Archive

April 6th, 2016

A sickening spotlight on my hometown

    Like many longtime reporters, I celebrated the Oscar victory for "Spotlight" and the fearless journalism that exposed the Catholic Church's clergy sex abuse scandal.

    I would soon see the story, and the scandal, from a very different perspective.

    Two days after the Oscar ceremony, news broke about another widespread church coverup. I found myself poring over a grand jury report outlining in sickening detail the abuse of hundreds of children by at least 50 priests and religious leaders in western Pennsylvania's Altoona-Johnstown Diocese - in my hometown.

    I moved away long ago, but I still have family there. I visit regularly, and my mom was a devoted parish volunteer during her lifetime. I figured I might recognize a few of the accused or some of the churches. I quickly realized things stretched far beyond that.

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A basic income is smarter than a minimum wage

    Just as Britain raises its minimum wage and as Bernie Sanders's demands for a 50 percent increase in minimum pay keep winning him votes in the U.S., some politicians in one of the world's most socialist countries, Sweden, are in favor of going in the opposite direction. They could be right, especially if nations can find a way to unhitch basic subsistence from work.

    Sweden, along with some other countries with big social safety nets -- Denmark, Norway, Switzerland -- doesn't have a legally mandated minimum wage. Instead, the minimum salary is collectively bargained. The country's strong unions and socially responsible employers make sure that, at 20,000 kronor ($2,468) per month, it reaches about 64 percent of the average wage -- more than twice the U.S. rate. Now, though, three opposition parties in the Swedish parliament are in favor of legislating to lower it as a way to adjust for the arrival of an army of immigrants with relatively low skills.

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When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Revisited

    Let’s start with a quiz. When researchers sent young whites and blacks out to interview for low-wage jobs in New York City armed with equivalent résumés, the result was:

    A) Whites and blacks were hired at similar rates.

    B) Blacks had a modest edge because of affirmative action.

    C) Whites were twice as likely to get callbacks.

    The answer is C, and a black applicant with a clean criminal record did no better than a white applicant who was said to have just been released from 18 months in prison.

    A majority of whites believe that job opportunities are equal for whites and blacks, according to a PBS poll, but rigorous studies show that just isn’t so.

    Back in 2014, I did a series of columns called “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” to draw attention to inequities, and I’m revisiting it because public attention to racial disparities seems to be flagging even as the issues are as grave as ever.

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Trump Does It His Way

    You could hear how hard it was for Donald Trump to say the words.

    “Yeah, it was a mistake,” he said, sounding a bit chastened. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have sent it.”

    I was telling him he lost my sister’s vote when he retweeted a seriously unflattering photo of the pretty Heidi Cruz next to a glam shot of his wife, Melania.

    He repeated his contention that he didn’t view the Heidi shot “necessarily as negative.” But I stopped him, saying it was clearly meant to be nasty.

    Trump also got into his schoolyard excuse of “he did it first” and “that wasn’t nice,” insisting that Ted Cruz wrote the words on the digital ad put up by an anti-Trump group aimed at Utah Mormons; it showed Melania in a 2000 British GQ shot posing provocatively and suggested that it was not first-ladylike. Cruz denies any involvement.

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To fight our enemies, we must understand them

    On Easter morning, the congregation at the historic St. Mary's Episcopal Church in the District of Columbia's Foggy Bottom community prayed for those caught up in tragedies in Brussels and Ivory Coast.

    The toll of the onslaughts was great.

    Claimed by the Islamic State, the March 22 bombings at the airport and metro station in Brussels left at least 35 dead, including three attackers, and more than 300 injured.

    The March 13 attack at an Ivory Coast beach resort in Grand-Bassam left 22 dead, including six gunmen, two soldiers and 14 civilians. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility.

    The St. Mary's congregation prayed for those who lost lives, those working to save lives, those worried for people they love and those who will see their loved ones no longer. They prayed for the Lord to have mercy upon them.

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The Republicans’ Gay Freakout

    Our infrastructure is inexcusable, much of our public education is miserable and one of our leading presidential candidates is a know-nothing, say-anything egomaniac who yanks harder every day at the tattered fabric of civil discourse and fundamental decency in this country.

    But let’s by all means worry about the gays! Let’s make sure they know their place. Keep them in check and all else falls into line, or at least America notches one victory amid so many defeats.

    That must be the thinking behind Republican efforts to push through so-called religious liberty laws and other legislation — most egregiously in North Carolina — that excuse and legitimize anti-gay discrimination. They’re cynical distractions. Politically opportunistic sideshows.

    And the Republicans who are promoting them are playing a short game, not a long one, by refusing to acknowledge a clear movement in our society toward LGBT equality, a trajectory with only one shape and only one destination.

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Black people have economic leverage

    When several black celebrities refused to attend the Academy Awards this year, their protest was initially dismissed as a futile gesture. Yet their boycott succeeded in exposing Hollywood's subtle but deeply ingrained form of racism.

    There's a lesson to be learned in what the protest of a prominent few can achieve for the many.

    In the past year, Black Lives Matter activists have taken to the streets of Boston, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and other urban centers to protest the extrajudicial executions of young black men by police who shoot first and fabricate later.

    But, astonishingly, once the blue-curtain coverup gets lifted and the lies are exposed, many mayors and other officials - with the notable exceptions of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton - express a shallow remorse and offer hollow promises to improve transparency and accountability. Little changes. Black bodies continue to pile up.

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April 5th

A year later, no justice for Farkhunda

    On March 19, 2015, Farkhunda Malikzada was murdered by a mob of angry Afghan men because a local religious cleric had falsely accused her of burning the Quran. The crowd threw stones at her, drove over her body, and set her on fire. On the day she died, Farkhunda had no protection from the state or those around her. The struggle to achieve justice for her has become a sign of the struggle to protect the rights of women throughout Afghanistan. Like many Afghan activists, I have spent the last year attending protests and writing about and working with local organizations to advocate for justice for Farkhunda. When we began speaking out along with thousands of Afghans around the world, we hoped that Farkhunda's murderers would be brought to justice and that her case would set a precedent for the legal system to protect the safety and rights of Afghan women. But a year later, the lack of justice has had significant implications for women's rights in Afghanistan, where the majority of perpetrators of violence against women never face legal repercussions. The government's failure to maintain justice has emboldened criminals and left Afghan women more vulnerable to violence.

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Why I'm teaching my 6-year-old to meditate

    My teenage years weren't the easiest. I struggled with popularity (or lack thereof), bad skin and what I was convinced at the time was irreparable heartbreak. No one understood me - especially not my parents. I was 15 when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit the radio, and while I didn't exactly understand the lyrics, I was convinced Kurt Cobain had stumbled across my own indefinable, adolescent malaise.

    In many ways, however, I was lucky. I had a few close friends and together we were a teenage army, protecting each other against rivals, rebuilding each other after battles at home. When alone, I had other coping mechanisms: I wrote maudlin poetry, read constantly, and mass-generated mix tapes to match my moods. Perhaps more important were the things I didn't have: namely, social media and the Internet. Public humiliation had its limits. Personal failures had a shelf life.

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US leads the world in advancing women's soccer, but it can do much better

    Both sides in the U.S. women's soccer team's labor dispute, which entered the national spotlight Thursday with a wage discrimination claim filed by five players, will make their cases in the courts of law and public opinion in the coming weeks and months. There will be a blizzard of numbers, but this much is clear:

    The U.S. Soccer Federation has been very good to the women's game.

    It also can do a whole lot better.

    A quarter-century ago, when most of the world sneered at women's soccer, the USSF created platforms for both young female players just looking to play and elite players looking to conquer the world. Was it equal to efforts for men's soccer? No way. But it was a start.

    Hosting the 1999 Women's World Cup and, against common sense, staging the games in large stadiums, turned a competition that averaged 4,315 fans per game four years earlier in Sweden into a global event. Attendance grew by ninefold and, for the final at the sold-out Rose Bowl, the largest crowd for a women's sporting event in global history turned out.

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