MoJo Author Feeds: Hannah Levintova | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en This Chart Will Make You Even More Pissed Off About Your Ballooning Student Debt <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>For the tens of thousands of college students who are taking out another year's worth of debt in preparation for the start of classes, here's a rage-inducing data point: Many universities spend way more managing their investment portfolios than they do assisting students with tuition.</p> <p>A <a href="" target="_blank"><em>New York Times</em> op-ed </a>published Wednesday by Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego, lays out this disparity. Fleischer cited Yale University, which paid its fund managers nearly $743 million in 2014 but gave out just $170 million in scholarships. He also noted that many universities, large and small, public and private, show the same imbalance in spending. "We've lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university's endowment," he writes. "The private-equity folks get cash; students take out loans."</p> <p>Fleischer provided <em>Mother Jones</em> with more of his data, which is gleaned from tax forms, financial statements, and annual reports. Here's how the numbers shake out at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. On average, these four wealthy, elite universities spend 70 percent more on managing their investment portfolios than they do on tuition assistance. (Complete scholarship data for 2014 was not available, and some investment management fees are estimated.)</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>That disparity is even more glaring when you consider the tax benefits fund managers derive from working with universities. Fleischer notes that investors typically pay their fund managers about 20 percent of their investment profits. That money, called carried interest, is taxed at a lower rate for fund managers, who can claim it as capital gains instead of income.</p> <p>Some universities justify the high management fees by arguing that they ensure top financial performance for their endowments. It's true that these portfolios have done quite well: Harvard's endowment is nearly $36 billion, and Yale's is more than $25 billion, a 50 percent increase since 2009. But, writes Fleischer, a little less endowment hoarding and a little more spending, both on financial aid and other educational goals, would still allow universities' money to grow generously while eliminating the hefty tuition increases that force students to take on burdensome debt.</p> <p>Fleischer proposes that when Congress moves to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this term, lawmakers should require universities with assets greater than $100 million to spend 8 percent of their endowment each year. Even doing that, universities would likely continue to get exponentially richer. As he notes, the average endowment has grown 9.2 percent annually for the past 20 years (after accounting for 4 percent annual spending), a more than respectable rate of return.</p> <p>Elite schools do offer<strong> </strong>need-blind admission and some of the best financial aid for low-income students. But for many students, tuition increases still mean more loans: On paper, many middle-class students often don't qualify for large scholarships, but their families also can't afford more than $50,000 in annual tuition. More generous allocation of endowments could help to roll back that trend while also funding more<strong> </strong>teaching and research. As Fleischer writes in the <em>Times</em>, "Only fund managers would be worse off."</p></body></html> MoJo Charts Education Income Inequality Top Stories Wall Street Fri, 21 Aug 2015 10:00:10 +0000 Hannah Levintova 282411 at 8 Reasons Joe Biden Is a Dream Candidate and a Disaster <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>With the political class chattering about Hillary Clinton's recent difficulties&mdash;the email controversy, the Bernie Sanders wave, a decline in some polls&mdash;Vice President Joe Biden seems to be closer to running for president. At least, there's more talk about a Biden bid. Several of his former operatives have started a <a href="">super-PAC</a> in hopes of getting him to run, and the 72-year-old Biden is <a href="">calling</a> friends and political allies to discuss the possibility.</p> <p>Not surprisingly, the response among Democrats has been mixed. Some commentators wonder whether Biden could <a href="">actually help</a> Clinton by leaping into the fray. But one Democratic source <a href="">told CNN</a> that White House insiders are concerned a Biden run could hurt the veep's reputation as the elder statesman of the Democratic Party who has spent more than four decades in public life.</p> <p>Biden was a <a href="" target="_blank">six-term US senator</a> from Delaware before becoming vice president, and he earned respect from many for both his legislative work and his grace in the face of tragedy. In 1972, a few weeks after Biden was elected to the Senate for the first time, his wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car crash, and his two sons were injured. Biden considered resigning to care for his sons. Instead, he commuted on Amtrak from his Delaware home to Washington every day, so he could be with his kids for dinner. He continued this practice for years into his political career. (In May, one of those sons, Beau, died of brain cancer at the age of 46.)</p> <p>Biden, who has been President Barack Obama's go-to guy for breaking deadlocks with obstructionist GOPers on Capitol Hill on the budget, the debt ceiling, and tax deals, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination<a href="" target="_blank"> in 1988 and 2008</a>. (His first time out, he left the race after the Michael Dukakis campaign leaked information showing Biden had cribbed part of his stump speech from a British politician. On his second try, Biden, who survived a brain aneurysm in 1988, performed well in the debates but on the campaign trail was eclipsed by Obama and Clinton.) His career has covered extremes. He helped confirm one conservative Supreme Court justice but opposed several others. He long supported arms control and diplomatic efforts, but he also voted to allow President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. He has worked to protect women, but he sometimes gets <a href="" target="_blank">a little too close</a>.</p> <p>So with a deadline for a final decision approaching&mdash;Biden probably cannot wait much longer&mdash;here's a partial rundown of high points and low points in the vice president's story:</p> <h3 class="subhed">the good</h3> <p><strong>Ahead of the pack on marriage equality</strong>: In May of 2012, while appearing on <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Meet the Press</em></a> during Obama's reelection campaign, Biden came out in favor of same-sex marriage. At the time, the White House had only officially endorsed civil unions. Some speculate that Biden's unambiguous support helped push Obama from "evolving" on the issue to a full-fledged, official endorsement of gay marriage.</p> <p><strong>Changing the treatment of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence</strong>: In 1990, Biden introduced the <a href="" target="_blank">Violence Against Women Act</a>, which improved law enforcement practices for investigating and prosecuting domestic violence and sexual assault. Once he became vice president, he continued to advocate on behalf of women and girls. He <a href="">appointed</a> the first ever White House adviser on violence against women, launched an initiative to <a href="">decrease dating violence</a> among teens, and worked to <a href="">clamp down</a> on campus sexual assault.</p> <p><strong>Foreign policy chops:</strong> From the beginning of US involvement in Iraq, Biden strenuously advocated the use of diplomacy before military action. In 2002, while the Bush administration was heading toward the Iraq invasion, Biden, who was then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed ways to curtail Saddam Hussein's weapons program diplomatically and held several hearings to discuss the potential challenges of stabilizing the country after an invasion. Most notably, he worked with Leslie Gelb, then president of the Council on Foreign Relations, <a href="" target="_blank">to propose</a> a system for stabilizing Iraq, modeled off the Dayton Accords in Bosnia. Biden called for a federalist system that would separate Iraq into three regions, along ethno-religious lines&mdash;Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia&mdash;allowing each group to control its own affairs, with a central government remaining in Baghdad. Some Middle East scholars<a href=""> have</a> <a href="">since</a> <a href="">wondered</a> whether Biden's proposal could have prevented some of the ongoing unrest in Iraq. A longtime advocate of arms control and nuclear nonproliferation efforts, he was an essential player in Obama's successful 2010 push to win congressional approval of the <a href="" target="_blank">New START</a> nuclear arms reduction treaty. And he was a crucial voice within the Obama administration for decreasing the US military presence in Afghanistan and shifting US policy from a counterinsurgency perspective to a counterterrorism approach.</p> <p><strong>Supreme Court savvy: </strong>As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for three decades, Biden was involved in the nomination and confirmation of seven of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices. Biden opposed the confirmation of several conservative Supreme Court justices. His opposition&nbsp; to the nomination of Robert Bork was successful. In the case of Samuel Alito, Biden voted with other Democratic senators to <a href="">filibuster</a> the nomination vote, <a href="">in part</a> because of his concerns over Alito's disapproval of a landmark Supreme Court ruling on voting rights. Biden's stance when confirming Justice Clarence Thomas wasn't quite so clear-cut. (See: <a href="" target="_blank">Anita Hill</a>.)&nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed">the NOT SO GOOD</h3> <p><strong>Exacerbating</strong><strong> America's mass incarceration problem</strong>: As my colleague <a href="">Pat Caldwell</a> reported, Biden played a key role in getting the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed during the Clinton era. The bill implemented a host of policies that would ensure more severe incarceration of inmates, such as expanding death penalty crimes, criminalizing gang membership, and reducing opportunities for parole.<strong> </strong>Many, <a href="" target="_blank">including</a> Bill Clinton himself, now <a href="" target="_blank">point to</a> this piece of legislation as having contributed to the severe overcrowding of prisons and forced judges to impose harsher, longer sentences that have led to a problem with mass incarceration.</p> <p><strong>Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time</strong>: Biden has the gift of gab or, perhaps, a tendency toward verbosity. And he not infrequently puts his foot in his mouth. A few examples: Speaking at a 2008 campaign rally in Columbia, Missouri, he accidentally asked Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham, who is wheelchair-bound, to "<a href=",28804,1895156_1894977_1841630,00.html">stand up.</a>" Also during the 2008 presidential campaign, <a href="" target="_blank">he called</a> Obama the first "articulate and bright and clean" African American man to run for president. Biden also botched Obama's last name, <a href="" target="_blank">introducing him</a> as "Barack America," at his first rally as Obama's running mate. Later he <a href="">handed John McCain</a> one of his main anti-Obama talking points when he suggested that Obama would face an international crisis in the beginning of his presidency. During a 2010 St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House, Biden asked for God's blessing for the Irish prime minister's late mother&mdash;even though she was <a href="" target="_blank">very much alive</a>.</p> <p><strong>Creeping on women</strong>: Biden is known for his enthusiasm for campaigning and pressing the flesh. This has<strong> </strong>occasionally been a problem <a href="" target="_blank">when it comes to women</a>. For example:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bidenbiker630.jpg"><div class="caption">Carolyn Kaster/AP</div> </div> <p><strong>Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings</strong>: In 1991, Biden, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over the controversial confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, nominated by President George H.W. Bush to sit on the Supreme Court. Law professor Anita Hill alleged that Thomas sexually harassed her when she was one of his employees, and this charge became a central focus of those hearings. Biden was widely criticized for his treatment of Hill during the sessions. He allowed three male senators to aggressively question Hill, but he never called <a href="">three women</a> to testify who had been subpoenaed to discuss other instances of alleged inappropriate behavior by Thomas. These women presumably could have buttressed Hill's claims. (Biden ultimately voted against Thomas.)</p></body></html> Politics 2016 Elections Top Stories Thu, 20 Aug 2015 14:59:24 +0000 Hannah Levintova 282251 at One Angry Man: Trump (Finally) Reports for Jury Duty <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Celebrity tycoon and GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump arrived at a courthouse in Manhattan on Monday morning to <a href="" target="_blank">report for jury duty</a>. He pulled up in a limo and fist bumped bystanders on his way into the State Supreme Court. Last week, at a rally in New Hampshire, Trump said he would willingly sacrifice valuable campaign time to answer his jury summons.</p> <p>But prior to&nbsp;professing his&nbsp;commitment to civic responsibility, Trump has <a href="" target="_blank">perennially skipped out</a> on jury summonses in the past.</p> <p>Trump's attorney Michael Cohen <a href="" target="_blank">confirmed to CNN</a> that Trump has missed five jury summonses over nine years. But Cohen claimed that Trump was not shirking his civic duty. The summonses, he said, were delivered to the wrong address.</p> <p>"You gotta serve it to the right property," Cohen said. "I believe he owns the building but he doesn't reside there, and nobody knows what happened to the document."</p> <p>It's true that master jury lists are often outdated; an address mix-up is feasible. But in general, wealthy individuals are usually more likely to report for jury duty. Lower-income people often cut out due to the various <a href="" target="_blank">economic pressures</a> that come with jury duty:&nbsp;time off from work, reduced pay (in most states, jury pay is <a href="" target="_blank">less than $50</a> a day), and child care needs.</p> <p>Because he made it to the courthouse today, CNN reports, Trump will not have to pay the&nbsp;$250 fine he was facing&nbsp;for previous failures to appear. It's doubtful the threat of such a fine compelled him to show up. But a cynic can certainly wonder what will happen the next time he is called to jury duty when he is not a presidential candidate.</p></body></html> MoJo 2016 Elections Mon, 17 Aug 2015 18:30:40 +0000 Hannah Levintova 282041 at Meet the Engineer Who Forced Silicon Valley's Gender Problem Into the Open <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CHOU_630.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Tracy Chou </strong>Josh Robenstone/Fairfax Media</div> </div> <p><span class="section-lead"><strong>Back in October 2013</strong></span>, Tracy Chou, a top engineer for the social scrapbooking site Pinterest, was flying home to San Francisco with fellow attendees of the annual <a href="" target="_blank">Grace Hopper Celebration,</a> the nation's biggest conference for women in computing. "If this flight out of Minneapolis goes down," she <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>, "Silicon Valley is going to be down a substantial % of female engineers."</p> <p>She was only half joking. At the conference, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had posited that the Valley's gender gap was actually getting worse, and the comment set Chou's geek gears whirling. "Not that I disagree with the premise," she says. "I just had this thought that nobody actually knows what the numbers are."</p> <p>For years, Silicon Valley has tried to hide those numbers. Starting in 2008, <a href="" target="_blank">news outlets filed </a>Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Labor, hoping to obtain the workforce diversity data the tech giants refused to release. The companies lawyered up&mdash;as of March 2013, most of the top firms (Apple, Google, Microsoft, et al.) had convinced the feds their stats were trade secrets that should remain private.</p> <p>Their real reason for withholding the data may well have been embarrassment. Although tech employment <a href="" target="_blank">has grown by 37 percent</a> since 2003, the presence of women on engineering teams has remained flat (<a href="" target="_blank">at around 13 percent</a>) for more than two decades, and women's share of what the US Census Bureau calls "computer workers" has actually declined since the early 1990s.</p> <p>In this male-dominated landscape, Chou, 27, is a rising star, with two degrees from Stanford, including a master's in computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence. On her way up, she interned at Google, Facebook, and a rocket science company. Her coding prowess recently landed her on <em>Forbes</em>' <a href="" target="_blank">"30 under 30"</a> and <em>Fast Company</em>'s 2015 list of the<a href="" target="_blank"> "most creative people in business."</a></p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/jacksoninline_optional_crop_0.jpg"></a> <div class="caption"><strong><a href="" target="_blank">Read about</a> how Rev. Jesse Jackson is taking on Silicon Valley's epic diversity problem. </strong></div> </div> <p>Despite her success, she's more than passingly familiar with the obstacles the Valley's sausage fest creates for women&mdash;from brogrammer pickup lines to biased hiring and promotion. (Not to mention pay: As of 2011, <a href="" target="_blank">census data shows</a>, women in technical fields were making about $16,000 less, on average, than men.)</p> <p>Fed up with the data void, Chou came home from her conference and wrote a <a href="" target="_blank">Medium post</a> calling for more transparency: "The actual numbers I've seen and experienced in industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit," she wrote. "So where are the numbers?" With her bosses' permission, she started the ball rolling: Just 11 of Pinterest's 89 engineers (12 percent) were women, she revealed. (Today, it's around 17 percent.)</p> <p>Her post quickly made its way around programmer circles, and employees of two dozen companies shared gender stats with Chou via Twitter. To keep track of the numbers, she set up a <a href="" target="_blank">repository on the code-sharing site GitHub</a> and invited all to participate. As word spread, more techies stepped up. Within a week, her repository had stats on more than 50 firms. (It now has more than 200&mdash;including GitHub, whose 104 coders include just 14 women&mdash;making it the most comprehensive available source of coders' gender data.)</p> <p>The numbers were as bad as you might expect: Just 17 of Yelp's 206 engineers (8 percent) were women, for example. Dropbox was barely better, with 26 out of 275 (9 percent). Nextdoor, a social-media tool for neighborhoods, had 29 engineers&mdash;all male., which bills itself as "the world's platform for change," had less than 13 percent women engineers; it has since changed for the better, with 20 percent.<a href="#clarification">*</a></p> <p>Chou's project helped fuel the wave of public criticism that has shamed big companies into coming clean. Seven months after the launch, Google <a href="" target="_blank">disclosed</a> that 17 percent of its tech staff is female. (Chou heard that her Medium post had made it all the way to cofounder Larry Page.) Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, and dozens of other companies coughed up their stats not long after: Most reported between 10 and 20 percent women in "tech" positions&mdash;which can be pretty loosely defined. Some household names, like IBM, Netflix, and Zynga, still <a href="" target="_blank">have yet to produce</a> meaningful diversity data. "The crowdsourced stuff is way better and more reliable than the official party line," notes Silicon Valley diversity consultant Nicole Sanchez, whom Github recently hired as a VP. (The racial diversity numbers are equally cringeworthy; see our related story on <a href="" target="_blank">Jesse Jackson's efforts in Silicon Valley.)</a><br> &nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">I sat down</span> with Chou at Pinterest's San Francisco headquarters a few days before an infusion of capital made it one of the world's most valuable startups&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">$11 billion on paper.</a> In a glass-wrapped conference room, she perched on the edge of her seat, speaking softly, but at a spitfire pace. Chou first learned of the industry's gender problem from her parents, engineers who earned their Ph.D.s together back in the 1980s. "Their names are gender-ambiguous transliterations of their Chinese names," she recalled. "One of the stories my mom told was that she went to pick up finals for both her and my dad. The professor was really surprised at who was who, because my mom was doing better in the class."</p> <p>When she started out studying computer science as a Stanford undergrad, "I felt really out of place," she told me. "There weren't many other women." The coursework was tough, and the guys in her classes talked a big game. "My self-calibration was off," she explained. "There's research on how guys are generally inclined to give themselves more credit. So their calibration was 'I'm awesome; this is super easy,' when I felt like I was doing poorly."</p> <p>Concerned she wasn't qualified for CS, Chou switched to electrical engineering. But the more she excelled, the more pushback she got. Male classmates would interrupt her or tune out when she spoke. During group projects, guys would reject her proposals and debate alternatives for hours before returning to her idea. "It's okay to have a girl in the class if she's not very good," she said. "But it felt like once I became better than they were, it was not okay anymore."</p> <p>This insidious sexism followed her into the real world. At one diversity event, Chou got into a debate with a male developer over a product built by Quora, where she'd been an early engineer. "Finally, I had to say, 'No, I worked there. Stop shitting on me!'" Another time, at a meet-up, a guy joked about Chou's job at another company: "What do you do there, photocopy shit?" Men tried picking her up with lines like, "You're too pretty to code." Such cluelessness presented a conundrum: "There's always that question of, 'Do I want to be the engineer that always talks about gender? Or do I want to be an engineer that talks about engineering?'"</p> <p>The Valley's sexism came under renewed scrutiny this year when Ellen Pao, a former partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers, sued the VC firm for discrimination. <a href="" target="_blank">She lost</a>, but the case "raised awareness of the sort of thing that a lot of women face: unconscious bias, messy situations, discrimination that's not clear-cut," Chou said. In her view, getting the numbers out there is merely a first step: "There's an analogy in product development," she said. You can try to grok your users by looking at what people are clicking and how many are creating accounts, but "understanding the <em>why</em> in the numbers is pretty important," she added. "We're not quite there yet."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p id="clarification"><em>Clarification: After publication, Nextdoor contacted Mother Jones with their updated gender breakdown; of the company's 40 full-time engineers, three are women. </em></p></body></html> Politics Sex and Gender Tech Top Stories Wed, 15 Jul 2015 10:00:26 +0000 Hannah Levintova 276016 at 3.5 Minutes, 10 Bullets, and 1 Racially Charged Tragedy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="embed-container" style="position:relative; height:0; padding-bottom:56.25%; padding-top:0px;"><iframe class="entity_iframe entity_iframe_node video" frameborder="0" height="100%" id="entity_iframe_node_52191" src="" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;" width="100%"></iframe></div> <p>On Black Friday 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was sitting with three friends in a car at a Florida gas station, cranked up the rap on the stereo. Three and a half minutes later, he was dead, shot at 10 times by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man bristling at the black teens' "thug music." In a new documentary,&nbsp;<em>3-1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets,</em>&nbsp;director Marc Silver explores the perfect storm of racism and lax gun laws that led to the killing.</p> <p>The film, which opened in theaters this month, comes at a time when a lot of racially motivated tragedies have been in the news&mdash;the most recent being the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. Jordan's death wasn't classified as a hate crime, but the film makes an implicit argument for Dunn's racial motivations, zooming in on his testimony and his jailhouse phone calls with his girlfriend, in which he insists the teens were armed and dangerous&mdash;no gun was found&mdash;and that he acted in self defense. Throughout, the film touches on the murky legal ground at the nexus of bias and self-defense laws: What constitutes a "reasonable belief" that one's life is in danger when that belief may be borne out of racial stereotypes?</p> <p>The film documents both of Dunn's trials&mdash;the first, which ended in a hung jury, and the second, in which he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Silver follows Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, Jordan's parents, as they go to court each day and wait for the final verdict in their son's death. The pair must maintain their decorum in the courtroom as the defense vilifies their son and his friends&mdash;all while wondering whether his legacy will match that of another unarmed Florida teen whose shooter walked free; in one scene, Jordan's father recalls a text he got from Trayvon Martin's dad: "I just want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in."</p> <p><strong>Mother Jones:</strong> Tell me a little about why you decided to make this film.</p> <p><strong>Marc Silver:</strong> I saw a tension, a film that would be able to explore this awful moment when two cars happen to pull up next to each other, and within that coincidence this tragedy that consisted of racial profiling, access to guns, and laws that give people the confidence to use those guns. It was unique that you would be able to deconstruct this one tight moment and come out with the big, macro issues. I also felt like it was important to learn about Michael Dunn. I was interested in the idea that there would be audience members who would have some sense of empathy with him at the outset, who also might have felt fear when a car full of young black teenagers pulled up and they start having an argument over music. Through Michael Dunn, you learn about many other people in America who have that same implicit bias, and it might make audiences look at themselves in a different way.</p> <p><strong>MJ:</strong> Jordan's parents, Ron and Lucy, are featured prominently. You capture some heart-wrenching moments. How did you get that kind of access?</p> <p><strong>MS:</strong> I shoot and do sound on my own, so I'm not approaching them with a big crew and lights and all the rest of it. That's the technical answer. There was also a huge emotional relationship. We met about seven months before the trial. By the time the trial came, I asked, "Would you be okay if I did several mornings with you and several evenings? It's really important that the audience gets to see not just you guys sitting there stoically in court, but actually what impact this really has on you." They were very open to that. They could see the bigger picture, in terms of audiences really understanding that, however many shootings and racist incidents there are in the US, that <em>this</em> is the effect.</p> <p><strong>MJ:</strong> It does feel like, since Ferguson, we hear news about the killing of black men almost daily.</p> <p><strong>MS:</strong> I really hope people walk away from the film remembering that there are concentric circles around these events. If you put these on a map and you actually counted the number of people affected, that would be a very different picture. It's not just families; it's communities.</p> <p><strong>MJ:</strong> What was it like documenting Ron and Lucy's trepidation?</p> <p><strong>MS: </strong>That was a horrific journey. We could feel the tension, the exhaustion, the horror of having to sit through the trial. Every day in the courtroom, the judge reminded people that they weren't allowed to show emotion&mdash;I presume [because] it might affect the jury. They also weren't allowed to talk about race because it wasn't officially declared a hate crime.<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;"> That's when I understood this difference between the cold environment of the courtroom and this emotional, every-parent's-worst-nightmare story unfolding outside the courtroom that the public were finding themselves attached to&mdash;because clearly it was about racism.</span></p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>A second thread in the film touches on stand your ground and gun laws. What made you decide to toggle between those two plotlines?</p> <p><strong>MS:</strong> The 50 pages, or whatever it was, of self-defense laws the judge had to read out to the jury lasted about 30 minutes. That obviously wasn't going to work in the film. And the specifics are really difficult to explain. So we put that across to the audience in the simplest way possible by using the jury&mdash;in the way the prosecutor, the defense, and the judge explained self defense. It was essential that we embedded that into the story. Of course, you come up against something really weird: Trayvon Martin wasn't a stand-your-ground case. Jordan Davis' case wasn't a stand-your-ground case. That really complicates stuff.</p> <p>We really didn't get into gun control because the heart of the film is about race. There are subsequent things in the film that may make you think about gun control without us having to slap you with it. One was the white witness [at the gas station]: He describes the gun in such great detail. To be able to say the name, make, and model of a gun you saw for a split second goes to show how embedded gun culture is in Florida.</p> <p><strong>MJ:</strong> You're from the UK, which treats firearms very differently than the United States does. How did that affect the film's outlook?</p> <p><strong>MS:</strong> I like to think that it gave me a less judgmental perspective. It's always weird coming to the US and seeing how powerful the gun lobby is and how passionate some people are about the use of guns when you come from a place where hardly any of our police have guns. I understand philosophically the right to self-defense and the Second Amendment. But consider what practical effect these concepts have. It's very simple: If there wasn't a gun in Michael Dunn's car, Jordan Davis would not be dead, and Michael Dunn would not be spending the rest of his life in prison. The gun created a totally different narrative.</p> <p><strong>MJ:</strong> You're also white. Did that affect the process in any way?</p> <p><strong>MS:</strong> I didn't feel it hindered my making the film. That's not to say if I was African American, or American, or owned a gun, I may not have told the story in a different way.&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;">But being white made me want to explore what proportion of white America Michael Dunn represents.</span></p> <p><strong>MJ:</strong> Did you find an answer?</p> <p><strong>MS:</strong> I always had a suspicion that Dunn's perception of race was wildly skewed. Then we found the prison phone calls. The way he described, as you hear in the film, his conviction that Jordan's friends are thugs, that they won't tell the truth in court, that him killing Jordan actually potentially saved someone else's life because Jordan didn't get to kill somebody else. And that all of this is related to baggy pants, their fathers not being around, and MTV. The belief system he had in place led to Jordan's killing. And there were some things that Michael Dunn said that were, for me, metaphorical of what many white people in America say and how they perceive black men. A lot of people think that MTV is this, or all black fathers are that. I don't know how many people who have those opinions would then reach for their gun. But I think a lot of people have those opinions. Michael Dunn is just one person, but what he comes to represent is much more interesting.</p> <p>Also, I thought one of the maddest things about Dunn's rant about black fathers not being present was this amazing irony that Dunn had not seen his son in many years and was literally going to his estranged son's wedding that day. So he would be a not-present father, and Ron, Jordan's dad, would be ever-present father. Even in death, Ron is essentially fathering and standing up for his son.</p> <p><strong>MJ:</strong> You started this film before Ferguson got more of America talking about race again. How has the explosion of debate on this topic affected the final product?</p> <p><strong>MS: </strong>I remember we were sitting in the edit suite watching Ferguson erupt on Facebook and in the media. There were moments when we were itching to go out and shoot, not really knowing why. So we held ourselves back. But actually that was the wisest thing. Because Jordan's story held within its DNA all of these layers that not only spoke to what happened specifically to him, but spoke to bigger things that were, and obviously have been happening in the US for many years&mdash;this year in particular. All of that had already happened before Ferguson. So technically nothing changed on the timeline. It just resonated more powerfully.</p> <p>Ferguson happened in between the two [Dunn] trials. Members of the public obviously knew it had happened, and then 12 of those members of the public ended up on the second jury. I've always wondered if some social change had actually occurred. Whether that second jury had been affected by what happened in Ferguson, and they did look at racial bias in a different way and thought, "This isn't self defense." I could never prove that, but I like to think that sometimes.</p></body></html> Media Film and TV Guns Race and Ethnicity Top Stories Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:00:12 +0000 Hannah Levintova 278611 at The GOP Is Trying to Give the 25 Richest Americans a $334 Billion Tax Break <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In mid April, the Republican-controlled House voted to repeal the estate tax, which, despite the GOP's&nbsp;"<a href="" target="_blank">death tax</a>" messaging, affects only the superrich: Of the nearly 2.6 million Americans who died <a href="" target="_blank">in 2013</a>, just 4,687 had estates flush enough to trigger the tax. That's because the bar to qualify for the estate tax is quite generous: The first $5.43 million of an individual's wealth is exempt from the tax, and that amount goes up to $10.86 million for married couples. After that point, the tax rate is 40 percent.</p> <p>The <a href="">Center for Effective Government</a> (CEG) calculated how much the 25 richest Americans would save if this repeal on the estate tax were to become law. The final tab: $334 billion.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CEG-Chart.jpg"><div class="caption">Center for Effective Government</div> </div> <p>That's a lot of cash! CEG calculated that $334 billion in taxes would be enough to:</p> <ol><li><strong>Cut the nation's student debt by one-third:</strong> The total could be distributed by giving $25,000 in debt relief to each of the 13 million Americans trying to pay off student loans.</li> <li><strong>Repair or replace every single deficient school AND bridge in America:</strong> Give kids more resources for a better education, and get the country's structurally deficient bridges up to snuff.</li> <li><strong>Give every new US baby a chunk of change:</strong> $1,000 at birth, and then $500 a year until their 18th birthday, making a $10,000 nest egg to put toward education, a home, or other opportunities.</li> <li><strong>Repair all leaking wastewater systems, sewage plumbing, and dams:</strong> Thus improving the health of lakes, rivers, and oceans nationwide.</li> </ol><p>Of course, it's unlikely the tax will actually get repealed. Even if the bill makes it past the Senate, President Obama has <a href="" target="_blank">promised to veto</a> it. But as the election season heats up with economic inequality at its forefront, the repercussions of the bill are likely to be more political than financial. As Robert J. Samuelson writes at the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Washington Post</em></a>, the GOP has "handed Democrats a priceless campaign gift: a made-for-TV (and Internet) video depicting Republicans as lackeys of the rich."</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Income Inequality The Right Fri, 01 May 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Hannah Levintova 274406 at These Photos Show What Life Is Like for Girls in Juvenile Detention <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/GirlsInJustice-630.jpg"></div> <p>The number of kids entering the juvenile justice system has declined steadily in recent years, yet girls continue to represent an <a href="">ever-growing share</a> of those arrested, detained, and committed to custody. In his latest collection of photographs, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Girls in Justice</em></a>, Richard Ross&mdash;who has spent the past eight years documenting incarcerated kids&mdash;explores the lives of young women in custody<em>.</em> His haunting photos, taken across 250 different detention facilities, illuminate the difficult circumstances (absent caregivers, poverty, physical abuse, sexual violence, etc.) that drive girls into the system and in many cases keep them there.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/140-400px_1.jpg" style="height: 525px; width: 350px;"><div class="caption"><strong>BN, age 15 </strong></div> </div> <p>"We confine and often demonize a group of kids who have been abused and violated by the very people who should be protecting and loving them," writes Ross, who also won a 2012 National Magazine Award for a <a href="" target="_blank">photo collection</a> on juvenile justice, in the preface. "These girls in detention and commitment facilities are further abused by an organized system that can't recognize or respond to their history and their needs&hellip;Is this the only solution we can offer?"</p> <p>In the book, for privacy reasons, the girls are identified only by their initials, and their faces are obscured. BN, the 15-year old at right, told Ross how she was forced into prostitution as a child&mdash;by her mom: "My mom's 32, a crack and meth addict," she explained. "I think I was in the fourth grade. Once you're in the game, it's hard to get out of it. And I like the money now. I had gonorrhea when I was 12. Nobody wanted to help me. I don't know what they are going to do with me. I would be a mother to my brother and sister. I would do things like pay all the house bills."</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/117-400px_0.jpg" style="height: 525px; width: 350px;"><div class="caption"><strong>SG, age 17 </strong></div> </div> <p>BN also said she was a runaway&mdash;sort of: "I really didn't run away, but my mom kicked me out of the house."</p> <p>Most of the girls Ross interviewed reported that their first arrest was either for running away or for larceny theft, which lines up with the statistics: Girls account for <a href="" target="_blank">about 60 percent</a> of arrests for running away from home.</p> <p>Seventeen-year-old SG told Ross that she ended up in detention after being on house arrest; she left the house to go to church. "I was a meth baby," she said, noting that she's used meth too, but had been clean for a year. SG said her father beat her when she was little&mdash;he left the family when she was six. He later went to prison for child abuse and drug charges. When she was seven, SG said, she was abused by an adult that worked with kids at a local Boys and Girls Club. She waited six years to tell the police: "I don't think they did anything."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BW-18-400px_0.jpg" style="height: 525px; width: 350px;"><div class="caption"><strong>BW, age 18 </strong></div> </div> <p>Eighteen-year-old BW told Ross that her mother used to burn her with cigarettes when she and her siblings were young, and would hit them with extension cords if they got in trouble at school. She also recounted being sexually abused by her stepfather. "My aunt came in and said, 'Did you touch my babies? Did you touch them?' And he said, 'I didn't touch them goddamn kids.' Then he comes in with a gun. He got the gun to her head like, 'Don't you snitch on me, don't you tell the police.' So we're thinking 'My auntie is gonna lose her life right in front of our eyes.'"</p> <p>These sorts of experiences are common among girls in juvenile facilities: According to the author of a 2009 Department of Justice-funded <a href="" target="_blank">study</a> of 100 South Carolina girls in detention, 35 of the girls had witnessed a murder, 44 had been sexually abused by an adult, 50 had been abused physically by a caregiver, 54 had a caregiver who served time, and 69 reported having "consensual" sex with an adult.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%">&nbsp;</div> <p>In the book, Ross points out that involvement in the system can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress for girls. The militarized climate of detention facilities is one contributing factor.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/59-400px_5.jpg" style="height: 525px; width: 350px;"></div> <p>A lot of detention facilities have "a very paramilitary framework," he notes in an email. "Hands behind your back, eyes down, arms length." The guards typically come from a military or law-enforcement background. "They treat the kids as little adults, small soldiers. The long hallway and locked doors are typical: 8x10 cells, concrete bed, mattress too flat, bed too hard, pillow too flat, blanket too thin...Their shoes are parked outside the door, indicating 'There is a body inside the cell,' to quote the guard."</p> <p>One young girl, 15-year-old KN, showed Ross her tattoos. At the time he photographed her, she had been in detention for two months. She said she'd been put in placement&mdash;a less restrictive detention option&mdash;after being charged with battery and assault of a girl at school, but she kept going AWOL and finally ended up in a lockup situation.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/24-25-630px_1.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>KN, age 15 </strong></div> </div> <p>After her four month stint in detention, she would most likely be sent back to placement. "But mostly, I want to go home," she told Ross. "I have a girlfriend here. And on the outs. My parents are real Catholic. They say God doesn't like you being with girls, but they're glad that I do because that way I won't get pregnant...God thinks I can do better with my life and He knows I will do better."</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/65-A-400px_0.jpg" style="height: 525px; width: 350px;"><div class="caption"><strong>Name unknown, age 11 </strong></div> </div> <p>"Who tattoos this across their fingers? Where can this lifetime commitment to purge and reject love come from?" Ross asks his readers. "'Fuck Love' is the response to a familial trust shattered. A wish to announce that she rejects those that have rejected her."</p> <p>One of the facilities that Ross visited is Maryvale, a Los Angeles residential treatment center for girls ages 8 to 17. It used to be an orphanage. One of the girls Ross photographed there was only 11. He doesn't know her name and was not allowed to interview her. "Some of them are too fragile," he writes. "They come from abusive homes and the results are the fragile world between dependency and detention." In this facility, the girls are in rooms with real bedspreads and lots of stuffed animals. Ross asked the director why there were so many stuffed animals, even for the older girls. "The response was, 'These kids have never had a real childhood, so we try and allow it at every age.'"</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/63-400px.jpg" style="height: 525px; width: 350px;"><div class="caption"><strong>RT, age 16 </strong></div> </div> <p>Black, Native American, and Latina girls are all detained at <a href="" target="_blank">higher rates</a> than white girls. And the racial disparities in detention have an impact even after the girls leave. Ross cites a study from the <a href="" target="_blank">American Academy of Pediatrics</a> that shows that detention radically increases the likelihood of early mortality for Latinas. The study found that girls who have been in detention are five times more likely than the general population to die within 16 years of their detention. And for Latinas, the risk is nearly twice as high.</p> <p>RT, a 16-year-old undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, told Ross that she was working at a packing plant when Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the place. She was one of many minors working there, she said. "They deported most of the people, but kept some of us to go to court against the owners...All of us were from the same village in Guatemala. We live in houses that the company owns. I think they let me stay because of my baby."</p></body></html> Media Photo Essays Books Prisons Thu, 30 Apr 2015 10:00:07 +0000 Hannah Levintova 274206 at Who Subsidizes Restaurant Workers' Pitiful Wages? You Do <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>For Americans who like to eat out occasionally, the full-service restaurant industry is full of relatively affordable options&mdash;think Olive Garden, Applebees, or Chili's. But these spots aren't exactly a bargain once a hefty hidden cost is factored in: The amount of taxpayer assistance that goes to workers earning little pay.</p> <p>Food service workers have more than twice the poverty rate of the overall workforce, and thus more often seek out public benefits. A <a href="" target="_blank">new report</a> published last week by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a restaurant workers' advocacy and assistance group, calculated the tab and found that from 2009 to 2013, regular Americans subsidized the industry's low wages with nearly $9.5 billion in tax money each year. That number includes spending from roughly 10 different assistance programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, and low-income housing programs like Section 8.</p> <p>Here's the breakdown per program:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-17%20at%201.23.14%20PM.png" style="height: 429px; width: 550px;"><div class="caption">Restaurant Opportunities Centers United</div> </div> <p>The amounts were calculated by combining Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on the programs' cost and enrollments with the number of Americans working in full-service restaurants.</p> <p>ROC also found that employees at the five largest full-service restaurant companies alone cost taxpayers about $1.4 billion per year. According to the report, these five companies employ more than half a million of the sector's more than 4 million workers.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>Here's another striking statistic: If you add up these five companies' profits, CEO pay, distributed dividends, and stock buy-backs, the total comes to a bit more than $1.48 billion&mdash;almost exactly what taxpayers spend on these five companies' workers, $1.42 billion.</p> <p>ROC's report notes another key point: <a href="" target="_blank">Polling</a> shows that most Americans want a tax system that requires Corporate America to pull its weight. If customers start realizing that their meal costs a lot more than the check says, they just might lose their appetite.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Charts Food and Ag Labor Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:45:07 +0000 Hannah Levintova 273866 at This Letter From a Gay Veteran's Brother Is the Most Heartbreaking Response to Indiana's Law We've Read Yet <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Tuesday morning, Indiana's largest newspaper, the <em>Indianapolis Star</em>, published a full <a href="" target="_blank">front-page editorial</a> calling on Gov. Mike Pence to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the new bill that has incited national furor because it allows businesses to refuse service to gay people, citing their religious beliefs.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CBZFU8uVIAAlJjE-1.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Tuesday's Indianapolis Star. </strong>@markalesia/Twitter</div> </div> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>By the end of the day, the paper received a heartbreaking letter from Nick Crews of Plainfield. Crews writes about walking his dogs to the local market that morning to pick up two copies of the day's <em>Star</em>, something he never does. He continues:</p> <blockquote> <p>With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield's Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother's grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.</p> <p>At the grave I opened the <em>Star</em>. I said, "Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all." Then I read aloud as much of the paper's editorial as tears would let me get through.</p> <p>And today I'm doing what I never thought I'd do. I'm renewing my subscription to the<em> Star</em>. I'm doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to the <em>Star</em> whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.</p> </blockquote> <p>Read his entire letter <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Gay Rights Media Top Stories Wed, 01 Apr 2015 19:57:06 +0000 Hannah Levintova 272826 at Ellen Pao Loses Her Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Silicon Valley VC Firm Kleiner Perkins <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>This is a breaking news story. We'll be updating this post regularly.</em></p> <p>Ellen Pao's $16 million lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, has captivated Silicon Valley for the past month. Pao, now the interim CEO of Reddit, sued her former employer on charges of gender discrimination and retaliation. <a href="">Many</a> <a href="">have called</a> the trial Silicon Valley's version of the Anita Hill hearings, in part because it offers a rare glimpse into the challenges faced by women at the Valley's elite companies, where cases of this rank usually settle rather than go public. At 2 PM pacific today, the jury returned a verdict, <a href=";nlid=28193795&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">voting no on all four counts</a> of alleged gender discrimination and retaliation by Kleiner Perkins.</p> <p>But the official verdict barely lasted a half hour, thanks to an error in basic math: The judge asked each juror to list their individual verdict for the court. This revealed that on the fourth count&mdash;which alleges that Pao's termination was retaliation for raising concerns about gender discrimination and filing her lawsuit&mdash;4 of the 12 jurors, two men and two women, voted yes. The judge ruled that 8-4 was an insufficient majority&mdash;a consensus among nine jurors is needed&mdash;and asked the jurors to return to the deliberation room for further discussion. That means that there hasn't yet been an official verdict. We'll keep updating this post as news unfolds.</p> <p><strong>Update, Friday, 7:45 p.m. EDT:</strong> After the first jury miscount, an official verdict is in and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins has prevailed on all counts. The jury returned to the courtroom after several hours of additional deliberations to deliver the verdict. Juror 3, one of the four original "yes" votes on the retaliation count, flipped his vote. With a consensus of nine jurors or more on all counts, the case is over. Ellen Pao gave a brief statement to the press, thanking her family and friends for their support throughout the trial. "I have told my story and thousands of people have heard me," <a href="" target="_blank">she said</a>. "If I've helped level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it."</p></body></html> Politics Sex and Gender Tech Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:16:17 +0000 Hannah Levintova 272531 at