TIME nation

Beyond a Simple Solution for Ferguson

Why we need to address race relations in a thoughtful, provocative way

At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression: a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager multiple times. He is shot with his hands up, it is reported, at least once in the back. The young man is a “gentle giant” with no adult criminal record. He seems guilty of nothing more than walking while black, albeit down the middle of the street. This takes place in a town that appears to have been cryogenically preserved from the 1960s, before the Voting Rights Act was passed. An estimated 67% of its citizens are African American; its government is melanin-deprived. The mayor of Ferguson, Mo., is white; 50 of the 53 police officers are white. Demonstrators come out to protest the atrocity–nobody is calling it an “apparent” atrocity yet–and the police respond in gear that makes a St. Louis suburb look like Kandahar.

But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts. The gentle giant, Michael Brown Jr.–nicknamed Bodyguard by his friends–seems pretty intimidating in a surveillance video, in which he is seen taking cigarillos from a convenience store, tossing the diminutive clerk into a snack display as if he were a bag of Doritos. The alleged robbery occurs 10 minutes before the confrontation with the cop. The inevitable Rev. Al Sharpton says the video is an attempt to “smear” the young man. Then more facts emerge, and other eyewitnesses allegedly describe a more aggressive Michael Brown–more like the fellow in the video. An autopsy, requested by Brown’s parents, shows six bullet wounds; the kill shot is into the top of the victim’s head–which raises another possibility, that the officer, Darren Wilson, fired in self-defense. And now we have a metaphor of a different, far more difficult sort: about the uncanny ability of Americans to talk past each other when it comes to race relations, and also about the struggle between facts and metaphoric truths.

Sharpton has made a living off metaphoric truths since the late 1980s, when he promoted a terrified young woman named Tawana Brawley, who claimed that she had been raped by six white men, including the local prosecutor. Her story was later shown in court to be false, but the metaphoric truth was undeniable: black women have been casually violated by white men in America for 400 years. The undercurrent was strong enough that few black leaders rose up to take on Sharpton. The fetishizing of black sexuality by white men (and women) was too close to the bone, an infuriating historic truth.

But we have developed new historic truths over the past 50 years. A great many bodega owners won’t see Michael Brown as a metaphor for anything. They see potentially threatening customers every day. Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks. The facts suggest that history is not enough to explain this social disaster.

You can’t convict a terrified, undertrained cop of murder for trying to defend himself, if that’s what the facts show–but all too often in the past, we’ve exonerated racist thugs who were clearly guilty. We can’t ignore the barbarity that got us here: lynching was a fact, too, not a metaphor. Oddly, the election of Barack Obama–poor guy–has blunted the conversation about race relations, at least on the white side. We elected a black man with a Muslim name to be President. What other country would do that? The conversation has also been blunted, honorably, by the President himself in the face of some of the most tawdry race-baiting since Selma. And it has been blunted by leaders of the black community, who don’t want to harm Obama’s presidency by criticizing him. In a recent New Republic article, Jason Zengerle makes a strong case that hatred of Obama mobilized Alabama conservatives to take over the state legislature in 2010 and strip black officials of the power they had gained since the 1960s.

Race remains an open wound. There is a new generation of black intellectuals who are raising the issue in thoughtful, provocative ways. “The Case for Reparations” by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is compelling, even if the case is not a particularly strong one. We’ve had 50 years of drastically improved political, educational and employment opportunities for blacks, which have produced a burgeoning middle class, but a debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement. These problems won’t be solved simply by the recognition of historic grievances. Absent a truly candid conversation about the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation, they won’t be solved at all.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

TIME Economy

Banking Is for the 1%

Can’t get credit? You aren’t the only one. Why banks want to do business mainly with the rich

The rich are different, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, and so are their banking services. While most of us struggle to keep our balances high enough to avoid a slew of extra fees for everything from writing checks to making ATM withdrawals, wealthy individuals enjoy the special extras provided by banks, which increasingly seem more like high-end concierges than financial institutions. If you are rich, your bank will happily arrange everything from Broadway tickets to spa trips.

Oh, and you’ll have an easier time getting a loan too. A recent report by the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute, the public-policy unit of the finance giant, found that while the rich have ample access to credit and banking services six years on from the financial crisis, low- and medium-income consumers do not. Instead, they pay more for everything from mortgages to credit cards, and generally, the majority of consumers have worse access to credit than they did before the crisis. As the Goldman report puts it, “For a near-minimum-wage worker who has maintained some access to bank credit (and it is important to note that many have not in the wake of the financial crisis), the added annual interest expenses associated with a typical level of debt would be roughly equivalent to one week’s wages.” Small and midsize businesses, meanwhile, have seen interest rates on their loans go up 1.75% relative to those for larger companies. This is a major problem because it dampens economic growth and slows job creation.

It’s Ironic (and admirable) that the report comes from Goldman Sachs, which like several other big banks–Morgan Stanley, UBS–is putting its future bets on wealth-management services catering to rich individuals rather than the masses. Banks would say this is because the cost of doing business with regular people has grown too high in the wake of Dodd-Frank regulation. It’s true that in one sense, new regulations dictating how much risk banks can take and how much capital they have to maintain make it easier to provide services to the rich. That’s one reason why, for example, the rates on jumbo mortgages–the kind the wealthy take out to buy expensive homes–have fallen relative to those of 30-year loans, which typically cater to the middle class. It also explains why access to credit cards is constrained for lower-income people compared with those higher up the economic ladder.

Regulation isn’t entirely to blame. For starters, banks are increasingly looking to wealthy individuals to make up for the profits they aren’t making by trading. Even without Dodd-Frank, it would have been difficult for banks to maintain their precrisis trading revenue in a market with the lowest volatility levels in decades. (Huge market shifts mean huge profits for banks on the right side of a trade.) The market calm is largely due to the Federal Reserve Bank’s unprecedented $4 trillion money dump, which is itself an effort to prop up an anemic recovery.

All of this leads to a self-perpetuating vicious cycle: the lack of access to banking services, loans and capital fuels America’s growing wealth divide, which is particularly stark when it comes to race. A May study by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a Washington-based consultancy, and Duke University found that the median amount of liquid wealth (assets that can easily be turned into cash) held by African-American households was $200. For Latino households it was $340. The median for white households was $23,000. One reason for the difference is that a disproportionate number of minorities (along with women and younger workers of all races) have no access to formal retirement-savings plans. No surprise that asset management, the fastest-growing area of finance, is yet another area in which big banks focus mainly on serving the rich.

In lieu of forcing banks to lend to lower-income groups, something that’s being tried with mixed results in the U.K., what to do? Smarter housing policy would be a good place to start. The majority of Americans still keep most of their wealth in their homes. But so far, investors and rich buyers who can largely pay in cash have led the housing recovery. That’s partly why home sales are up but mortgage applications are down. Policymakers and banks need to rethink who is a “good” borrower. One 10-year study by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for example, found that poor buyers putting less than 5% down can be better-than-average credit risks if vetted by metrics aside from how much cash they have on hand. If banks won’t take the risk of lending to them, they may eventually find their own growth prospects in peril. After all, in a $17 trillion economy, catering to the 1% can take you only so far.

TIME health

3 Reasons Why Your Relationship With Food is Crazy

mom's cookies
Getty Images

1) You ignore the importance of context

You ate more because you were hungry? Maybe, but you’re probably not giving nearly enough credit to how context affects you. I’ve posted many times about how context is far more influential than you think.
From Paul Bloom’s How Pleasure Works:

  1. Protein bars taste worse if they are described as “soy protein”
  2. Orange juice tastes better if it is bright orange.
  3. Yogurt and ice cream are more flavorful if described as “full fat” or “high fat.”
  4. Children think milk and apples taste better if they’re taken out from McDonald’s bags.
  5. Coke is rated higher when drunk from a cup with a brand logo.

How much you eat is strongly affected by how much those around you eat, but you rarely realize it. Dining with friends? You’ll probably eat twice as much.

Via The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement:

At restaurants, people eat more depending on how many people they are dining with. People eating alone eat least. People eating with one other person eat 35 percent more than they do at home. People dining in a party of four eat 75 percent more, and people dining with seven or more eat 96 percent more.

Eating with overweight friends? You’ll eat more. Is your waitress overweight? You’ll eat more. Are you a woman eating with a man? You’ll eat less. Wide variety of food? You’ll eat more.

Smaller serving sizes make you eat less overall. The order of items on a menuaffects what you eat. The color of plates can affect how sweet dessert tastes.

Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, instructs us to tell the guests that wine is from California, not North Dakota:

It was all the same $2 cabernet. And we found that if people thought it was from California, they rated the wine as better, they rated the food as better, they stayed at the restaurant about 10 minutes longer, and many of them made reservations to come back.

When we served them the North Dakota wine, it poisoned the entire meal. They didn’t rate the food as good, they left 10 minutes earlier, and they didn’t make reservations to come back.

When you serve dessert, put it on some fancy china, not a napkin:

If they ate it on the napkin, they’d say, “Wow, this is really good.” On a paper plate, they said, “This is really, really good.” If they ate it off of Wedgwood china, they would say, “This is the greatest brownie I’ve eaten in my entire life.” And the amount they were willing to pay for it tripled.

And give them silverware, not plasticware:

Consumers’ quality and liking judgments concerning identical yoghurt samples differed significantly when tasted either with a metallic plastic spoon or else with a stainless steel spoon, the latter resulting in significantly higher scores.

Don’t feel guilty – even dieticians are inaccurate about how much they eat. (And only 7% of shoppers obey the “10 items or less” rule at the supermarket.)

2) You forget that so much of what makes food good or bad is in your head

Comfort food really does comfort you. Grandmom’s cookies do taste better than other cookies. You can’t tell pate from dog food. Coffee junkie? When you haven’t had your joe anything with caffeine tastes better. Dieting actually makes food look bigger.

Eating organic food might turn you into a jerk. Anything that affirms your feelings about your own morality (“I eat organic, therefore I’m a good person.”) your brain may subconsciously use to justify doing something immoral. (“I’m generally a very good person so it’s okay if every now and then I…”)

Why do people order a cheeseburger, fries, dessert and a *Diet* Coke?

It’s called a “health halo effect.” As long as we have the feeling we’re doing something healthy, we extend it to everything during that meal. Due to this, most people surveyed estimated that a cheeseburger with a salad had fewer calories than the cheeseburger alone.

Via The Willpower Instinct:

We feel so good about ordering something healthy, our next indulgence doesn’t feel sinful at all. We also see virtuous choices as negating indulgences— literally, in some cases. Researchers have found that if you pair a cheeseburger with a green salad, diners estimate that the meal has fewer calories than the same cheeseburger served by itself. This makes no sense, unless you believe that putting lettuce on a plate can magically make calories disappear.

(And, no, those fortune cookies aren’t very Chinese.)

3) Food and hunger affect your judgment whether you realize it or not

Hungry judges give harsher sentences. Lemonade can reduce racism. Eating something disgusting can make you feel morally disgusted. Hungry men prefer heavier women and Playboy playmates are thicker during economic recessions.

Kids who skip breakfast misbehave more than kids who eat their Wheaties. After given a snack, all the children are little angels again.

Via Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength

All the children in a class were told to skip breakfast one morning, and then, by random assignment, half of the children were given a good breakfast at school. The others got nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who got breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by monitors who didn’t know which children had eaten). Then, after all the students were given a healthy snack in the middle of the morning, the differences disappeared as if by magic.

People who have low blood sugar are far more prone to criminal and violent behavior:

…hypoglycemics were more likely than the average person to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked. Overall, they tended to be more anxious and less happy than average. Hypoglycemia was also reported to be unusually prevalent among criminals and other violent persons, and some creative defense attorneys brought the low-blood-sugar research into court.

Across the board, yeah, food puts you in a better mood. To be more exact, research has shown that 2 cheeseburgers = one orgasm. Smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act (TED Books):

They discovered that smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in very powerful and surprising ways. How did the power of a smile stack up against other “well-regarded” pleasure-inducing sensations? Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate!

(Health-wise, a little starvation can be good for you, actually.)

So what can you do?

Use this info to help you:

  1. If you need to concentrate or something is going to require good judgment, make sure to eat something.
  2. Use your knowledge of the way certain foods make you feel to control and improve your mood.
  3. Use context to control your eating.

You probably utilize the first two points from time to time but maybe not often enough. The third is very powerful but you probably don’t put it into action.

From Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink:

The good news is that for every external cue that messes people up in our studies, you can solve the problem by doing the opposite. If going from a 10-inch to a 12-inch plate causes you to eat 22 percent more, use a 10-inch or 91/2-inch plate.

Use smaller bowls. Don’t rely on your willpower or the power of education. Don’t say, “Now I know that I’m three times more likely to eat the first thing I see in my cupboard than the fifth thing I see in my cupboard … but I won’t let that influence me.” It absolutely will!

The solution is to make sure that the first thing you see–the thing that’s front and center–is healthier than that chocolate-covered foie gras.

People eat food that’s on the table much more frequently than food that’s off the table, so just put the salad and vegetables on the table. Leave everything else on the counter or stove.

 

Related posts:

5 things you need to know about alcohol

5 things you need to know about that wonder-beverage, coffee

Will eating healthier make you sexier?

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME

A White Gay Man and a Black Woman Hug It Out

Steve Friess & Courtney Jones Stevens

In the name of an open dialogue on race, two sides of a divisive opinion try to come together in an online chat

Last month, Time.com posted a piece, “Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away,” by regular contributor Steve Friess responding to University of Mississippi student Sierra Mannie’s op-ed, “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture,” also published on Time.com.

The reaction to both pieces was explosive, proving how large the racial divide remains in America and how different the perspectives are of even well-intended people of both sides.

After engaging with his dissenters, Friess asked one of the women with whom he exchanged emails to have an on-the-record chat, in the name of an “open dialogue about race.” Courtney Jones-Stevens, a 26-year-old who recently earned a master’s degree in college student affairs administration from the University of Georgia.

Their conversation has been edited for space and approved by both parties.

* * *

SF: Good afternoon, Courtney. How are you?

CJS: I’m not feeling especially peaceful today in general considering what all has transpired in Missouri, but I’m ready for some insightful discourse.

SF: So is this a good time to have a dialogue on race relations in America?

CJS: It’s a good time for white allies to get into white communities and do some educating.

SF: Well, that’s a good segue to why we’re talking in the first place. I wrote a piece that I had hoped was a way of describing the commonalities between white gay men and black women and why we ought to be allies. I felt the original writer, Sierra Mannie, singled out a pretty small group of people—white gay men maybe make up one percent of all non-black people— for ridicule and attack.

CJS: Correct.

SF: Please tell me as best you can what you found wrong about what I said.

CJS: I know the title set the tone as directive and patronizing.

SF: I agree the headline was specifically problematic. It was, however, written as a parallel to the title of Mannie’s piece. Do you see the reverse problem of tone and disrespect?

CJS: I do empathize. I can see parallels in the casting out of gay White men and Black women. But for many Black women, race and gender exists in a strange space. What resonated from Mannie’s piece was that, although you may not be one of them, there are plenty of gay White men who at least make attempts to emulate Black women. You felt she was speaking to you even though you say you aren’t one of those men, and that speaks volumes to how privilege works.

SF: The discussion of privilege is frustrating because black people don’t want their world views, worth or ideas boiled down or dismissed based on their color. Yes, I’m white. And male. And gay. And disabled. And Jewish. Why does my perspective become invalid because of some of my traits?

CJS: Not invalid, but you can never understand what it is to be Black in America, to be forever objectified and subjugated. Mannie didn’t come from a place of disdain but exhaustion. I cannot tell you how many experiences I’ve had with microaggressions, with decent white folks who assume things about me and approach me or respond to me accordingly.

SF: You say many white gay guys emulate black women. I don’t believe there are so many, but if there are some, so what? Anyone admiring and celebrating black female culture would seem like people who are not out to harm you.

CJS: Steve, if someone says, “X is offensive and it’s not taken as you might have intended,” and your objective is to forge an alliance, your respond cannot be, “So what?” Do you know how many times I get “Whaddup sistah girl?!” and my white counterparts get a simple, “Hello.” Or how many times I’ve been asked to teach someone how to twerk. It’s just exhausting. This is from white gay men in the work place, in bars and clubs, etc.

SF: You must understand that that sounds completely bizarre and alien to me. And most gay white men I know.

CJS: Maybe it’s regional. I doubt it is. In the South, using blackness and being adjacent to black things is a cash cow.

SF: Do white straight men do this?

CJS: Absolutely. Although from straight white men, it’s more of a sexual objectification and fetishizing.

SF: So it’s a white male thing. Why isolate a very small portion of white men, the gays, for attack? Mannie accuses white gay men who “act” too black-female of being cultural thieves.

CJS: Mannie called out some folks who’ve flown under the radar.

SF: So the sense is there’s been enough written about racist behavior coming from the white world in general and that her piece was about a subset, white gays, who hadn’t been called out?

CJS: Right. The racism that’s rampant in the LGBT community and the cultural appropriation that happens in that community goes unnoticed. Nobody has a problem with gays doing the “Single Ladies” choreography in the club with each other, but there comes a point where we enter territory in which we don’t belong.

SF: One of the great ironies is that I’ve been shopping an essay for more than a year in which I react to Andrew Sullivan and others who are just stunned—stunned— by the head-spinning advances toward gay acceptance. It’s really easy and obvious; white men and women have been so involved. Whites came while having been embedded or secretly on the inside of America’s levers of power. Look at the gay movement through the lens of privilege and it’s pretty easy to see why it has been so successful so fast.

CJS: Okay. This is good. As awful as it is to hide parts of your identity, gays can and have. And to climb to a position of power with whiteness and then come out, I can’t describe it, but I don’t have the luxury of doing it. Who I am, what people think about who I am, and how people treat me on a daily basis is always visible. And that’s what’s so disturbing about folks from all walks of life who pick parts of who I am to use for their own amusement or advancement and tuck those things away when they no longer need them.

SF: Are we trying to determine whose historic burden has been worse? Because going the first 20 years or so of your life in a family that might reject you like a foreign organ is not a way to prepare anyone for a happy life.

CJS: No. I don’t play that game.

SF: But aren’t we? When you or Mannie want to describe why being closeted and fearing everything dear to you could be ruined or taken from you if your identity is known is someone a luxury?

CJS: It would be a luxury to be seen as something other than my color and gender at the outset of every interaction.

SF: For most of my life, I wore gigantic hearing aids. People always treated me as though I was mentally impaired until they got to know me. Anyone with any physical deformity, too, knows how it feels to be judged on sight. It’s not just people of color.

CJS: Yes, but do the police follow you, stop you, frisk you? Do they assume you have a weapon and shoot you? Do you see that?

SF: Yes. I do. Just because I felt called to defend very nelly gay guys doesn’t mean I can’t see the difference.

CJS: Fair enough.

SF: During the firestorm that followed my piece, I was goaded by many people to explain what I had done for black women or what all gays had done. And any time I offered any answer, I was then attacked because that wasn’t good enough or people thought, “Oh, so just because you did this you think…” It was incredibly frustrating.

CJS: I’m trying to think of the best way to say this. It’s multi-pronged. There is never enough to do when a cause is still ongoing. And I am honestly sitting here trying to think of instances where gay White men have stood side by side with Black women in solidarity. I’m stumped. And that’s not to say that it never happens, but I’m at a loss for examples.

SF: Actually, several prominent gay groups and people have spoken out about the Michael Brown death. I just sent you a press release showing a statement from 17 major gay groups condemning the Ferguson police. Are you surprised by that?

CJS: I wouldn’t say surprised I am glad to see it. It is unexpected, but I wasn’t taken aback.

SF: The reaction of the gay community to this incident isn’t as novel as you think. Going back 20 years, I’ve seen gay organizations boycott states that passed anti-black or anti-Hispanic laws. There were columns in the gay press about what Trayvon Martin had to do with gay social justice. I want to believe that you’ve seen pro-gay writing in the black media as well that I’d never have known about. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

CJS: Right and because access to that isn’t as open as it should be, it’s easier to say it doesn’t exist. I guess I have to bear responsibility for not having looked. But, still, the euphoric alliance you wrote about does not exist, and I don’t know many people on either side making an effort to forge it.

SF We can’t solve this or even pretend to represent anyone more than ourselves, but I look at these two groups and I see a lot of commonality. And people were hectoring me, “What? What is there in common?” Do you see it?

CJS: Between white gay men and black women? It’s nothing I’ve ever even considered. I suppose it exists, but I’ve not had a chance to build many relationships on that foundation.

SF: Why? Surely the opportunity has presented itself.

CJS: It’s not an organic thing for me, honestly.

SF: That’s where I’m confused, because it is organic for me. And to say that sounds like I’m going, “some of my best friends are…”

CJS: I don’t feel like being a social justice educator in every single interaction, you know? Sometimes I just want to be. I know several gay white guys and I’ve built great relationships, but they weren’t based on shared experiences of oppression.

SF: Well, no. That’s not a basis, but it is something you learn about one another as you go through life.

CJS: Yes, for sure.

SF: So Mannie wrote from her experience. I wrote from mine. I live near Detroit, I’ve always had a very broad range of close friends not only of races but also of different ages. And because I see it that way, because I feel optimistic that people who get to know one another will like and want to help one another, I walked into a buzzsaw with this piece.

CJS: Yes, yes you did. Your piece seemed to come from a place where gay white men are extending the savior hand and helping us black girls come up from the depths as you all have done so swiftly.

SF: I didn’t mean it that way! I just saw two groups with a lot in common who should be encouraged to help one another. It feels like a delicate line.

CJS: It is. Absolutely.

SF: People of good intentions will step on (and in) it.

CJS: In a way, we have to walk on eggshells with each other until a foundation built on trust has been laid. I believe in treading lightly as a general rule because I never know what life experiences have altered someone’s perspective.

SF: But whenever I hear about the importance of having a “dialogue on race,” I wonder – who is supposed to do this? Who qualifies? How does anyone do it without causing controversy or being attacked? What does it even mean? If the only people who can do it are the people who know precisely how not to misspeak or those who are willing to just cede the entire argument to the other people, what good is it?

CJS: Opening a dialogue should go something like what took place with us. Neither of us started by attacking each other personally. We have very different epistemologies, but we built something before having this conversation.

SF: Take the election of Obama. No, it didn’t end racism. But it was something substantial that showed millions of white people can look beyond race.

CJS: No one wants white people to look beyond race.

SF: Wait. You don’t?

CJS: I want to be seen for who I am. I want my history to be understood. I want my cultural differences to be acknowledged and appreciated without being encroached upon or perverted.

SF: We’re going to need to wrap up. Do you have questions for me.

CJS: We were actually able to cover my questions. The dialogue delved into your thought process. That’s what I wanted to know more about.

SF: Well, let me be clear. My intent was not to issue marching orders. It was not to pretend to be a savior. It was to describe my own reality, the world I dwell in. Mine is as legitimate as that of Mannie’s. But I felt like I was describing ways of coming together and she was trying to divide groups.

CJS: You’re entitled to have a reaction. I genuinely believe in people’s reactions being shaped by their experiences. Much of the way we respond to things is shaded by what we know to be true based on the lives we lead.

SF: Also, I didn’t enjoy being run through the ringer on Twitter, but I couldn’t deny that many people were telling me something hard to hear. I tried to agree with some and explain my differences with others, and that got distorted and amplified. So after this comes out, I am going to try to keep my trap shut and observe regardless of how hurtful and dehumanizing much of the reaction can be there.

CJS: I’m definitely nervous about the response. I’m grateful for this opportunity, but nervous.

SF: Well, here’s a hint I learned a little bit too late: The “mute” button on Twitter is your friend.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 20

1. Smart labels that monitor food can reduce food-related illness and waste.

By Adrienne LeFrance in the Atlantic

2. With a “Right to Work” law that lets refugees earn a living, Uganda avoids the pitfalls of wartime migration. Other countries can too.

By Gregory Warner in National Public Radio

3. Integrate the protests: Why Ferguson needs a “Freedom Summer.”

By Jay Caspian Kang in the New Yorker

4. To deter Putin and defuse the crisis in Ukraine, policymakers must be creative, strategic and collaborative.

By David Ignatius in the Washington Post

5. Extra ISP fees for companies like Netflix only stifle Internet innovation.

By Reed Hastings in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME faith

Pope Promotes Peace, Not Pacifism, in Iraq

Pope Francis
Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall, at the Vatican on Aug. 20, 2014. Riccardo De Luca—AP

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists

Many were surprised with Pope Francis’s remarks earlier this week suggesting that he was open to military intervention to stop the ISIS’s potentially genocidal campaign in Iraq.

While it’s important to note that he didn’t outright endorse the recent American airstrikes in Iraq, Francis’s remarks that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor” do seem to mark a shift from the pope’s response to the Syrian crisis last September. On that occasion, he held a worldwide vigil in the hopes of stopping the violence and postponing American intervention in the region. He then famously joined his words with those of Pope Paul VI: “war never again! Never again war!”

But for those who know the intricacies of Catholic moral teaching, Francis’s openness to military intervention in Iraq makes perfect sense. For 1500 years, the Church has promoted the teaching of St. Augustine: that there can be no true peace without justice. This ancient teaching has crystallized into the Church’s modern day just war principle, which holds that nations only ought to enter into military campaigns against unjust aggressors as a last resort and only in limited scope and circumstances.

Under that paradigm, does the current situation in Iraq merit such a military response? Pope Francis isn’t ruling it out. Now contrary to the absurd claim by Vox’s Max Fisher, Pope Francis isn’t calling for the tenth crusade against the Middle Eastern people. Instead, he’s proposing a clear-eyed response to a critical crisis.

Despite what some might think, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists. To promote some kind of laissez-faire pacifism in Iraq is to be quiet and indifferent to the victims of the ISIS’s campaign of violence. To the contrary, the peace that Francis and the Church are calling for at times requires military intervention.

This nuance has played out interestingly over the past fifty years. Though the Vatican unequivocally opposed President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was skeptical of American involvement in Vietnam, the Church did support American intervention in Iraq in 1991.

As President Obama and the United States contemplate the road forward in this current crisis, Pope Francis and the Church cannot offer American political and military leaders specific strategic solutions, but only broad stroke moral principles. What the Church does know is that authentic peace isn’t easy and is only reserved for societies who actively work for justice.

Despite the differences that will likely emerge in the details of President Obama’s and Pope Francis’s vision for American involvement in Iraq, both men will likely agree that peace—not pacifism—is the way forward in the region.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

TIME Opinion

Why Troubled Politicians Blame Women Even When It’s Not a Sex Scandal

Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell And Wife Appear In Court For Federal Corruption Case
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen leave the court on January 24, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia after pleading not guilty to a 14 count criminal indictment from federal grand jury charging that the couple violated federal corruption laws by using their positions to benefit a wealthy businessman who gave them gifts and loans. (Mark Wilson--Getty Images) Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell shows that it's convenient to have a female scapegoat

Updated August 20, 10:10 am

Men have been blaming their screw-ups on women ever since the Garden of Eden. Because Adam totally didn’t mean to eat that apple! He only did it because that crazy Eve chick tricked him into it. She must have had a crush on the snake.

This week, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s defense team started bringing witnesses to testify about Maureen McDonnell’s craziness and the former governor’s saintliness. The couple is facing federal corruption charges related to luxury gifts and loans they accepted from a political donor. The defense strategy so far has been to pin the blame for the whole mess on the ex-governor’s wife, Maureen McDonnell, saying she had a “crush” on big donor Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., but wasn’t a public official herself so lavish presents to her don’t count as corruption.

Williams, who testified for federal prosecutors under a generous immunity deal, denied any romantic intrigue with Mrs. McDonnell, saying his relationship with the family was a business transaction to help sell health supplements through his company, Star Scientific. “I thought the governor could help bring this product to the marketplace, and it was not the right thing to do,” he testified.

But the defense is arguing that the Governor didn’t have anything to do with the $165,000 in cash and gifts that Williams gave him over a two-year period, it was just little ol’ Maureen being a silly woman in love. Love makes women dumb, right?

Longtime aide McDonnell Janet Vestal Kelly testified for the defense on Monday, calling the former Governor “Mr. Honest,” but said his wife was “diva-ish” and “pathologically incapable of taking any responsibility.” She explained that it was “well known” that Mrs. McDonnell would “hide things,” and that she seemed “kind of flirty” with Williams. Kelly said she didn’t want to “pile on” the former First Lady, but that her staff even worried that Mrs. McDonnell might be mentally ill and they once staged a mutiny because she was so difficult to work for. The defense also presented a letter signed by Mrs. McDonnell’s staff detailing the “worst kind of bullying.” And on Tuesday, Mrs. McDonnell’s sister-in-law, also named Maureen, testified that she was “very manipulative, very unpredictable and very deceptive.” Suddenly, it’s the First Lady’s personality that’s on trial, not her husband’s role as an elected official.

It’s possible that Maureen McDonnell is the lovesick crazy woman the defense team is making her out to be (she did text Williams “I just felt the earth move, and I wasn’t having sex” after an earthquake.) But it’s also possible this is an elaborate ruse to blame the wife in order to get both McDonnells out of some serious prison time. (They face 14 counts of public corruption, obstruction of justice and lying on financial documents.) This could be a clever experiment in political alchemy: by transforming a corruption scandal into a sex scandal, it puts the focus on the woman’s behavior instead of the money trail. And it makes sense: sex scandals are easier for the public to understand, and blaming the woman tends to take some of the heat off the man — just ask Paula Broadwell or Rielle Hunter.

But now “blaming the woman” (or using a woman’s behavior to distract pesky critics and prosecutors), is becoming a catch-all strategy for exonerating male politicians from calamities that might not have much to do with sex at all. Chris Christie said he was “blindsided” by the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge closures in Fort Lee, N.J., which he says was orchestrated by his aide Bridget Anne Kelly (who was later publicly shamed for a “personal relationship” she had with another staff member.) Chinese politician Bo Xilai blamed his “crazy” wife for embezzling government money and taking bribes last year (she was convicted in 2012 of murdering a British business associate.) Newt Gingrich staffers blamed the collapse of his 2011 Presidential campaign on a takeover by his wife Callista. And former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens blamed the $250,000 worth of home renovations from a wealthy oil contractor that led to federal corruption charges in 2008 on his wife, Catherine (an investigation later found that prosecutors withheld evidence that would have helped Stevens, who lost his Senate seat and then died in a 2010 plane crash.) None of these were explicitly sex scandals, but they were still spun as the woman’s fault.

Of course, the woman isn’t always blameless — for Stevens, at least, there might have been some truth to his claim that Catherine paid the renovation bills and he might not have known about the thousands of dollars worth of gifts. And it’s possible that Maureen McDonnell did accept Williams’s money without her husband’s knowledge (although this picture of the Governor driving Williams’s car makes that seem unlikely.) Some lawyers say McDonnell’s “crush” defense is so nutty it just might work, others say it could be the truth. But it’s still a mighty convenient tactic, and it’s not just used by men; Hillary Clinton was all too willing to blame Monica Lewinsky for the affair with Bill, even though Lewinsky was a young, inexperienced intern and Bill Clinton was the President of the United States.

The trend could be an unfortunate byproduct of women’s rights; as women are seen as increasingly capable of succeeding, they’re also seen as increasingly capable of screwing up. For example, Mary Todd Lincoln was famous for overspending on White House decorations and falsifying spending records, but Lincoln didn’t try to blame any of his political woes on her (then again Honest Abe had bigger fish to fry.)

There’s an old saying that says, “behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” These days, it seems the inverse is also true: in front of every embarrassed man is an embarrassing woman.

TIME Opinion

Using Homeless Guys as Reality Show Props is Offensive

In this viral video, the only reason for giving these homeless guys money is not to help them, but to exploit them, which is what the video creators don’t get.

The viral YouTube video, “Making Homeless Guys Arm Wrestle For Money!” opens on a sidewalk with a 20-year-old guy in a black V-neck. He gives this introduction: “What’s up guys! I’m Coby from Model Pranksters… today we’re in New York City, we’re gonna find two homeless people, put them up to an arm wrestle. The winner gets $100.” It has been viewed more than 8 million times.

Harmless enough, right? A couple of guys down on their luck get a crack at enough cash to buy their next five or ten meals and we get to watch. (Or, maybe you’re thinking the vary premise sounds patently offensive. But let’s keep going.)

Coby Persin and his sidekick, Justin, head off in search of a vagrant with a meaty bicep. They stumble upon a middle-aged African-American man, panhandling, whose pants are ripped and barely cover his legs. The man agrees to participate in a video for $100, without knowing what he will be asked to do. The Model Pranksters find his opponent and inform the two that they will be arm-wrestling with the winner pocketing $100 and the loser leaving empty-handed. But, there’s a catch. With the competitors out of view, Justin tells us that even the loser will get $50.

Doesn’t that just warm your heart?

The arm-wrestling match ends with the African-American guy winning and Persin handing him two $50 bills. That’s when the video’s big payoff happens. The winner looks at his opponent and says, “Robert, I know how it is, man, working tough, no harm no foul,” offering one of the $50 bills to the match’s loser. The two gladiators hug, and Persin is stunned. “This is like one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen,” he says. He gives them both another $100, then some bear hugs, and they all part ways.

Since its posting, close to 100,000 people have given the video a thumbs up, compared to just 4,641 who awarded it a thumbs down. This is Persin’s most popular video but not his first. That was “How to get any girl’s number,” in which he and his buddies would walk up to girls on Coney Island, ask to use their phone, call themselves with it, et voila! “We stole their number,” he says. More recent titles include “Stealing from the Homeless” and “Picking up Girls with Akon and Snoop Dogg Songs.”

Persin’s “Model Pranksters” channel (named because he once was an Abercrombie and Fitch model) generates enough views to bring in between $6,000 and $10,000 a month, he says. He no longer has to work on anything but these videos. The arm-wrestling “prank” was actually meant to convince potential viewers that they were about to watch “douchebags making homeless guys wrestle for money,” says Persin, which would surely have gotten a lot of views. But they’re not actually douchebags, he says, because they were always going to give the loser that $50.

“If you listen to the guy, he said his day is going slow, he’s not making any money, and we’re giving him $50 and $100 right off the bat,” Persin says. “He can’ t be mad at us. People in the comments section make it seem like we’re bad people, saying ‘You should have just given him the money.’ But then there’d be no video.”

Exactly. The only reason for giving these guys money is not to help them, but to exploit them, which is what Persin and his pals don’t get. Why choose homeless people, anyway? Because they’re probably desperate enough to allow themselves to be exploited for a few greenbacks, and because we have a strange fascination with these “other” people, an interest that is hard to satisfy because we spend so much time avoiding them.

Take the arm-wrestling winner’s generous gesture after the match, for example. It’s the whole reason the video went viral. But if you know anything about homeless people, the move wasn’t all that surprising. Even to their own detriment, at times, homeless people are sometimes far more generous than the rest of us. They realize how a little kindness can make a big difference.

Homeless people who end up in encampments, small communities of tent cities or ramshackle structures in various locales around the world, are often generous even with little resources, says Robert Marbut, a homeless advocate in San Antonio, Texas. “They’re almost communal.”

If one person living in the encampment happens to have more food or money, Marbut says, they’ll share it, he says. “If you have a bad week at work, if I have a good week, it’s OK, we work together.”

Another problem with Persin’s video is that it anticipates some wildly entertaining outcome in a completely irresponsible way. Persin chose these men not because they were down on their luck, but because he thought it would be amusing to have homeless people arm-wrestle. Surely, he expected to find colorful characters to participate in the video. And the reason homeless people can be colorful characters is because many of them — as many a third, by most estimates — are suffering from mental illness. So unlike choosing to hire someone for a job because the person possesses a valuable skill, Persin picked these people because they have a weakness he thought might be entertaining to watch.

But the end of the video taught us all a valuable lesson about humanity and human kindness, right? Definitely. And there’s value in deflating the notion that the more desperate a person is, the greedier he must be. But that lesson has unfortunately subsumed the more important one: That no matter how amusing, it’s wrong to exploit the vulnerable for a cheap thrill. It was insulting in the era of the Romans and the Gladiators, just as it was in 2011 when the rapacious owners of a fetish web site paid homeless people in Florida to take a beating. It wasn’t ok in 2012, either, when a marketing agency at the South By Southwest technology conference paid homeless people $20 a day to walk around as mobile WiFi hot spots.

Persin has since come to realize that the best part of his video was that it (accidentally) moved people at the end; he has begun experimenting with turning that twist into a theme. Last week, he uploaded “Helping a Homeless Man Through the Power of Music,” where he recruited a few good singers to sit alongside a panhandler and belt out John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” to boost the homeless guy’s take for a few minutes.

Sure enough, the bills immediately began to trickle into the upturned hat of one of the songsters. Passersby shot videos of the moment, and the vagrant was grateful. No arm-wrestling, no click-baiting headline.

And as of Monday, 202,000 views.

TIME europe

Europe’s Economic Woes Require a Japanese Solution

Rome As Italy Returns To Recession In Second-Quarter
A pedestrian carries a plastic shopping bag as she passes a closed-down temporary outlet store in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Italy's economy shrank 0.2 percent in the second quarter after contracting 0.1 percent in the previous three months. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The region’s economy is starting to resemble Japan’s, and that threatens to condemn Europe to its own lost decades

No policymaker, anywhere in the world, wants his or her national economy to be compared to Japan’s. That’s because the Japanese economy, though still the world’s third-largest, has become a sad case-study in the long-term damage that can be inflicted by a financial crisis. It’s more than two decades since Japan’s financial sector melted down in a gargantuan property and stock market crash, but the economy has never fully recovered. Growth remains sluggish, the corporate sector struggles to compete, and the welfare of the average Japanese household has stagnated.

The stark reality facing Europe right now is that its post-crisis economy is looking more and more like Japan’s. And if I was Mario Draghi, Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande, that would have me very, very nervous that Europe is facing a Japanese future — a painful, multi-decade decline.

The anemic growth figures in post-crisis Europe suggest that the region is in the middle of a long-term slump much like post-crisis Japan. Euro zone GDP has contracted in three of the five years from 2009 and 2013, and the International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth of about 1.5% a year through 2019. Compare that to Japan. Between 1992 and 2002, Japan’s GDP grew more than 2% only twice, and contracted in two years. What Europe has to avoid is what happened next in Japan: There, the “lost decade” of slow growth turned into “lost decades.” A self-reinforcing cycle of low growth and meager demand became entrenched, leaving Japan almost entirely dependent on exports — in other words, on external demand — for even its modest rates of expansion.

It is easy to see Europe falling into the same trap. Low growth gives European consumers little incentive to spend, banks to lend, or companies to invest at home. Europe, in fact, has it worse than Japan in certain respects. High unemployment, never much of an issue in Japan, could suppress the spending power of the European middle class for years to come. Europe also can’t afford to rely on fiscal spending to pump up growth, as Japan has done. Pressure from bond markets and the euro zone’s leaders have forced European governments to scale back fiscal spending even as growth has stumbled. It is hard to see where Europe’s growth will come from – except for increasing exports, which, in a still-wobbly global economy, is far from a sure thing.

This slow-growth trap is showing up in Europe today as low inflation – something else that has plagued Japan for years on end. Deflation in Japan acted as a further brake on growth by constraining both consumption and investment. Now there are widespread worries that the euro zone is heading in a similar pattern. Inflation in the euro zone sunk to a mere 0.4% in July, the lowest since the depths of the Great Recession in October 2009.

Sadly, Europe and Japan also have something else in common. Their leaders have been far too complacent in tackling these problems. What really killed Japan was a diehard resistance to implementing the reforms that might spur new sources of growth. The economy has remained too tied up in the red tape and protection that stifles innovation and entrepreneurship. And aside from a burst of liberalization under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the early 2000s, Japan’s policymakers and politicians generally avoided the politically sensitive reforms that might have fixed the economy.

Europe, arguably, has been only slightly more active. Though some individual governments have made honorable efforts – such as Spain’s with its labor-law liberalization – for the most part reform has come slowly (as in Italy), or has barely begun (France). Nor have European leaders continued to pursue the euro zone-wide integration, such as removing remaining barriers to a common market, that could also help spur growth.

What all this adds up to is simple: If Europe wants to avoid becoming Japan, Europe’s leaders will have to avoid the mistakes Japan has made over the past 20 years. That requires a dramatic shift in the current direction of European economy policy.

First of all, the European Central Bank (ECB) has to take a page out of the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) recent playbook and become much more aggressive in combating deflation. We can debate whether the BOJ’s massive and unorthodox stimulus policies are good or bad, but what is beyond argument at this point is that ECB president Draghi is not taking the threat of deflation seriously enough. Inflation is nowhere near the ECB’s preferred 2% and Draghi has run monetary policy much too tight. He should consider bringing down interest rates further, if necessary employing the “quantitative easing” used by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

But Japan’s case also shows that monetary policy alone can’t raise growth. The BOJ is currently injecting a torrent of cash into the Japanese economy, but still the economic recovery is weak. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally seems to have digested that fact and in recent months has announced some measures aimed at overhauling the structure of the Japanese economy, by, for instance, loosening labor markets, slicing through excessive regulation, and encouraging more women to join the workforce. Abe’s efforts may prove too little, too late, but European leaders must still follow in his footsteps by taking on unions, opening protected sectors and dropping barriers to trade and investment in order to enhance competitiveness and create jobs.

If Europe fails to act, it is not hard to foresee the region slipping hopelessly into a Japan-like downward spiral. This would prove disastrous for Europe’s young people — already suffering from incomprehensible levels of youth unemployment — and it would deny the world economy yet another pillar of growth.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,197 other followers