Sunday, November 23, 2014

In Israel, Only Jewish Blood Shocks Anyone

A Palestinian boy cries as he stands in a debris-strewn street near his family's house, which witnesses said was damaged by an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 26, 2014. (photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

In Israel, Only Jewish Blood Shocks Anyone

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz
23 November 14

There was a massacre in Jerusalem on Tuesday in which five Israelis were killed. There was a war in Gaza over the summer in which 2,200 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians. A massacre shocks us; a war, less so. Massacres have culprits; wars don’t. Murder by ax is more appalling than murder by rifle, and far more horrendous than bombing helpless people trying to take shelter.

Terror is always Palestinian, even when hundreds of Palestinian civilians are killed. The name and face of Daniel Tragerman, the Israeli boy killed by mortar fire during Operation Protective Edge, were known throughout the world; even U.S. President Barack Obama knew his name. Can anyone name one child from Gaza among the hundreds killed?

A few hours after the attack in Jerusalem, journalist Emily Amrousi said at a conference in Eilat that the life of a single Jewish child was more important to her than the lives of thousands of Palestinian children. The audience’s response was clearly favorable; I think there was even some applause.

Afterward Amrousi tried to explain that she was referring to the way the Israeli media should cover events, which is only slightly less serious. This was during a discussion on the ridiculous question: “Is the Israeli media leftist?” Almost no one protested Amrousi’s remarks and the session continued as if nothing had happened. Amrousi’s words reflect Israel’s mood in 2014: Only Jewish blood elicits shock.

Israeli deaths touch Israeli hearts more than the deaths of others. That’s natural human solidarity. The bloody images from Jerusalem stunned every Israeli, probably every person.

But this is a society that sanctifies its dead to the point of death-worship, that wears thin the stories of the victims’ lives and deaths, whether it be in a synagogue attack or a Nepal avalanche. It’s a society preoccupied with endless commemorations in the land of monuments, services and anniversary ceremonies; a society that demands shock and condemnation after every attack, when it blames the entire world.

Precisely from such a society is one permitted to demand some attention to the Palestinian blood that is also spilled in vain; some understanding of the other side’s pain, or even a measure of empathy, which in Israel is considered treason.

But this doesn’t happen. Aside from exceptional murders and hate crimes by individuals, there is total apathy — and the obtuseness is frightening. Killings (we dare not say murders) by soldiers and policemen will never shock Israel. The propaganda machine will whitewash everything, and the media will be its mouthpiece. No one will demand condemnations. No one will express shock. Few will even consider that the pain is the same pain, that murder is murder.

How many Israelis are willing to give a thought to the parents of Yousef Shawamreh, the boy who went out to pick wild greens and was killed by an army sniper? Why is it exaggerating to be upset by, or at least give some attention to, the killing of Khalil Anati, a 10-year-old boy from the Al-Fawar refugee camp?
Why can’t we identify with the pain of bereaved father Abd al-Wahab Hammad, whose son was killed in Silwad, or with the Al-Qatari family from the Al-Amari refugee camp, two members of which were killed by soldiers within a month? Why do we reserve our horror for the synagogue and not consider these killings disturbing?
Yes, there is the test of intent. The typical Israeli argument is that soldiers, unlike terrorists, do not intend to kill. If so, then what exactly is the intent of the sniper who fires live bullets at the head or chest of a demonstrator a distance away who poses no threat? Or when he shoots a child in the back as he’s running for his life? Didn’t he intend to kill him?

The attack in Jerusalem was a horrendous crime; nothing can justify it. But the blood that flowed there is not the only blood being spilled here murderously. The degree to which it is forbidden to say that is incredible.

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

America Just Launched Its 500th Drone Strike

America Just Launched Its 500th Drone Strike
By Micah Zenko

The most consistent and era-defining tactic of America’s post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies has been the targeted killing of suspected terrorists and militants outside of defined battlefields. As one senior Bush administration official explained in October 2001, “The president has given the [CIA] the green light to do whatever is necessary. Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway.” Shortly thereafter, a former CIA official told the New Yorker, “There are five hundred guys out there you have to kill.” It is quaint to recall that such a position was considered extremist and even morally unthinkable. Today, these strikes are broadly popular with the public and totally uncontroversial in Washington, both within the executive branch and on Capitol Hill. Therefore, it is easy to forget that this tactic, envisioned to be rare and used exclusively for senior al-Qaeda leaders 13 years ago, has become a completely accepted and routine foreign policy activity.

Thus, just as you probably missed the 10th anniversary—November 3, 2012—of what I labeled theThird War, it’s unlikely you will hear or read that the United States just launched its 500th non-battlefield targeted killing.

As of today, the United States has now conducted 500 targeted killings (approximately 98 percent of them with drones), which have killed an estimated 3,674 people, including 473 civilians. Fifty of these were authorized by President George W. Bush, 450 and counting by President Obama. Noticeably, these targeted killings have not diminished the size of the targeted groups according to the State Department’s own numbers.
Estimates of U.S. Targeted Killings and Fatalities

** Based on averages within the ranges provided by the organizations monitoring each country as of November 21, 2014. (Data: New America Foundation, Long War Journal, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism)
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Copyright © 2014 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Jon Stewart on Criticism of His Coverage of Israel


Don’t miss ROSEWATER, as it is a must-see film.



Published on Portside (

Jon Stewart on Criticism of His Coverage of Israel

Jon Dekel

Thursday, November 13, 2014
O Canada

As host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has earned a reputation as a sharp, left-leaning satirist who pulls no punches when there’s a point to be made. But in recent years Stewart has come under fire for being both too lenient and too harsh when it comes to the topic of Israel, with some pundits referring to the host as a “self-hating Jew.” Postmedia’s Jonathan Dekel brought up the subject when the two sat down during TIFF for an interview in support of Stewart’s film, Rosewater, which the first-time director shot in Jordan. “Being Jewish was not a deciding factor [in whether to film in Israel],” Stewart said of the film. “In Iran, I’ve already been outed as a Mossad agent and a CIA agent. They’ve already produced 60 Minutes-style pieces describing me as a Mossad agent.”

Have you seen them?

How does that make you feel? Do you find humour in it?
Of course, because it’s ridiculous. It’s humorous to me in the same way that a lot of what happens in the movie is humorous to me. There is an absurdity in dogma and rigidity and even that question has dogma, but on the other side. It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are, and I find that very interesting. It’s more than nationalism.

You mean in the sense that you can’t criticize Israel, right?
No. And you can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

I know the feeling.
Yeah, and you see it and it is pretty vicious. And how are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that they can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.

And it will only improve The State if they do.
You’re absolutely right. I always want to say to people when they come at me like that: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

The most frustrating aspect, for me is that these are not stupid people. Their hate doesn’t come from ignorance. It comes from fear.

Absolutely. I think it comes from abuse. The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor. Because that will deteriorate a society as quickly as being oppressed. And that’s a real danger. That’s a part of this movie: the cost of oppression to the Iranian government because that is a perversion of authority. It’s going to be a problem.

The difference is, in my mind, that the west trumpets Israel as an ideal Democratic society.
And then you look and say, “A thousand more acres in the West Bank? Why?” But I agree with you. I find it fascinating and troubling.

Read the full interview with Jon Stewart [1] about Rosewater, opening Nov 14.

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Down Outright Murder": A Complete Guide to the Shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson

A Ferguson protester chants 'Don't shoot!' at police in riot gear. (photo: Ben Kesling)

"Down Outright Murder": A Complete Guide to the Shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson

By Ryan Devereaux, The Interept
20 November 14

The nation is on edge, awaiting a grand jury decision in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown — an unarmed African American teen in Ferguson, Missouri — by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson more than three months ago. The decision is expected any day and there is widespread belief, based on weeks of leaks to the media and laws that historically favor police officers in lethal force cases, that Wilson will not be indicted. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has preemptively declared a state of emergency in anticipation of protests.

Brown’s killing, the culmination of an incident that the St. Louis Post Dispatch would later reportlasted no more than 90 seconds, devastated a family with high hopes for their college-bound son and sparked some of the most significant civil rights demonstrations in a generation — casting a harsh light on the disproportionate number of black men killed by police, on St. Louis County’s exploitative and racially discriminatory municipal court system, and on the militarization of law enforcement.
In the months since Brown was killed, numerous eyewitnesses have come forward to describe what they saw during the teen’s final moments, while controversial disclosures to the press have served to describe Wilson’s version of the events that day.

This is everything we know about the shooting.

It was just past noon on August 9 when Wilson and Brown’s paths first crossed in Ferguson’s Canfield Green apartment complex. Wilson had just finished responding to a call regarding a sick infant. Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson, 22, were walking in a two-lane residential street when Wilson approached in his sport utility patrol vehicle and told them to get on the sidewalk. The precise details of what happened next have been at the center of months of protest and outrage.

Most agree on the following: There was some sort of physical struggle between Brown and Wilson while Wilson was still in his vehicle; Brown ran from the confrontation; Wilson got out of the vehicle and fatally shot Brown at least six times from a distance; Brown was unarmed; and his bleeding body lay in the hot summer sun for four hours, much of that time uncovered, as the residents of Canfield looked upon his splayed-out corpse in horror.

The Ferguson Police Department turned the investigation into Brown’s killing over to the larger St. Louis County Police Department almost immediately. The morning after Brown was killed, St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar held a press conference. With protesters shouting in the background, Blemar told reporters that Brown “physically assaulted” an unnamed officer while the officer was in his vehicle. The teen was going for the officer’s gun, the police chief said.

“It is our understanding, at this point in the investigation, that there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon. There was at least one shot fired within the car,” Belmar said. While acknowledging that Brown was unarmed, Belmar said “more than a few” shell casings were found at the scene of the shooting but did not say how many times the officer fired, nor how many times Brown was hit.

“It was more than just a couple, but I don’t think it was many more than that,” Belmar said of the shots fired. The shooting, he said, took place roughly 35 feet from the officer’s vehicle.

Under Missouri state law, police officers are granted authority to use deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody” if “he reasonably believes” it is necessary “to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony…or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.” As an officer with the Ferguson Police Department, Wilson was also required to follow department guidelines on the use of force.

In mid-October, The New York Times published an article previewing Wilson’s official version of events, as told to the grand jury during his four-hour testimony. The disclosures were, in essence, a repeat of claims Wilson’s employer and friends had been making for months: The police officer was going about his duties when he came across a teenager who attacked him through his window and tried to steal his gun. As the story went, during the ordeal Wilson thought he might be killed so, after the teen took off running, Wilson got out of his vehicle and shot him to death.
Citing unnamed “government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the” shooting, the Times reported that two shots, not one, as previously reported, were fired inside Wilson’s vehicle and that Brown’s blood was splashed across on the interior panel of the SUV, as well as Wilson’s gun and uniform. According to the paper, “Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.”

The fact that Wilson testified was telling. He was not legally required to do so, and in most grand jury cases defendants do not testify because their attorney cannot be present. This move, some suggested, was an indication that Wilson and his legal counsel felt the proceedings would work to his favor.

Wilson’s decision to testify wasn’t the only unorthodox thing about the grand jury proceedings. In addition, St. Louis County’s top prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, opted to have the grand jurors decide what charges, if any, to file against Wilson.

Those charges could include murder or manslaughter. From the beginning, however, a first-degree murder charge has been considered unlikely, as it would require proving Wilson harbored a malicious intent to kill Brown. A second-degree murder charge, meanwhile, could be overcome if Wilson could successfully argue that he was in fear for his life or the lives of others at the time of the incident, and it was clear early on that Wilson would argue that he feared for his life. Wilson could face lesser charges, like voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, if the jurors find that he was negligent in the shooting.

In the secretive process of a grand jury, a prosecutor wields considerable power to influence the determination of the jurors on the question of whether or not to indict. Critics argued that by shifting this responsibility to the jurors in the Brown case, presenting them with all of the witnesses and evidence in the investigation and effectively asking the 12 citizens on the panel, including three African-Americans, to make up their own minds, McCulloch was making a half-hearted attempt to secure an indictment while simultaneously insulating himself from any criticism if Wilson walked. McCulloch also turned over the bulk of the work in the case to two veteran prosecutors from his office, further distancing himself from the day-to-day proceedings.

For weeks, protesters and supporters of the Brown family, as well as elected officials, rallied to have McCulloch removed from the case, arguing that he had a longstanding history, rooted in personal trauma, of protecting police officers in use-of-force cases. McCulloch’s father was a police officer killed in the line of duty, 50 years before Brown was gunned down, by a black man who stole his gun. Several of McCulloch’s family members, including his mother, brother, uncle, and cousin, have worked for the St. Louis Police Department. McCulloch himself had a long hoped to join the force, but after losing his leg to cancer in high school he decided to become a prosecutor. “I couldn’t become a policeman, so being county prosecutor is the next best thing,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In 2001, McCulloch oversaw a particularly controversial fatal shooting case in which two unarmed black men, caught up in a small-time drug sting, were shot 21 times in broad daylight by undercover officers at a Jack In the Box drive-through. In presenting the case to the grand jury, McCulloch said the men pulled forward at the officers, prompting them to open fire. The jurors decided not to indict the officers–who both testified–based on the evidence McCulloch presented. “These guys were bums,” McCulloch said of the deceased. The case became a flashpoint of racial tension that has been seared in the minds of many members of St. Louis County’s African American communities ever since. A subsequent investigation by The St. Louis Post Dispatch found that only three of the 13 officers involved in the sting said the vehicle moved forward; the two officers who shot and a third officer whose testimony McCulloch later described as “completely wrong.”

Outside the secretive confines of the grand jury, the accounts of multiple eyewitnesses to the shooting, relayed through the media and typically contradictory to the official police account, played a major role in driving the anger over Brown’s killing. As far as evidence goes, eyewitness testimony is far from perfect. According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit that has secured the release of hundreds of wrongfully convicted people over the last two decades, “eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in 72% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.”

Fallibility aside, the relative consistency of basic facts in the eyewitness accounts to Brown’s killing — combined with a history of racially biased, violent policing in many of St. Louis County’s African-American neighborhoods — fueled weeks of outrage. A refusal on the part of local authorities to release key pieces of information to the public made matters worse.

On August 12, three days after Brown was killed, Johnson, the friend who was with him at the time of his death, gave a detailed description of the shooting to the press. Similar accounts soon followed.

Johnson said that when Wilson rolled up in his patrol vehicle, he told the two to “get the **** onto the sidewalk” and that they responded by saying that they were nearing their destination. According to Johnson, Wilson, who had apparently continued past them, slammed on his brakes and reversed in their direction, pulling up so close that when he attempted to open his driver’s side door it slammed into Brown and remained closed. Johnson claimed that there was a “tug of war” struggle between Brown and Wilson, with Wilson grabbing at Brown’s neck—“[Brown]did not reach for a weapon at all,” Johnson said. Johnson said Wilson told Brown “I’ll shoot” and that a shot went off while Wilson was in the vehicle. Johnson thought Brown might have been hit by the first shot, as blood was beginning to soak through Brown’s shirt on his right side.

According to Johnson, he and Brown took off running after the first shot. Wilson stepped out of his vehicle. Johnson ducked behind a car and Brown continued on. Johnson said Wilson’s second shot struck Brown in the back and that the teen then turned around with his hands up and said, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” Wilson fired several more shots, Johnson said, and Brown fell to the concrete curled into a fetal position. Johnson’s attorney later said his client recalled that Brown’s hands were not held high, that one was lower than the other because he seemed to be “favoring it.”

One day after Johnson’s first interview, Tiffany Mitchell, 27, came forward to describe what she saw that afternoon on Canfield Drive. In multiple interviews, with local news outlets, MSNBC, and CNN, Mitchell said that she too witnessed a physical struggle between Brown and Wilson through Wilson’s window and that a shot went off while Wilson was still inside the vehicle. That shot, she said, was fired while Brown’s hands were on the outside of the vehicle, in what she believed was the teen’s effort to push himself away from the officer. Mitchell claimed that after the first shot Brown managed to break away and took off running. Wilson got out of his vehicle, she said, and fired more shots. Mitchell said that at one point Brown jerked, as if he may have been shot, and that’s when he turned around and faced Wilson.

“After the shot, the kid just breaks away. The cop follows him, kept shooting, the kid’s body jerked as if he was hit. After his body jerked he turns around, puts his hands up, and the cop continues to walk up on him and continues to shoot until he goes all the way down,” Mitchell told a local TV news outlet.

Mitchell was in the Canfield complex to pick up her coworker, Piaget Crenshaw, 19, who also witnessed the shooting. Crenshaw told the Post-Dispatch that Brown’s hands were in the air when he attempted to flee from Wilson. From her apartment, Crenshaw shot cell phone video depicting the moments immediately following the shooting.

Crenshaw shared her video with CNN. The video showed a dazed Wilson, wearing his blue Ferguson police uniform, pacing around Brown’s body. Crenshaw told CNN that she believed she saw Wilson attempting to pull Brown into his vehicle but failed and Brown got away. “It just seemed to have upset the officer,” Crenshaw said. She said Wilson then exited his vehicle and was “chasing after” Brown. She said multiple shots were fired and said she believed one might have grazed Brown.

“At the end [Brown] just turned around, after I’m guessing he felt the bullet graze his arm, he turned around then was shot multiple times,” Crenshaw said.

Darren Wilson was identified as the officer who killed Michael Brown on August 15, three days after Johnson came forward and nearly a full week after the shooting took place. The police had initially said he would be identified earlier, but changed course and decided to keep his name secret for several additional days, pointing to concerns for Wilson’s safety. That same day, the police alsorevealed the existence of surveillance camera footage that purported to show Brown and Johnson stealing a box of cigars from a local convenience store.

Since Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson acknowledged that Wilson’s initial decision to stop Brown and Johnson had nothing to do with the alleged strong-arm robbery, Brown’s parents and supporters argued that the release of the video–which the Department of Justice protested–was a blatant attempt at character assassination. Rep. William Lacy Clay of St. Louis said McCulloch’s office was attempting to influence the jury.

“Bob McCulloch tried to taint the jury pool by the stunt he pulled today,” the congressman told thePost-Dispatch. “I have no faith in him, but I do trust the FBI and the Justice Department.”

Two days later, on the evening of August 17, a private autopsy of Brown’s body was made public. The autopsy was performed by Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, at the request of the Brown family. The examination found that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head and four times in the right arm. All but one of the shots appeared to have happened while Brown was facing Wilson, though one of the wounds to the teen’s arm could have occurred while Brown was facing away from Wilson, according to Shawn L. Parcells, who participated in the autopsy. With no gunpowder residue found on Brown’s body, the shots appeared to have been fired from a distance. Among the most significant wounds Baden examined was the bullet hole in the top of Brown’s head.

“This one here looks like his head was bent downward,” he told The New York Times. “It can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer.”

The day after the private autopsy results were revealed, a caller identifying herself as “Josie” phoned into The Dana Show, a conservative talk-radio program, and said she was a friend of Wilson’s. In a six-minute interview, Josie offered the officer’s version of the shooting, which largely foreshadowed the account Wilson ultimately gave to the grand jury.

“[Brown and Johnson] were walking in the middle of the street,” Josie began. “[Wilson] rolled his window down and said, ‘Come on guys. Get out of the street.’ They refused to and were yelling back, saying we’re almost where we’re going and there was some cussing involved.”

Josie said Wilson had pulled ahead of the young men when he received a call over the radio about a strong-arm robbery. According to Josie, Brown and Johnson fit the description broadcast over the radio. “He goes in reverse back to them, tries to get out of his car, they slam his door shut violently. I think he said Michael did,” Josie said.

“Then he opens his car again and tries to get out and as he stands up Michael just bum rushes him, and just shoves him back into his car, punches him in the face and then of course Darren grabs for his gun and Michael grabs the gun,” Josie added. “At one point he’s got the gun totally turned against his hip and then he shoves it away and the gun goes off.”

“Michael takes off with his friend,” she said. “They get to be about 35 feet away and Darren, of course protocol is to pursue. So he stands up and yells, ‘Freeze!’ Michael and his friend turn around and Michael starts taunting him. ‘Oh, what are you going to do about it? You’re not gonna shoot me.’”

“And then he said all of a sudden [Brown] just started to bum rush him,” Josie said. “He just started coming at him full speed so [Wilson] he just started shooting and he just kept coming. So [Wilson] really thinks [Brown] was on something because he just kept coming. It was unbelievable. And then so he finally ended up, the final shot was in the forehead and then he fell about 2, 3 feet in front of the officer.”
CNN quickly picked up on the interview and that afternoon reported that Josie’s account was consistent with the version of events Wilson provided to authorities, citing “direct guidance” the news outlet had received.

In late October, Brown’s official autopsy was leaked to the Post Dispatch. The 16-page report said that Brown had been shot nine times. Three of the shots entered Brown’s head — once in the top of the head, once in the right eye, and once in the “right central forehead” — two entered the chest, three entered the right arm, and one entered his right hand, “near his thumb and palm.”

“The official report notes an absence of stippling, powder burns around a wound that indicate a shot fired at relatively short range,” the paper reported.

According to the narrative report of the investigation prepared by the office of the medical examiner, Brown had become “belligerent” after Wilson ordered him out of the road. It said that he had pushed Wilson’s door shut, and that during a struggle Wilson’s weapon became un-holstered. “The weapon discharged during the struggle,” the report said. Brown ran, Wilson gave chase, and Brown turned around and ran towards him. Wilson fired “several times.”

“As this is preliminary information it was not known in which order or how many time [sic] the officer fired his weapon during the confrontation,” the report said.
“The deceased was cool to the touch,” the medicolegal investigator reported upon first encountering Brown’s body in the street. “Rigor mortis was slightly felt in his extremities.” The report added, “The deceased [sic] mother was on the scene.”

The emergence of the autopsy report deeply upset many supporters of the Brown family, with some suggesting that it was a thinly veiled attempt to publicly soften the blow of a non-indictment.

In the days and weeks that preceded the leaking of the autopsy report, more accounts of the shooting emerged. On the question of whether Brown charged “full speed” at Wilson — like some sort of drug-addled madman, as Josie claimed — witnesses repeatedly said that he did not. Some said he was at a stand still, some said he was walking calmly towards the officer, others said he was staggering, fatally wounded, in Wilson’s direction.

James McKnight told The New York Times that Brown’s hands were up as soon he turned around to face Wilson. “I saw him stumble toward the officer, but not rush at him,” McKnight said. “The officer was about six or seven feet away from him.”

Michael T. Brady, 32, told reporters that he began watching the altercation between Brown and Wilson shortly after it started. “It was something strange,” Brady said. “Something was not right. It was some kind of altercation. I can’t say whether he was punching the officer or whatever. But something was going on in that window, and it didn’t look right.

Brady told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he did not hear the initial shot in the vehicle and that the “tussle” between Brown and Wilson lasted about ten seconds before Brown and his friend Johnson took off running. Brown, he said, was running down the middle of the street. Wilson stepped out of the car and “immediately” started shooting, Brady said, adding that Brown’s back was to the officer (because he was inside at the time, Brady said he could not hear anything Wilson may or may not have been yelling). Brady himself then ran outside with his phone.

“By the time I get outside he’s already turned around facing the officer,” Brady said of Brown. Brady said that Brown was “balled up” with his arms clutching his abdomen. Brown appeared to be going down, Brady said, “and the officer lets out about three or four shots at him.”

“He took like one or two steps going towards the officer,” Brady said. He flatly rejected claims that Brown was charging towards Wilson. “No,” Brady told CNN. “Not at all.”

In early September, the Post Dispatch revealed the existence of two more key witnesses in the Brown shooting; a pair of construction contractors who witnessed the killing from approximately 50 feet away. The men did not see how the altercation began, but looked up from their work when they heard a shot. One of the men detailed the ordeal in an interview with paper, saying that Brown had first approached them at approximately 11:00 a.m. and engaged his co-worker in a half-hour conversation in which Brown said he was “feeling some bad vibes.”

According to the contractor, Brown talked about having a picture of Jesus on his wall and said,“that the Lord Jesus Christ would help me through that as long as I didn’t get all angry at what I was doing.” A half-hour later, the contractor said, they heard the shot. The contractor said Brown was running and Wilson was following with his gun drawn about 10 to 15 behind the teen. He said the officer fired a shot while Brown’s back was turned.

The contractor said Brown stumbled and turned, then said, “OK, OK, OK, OK, OK.” Brown and Wilson were about 10 feet apart, he said. With his hands up, “[Brown]’s kind of walking back toward the cop,” he said. The contractor said Wilson was backing up while firing and that after the third shot Brown’s hands began to fall. The contractor told the paper that from his vantage point he could not tell whether the teen’s movement was “a stumble to the ground” or a “OK, I’m going to get you, you’re already shooting me.”

“I don’t know if he was going after him or if he was falling down to die,” the contractor said. “It wasn’t a bull rush.”

The Post-Dispatch report also quoted Canfield resident Phillip Walker, 40, who said Brown was walking towards Wilson with his hands up. “Not quickly,” he said. “He did not rush the officer.” As the paper noted at the time, “No witness has ever publicly claimed that Brown charged at Wilson.”

Four days after the Post-Dispatch story was published, CNN aired cellphone video of two contractors, presumably the same two who talked to the Post-Dispatch, reacting to the shooting. One of the men in the video, shown in a pink shirt, told CNN that he witnessed Brown “staggering.” The man said he heard one shot fired, then another 30 seconds later. He is seen in the video throwing his hands in the air, exclaiming, “He had his ****ing hands up.” The contractor told CNN, “The cop didn’t say get on the ground. He just kept shooting.” He added that he saw Brown’s “brains come out of his head.” According to CNN, “[a]n attorney for the man who filmed the video says it was recorded 40 seconds after the shooting.” The second man in the video told the news network that he saw Brown running from a police vehicle, that he “put his hands up” and that “the officer was chasing him.”

In October, yet another witness spoke to the Post-Dispatch. The man, a Canfield resident who asked to remain anonymous but claimed to have watched the ordeal from start to finish, described testimony that he gave to the grand jury reviewing the Brown shooting. Unlike previous accounts, the man said that Wilson did not fire until Brown turned and faced him. Like Johnson’s lawyer said, the eyewitness said Brown did not raise his hands high. As the paper described it, “Brown never put his hands straight up, but held his elbows straight out from his torso, with palms turned up in a sort of gesture of disbelief.” The witness said that despite commands to stop, Brown staggered towards Wilson. He added that the final shot was fired with Brown and Wilson 20 to 25 feet apart, contradicting Josie’s claim that Wilson fired his last round with a charging Brown just feet away.

The witness also described an initial scuffle between Brown and Wilson through the window of the police vehicle, adding that he believed he saw Wilson’s hat fly off. He said he heard a shot and that Brown went running with Wilson following behind yelling “Stop!” (this contradicts the account of one of the two construction workers, who said Wilson was firing without issuing commands). According to the witness, Brown obeyed Wilson’s command to stop. The teen mumbled something the witness could not hear then took a step towards Wilson, the witness said.

“When he stepped foot on that street, the officer told him to stop again, and he fired three shots…When he (Brown) got hit, he staggered like, ‘Oh,’ and his body moved. Then he looked down…His hands were up like this (he gestures with arms out to the side and palms upward), and he was looking at the officer and was coming toward him trying to keep his feet and stand up. The officer took a few steps back and yelled, ‘Stop,’ again, and Michael was trying to stay on his feet…He was 20 to 25 feet from officer, and after he started staggering, he (Wilson) let off four more rounds. As he was firing those last rounds, Michael was on his way down. We were thinking, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, brother, stop, stop.’ He was already on his way down when he fired those last shots.

Echoing the feelings of many Canfield residents, the witness told the paper, “What transpired to us, in my eyesight, was murder. Down outright murder.”

© 2014 Reader Supported News

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

The Dangers of Nuclear Materials Entering into Space

The Dangers of Nuclear Materials Entering into Space

Inserting nuclear material into space flight is a dangerous venture, yet the U.S. and Russia are considering doing so. Technology frequently goes wrong, which is why sending nuclear power into space using technology is leaving many uneasy.
Published: November 22, 2014 | Authors: Karl Grossman | NationofChange | Op-Ed
The recent crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and explosion on launch three days earlier of an Antares rocket further underline the dangers of inserting nuclear material in the always perilous space flight equation ¬as the U.S. and Russia still plan.

“SpaceShipTwo has experienced an in-flight anomaly,” Virgin Galactic tweeted after the spacecraft, on which $500 million has been spent for development, exploded on October 31 after being released by its mother ship. One pilot was killed, another seriously injured. Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder, hoped to begin flying passengers on SpaceShipTwo this spring. Some 800 people, including actor Leonard DiCaprio and physicist Steven Hawking, have signed up for $250,000-a person tickets to take a suborbital ride. SpaceShipTwo debris was spread over the Mojave Desert in California.

Three days before, on Wallops Island, Virginia, an Antares rocket operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. blew up seconds after launch. It was carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station. The cost of the rocket alone was put at $200 million. NASA, in a statement, said that the rocket “suffered a catastrophic anomaly.” The word anomaly, defined as something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected, has for years been a space program euphemism for a disastrous accident.

“These two recent space ‘anomalies’ remind us that technology frequently goes wrong,” said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. “When you consider adding nuclear power into the mix it becomes an explosive combination. We’ve long been sounding the alarm that nuclear power in space is not something the public nor the planet can afford to take a chance on.”

But “adding nuclear power into the mix” is exactly what the U.S. and Russia are planning. Both countries have been using nuclear power on space missions for decades ¬and accidents involving their nuclear-powered space devices have happened with substantial amounts of radioactive particles released on Earth.
Now, a major expansion in space nuclear power activity is planned with the development by both nations of nuclear-powered rockets for trips to Mars.

One big U.S. site for this is NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “NASA Researchers Studying Advanced Nuclear Rocket Technologies,” announced NASA last year. At the center, it said, “The Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion team is tackling a three-year project to demonstrate the viability of nuclear propulsion technologies.” In them, a “nuclear rocket uses a nuclear reactor to heat hydrogen to very high temperatures, which expands through a nozzle to generate thrust. Nuclear rocket engines generate higher thrust and are more than twice as efficient as conventional chemical engines.”

“A first-generation nuclear cryogenic propulsion system could propel human explorers to Mars more efficiently than conventional spacecraft, reducing crew’s exposure to harmful space radiation and other effects of long-term space missions,” NASA went on. “It could also transport heavy cargo and science payloads.”

And out at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the DUFF project ¬for Demonstrating Using Flattop Fissions ¬is moving ahead to develop a “robust fission reactor prototype that could be used as a power system for space travel,” according to Technews World. The laboratory’s Advanced Nuclear Technology Division is running the joint Department of Energy-NASA project. “Nuclear Power Could Blast Humans Into Deep Space,” was the headline of Technewsworld’s2012 article about it. It quoted Dr. Michael Gruntman, professor of aerospace engineering and systems architecture at the University of Southern California, saying,“If we want solar system exploration, we must utilize nuclear technology.” The article declared: “Without the risk, there will be no reward.”

And in Texas, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Ad Astra Rocket Company of former U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz is busy working on what it calls the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASMIR. Chang-Diaz began Ad Astra after retiring from NASA in 2005. He’s its president and CEO. The VASMIR system could utilize solar power, related Space News last year, but “using a VASMIR engine to make a superfast Mars run would require incorporating a nuclear reactor that cranks out megawatts of power, Chang-Diaz said, adding that developing this type of powerful reactor should be high on the nation’s to-do list.” Chang-Diaz told Voice of America that by using a nuclear reactor for power “we could do a mission to Mars that would take about 39 days, one-way.” NASA Director Charles Bolden, also a former astronaut as well as a Marine Corps major general, has been a booster of Ad Asra’s project.
Ad Astra and the Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion project have said their designs would include nuclear systems only starting up when “out of the atmosphere” to prevent, in the event of an accident, “spreading radiation back to Earth.”

However, this isn’t a fail-safe plan. The Soviet Union followed this practice on the satellites powered by nuclear reactors that it launched between the 1960s and 1980s. This included the Cosmos 954. Its on board reactor was only allowed to go critical after it was in orbit, but it subsequently came crashing back to Earth in 1978, breaking up and spreading radioactive debris on the Northwest Territories of Canada.

As to Russia now, “A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025, giving Russia a head start in the outer-space race,” the Russian news agency RT reported in 2012. “Nuclear power has generally been considered a valid alternative to fossil fuels to power space craft, as it is the only energy source capable of producing the enormous thrust needed for interplanetary travel….The revolutionary propulsion system falls in line with recently announced plans for Russia to conquer space…Entitled Space Development Strategies up to 2030, Russia aims to send probes to Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, as well as establish a series of bases on the moon.”

This year OSnet Daily, in an article headlined “Russia advances development of nuclear powered Spacecraft,” reported that in 2013 work on the Russian nuclear rocket moved “to the design stage.”

As for space probes, many U.S. and Russian probes have until recently gotten their on board electrical power from systems fueled with plutonium¬ hotly radioactive from the start.

Also, the U.S. has begun to power Mars rovers with plutonium. After using solar power on Mars rovers, in 2012 NASA launched a Mars rover it named Curiosity fueled with 10.6 pounds of plutonium. NASA plans to launch a Mars rover nearly identical to Curiosity, which it is calling Mars 2020, in 2020.

As devastating in terms of financial damage were last week’s explosions of the Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo and Antares rocket, an accident involving a nuclear-powered vehicle or device could be far more costly.

The NASA Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Curiosity (then called Mars Science Laboratory) mission states, for example, that the cost of decontamination of areas affected by dispersed plutonium would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.”

Odds of an accident were acknowledged as being low. The EIS said a launch accident discharging plutonium had a 1-in-420 chance of happening and could “release material into the regional area defined…within…62 miles of the launch pad” on Cape Canaveral, Florida. The EIS said that “overall” on the mission, the likelihood of plutonium being released was 1-in-220. If there were an accident resulting in plutonium fallout that occurred before the rocket carrying Curiosity broke through Earth’s gravitational field, people could be affected in a broad swath of Earth “anywhere between 28-degrees north and 28-degrees south latitude” on Earth, said the EIS.

Gagnon said at the time: “NASA sadly appears committed to maintaining its dangerous alliance with the nuclear industry…The taxpayers are being asked once again to pay for nuclear missions that could endanger the lives of all the people on the planet. Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima? We don’t need to be launching nukes into space. It’s not a gamble we can afford to take.”
Curiosity made it up, and to Mars.

But in NASA’s history of nuclear power shots, happening since the 1950s, there have been accidents. The worst among the 26 U.S. space nuclear missions listed in the Curiosity EIS occurred in 1964 and involved the SNAP-9A plutonium system aboard a satellite that failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell. Its plutonium fuel dispersed widely That accident spurred NASA to develop solar energy for satellites and now all satellites are solar-powered as is the International Space Station.

And in recent times, solar power has been increasingly shown to be practical even to generate on board electricity for missions far out in space. On its way to Jupiter now is NASA’s Juno space probe, chemically-propelled and with solar photovoltaic panels generating all its on board electricity. When Juno reaches Jupiter in 2016 it will be nearly 500 million miles from the Sun, but the high-efficiency solar cells will still be generating power.

In August, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta space probe, similarly solar-powered, rendezvoused with a comet in deep space, 400 million miles from Earth.
Advances, too, have been made in propelling spacecraft in the vacuum of space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2010 launched what it termed a “space yacht” it called Ikaros which successfully got its propulsion power from the pressure on its large sails of ionizing particles emitted by the Sun.

Among other ways of propelling spacecraft, discussed at a Starship Congress last year in Texas was a system using orbiting lasers to direct beams on to a spacecraft. The magazine New Scientist said “beam sails are regarded as the most promising tech for a starship.”

A scientist long-involved in laser space power research is Geoff Landis of the Photovoltaics and Space Environment Branch at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland who, in a 2002 NASA publication, “The Edge of Sunshine,” wrote: “In the long term, solar arrays will not have to rely on the Sun. We’re investigating the concept of using lasers to beam photons to solar arrays. If you make a powerful enough laser and can aim the beam, there’s really isn’t any edge to sunshine ¬with a big enough lens, we could beam light to a space-probe halfway to alpha-Centauri!”

Copyright © 2014 by NationofChange

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Baltimore Activist Alert November 23 – 25, 2014

Baltimore Activist Alert November 23 – 25, 2014

"I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours." - Martin Luther King Jr.
Friends, this list and other email documents which I send out are done under the auspices of the Baltimore Nonviolence Center. Go to

If you appreciate this information and would like to make a donation, send contributions to BNC, 325 East 25th Street, Baltimore, MD 21218. Max Obuszewski can be reached at 410-366-1637 or mobuszewski [at]

Tune into the Maryland Progressive Blog at

1] Books, buttons & stickers
2] Web site for info on federal legislation
3] Join Nonviolent Resistance lists
4] Buy coffee through HoCoFoLa
5] Can you donate a kidney?
6] Gather at McKeldin Square when decision is made in Michael Brown case
7] BES Fall Festival – Nov. 23
8] Peace and Pancakes – Nov. 23
9] Beehive Collective's Mesoamérica Resiste workshop – Nov. 23
10] Baltimore Green Forum – Nov. 23
11] Soul Kitchen Dinner Program – Nov. 23
12] Book talk, “Wrapped in the Flag of Israel” – Nov. 23
13] Book talk “Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America“– Nov. 23
14] Pentagon Vigil – Nov. 24
15] Marc Steiner on WEAA – Nov. 24 – 28
16] Children Fleeing Violence – Nov. 24
17] Film WAR DANCE – Nov. 24
18] Pledge/FOC meeting – Nov. 24
19] "Iran-P5+1 Nuclear Negotiations: the Road Ahead" – Nov.25
20] Legal observer training – Nov. 25
21] Tunisian democracy – Nov. 25
1] – Buttons, bumperstickers and books are available. “God Bless the Whole World, No Exceptions” stickers are in stock. Donate your books to Max. Call him at 410-366-1637.

2] – To obtain information how your federal legislators voted on particular bills, go to Congressional toll-free numbers are 888-818-6641, 888-355-3588 or 800-426-8073. The White House Comment Email is accessible at

3] – THE ORGANIZING LIST will be the primary decision-making mechanism of the National Campaign of Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR]. It will be augmented by conference calls and possibly in-person meetings as needed. It will consist of 1 or 2 representatives from each local, regional, or national organization (not coalitions) that wishes to actively work to carry out the NCNR campaign of facilitating and organizing nonviolent resistance to the war in Iraq. To join the ORGANIZING List, please send your name, group affiliation, city and email address to mobuszewski at Verizon dot net. Different local chapters of a national organization are encouraged to subscribe.

THE NOTICES LIST will include only notices of NCNR actions and related information and is open to any interested person to subscribe. It will be moderated to maintain focus & will include periodic notices about getting involved in NCNR national organizing. To join the NOTICES List, send an email message to mobuszewski at Verizon dot net.

4] – You can help safeguard human rights and fragile ecosystems through your purchase of HOCOFOLA Café Quetzal. Bags of ground coffee or whole beans can be ordered by mailing in an order form. Also note organic cocoa and sugar are for sale. For more details and to download the order form, go to The coffee comes in one-pound bags.

Fill out the form and mail it with a check made out to HOCOFOLA on or before the second week of the month. Be sure you indicate ground or beans for each type of coffee ordered. Send it to Francine Sheppard at 5639B, Harpers Farm Rd., Columbia 21044. The coffee will arrive some time the following week and you will be notified where to pick it up. Contact Francine at 410-992-7679 or

5] – A relative – or sort of relative – of the Berrigans by the name of Michael Moore has an ex-wife suffering from renal failure and is on dialysis four times each day. Her only hope is to receive a kidney from a donor. Her name is Mary Ann Nowak, and she can be reached at 760-632-5462 or by email at Anyone willing to be tested or who has already been tested and is able to donate a kidney would give new life to this woman. Many thanks for any and all consideration you can give. Thanks for reading, for caring, for considering--Liz McAlister.

6] - At McKeldin Square, Light & Pratt Sts., Baltimore, from 4 to 6 PM, there will be an immediate response protest when the Ferguson Grand Jury makes its decision whether to indict Darren Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown. Please note that the date on this event may not be the day that the Grand Jury comes out with a decision. Sign up and stay tuned. Indict Darren Wilson -- End Police Terror from Baltimore to Ferguson.

7] - Usually, the Baltimore Ethical Society, 306 W. Franklin St., Suite 102, Baltimore 21201-4661, meets on Sundays, and generally there is a speaker and discussion from 10:30 AM to noon. BES is holding its Fall Festival on Sun., Nov. 23. Enjoy a salad and stew. Hugh Taft-Morales will offer a short platform address called, “Hunger of Body and Conscience” about the struggle many of us have knowing about the horrors of world hunger but feeling inadequate to the challenge. Call 410-581-2322 or email

8] - Join the Kadampa Meditation Center for Peace and Pancakes on Sundays at 10:30 AM at KMC Maryland, 2937 North Charles St. All are invited to participate in guided meditation and chant praying for world peace. There will be a talk based on Buddhist thought followed by brunch. Call 410- 243-3837. Brunch is $5.

9] -- On Sun., Nov. 23 at 4 PM through Mon., Nov. 24 at 6 PM in the McShain Lounge, Georgetown University, 3700 O St. NW, WDC, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and the Tree HAUS Magis Row Community are hosting the Beehive Collective's Mesoamérica Resiste workshop. Visit This is the third and final installment in the Beehive’s trilogy on globalization in the Americas. The focus is on resistance to the top-down development plans and mega-infrastructure projects that literally pave the way for resource extraction and free trade.

The Beehive ( is a motivated, all-volunteer, activist arts collective dedicated to “cross-pollinating the grassroots” by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images for use as educational and organizing tools. Go to

10] – The BALTIMORE GREEN FORUM, a monthly environmental education and discussion forum, will occur on Sun., Nov. 23. Killing Us Softly - The Science and Politics of Cell Phones, Laptops, and Other Wireless Devices - and 100 Ways To Protect Yourself and Your Family will be presented by Nancy Wallace. The last twenty years have seen an explosion of wireless devices in our daily lives. We depend on our cell phones, laptops, iPads, Wi-Fi, e-readers such as Kindle, baby monitors, wireless headphones, wireless video game controllers, and home security systems. Yet due to a scientific mistake in the 1970s by the Federal Communications Commission, their actual environmental and health impacts have been marginalized in our society, not covered by the media, and ignored in federal regulation. One of the world’s largest industries, the consumer electronic device manufacturers, has exploited this mistake to stop further regulation in the US and education of the public. Meanwhile, environmental and health activists, especially mothers, have created a self-protection movement around the world to stop the harmful and fatal effects of this wireless radiation.

What’s true in all this, and what can we do about it? This presentation provides a fact-based, comprehensive survey of the science, politics, and self-protection (1) for wireless radiation-based devices. Ms. Wallace has been a Maryland environmental and progressive activist for 40 years. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Safer Wireless (CSW), a national nonprofit created in 2009. See

The Forum seeks to educate and stimulate dialogue about what humans can do to make modern civilization more sustainable, including adjusting to finite resource limits and preserving biodiversity and a healthy environment. This is done through 8 monthly meetings a year. The topics are far ranging. They vary from local to planetary and from philosophical to scientific to very practical. The Meeting Format: There is a speaker and Q&A from 4-5:15 pm. Then there are brief announcements by representatives of other organizations that also seek sustainability and environmental protection. We thereby promote collaboration among these organizations. Next, there is an optional roundtable discussion until 6:30 PM. Finally, there is often a small gathering at a nearby restaurant.

BGF is open to the public and is free of charge, but donations to Maryland Presbyterian Church are collected during the meeting to thank the church for their generous gift of the space to us. Call Sam Hopkins at 410 554 0006 or email Visit http://www.baltimoregreen

11] -- Gimmie Shelter Productions in conjunction with the Govans Presbyterian Church invites you to the Soul Kitchen Dinner Program at 5 PM on the fourth Sunday of every month. There is a catered dinner for the homeless and those in need in the Govans area. Musicians and singers are needed to provide entertainment, and helping hands are needed to set up, serve, clean up, and perhaps give other volunteers a ride home. The program is at the Govans Presbyterian Church, 5828 York Road. Call 410-435-9188.

12] – At 1025 5th St. NW, WDC, on Sun., Nov. 23 from 6 to 8 PM, Israeli-American Smadar Lavie, a leader in improving the lives of Israeli Mizrahi women, will discuss her new book, “Wrapped in the Flag of Israel.” The Mizrahim are the Jews from North Africa and the Middle East who comprise Israel’s majority Jewish population, but who suffer from systematic discrimination by Israel’s Ashkenazi Jews who drive Israeli policymaking. The book explores intra-Jewish Israeli social conflict from a Feminist perspective, the plight of Mizrahi single mothers, and the impact of Israel’s internal ethnic and gender conflicts on Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, as well as its tensions with Iran and other neighboring Arab countries.
Professor Smadar Lavie is Scholar in Residence at the Beatrice Bain Research Group, University of California, Berkeley, CA, and A Visiting Professor, Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century, University College, Cork, Ireland. See Go to

13] – On Sun., Nov. 23 at 7:30 PM @ Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Ave., Baltimore 21201, Rory Fanning discusses his new book, “Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America.” Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire was covered up just days before his comrade Rory Fanning—who served in the same unit as Tillman—left the Army Rangers as a conscientious objector. Disquieted by his tours in Afghanistan, Fanning sets out to honor Tillman's legacy by crossing the United States on foot. Told with page-turning style, humor, and warmth, “Worth Fighting For” explores the emotional and social consequences of rejecting the mission of one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. It is only through the generous and colorful people Fanning meets and the history he discovers that he learns to live again. Call 443-602-7585. Go to

14] -- There is a weekly Pentagon Peace Vigil from 7 to 8 AM on Mondays, since 1987, outside the Pentagon Metro stop. The next vigil is Mon., Nov. 24, and it is sponsored by the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker. Email or call 202-882-9649. The vigil will be outside the Pentagon's south Metro entrance and in the designated "protest zone" behind bicycle fences across from the entrance to the Metro. By Metro, take Yellow Line and get out at the "Pentagon" stop. Do not go to the Pentagon City stop! Go up south escalators and turn left and walk across to protest area. By car from D.C. area, take 395 South and get off at Exit 8A-Pentagon South Parking. Take slight right onto S. Rotary Rd. at end of ramp and right on S. Fern St. Then take left onto Army Navy Dr. You can "pay to park" on Army Navy Dr., and there is meter parking one block on right on Eads St. Payment for both of these spots begin at 8 AM. No cameras are allowed on Pentagon grounds. Restrooms are located inside Marriott Residence Inn on corner of S. Fern and Army Navy Dr.

15] – The Marc Steiner Show airs Monday through Friday from 10 AM to noon on WEAA 88.9 FM, The Voice of the Community, or online at The call-in number is 410-319-8888, and comments can also be sent by email to All shows are also available as podcasts at

16] -- At 1525 H St. NW, WDC, on Mon., Nov. 24 at 6:30 PM, CARECEN Youth Leaders will be hosting the next vigil in support of #ChildrenFleeingViolence. They are immigrant students, the majority from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who arrived 1-2 years ago and attend D.C. public schools. Brave the cold with us and come out to support the #ninosmariposas as they share their stories, put a face on the media reporting in the recent months, and ask for a just and humane treatment.

Join them for an inspiring action, where youth leaders will express themselves, calling for your support of the #childrenfleeingviolence. Visit

17] – Beyond the Classroom presents a film WAR DANCE, set in war-ravaged Northern Uganda, on Mon., Nov. 24 from 7 to 9 PM at 1102 South Campus Commons, Building 1, College Park 20742. This Academy Award-nominated documentary will touch your heart with a real-life story about a group of children whose love of music brings joy, excitement and hope back into their poverty-stricken lives. Go to Call 301-314-6621 or email at

18] – The Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore usually meets on Mondays at 7:30 PM, and the meetings take place at Max’s residence. The next meeting may be on Mon., Nov. 24. Check with Max, as the meeting may be postponed or moved to MICA. The proposed agenda will include anti-drone activities, including getting a drone law passed in Baltimore’s City Council, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, lobbying Rep. Sarbanes, a march from the EPA to the Pentagon, the film A RIVER THAT HARMS, the play GROUNDED, and a talk about ISIS. Call 410-366-1637 or email mobuszewski at for directions.

19] – On Tues., Nov. 25 from 10:30 AM to noon, Gary Samore, Harvard University, David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, and Edward Levine, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, will share perspectives on "Iran-P5+1 Nuclear Negotiations: the Road Ahead" at the Brookings Institution, Saul/Zilkha Rooms, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW, WDC 20036. RSVP at

20] – At UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, 4340 Connecticut Ave. NW, WDC, on Tues., Nov. 25 from 12:15 to 1:45 PM, get training to become a Legal Observer® and provide frontline legal support!! Are you committed to helping people exercise their First Amendment rights of speech, expression, and assembly? Join the National Lawyers Guild, UDC Student Chapter, for the fall legal observer training in Room 506. FOOD WILL BE SERVED. See

21] – Since the Tunisian revolution started in December 2010, Tunisia has been on the road to democracy, and has achieved remarkable success. From organizing two free and fair elections, to the writing and adoption of the most progressive and democratic constitution in the Arab world, to the formation of the TROIKA ruling coalition (between Nahdha and two moderate secular parties), Tunisia has been setting the stage for the first-ever real, lasting, and stable democracy. However, the Oct. 26 legislative elections and the upcoming Nov. 23 Presidential elections are expected to give power to Nidaa Tounes, which is made up of the remnants of the old regime in coalition with a few leftist leaders.

At Georgetown University, 3700 O St. NW, ICC 270, WDC, on Tues., Nov. 25 at 12:30 PM, join Radwan A. Masmoudi for a briefing on the upcoming elections, the regional struggle for freedoms and democracy, and the hopes and aspirations of millions of Tunisians and other Arabs and Muslims for a better and more dignified life. Masmoudi is the founder and president of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based non-profit think tank dedicated to promoting dialogue about democracy in the Muslim world. He is also the editor of the Center’s quarterly publication, Muslim Democrat. He has written and published several articles and papers on the topics of democracy, diversity, human rights, and tolerance in Islam. Email Register

To be continued.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

The Selfless Gene

Published on Portside (
The Selfless Gene

Olivia Judson

Monday, October 1, 2007
The Atlantic

At 2 a.m. on February 26, 1852, the Royal Navy troopship Birkenhead, which was carrying more than 600 people, including seven women and 13 children, struck a rock near Danger Point, two miles off the coast of South Africa. Almost immediately, the ship began to break up. Just three lifeboats could be launched. The men were ordered to stand on deck, and they did. The women and children (along with a few sailors) were put into the lifeboats and rowed away. Only then were the men told that they could try to save themselves by swimming to shore. Most drowned or were eaten by sharks. The heroism of the troops, standing on deck facing almost certain death while others escaped, became the stuff of legend. But the strange thing is, such heroics are not rare: Humans often risk their lives for strangers—think of the firemen going into the World Trade Center—or for people they know but are not related to.

How does a propensity for self-sacrifice evolve? And what about the myriad lesser acts of daily kindness—helping a little old lady across the street, giving up a seat on the subway, returning a wallet that’s been lost? Are these impulses as primal as ferocity, lust, and greed? Or are they just a thin veneer over a savage nature? Answers come from creatures as diverse as amoebas and baboons, but the story starts in the county of Kent, in southern England.

Evolving Generosity
Kent has been home to two great evolutionary biologists. In the 19th century, Charles Darwin lived for many years in the village of Downe. In the 20th, William Donald Hamilton grew up catching beetles and chasing butterflies over the rolling hills near Badgers Mount.

Hamilton was a tall man with a craggy face and the tops of a couple of fingers missing from a childhood accident— he blew himself up while making explosives. He died in 2000, at age 63, after an illness contracted while undertaking another risky endeavor: a trip to the Congo to collect chimpanzee feces. When I first met him, in Oxford in 1991, he had a terrific shock of white hair, rode a rickety bicycle at prodigious speed, and was preoccupied with the question of why sex is useful in evolutionary terms. (For my doctorate, I worked with him on this question.) But he began his career studying social behavior, and in the early ’60s he published a trio of now- classic papers in which he offered the first rigorous explanation of how generosity can evolve, and under what circumstances it is likely to emerge.

Hamilton didn’t call it generosity, though; he called it altruism. And the particular behaviors he sought to explain are acts of extreme self-sacrifice, such as when a bee dies to defend the hive, or when an animal spends its whole life helping others rear their children instead of having some of its own.

To see why these behaviors appear mysterious to biologists, consider how natural selection works. In every generation, some individuals leave more descendants than others. If the reason for their greater “reproductive success” is due to the particular genes they have, then natural selection has been operating.

Here’s an example: Suppose you’re a mosquito living on the French Mediterranean coast. Tourists don’t like mosquitoes, and the French authorities try to keep the tourists happy by spraying insecticide. Which means that on the coast, mosquitoes bearing a gene that confers insecticide resistance tend to leave many more descendants than those lacking it—and so today’s coastal mosquitoes are far more resistant to insecticide than those that live inland.

Extreme altruists, by definition, leave no descendants: They’re too busy helping others. So at first blush, a gene that promotes extreme altruism should quickly vanish from a population.

Hamilton’s solution to this problem was simple and elegant. He realized that a gene promoting extreme altruism could spread if the altruist helped its close relations. The reason is that your close relations have some of the same genes as you do. In humans and other mammals, full brothers and sisters have, on average, half the same genes. First cousins have, on average, an eighth of their genes in common. Among insects such as ants and bees, where the underlying genetics work differently, full sisters (but not brothers) typically have three-quarters of their genes in common.

Hamilton derived a formula—now known as Hamilton’s rule—for predicting whether the predisposition toward a given altruistic act is likely to evolve: rB>C. In plain language, this says that genes that promote the altruistic act will spread if the benefit (B) that the act bestows is high enough, and the genetic relationship (r) between the altruist and the beneficiary is close enough, to outweigh the act’s cost (C) to the altruist. Cost and benefit are both measured in nature’s currency: children. “Cheap” behaviors—such as when a small bird squawks from the bushes to announce it’s seen a cat or a hawk—can, and do, evolve easily, even though they often benefit nonrelatives. “Expensive” behaviors, such as working your whole life to rear someone else’s children, evolve only in the context of close kin.

Since Hamilton first proposed the idea, “kin selection” has proved tremendously powerful as a way to understand cooperative and self-sacrificial behavior in a huge menagerie of animals. Look at lions. Lionesses live with their sisters, cousins, and aunts; they hunt together and help each other with child care. Bands of males, meanwhile, are typically brothers and half-brothers. Large bands are better able to keep a pride of lionesses; thus even males who never mate with a female still spread some of their genes by helping their brothers defend the pride. Or take peacocks. Males often stand in groups when they display to females. This is because females are drawn to groups of displaying males; they ogle them, then pick the guy they like best to be their mate. Again, peacocks prefer to display with their brothers rather than with males they are not related to.

Kin selection operates even in mindless creatures such as amoebas. For instance, the soil-dwelling amoeba Dictyostelium purpureum. When times are good, members of this species live as single cells, reproducing asexually and feasting on bacteria. But when times get tough—when there’s a bacteria shortage—thousands of individuals join together into a single entity known as a slug. This glides off in search of more-suitable conditions. When it finds them, the slug transforms itself into a fruiting body that looks like a tiny mushroom; some of the amoebas become the stalk, others become spores. Those in the stalk will die; only the spores will go on to form the next amoeboid generation. Sure enough, amoebas with the same genes (in other words, clones) tend to join the same slugs: They avoid mixing with genetic strangers and sacrifice themselves only for their clones.

Kin selection also accounts for some of the nastier features of human behavior, such as the tendency stepparents have to favor their own children at the expense of their stepkids. But it’s not enough to explain the evolution of all aspects of social behavior, in humans or in other animals.

Living Together
Animals may begin to live together for a variety of reasons—most obviously, safety in numbers. In one of his most engaging papers, Hamilton observed that a tight flock, herd, or shoal will readily appear if every animal tries to make itself safer by moving into the middle of the group—a phenomenon he termed the “selfish herd.” But protection from predators isn’t the only benefit of bunching together. A bird in a flock spends more time eating and less time looking about for danger than it does when on its own. Indeed, eating well is another common reason for group living. Some predatory animals— chimpanzees, spotted hyenas, and wild dogs, for example— have evolved to hunt together.

Many social animals thus live in huge flocks or herds, and not in family groups—or even if the nexus of social life is the family, the family group is itself part of a larger community. In species such as these, social behavior must extend beyond a simple “Be friendly and helpful to your family and hostile to everybody else” approach to the world. At the least, the evolution of social living requires limiting aggression so that neighbors can tolerate each other. And often, the evolution of larger social groupings is accompanied by an increase in the subtlety and complexity of the ways animals get along together.

Consider baboons. Baboons are monkeys, not apes, and are thus not nearly as closely related to us as chimpanzees are. Nonetheless, baboons have evolved complex social lives. They live in troops that can number from as few as eight to as many as 200. Females live with their sisters, mothers, aunts, and infants; males head off to find a new troop at adolescence (around age 4). Big troops typically contain several female family groups, along with some adult males. The relationships between members of a troop are varied and complex. Sometimes two or more males team up to defeat a dominant male in combat. Females often have a number of male “friends” that they associate with (friends may or may not also be sex partners). If a female is attacked or harassed, her friends will come bounding to the rescue; they will also protect her children, play with them, groom them, carry them, and sometimes share food with them. If the mother dies, they may even look after an infant in her place.

Yet friendliness and the associated small acts of affection and kindness—a bout of grooming here, a shared bite to eat there—seem like evolutionary curiosities. Small gestures like these don’t affect how many children you have. Or do they?

Among social animals, one potentially important cause of premature death is murder. Infanticide can be a problem for social mammals, from baboons and chimpanzees to lions and even squirrels. During one four-year study of Belding’s ground squirrels, for example, the main cause of death for juveniles was other Belding’s ground squirrels; at least 8 percent of the young were murdered before being weaned. Similarly, fighting between adults—particularly in species where animals are well armed with horns, tusks, or teeth—can be lethal, and even if it is not, it may result in severe injuries, loss of status, or eviction from the group.

The possibility of death by murder creates natural selection for traits that reduce this risk. For example, any animal that can appease an aggressor, or that knows when to advance and when to retreat, is more likely to leave descendants than an animal that leaps wildly into any fray. Which explains why, in many social-mammal species, you don’t see many murders, though you do see males engaging in elaborate rituals to see who’s bigger and stronger. Serious physical fights tend to break out only when both animals think they can win (that is, when they are about the same size).

Thus, among animals such as baboons, friendships mean more than a bit of mutual scratching; they play a fundamental role in an animal’s ability to survive and reproduce within the group. Friendships between males can be important in overcoming a dominant male—which may in turn lead to an improvement in how attractive the animals are to females. Similarly, females that have a couple of good male friends will be more protected from bullying—and their infants less likely to be killed. Why do the males do it? Males that are friends with a particular female are more likely to become her sex partners later on, if indeed they are not already. In other words, friendship may be as primal an urge as ferocity.

Becoming Human
The lineage that became modern humans split off from the lineage that became chimpanzees around 6 million years ago. Eventually this new lineage produced the most socially versatile animal the planet has ever seen: us. How did we get to be this way?

One clue comes from chimpanzees. Chimpanzee society is the mirror image of baboon society, in that it’s the females that leave home at adolescence, and the males that stay where they were born. Chimpanzee communities can also be fairly large, comprising several different subcommunities and family groups. Males prefer to associate with their brothers and half-brothers on their mother’s side, but they also have friendships with unrelated males. Friends hang out together and hunt together—and gang up on other males.

However, unlike baboon troops, which roam around the savannah freely intermingling, chimpanzee communities are territorial. Bands of males patrol the edges of their community’s territory looking for strangers—and sometimes make deep incursions into neighboring terrain. Males on patrol move together in silence, often stopping to listen. If they run into a neighboring patrol, there may be some sort of skirmish, which may or may not be violent. But woe betide a lone animal that runs into the patrolling males. If they encounter a strange male on his own, they may well kill him. And sometimes, repeated and violent attacks by one community lead to the annihilation of another, usually smaller, one. Indeed, two of the three most-studied groups of chimpanzees have wiped out a neighboring community.

Chimpanzees have two important sources of premature death at the hands of other chimpanzees: They may be murdered by members of their own community, or they may be killed during encounters with organized bands of hostile neighbors.

Just like humans. Except that humans aren’t armed with big teeth and strong limbs. Humans carry weapons, and have done so for thousands of years.

On Love and War
Darwin wondered whether lethal warring between neighboring groups might have caused humans to evolve to be more helpful and kind to each other. At first, the idea seems paradoxical. But Darwin thought this could have happened if the more cohesive, unified, caring groups had been better able to triumph over their more disunited rivals. If so, the members of those cohesive, yet warlike, groups would have left more descendants.

For a long time, the idea languished. Why? A couple of reasons. First, it appears to depend on “group selection.” This is the idea that some groups evolve characteristics that allow them to outcompete other groups, and it’s long been out of favor with evolutionary biologists. In general, natural selection works much more effectively on individuals than it does on groups, unless the groups are composed of close kin. That’s because group selection can be effective only when the competing groups are genetically distinct. Members of a kin group tend to be genetically similar to each other, and different from members of other kin groups. In contrast, groups composed of non-kin tend to contain considerable genetic variation, and differences between such groups are generally much smaller. Moreover, contact between the groups—individuals migrating from one to another, say—will reduce any genetic differences that have started to accumulate. So unless natural selection within the groups is different—such that what it takes to survive and reproduce in one group is different from what it takes in another—migration quickly homogenizes the genetics of the whole population.

A second reason Darwin’s idea has been ignored is that it seems to have a distasteful corollary. The idea implies, perhaps, that some unpleasant human characteristics—such as xenophobia or even racism—evolved in tandem with generosity and kindness. Why? Because banding together to fight means that people must be able to tell the difference between friends (who belong in the group) and foes (who must be fought). In the mid-1970s, in a paper that speculated about how humans might have evolved, Hamilton suggested that xenophobia might be innate. He was pilloried.

But times have changed. Last year, the science journal Nature published a paper that tested the idea of “parochial altruism”—the notion that people might prefer to help strangers from their own ethnic group over strangers from a different group; the experiment found that indeed they do. In addition, the idea that natural selection might work on groups—at least in particular and narrow circumstances—has become fashionable again. And so Darwin’s idea about the evolution of human kindness as a result of war has been dusted off and scrutinized.

Sam Bowles, an economist turned evolutionary biologist who splits his time between the Santa Fe Institute, in New Mexico, and the University of Siena, in Italy, notes that during the last 90,000 years of the Pleistocene Epoch (from about 100,000 years ago until about 10,000 years ago, when agriculture emerged), the human population hardly grew. One reason for this was the extraordinary climactic volatility of the period. But another, Bowles suggests, was that our ancestors were busy killing each other in wars. Working from archaeological records and ethnographic studies, he estimates that wars between different groups could have accounted for a substantial fraction of human deaths—perhaps as much as 15 percent, on average, of those born in any given year—and as such, represented a significant source of natural selection.

Bowles shows that groups of supercooperative, altruistic humans could indeed have wiped out groups of less-united folk. However, his argument works only if the cooperative groups also had practices—such as monogamy and the sharing of food with other group members— that reduced the ability of their selfish members to outreproduce their more generous members. (Monogamy helps the spread of altruism because it reduces the differences in the number of children that different people have. If, instead, one or two males monopolized all the females in the group, any genes involved in altruism would quickly disappear.) In other words, Bowles argues that a genetic predisposition for altruism would have been far more likely to evolve in groups where disparities and discord inside the group—whether over mates or food—would have been relatively low. Cultural differences between groups would then allow genetic differences to accumulate.

‘That’s Not the Way You Do It’
If Bowles’s analysis is right, it suggests that individuals who could not conform, or who were disruptive, would have weakened the whole group; any group that failed to drive out such people, or kill them, would have been more likely to be overwhelmed in battle. Conversely, people who fit in—sharing the food they found, joining in hunting, helping to defend the group, and so on—would have given their group a collective advantage, and thus themselves an individual evolutionary advantage.

This suggests two hypotheses. First, that one of the traits that may have evolved in humans is conformity, an ability to fit in with a group and adopt its norms and customs. Second, that enforcement of those norms and customs could have been essential for group cohesion and harmony, especially as groups got bigger (bigness is important in battles against other groups).

Let’s start with conformity. This hasn’t been studied much in other animals, but male baboons do appear to conform to the social regimens of the groups they join. For example, in one baboon troop in Kenya in the 1980s, all the aggressive males died of tuberculosis. The aggressives were the ones to snuff it because they’d eaten meat infected with bovine TB that had been thrown into a garbage dump; only the more-aggressive males ate at the dump. After their deaths, the dynamics of the troop shifted to a more laid-back way of life. Ten years later—by which time all the original resident males had either died or moved on—the troop was still notable for its mellow attitude. The new males who’d arrived had adopted the local customs.

What about humans? According to Michael Tomasello—a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute, in Leipzig, Germany, who studies the behavior of human children and of chimpanzees—children as young as 3 will quickly deduce and conform to rules. If an adult demonstrates a game, and then a puppet comes in and plays it differently, the children will clamor to correct the puppet with shouts of “No, that’s not the way you do it—you do it this way!” In other words, it’s not just that they infer and obey rules; they try to enforce them, too.

Which brings me to the question of punishment.

Punishment Games
I’ll be dictator. Here’s how we play: An economist puts some money on the table—let’s say $1,000. Since I’m dictator, I get to decide how you and I are going to split the cash; you have no say in the matter. How much do you think I’ll give you?

Now, let’s play the ultimatum game. We’ve still got $1,000 to play with, and I still get to make you an offer. But the game has a wrinkle: If you don’t like the offer I make, you can refuse it. If you refuse it, we both get nothing. What do you think I’ll do here?

As you’ve probably guessed, people tend to play the two games differently. In the dictator game, the most common offer is nothing, and the average offer is around 20 percent. In the ultimatum game, the most common offer is half the cash, while the average is around 45 percent. Offers of less than 25 percent are routinely refused—so both players go home empty-handed.

Economists scratch their heads at this. In the first place, they are surprised that some people are nice enough to share with someone they don’t know, even in the dictator game, where there’s nothing to lose by not sharing. Second, economists predict that people will accept any offer in the ultimatum game, no matter how low, because getting something is better than getting nothing. But that’s not what happens. Instead, some people forgo getting anything themselves in order to punish someone who made an ungenerous offer. Money, it seems, is not the only currency people are dealing in.

Bring in the neuroscientists, and the other currency gets clearer. If you measure brain activity while such games are being played (and there are many variants, for the fun doesn’t stop with dictators and ultimatums), you find that the reward centers of the brain—the bits that give you warm, fuzzy feelings—light up when people are cooperating. But they also light up if you punish someone who wasn’t generous, or watch the punishment of someone who wasn’t.

Whether these responses are universal isn’t clear: The genetic basis is obscure, and the number of people who’ve had their brain activity measured is tiny. Moreover, most economic-game playing has been done with college students; the extent to which the results hold among people from different cultures and backgrounds is relatively unknown. But the results suggest an intriguing possibility: that humans have evolved both to be good at conforming to the prevailing cultural norms and to enjoy making sure that those norms are enforced. (Perhaps this explains why schemes such as zero-tolerance policing work so well: They play into our desire to conform to the prevailing norms.)

Bringing Out the Best
If the evolutionary scenario I’ve outlined is even half right, then we should expect to find that there are genes involved in mediating friendly behavior. And there are. Consider Williams syndrome.

People who have Williams syndrome tend to have poor cardiovascular function and a small, pointed, “elfin” face. They are typically terrible with numbers but good with words. And they are weirdly, incautiously friendly and nice—and unafraid of strangers.

They are also missing a small segment of chromosome 7. Chromosomes are long strings of DNA. Most people have 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs; you get one set of 23 from your mother, and the other from your father. In Williams syndrome, one copy of chromosome 7 is normal; the other is missing a small piece. The missing piece contains about 20 genes, some of which make proteins that are important in the workings of the brain. Since one chromosome is intact, the problem isn’t a complete absence of the proteins that the genes encode, but an insufficiency. Somehow, this insufficiency results in people who are too nice. What’s more, they can’t learn not to be nice. Which is to say, someone with Williams syndrome can learn the phrase “Don’t talk to strangers” but can’t translate it into action.

Much about Williams syndrome remains mysterious. How the missing genes normally influence behavior is unclear; moreover, the environment has a role to play, too. But despite these complexities, Williams syndrome shows that friendliness has a genetic underpinning—that it is indeed as primal as ferocity. Indirectly, it shows something else as well. Most of us are able to apply brakes to friendly behavior, picking and choosing the people we are friendly to; those with Williams syndrome aren’t. They cannot modulate their behavior. This is even odder than being too friendly. And it throws into sharp relief one of the chief features of ordinary human nature: its flexibility.

One of the most important, and least remarked upon, consequences of social living is that individual behavior must be highly flexible and tailored to circumstance: An individual who does not know whom to be aggressive toward, or whom to help, is unlikely to survive for long within the group. This is true for baboons and chimpanzees. It is also true for us.

Indeed, the ability to adjust our behavior to fit a given social environment is one of our main characteristics, yet it’s so instinctive we don’t even notice it, let alone consider it worthy of remark. But its implications are profound—and hopeful. It suggests that we can, in principle, organize society so as to bring out the best facets of our complex, evolved natures.

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The coal company Murray Energy suing PUBLIC CITIZEN invokes Citizens United to claim a right meant for people.


There’s been a bizarre twist in Big Coal’s lawsuit against Public Citizen.

Last month, I alerted you that Public Citizen has been sued by a major coal company, Murray Energy, after we called out its attempts to block new rules intended to help protect workers and prevent air pollution.

Murray Energy is now claiming that Citizens United — the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has allowed unlimited election spending by billionaires and Big Business to corrupt our democracy — may also give corporations privacy rights previously belonging only to people.

In response to our motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Murray Energy is arguing that radio ads we ran about it challenging new worker safety and clean air protections “invaded its privacy” and caused it “mental anguish and emotional distress.”

Remember, Murray Energy is a corporation.

And Murray Energy sued us, not the other way around.

But in this post-Citizens United, “corporations are people” world, companies claim to have human privacy that can be invaded and human feelings that can be hurt.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for December 9.

I wish we didn’t have to devote time and money to fighting a lawsuit that is the desperate act of a member of an industry engaged in a losing battle against the tide of history.

But we do.

Can you chip in right now so that we don’t have to eat into funding for real work while we defend ourselves from this attack? Go to

As if invoking Citizens United to claim a right intended for living, breathing human beings isn’t radical enough, Murray Energy goes even further, suggesting that it is willing to make this lawsuit about the truth of climate science itself.

It could be the Scopes Monkey Trial all over again.

To recap, here’s what we’re up against:

A corporation with very deep pockets — claiming that Citizens United entitles it to rights meant for people and seemingly eager to put science on trial — is suing us.

I hope you’ll make a contribution to help us fight back and keep standing up to corporate power.

Thank you for whatever you can chip in today.


Robert Weissman
President, Public Citizen

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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs