Tuesday Disgusting Behavior Open Thread

061915coletoon

Good Afternoon!!

This blog is just barely limping along. JJ is dealing with family issues, Dak is trying to help a friend who is in fear of her life from an abusive husband, and I’m dealing with urgent dental problems. And would you believe I still have itching on my arms and neck? It doesn’t make it easier that the news is filled with just plain horrible, awful, disgusting stuff these days. So here’s a really disgusting open thread.

Yesterday it was Bill Cosby the serial rapist. Today it’s Donald Trump and marital rape. You’ve probably already read or at least heard about the article by Tim Mak and Brandy Zadrozny at The Daily Beast yesterday about the time Ivana Trump accused her husband Donald of raping her.

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Ex-Wife: Donald Trump Made Me Feel ‘Violated’ During Sex.

Ivana Trump’s assertion of “rape” came in a deposition—part of the early ’90s divorce case between the Trumps, and revealed in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump.

The book, by former Texas Monthly and Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt III, described a harrowing scene. After a painful scalp reduction surgery to remove a bald spot, Donald Trump confronted his then-wife, who had previously used the same plastic surgeon.

“Your fucking doctor has ruined me!” Trump cried.

What followed was a “violent assault,” according to Lost Tycoon. Donald held back Ivana’s arms and began to pull out fistfuls of hair from her scalp, as if to mirror the pain he felt from his own operation. He tore off her clothes and unzipped his pants.

“Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than sixteen months. Ivana is terrified… It is a violent assault,” Hurt writes. “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.’”

Ivana ran to another room, locked herself in and cried all night. The next day Trump asked her coldly about her torn out hair, “Does it hurt?”

Clown runs for prez

When the Daily Beast writers contacted Trump’s “special counsel” Michael Cohen, he was outraged and threatening.

Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, defended his boss, saying, “You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”

Obviously, that is false. New York state criminalized marital rape in 1984, before the incident described in the Ivana’s deposition. Marital rape is now a crime in all 50 states. Cohen then threatened the writers.

“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”

“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added.

Of course Ivana is now denying that what happened was rape, but from the description she gave a the time it certainly was a violent sexual assault in which she was held down and raped. Of course Ivan was forced to sign an agreement that prevents her from ever saying anything negative about her ex-husband or their marriage, so she can’t really be honest about what she thinks of the incident anyway.

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There’s much more to the story. Go read the whole sorry thing at The Daily Beast if you haven’t already.

This is what the Republican Party has done to this country. This repulsive buffoon Donald Trump is leading the race for the GOP presidential nomination, and the rest of the clown car aren’t much better.

In a response to the Daily Beast Story, the Trump campaign told Business Insider:

A representative for Trump, who is now a front-runner in many polls of the Republican primary, provided a statement to Business Insider that said the incident was “old news and it never happened.” The person also said Ivana Trump made up the “rape” allegation as part of an effort to “exploit” Trump during their divorce proceedings in the early ’90s.

“This is an event that has been widely reported on in the past — it is old news and it never happened,” the Trump representative said. “It is a standard lawyer technique, which was used to exploit more money from Mr. Trump especially since he had an ironclad prenuptial agreement.”

Today Trump lawyer Michael Cohen tried–and failed–to clean up the mess he made yesterday.

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From The Huffington Post: Donald Trump’s Lawyer Apologizes For ‘Inarticulate Comment’ About Spousal Rape.

“As an attorney, husband and father there are many injustices that offend me but nothing more than charges of rape or racism,” Cohen said in a statement to CNN. “They hit me at my core. Rarely am I surprised by the press, but the gall of this particular reporter to make such a reprehensible and false allegation against Mr. Trump truly stunned me. In my moment of shock and anger, I made an inarticulate comment — which I do not believe — and which I apologize for entirely.”

Cohen had some choice words for The Daily Beast, saying he planned to “come after” the publication.

“So I’m warning you, tread very f—ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. You understand me?” Cohen said, according to CNN.

OK, so now you’re threatening reporters for doing their job. Ever hear of the first amendment? But I guess this is how things are handled in Trump World. I don’t think it will work much longer in the world of politics. At least I hope not.

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And for the record, from Think Progress: Memo To Donald Trump: Here’s What The Law Actually Says About Raping Your Spouse.

Cohen’s claim that sex between spouses cannot legally be rape was once true, although it is rooted in a definition of marriage that our society abandoned decades ago. Under the English common law, which still shapes much of American law, a woman became little more than her husband’s property when she said “I do” at the altar. As Sir William Blackstone wrote in a widely cited explanation of the common law rule of marriage, “[t]he very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.”

Under this traditional definition of marriage, a wife’s financial identity was subsumed into her husband’s. Though she could retain title over real estate, such land was managed and controlled by her husband. The husband actually gained legal ownership of his wife’s remaining property.

Significantly, the common law also held wives to be sexually subservient to their husbands. A husband “cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife,” Sir Matthew Hale wrote in a 1736 treatise on the common law. “[B]y their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband,” Hale added, and this consent was something “she cannot retract.”

This vision of the wife as a kind of sexual property continued until surprisingly recently in the United States. The 1962 draft of the Model Penal Code, a proposed set of criminal laws drafted by legal scholars seeking to encourage uniform laws throughout the states, provided that the crime of rape could only occur when a “male . . . has sexual intercourse with a female not his wife.” Nebraska, the first state to abolish the marital rape exemption, did not do so until 1976.

After Nebraska took this step, however, the remaining states followed fairly quickly. In 1993, North Carolina became the last state to repeal the old rule holding that a husband could not rape their wife.

So . . . what do you think? Again, this is an open thread.

 


Tuesday Reads: Emily Yoffe and the Problem of Sexual Assault on College Campuses

William W. Churchill, Woman Reading on a Settee

William W. Churchill, Woman Reading on a Settee

Good Morning!!

This morning I read a long article by Emily Yoffe at Slate about The Hunting Ground, a documentary about rape on college campuses, How The Hunting Ground Blurs the Truth. I haven’t seen the film, but Yoffe says that CNN plans to show it in the future so maybe we’ll all get to see it eventually. Anyway, I thought I’d present Yoffe’s arguments and some of the responses to her previous posts on the subject and see what you think.

In the article, Yoffe focuses one of the cases presented in the film, listing a number of facts and inconsistencies that she says were ignored by the filmmakers. She also demonstrates a great deal of sympathy for the man who allegedly committed the sexual assaults.

Arthur M. Hazard, Woman Reading in an Interior

Arthur M. Hazard, Woman Reading in an Interior

Some excerpts:

The recent documentary The Hunting Ground asserts that young women are in grave danger of sexual assault as soon as they arrive on college campuses. The film has been screened at the White House for staff and legislators. Senate Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who makes a cameo appearance in the film, cites it as confirmation of the need for the punitive campus sexual assault legislation she has introduced. Gillibrand’s colleague Barbara Boxer, after the film’s premiere said, “Believe me, there will be fallout.” The film has received nearly universal acclaim from critics—the Washington Post called it “lucid,” “infuriating,” and “galvanizing”—and, months after its initial release, its influence continues to grow, as schools across the country host screenings. “If you have a daughter going to any college in America, you need to see The Hunting Ground,” the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough told his viewers in May. This fall, it will get a further boost when CNN, a co-producer, plans to broadcast the film, broadening its audience. The Hunting Ground is helping define the problem of campus sexual assault for policymakers, college administrators, students, and their parents.

The film has two major themes. One, stated by producer Amy Ziering during an appearance on The Daily Show, is that campus sexual assaults are not “just a date gone bad, or a bad hook-up, or, you know, miscommunication.” Instead, the filmmakers argue, campus rape is “a highly calculated, premeditated crime,” one typically committed by serial predators. (They give significant screen time to David Lisak, the retired psychology professor who originated this theory.) The second theme is that even when school administrators are informed of harm done to female students by these repeat offenders, schools typically do nothing in response. Director Kirby Dick has said that “colleges are primarily concerned about their reputation” and that “if a rape happens, they’ll do everything to distance themselves from it.” In the film, a former assistant dean of students at the University of North Carolina, Melinda Manning, says schools “make it difficult for students to report” sexual assault in order to avoid federal reporting requirements and to “artificially keep [their] numbers low.”

One of the four key stories told in the film illustrates both of these points. It is the harrowing account of Kamilah Willingham, who describes what happened during the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 2011, while she was a student at Harvard Law School. She says a male classmate, a man she thought was her friend, drugged the drinks he bought at a bar for her and a female friend, then took the two women back to Willingham’s apartment and sexually assaulted them. When she reported this to Harvard, she says university officials were indifferent and even hostile to her. “He’s dangerous,” she says in the film of her alleged attacker, as she tries to keep her composure. “This is a rapist. This is a guy who’s a sexual predator, who assaulted two girls in one night.” The events continue to haunt her. “It’s still right up here,” she says tearfully, placing a hand on her chest.

William W. Churchill, Leisure

William W. Churchill, Leisure

You’ll probably have to read the entire article to get a full understanding of this case, but this should give you a sense of where Yoffe is coming from:

I looked into the case of Kamilah Willingham, whose allegations generated a voluminous record. What the evidence (including Willingham’s own testimony) shows is often dramatically at odds with the account presented in the film.

Willingham’s story is not an illustration of a sexual predator allowed to run loose by self-interested administrators. The record shows that what happened that night was precisely the kind of spontaneous, drunken encounter that administrators who deal with campus sexual assault accusations say is typical. (The filmmakers, who favor David Lisak’s poorly substantiated position that our college campuses are rife with serial rapists, reject the suggestion that such encounters are the source of many sexual assault allegations.) Nor is Willingham’s story an example of official indifference. Harvard did not ignore her complaints; the school thoroughly investigated them. And because of her allegations, the law school education of her alleged assailant has been halted for the past four years.

Yoffe has a history of denying the seriousness of the problem of campus rape (even though in this article she twice *says* it’s a serious issue). Her position seems to be that if college women just stopped getting drunk, rape on campus would be a minor or nonexistent problem.

I found it interesting that she refers to David Lisak’s research on campus rapists as a “theory,” and characterizes his work as “poorly substantiated.” The link to her evidence that Lisak’s work is somehow problematic goes to another article written by Yoffe in which she cites Lisak and another researcher explaining that it’s important to be aware that the (pretty large) sample of UMass students that Lisak used may not be typical of all college populations. This is a standard caveat given in most psychology research papers, because studies on human beings can rarely be representative of the population as a whole. The results need to be considered in the light of other studies and studies of varied populations. That doesn’t invalidate the findings.

Lady reading by a window

Here’s the article in which Yoffe finds fault with Lisak’s research: The College Rape Overcorrection. Again, you probably should read the whole thing, because I can’t represent her arguments in a brief excerpt. Still, here’s a bit of it:

In recent years, young activists, many of them women angry about their treatment after reporting an assault, have created new organizations and networks in an effort to reform the way colleges handle sexual violence. They recognized they had a powerful weapon in that fight: Title IX, the federal law that protects against discrimination in education. Schools are legally required by that law to address sexual harassment and violence on campus, and these activists filed complaints with the federal government about what they describe as lax enforcement by schools. The current administration has taken up the cause—the Chronicle of Higher Education describes it as “a marquee issue for the Obama administration”—and praised these young women for spurring political action. “A new generation of student activists is effectively pressing for change,” read a statement this spring announcing new policies to address campus violence. The Department of Education has drafted new rules to address women’s safety, some of which have been enshrined into law by Congress, with more legislation likely on the way.

Unfortunately, under the worthy mandate of protecting victims of sexual assault, procedures are being put in place at colleges that presume the guilt of the accused. Colleges, encouraged by federal officials, are instituting solutions to sexual violence against women that abrogate the civil rights of men. Schools that hold hearings to adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct allow the accuser and the accused to be accompanied by legal counsel. But as Judith Shulevitz noted in the New Republic in October, many schools ban lawyers from speaking to their clients (only notes can be passed). During these proceedings, the two parties are not supposed to question or cross examine each other, a prohibition recommended by the federal government in order to protect the accuser. And by federal requirement, students can be found guilty under the lowest standard of proof: preponderance of the evidence, meaning just a 51 percent certainty is all that’s needed for a finding that can permanently alter the life of the accused.

a-woman-reading Gyla Benczur

More than two dozen Harvard Law School professors recently wrote a statement protesting the university’s new rules for handling sexual assault claims. “Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process,” they wrote. The professors note that the new rules call for a Title IX compliance officer who will be in charge of “investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review.” Under the new system, there will be no hearing for the accused, and thus no opportunity to question witnesses and mount a defense. Harvard University, the professors wrote, is “jettisoning balance and fairness in the rush to appease certain federal administrative officials.” But to push back against Department of Education edicts means potentially putting a school’s federal funding in jeopardy, and no college, not even Harvard, the country’s richest, is willing to do that.

Again, Yoffe focuses sympathetically on one case involving a male student at the University of Michigan, Drew Sterrett. She also cites research by Callie Marie Rennison and Lynn Addington, who found that non-college women are in greater danger of rape than college women. She doesn’t address the issue that universities are entrusted by parents with protecting young people who may be away from home for the first time.

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In an article from October 2013, Yoffe really gets to the point: College Women: Stop Getting Drunk. It’s closely associated with sexual assault. And yet we’re reluctant to tell women to stop doing it. Again, just a brief excerpt:

Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.

Experts I spoke to who wanted young women to get this information said they were aware of how loaded it has become to give warnings to women about their behavior. “I’m always feeling defensive that my main advice is: ‘Protect yourself. Don’t make yourself vulnerable to the point of losing your cognitive faculties,’ ” says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, who has written on rape and teaches feminist jurisprudence. She adds that by not telling them the truth—that they are responsible for keeping their wits about them—she worries that we are “infantilizing women.”

So perpetrators are “responsible for committing their crimes,” but women are the ones who should change their behavior. Why not keep criminals off college campuses and try to prevent both male and female students from drinking so much? Yoffe explains her reasoning at the end of the article:

I’ve told my daughter that it’s her responsibility to take steps to protect herself. (“I hear you! Stop!”) The biological reality is that women do not metabolize alcohol the same way as men, and that means drink for drink women will get drunker faster. I tell her I know alcohol will be widely available (even though it’s illegal for most college students) but that she’ll have a good chance of knowing what’s going on around her if she limits herself to no more than two drinks, sipped slowly—no shots!—and stays away from notorious punch bowls. If female college students start moderating their drinking as a way of looking out for their own self-interest—and looking out for your own self-interest should be a primary feminist principle—I hope their restraint trickles down to the men.

If I had a son, I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.

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She is correct that women are affected more quickly by alcohol than men, but is that a reason to focus only on college women’s responsibility for preventing sexual assaults? She actually believes that we should just hope that if women drink less, men will emulate them? Good luck with that.

I’ve found several responses to Yoffe’s previous articles. I’ll watch to see the reactions to the latest one which came out yesterday. Here are some links you can check out if you’re interested.

Emma Gray at Huffington Post: What Slate Gets So Wrong About College Women And Sexual Assault.

Alexander Abad-Santos in The Wire: Slate Forgot That the One Common Factor in Rapes Are [sic] Rapists.

Kate McDonough at Salon: Sorry, Emily Yoffe: Blaming assault on women’s drinking is wrong, dangerous and tired.

Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezabel: How To Write About Rape Prevention Without Sounding Like An Asshole.

Jennifer Baker at Psychology Today (also cited in the main post): Campus Rape Skepticism. How Not to ‘Debunk’ Research.

Josh Beitel at Medium: A Rebuttal to Emily Yoffe’s College Rape Overcorrection.

As always, this is an open thread, so feel free to post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Did Nepotism at The Washington Post Contribute to Irresponsible Reporting on the UVA Rape Story?

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Have you ever wondered how extremely young men are able to get jobs at elite newspapers like The Washington Post right out of college?

Take for example T. Rees Shapiro, who has led the charge to not only discredit the Rolling Stone story on the problem of rape on the University of Virginia campus but also efforts to dismiss and humiliate Jackie, one of the women interviewed by Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdley .

However flawed the Rolling Stone article may have been, it was about much more than Jackie’s story. It illustrated a culture of minimization of rape that had existed had UVA for at least 30 years, in which women who reported being sexually assaulted were discouraged from going to the police, their complaints were not treated seriously, and accused perpetrators were not seriously investigated or punished.

Shapiro’s career has been greatly enhanced by his dismantling of Jackie’s story about a violent rape that allegedly took place in 2012. As a consequence of his efforts to dismantle Jackie’s story, T. Rees Shapiro has appeared on numerous television programs and received praise from many quarters. Most likely his youth enabled Shapiro to con Jackie into trusting him enough to talk to him “several times.”

Last night, I decided to take a quick look at young Mr. Shapiro and his career development path. How did he get such an elite journalism job at the young age of 27?

T. Rees Shapiro

In 2009, Shapiro graduated from Virginia Tech, where he wrote for the student newspaper. In 2010, he was hired by the Washington Post as a copy boy. He soon graduated to writing obituaries, and in 2010 became an education reporter for the Post.

Clearly T. Rees (Nicknamed “Trees,” get it?) is a real go-getter, but he also has connections. His father Leonard Shapiro was a sportswriter for The Washington Post for 38 years, and his mother Vicky Moon is a writer and photographer who is apparently a fixture in Virginia society. Would Shapiro have gotten the Washington Post job without those connections? Maybe, but I doubt it.

When he wrote about Jackie, Shapiro emphasized several times that she was using her “real nickname,” thus enabling trolls like Chuck C. Johnson to find her and try to publicly out her. Shapiro was also able to locate Jackie’s so-called “friends” and get their after-the-fact critiques of Jackie’s story. Shapiro doesn’t say whether Jackie told him she still considers these people to be her friends.

In his critiques of the Rolling Stone article and specifically of Jackie’s story, Shapiro chose not to write about the other women who were interviewed by author Sabrina Rubin Erdley or to get input from experts on rape and traumatic memory. Would a more mature reporter have done so, rather than simply picking apart Jackie’s story? Would a female education reporter have thought to do that?

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Despite the Post’s attacks on Jackie, the University of Virginia does in fact have a rape problem. UVA is one of 86 schools being investigated by the Department of Education for mishandling rape complaints. Four Virginia schools are on the DEA list.

From Huffington Post in July: For Years, Students Have Accused Virginia Universities Of Botching Sexual Assault Cases.

Four universities in Virginia are currently being  investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible Title IX violations specifically related to sexual violence — JMU, the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond. Two other schools in the state, the Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University, faced Title IX reviews that concluded this spring….

Each of the investigations at the Virginia schools, like that at JMU, was sparked by federal complaints.

UVA’s investigation is unusual in that it started in 2011, but remains open. The Education Department declined to say why the investigation was so long-running, and noted “that some cases take longer than others due to the nature and complexity of the issues involved.”

(Emphasis added).

In fact, UVA is one of only 12 schools that that the Department of Education has “flagged for a total compliance review.”

Another Washington Post reporter, Nick Anderson, writes that the inconsistencies in Jackie’s story will not end the federal investigation of UVA.

The University of Virginia was under the microscope for its handling of sexual assault cases long before Rolling Stone magazine weighed in with the account of a student who said she was gang-raped at a fraternity house.

The emergence of fresh questions about that account — including the fraternity issuing a rebuttal, doubts voiced by some who know the woman, and a statement from Rolling Stone’s managing editor on Friday acknowledging “discrepancies” in her version of events — will not suddenly cancel that scrutiny.

A federal investigation of U-Va.’s response to sexual violence, begun in June 2011, continues. It is one of the longest-running active probes of its kind in the nation. U-Va. remains one of the most prominent of about 90 colleges and universities facing such investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Student and faculty activists for sexual assault prevention, given a national platform in recent days, are unlikely to let the issue fade away. Skeptics will still wonder why the university has not expelled anyone for sexual misconduct in the past decade. Parents of prospective applicants, also mindful of the slaying of sophomore Hannah Graham after she disappeared in September, still want assurances that the Charlottesville campus is safe.

Perhaps most important, University President Teresa A. Sullivan laid out a detailed road map this week for a comprehensive review of the campus culture, touching on sexual assault, alcohol, Greek life and university oversight.

Francesca Bessey

Francesca Bessey

Since rape on campus is such a huge issue, shouldn’t education reporters like T. Rees Shapiro be more knowledgeable about sexual assault and its traumatic effects? One journalist, Francesca Bessey thinks so.

From Huffington Post: Thought the Rolling Stone Article Was Bad? Try Other Rape Journalism. Here’s her assessment of the Washington Post coverage:

The actual discrepancies introduced by the Washington Post are few: one, the individual whom Jackie claimed brought her to the fraternity was apparently a member of a different fraternity; and, two, a student who allegedly came to Jackie’s aid claimed she initially gave a different account of what happened that night. The fraternity also released a statement denying knowledge of the assault, or that there was a social function the night Jackie believes she was assaulted.

For someone who knows little to nothing about rape, fraternities, or the contemporary college party scene — which unfortunately seems to characterize a lot of the coverage thus far — these discrepancies might initially seem like gaping holes in Jackie’s story.

However, as any medical professional or victim advocate will tell you, trauma-related memory inconsistencies are extraordinarily common in cases of sexual assault, often manifesting in the survivor describing the incident to first responders as less severe than it actually was. Such plasticity of memory is not unique to rape cases; the FBI, for example, notes that “there can be a wide range of after effects to a trauma,” which can impact on a victim of a violent crime or the victim’s family members. A list of these effects includes confusion, disorientation, memory loss and slowed thinking. Psychological research has long demonstrated that humans reconstruct, rather than recall, memory, which is why eyewitness testimony is considered one of the most dubious forms of evidence in a court of law.

Why have journalists covering this story given more credence to statements by the fraternity and friends who were portrayed very negatively in the Rolling Stone article than to Jackie’s version of events?

…it is important to note that the so-called “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s story don’t necessarily invalidate her version of events. The fraternity’s statement is in no way more credible than Jackie’s own word — in fact, I would argue less so, given the sheer prevalence of fraternity rape. It would be foolish to assume that a fraternity’s formal denial of “knowledge of these alleged acts” means that they did not occur (with or without current leadership’s knowledge), as it would be foolish to rule out that the “date function” Jackie thought she was invited to wasn’t pure pretense in the first place. It is also within the realm of possibility that Jackie was brought to the party by a man who didn’t necessarily belong to the fraternity, even that he misled her about his membership in the frat. It is also possible that the student who gave a different version of how he found Jackie that night, lacks credibility or is himself having trouble recalling events.

Ultimately, these are all details significant to a police or journalistic investigation, upon which the responsibility is on law enforcement and journalists to figure out. For Jackie, however, it doesn’t change much. It doesn’t change her experience of violent assault, or those of countless students like her, many of whose stories are also featured in the article in question. It does not change the majority of the material in the original article: not the debasing lyrics of the UVA fight song; not the person who hurled a bottle at Jackie’s face the first time she tried to speak out; not the 38 students who appeared in Dean Nicole Eramo’s office in just one academic year to discuss incidents of sexual assault, despite the fact that not one student has ever been expelled from UVA for a sexual offense.

In light of these facts, in light of my own rape and the rapes of too many of my friends at the hands of their peers, I do wonder: Whose credibility is really to be doubted here? Jackie’s or the public peanut gallery that has diluted sexual assault down to a number and a date?

Again, I don’t want to personally denigrate T. Rees Shapiro. He writes well, and he has done a fine job of locating sources at the University of Virginia–both in this case and in his previous reporting on  in writing on the Hannah Graham murder case–probably because his youth helps him connect with college students only a few years younger than he is. But his analysis of a survivor’s story has suffered from his lack of knowledge and experience about campus sexual assault and rape in general.

I want to share two more articles that offer a more sophisticated take on these subjects–written by women with long journalistic experience.

Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn

From CNN, Rape culture? It’s too real, by Sally Kohn.

We don’t yet know all the facts behind the now-infamous, poorly fact-checked story in Rolling Stone about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. What we do know: Rolling Stone at first blamed the alleged victim, “Jackie” — rather than its own journalistic sloppiness — for so-called “discrepancies” (before changing its callous statement).

And new reporting by the Washington Post does reveal that Jackie’s friends, cited in the story, say they are skeptical about some of the details. Still, they all believe that Jackie experienced something “horrific” that night, in the words of one, and we do know that Jackie stands by her story. Most of the doubts about it were apparently raised by those she’s accusing, including the fraternity and main alleged assailant — whom, I guess, we’re supposed to believe instead. But one other thing we do know is that gang rapes just like what Jackie is alleging do happen — too often, and all over America.

While Rolling Stone’s reporting was clearly shoddy, some writers who initially poked holes in Jackie’s story did so for ideological motives. For instance, even before the reporting lapses were revealed, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg called Jackie’s story unbelievable. “It is not credible,” Goldberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t believe it.”

Instead, Goldberg insisted, Jackie’s account was “a convenient conversation for an exposé of rape culture,” something, incidentally, Goldberg also doubts to be real. “‘Rape culture’ suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America,” Goldberg later wrote in National Review. It’s all hogwash, says Goldberg, alleging that the very idea of “rape culture” is just “an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists.”

In other words, whatever the reality of what happened to Jackie, Goldberg and others were skeptical because they simply don’t believe rapes like that happen with the participation of groups of assailants, let alone the complicity of bystanders. This is where they’re mistaken.

Kohn then lists several extreme examples of gang rapes that resemble Jackie’s description–most of which we have covered here.

burleigh

Also from CNN, In 2014, rape rage drove feminism’s ‘third wave’, by Nina Burleigh.

Historians could look back on this year as the beginning of feminism’s third wave.

The year was momentous for feminism. For the first time, rape victims and their supporters emerged from the shadows in significant numbers and started naming names — to significant effect. Women, their voices amplified by social media and with the support of a small but growing cohort of men, have been exposing and shaming venerable American institutions such as the NFL, Ivy League and non-Ivy League colleges, and the entertainment icon Bill Cosby.

First wave feminists won the right to vote. The second wave got us the right to work. But even with those advances, women have remained fundamentally restricted by the threat and terrible secret of sexual assault.

This year, emboldened and connected by social media, college women formed a powerful grassroots movement that led to universities such as Harvard being publicly named and shamed for not addressing women’s rape reports. They brought the issue of campus sexual assault into the White House, where Barack Obama became the first President to use the words “sexual violence.” The Department of Education released a list of universities under investigation for mishandling sexual violence cases, often letting even repeat predators off with barely a slap on the wrist.

These young women had been silent until social media enabled them to come together, even though thousands of miles apart, share debilitating secrets and then act with the confidence that safety in numbers provided.

I hope you’ll read the rest at the link.

I only hope that irresponsible journalism perpetrated by Rolling Stone and the even more irresponsible reaction to it have not set back the cause of protecting young women on college campuses from sexual violence.


Lazy Saturday Reads: #IStandWithJackie

219678-Painting-1311882147-926-640x480

Good Morning!!

I’m feeling very overwhelmed this morning, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Between the police killings of civilians and the UVA rape story, I don’t know where to turn for relief.

Last night I escaped for awhile by watching the season finale of “Z Nation,” which is a very violent show about a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse that almost seems like a metaphor for our sick society.

Why are people so fascinated by zombies at this time in history? Is it because so many of us are dead inside, with no empathy for our fellow humans? Hatred of anyone who is not a white, wealthy, straight “christian” male born in the USA has taken over so many of us and transformed our culture in so many ugly ways.

It’s as if a virus was loosed on the population–in the Reagan years?–and those of us who still care for other people and dream of equal rights and protection for all people are left fighting just to stay conscious–like the survivors in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Where will it all end?

I was planning to write about the backlash against the Rolling Stone story on rape at the University of Virginia in today’s post, but I don’t think I have my thoughts together enough to do a thorough job of it yet. When I first started thinking about it, the main backlash was about author Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s choice not to locate the accused perpetrators and get their side of the story.

WTF?! As Columbia journalism Prof. Helen Benedict told the NYT, a reporter doing a story on a university refusing to deal with a robbery or mugging on campus wouldn’t be required to hunt down the perpetrators and get their point of view on what actually happened.

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Ceri Richards

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Ceri Richards

But rape is different. Any woman who reports being raped in the good old USA must be scrutinized in detail, because she probably was asking for it or is lying. She must tell what she was wearing, whether she was drinking, whether she knew the perpetrator, whether she is just claiming rape because she regrets having sex while drunk, and on and on and on.

Then yesterday afternoon Will Dana, managing editor of Rolling Stone basically threw Erdely’s source “Jackie” under the bus, suggesting that she had fabricated her story. Dana apparently took the word of members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity that “Jackie’s” story was untrue.

As someone who was traumatized as a child and who has had to deal with posttraumatic stress disorder for much of my life, I took it personally. At first I could not stand to read the accusatory articles, so I went to Twitter first. There I learned that many men and women were pushing back against the media victim-blaming. They had started posting tweets with the hashtag #IStandWithJackie. Reading many of those tweets gave me the strength to read some of yesterday’s backlash articles.

violence women1

Because I’m really not ready to write a coherent post right now, I’m just going to link to some articles that you may want to check out.

The story that triggered yesterday’s backlash was by T. Rees Shapiro and published at The Washington Post: Key elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. gang rape allegations in doubt. Shapiro, like Rolling Stone’s Will Dana, accepts the word of the accused fraternity that there was no party on the date given by “Jackie” and the word of a man she accused that he never met “Jackie.” Jackie’s compelling story is apparently eclipsed for the Post by these unproven assertions by unnamed men who have every reason to lie to protect themselves and their fraternity.

Here are some “key elements” of the WaPo story for me:

Jackie, who spoke to The Washington Post several times during the past week, stood by her account, offering a similar version and details.

“I never asked for this” attention, she said in an interview. “What bothers me is that so many people act like it didn’t happen. It’s my life. I have had to live with the fact that it happened — every day for the last two years.” ….

Jackie describes her interactions with Erdely and Rolling Stone:

Overwhelmed by sitting through interviews with the writer, Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused, and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless.

Jackie said she finally relented and agreed to participate on the condition that she be able to fact-check her parts in the story, which she said Erdely agreed to.

“I didn’t want the world to read about the worst three hours of my life, the thing I have nightmares about every night,” Jackie said.

About the article itself:

Jackie told The Post that she felt validated that the article encouraged other female students to come forward saying that they, too, had been sexually assaulted in fraternity houses.

“Haven’t enough people come forward at this point?” she said. “How many people do you need to come forward saying they’ve been raped at a fraternity to make it real to you? They need to acknowledge it’s a problem. They need to address it instead of pointing fingers to take the blame off themselves.”

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Trauma has powerful effects on the brain, and it’s not at all surprising that survivors’ memories can be confused and inconsistent. In fact, even normal human memory is not designed to recall every detail of events with precision, and expecting that from a rape victim is ridiculous and unfair. But that’s the way it is.

“Jackie” did not even report her rape to the police, because she felt she couldn’t handle the backlash. Now a magazine that didn’t stand by its own story has made her vulnerable to attacks from all over the world.

Where is author Sabrina Rubin Erdely? Why isn’t she defending her story?

Last night on Twitter, Jamison Foser called attention to the fact that the WaPo story originally claimed as fact that Jackie was lying. Then they changed the line in the story without noting they had made a correction. That’s a pretty big “mistake” for a newspaper that has been busily trying to debunk “Jackie’s” story for the past couple of weeks.

Wonkblog (at the WaPo) posted a story on the Twitter response last night: #IStandWithJackie: People on Twitter are criticizing Rolling Stone and supporting UVa student.

Now some important articles that push back against the backlash, yesterday’s WaPo story, and Rolling Stone’s betrayal of “Jackie.” Some of these were published before the RS reversal, but I still think they are relevant.

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Mother Jones: Don’t Let the Rolling Stone Controversy Distract You From the Campus Rape Epidemic.

Think Progress: Gang Rapes Happen On College Campuses.

Thank Progress: Actually, The Link Between Sexual Assault And Alcohol Isn’t As Clear As You Think.

Melissa McEwen at Shakesville: Today in Rape Culture.

About Reporting: The backlash to Rolling Stone’s story about rape culture at UVa

Alexandra Brodsky at MSNBC: Rolling Stone scapegoats rape victim, makes matters worse.

Ali Safron at Buzzfeed: Victims’ Memories Are Imperfect, But Still Perfectly Believable.

Libby Nelson at Vox: Rolling Stone didn’t just fail readers — it failed Jackie, too.

Amanda Taub at Vox: The lesson of Rolling Stone and UVA: protecting victims means checking their stories.

Media Matters: Rolling Stone And The Debate Over Sexual Assault Reporting Standards.

Rolling Stone before the sudden reversal: Rape at UVA: Readers Say Jackie Wasn’t Alone.

Katie McDonough at Salon: “It makes me really depressed”: From UVA to Cosby, the rape denial playbook that won’t go away.

 

That’s about all I can handle writing this morning. I have some links on other stories that I’ll post in the comment thread. I hope you join me there and share your own recommended links.


Thursday Reads: An Important Story about Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Francoise in a round-backed chair reading, Mary Cassatt

Francoise in a round-backed chair reading, Mary Cassatt

 

Good Morning!!

I stayed up late last night reading the stunning Rolling Stone article on the culture of sexual assault and official cover-up at the University of Virginia. After I finished it, I had quite a bit of difficulty getting to sleep. The story was reported and written by investigative journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The headline is A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA. Before I begin, I want to warn everyone that the article includes explicit descriptions of sexual assault and a shocking culture of indifference to victims. I’m not going to excerpt explicit descriptions of rapes, but I do want to quote some of the reactions to them by students and administrators.

The article opens with a graphic description of a violent gang rape of 18-year-old incoming freshman “Jackie” that took place at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house during a party. Hours later, beaten and bloody, Jackie called “friends” for help, but instead of taking her to a hospital they talked her out of reporting the assault because it would ruin her “reputation,” and they as her friends would be ostracized and would no longer be invited to frat parties.

So Jackie hid in her room and sank into a deep depression. She received no support from her “friends” and acquaintances. The man who had taken her to the party and set up her rape by 7 men behaved as if nothing abnormal had happened, and asked her why she was ignoring him. Erdely on the friends’ reactions:

She was having an especially difficult time figuring out how to process that awful night, because her small social circle seemed so underwhelmed. For the first month of school, Jackie had latched onto a crew of lighthearted social strivers, and her pals were now impatient for Jackie to rejoin the merriment. “You’re still upset about that?” Andy asked one Friday night when Jackie was crying. Cindy, a self-declared hookup queen, said she didn’t see why Jackie was so bent out of shape. “Why didn’t you have fun with it?” Cindy asked. “A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?” One of Jackie’s friends told her, unconcerned, “Andy said you had a bad experience at a frat, and you’ve been a baby ever since.”

That type of response to sexual assaults is apparently common at UVA.

That reaction of dismissal, downgrading and doubt is a common theme UVA rape survivors hear, including from women. “Some of my hallmates were skeptical,” recalls recent grad Emily Renda, who says that weeks into her first year she was raped after a party. “They were silent and avoided me afterwards. It made me doubt myself.” Other students encounter more overt hostility, as when a first-year student confided her assault to a friend. “She said she thought I was just looking for attention,” says the undergrad. Shrugging off a rape or pointing fingers at the victim can be a self-protective maneuver for women, a form of wishful thinking to reassure themselves they could never be so vulnerable to violence. For men, skepticism is a form of self-protection too. For much of their lives, they’ve looked forward to the hedonistic fun of college, bearing every expectation of booze and no-strings sex. A rape heralds the uncomfortable idea that all that harmless mayhem may not be so harmless after all. Easier, then, to assume the girl is lying, even though studies indicate that false rape reports account for, at most, eight percent of reports.

And so at UVA, where social status is paramount, outing oneself as a rape victim can be a form of social suicide. “I don’t know many people who are engrossed in the party scene and have spoken out about their sexual assaults,” says third-year student Sara Surface. After all, no one climbs the social ladder only to cast themselves back down. Emily Renda, for one, quickly figured out that few classmates were sympathetic to her plight, and instead channeled her despair into hard partying. “My drinking didn’t stand out,” says Renda, who often ended her nights passed out on a bathroom floor. “It does make you wonder how many others are doing what I did: drinking to self-medicate.”

Investigative journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone

Investigative journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone

Erdely talked to a number of survivors, and she found a history of gang rapes at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity stretching back at least 30 years. She describes a culture in which male upperclassmen target freshmen girls and deliberately take advantage of their lack of sophistication about the danger of sexual violence on college campuses.

A year later, Jackie did report the rape to a UVA administrator. She was sent to Dean Nicole Eramo, who heads the “Sexual Misconduct Board.” Eramo subtly discouraged Jackie from reporting the rape.

When Jackie finished talking, Eramo comforted her, then calmly laid out her options. If Jackie wished, she could file a criminal complaint with police. Or, if Jackie preferred to keep the matter within the university, she had two choices. She could file a complaint with the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board, to be decided in a “formal resolution” with a jury of students and faculty, and a dean as judge. Or Jackie could choose an “informal resolution,” in which Jackie could simply face her attackers in Eramo’s presence and tell them how she felt; Eramo could then issue a directive to the men, such as suggesting counseling. Eramo presented each option to Jackie neutrally, giving each equal weight. She assured Jackie there was no pressure – whatever happened next was entirely her choice.

Like many schools, UVA has taken to emphasizing that in matters of sexual assault, it caters to victim choice. “If students feel that we are forcing them into a criminal or disciplinary process that they don’t want to be part of, frankly, we’d be concerned that we would get fewer reports,” says associate VP for student affairs Susan Davis. Which in theory makes sense: Being forced into an unwanted choice is a sensitive point for the victims. But in practice, that utter lack of guidance can be counterproductive to a 19-year-old so traumatized as Jackie was that she was contemplating suicide. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing.

“This is an alarming trend that I’m seeing on campuses,” says Laura Dunn of the advocacy group SurvJustice. “Schools are assigning people to victims who are pretending, or even thinking, they’re on the victim’s side, when they’re actually discouraging and silencing them.

The culture of cover-up at UVA is shocking to me, but it is probably typical of many colleges and universities, according to Erdely. However UVA is among a select group of 86 schools that is under investigation by the federal Office of Civil Rights because of their failure to deal with the problem. In September UVA held a two-hour trustees meeting to discuss sexual assault on campus.

Those two hours, however, were devoted entirely to upbeat explanations of UVA’s new prevention and response strategies, and to self-congratulations to UVA for being a “model” among schools in this arena. Only once did the room darken with concern, when a trustee in UVA colors – blue sport coat, orange bow tie – interrupted to ask, “Are we under any federal investigation with regard to sexual assault?”

Dean of students Allen Groves, in a blue suit and orange necktie of his own, swooped in with a smooth answer. He affirmed that while like many of its peers UVA was under investigation, it was merely a “standard compliance review.” He mentioned that a student’s complaint from the 2010-11 academic year had been folded into that “routine compliance review.” Having downplayed the significance of a Title IX compliance review – which is neither routine nor standard – he then elaborated upon the lengths to which UVA has cooperated with the Office of Civil Rights’ investigation, his tone and manner so reassuring that the room relaxed.

Told of the meeting, Office of Civil Rights’ Catherine Lhamon calls Groves’ mischaracterization “deliberate and irresponsible.” “Nothing annoys me more than a school not taking seriously their review from the federal government about their civil rights obligations,” she says.

Jackie eventually became involved with a UVA rape survivors group, but even among these women who were trying to deal with their traumatic experiences and reaching out to recent victims, the culture was one of not reporting their rapes to police.

UVA Dean of Students Nicole Eramo

UVA Dean of Students Nicole Eramo

You’ll recall that it was at UVA that 18-year-old Hannah Graham was abducted and murdered, allegedly by 32-year-old Jesse Matthew, who had been previously accused of rape at two different Virginia colleges in 2002 and 2003. He was not charged in either case, and he apparently went on to become a smoothly professional sexual predator. The news reports say that the victims did not want to press charges, but the truth is that colleges and universities regularly discourage young women from reporting rapes in order to protect their institutional reputations. Erdely addresses this issue at length in her article on UVA.

Matthew’s DNA was found under the fingernails of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared after she was locked out of a Metallica concert on the UVA campus in 2009. Harrington’s body was later found a few miles from where Hannah Graham’s body was recovered. Matthew’s DNA has also been connected to a violent rape and attempted murder that took place in Fairfax in 2005.

In her article, Erdely discusses the research done by psychologist David Lisak on campus rapists. He discovered that a small percentage of college men commit rapes, and they tend to be repeat offenders (PDF). That last link is to a peer-reviewed journal article by Lisak, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending by Undetected Rapists.” Erdely writes:

Lisak’s 2002 groundbreaking study of more than 1,800 college men found that roughly nine out of 10 rapes are committed by serial offenders, who are responsible for an astonishing average of six rapes each. None of the offenders in Lisak’s study had ever been reported. Lisak’s findings upended general presumptions about campus sexual assault: It implied that most incidents are not bumbling, he-said-she-said miscommunications, but rather deliberate crimes by serial sex offenders.

In his study, Lisak’s subjects described the ways in which they used the camouflage of college as fruitful rape-hunting grounds. They told Lisak they target freshmen for being the most naïve and the least-experienced drinkers. One offender described how his party-hearty friends would help incapacitate his victims: “We always had some kind of punch. . . . We’d make it with a real sweet juice. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn’t know what hit them.” Presumably, the friends mixing the drinks did so without realizing the offender’s plot, just as when they probably high-fived him the next morning, they didn’t realize the behavior they’d just endorsed. That’s because the serial rapist’s behavior can look ordinary at college. “They’re not acting in a vacuum,” observes Lisak of predators. “They’re echoing that message and that culture that’s around them: the objectification and degradation of women.”

I won’t quote any more from the article, but I do recommend reading it if  you can handle it.

After the Rolling Stone article came out, UVA’s president suddenly decided maybe she should something about Jackie’s rape. From The Daily Progress, UVa calls for investigation into rape allegation in Rolling Stone article.

UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan released a statement Wednesday night, stating the university’s commitment to preventing sexual assault.

“The University takes seriously the issue of sexual misconduct, a significant problem that colleges and universities are grappling with across the nation,” Sullivan said in the statement. “Our goal is to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire University community.”

Erdely said UVa reinforced one of her major arguments in her article — that UVa administration focuses on prestige and appearance over student safety — with Sullivan’s statement….

“I am writing in response to a Rolling Stone magazine article that negatively depicts the University of Virginia and its handling of sexual misconduct cases,” Sullivan said at the beginning of the statement.

“It goes to show what their priorities are here — the fact that she would go out of her way to say I negatively depicted the university — this is the first thing on their minds,” Erdely said. “They need to be putting student safety first.”

UVA President Teresa Sullivan

UVA President Teresa Sullivan

Here’s the full statement:

Date: Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 6:17 PM
Subject: An Important Message from President Sullivan

To the University community:

I am writing in response to a Rolling Stone magazine article that negatively depicts the University of Virginia and its handling of sexual misconduct cases. Because of federal and state privacy laws, and out of respect for sexual assault survivors, we are very limited in what we can say about any of the cases mentioned in this article.

The article describes an alleged sexual assault of a female student at a fraternity house in September 2012, including many details that were previously not disclosed to University officials. I have asked the Charlottesville Police Department to formally investigate this incident, and the University will cooperate fully with the investigation.

The University takes seriously the issue of sexual misconduct, a significant problem that colleges and universities are grappling with across the nation. Our goal is to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire University community.

We have recently adopted several new initiatives and policies aimed at fostering a culture of reporting and raising awareness of the issues.

We want our students to feel comfortable coming forward with information when there are problems in the community and cooperating with local law enforcement and the student disciplinary process. We also want them to feel empowered to take action and to lead efforts to make our Grounds and our community a better place to live and learn.

We have been taking a leadership role on issues regarding sexual misconduct and violence. U.Va. hosted a national conference on this topic in February 2014. “Dialogue at U.Va.: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students” brought together national experts and professionals from approximately 60 colleges and universities to discuss best practices and strategies for prevention and response.

The HoosGotYourBack initiative, part of the Not On Our Grounds awareness campaign, was developed and launched in collaboration with students and with local Corner Merchants to increase active bystander behavior.

A number of other initiatives are also planned for the spring. Among them are the implementation of a new student sexual misconduct policy and a related training program, a campus climate survey, and an in-depth bystander intervention program that will include students, faculty, and staff.

More information about sexual violence education and resources is available on the University’s website at http://www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence/

Finally, I want to underscore our commitment to marshaling all available resources to assist our students who confront issues related to sexual misconduct. Our dedicated Student Affairs staff devote countless hours to educating and counseling our students on issues regarding their health and safety, and they stand ready to assist whenever students need help.

Teresa A. Sullivan
President

President Sullivan approved distribution of this message.

I’ll let you judge the sincerity of Sullivan’s statement.

I know there is plenty of other news going on, but this was all I could think about this morning. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and feel free to discuss this post or not. I realize this is a very difficult subject, but it is also a vitally important one.


Tuesday Reads: So Much Breaking News!

Photo by Stanley Kubrick for Life Magazine

Photo by Stanley Kubrick for Life Magazine

Good Morning!!

I have some serious news reads for you this morning, but–just because it’s a feel-good story–I’m going to begin with one more Market Basket update. The Boston Globe published an article yesterday about the Market Basket store I shop at in, in Burlington, MA: A Market Basket store, returning to life. Recall that the shelves were mostly empty when the employees returned to work on Thursday morning.

The doors of the tractor-trailer open on a bounty of chicken, Swiss cheese, and sliced onions.
A swarm of grocery clerks in blue jackets and managers in red descends on the loading dock, using hand-operated electric jacks to spear pallets of food that the workers stack in the cavernous storage rooms in the back of the Market Basket supermarket….

Bob McKeown fills a display case with fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts, a few garnished with smiley faces made of jelly. Samantha Bond decorates a cake to honor the moment, etching the words “Market Basket Strong” in icing and an image of the yellow giraffe that served as the employees’ mascot of sorts during the protest — for “sticking their necks out.” ….

This Market Basket store in Burlington came back to life over the last few days, resuscitated by a cadre of employees eager to get to work after the six-week protest that forced the return of Arthur T. Demoulas as head of the family food empire. Like the others in the 71-store chain, the Burlington store was the scene of a rapid restocking, a huge task involving thousands of pounds of produce, meat, bread, canned goods, and other groceries….

The first morning back had been about congratulations and hugs and handshakes as customers came in more to talk to employees than to shop. Amid the celebrations, workers admitted to anxious moments during the stoppage. They worried their defiance would cost them their jobs — “I’ve been living on antacids for the last six weeks,” one said — and couldn’t wait to get back to the unglamorous but satisfying routine of running a supermarket.

That routine had returned in full by early Friday.

It’s a nice story, and I’m so happy for these workers. Isn’t it great that this happened over Labor Day weekend?

Now for the not-so-upbeat news . . .

reading_on_train

NBC News reports, Terror Leader Linked to Kenya Mall Massacre Targeted by U.S. Strike.

The U.S. military launched an airstrike in Somalia on Monday targeting the leader of the al Qaeda-affiliated group behind the Kenya mall massacre. U.S. officials told NBC News that a military drone launched Hellfire missiles at at least two vehicles in a remote area of southern Somalia. Sources said Ahmed Abdi Godane, the top leader of al Shabab, was the attack’s target. Al Shabab claimed responsibility for last September’s Westgate Mall siege that left at least 67 dead and around 200 injured. One U.S. security source described Godane as “operationally savvy and ideologically driven, with aspirations off the charts.”

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said in a statement late Monday that “we are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate.” Godane has served as the group’s leader since a U.S. airstrike killed his predecessor Aden Hashi Ayro in 2008. In October, U.S. commandos launched raids in Somalia seeking to capture Godane, who is also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr. Reuters reported that Godane’s close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in January. In an online audio message following the Westgate Mall massacre, Godane said Kenya should be “prepared for an abundance of blood that will be spilt in your country.” Al Shabab, which means “The Youth” in Arabic, seized much of southern Somalia in 2006 before Somali forces and African peacekeeping troops ousted it five years later.

Photo of NY subway by Walker Evans

Photo of NY subway by Walker Evans

AP reports (via ABC News) that 6 militants were killed in the raid. There aren’t a lot of details as yet, but here’s a backgrounder on al-Shabab from The Council on Foreign Relations. Here’s the introduction and information on how the group began.

Al-Shabab, or “The Youth,” is an al-Qaeda-linked militant group and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization fighting for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia. The group, also known as Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, and its Islamist affiliates once held sway over Mogadishu and major portions of the Somali countryside, but a sustained African Union military campaign in recent years has weakened the group considerably. Still, security analysts warn that the group remains the principal threat in a politically volatile, war-torn state.

Al-Shabab’s terrorist activities have mainly focused on targets within Somalia, but it has also proven an ability to carry out deadly strikes in the region, including coordinated suicide bombings in Uganda’s capital in 2010 and a deadly raid on a Nairobi mall in 2013. Washington fears the group, which has successfully recruited members of the Somali-American diaspora, may orchestrate strikes on U.S. soil. In recent years, the United States has pursued a two-pronged policy in Somalia: providing funding, training, and logistical support to UN-backed African forces battling al-Shabab, while escalating counterterrorism operations including Special Forces and armed drones….

Somalia, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, has seen a number of radical Islamist groups come and go in its decades-long political tumult. The group analysts cite as al-Shabab’s precursor, and the incubator for many of its leaders, is Al-Ittihad Al-Islami (aka Unity of Islam), a militant Salafi extremist group that peaked in the 1990s after the fall of the Siad Barre military regime (1969-1991) and the outbreak of civil war.

AIAI, which sought to establish an Islamist emirate in Somalia, sprang from a band of Middle Eastern-educated Somali extremists and was partly funded and armed by al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Many of its fighters, including current al-Shabab commanders, fled the country and fought in Afghanistan in the late 1990s after being pushed out by the Ethiopian army and its Somali supporters. The group was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in the days after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In 2003, a rift developed between AIAI’s old guard, which had decided to create a new political front, and youth members who sought the establishment of a “Greater Somalia” under fundamental Islamic rule. The hardliners eventually joined forces with an alliance of sharia courts, known as the Islamic Courts Union, serving as its youth militia in the battle to conquer Mogadishu’s rivaling warlords. Al-Shabab and the ICU wrested control of the capital in June 2006, a victory that stoked fears of spillover jihadist violence in neighboring Ethiopia, a majority Christian nation.

Much more at the CFR link.

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Yesterday, U.S. planes carried out an operation against ISIS militants in Iraq. Reuters: U.S. planes strike militants near Iraq’s Amreli, airdrop aid.

President Barack Obama authorized the new military action, broadening U.S. operations in Iraq amid an international outcry over the threat to Amerli’s mostly ethnic Turkmen population.

U.S. aircraft delivered over a hundred bundles of emergency supplies and more aid was dropped from British, French and Australian planes, officials said, signaling headway in Obama’s efforts to draw allies into the fight against Islamic State.

Iraqi army and Kurdish forces closed in on Islamic State fighters on Saturday in a push to break the Sunni militants’ siege of Amerli, which has been surrounded by the militants for more than two months.

Armed residents of Amerli have managed to fend off attacks by Islamic State fighters, who regard the town’s majority Shi’ite Turkmen population as apostates. More than 15,000 people remain trapped inside.

“At the request of the government of Iraq, the United States military today airdropped humanitarian aid to the town of Amerli, home to thousands of Shia Turkmen who have been cut off from receiving food, water, and medical supplies for two months by ISIL,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said, using an alternative name for Islamic State.

“In conjunction with this airdrop, U.S. aircraft conducted coordinated air strikes against nearby ISIL terrorists in order to support this humanitarian assistance operation,” he said, adding that a key objective was to prevent a militant attack on civilians in the town.

nyc_subway_riders_with_their_newspapers

President Obama is headed to Estonia today and then to Wales for the NATO Summit. CBS News reports, Russia and ISIS take center stage on Obama’s Europe trip.

President Obama leaves for Europe Tuesday with stops in Estonia and a NATO summit in Wales amid escalating crises in Ukraine and in Iraq and Syria, crises that are having a direct impact on a number of European nations.

While the Russian threat in Ukraine will be the focus of the upcoming summit, the meeting also puts President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel face to face with European countries who may be willing to join the U.S. in dealing with the other crisis in Iraq and Syria.

Officially, however, NATO says it doesn’t want to be involved in dealing with the Islamic militant group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that has swept across Iraq and Syria and poses a growing threat to the U.S. and parts of Western Europe that might be targeted by foreign fighters.

Why is Obama stopping in Estonia?

“It is clearly not accidental that the president has decided to stop in Estonia on the way to the NATO Summit. The two stops are essentially part of the same effort to send a message to the Russians that their behavior is unacceptable,” said Charles Kupchan, the White House’s senior director for European Affairs.

Estonia, like Ukraine, has a large Russian population and is concerned about the potential of pro-Russian unrest there too. But Kupchan said Mr. Obama will send the message that the Article 5 commitment to common defense of other nations is ironclad.

“Russia, don’t even think about messing around in Estonia or in any of the Baltic areas in the same way you have been messing around in Ukraine,” Kupchan said the president would relay to allies there.

Mr. Obama will meet with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and also speak to young people there.

Read more details about the NATO Summit at the link.

Why-do-people-read-newspapers

According to the New York Times, Russia is already making plans to respond to expected NATO actions.

MOSCOW — With NATO leaders expected to endorse a rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops for Eastern Europe this week, a senior Russian military official said on Tuesday that Moscow would revise its military doctrine to account for “changing military dangers and military threats.”

In an interview with the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the official, Mikhail Popov, deputy secretary of Russia’s military Security Council, called the expansion of NATO “one of the leading military dangers for the Russian Federation.”

Mr. Popov said Russia expected that leaders of NATO would seek to strengthen the alliance’s long-term military presence in Eastern Europe by establishing new military bases in the region and by deploying tanks in Estonia, a member of NATO that borders Russia.

“We believe that the defining factor in our relationship with NATO remains the unacceptability for Russia of plans to move military infrastructures of the alliance to our borders, including by means of expanding the bloc,” Mr. Popov said.

And so, we move closer to the possibility of another world war. At least that’s what Ann Applebaum of Slate suggested recently: Putin has invaded Ukraine. Is it hysterical to prepare for total war with Russia? Or is it naive not to? It’s brief and to the point, so please give it a read.

subway reading2

The New York Times also has an important story about the sex-trafficking scandal in Great Britain. I read about it at the Guardian a few days ago, but we haven’t discussed it here. The Times reports, Years of Rape and ‘Utter Contempt’ in Britain. Here’s the introduction:

ROTHERHAM, England — It started on the bumper cars in the children’s arcade of the local shopping mall. Lucy was 12, and a group of teenage boys, handsome and flirtatious, treated her and her friends to free rides and ice cream after school.

Over time, older men were introduced to the girls, while the boys faded away. Soon they were getting rides in real cars, and were offered vodka and marijuana. One man in particular, a Pakistani twice her age and the leader of the group, flattered her and bought her drinks and even a mobile phone. Lucy liked him.

The rapes started gradually, once a week, then every day: by the war memorial in Clifton Park, in an alley near the bus station, in countless taxis and, once, in an apartment where she was locked naked in a room and had to service half a dozen men lined up outside.

She obliged. How could she not? They knew where she lived. “If you don’t come back, we will rape your mother and make you watch,” they would say.

At night, she would come home and hide her soiled clothes at the back of her closet. When she finally found the courage to tell her mother, just shy of her 14th birthday, two police officers came to collect the clothes as evidence, half a dozen bags of them.

But a few days later, they called to say the bags had been lost.

“All of them?” she remembers asking. A check was mailed, 140 pounds, or $232, for loss of property, and the family was discouraged from pressing charges. It was the girl’s word against that of the men. The case was closed.

God, what a horrible story! Here’s a related post at The Daily Beast, The Psychology of Sex Slave Rings, by Charlotte Lytton. Lytton asks a controversial question, “are grooming rings endemic within certain cultures?”

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Back in the USA, CNN reports that the FBI is investigating a hacker who released nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and several other female celebrities over the weekend. That’s good news. I hope they put catch the culprit and put him in prison for a very long time.

Here’s a little political news from Reuters, via Huffington Post: Eric Cantor To Join Investment Bank Moelis & Co. As Vice Chairman And Managing Director.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will join investment bank Moelis & Co as vice chairman and managing director, the company said, adding that Cantor will also be elected to its board….

“Eric has proven himself to be a pro-business advocate and one who will enhance our boardroom discussions with CEOs and senior management as we help them navigate their most important strategic decisions,” Moelis CEO Ken Moelis said in a statement.

And finally, Politico writes: WHY THERE (PROBABLY) WON’T BE A SHUTDOWN

The apparent (but not finalized) decision by the White House to push executive action on immigration reform past the November midterms means there is no forcing mechanism to create a shutdown fight when government funding runs out Sept. 30th. Qorvis’ Stan Collender, a top budget expert, emails: “I never thought a shutdown was likely this fall (next March is another issue), but in a rational world delaying action on immigration should kill any chance of one happening. Then again — Benghazi, Obamacare, etc”

So, those are this morning’s breaking news headlines. What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!


Saturday Reads: Remembering the Soundtrack to the ’60s, and Other News

Husband and wife singer songwriting team Goffin and King rehearse during a recording session in a New York studio in 1959. (h/t NY Daily News)

Husband and wife singer songwriting team Goffin and King rehearse during a recording session in a New York studio in 1959. (h/t NY Daily News)

Good Morning

On Thursday we lost another 1960s music great; Gerry Goffin, who wrote lyrics to Carole King’s music died at 75. The talented couple wrote the songs that accompanied my teenage years–so much great music associated with so many memories.

From the Guardian Gerry Goffin: the poet laureate of teenage pop:

Gerry Goffin, a trainee chemist who became the poet laureate of teenage pop, specialised in coming up with a great opening line to grab the audience’s attention. Plenty of people will remember the first time they heard “Tonight you’re mine completely/ You give your love so sweetly,” from Will You Love Me Tomorrow, or “Looking out on the morning rain/ I used to feel so uninspired,” from (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. But he didn’t stop there.

Buried a little deeper in those wonderful songs are the lines that really touched his young listeners’ hearts. The words to the bridge, or middle section, of that first Shirelles hit from 1960 were almost like poetry: “Tonight with words unspoken/ You say that I’m the only one/ But will my heart be broken/ When the night meets the morning sun?” And when Goffin presented Aretha Franklin with the second verse of A Natural Woman – “When my soul was in the Lost and Found, you came along to claim it” – he gave countless ordinary lovers a way to express their deepest feelings.

Misleadingly, they are often called “Carole King songs”. She wrote the tunes, and later on she would sing them when, after Goffin and King divorced, she embarked on a hugely successful solo career. But whenever King sang her own, gentler versions of the Chiffons’ One Fine Day or the Drifters’ Up on the Roof, she was still singing Goffin’s words. They were written by the man she had met when she was 17 and he was 20, and with whom she had two daughters while they lived in an apartment in the Queens housing project LeFrak City – and with whom she travelled to work in Manhattan every day at their cubicle in the offices of Aldon Music at 1650 Broadway, where they pumped out hit after hit after hit.

Goffin King

From The New York Times: Gerry Goffin, Hitmaking Songwriter With Carole King, Dies at 75:

Mr. Goffin and Ms. King were students at Queens College when they met in 1958. Over the next decade they fell in love, married, had two children, divorced and moved their writing sessions into and out of 1650 Broadway, across the street from the Brill Building. (The Brill Building pop music of the late 1950s and ‘60s was mostly written in both buildings.)

Together they composed a catalog of pop standards so diverse and irresistible that they were recorded by performers as unalike as the Drifters, Steve Lawrence, Aretha Franklin and the Beatles. They were inducted together into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2004 the Recording Academy presented them jointly with a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.

The couple’s writing duties were clearly delineated: Ms. King composed the music, Mr. Goffin wrote the lyrics — among them some of the most memorable words in the history of popular music.

“His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say,” Ms. King said in a statement on Thursday.

A bit more about Goffin:

Gerald Goffin was born on Feb. 11, 1939, in Brooklyn and grew up in Jamaica, Queens. He began writing lyrics as a boy — “like some kind of game in my head,” he recalled once — but found he was unable to come up with satisfying music to accompany them.

He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School before enrolling at Queens College. He was three years older than Ms. King, studying chemistry, when they met in the spring of her freshman year.

He asked her to help him write a musical. She was interested in rock ‘n’ roll. They hit it off anyway, and she was pregnant with their first child when they married on Aug. 30, 1959.

Gerry Goffin

Gerry Goffin

After the couple divorced in 1968, King went on to become a singer and songwriter in her own right, although the two continued to collaborate and maintained a friendship. Goffin married again and and the couple had five children.

In addition to his wife, [Michelle] Mr. Goffin’s survivors include four daughters, Louise Goffin, Sherry Goffin Kondor, Dawn Reavis and Lauren Goffin; a son, Jesse Goffin; six grandchildren; and a brother, Al.

Goffin and King’s first hit was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which they wrote in 1960 for the girl group the Shirelles. After the song hit #1 on the charts in 1961, Goffin quit his job as a chemist and began working full-time as a lyricist.

Goffin’s lyrics deftly touch on the doubt that lurks behind all new romances. As sung by Shirelles’ leader Shirley Owens in unflappable manner, the song doesn’t skimp on the wonder inherent in any fresh coupling. But it’s also unflinchingly realistic about the possibility that the fairy dust will dissolve at dawn.

“Can I believe the magic in your sighs?” Owens pointedly asks her paramour. In the bridge, Goffin’s words flow like champagne even as they fear the possible hangover: “Tonight with words unspoken/You’ll say that I’m the only one/But will my heart be broken/When the night meets the morning sun.” King’s melody plays a big role in the overall effect, arching high in the verses and middle eight while accompanied by strings that elegantly trip across the proceedings like moonlight dancers, before coming back down to Earth for the interrogative refrain.

In other news . . .

At Salon, Simon Malloy writes about the multiplying Republican scandals: GOP’s sudden scandal-mania: Why criminal probes and infighting are taking over the party.

It’s fashionable right now to talk about the premature end of Barack Obama’s presidency. He’s fast approaching the second half of his second term, which is historically the beginning of lame-duck season. His poll numbers aren’t what anyone would call ideal, and Republicans (in concert with some excitable members of the press) are rushing to proclaim the Obama presidency dead. “I saw a commentator today say that these polls, what they reflect, is that the Obama presidency is over,” Sen. Marco Rubio said, referring to NBC’s Chuck Todd. “And I agree with that. I think it is, in general.” Speaker John Boehner told reporters at his weekly press briefing yesterday: “You look at this presidency and you can’t help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off.” ….The funny thing is that as Republicans team up with pundits to chisel out Obama’s epitaph, the Republican Party itself is falling to pieces right before our eyes.

Yesterday’s news that Scott Walker and Chris Christie sinking deeper into their respective scandals is as good a sign as any of the GOP’s political disintegration. After Obama crushed Mitt Romney in 2012, Republicans began casting about for their 2016 redeemer, and Christie and Walker were high on the list. They won conservative hearts with their antagonism toward unions, but they had also found a way to win in reliably Democratic states. If the GOP hoped to take on candidate-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, they’d need someone who could peel away some Democratic voters. Walker had talked about the need to nominate an “outsider” like himself in 2016.

Now Christie and Walker are implicated in criminal investigations. Prosecutors in Wisconsin placed Walker at the center of a “criminal scheme” to coordinate campaign spending with outside groups. In New Jersey, the investigation stemming from the George Washington Bridge scandal is reportedly closing in on Christie himself. For both men, once considered potential saviors of the GOP, the political future looks considerably dimmer.

Read Malloy’s take on it at the link.

At FiveThirtyEightPolitics, David Wasserman has a long article on “What we can learn from Eric Cantor’s defeat.” You really need to read the whole thing, but here’s a small excerpt that deals with the contribution of public distrust of Congress:

Cantor was only the second House incumbent to lose a primary this year (the first was Texas Republican Ralph Hall), but the warning signs of discontent were abundant: Plenty of rank-and-file House incumbents had been receiving startlingly low primary vote shares against weak and under-funded opponents, including GOP Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, Lee Terry of Nebraska and David Joyce of Ohio. In fact, just a week before Cantor’s defeat and without much fanfare, socially moderate Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey received just 54 percent of the Republican primary vote against the same tea party-backed opponent he had taken 61 percent against in 2012.

Overall, 32 House incumbents have taken less than 75 percent of the vote in their primaries so far this year, up from 31 at this point in 2010 and just 12 at this point in 2006. What’s more, 27 of these 32 “underperforming” incumbents have been Republicans.1

In other words, while Congress’s unpopularity alone can’t sink any given member in a primary, it has established a higher baseline of distrust that challengers can build on when incumbents are otherwise vulnerable. And as the sitting House Majority Leader, Cantor was uniquely susceptible to voters’ frustration with Congress as an institution.

There’s much more interesting analysis at the link.

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George Will’s recent column on campus rapes is still in the news. From Talking Points Memo, George Will’s Latest: College Rape Charges Fueled By ‘Sea Of Hormones And Alcohol’.

Will explained that he took issue with the practice of adjudicating campus sexual assault cases by a “preponderance” of evidence, rather than hitting the bar of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. That flies in the face of due process, he argued, and ultimately harms young men’s future prospects.

“What’s going to result is a lot of young men and young women in this sea of hormones and alcohol, that gets into so much trouble on campuses, you’re going to have charges of sexual assault,” he said. “And you’re going to have young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this — don’t get into medical school, don’t get to law school, all the rest.”

Four Democratic senators reached out to Will after his column was published to torch the conservative columnist’s “ancient beliefs.” Will said he wrote a letter back to the senators and laid out his rebuttal in the C-SPAN interview.

“What I say is that: A) I take sexual assault more seriously than I think they do, because I agree that society has correctly said that rape is second only to murder as a serious felony,” Will said. “And therefore, when someone is accused of rape, it should be reported to the criminal justice system that knows how to deal with this, not jerry-built, improvised campus processes.”

“Second, I take, I think, sexual assault somewhat more seriously than the senators do because I think there’s a danger now of defining sexual assault so broadly, so capaciously, that it begins to trivialize the seriousness of it,” he added. “When remarks become sexual assault, improper touching — bad, shouldn’t be done, but it’s not sexual assault.”

Well, we can’t have young men’s lives “blighted” by rape charges. Much better for young women to just suck it up and deal with a years of post-traumatic stress on their own and keep their complaints to themselves.

Whatever you do, don’t miss this TBogg post at Raw Story: Gentleman George Will is getting damned tired of having to explain rape to you guttersnipes.

Victorian gas-pipe and Her Majesty’s Curator of Rape To The Colonies, George Will, has just about had it up to here with you people — YES, YOU PEOPLE.

And especially you. Don’t think by closing your laptop he can’t see you, because he can.

Oh yes, he most certainly can, you loathsome wastrel.

t seems that, after explaining the ins and out of rape to you ungrateful curs, he was shocked and dismayed to discover that you promiscuous info-trollops on the intertubes are unable to comprehend the pearls of wisdom that he dispenses to the riff-raff gratis, courtesy of Ye Olde Washminster Poste.

Hush now, let Gentleman George condescend to speak down to you and try, fruitlessly no doubt, to explain once again that rape is what George Will says rape is

Now go read the rest at the link. You won’t be sorry.

This sounds like it could do some good: Google commits $50M to encouraging girls to code (CNet)

Google wants to see more women in technology, and it’s funding a $50 million initiative to encourage girls to learn how to code in an effort to close the gender gap.

Thursday night the company kicked off the Made with Code initiative here with celebrities former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and actress and comedienne Mindy Kaling.

Kaling, who emceed the event, said she has tons of ideas for apps but no idea to how make them work. She said she’d like to create a “What’s his deal?” app that takes a picture of guy and tells you whether he’s single, married, a weirdo, or what his car is like. Another idea is a Shazaam-like app for perfume.

“People my age have a million ideas for apps,” she said. “But we have no idea how to build them. Last week in the movies, I didn’t even know how to turn off the flashlight on my phone.”

Kaling isn’t alone. Women are woefully under-represented in the technology industry. Only about 20 percent of software developers in the US are women, according to the Labor Department. Last month, even Google admitted only 17 percent of its tech workers are women.

A bit more possible good news from the BBC: US sets up honey bee loss task force.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort, which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats.

Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity, exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.

A quarter of the food Americans eat, including apples, carrots and avocados, relies on pollination.

Honey bees add more than $15bn in value to US agricultural crops, according to the White House.

The decline in bee populations is also blamed on the loss of natural forage and inadequate diets, mite infestations and diseases.

There has also been an increase in a condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD) in which there is a rapid, unexpected and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread.