Blogs

Read the Devastating Letter by a Harvard Sexual-Assault Survivor

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 8:00 AM PDT

On Monday, the Harvard Crimson, the university's student newspaper, posted an anonymous letter written by a student and sexual-assault survivor. The student details the aftermath of the alleged assault that occurred last year, and discusses how Harvard University administrators profoundly failed her. (This sort of thing is hardly unique to Harvard; rape and sexual assault on college and university campuses across the country is a huge problem, as is too often the administrative response to such cases.) The letter, titled "Dear Harvard: You Win," was published one day before the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.

Here is an excerpt (read the whole thing—which is obviously tough to get through—here):

More than anything, I'm exhausted from living in the same House as the student who sexually assaulted me nine months ago.

I've spent most of 2013 fighting the Harvard administration so that they would move my assailant to a different House, and I have failed miserably. Several weeks ago, in a grey room on the fourth floor of the Holyoke Center, my psychiatrist officially diagnosed me with depression. I did not budge, and I was not surprised. I developed an anxiety disorder shortly after moving back to my House this fall, and running into my assailant up to five times a day certainly did not help my recovery.

[…]

Dear Harvard: I am writing to let you know that I give up. I will be moving out of my House next semester, if only—quite literally—to save my life. You will no longer receive emails from me, asking for something to be done, pleading for someone to hear me, explaining how my grades are melting and how I have developed a mental illness as a result of your inaction. My assailant will remain unpunished, and life on this campus will continue its course as if nothing had happened. Today, Harvard, I am writing to let you know that you have won.

[…]

The last time I met with my resident dean, I told my dean about my depression, and how I thought it had been caused by the lack of validation and empathy I had received from the Harvard faculty. I said that it would be immensely helpful for me to know that my dean, not as a school official but as a human being, understood my pain and empathized with it. I asked my dean to take a step back from the situation and to admit that I had not been served well by the Harvard system. My pleas were met with a refusal to comment and an argument that it was not an administrator's role to criticize Harvard's sexual assault policy.

If my resident dean refuses to question the current policy we have in place, then I will. Dear Harvard: You might have won, but I still have a voice. And I plan on using it as much as I can to make things change.

In response to this letter, the Undergraduate Council, Harvard College's student government, announced the formation of a task force to involve students in discussion of Harvard's sexual assault policies.

Harvard University public affairs did not respond to Mother Jones' request for comment.

UPDATE, April 3, 2014, 4:48 p.m. EST: A Harvard alumnus forwarded Mother Jones an email from Drew Faust, president of Harvard, announcing a presidential task force. The president's statement was sent out to the Harvard community on Thursday. Here's an excerpt:

After consultation with deans and others over recent weeks, I have asked Steven E. Hyman, Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology as well as our former provost, to chair a task force that will develop recommendations about how Harvard can improve efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and develop insight into these issues based on input from both within and beyond our community.

[...]

I believe that anyone in our community who hears the reports of those who have experienced sexual assault must share my sense of urgency to do all we can to address this issue. We must do better.

(h/t Jessica Testa)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama Getting Taken to the Cleaners By Netanyahu?

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 7:45 AM PDT

From the New York Times:

Officials involved in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian peace talks said on Tuesday that an agreement was near on extending the negotiations through 2015 in exchange for the release of Jonathan J. Pollard, an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. The agreement would also include the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including citizens of Israel, and a partial freeze on construction in West Bank settlements.

I dunno. Maybe Obama wanted to release Pollard anyway. But I doubt it. I'm beginning to wonder if the right-wing hawks are right after all: Obama is a terrible negotiator who gets taken for a ride by anyone willing to put a gun to his head.

Sadly, this is apparently not an April Fools joke. But I think it's safe to say that in return for Pollard's release, Netanyahu will "continue" negotiations, "partially" freeze West Bank settlements—i.e., not freeze them at all—and release a bunch of Palestinian prisoners he had already agreed to release. What a con.

GOP Sens. Cruz and Kirk Solicit Americans' Obamacare Horror Stories, Get Success Stories Instead

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 7:42 AM PDT

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a huge Obamacare foe, took to Facebook to ask Americans how the president's healthcare law is treating them. But the responses he received didn't line up with his own claim that "millions of people... are hurting because of Obamacare." When Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made a similar call for Obamacare fail stories, he had bad luck too. Perhaps they shouldn't have been surprised. This week, support for the Affordable Care Act hit a new high of 49 percent. And on Tuesday, following the deadline for Americans to enroll in health insurance on the exchanges during the first six month window, the administration announced it is on track to achieve its original goal of providing coverage to 7 million Americans.

Here is Cruz's call for Obamacare tales:

Here are some of the responses. (There are 47,904, so I couldn't read them all, but of the first few dozen, only one response was negative.)

Here's what Kirk tweeted over the weekend:

Here are some of the responses:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 1, 2014

Tue Apr. 1, 2014 7:20 AM PDT

Republic of Korea Marines with 7th Marine Regiment participate in a mock amphibious landing during exercise Ssang Yong 2014 March 29, 2014. Exercise Ssang Yong is conducted annually in the Republic of Korea (ROK) to enhance the interoperability of U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations while showcasing sea-based power projection in the Pacific. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Master Sgt. Michael Schellenbach/Released).

Senate Report: Torture Didn't Work and the CIA Lied About It

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 10:28 PM PDT

The Washington Post has gotten hold of the Senate investigation into CIA interrogation practices and—

No, wait. They haven't. They've only learned what the report says "according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document." It's impossible to say if these sources are characterizing the report accurately, and their summary descriptions of the report make it very hard to judge how fair the report's conclusions are.

But with those caveats and cautions out of the way, what does the report say? This:

Several officials who have read the document said some of its most troubling sections deal not with detainee abuse but with discrepancies between the statements of senior CIA officials in Washington and the details revealed in the written communications of lower-level employees directly involved.

Officials said millions of records make clear that the CIA's ability to obtain the most valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda — including tips that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 — had little, if anything, to do with "enhanced interrogation techniques."

…"The CIA conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program," said a second U.S. official who has reviewed the report. The official described the persistence of such misstatements as among "the most damaging" of the committee's conclusions.

Detainees' credentials also were exaggerated, officials said. Agency officials described Abu Zubaida as a senior al-Qaeda operative — and, therefore, someone who warranted coercive techniques — although experts later determined that he was essentially a facilitator who helped guide recruits to al-Qaeda training camps.

However, for those of us who think that detainee abuse is, in fact, as important as the lies that were told about it, there's this:

Classified files reviewed by committee investigators reveal internal divisions over the interrogation program, officials said, including one case in which CIA employees left the agency's secret prison in Thailand after becoming disturbed by the brutal measures being employed there. The report also cites cases in which officials at CIA headquarters demanded the continued use of harsh interrogation techniques even after analysts were convinced that prisoners had no more information to give.

The report describes previously undisclosed cases of abuse, including the alleged repeated dunking of a terrorism suspect in tanks of ice water at a detention site in Afghanistan — a method that bore similarities to waterboarding but never appeared on any Justice Department-approved list of techniques.

So the torture was even worse than we thought; it produced very little in the way of actionable intelligence; and the CIA lied about this in order to preserve its ability to torture prisoners.

Anybody who isn't sickened by this needs to take very long, very deep look into their souls. For myself, I think I'll go take a shower now.

How About a Dolores Huerta Day?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 4:38 PM PDT

March 31 is Cesar Chavez's birthday and a national holiday honoring his pioneering activism (which is the subject of a new feature film) around farm-workers rights. He is perhaps best known as a founder of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), now the United Farm Workers, a labor union. His cofounder Dolores Huerta, though still alive, is not nearly as well known. So who is she? Born in 1930 and raised in Stockton, California, Huerta, who is portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the Chavez film, has been arrested more than 20 times during peaceful protests, and is still out on the front lines taking part in civil rights actions. Here are five things you should know about her.

1. She's the mother of the farm-workers movement.
After quitting her teaching job in 1955, Huerta helped register people to vote and became an organizer in the Community Service Organization, a Mexican-American association in California where Cesar Chavez was the statewide director. The pair eventually branched off, in 1962, to found the NFWA, and the rest is history.

2. She was instrumental in winning key protections for workers.
Only a year after launching the NFWA, Huerta secured disability insurance for California farm workers, and was central in the creation of the Aid for Dependent Families, a federal assistance program that stayed in effect until 1996.

3. She led a historic boycott against the grape industry.
In 1965, a group of Filipino workers went on strike for better working conditions, a cause that became known as the "Delano Grape Strike." Huerta suggested to Chavez that the National Farm Workers Association boycott all California table grapes in support of Filipino workers. In 1970, the grape industry signed an agreement that increased wages and improved working conditions.

4. She originated the phrase, "Si se puede."
Translated as "Yes we can," this expression should be familiar to anyone who's ever attended a labor protest in California. Although it is often misattributed to Chavez, Huerta told Makers that she came up with it. "It's important for women to be able to take credit for the work that they do," she said.

5. She helped put Latinas in power.
After a life-threatening assault by a police officer at a protest rally when she was 58, Huerta took a leave from the union to focus on the women's movement. She campaigned across the country for two years as part of the Feminist Majority's project to encourage Latinas to run for office. According to Huerta's website, it had a significant affect on the number of women in government.

So, Happy Cesar Chavez Day, and don't forget to give Huerta her due! Here's a trailer for the film:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What's Wrong With the Fed?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 3:32 PM PDT

That's the question Ryan Avent asks today. The reason is simple: In 2012, the Fed announced an inflation target of 2 percent per year, as measured by the PCE index. But they haven't come close to hitting it. Why not?

The chart on the right shows the most recent inflation data. In 2011, PCE inflation measured 2.4 percent. In 2012, it came in at 1.8 percent. That's a little low—especially during a supposed economic recovery—but it's easy to see why no one was alarmed. It's something to keep an eye on, but no one ever said the Fed could fine tune inflation to a few tenths of a point.

But then came 2013. There was a fair amount of monthly variability in the data, but the year-end number clocked in at 1.1 percent. That's way too low, especially considering that (a) the previous year had come in below target, (b) inflationary expectations were still well anchored, and (c) the labor market was still noticeably loose. What this means is that the Fed has failed to meet its employment mandate for six full years and is now failing to meet its inflation target too. Avent wants to know what's going on:

This is an extraordinary period of time during which the Fed has failed to meet even the rather lax definition of the mandate it has set for itself by a rather substantial margin. How can we explain this? Some possibilities are:

1) The Fed is technically unable to meet its mandate.

2) The Fed is staffed by incompetents.

3) The Fed is actually pursuing a goal outside its mandate without explaining what that goal is and what the justification is for pursuing it.

4) America's statistics are all wrong. The Fed knows this but has refused to tell anyone else.

Whichever of the above you favour as an explanation, it suggests a need for meaningful reform, either to the personnel at the Fed or to the distribution of macroeconomic responsibilities across government.

My own guess is a little bit of #1 and a lot of #3. I suspect the Fed really is having technical trouble meeting its goals—at least, in a way it's comfortable with. But that's just a guess.

It's less of a guess that the Fed is pursuing goals outside its mandate. It's hardly a secret that there are plenty of Fed governors who are still living in the 70s, petrified of inflationary spirals and determined to keep inflation as low as possible. Not 2 percent. As low as possible. What's more, they consider full employment not a virtue, but a threat. It leads to higher inflation, after all.

I think 2014 is something of a watershed year for the Fed. The hawks can argue that a single year of 1 percent inflation is nothing to worry too much about. This stuff bounces around. But at the very least, they should be on board with getting the inflation rate back up to their stated goal. Given the current employment level and the state of the global economy, this poses little risk. If they aren't willing to do it, they need to come clean that they don't really care about their statutory mandates and are simply substituting their own timeworn fears and class loyalties for the expressed will of Congress.

It's Time to Start Quoting Our Public Figures Accurately

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 12:12 PM PDT

Jesse Sheidlower makes a point near and dear to my heart today: it's time to get rid of the dashes. You know the ones: f---, n-----, s---, etc. This is not a plea for reporters to write like Hunter S. Thompson, it's a plea to fully report the obscenities uttered by famous people that our news organizations are too delicate to report:

There have been numerous cases in recent years when the use of offensive language has been the news story itself. In 1998, Representative Dan Burton referred to President Clinton with an offensive word. In 2000, a microphone picked up George W. Bush using a vulgar term to describe the New York Times reporter Adam Clymer. In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney insulted Senator Pat Leahy on the Senate floor with yet another vulgarity. In 2007, Isaiah Washington was kicked off the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” for referring to his fellow actor T. R. Knight with a gay slur. This January, Representative Michael Grimm threatened an aggressive reporter, using an obscenity.

These stories were covered widely, but in most cases, the details were obscured. The relevant words were described variously as “an obscenity,” “a vulgarity,” “an antigay epithet”; replaced with rhyming substitutions; printed with some letters omitted; and, most absurdly, in The Washington Times (whose editor confessed this was “an attempt at a little humor”), alluded to as “a vulgar euphemism for a rectal aperture.” We learn from these stories that something important happened, but that it can’t actually be reported.

When a public figure uses an obscenity, it's news. Readers deserve to know exactly what was said. Consider my favorite obscene quote of all time, courtesy of Richard Mottram, a British civil servant:

We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever. We're all completely fucked.

You just don't get the flavor if you don't spell out the words. And in the US, we often don't even get the quote with the dashes. As Sheidlower says, we get "a vulgarity" or "a long string of obscenities" or something similar, making us feel like everyone else knows what happened and we're being deliberately left out. It's long past time to knock this off. News outlets should print the news, full stop. If an obscenity is part of it, accuracy and integrity are more important than delicate sensibilities.

LA Times: 9.5 Million Newly Insured By Obamacare

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 10:44 AM PDT

So how many people are newly insured thanks to Obamacare? Noam Levey of the LA Times provides the current best estimate, based on the latest enrollment and survey data:

As the law's initial enrollment period closes, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage. Some have done so through marketplaces created by the law, some through other private insurance and others through Medicaid, which has expanded under the law in about half the states.

The tally draws from a review of state and federal enrollment reports, surveys and interviews with insurance executives and government officials nationwide.

....Republican critics of the law have suggested that the cancellations last fall have led to a net reduction in coverage. That is not supported by survey data or insurance companies, many of which report they have retained the vast majority of their 2013 customers by renewing old policies, which is permitted in about half the states, or by moving customers to new plans.

Rand's latest survey data suggests that the share of uninsured adults has declined from 20.9 percent last fall to 16.6 percent as of March 22. Gallup has also shown a decline in the uninsured, and its March poll will show a further decline, according to Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport. More details at the link.

Apple Has Patented Clicking on Phone Number to Dial a Phone? Seriously?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 9:15 AM PDT

The New York Times tells us today that Apple's lawsuit against Samsung is really just a proxy for its war against Google's Android operating system. That's not news. But this just makes me want to pound my head against a wall:

In the case set to open this week, Apple’s legal complaint aims at some of the features that Google, not Samsung, put in Android, like the ability to tap on a phone number inside a text message to dial the number. And although Google is not a defendant in this case, some of its executives are expected to testify as witnesses.

I know we all mock some of the things that seem to be patentable these days. I sure do. And who knows? Maybe those things really aren't quite as obvious as we all think they are. But tapping a phone number on a phone in order to dial it? There is no plausible universe in which several thousand designers wouldn't think of doing that. Somebody needs to put a leash on Apple before the venomous ghost of Steve Jobs drags them into a rabbit hole of techno-legal vengeance from which they never recover. Enough.