PBS Lets Vets Themselves Describe Life Inside the War Machine

'Going to War'Going to War. PBS. Monday, May 28, 9 p.m.

Served Like a Girl. PBS. Monday, May 28, 10 p.m.

So, an easy solution to the problem of Adderall abuse: It’s called “Afghanistan.”

“I think it’s hilarious that in America now, we have this big thing about medications and being present and all this other kind of stuff,” says a military veteran in PBS’ Going to War. “Because you’re never more present than you are in wars. Soldiers have figured this out eons ago. You have to be present to get shot at. I guarantee you are locked in.”

Going to War, produced by veteran documentarian Michael Epstein (LennoNYC) and spearheaded by commentary from war correspondent Sebastian Junger (Restrepo) and Vietnam veteran and author Karl Marlantes (What It Is Like to Go to War), is a collection of interviews with vets of U.S. wars over the past 60 years, plumbing their feelings about what to many was the most significant experience of their lives.

PBS has packaged it on Memorial Day with the peculiar but ultimately endearing tale of women back from the front, Served Like a Girl, the first directorial effort by filmmaker Lysa Heslov, airing as an episode of the Independent Lens series.

The relationship between soldiers and war is never as simple as outsiders make it out to be. Some certainly hate it. But others find a human resonance in war that otherwise eludes them: A sense of purpose, of brotherhood and even, paradoxically, of security. One vet interviewed in Going to War recalls that he felt safer in Vietnam, where “you know somebody’s got your back. In the world, it’s dog eat dog.”

That is, arguably, not a typical human response. But one of the most interesting things about the documentary is the frank admission of the soldiers—both male and female—is that they aren’t typically human, or at least weren’t when they were in the military. Going to war would be impossible, they say, if the military didn’t strip them of ordinary human sensibilities and rebuild them as a hive mind.

The whole point of basic training is aimed at obliterating any sense of individuality. “The ego, it has to go,” says one vet. When that’s accomplished, drill instructors begin levying collective punishments: If one soldier’s bunk isn’t made right, his whole unit has to do punishment marches. By the end, the vets say note approvingly, all notions of personal survivability have been erased. “The moment you have self-preserving thoughts,” says one, “everything’s going to hell.”

The near universality of the experience emerges in a segment of Going to War in which vets from different units, wars and decades are all asked the same questions and their answers edited together in a stream-of-conciousness rap. First thought upon entering a war zone: “What the hell am I doing?” Second: “What’s wrong with those guys I’m replacing?” says one. “Zoned-out zombies, a mean hard look on their face.” The third, at the sound of the first bullets: “My God, we’re being shot at.”

Within the common framework, of course, the soldiers have individual stories. One of the most chilling comes from Al Grantham, who quit his bricklaying job in Alabama to join the Marines and fight in Vietnam. Knocked senseless by a North Vietnamese bullet during the battle of Hue, he was loaded onto a stack of casualties on the back of a tank and hauled outside the city. It wasn’t until he heard a medic shout, “Hey, this one’s not dead yet”—Grantham’s first thought was, “that poor sumbitch must be hurt bad”—that he realized the rest of the passengers on the tank were corpses and the poor sumbitch was him.

Yet the thinness and easy erasability of the line between life and death were not, for many of the vets, the most frightening discovery. It was the realization that they were, in some fundamental way, broken. “You’re tired of being tired, you’re scared of being scared,” remembers one.

And a former Marine describes with agonizing calm a day in Iraq when six car-bombs exploded in 15 minutes around his unit’s urban position. When the explosions finally stopped, all that could be heard were the shrills of Iraqi women cradling their dead. The Marine officer, trying to count his men and plot his next move, could barely hear himself think. “Maybe, he wondered idly, “I could kill them to shut them up.” His next shocked thought: “What am I capable of? … My God-given conscience is not going to stop me from doing these things.”

Served Like a Girl, in the early going, seems almost whimsical by comparison. It follows the contestants in the Ms. Veteran America beauty pageant, which raises money to support homeless vets.

They seem, mostly, an ordinary collection of female twentysomethings with only the occasional crackpot loose end—notably the contestant whose mother’s nipple was pecked off by a chicken. (“He had my nipple and I had his butt,” she declares without rancor.) Backstage at the pageant, much of their conversation consists of which self-administered sex toys best stand up to the rigors of desert warfare.

But as the film continues, the scars left by their combat tours start to be revealed: Broken marriages and child-custody fights. Macabre nightmares. Crippling guilt that they walked away from an IED explosion and their companions didn’t. Not all the scars are emotional. It’s not until about a third of the way through Served Like a Girl that you realized that one principal character is missing her legs. The Miss America pageant will never look quite the same to me again.

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Forbes Spread a Lie About an Influential Housing Report and Made Seattleites Stupider

The business news site Forbes.com yesterday published a column by Roger Valdez, a local lobbyist, claiming Seattle City Council members cited data from a “report that never existed” while debating a head tax to fund housing and homelessness services. The report in question, which exists and is labeled “final report,” was produced in December 2017 by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company in partnership with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

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Do education and employment programming for prisoners improve employment outcomes and reduce recidivism? – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

On Tuesday afternoon, the House passed a bipartisan prison reform bill, “The First Step Act,” which aims to reduce prisoner recidivism rates. The bill focuses largely on increasing access to, and incentives for, participation in rehabilitation programs like education and vocational training, to reduce the likelihood that an inmate will commit another crime once released. How effective are such rehabilitation programs? Will increasing prisoner access to these programs lead to greater educational attainment and more employment? To what extent would misconduct and recidivism be reduced if US prison systems could improve education and employment outcomes for prisoners?

In a new report, “The Effectiveness of Education and Employment Programming for Prisoners,” academic adviser to AEI for Criminal Justice Reform and research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections Grant Duwe addresses these questions by reviewing the available evidence on the effectiveness of education and employment programs for prisoners.

Among his key points:

  • Education Programming. Prison-based education programming includes adult basic education, which generally focuses on helping inmates earn a secondary degree, but some prison systems also provide postsecondary education opportunities. Overall, recent research has shown that education programming improves post-prison employment, reduces prison misconduct and recidivism, and delivers a strong return on investment.
  • Employment Programming. Existing research suggests that work prevents crime, and, more narrowly, recidivism. While it is important for offenders to obtain employment following their release from prison, keeping a job appears to be crucial in reducing recidivism. While the effects of employment programming have been consistently positive on post-prison employment outcomes, the effects of employment programming on recidivism have been mixed. More positive results have been observed for work release programs as opposed to prison labor opportunities.
  • Improving Employment Outcomes. Programming that addresses risk factors besides education and employment can also yield positive post-prison employment outcomes. A recent study on 15,111 offenders released from Minnesota prisons between 2007 and 2010 showed that other interventions, such as substance abuse treatment, prison visitation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, also produced positive employment outcomes. In addition, the findings showed that when prisoners participated in more interventions, it significantly improved their chances of finding a job, of working more hours, and earning higher wages.
  • Correctional Policy and Practice Improvements. There are several ways in which correctional policy and practice could be improved to achieve better education, employment, and public-safety outcomes. Based on existing evidence, policymakers could consider reinstituting Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners (to help them pay for higher education). In addition, policies should continue assistance both before and after prison release, and explore employer incentives for hiring individuals with criminal records, such as tax credits or fidelity bonds (which insure businesses for losses caused by employees’ dishonest acts).

Read the full report here.

To arrange an interview with Grant Duwe, please contact AEI Media Services at [email protected] or 202.862.5829.

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Meteor fireball over the Mediterranean Sea

This meteor event was recorded over the Mediterranean Sea on 23 May 2018 at 1:37 local time (23:37 universal time on 22 May). The event was produced by a fragment from an asteroid that hit the atmosphere at about 90000 km/h. The fireball began at an altitude of around 89 km over the sea, and ended at a height of about 19 km. The analysis of its atmospheric path shows that this was a meteorite-producing event. The meteorite would have fallen into the sea. The event was recorded by the meteor observing stations operated by the SMART Project (University of Huelva) from the astronomical observatories of Calar Alto, La Sagra, La Hita and Sevilla.

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Here’s the scratch-n-sniff stamp scents we really wish the USPS would unveil

This image released by the United States Postal Service shows a postage stamp featuring Fred Rogers from the PBS children’s television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” with his King Friday XIII puppet. The U.S. Postal Service plans to issue a new stamp on March 23 in the same Pittsburgh public television station where the program was produced.

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Congress Stands With the Blue, Against the Constitution

Last week the House of Representatives, by a margin of more than 10 to 1, approved a completely gratuitous, blatantly unconstitutional bill that would make assaulting a police officer a federal crime. The lopsided vote was a bipartisan portrait in cowardice that vividly showed how readily politicians forsake their oaths of office to keep their hold on power.

The Protect and Serve Act prescribes a prison sentence of up to 10 years for anyone who “knowingly assaults a law enforcement officer,” thereby “causing serious bodily injury,” or “attempts to do so.” Such conduct is, of course, already illegal in all 50 states, and there is no reason to think local law enforcement agencies are reluctant to arrest and prosecute people guilty of it.

Nor does the problem addressed by the bill seem to be on the rise, notwithstanding all the overheated talk of a “war on cops.” The number of law enforcement officers who are feloniously killed each year is small and volatile, but according to the FBI it dropped by 30 percent last year, and the average for the last 15 years (51) is lower than the average for the previous 15 (65).

In any event, the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to fight local crime, and the interstate angles mentioned by the bill are so oblique that they could justify federal prosecution of pretty much any assault (or attempted assault) on a cop. If the alleged assailant drove on an interstate highway or used a weapon produced in another state, for instance, that would be enough to make a federal case out of it.

“A tenuous connection to economic activity cannot transform a criminal law that has nothing to do with economic activity—and that is explicitly for the purpose of public safety—into a regulation of interstate commerce,” the House Liberty Caucus noted before the vote. “If it could, the Commerce Clause would destroy the Constitution’s design for a very limited federal role in criminal law enforcement, covering only a few crimes that are clearly federal in nature.”

The Protect and Serve Act explicitly allows federal prosecution of someone who is acquitted in state court, or who is convicted but receives a penalty the Justice Department deems too light. According to the Supreme Court’s “dual sovereignty” doctrine, such serial prosecutions do not violate the Fifth Amendment’s ban on double jeopardy, but they clearly offend the principle of fairness embodied in that rule.

These issues should be familiar to anyone who has followed the debate over federal prosecution of hate crimes, which occur when the victim is picked “because of” his “actual or perceived” membership in a protected group. The Senate version of the Protect and Serve Act takes that analogy and runs with it, targeting assaults and attempted assaults committed “because of the actual or perceived status of the [victim] as a law enforcement officer.”

Under that bill, someone who takes a swing at a guy he mistakenly thinks is a cop has committed a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison—even if he misses. This approach, which takes a page from the “Blue Lives Matter” laws that at least four states have adopted in recent years, effectively punishes people not just for their conduct but for their anti-cop attitudes, just as hate crime statutes effectively punish people for their bigoted beliefs.

In addition to these problems, the possibility of federal felony charges based on garden-variety tussles between cops and people they detain, on top of state charges for assault and resisting arrest, gives police more leeway to abuse their powers. The Protect and Serve Act would protect and serve cops who hassle innocent people or use excessive force, giving them a new legal threat to use against their victims.

With 35 brave exceptions, these objections did not faze the House, where “Defend the Constitution” was no match for “Stand With the Blue.”

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How We Defined Deviancy Down and Got a Culture of Violence

“Was there a part of you that was like, this isn’t real, this would not happen in my school?” A ghoulish ABC television reporter asked a Santa Fe High School student this, expecting a stock answer that would fit the conventional wisdom.

“No there wasn’t,” she replied coolly. “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too. So, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised. I was just scared.”

Against our will, we are getting used to the carnage. This time, a spurned fatty given to black Goth-ish clothing and video games fatally shot 10 students and teachers and injured 13 others near Houston. “Surprise!” he shouted, as he jumped from the closet into a classroom, mowing down classmates and a would-be girlfriend.

On national television last weekend, National Rifle Association president-elect Oliver North tried to move public soul-searching towards prescribed drugs and the “culture of violence,” spinning what happened at Santa Fe away from mounting pressure for more gun restrictions. But what does this inadequate phrase even mean? Does North understand what he’s talking about?

“We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” said Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor of education and sociology and then U.S. senator, in his celebrated 1993 American Scholar essay “Defining Deviancy Down.” The nation had been “redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard,” Moynihan wrote.

Altruism was one broad public response to deepening social pathology, marked by denial, kindness, pity, or guilt, he noted, using as an example the closing of mental hospitals and rise of the homeless. Opportunism, he continued, was a second response, anticipating the advancement of government programs and vast, often lucrative social service, therapy, and diversity franchises, all of which would be “jeopardized if any serious effort were made to reduce the deviancy in question.”

This self-interest led to “assorted strategies for redefining the behavior in question as not all that deviant, really,” and to a third response, normalization, adapting to crime and violence, getting used to widespread coarseness and nihilism.

Moynihan wrote his essay 25 years ago. The insane and wayward—increasingly freed from stigma and shame—today terrify functional America even more so than in his time, on account of their shamelessness as well as increasing prevalence.

Homicidal gun violence is to a large degree a ghetto affair. Illegal and unlicensed handguns are the nation’s major killing machine. School menace is embodied in the angry lout in the suburban high school parking lot and seething introvert in the darkened bedroom. His ear buds are on, and his smartphone is turned up full-blast to hate rap.

Music is a leading indicator of the “culture of violence.” Primer 55’s Introduction to Mayhem, for example, produced in 2000, is a heavy metal classic from the Island Def Jam Music Group, standard teenage boy fare. The cuts include “Dose,” “The Big Fuck You,” “Violence,” “Hate,” “Tripinthehead,” “Loose,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “Supa Freak Love,” “Chaos,” “Pigs,” “Stain,” and “Revolution.”

The “culture of violence” is box office. And if Island Def Jam has been selling socio-cultural poison like this for two decades, isn’t legendary record producer and Malibu guru Rick Rubin, 55, who is worth an estimated $250 million, worthy of at least disgrace, not Hollywood and public adulation?

Violent music, video games, and depraved entertainment are cash machines. Electronic tools provide America’s youth—and their parents—with easy, possibly irresistible portals to the dark side. The weakening of families and religion-based communities contribute to the void. So do social media and porn. Unstable adolescents, if they are identified and treated, get medicated on the chance that anti-depressants or uppers will do their mood magic. Drugs—legal and illegal and everything in between—are palliatives for Americans of all ages.

Sometimes there’s official neglect or bad local policy, as with Parkland student Nicholas Cruz. But most educators are doing their best. The really damaged kids, the heartbreakers and the throwaways, the deranged and the dangerous, are given over to social workers, foster parents, or the police, but under the circumstances no one expects much to come from the interventions.

I wasn’t surprised, the Santa Fe High School student said. I was just scared. And, really, shouldn’t we all be feeling the same way?

Gilbert T. Sewall is co-author of After Hiroshima: The United States Since 1945 and editor of The Eighties: A Reader.

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Republicans, Democrats disagree about the point of higher education – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

The think tank New America has a new report out on Americans’ perceptions of higher education. Researchers Ernest Ezeugo, Rachel Fishman, and Sophie Nguyen conducted a survey of American adults in partnership with polling firm Ipsos that solicited respondents’ views on the value and purpose of college. The report broke down survey results by political party, providing some fascinating insights at a time of high political polarization.

On many issues, Republicans and Democrats are in agreement. But on at least one point—how and why higher education should be funded—a big gulf exists between the two parties.

The New America survey asked respondents to choose which of two alternative views more closely aligned with their own. Most Democrats (76%) indicated that “the government should fund higher education because it is good for society,” while a slight majority of Republicans (52%) said that “students should fund their own education because it is a personal benefit.”

Source: New America, “Varying Degrees 2018.”

The disparity in opinions between the two parties reveals a fundamental disagreement about the point of higher education. Democrats seem to believe that more people going to college generates large benefits even for those who don’t enroll. These social benefits dwarf individual students’ returns. Therefore, the government should step in to make sure there’s sufficient investment in higher education—perhaps even bearing the full cost.

Republicans, by contrast, seem to believe that most of the benefit of college is private, reflected in the earnings premium graduates enjoy over their less-educated peers. Graduates who owe their high earnings to education should shoulder the cost. After all, why should taxpayers who don’t have college degrees pay to support the high wages of people who do?

Interestingly, people with and without college degrees barely differed on this question. Among both college graduates and people with a high school degree or less, roughly six in ten respondents viewed higher education as a social good to be funded by taxpayers. (Roughly three in ten respondents in both groups took the opposite view.) Other demographic breakdowns such as race and income produced just moderate divides on the issue. Nothing predicts your views on the point of higher education quite as well as your political party.

Both Democrats and Republicans can claim research on their side; separate economic studies have found that higher education creates both social benefits and individual returns. Of course, there are arguments against both positions as well. More higher education may create negative externalities such as degree inflation that cancel out the social benefits. In addition, high private returns to college may not be sustainable over the long term; increases in the supply of college graduates may eventually push down their wages.

The wording of New America’s survey question nudged respondents to pick a side, but it’s likely that many respondents of both parties believe that higher education generates both social and individual returns. In that case, the appropriate funding structure would require students to pay tuition, but defray it with partial government subsidies. That happens to be exactly the system we have now.

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