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    Charlie Hebdo

    Truthout - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 10:26

    Charlie Hebdo

    Truthout - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 10:26

    France Arrests a Comedian For His Facebook Comments, Showing the Sham of the West’s “Free Speech” Celebration

    The Intercept - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 10:15

    Forty-eight hours after hosting a massive march under the banner of free expression, France opened a criminal investigation of a controversial French comedian for a Facebook post he wrote about the Charlie Hebdo attack, and then this morning, arrested him for that post on charges of “defending terrorism.” The comedian, Dieudonné (above), previously sought elective office in France on what he called an “anti-Zionist” platform, has had his show banned by numerous government officials in cities throughout France, and has been criminally prosecuted several times before for expressing ideas banned in that country.

    The apparently criminal viewpoint he posted on Facebook declared: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” Investigators concluded that this was intended to mock the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan and express support for the perpetrator of the Paris supermarket killings (whose last name was “Coulibaly”). Expressing that opinion is evidently a crime in the Republic of Liberté, which prides itself on a line of 20th Century intellectuals – from Sartre and Genet to Foucault and Derrida – whose hallmark was leaving no orthodoxy or convention unmolested, no matter how sacred.

    Since that glorious “free speech” march, France has reportedly opened 54 criminal cases for “condoning terrorism.” AP reported this morning that “France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism.”

    As pernicious as this arrest and related “crackdown” on some speech obviously is, it provides a critical value: namely, it underscores the utter scam that was this week’s celebration of free speech in the west. The day before the Charlie Hebdo attack, I coincidentally documented the multiple cases in the west – including in the U.S. – where Muslims have been prosecuted and even imprisoned for their political speech. Vanishingly few of this week’s bold free expression mavens have ever uttered a peep of protest about any of those cases – either before the Charlie Hebdo attack or since. That’s because “free speech,” in the hands of many westerners, actually means: it is vital that the ideas I like be protected, and the right to offend groups I dislike be cherished; anything else is fair game.

    It is certainly true that many of Dieudonné’s views and statements are noxious, although he and his supporters insist that they are “satire” and all in good humor. In that regard, the controversy they provoke is similar to the now-much-beloved Charlie Hebdo cartoons (one French leftist insists the cartoonists were mocking rather than adopting racism and bigotry, but Olivier Cyran, a former writer at the magazine who resigned in 2001, wrote a powerful 2013 letter with ample documentation condemning Charlie Hebdo for descending in the post-9/11 era into full-scale, obsessive anti-Muslim bigotry).

    Despite the obvious threat to free speech posed by this arrest, it is inconceivable that any mainstream western media figures would start tweeting “#JeSuisDieudonné” or would upload photographs of themselves performing his ugly Nazi-evoking arm gesture in “solidarity” with his free speech rights. That’s true even if he were murdered for his ideas rather than “merely” arrested and prosecuted for them. That’s because last week’s celebration of the Hebdo cartoonists (well beyond mourning their horrifically unjust murders) was at least as much about approval for their anti-Muslim messages as it was about the free speech rights that were invoked in their support – at least as much.

    The vast bulk of the stirring “free speech” tributes over the last week have been little more than an attempt to protect and venerate speech that degrades disfavored groups while rendering off-limits speech that does the same to favored groups, all deceitfully masquerading as lofty principles of liberty. In response to my article containing anti-Jewish cartoons on Monday – which I posted to demonstrate the utter selectivity and inauthenticity of this newfound adoration of offensive speech – I was subjected to endless contortions justifying why anti-Muslim speech is perfectly great and noble while anti-Jewish speech is hideously offensive and evil (the most frequently invoked distinction – “Jews are a race/ethnicity while Muslims aren’t” – would come as a huge surprise to the world’s Asian, black, Latino and white Jews, as well as to those who identify as “Muslim” as part of their cultural identity even though they don’t pray five times a day). As always: it’s free speech if it involves ideas I like or attacks groups I dislike, but it’s something different when I’m the one who is offended.

    Think about the “defending terrorism” criminal offense for which Dieudonné has been arrested. Should it really be a criminal offense – causing someone to be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned – to say something along these lines: western countries like France have been bringing violence for so long to Muslims in their countries that I now believe it’s justifiable to bring violence to France as a means of making them stop? If you want “terrorism defenses” like that to be criminally prosecuted (as opposed to societally shunned), how about those who justify, cheer for and glorify the invasion and destruction of Iraq, with its “Shock and Awe” slogan signifying an intent to terrorize the civilian population into submission and its monstrous tactics in Fallujah? Or how about the psychotic calls from a Fox News host, when discussing Muslims radicals, to “kill them ALL.” Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred – other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?

    For those interested, my comprehensive argument against all “hate speech” laws and other attempts to exploit the law to police political discourse is here. That essay, notably, was written to denounce a proposal by a French minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, to force Twitter to work with the French government to delete tweets which officials like this minister (and future unknown ministers) deem “hateful.” France is about as legitimate a symbol of free expression as Charlie Hebdo, which fired one of its writers in 2009 for a single supposedly anti-Semitic sentence in the midst of publishing an orgy of anti-Muslim (not just anti-Islam) content. This week’s celebration of France – and the gaggle of tyrannical leaders who joined it – had little to do with free speech and much to do with suppressing ideas they dislike while venerating ideas they prefer.

    Perhaps the most intellectually corrupted figure in this regard is, unsurprisingly, France’s most celebrated (and easily the world’s most overrated) public intellectual, the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. He demands criminal suppression of anything smacking of anti-Jewish views (he called for Dieudonné’s shows to be banned (“I don’t understand why anyone even sees the need for debate”) and supported the 2009 firing of the Charlie Hebdo writer for a speech offense against Jews), while shamelessly parading around all last week as the Churchillian champion of free expression when it comes to anti-Muslim cartoons.

    But that, inevitably, is precisely the goal, and the effect, of laws that criminalize certain ideas and those who support such laws: to codify a system where the views they like are sanctified and the groups to which they belong protected. The views and groups they most dislike – and only them – are fair game for oppression and degradation.

    The arrest of this French comedian so soon after the epic Paris free speech march underscores this point more powerfully than anything I could have written about the selectivity and fraud of this week’s “free speech” parade. It also shows – yet again – why those who want to criminalize the ideas they most dislike are at least as dangerous and tyrannical as the ideas they target: at least.

    Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

    Correction: This post originally identified Dieudonné as Muslim. That was in error, and the article has been edited to reflect that correction.

    The post France Arrests a Comedian For His Facebook Comments, Showing the Sham of the West’s “Free Speech” Celebration appeared first on The Intercept.

    The Top 10 Insights From the "Science of a Meaningful Life" in 2014

    Truthout - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 10:06

    It’s time once again for our favorite year-end ritual here at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center: Our annual list of the top scientific insights produced by the study of happiness, altruism, mindfulness, gratitude—what we call “the science of a meaningful life.”

    We found that this year, the science of a meaningful life yielded many new insights about the relationship between our inner and outer lives. Cultivating mindfulness can make us more aware of knee-jerk prejudice against people who are different from us; believing that empathy is a skill helps overcome barriers to taking another person’s perspective; concern for others, even for animals, can move people to action for the greater good more quickly than focusing on ourselves.

    But this year we also learned more about how to cultivate pro-social skills like gratitude—and we discovered how those skills can yield far-reaching benefits to our mental and physical well-being, and even to our pocketbooks.

    With input from our staff, faculty, and some of the leading outside experts in our field, here are the 10 findings from 2014 that we anticipate will have an impact on both scientific research and on public debate for years to come.

    Mindfulness can reduce racial prejudice—and possibly its effects on victims.

    Racial bias in policing is at the forefront of our national news. So it was heartening this year to see a study that found bias could be reduced through training in mindfulness—the nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and surroundings.

    Adam Lueke and Brian Gibson of Central Michigan University looked at how instructing white college students in mindfulness would affect their “implicit bias”—or unconscious negative reactions—to black faces and faces of older people. After listening to a 10-minute mindfulness audiotape, students were significantly less likely to automatically pair negative descriptive words with black and elderly faces than were those in a control group—a finding that could be important for policing, which often involves split-second assessments of people.

    Why the connection between mindfulness and bias? Mindfulness has the power to interrupt the link between past experience and impulsive responding, the authors speculate. This ability to be more discerning may explain why another study this year found that people who were high in mindfulness were less likely to sink into depression following experiences of discrimination.

    As we reported back in 2009, numerous programs have successfully helped officers become aware of their own unconscious biases. But by specifically looking at the effects of mindfulness training—even just 10 minutes’ worth—these new studies point to innovative techniques that might help prevent fatal mistakes from being made in the future.

    Gratitude makes us smarter in how we spend money.

    For years, Greater Good has been reporting on the social, psychological, and physical benefits of gratitude. This year, research suggested that there might be profound economic benefits to a grateful mindset as well—which might pay emotional dividends down the line.

    In one study, published in Psychological Science, researchers asked participants how much money they’d be willing to forgo in the present in order to receive a greater sum in the future—a measure of their self-control and financial patience. People prompted to feel grateful were willing to pass up significantly more cash than were people not feeling grateful, even if those less-grateful people were feeling other positive emotions. For instance, happy people were willing to sacrifice $100 in the future (one year later) in order to receive $18 in the present, but grateful people preferred to receive the larger, future payment; they only gave up that $100 when the amount offered to them right away reached $30.

    The results suggest that gratitude reduces “excessive economic impatience” and strengthens self-control and the ability to delay gratification, according to the authors. This finding challenges the long-held notion that we must rein in our emotions in order to make smarter spending decisions; instead, it seems that consciously counting our blessings can serve our long-term economic interests.

    Another study published this year, in Personality and Individual Differences, suggests that gratitude can guide us toward better decisions about what we actually choose to spend our money on. Participants who were more materialistic—meaning that they place a lot of importance on acquiring material possessions—reported lower feelings of gratitude and lower satisfaction with life. In fact, the researchers determined that materialists feel less satisfied with their lives mainly because they experience less gratitude. Their findings help to explain why, according to much previous research, materialistic people are less happy.

    Prior research has also found that less happy people make more materialistic purchases, creating a vicious cycle. But the authors of this new study argue that gratitude can help break this cycle. Based on their results, they suggest that boosting one’s level of gratitude might reduce materialism and its negative effects on happiness.

    So gratitude might not only encourage financial decisions that are better for our long-term economic health but better for our long-term emotional health as well.

    It’s possible to teach gratitude to young children, with lasting effects.

    One of parents’ biggest fears is that their child will become an entitled brat; one of their biggest questions is what they can do to prevent that.

    This year research pointed to an answer. In a study published in School Psychology Review, psychologists Jeffrey Froh, Giacomo Bono, and their colleagues presented the encouraging results of a curriculum they developed to teach gratitude to elementary school students.

    Instead of just lecturing about the importance of gratitude, the curriculum encourages kids to think about something nice that another person did for them, and to see that kindness as a “gift.” Through the curriculum, the students reflect on the value of the gift, the cost incurred by the person who gave it, and the kind intentions that motivated the gift.

    The curriculum was taught to 8-11 year olds for half an hour every day for a week—and the kids started to show increases in gratitude just two days after the curriculum ended. When Froh and Bono offered the curriculum once a week for five weeks, they found that it increased gratitude and other positive emotions for at least five months.

    Dozens of previous studies—many of which we have covered on Greater Good—have suggested that gratitude can combat feelings of entitlement and foster happiness. But only a small handful of these studies have examined the effects of gratitude on children, and the kids in Froh and Bono’s study were the youngest ever involved in a study of a gratitude program.

    Their results offer hope that it’s actually possible to nurture lasting gratitude—and happiness—in children from the time they’re young. And their curriculum provides parents and teachers with concrete guidelines for achieving that goal.

    Having more variety in our emotions—positive or negative—can make us happier and healthier.

    Is the route to happiness simply to feel more positive emotion and less negative emotion? Our top insights from 2013 cast some doubt on that view, and an even stronger rebuttal emerged this year in a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

    Researchers from four different countries and six different institutions—including Yale University and Harvard Business School—measured participants’ positive emotions (like amusement, awe, and gratitude) and negative ones (like anger, anxiety, and sadness). They not only looked at the level of these emotions but also their variety and abundance—what the researchers call “emodiversity.”

    Their first study surveyed over 35,000 French speakers and found that emodiversity is related to less depression. This was the case for all types of emodiversity: positive (experiencing many different positive emotions), negative (many different negative emotions), and general (a mix of both positive and negative emotions). In fact, people high in emodiversity were less likely to be depressed than people high in positive emotion alone.

    With almost 1,300 Belgian participants, the second study linked emodiversity to less medication use, lower government health care costs, and fewer doctor visits and days spent in the hospital. It was also related to better diet, exercise, and smoking habits. Surprisingly, the effect of emodiversity on physical health was about as strong as the effects of positive or negative emotion alone. 

    The message? Emotional monotony is a drag, so we may be better off mentally and physically if we seek out and embrace a variety of emotional experiences—even the negative ones.

    Natural selection favors happy people, which is why there are so many of them.

    If you subscribe to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ view of life as “nasty, brutish, and short”—as many people do—you’d naturally expect humans to live a pretty miserable existence. But many studies from around the world have suggested that, on average, humans’ default emotional state is to be pretty happy, regardless of their life circumstances—a phenomenon researchers call “positive mood offset.”

    This year, a massive review of the research on happiness set out to explore “Why People Are in a Generally Good Mood”; the study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, was led by Ed Diener, a pioneer in the science of happiness.

    Given the benefits they find to be strongly associated with happiness, the researchers conclude that the ubiquity of happiness is a product of human evolution. Why? Because many of the chief benefits of happiness—including better health, longer lives, greater fertility, higher income, and more sociability—increase a person’s chances of passing his or her genes to the next generation.

    “People are happy most of the time because they are descended from ancestors who were happier and engaged in fitness-maximizing behavior more frequently than their neighbors who were less happy,” they write.

    In other words, natural selection favors happy people, leaving us with more of them today.

    Of course, though based on an especially comprehensive review of happiness research, Diener and his colleagues stress that this is just a hypothesis—albeit one worth subjecting to future study. “Although our opposable thumbs, big brains, and upright posture have all received in-depth attention and study as reasons for human [evolutionary] success,” they write, “it is time to consider how positive mood offset might have also contributed.”

    Activities from positive psychology don’t just make happy people happier—they can also help alleviate suffering.

    This idea that happiness might arise from natural selection suggests that, perhaps, you’re either born happy or you’re not. But research on positive psychology activities—like keeping a gratitude journal or meditating regularly—has offered compelling evidence that it’s possible to cultivate happiness over time. What’s more, during the past year, we saw many different papers suggest that positive activities aren’t just for positive people, and that negative conditions aren’t just alleviated by targeting negative influences. Instead, nurturing positive skills can help pull people out of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.

    The key, it seems, lies in the way these skills enhance relationships. One study found that 11 people who had gone through an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy course became less stressed about relationships with friends, family, and coworkers—which, in turn, helped prevent future episodes of depression.

    A different study in the July issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders looked at the impact of another positive behavior, forgiveness, on reducing suicidal thoughts in impoverished, rural people. The researchers found that participants’ ability to forgive themselves and others seemed closely associated with the will to keep on living. They also found that forgiveness seemed to reduce participants’ feelings of being a burden to others, and people who were able to forgive themselves for being a burden to others were much less suicidal. Yet another study found that keeping a journal about gratitude or kindness helped people who were on waiting lists to receive psychological counseling.

    The upshot of this research is that there are likely far-reaching applications of the skills targeted by positive psychology. As researchers move forward in understanding how we can foster human strengths and use them to save lives, clinicians and teachers can put these insights to use in real-world settings.

    People with a “growth mindset” are more likely to overcome barriers to empathy.

    Just as many people believe that you’re either naturally happy or you’re not, so many believe that you’re either naturally empathic or you’re not. The trouble with this “fixed mindset” about empathy is that the ability to sense the feelings or take the perspective of others is very sensitive to situational forces, such as when we are stressed or overwhelmed by other people’s needs. Some research is even suggesting that stressed-out, hyper-connected Americans are becoming less and less empathic.

    According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology, our beliefs about empathy are critical to fostering it. Stanford University researchers recruited 75 participants, asking them to pick one of these two statements as being true: “In general, people cannot change how empathic a person they are.” vs. “In general, people can change how empathic a person they are.” Across five studies, the researchers then observed how the participants responded in situations where empathy was challenging but “crucial to positive social outcomes,” such as pairing the participant with someone who had different political views.

    In the final study, researchers told half of the participants that they had failed a diagnostic test of emotional understanding and that the other half succeeded. Then they gave participants a chance to go through exercises that might improve their empathy—theorizing that “participants induced to have a malleable, as opposed to fixed, theory of empathy would be more likely to capitalize on this opportunity to develop their empathic abilities.”

    This turned out to be true. People primed to see empathy as a skill—in other words, people given a “growth mindset” about empathy, seeing it as something one can build through practice—were more likely to “stretch themselves to overcome their limitations.” What’s more, across all of their studies, they found that people who believe empathy can be developed expended greater empathic effort in challenging contexts than did people who believe empathy is fixed, suggesting that our beliefs about ourselves are key to expanding empathy on both individual and societal levels.

    This insight echoes a trend we highlighted in last year’s list of top scientific insights: Anyone can cultivate empathic skills—even psychopaths. And in fact, another study this year from the United Kingdom extended those findings to narcissists, finding that even they could be coached into taking another person’s perspective.

    To get people to take action against climate change, talk to them about birds.

    Imagine what might happen in the future if climate change goes unchecked. Are you more likely to take action to prevent that outcome if you feel like it is a threat to humans? Or are you more likely to reduce your carbon footprint if you fear for the safety of other animals, like birds? Well, according to a group of scientists at Cornell University, birds may be the answer.

    The researchers surveyed 3,546 people (largely bird watchers) to evaluate how their willingness to engage in climate-friendly actions might be affected by how the problem of climate change is described to them. Specifically, respondents were presented with these four statements and, after each, asked about their willingness to lessen their carbon footprint:

    1. Climate change is a danger to people.
    2. Climate change is a danger to birds.
    3. If a large number of Americans do something small to reduce their use of fossil fuels, it would have a large impact on our national carbon footprint.
    4. If a large number of Americans do something small to reduce their use of fossil fuels, it would have a large impact on our national carbon footprint—and be of benefit to future generations.

    As expected, the findings revealed that the positive framing of the climate problem (numbers 3 and 4) increased people’s willingness to take action. Numerous earlier studies have shown that positive messages—such as those that emphasize the collective impact of carbon-cutting measures—are generally more effective than fear-based messages. But responses to the two fear-based messages (numbers 1 and 2) revealed a surprise: Invoking a threat to humans led to no significant impact on the respondents’ willingness to reduce their carbon footprint—while invoking a threat to birds led to the most significant change of all.

    Why would a threat to birds provoke more willingness to act than a threat to humans? One theory suggests that threats to humans cause us to think about death, which activates defenses against the anxiety caused by confronting our own mortality. Researcher Janis Dickson says the findings do point to a potentially important lesson for educators and communicators: Combining a sense of empowerment (by reminding people of our collective impact) with compassion (for non-human others) can help cultivate the psychological resilience needed to overcome denial and inaction.

    Feelings of well-being might spur extraordinary acts of altruism.

    What would motivate someone to donate a kidney to someone they have never met?

    study published in the journal Psychological Science looked at this act of extreme altruism in all 50 states, cross-referencing donations with data on each state’s levels of “well-being,” which refers to people’s levels of life satisfaction, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior (e.g., exercise, good diet), job satisfaction, and ability to meet their basic needs like food and safety. By analyzing statewide data, the Georgetown University researchers hoped to find large-scale trends that might not be apparent from looking at individual cases.

    Their efforts paid off. Results showed that states with high levels of well-being tended to have higher rates of “altruistic” kidney donation—kidney donation to a stranger. Indeed, the researchers found that even when controlling for key factors such as education, race, age, income, and religiosity, a state’s level of well-being still significantly predicted donation rates. Furthermore, analyses combining states into larger geographical regions confirmed that as well-being increases, so do rates of kidney donation to strangers. And because altruistic kidney donation happens relatively rarely, the researchers were able to rule out the possibility that these altruistic acts caused widespread increases in happiness rather than the other way around.

    So while prior research has suggested that performing altruistic acts fosters feelings of happiness, this important study adds a new twist: Feelings of happiness might actually spur extraordinary acts of altruism. This insight has real-world implications. As the researchers write, “Policies that promote well-being may help to generate a virtuous circle, whereby increases in well-being promote altruism that, in turn, increases well-being. Such a cycle holds the promise of creating a ‘sustainable happiness’ with broad benefits for altruists, their beneficiaries, and society at large.”

    Extreme altruism is motivated by intuition—our compassionate instincts.

    While the previous insight relied upon big-picture aggregate data to suggest how social context might influence altruistic acts, this year the same Georgetown University team that conducted that study went deeper into the individual human mind to understand the psychology of altruism. Past research has identified patterns of brain activity related to extreme anti-social behavior, but this new study tried to locate the neural mechanisms that might support extreme pro-social tendencies.

    Researchers Kristin M. Brethel-Haurwitz and Abigail A. Marsh used brain imaging technology to map the brains of kidney donors, who make an extraordinary sacrifice for total strangers; they then compared these brain images with those of psychopaths and people who did not show extremes on either side of the pro-social divide. They found that the brains of extraordinary altruists had slightly larger right amygdalae—a brain area associated with a fearful response—and they reacted very strongly to fearful facial expressions—the exact opposite of psychopaths.

    How might these different brain structures show up in behavior? Another research team, this one at Yale University, examined the testimony of Carnegie Hero Medal Recipients, who all risked their lives to save others. The researchers found that recipients’ decisions to help were “overwhelmingly dominated by intuition” and “significantly more intuitive than a set of control statements describing deliberative decision-making.” This remained true even when researchers took into account that the medal winners had enough time to think before they acted, suggesting that the gut-level decision overrode any deliberative process.

    Taken together, these findings from Yale and Georgetown reveal how extreme, heroic acts of altruism might be motivated by deeply-rooted, even instinctive, psychological processes.

    To what degree are these different brain structures—and the instincts that spring from them—shaped by nature or nurture? That’s a question that research will need to tackle in 2015!

    The Top Ten Insights from the "Science of a Meaningful Life" in 2014

    Truthout - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 10:06

    It’s time once again for our favorite year-end ritual here at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center: Our annual list of the top scientific insights produced by the study of happiness, altruism, mindfulness, gratitude—what we call “the science of a meaningful life.”

    We found that this year, the science of a meaningful life yielded many new insights about the relationship between our inner and outer lives. Cultivating mindfulness can make us more aware of knee-jerk prejudice against people who are different from us; believing that empathy is a skill helps overcome barriers to taking another person’s perspective; concern for others, even for animals, can move people to action for the greater good more quickly than focusing on ourselves.

    But this year we also learned more about how to cultivate pro-social skills like gratitude—and we discovered how those skills can yield far-reaching benefits to our mental and physical well-being, and even to our pocketbooks.

    With input from our staff, faculty, and some of the leading outside experts in our field, here are the 10 findings from 2014 that we anticipate will have an impact on both scientific research and on public debate for years to come.

    Mindfulness can reduce racial prejudice—and possibly its effects on victims.

    Racial bias in policing is at the forefront of our national news. So it was heartening this year to see a study that found bias could be reduced through training in mindfulness—the nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and surroundings.

    Adam Lueke and Brian Gibson of Central Michigan University looked at how instructing white college students in mindfulness would affect their “implicit bias”—or unconscious negative reactions—to black faces and faces of older people. After listening to a 10-minute mindfulness audiotape, students were significantly less likely to automatically pair negative descriptive words with black and elderly faces than were those in a control group—a finding that could be important for policing, which often involves split-second assessments of people.

    Why the connection between mindfulness and bias? Mindfulness has the power to interrupt the link between past experience and impulsive responding, the authors speculate. This ability to be more discerning may explain why another study this year found that people who were high in mindfulness were less likely to sink into depression following experiences of discrimination.

    As we reported back in 2009, numerous programs have successfully helped officers become aware of their own unconscious biases. But by specifically looking at the effects of mindfulness training—even just 10 minutes’ worth—these new studies point to innovative techniques that might help prevent fatal mistakes from being made in the future.

    Gratitude makes us smarter in how we spend money.

    For years, Greater Good has been reporting on the social, psychological, and physical benefits of gratitude. This year, research suggested that there might be profound economic benefits to a grateful mindset as well—which might pay emotional dividends down the line.

    In one study, published in Psychological Science, researchers asked participants how much money they’d be willing to forgo in the present in order to receive a greater sum in the future—a measure of their self-control and financial patience. People prompted to feel grateful were willing to pass up significantly more cash than were people not feeling grateful, even if those less-grateful people were feeling other positive emotions. For instance, happy people were willing to sacrifice $100 in the future (one year later) in order to receive $18 in the present, but grateful people preferred to receive the larger, future payment; they only gave up that $100 when the amount offered to them right away reached $30.

    The results suggest that gratitude reduces “excessive economic impatience” and strengthens self-control and the ability to delay gratification, according to the authors. This finding challenges the long-held notion that we must rein in our emotions in order to make smarter spending decisions; instead, it seems that consciously counting our blessings can serve our long-term economic interests.

    Another study published this year, in Personality and Individual Differences, suggests that gratitude can guide us toward better decisions about what we actually choose to spend our money on. Participants who were more materialistic—meaning that they place a lot of importance on acquiring material possessions—reported lower feelings of gratitude and lower satisfaction with life. In fact, the researchers determined that materialists feel less satisfied with their lives mainly because they experience less gratitude. Their findings help to explain why, according to much previous research, materialistic people are less happy.

    Prior research has also found that less happy people make more materialistic purchases, creating a vicious cycle. But the authors of this new study argue that gratitude can help break this cycle. Based on their results, they suggest that boosting one’s level of gratitude might reduce materialism and its negative effects on happiness.

    So gratitude might not only encourage financial decisions that are better for our long-term economic health but better for our long-term emotional health as well.

    It’s possible to teach gratitude to young children, with lasting effects.

    One of parents’ biggest fears is that their child will become an entitled brat; one of their biggest questions is what they can do to prevent that.

    This year research pointed to an answer. In a study published in School Psychology Review, psychologists Jeffrey Froh, Giacomo Bono, and their colleagues presented the encouraging results of a curriculum they developed to teach gratitude to elementary school students.

    Instead of just lecturing about the importance of gratitude, the curriculum encourages kids to think about something nice that another person did for them, and to see that kindness as a “gift.” Through the curriculum, the students reflect on the value of the gift, the cost incurred by the person who gave it, and the kind intentions that motivated the gift.

    The curriculum was taught to 8-11 year olds for half an hour every day for a week—and the kids started to show increases in gratitude just two days after the curriculum ended. When Froh and Bono offered the curriculum once a week for five weeks, they found that it increased gratitude and other positive emotions for at least five months.

    Dozens of previous studies—many of which we have covered on Greater Good—have suggested that gratitude can combat feelings of entitlement and foster happiness. But only a small handful of these studies have examined the effects of gratitude on children, and the kids in Froh and Bono’s study were the youngest ever involved in a study of a gratitude program.

    Their results offer hope that it’s actually possible to nurture lasting gratitude—and happiness—in children from the time they’re young. And their curriculum provides parents and teachers with concrete guidelines for achieving that goal.

    Having more variety in our emotions—positive or negative—can make us happier and healthier.

    Is the route to happiness simply to feel more positive emotion and less negative emotion? Our top insights from 2013 cast some doubt on that view, and an even stronger rebuttal emerged this year in a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

    Researchers from four different countries and six different institutions—including Yale University and Harvard Business School—measured participants’ positive emotions (like amusement, awe, and gratitude) and negative ones (like anger, anxiety, and sadness). They not only looked at the level of these emotions but also their variety and abundance—what the researchers call “emodiversity.”

    Their first study surveyed over 35,000 French speakers and found that emodiversity is related to less depression. This was the case for all types of emodiversity: positive (experiencing many different positive emotions), negative (many different negative emotions), and general (a mix of both positive and negative emotions). In fact, people high in emodiversity were less likely to be depressed than people high in positive emotion alone.

    With almost 1,300 Belgian participants, the second study linked emodiversity to less medication use, lower government health care costs, and fewer doctor visits and days spent in the hospital. It was also related to better diet, exercise, and smoking habits. Surprisingly, the effect of emodiversity on physical health was about as strong as the effects of positive or negative emotion alone. 

    The message? Emotional monotony is a drag, so we may be better off mentally and physically if we seek out and embrace a variety of emotional experiences—even the negative ones.

    Natural selection favors happy people, which is why there are so many of them.

    If you subscribe to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ view of life as “nasty, brutish, and short”—as many people do—you’d naturally expect humans to live a pretty miserable existence. But many studies from around the world have suggested that, on average, humans’ default emotional state is to be pretty happy, regardless of their life circumstances—a phenomenon researchers call “positive mood offset.”

    This year, a massive review of the research on happiness set out to explore “Why People Are in a Generally Good Mood”; the study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, was led by Ed Diener, a pioneer in the science of happiness.

    Given the benefits they find to be strongly associated with happiness, the researchers conclude that the ubiquity of happiness is a product of human evolution. Why? Because many of the chief benefits of happiness—including better health, longer lives, greater fertility, higher income, and more sociability—increase a person’s chances of passing his or her genes to the next generation.

    “People are happy most of the time because they are descended from ancestors who were happier and engaged in fitness-maximizing behavior more frequently than their neighbors who were less happy,” they write.

    In other words, natural selection favors happy people, leaving us with more of them today.

    Of course, though based on an especially comprehensive review of happiness research, Diener and his colleagues stress that this is just a hypothesis—albeit one worth subjecting to future study. “Although our opposable thumbs, big brains, and upright posture have all received in-depth attention and study as reasons for human [evolutionary] success,” they write, “it is time to consider how positive mood offset might have also contributed.”

    Activities from positive psychology don’t just make happy people happier—they can also help alleviate suffering.

    This idea that happiness might arise from natural selection suggests that, perhaps, you’re either born happy or you’re not. But research on positive psychology activities—like keeping a gratitude journal or meditating regularly—has offered compelling evidence that it’s possible to cultivate happiness over time. What’s more, during the past year, we saw many different papers suggest that positive activities aren’t just for positive people, and that negative conditions aren’t just alleviated by targeting negative influences. Instead, nurturing positive skills can help pull people out of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.

    The key, it seems, lies in the way these skills enhance relationships. One study found that 11 people who had gone through an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy course became less stressed about relationships with friends, family, and coworkers—which, in turn, helped prevent future episodes of depression.

    A different study in the July issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders looked at the impact of another positive behavior, forgiveness, on reducing suicidal thoughts in impoverished, rural people. The researchers found that participants’ ability to forgive themselves and others seemed closely associated with the will to keep on living. They also found that forgiveness seemed to reduce participants’ feelings of being a burden to others, and people who were able to forgive themselves for being a burden to others were much less suicidal. Yet another study found that keeping a journal about gratitude or kindness helped people who were on waiting lists to receive psychological counseling.

    The upshot of this research is that there are likely far-reaching applications of the skills targeted by positive psychology. As researchers move forward in understanding how we can foster human strengths and use them to save lives, clinicians and teachers can put these insights to use in real-world settings.

    People with a “growth mindset” are more likely to overcome barriers to empathy.

    Just as many people believe that you’re either naturally happy or you’re not, so many believe that you’re either naturally empathic or you’re not. The trouble with this “fixed mindset” about empathy is that the ability to sense the feelings or take the perspective of others is very sensitive to situational forces, such as when we are stressed or overwhelmed by other people’s needs. Some research is even suggesting that stressed-out, hyper-connected Americans are becoming less and less empathic.

    According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology, our beliefs about empathy are critical to fostering it. Stanford University researchers recruited 75 participants, asking them to pick one of these two statements as being true: “In general, people cannot change how empathic a person they are.” vs. “In general, people can change how empathic a person they are.” Across five studies, the researchers then observed how the participants responded in situations where empathy was challenging but “crucial to positive social outcomes,” such as pairing the participant with someone who had different political views.

    In the final study, researchers told half of the participants that they had failed a diagnostic test of emotional understanding and that the other half succeeded. Then they gave participants a chance to go through exercises that might improve their empathy—theorizing that “participants induced to have a malleable, as opposed to fixed, theory of empathy would be more likely to capitalize on this opportunity to develop their empathic abilities.”

    This turned out to be true. People primed to see empathy as a skill—in other words, people given a “growth mindset” about empathy, seeing it as something one can build through practice—were more likely to “stretch themselves to overcome their limitations.” What’s more, across all of their studies, they found that people who believe empathy can be developed expended greater empathic effort in challenging contexts than did people who believe empathy is fixed, suggesting that our beliefs about ourselves are key to expanding empathy on both individual and societal levels.

    This insight echoes a trend we highlighted in last year’s list of top scientific insights: Anyone can cultivate empathic skills—even psychopaths. And in fact, another study this year from the United Kingdom extended those findings to narcissists, finding that even they could be coached into taking another person’s perspective.

    To get people to take action against climate change, talk to them about birds.

    Imagine what might happen in the future if climate change goes unchecked. Are you more likely to take action to prevent that outcome if you feel like it is a threat to humans? Or are you more likely to reduce your carbon footprint if you fear for the safety of other animals, like birds? Well, according to a group of scientists at Cornell University, birds may be the answer.

    The researchers surveyed 3,546 people (largely bird watchers) to evaluate how their willingness to engage in climate-friendly actions might be affected by how the problem of climate change is described to them. Specifically, respondents were presented with these four statements and, after each, asked about their willingness to lessen their carbon footprint:

    1. Climate change is a danger to people.
    2. Climate change is a danger to birds.
    3. If a large number of Americans do something small to reduce their use of fossil fuels, it would have a large impact on our national carbon footprint.
    4. If a large number of Americans do something small to reduce their use of fossil fuels, it would have a large impact on our national carbon footprint—and be of benefit to future generations.

    As expected, the findings revealed that the positive framing of the climate problem (numbers 3 and 4) increased people’s willingness to take action. Numerous earlier studies have shown that positive messages—such as those that emphasize the collective impact of carbon-cutting measures—are generally more effective than fear-based messages. But responses to the two fear-based messages (numbers 1 and 2) revealed a surprise: Invoking a threat to humans led to no significant impact on the respondents’ willingness to reduce their carbon footprint—while invoking a threat to birds led to the most significant change of all.

    Why would a threat to birds provoke more willingness to act than a threat to humans? One theory suggests that threats to humans cause us to think about death, which activates defenses against the anxiety caused by confronting our own mortality. Researcher Janis Dickson says the findings do point to a potentially important lesson for educators and communicators: Combining a sense of empowerment (by reminding people of our collective impact) with compassion (for non-human others) can help cultivate the psychological resilience needed to overcome denial and inaction.

    Feelings of well-being might spur extraordinary acts of altruism.

    What would motivate someone to donate a kidney to someone they have never met?

    study published in the journal Psychological Science looked at this act of extreme altruism in all 50 states, cross-referencing donations with data on each state’s levels of “well-being,” which refers to people’s levels of life satisfaction, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior (e.g., exercise, good diet), job satisfaction, and ability to meet their basic needs like food and safety. By analyzing statewide data, the Georgetown University researchers hoped to find large-scale trends that might not be apparent from looking at individual cases.

    Their efforts paid off. Results showed that states with high levels of well-being tended to have higher rates of “altruistic” kidney donation—kidney donation to a stranger. Indeed, the researchers found that even when controlling for key factors such as education, race, age, income, and religiosity, a state’s level of well-being still significantly predicted donation rates. Furthermore, analyses combining states into larger geographical regions confirmed that as well-being increases, so do rates of kidney donation to strangers. And because altruistic kidney donation happens relatively rarely, the researchers were able to rule out the possibility that these altruistic acts caused widespread increases in happiness rather than the other way around.

    So while prior research has suggested that performing altruistic acts fosters feelings of happiness, this important study adds a new twist: Feelings of happiness might actually spur extraordinary acts of altruism. This insight has real-world implications. As the researchers write, “Policies that promote well-being may help to generate a virtuous circle, whereby increases in well-being promote altruism that, in turn, increases well-being. Such a cycle holds the promise of creating a ‘sustainable happiness’ with broad benefits for altruists, their beneficiaries, and society at large.”

    Extreme altruism is motivated by intuition—our compassionate instincts.

    While the previous insight relied upon big-picture aggregate data to suggest how social context might influence altruistic acts, this year the same Georgetown University team that conducted that study went deeper into the individual human mind to understand the psychology of altruism. Past research has identified patterns of brain activity related to extreme anti-social behavior, but this new study tried to locate the neural mechanisms that might support extreme pro-social tendencies.

    Researchers Kristin M. Brethel-Haurwitz and Abigail A. Marsh used brain imaging technology to map the brains of kidney donors, who make an extraordinary sacrifice for total strangers; they then compared these brain images with those of psychopaths and people who did not show extremes on either side of the pro-social divide. They found that the brains of extraordinary altruists had slightly larger right amygdalae—a brain area associated with a fearful response—and they reacted very strongly to fearful facial expressions—the exact opposite of psychopaths.

    How might these different brain structures show up in behavior? Another research team, this one at Yale University, examined the testimony of Carnegie Hero Medal Recipients, who all risked their lives to save others. The researchers found that recipients’ decisions to help were “overwhelmingly dominated by intuition” and “significantly more intuitive than a set of control statements describing deliberative decision-making.” This remained true even when researchers took into account that the medal winners had enough time to think before they acted, suggesting that the gut-level decision overrode any deliberative process.

    Taken together, these findings from Yale and Georgetown reveal how extreme, heroic acts of altruism might be motivated by deeply-rooted, even instinctive, psychological processes.

    To what degree are these different brain structures—and the instincts that spring from them—shaped by nature or nurture? That’s a question that research will need to tackle in 2015!

    Links 1/14/15

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 07:55
    Categories: political economy

    Je suis Juif: An American Jew in France on the Terrorist Attacks

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 07:07
    This past summer my family and I moved to France, not far from Paris, for work. I’m an American Jew and heard the stories but didn’t worry much. Days after we arrived French Muslims rioted, chanting “Death to the Jews” and destroying Jewish buildings. OK – they’re worked up about Gaza and they’ll settle down I thought. My parents told me that 10,000 Jews had left France for Israel and I told them “well, with my arrival they’re only down 9,999.”
    Categories: political economy

    Green Growth or No Growth?

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 03:26
    Many readers have taken the position that we need to put a brake on growth in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce consumption of other resources. In a Real News Network interview, Robert Pollin goes through the math of carbon output and shows why a no growth approach is inadequate.
    Categories: political economy

    Do Prisons and Mass Incarceration Keep Us Safe? (2/2)

    The Real News Network - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 02:01
    TRNN's Eddie Conway continues his discussion with Maya Schenwar, author of 'Locked Down and Locked Out', about alternatives to mass incarceration

    Senator Warren and America Win in a Skirmish in a Long Struggle Against Wall Street’s Coup

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 01:43
    There is an excellent indicator that Senator Warren’s successful effort to block the appointment of Antonio Weiss, an Obama Wall Street bundler, to a senior Treasury position while merely a skirmish was an important accomplishment. The financial media that pander most slavishly to the Wall Street and the City of London’s CEOs is enraged at Warren’s success. The headline in the UK’s Business Insider reveals their angst “Elizabeth Warren Wins, The Treasury Loses.” The article doesn’t try very hard to support that headline with facts because there is no real case to support the claim.

    “A number of former Treasury officials thought Warren was way out of line, and that Weiss’ experience was perfect for the position he was being nominated for.

    The White House stood by its nominee throughout, stating last month, “This is somebody who has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work, and that is critically important.”

    No argument on that here.”

    Let’s begin with logic. There’s no logical way to declare that “Treasury lost” without knowing who else is willing to take the position of Under Secretary for Domestic Finance. No one thinks President Obama selected Weiss on the merits. He was selected because he bundled Wall Street campaign contributions for Obama’s campaigns. Treasury does not “win” when we appoint such people – Wall Street wins. We have no way of knowing whether Obama will select someone for the position who is better or worse than Weiss. The Undersecretary position is prestigious enough that we know that Obama has the ability to appoint hundreds of people who would like to take the position and are better qualified than Weiss. As a matter of logic, therefore, the authors could not support their claim.

    The authors also don’t seem to have felt they could even try to make a case for their claim. They simply quote authority rather than reasoning. Their effort unintentionally made Warren’s opponents look bad. Consider the extraordinary arrogance of the statement “A number of former Treasury officials thought Warren was way out of line.” A U.S. Senator who is a member of Treasury’s oversight committee is completely “in line” to oppose nominees. Warren obviously did not oppose Weiss for partisan reasons. She opposed him on the merits. Weiss does not have a strong background for the skill sets required for the Undersecretary position. Again, no one can claim with a straight face that Obama selected Weiss on the merits. Of course, the same thing was true of many of the Treasury officials who think it is “way out of line” for Senators not to rubberstamp political reward-style appointments of Wall Street bundlers.

    The best that the White House could come up with was that Weiss “has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work.” That description fits about one million Americans.

    Conclusion

    Warren has given Obama a golden opportunity – a “do over.” Obama can appoint someone who has a “very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work” – and a passion for changing how they work in order to end the Wall Street culture of corruption and create radically improved markets based on integrity and service to investors with radically reduced profits. Obama could pick someone good for America, not “Treasury” and its Wall Street overseers. It is “critically important” that the financial markets be restored to a condition in which they aid Main Street and small investors rather than acting as parasites and predators.

    At this juncture, the White House is signaling its continued opposition to serious reform.

    “‘We continue to believe that Mr. Weiss is an extremely well-qualified individual, who is committed to the policy goals of this Administration and firmly supports the Administration’s policies on fostering economic growth and supporting our middle class. We are pleased that he has accepted the role of counselor to the Treasury secretary.’”

    The administration continues its policy of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity to openly side with the American people (all of them, not simply “our middle class”) and demand the end of the corrupt culture of Wall Street. Warren has given Obama a priceless opportunity for a “do over.” No one expects Obama to do the right thing on the appointment, but Warren is doing the right thing by giving Obama a new the chance to do the right thing.

    Categories: political economy

    Be Sure Not to Miss Our New York City Meetup This Friday January 16

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 01:26
    Hope you can make our New York City meetup! Details: Ten Bells 247 Broome Street (between Ludlow and Orchard) Subways: F to Delancy, J/M/Z to Essex, B/D to Grand Street Starting at 5:00 PM (note Ten Bells opens at 5:00 PM, so if you get there a couple of minutes early, don't be alarmed)
    Categories: political economy

    Prison Dispatches from the War on Terror: Former Child Gitmo Detainee Going Blind

    The Intercept - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 19:10

    Nearly 13 years after he was first captured as a child soldier in Afghanistan, Omar Khadr remains behind bars in a Canadian prison where he is losing his remaining eyesight, according to his lawyer.

    Khadr, who was born in Canada, was inducted into a life of militancy by his father — a now-deceased al Qaeda financier — who took his young son from suburban Toronto to rural Afghanistan. Fifteen-year-old Khadr was captured following a U.S. military raid in Afghanistan that left him partially paralyzed and blind in one eye.

    Following his capture in 2002, Khadr was held for several months at Bagram Airbase before being transferred to Guantanamo. At both sites he was subjected to torture, including sexual humiliation, shackling in stress positions, and sleep deprivation, according to his lawyer.

    In one 2003 incident, he is alleged to have been dragged through a mixture of pine oil and urine by his interrogators and denied a change of clothing for two days thereafter.

    In 2010, Khadr entered into a plea bargain with the Guantanamo military commission, admitting to throwing a grenade which killed a U.S. Army combat medic during the deadly raid that led to Khadr’s capture. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, not including time served, and was allowed to complete his sentence in a Canadian prison.

    Khadr later said that he has no recollection of the raid and had confessed simply in hopes of finally leaving Guantanamo

    The Canadian government has opposed his release, publicly describing him as an “unrepentant terrorist” despite testimony from former Guantanamo psychiatrists and prison guards that contradicts this characterization.

    “The Canadian government has been wholly complicit in the torture Omar suffered as a child at Guantanamo,” Khadr’s lawyer Dennis Edney, told The Intercept. “There are international conventions on the rights of the child, to protect child combatants, against torture, all of these have been ignored in an effort to score political points by appearing tough.”

    Khadr was one of at least 15 children the American government is thought to have held at Guantanamo. When reports of the detention of juveniles first surfaced in 2003, then-chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers called them “very, very dangerous people” and part of the “terrorist team.”

    In comments to The Intercept, Jennifer Turner of the ACLU’s human rights program criticized the ongoing imprisonment of Khadr and his denial of the rights normally afforded to children captured during wartime. “Khadr was a child…brought into a conflict zone by his family and should now be treated first and foremost as a candidate for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, not as a criminal,” Turner said.

    Canadian prison authorities who have dealt with Khadr have described him as “polite, quiet and rule-abiding,” and have stated that he does not “espouse attitudes that support terrorist activities or any type of radicalized behavior.” In 2013, Khadr was assaulted after reportedly being placed into a prison unit dominated by white supremacists, as described to The Intercept by his lawyer — he has since been moved to a medium-security prison.

    Khadr’s lawyer has said that his vision has deteriorated to the point where he is no longer able to read or see clearly.

    Speaking to The Intercept, Andrew Prasow of Human Rights Watch said Khadr’s case went against international legal conventions on the treatment of child soldiers. “Put simply, Omar Khadr is a victim, and the Canadian government is continuing his victimization,” he said.

    Photo: AP/U.S. Department of Defense via The Canadian Press, File 

    The post Prison Dispatches from the War on Terror: Former Child Gitmo Detainee Going Blind appeared first on The Intercept.

    2:00PM Water Cooler 1/13/15

    Naked Capitalism - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 14:55
    Today's Water Cooler: Jay Leno on Hillary Clinton, Charlie Hebdo, H5N2 and H5N8 avian flu viruses, legal haikus, and fear. Fear itself.
    Categories: political economy

    Policing Economic Jargon

    Truthout - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 14:05

    A shopper in Beijing makes a purchase at a UCCA store last month. The country's low inflation rate has led to concerns about deflation. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times)

    Economists use a lot of jargon, and rightly so. When they refer to "comparative advantage," or "total factor productivity," or the "neutrality of money," they are using that phrase to refer to a concept developed over decades of discussion and debate. Trying to spell that out in plain English every time you invoke the concept would be a huge waste of time and introduce much potential for confusion.

    Yet jargon has its own dangers, most notably the dangers that it will be used in aid of pomposity, and/or that it will be misapplied and add to confusion rather than clarity.

    So I read George Magnus's Financial Times op-ed on China's "structural deflation," and while it's innocent of pomposity, I worry that it suffers from the second sin. What, after all, does Mr. Magnus, an economic adviser to UBS, mean by "structural"? In this context, I do not think that word means what he thinks it means.

    Normally, what we mean by "structural" - usually as opposed to "cyclical" - is "something that can't be cured with higher demand." Structural unemployment is unemployment that results from a mismatch between skills and what employers need, or bad institutions, or something else, which makes an economy inflation-prone, even at fairly high unemployment rates. Now, there used to be a Latin American school of thought that saw inflation as structural, but I don't think it ever made much sense. And I really don't think structural deflation is a useful turn of phrase either.

    Suppose China had entered its recent slowdown with 20 percent inflation, and with everyone in the country expecting inflation to remain at 20 percent. Would China have had any problem avoiding deflation? Surely not: Simply by cutting nominal interest rates, the central bank would have been able to cut real rates all the way to minus 20 percent if it wanted, surely enough to overheat any economy.

    So what is Mr. Magnus talking about here? I think he's actually arguing that China requires a substantially negative real interest rate to achieve full employment. This doesn't mandate deflation; it does, however, mean that low inflation is unsustainable because demand will fall short, and the economy will tend toward deflation. This is pretty much what we mean by "secular stagnation." Calling it structural deflation just muddies the issue.

    And that's too bad, because I agree with a lot of what Mr. Magnus says. Still, somebody has to act as the jargon police, and if not me, who?

    Policing Economic Jargon

    Truthout - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 14:05

    A shopper in Beijing makes a purchase at a UCCA store last month. The country's low inflation rate has led to concerns about deflation. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times)

    Economists use a lot of jargon, and rightly so. When they refer to "comparative advantage," or "total factor productivity," or the "neutrality of money," they are using that phrase to refer to a concept developed over decades of discussion and debate. Trying to spell that out in plain English every time you invoke the concept would be a huge waste of time and introduce much potential for confusion.

    Yet jargon has its own dangers, most notably the dangers that it will be used in aid of pomposity, and/or that it will be misapplied and add to confusion rather than clarity.

    So I read George Magnus's Financial Times op-ed on China's "structural deflation," and while it's innocent of pomposity, I worry that it suffers from the second sin. What, after all, does Mr. Magnus, an economic adviser to UBS, mean by "structural"? In this context, I do not think that word means what he thinks it means.

    Normally, what we mean by "structural" - usually as opposed to "cyclical" - is "something that can't be cured with higher demand." Structural unemployment is unemployment that results from a mismatch between skills and what employers need, or bad institutions, or something else, which makes an economy inflation-prone, even at fairly high unemployment rates. Now, there used to be a Latin American school of thought that saw inflation as structural, but I don't think it ever made much sense. And I really don't think structural deflation is a useful turn of phrase either.

    Suppose China had entered its recent slowdown with 20 percent inflation, and with everyone in the country expecting inflation to remain at 20 percent. Would China have had any problem avoiding deflation? Surely not: Simply by cutting nominal interest rates, the central bank would have been able to cut real rates all the way to minus 20 percent if it wanted, surely enough to overheat any economy.

    So what is Mr. Magnus talking about here? I think he's actually arguing that China requires a substantially negative real interest rate to achieve full employment. This doesn't mandate deflation; it does, however, mean that low inflation is unsustainable because demand will fall short, and the economy will tend toward deflation. This is pretty much what we mean by "secular stagnation." Calling it structural deflation just muddies the issue.

    And that's too bad, because I agree with a lot of what Mr. Magnus says. Still, somebody has to act as the jargon police, and if not me, who?

    On the News With Thom Hartmann: Last Year Was the Hottest Year on Record, and More

    Truthout - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 13:36

    In today's On the News segment: According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, 2014 was hotter than any other year in their 120 years of record keeping; California has big plans for the future; scientists have discovered the most Earth-like planet ever found outside of our solar system; and more.

    See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

    TRANSCRIPT:

    Jim Javinsky here – in for Thom Hartmann - on the best of the rest of....science & green news.....

    You need to know this. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, 2014 was hotter than any other year in their 120 years of record keeping. Here in the U.S., NOAA and NASA are expected to make similar announcements in the coming weeks. And, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that if we stay on this path, the result will be dangerous and irreversible. Although some of our lawmakers here at home continue to deny the obvious, just about every scientific agency on Earth is calling for immediate action on climate change. Science-denying legislators may be able to fool their constituents in most of our country, where temperatures were not particularly hot last year. But, try that with someone living in California or Alaska, or anyone who traveled over seas, and you'll find that they aren't easily fooled. These extreme temperatures have contributed to California's intense heat and severe drought, and Alaska's average temperature in 2014 was more than three degrees higher than the previous year. In Australia, temperatures spiked over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and Europe was hotter than it's been for 500 years. If ever there was a sign that we need to act, last year was it, and we need to act now if we want to save our species. These rising temperatures bring bigger super storms, more widespread droughts, and more overall destruction. The fight against global warming isn't just about hotter summers, it's about saving our planet and our future, and it's not too late to take action. According to the IPCC, "The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change." In other words, there is a lot we can do to prevent the following years from being even hotter than 2014, but all of it starts with the belief that we can, and must, do more to stop global warming.

    Science has given a whole new meaning to the term "gut feeling." According to new research from neurobiologists at Oxford University, a diet designed to boost gut bacteria may be a natural way to lower anxiety. Many people are familiar with probiotics, strains of good bacteria often found in foods like yogurt, but few people talk about prebiotics – the carbohydrates that act as nourishment for those bacteria. Scientists researched what beneficial effects that these fibers have on our bodies, and found an interesting link between our guts and our brains. Researchers found that subjects who consumed prebiotics had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than the placebo group, and showed less anxiety when presented with negative stimuli. These results echoed a study from last year, which found the emotional benefits of probiotics, and provided more evidence that what we eat has a big impact on how we handle stress. Studies like this may still be in preliminary stages, but someday they could lead to treating mental illness with healthier diets instead of harmful chemicals.

    California has big plans for the future. Last week, the Golden State made not one, but two, big announcements about how they will respond to the climate crisis. On Monday of last week, Governor Jerry Brown was praised for his proposal to get half of all California's energy from renewable sources by 2030. And, only one day later, that state broke ground on our nation's first-ever bullet train project, which is expected to reduce the massive carbon footprint of California's transportation sector. Considering that state has about 32 million registered vehicles on the road, a high-speed rail system will be a great step towards reaching that 50% renewable goal. As the environmental group Earthjustice said, "We applaud Governor Browjn for working to secure a cleaner, brighter future for California and paving the way for the rest of the country and the world to follow."

    Scientists have discovered the most Earth-like planet ever found outside of our solar-system. According to experts from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the planet Kepler 438B is only 12 percent larger than Earth, and it circles an orange dwarf star every 35 days. Scientists say that there is a 70 percent chance that this distant planet is rocky, which means that Kepler 438B is likely made up of solid mass, instead of gases. The announcement was made at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society last week, where scientists also shared the discovery of seven other planets they believe to be in the so-called "habitable zones" of their stars. Together, these new discoveries doubled the number of planets thought to be relative in size to Earth, as well as within a similar distance from their stars. Scientists may never find a perfect match to our planet, but who knows what else is waiting to be discovered out there in space.

    And finally... The old saying "fake it until you make it" may have some basis in reality. According to new findings published in the journal Acta Psychologica, acting out our positive emotions can make us remember them, and make us feel more positive. In other words, faking a smile can make us think about a happy memory, and lead us to actually feel more happy. The study coordinator explained, "The data confirmed the hypothesis that 're-enacting' the motor pattenr associated with the emotion helps to recall that emotion." She went on to say, "This suggests that even during the storage phase of memories, we also encode the motor information and re-use it during retrieval." Basically, we store the physical expressions of our emotions along with our memories, and smiling can activate happier thoughts. When we're feeling down, it can be hard to put on a smile, but science shows that doing so just might make us feel better.

    And that's the way it is for the week of January 12, 2015 – I'm Jim Javinsky – in for Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

    On the News With Thom Hartmann: Last Year Was the Hottest Year on Record, and More

    Truthout - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 13:36

    In today's On the News segment: According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, 2014 was hotter than any other year in their 120 years of record keeping; California has big plans for the future; scientists have discovered the most Earth-like planet ever found outside of our solar system; and more.

    See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

    TRANSCRIPT:

    Jim Javinsky here – in for Thom Hartmann - on the best of the rest of....science & green news.....

    You need to know this. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, 2014 was hotter than any other year in their 120 years of record keeping. Here in the U.S., NOAA and NASA are expected to make similar announcements in the coming weeks. And, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that if we stay on this path, the result will be dangerous and irreversible. Although some of our lawmakers here at home continue to deny the obvious, just about every scientific agency on Earth is calling for immediate action on climate change. Science-denying legislators may be able to fool their constituents in most of our country, where temperatures were not particularly hot last year. But, try that with someone living in California or Alaska, or anyone who traveled over seas, and you'll find that they aren't easily fooled. These extreme temperatures have contributed to California's intense heat and severe drought, and Alaska's average temperature in 2014 was more than three degrees higher than the previous year. In Australia, temperatures spiked over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and Europe was hotter than it's been for 500 years. If ever there was a sign that we need to act, last year was it, and we need to act now if we want to save our species. These rising temperatures bring bigger super storms, more widespread droughts, and more overall destruction. The fight against global warming isn't just about hotter summers, it's about saving our planet and our future, and it's not too late to take action. According to the IPCC, "The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change." In other words, there is a lot we can do to prevent the following years from being even hotter than 2014, but all of it starts with the belief that we can, and must, do more to stop global warming.

    Science has given a whole new meaning to the term "gut feeling." According to new research from neurobiologists at Oxford University, a diet designed to boost gut bacteria may be a natural way to lower anxiety. Many people are familiar with probiotics, strains of good bacteria often found in foods like yogurt, but few people talk about prebiotics – the carbohydrates that act as nourishment for those bacteria. Scientists researched what beneficial effects that these fibers have on our bodies, and found an interesting link between our guts and our brains. Researchers found that subjects who consumed prebiotics had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than the placebo group, and showed less anxiety when presented with negative stimuli. These results echoed a study from last year, which found the emotional benefits of probiotics, and provided more evidence that what we eat has a big impact on how we handle stress. Studies like this may still be in preliminary stages, but someday they could lead to treating mental illness with healthier diets instead of harmful chemicals.

    California has big plans for the future. Last week, the Golden State made not one, but two, big announcements about how they will respond to the climate crisis. On Monday of last week, Governor Jerry Brown was praised for his proposal to get half of all California's energy from renewable sources by 2030. And, only one day later, that state broke ground on our nation's first-ever bullet train project, which is expected to reduce the massive carbon footprint of California's transportation sector. Considering that state has about 32 million registered vehicles on the road, a high-speed rail system will be a great step towards reaching that 50% renewable goal. As the environmental group Earthjustice said, "We applaud Governor Browjn for working to secure a cleaner, brighter future for California and paving the way for the rest of the country and the world to follow."

    Scientists have discovered the most Earth-like planet ever found outside of our solar-system. According to experts from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the planet Kepler 438B is only 12 percent larger than Earth, and it circles an orange dwarf star every 35 days. Scientists say that there is a 70 percent chance that this distant planet is rocky, which means that Kepler 438B is likely made up of solid mass, instead of gases. The announcement was made at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society last week, where scientists also shared the discovery of seven other planets they believe to be in the so-called "habitable zones" of their stars. Together, these new discoveries doubled the number of planets thought to be relative in size to Earth, as well as within a similar distance from their stars. Scientists may never find a perfect match to our planet, but who knows what else is waiting to be discovered out there in space.

    And finally... The old saying "fake it until you make it" may have some basis in reality. According to new findings published in the journal Acta Psychologica, acting out our positive emotions can make us remember them, and make us feel more positive. In other words, faking a smile can make us think about a happy memory, and lead us to actually feel more happy. The study coordinator explained, "The data confirmed the hypothesis that 're-enacting' the motor pattenr associated with the emotion helps to recall that emotion." She went on to say, "This suggests that even during the storage phase of memories, we also encode the motor information and re-use it during retrieval." Basically, we store the physical expressions of our emotions along with our memories, and smiling can activate happier thoughts. When we're feeling down, it can be hard to put on a smile, but science shows that doing so just might make us feel better.

    And that's the way it is for the week of January 12, 2015 – I'm Jim Javinsky – in for Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

    Making Sense of Boko Haram Attacks on Nigerian Civilians (1/2)

    The Real News Network - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 13:01
    Nii Akuetteh, analyst of African and international affairs, says it is difficult to decipher what Boko Haram is expecting to achieve by mass killing of civilians

    Paris: Little and Big Monsters

    The Real News Network - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 12:01
    Glen Ford and Paul Jay discuss the march against terrorism in Paris and the participation of leaders of countries who have committed and encouraged various forms of terrorism and war crimes

    Do Prisons and Mass Incarceration Keep Us Safe? (Part Two)

    Truthout - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 11:54

    Also see: Part One: Do Prisons and Mass Incarceration Keep Us Safe?

    Get Maya Schenwar's Locked Down, Locked Out at Truthout by clicking here to order.

    TRANSCIRPT:

    EDDIE CONWAY, FMR. BLACK PANTHER, BALTIMORE CHAPTER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. And this is the second part of our segment.

    I want to welcome back Maya, who is the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better.

    Maya, in the last segment we were talking about the problems, and now we're going to talk about the solutions. Yeah. And one of the things, from my experience in decades of being in prison, one of the motivating factors, I find, that impacts family members outside is that when they actually come into the prison system, they're treated like criminals, that the encounters that they have in terms of searching or /ˈfrɪstɪŋ/ or just suspicion or the way in which they're talked to is, from at least the guards, apparently dehumanizing to them, and this just kind of, like, aggravates them even more. I mean, the pain of having someone in that prison is one thing, and then being treated like a potential criminal yourself is something else. So it does create of lot of activism in terms of people leaving and trying to go out and address the issue.

    You know, one of the things you said, though, in your books is the need for decarceration and abolishment, prison abolition. Can you kind of explain what that means?

    MAYA SCHENWAR, AUTHOR, LOCKED DOWN, LOCKED OUT: Yeah. So there are a few components. One, like you said, is decarceration. And that just means shrinking the system. And the system has so many tentacles that that cannot mean just approaching it from one angle. So, like, a lot of people think, oh, well, the answer is just sentencing reform. Change sentencing so that it's more kind of smart. People talk about smarter sentencing, and that'll be that. Well, no, we have to address sentencing, but we also have to look at closing prisons, finding ways to reduce prison populations, reducing prison budgets, because when you reduce the budget, you necessarily have to shrink the system. Also, looking at failed reform, that's really important. There are 750,000 people in county jails, and many of them are there because they can't pay their way out. So that's a whole system that we have to look at. So decarceration really encompasses [inaud.]

    I'm sorry. I'm not hearing you.

    SCHENWAR: --prison. Yeah. Oh. Sorry. [inaud.] question.

    No. Some of it extends beyond the idea of prison. So, like, looking at policing, some of the anti-policing efforts that are happening right now I think fall right into that category of decarceration, because police are an extension of the carceral state, and they're kind of the entryway to the system. And particularly police are the ones actively in communities targeting black and brown people and bringing them into the system.

    So I think that talking about fighting prisons needs to be discussed with a very, very wide lens, including anti-policing efforts, including also efforts against programs that sounds good, sound like prison alternatives, but aren't really. So, for example, one of the things I've written about is locked down drug treatment centers and the use of those as kind of a way to move away from prison without really moving away from prison. So those are also things that we have to stand against. We have to stand against anything that performs prison, even outside of the prison walls itself.

    CONWAY: But are you saying that all of those particular policies will lead to the abolition of prisons? Or are you saying that the abolition of prisons is a separate kind of thing?

    SCHENWAR: Well, I think that decarceration is a part of abolition. So part of it is just shrinking the system, doing decarceration. But also we have to be creating other institutions for dealing with harm and violence that aren't prison. So, as we're shrinking down the system, we have to be growing other systems. We have to be growing programs in our communities, projects for dealing with violence and strengthening our connections with people that do not use any of that carceral logic to deal with problems. And that's a whole wide range of things. I mentioned restorative justice projects that Barbara Fair is working on. There are transformative justice projects happening In communities where people are looking to really kind of just get outside the state entirely and see solutions to particular problems coming from victims, coming from family members, people talking about things as, like, specific instances, as opposed to, like, blanket problems that can be dealt with by using blanket solutions like prison.

    One of the things I always bring up is that prison is this blanket kind of go-to policy that's used to deal with everything from drug possession to murder and everything in between. And, also, the things that are defined as crimes are really random. Why is drug possession defined as a crime but possession of nuclear weapons is not defined as a crime? So part of prison abolition is really thinking about what are we defining as a problem that needs intervention, and then from there thinking about what kinds of intervention can we do together just as people that will help move us forward and prevent violence in the future.

    CONWAY: Okay. Well, thanks for sharing with us, and thank you for joining us today.

    SCHENWAR: Thank you so much, Eddie. It's really great to speak with you.

    CONWAY: Okay.

    And thank you for joining The Real News.

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