacobs: Laura ... and I may have different positions on this. If a friend and I -- me being trans and genderqueer -- go to dinner where we relax, enjoy drinks, then head to a movie, eventually my bladder will demand emptying. In a state with "bathroom" legislation, I may risk violence, fines or imprisonment to address a basic body function (trans people urinate much like every other human), or I may squirm uncomfortably through the rest of the film, clenching my knees as tightly as I can. 

What happens the next weekend? Since I'm unwilling to risk my well-being for a cliché rom-com, I may instead stay home with Netflix and ultimately will feel a pressure to leave the area altogether.

There is no evidence that trans people are a threat to others in public restrooms, and overwhelming documentation of trans people being subject to physical and sexual assault in such settings.

There is a misconception that children are being started on hormones at early ages.

Much like "separate but equal" water fountain laws constraining African American people into the shadows in the 1950s, if I cannot pee in public, I cannot be in public. It seems a deliberate repetition of history. To suggest this is merely an unfortunate consequence of "safeguarding women and children" seems naïve.

Erickson-Schroth: There are, of course, those who purposefully do what they can to strip others of their rights, but I think that, for the most part, the majority of supporters of anti-trans bathroom bills simply have not been exposed to trans people or to knowledge about trans lives.

Interestingly, much of the language around bathroom bills relates to fears that if transgender people are allowed to use bathrooms that match their gender identities, then cisgender (non-transgender) men will dress as women in order to enter women's bathrooms. This type of argument makes it clear that the real fear is about cisgender men, and not trans women. In fact, there are no documented cases of trans people attacking others in bathrooms, and many reported cases of trans people being the victims of assault. Trans people, like everyone else, need a safe place to use the bathroom.

The ideas of people like Ken Zucker continue to get a media platform under the pretext of concern for young people or those who later regret their decision. Can you talk a little about why these ideas are both harmful and discredited?

Erickson-Schroth: The topic of gender-nonconforming children is a hot-button issue. Studies have shown that children do best if they are supported in exploring their identities, but there are still some practitioners who attempt to use "reparative" or "conversion" therapy to change them. Some states have outlawed this type of treatment, as there is evidence that it can be harmful.

There is a misconception that children are being started on hormones at early ages, when in fact experts agree that the best approach for young children is to support social exploration of gender. Adolescents can be started on puberty blockers, which are a safe and effective way to delay puberty until a teen and their family are ready to consider adult hormones.

Rates of regret and "detransition" remain extremely low.

Jacobs: More and more studies consistently document that when we get support, we thrive. Trans youth in encouraging environments -- including schools, families, social groups, and so on -- perform equally well in school as their cisgender (non-trans) peers. But it is the youth in uncooperative environments -- where the schools do not use their preferred name and pronoun, where they are subject to bigotry and bullying, where families reject their identities -- that demonstrate extremely high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. The environment is the difference.

Many who claim to be "experts" cling to older data and outdated notions of gender or transgender identity, demanding trans-identified youth and adults prove their transness only through failure to live cisgender lives before being allowed to transition. Others proceed from the unspoken belief that transgender people threaten society and that trans lives can and should be avoided. These "experts" only continue a legacy of mainstream professionals believing they know what is best for marginalized communities, imposing their beliefs on others. 

Rates of regret and "detransition" remain extremely low.

When individuals who misuse data or who profess bigoted beliefs as "facts" are legitimized, it only serves to maintain them in power and to further stigmatize individuals in pain. It confuses those who would otherwise help, raising unnecessary doubt and imposing unreasonable burden to receive care. It is my belief that such "professionals" are dinosaurs on the wrong side of history, and should immediately step down. Ultimately, these philosophies only inflict more harm on those already suffering.

How did you approach those myths where there is an element of truth (such as the challenges of dating you mention in chapter 11), or where you wanted to avoid stigmatizing those for whom something is true while dispelling the myth that it applies to all trans people?

Erickson-Schroth: One of our goals in writing this book was to dispel the myth that all trans people are the same, and to emphasize the diversity of trans communities. That is why so many of the myths in the book have some element of truth to them -- because trans people are not made from cookie cutters. We also did not want to be unrealistic about the difficulties that many trans people face because of societal stigma. We want the book to be positive but truthful.

Science is susceptible to the same biases and missteps as any other field.

Jacobs: The trans community is not a monolith. There are people who feel terms like "transsexual" describe their identity. There are others, mostly younger activists, who view the word as outdated and discriminatory. Is one or the other group more "right"?

The trans community is a vibrant, diverse collection of people with a broad variety of identities, opinions and beliefs. Disappointingly, we have witnessed horizontal oppression common to so many marginalized groups -- members of the community attacking or shaming other members due to perceived slights or differences in perspective. We can make space for all.

Several of the myths you debunk apply more broadly to current societal ideas about gender and biology. What are some of the misconceptions about their own bodies and genders that cis people should realize are based on junk science?

Erickson-Schroth: Science, although we think of it as objective, is susceptible to the same biases and missteps as any other field. There are whole industries built around books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, but in reality, there is very little evidence that biological differences lead to the polarized society that we live in. All people have both testosterone and estrogen in their bodies, and men's and women's brains are, for the most part, indistinguishable. Additionally, intersex people -- those whose bodies can be categorized as neither 100 percent male nor 100 percent female -- make up a larger percentage of the population than most people think.

The notion of a clear gender binary is anything but proven.

Books like Rebecca Jordan-Young's Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences highlight the motivations of researchers (often to "prove" a biological basis for gender differences) and the limitations inherent in approaching science through the lens of culture.

Jacobs: Trans and gender-nonconforming people have an opportunity not afforded to most: to investigate an area of life largely ignored by our culture. In transitioning, we can actively question the assumptions of society around gender, sexuality and the body, often concluding that the stereotypes we were taught are artificial. Other societies have understood gender and sexuality very differently, making plain that Western notions are no more "inherent" than any other.

The notion of a clear gender binary is anything but proven. Were one to unscrew the top of someone's head and look down, the brain would not be pink or blue, nor would it be easy for a neuroscientist to identify it as male or female. Genetics, hormone balance or the role of environment are similarly unclear.

Given the diversity of trans communities, there are typically a variety of opinions on any given issue.

Gender, considered separable into two distinct categories, need not be limited by the stereotypes of "Barbie" and "Ken," not merely for those of us trans and gender nonconforming, but for everyone. We demonstrate that gender is multidimensional, nuanced and relevant for us all.

It's clear you attempted to include as much nuance and be as comprehensive as possible while still keeping this a very accessible book. What were the particular challenges when dealing with shifting debates or contested issues within communities, and how did you address those challenges?

Jacobs: The one piece that might be relevant is: I approach gender with no judgments. I firmly believe in body and identity autonomy. I make clear to each of the clients that seek me out for gender-related therapy that they never need to prove to me that they are trans. They may have known from birth or they may have come to that conclusion recently. They may have a binary identity or their sense of self might defy norms and even definition.

The only thing I seek from clients is that they demonstrate thoughtfulness. So long as they are making thoughtful decisions, I will support whatever choices they make. I take a similar approach when writing or speaking.

Erickson-Schroth: Given the diversity of trans communities, there are typically a variety of opinions on any given issue. For instance, many trans people oppose gender-related diagnoses in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) because they feel they are stigmatizing. However, there are trans people who support the continued inclusion of these diagnoses for various reasons, one of which is that they can sometimes be helpful for health insurance coverage. There are certainly issues we took a hard line on, but when possible, we attempted to point out that there are multiple sides to each issue.

Truthout Progressive Pick

Refuting common harmful myths about trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Click here now to get the book!

Unfortunately, there are still a vocal number of individuals pushing transphobic misconceptions in the media -- not just in the right and centrist media, but even in purportedly feminist, progressive or left media. Can those voices ever be educated out of these misconceptions, and if not, what do readers need to remember when they encounter these myths?

Erickson-Schroth: It is likely that there are people who cannot be reached, no matter what we do, but for some, meeting and interacting with trans people can humanize a group that may have seemed too different to connect with. When these things fail, and we encounter myths or misconceptions about any group, including trans people, it can be helpful to think about why the myths persist. What purpose do they serve? What kinds of fears do they prey upon? Understanding where myths come from is the first step toward dispelling them.

Jacobs: We are long past the day when we considered it appropriate for outsiders to lead a marginalized community. Unfortunately, many in society and media still listen to cis "experts" over members of the trans community itself. It's time that changed.

A Killer Cop Gets Away With an Execution

Truth-Out - 20 hours 37 min ago
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Maybe it shouldn't be surprising anymore.

A cop murders a sobbing, unarmed man as he's sprawled on the ground, begging not to be shot. This is one of the rare police killings where an officer was actually charged with a crime. But in the end, he was acquitted.

It shouldn't be surprising, given the litany of cases -- Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and on and on -- in which killer cops walked free after murdering someone.

But anyone who has had the stomach to watch the footage of the last moments of Daniel Shaver's life -- to witness his terror, his frantic pleas, and the unchecked relish that Mesa, Arizona, police took in demanding his humiliating compliance in the moments before officer Philip Brailsford opened fire -- should be outraged by both the circumstances of the killing and the fact that Brailsford is a free man today.

Daniel Shaver was killed in January 2016, but the video of his murder was only released to the public this week, after Brailsford was acquitted on charges of murder and manslaughter earlier this month.

For most people, there's simply no way to view the four-plus minutes of footage, recorded by a body camera worn by Brailsford, without coming away sickened by the actions of police.

In an interview, veteran attorney Mark Geragos, who represents Shaver's widow and two small children, described the chilling footage as some of the most horrifying he's seen in his career:

One of the worst experiences I've ever had in my life is sitting in a courtroom with his widow, who watched it for the second time, and she literally went into convulsions. I had to grab her to hold her in a bear hug. It was just awful...

I've been doing criminal and civil rights [legal work] for 35 years. I've seen thousands of tapes. This is light years beyond anything I've ever seen...it burns a hole in your brain. I literally had nightmares about it.

***

Police were called to Shaver's hotel room on January 18, 2016 after a report that he had been pointing a "rifle" out the window. In actuality, he had been drinking with an acquaintance and showed her a pellet gun he used for his work in pest control.

Arizona is an "open carry" state, including for weapons like rifles -- but that didn't matter to the police. (Notably, the hypocrites at the National Rifle Association haven't made any statement in defense of Shaver's right to have a weapon.)

Brailsford and five other officers showed up and ordered Shaver and his companion out of the room. The terrified man, unarmed, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, is shown in the video putting his hands in the air immediately and lying down on the floor of the hotel hallway.

"If you make a mistake, another mistake, there is a very severe possibility that you're both going to get shot. Do you understand?" Sgt. Charles Langley yelled. As the video unfolds, Langley tells Shaver, "If you move, we're going to consider that a threat, and we are going to deal with it, and you may not survive it."

Langley's directions to Shaver only added to the confusion -- he tells Shaver to not put his hands down for any reason, only to then tell him to crawl forward.

When Shaver's legs became uncrossed -- apparently inadvertently after Langley instructed him to push himself into a kneeling position -- Langley screams and threatens him again, prompting a sobbing Shaver to yell, "I'm sorry...Please do not shoot me."

Shaver then crawls down the hallway as instructed by officers -- but when he makes the mistake of reaching back, apparently to pull up his shorts, Brailsford begins shooting -- and doesn't stop until he unloads five rounds. The "shots were fired so rapidly that in watching the video at regular speed, one cannot count them," read the report from the detective who investigated the shooting.

That same report, while agreeing that the move Shaver made could have been interpreted as reaching for a weapon, also noted that there was nothing preventing the officers from handcuffing Shaver while he was on the ground.

Yet at trial, Brailsford was unapologetic, telling the jury, "If this situation happened exactly as it did that time, I would have done the same thing."

He had the nerve to say, however, that he was "incredibly sad" for Shaver.

As Buck Sexton -- a former CIA officer hardly predisposed to be critical of law enforcement -- wrote for The Hill, "Officers Brailsford and Langley turned a routine arrest into a lethal game of 'Simon Says,' and Shaver paid for it with his life...Shaver tried to grab a shred of dignity in the situation, not a weapon, and a hyper-aggressive cop shot him for it...Simply put, the Shaver shooting was an execution video. "

***

There were a total of six officers on the scene, yet Brailsford was the only one to fire his weapon. So which is more likely -- that his fellow officers underestimated the risk that the unarmed man posed, or that Brailsford overreacted?

And maybe Brailsford was predisposed to fire.

The officer had been investigated -- though cleared of wrongdoing -- for excessive use of force in 2015 after video showed him slamming a teenager to the ground as fellow officers engaged in similar tactics against another.

One piece of information that the jury never got to hear was the fact that Brailsford had etched the words "You're fucked" into the AR-15 that he used to kill Shaver -- a chilling indication of the macho posturing and enthusiasm for killing that the cop gravitated toward.

That fact, however, was ruled "prejudicial" -- so lawyers couldn't tell the jury about it.

The Mesa police department fired Brailsford after Shaver's killing for "policy violations," including the inscription on his weapon. But even that rare move wasn't enough to convince a jury to convict.

Shaver was white, but many Black Lives Matter activists have called for justice for him and his family, pointing out that while many acts of police brutality are unquestionably motivated by racism, cases like the murder of Daniel Shaver show that the epidemic of police violence goes even further.

As this article was being written, police in the US had shot and killed at least 2,884 people between 2015 and 2017, according to a . Despite widespread outrage at the killings, as well as calls for both more prosecutions of killer cops and measures like the increased use of police body cameras, the pace of the killings has remained consistent -- with at least 926 people killed so far this year.

***

Daniel Shaver was just one of the lives taken, but his case illuminates the degree to which cops are allowed to kill with near impunity in America -- and the threat they pose to ordinary people.

While statistics show that three-quarters of murder victims in the US are killed by someone they know, of the quarter who are killed by strangers, one-third are killed by police. Writing at Granta, Patrick Ball noted:

America is a land ruled by fear. We fear that our children will be abducted by strangers, that crazed gunmen will perpetrate mass killings in our schools and theaters, that terrorists will gun us down or blow up our buildings, and that serial killers will stalk us on dark streets. All of these risks are real, but they are minuscule in probability: taken together, these threats constitute less than 3 percent of total annual homicides in the US

The numerically greater threat to our safety, and the largest single category of strangers who threaten us, are the people we have empowered to use deadly force to protect us from these less probable threats. The question for Americans is whether we will continue to tolerate police violence at this scale in return for protection against the quantitatively less likely threats.

The answer suggested by the acquittal of Phillip Brailsford -- like many other killer cops before him -- is a discouraging one.

Not everyone is at the same risk, of course -- police disproportionately kill, injure and brutalize African Americans and other minorities, rarely suffering any consequences. Nationally, only 80 officers have even been charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings in the 12 years between 2005 and April 2017.

As ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson noted in a statement:

The police are screaming that the cost of a mistake is death -- what kind of training teaches that as a proper way to deal with people?...

This video demonstrates how far we have gone as a country in accepting the culture of police violence. Policing in America has advanced to the state where anyone can be killed for no good reason.

The Trump Administration's Streak of False Claims Is Still Going Strong

Truth-Out - 20 hours 37 min ago

Even before President Donald Trump entered the White House, he and his allies provided a constant barrage of misinformation to the American public -- an effort that didn't stop once in office. By six months into the presidency, the New York Times -- which had been keeping an exhaustive list of his falsehoods -- simply gave up on the effort, perhaps finding it just too difficult to stay current.

But now -- nearly a year into Trump's term -- the administration continues to make misleading claims that support their policies. And to emphasize just how little they care about public perception at this point, officials are no longer even trying to offer evidence in support of their assertions.

For a team that has made touting falsehoods a constant in their governing, the idea that they should simply be trusted at their word is laughable -- yet that's exactly what they expect.

Earlier this week, in response to massive blowback from constituents over the new tax cut bill and its projected impact in adding to the national debt, the Treasury Department responded with a literal memo saying, "Don't worry, the cuts will pay for themselves."

Yet Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin didn't provide much in the way of facts to back up the statement. And what little he did offer was easily refuted. The Washington Post reports:

Take your pick of independent analyses refuting Treasury's conclusion, because all of them do. A new look from the Penn Wharton Budget Model on Monday found that even factoring in growth, the Senate bill adds $1.5 trillion to $1.8 trillion to the national debt over a decade. The outlet adds that, "37 of 38 economists across the ideological spectrum surveyed by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business agreed the bill will add to the debt substantially (the 38th misread the question).

And the tax cut debate isn't the only issue prompting the Trump administration to make baseless claims. In an effort to end net neutrality, FCC Chair Ajit Pai has repeatedly asserted that ending the regulations on internet service providers would be a boon for small ISPs who were unable to expand under the current system.

But as Arstechnica reports, it looks like Pai actually made the story up:

But Pai's announcement offered no data to support this assertion. So advocacy group Free Press looked at the FCC's broadband deployment data for these companies and found that four of them had expanded into new territory. The fifth didn't expand into new areas but it did start offering gigabit Internet service. These expansions happened after the FCC imposed its Title II net neutrality rules. (Title II is the statute that the FCC uses to enforce net neutrality rules and regulate common carriers.)

That isn't the only lie Pai told, either. Like the large telecoms themselves, Pai has insisted that net neutrality regulations have kept telemedicine from expanding – a statement Motherboard aggressively debunks:

Pai packs several falsehoods tightly into this statement. One, again, nothing in the current rules bans telemedicine app and service prioritization. Two, Pai's claims that 'robust transparency requirements' and 'FTC-led consumer protection' will remain post repeal are largely debunked by the fine print in his own plan, which indicates the agency intends to eliminate both the legal justification and enforcement mechanisms that actually require ISP transparency. Pai also ignores that the FTC's authority over ISPs is currently in doubt thanks to an ongoing court battle against AT&T.

There is little doubt that the administration believes it should simply be able to make statements and have them accepted without question. And that's pretty ironic, considering their ongoing war on the traditional media -- perhaps the lone gatekeeper of facts in a country now swimming in misdirection and distortion.

Just this week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders escalated that battle again by essentially calling mainstream media a pack of liars whom the public shouldn't trust and claiming that these outlets are willfully and purposefully attempting to discredit the administration.

"Yes, there is a big difference between honest mistakes and purposely misleading people by reporting information that you know to be false," agrees CNN's political pundit Chris Cillizza. "But, there's absolutely zero evidence -- cited by Sanders or anyone else in the Trump administration -- that any reporter covering the Trump White House has published something they knew to be false. Not any."

Even when it comes to claiming that the media is lying, the Trump administration still can't be bothered to support its claims. Once again, these officials expect Americans to take them at their word -- no matter how meaningless it might be.

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Three Myths About the Poor That Republicans Are Using to Support Slashing the US Safety Net

Truth-Out - 20 hours 37 min ago
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Republicans continue to use long-debunked myths about the poor as they defend lower taxes for the rich and deep cuts to the social safety net to pay for them. In so doing, they are essentially expressing scorn for working class and low-income Americans. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, recently justified reducing the number of wealthy families exposed to the estate tax as a way to recognize "the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."

Similarly, Sen. Orrin Hatch raised concerns about funding certain entitlement programs. "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves, won't lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything," he said.

These statements, the likes of which I expect we'll all hear more of in coming months, reinforce three harmful narratives about low-income Americans: People who receive benefits don't work, they don't deserve help and the money spent on the social safety net is a waste of money. 

Based on my research and 20 years of experience as a clinical law professor representing low-income clients, I know that these statements are false and only serve to reinforce misconceptions about working class and poor Americans.

Most Welfare Recipients Are Makers Not Takers

The first myth, that people who receive public benefits are "takers" rather than "makers," is flatly untrue for the vast majority of working-age recipients.

Consider Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps, which currently serve about 42 million Americans. At least one adult in more than half of SNAP-recipient households are working. And the average SNAP subsidy is $125 per month, or $1.40 per meal -- hardly enough to justify quitting a job.

As for Medicaid, nearly 80 percent of adults receiving Medicaid live in families where someone works, and more than half are working themselves.

In early December, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, "We have a welfare system that's trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work." 

Not true. Welfare -- officially called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families -- has required work as a condition of eligibility since then-President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law in 1996. And the earned income tax credit, a tax credit for low- and moderate-income workers, by definition, supports only people who work.

Workers apply for public benefits because they need assistance to make ends meet. American workers are among the most productive in the world, but over the last 40 years the bottom half of income earners have seen no income growth. As a result, since 1973, worker productivity has grown almost six times faster than wages. 

In addition to wage stagnation, most Americans are spending more than one-third of their income on housing, which is increasingly unaffordable. There are 11 million renter households paying more than half their income on housing. And there is no county in America where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom home. Still, only 1 in 4eligible households receive any form of government housing assistance.

To be sure, there are recipients of public benefits who do not work. They are primarily children, the disabled and the elderly -- in other words, people who cannot or should not work. These groups constitute the majority of public benefits recipients.

Society should support these people out of basic decency, but there are self-interested reasons as well. To begin with, all working adults have been children, will someday be old and, at any time, might face calamities that take them out of the workforce. The safety net exists to rescue people during these vulnerable periods. Indeed, most people who receive public benefits leave the programs within three years.

Moreover, many public benefits pay for themselves over time, as healthier and financially secure people are more productive and contribute to the overall economy. For example, every dollar in SNAP spending is estimated to generate more than $1.70 in economic activity. 

Similarly, Medicaid benefits are associated with enhancing work opportunities. The earned income tax credit contributes to work rates, improves the health of recipient families and has long-term educational and earnings benefits for children. 

What the Needy Deserve

The second myth is that low-income Americans do not deserve a helping hand. 

This idea derives from our belief that the US is a meritocracy where the most deserving rise to the top. Yet where a person ends up on the income ladder is tied to where they started out. 

Indeed, America is not nearly as socially mobile as we like to think. Forty percent of Americans born into the bottom-income quintile -- the poorest 20 percent -- will stay there. And the same "stickiness" exists in the top quintile. 

As for people born into the middle class, only 20 percent will ascend to the top quintile in their lifetimes.

The third myth is that government assistance is a waste of money and doesn't accomplish its goals. 

In fact, poverty rates would double without the safety net, to say nothing of human suffering. Last year, the safety net lifted 38 million people, including 8 million children, out of poverty.

The Facts of Welfare

In trotting out these myths, Republican lawmakers are also tapping into long-standing racist stereotypes about who receives support. For instance, the "welfare queen" -- a code word for an African-American woman with too many children who refuses to work -- is a fiction.

The facts of welfare are that most recipients are white, families that receive aid are smaller on average than other families and the program requires recipients to work and is tiny in relation to the overall federal budget -- about half a percent. Yet, the welfare queen is an archetype invoked to generate public antagonism against the safety net. Expect her to make frequent appearances in the months to come.

Americans should demand fact-based justifications for tax and entitlement reforms. It is time to retire the welfare queen and related tropes that paint needy Americans as undeserving.

Disclosure statement: Michele Gilman is affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Women's Law Center of Maryland.

After Alabama: A Fierce, Strategic and Organized Hope Is the Only Way Forward

Truth-Out - 20 hours 37 min ago

Voters wait in line to cast their ballot at a polling station setup in the St. Thomas Episcopal Church on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Of late, politics has been, to borrow a phrase from my youth, a hot mess. Some hot messes are the sort that people pull up their lawn chairs and get a big bucket of hot buttered popcorn and a grape or orange soda and watch the show unfolding before them. Other hot messes, like the one in Alabama, are fraught and cause people to get out and vote for their lives and their beliefs because it will not do to stay home and hope that the blight will just go away. Doug Jones won by a slim margin. It is a potentially troubling omen that a negative polarizing record on sexual misconduct, judicial rebuke, race baiting, homophobia and all-around churlishness were side-stepped by the roughly 49 percent of voters who cast their ballots for Roy Moore. 

The hot mess of an election in Alabama is a vexing sign of our times.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

It seems as though morality and integrity have become moving targets in our local, state and national politics; with a suspect moral compass guiding the way. When I was growing up in Durham, North Carolina in the late 1950s, 1960s and early '70s, I was taught that honest people did not tell lies, that good people did not hurt others (and if you did, you apologized and tried to make things right), that government was about focusing on the common good, and the good Lord was watching and judging us all. Of late, these things seem to carry little freight as politics (and winning at all costs) has been outmaneuvering good government. Governing requires an informed citizenship that is capable of finding its way to the base notes of a common good that benefits the majority and not a select few. It also depends on our elected officials working together, across party affiliations, to develop laws and policies that reflect the best interests of the country and not turning government into a crass points-system contest of winning and losing.

A dear friend of mine who is a native Alabamian captures the main implication I take from the Alabama Senate race: 'Just when I am ready to give up on the world, hope appears.'

The hot mess of an election in Alabama is a vexing sign of our times. Racial lines, the rural/urban split and level of education and income were strong influences on how people voted. We have, as a nation, allowed ourselves to be duped and persuaded that immoral acts are really moral ones. We cloak lies and damned lies in hyphenated deceptions such as post-truth and post-facts. But another sign of our times may be emerging if this one election can signal a turning point. There are folks running for office who seek to reignite our sense of civic engagement, eschew partisan politics, focus on the importance of getting folks out to vote; who pay attention to issues that are shaping all of our society and not just the ones that have an immediate or personal stake or particular monetary investment. 

A dear friend of mine who is a native Alabamian captures the main implication I take from the Alabama Senate race: "Just when I am ready to give up on the world, hope appears." For someone like me, who is a pragmatic optimist -- a black lesbian woman who identifies as a womanist/black feminist, a devout Christian, a political progressive who is committed to bringing together love and justice, scholarship, passion and an ornery coloredness that refuses to bend to the injustices and outrageousness of our current federal administration -- a fierce, strategic and organized hope is the only way that those of us who formed the popular vote majority in the last election can make our voices heard. 

Campaigns built on bitterness and bile can be defeated with strategic and organized opposition. Good intentions and a sound message may be good starting points, but like the hornets in the black folklore story "Dey's Auganized," the return to a vibrant democracy through a robust electoral process means that candidates and their supporters must organize -- we must organize. The most patriotic thing we may do in light of this election is to remember how important it is to avoid wrapping our hopes up in lamentations of indifference and despair. These kinds of laments muzzle the hard work we must do to be an informed and engaged citizenry who remembers that life is more than a studied focus on our navels. Rather, it is looking up and out into an incredibly interesting society that is, unfortunately, listing on the boondocks of fear and anecdotes of hatred. It is refusing to accept this sad status quo. Organizing local, statewide, regional and national campaigns that are astute, that read the various moods and concerns of the electorate, that cherish people and focus on the common good, and that ultimately return to the art of governing can win. 

So, I am heartened to see that candidates and campaigns do matter. It is too soon to know that we may be witnessing the first ripple of a changing tide in our electoral politics, but I hope so. 

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The Fight for Net Neutrality Is "Not Over": Groups Launch Internet-Wide Campaign Pushing Congress to Overrule FCC Vote

Truth-Out - 20 hours 37 min ago

Demonstrators rally outside the Federal Communication Commission building to protest against the end of net neutralityrules December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The Republican-controlled FCC voted along party lines on Thursday to repeal net neutrality, but open internet defenders are urging the public to not be swayed by the proliferation of "net neutrality is officially dead" headlines -- the fight is "not over," they say.

Just hours after the FCC's vote, the coalition of activist groups behind Team Internet and BattlefortheNet.com announced the launch of "a massive internet-wide campaign" calling on members of Congress to overturn the FCC's move by passing a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which only requires a simple majority in the House and Senate.

Here are the facts:

1) Congress can stop the FCC and overrule their vote using the Congressional Review Act

2) It only takes a simple majority in the Senate and House

3) 83% of voters support #NetNeutrality regardless of political party

We can do this. https://t.co/xSJHbLq2Wn pic.twitter.com/WCg0mntDM1

— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) December 14, 2017

The CRA gives Congress the power to review newly passed regulations and overturn them through a joint resolution.

"Think of it as a double negative," explained Free Press's Dana Floberg. "If we repeal Pai's repeal, we could end up right back where we started -- with strong Net Neutrality rules.

Fight for the Future (FFTF), one of the groups that helped launch the campaign to nullify Pai's plan, said in a statement on Thursday that "lawmakers cannot hide from their constituents on this issue."

"The backlash to the FCC's attack on the Internet has reached a boiling point," FFTF observed. "Now every member of Congress will have to go on the record and decide whether to stand up for the free and open internet or face the political consequences of awakening its wrath in an election year."

As Common Dreams has reported, the American public overwhelmingly supports net neutrality. FFTF argues that now, more than ever, Americans must place pressure on their representatives to do the same.

"The internet has given ordinary people more power than ever before," FFTF concluded. "We're going to fight tooth and nail to make sure no one takes that power away."

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Thousands flee as wildfire 'beast' grows to California's third-largest

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 22:51
VENTURA, Calif. (Reuters) - A raging California wildfire powered by fierce winds grew into the third-largest in state history on Saturday as forced evacuations turned neighborhoods into ghost towns and ash fell in some areas like heavy snow.

Australia arrests man accused of trying to sell missile parts for North Korea

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 22:22
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian police said on Sunday they had arrested a man accused of working on the black market to sell missile components and coal on behalf of North Korea, the first charges ever brought in Australia over the sale of weapons of mass destruction.

Trump administration bans selected words at health agencies: paper

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 21:45
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has told agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services to avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year's budget, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

Trump administration bans selected words at health agencies: paper

Reuters US Politics - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 21:45
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has told agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services to avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year's budget, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

Hoping to extend maritime reach, China lavishes aid on Pakistan town

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 20:45
GWADAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - China is lavishing vast amounts of aid on a small Pakistani fishing town to win over locals and build a commercial deep-water port that the United States and India suspect may also one day serve the Chinese navy.

Gillibrand sends Trump campaign contributions to anti-sexual-violence group

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 20:23

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has sent to the anti-sexual-violence organization RAINN a sum equaling the contributions made in 2007 and 2010 to Gillibrand's campaign funds by Donald Trump, the New York Daily News reported, saying a spokesman for the New York Democrat had confirmed the development. Gillibrand found herself in a war of words late this week with now-President Trump, as she called for his resignation over the sexual-misconduct claims lodged against him and he responded by ripping Gillibrand for seeking donations from him in the past, saying she had begged and would "do anything" for the requested contributions. The sum Gillibrand reportedly sent to RAINN was $5,850.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

CSX CEO Harrison dies months into railroad's turnaround effort

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 20:06
NEW YORK (Reuters) - CSX Corp Chief Executive Hunter Harrison has died, the freight railway operator said on Saturday, just a few days after announcing that the veteran rail executive hired earlier this year to boost its profits had taken a medical leave of absence.

Congressman will not seek relection amid misconduct probe

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 18:03
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Ruben Kihuen announced on Saturday that he will not seek re-election, becoming the latest member of Congress to end his legislative career in the face of sexual harassment allegations.

Congressman will not seek relection amid misconduct probe

Reuters US Politics - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 18:03
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Ruben Kihuen announced on Saturday that he will not seek re-election, becoming the latest member of Congress to end his legislative career in the face of sexual harassment allegations.

Does Pentagon still have a UFO program? The answer is a bit mysterious

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 17:31
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon acknowledged on Saturday that its long-secret UFO investigation program ended in 2012, when U.S. defense officials shifted attention and funding to other priorities.

Trump allies say Mueller unlawfully obtained thousands of emails

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 17:12
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An organization established for U.S. President Donald Trump's transition to the White House a year ago said on Saturday that the special counsel investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election had obtained tens of thousands of emails unlawfully.

Trump allies say Mueller unlawfully obtained thousands of emails

Reuters US Politics - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 17:12
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An organization established for U.S. President Donald Trump's transition to the White House a year ago said on Saturday that the special counsel investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election had obtained tens of thousands of emails unlawfully.

The Antiwar Comic: ISIS, The Next Generation

LibertarianInstitute - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 16:57

If you haven’t read that Wired article, you really should.

For more comics, visit The Webcomic Factory.

The Antiwar Comic: ISIS, The Next Generation was first posted on December 16, 2017 at 3:57 pm.

Trump to say in security speech that China is competitor: officials

Top Reuters News - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 16:42
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will lay out a new U.S. national security strategy on Monday based on his "America First" policy and will, among other items, make clear that China is a competitor, two senior U.S. officials said on Saturday.

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