Addressing the Culture of Sexual Assault is Not a One-size Fits All Approach

Sexual assault culture shift

 

Unlike some people on the left, I am not interested in forcing or coaxing anyone to agree with my point of view on the allegation from 2006 against comedian/writer and co-host of Air America Radio, Al Franken. I saw the interview in full with Leeann Tweeden, and I believed her without hesitation. I shared her blog post on the day it was published, adding “Wrong is wrong”. It does not mean I think Sen. Franken (D-MN) should resign “right away” without first taking a closer look at his track record as a U.S. Senator in relation to the advancement of women, and with respect to his inappropriate behavior toward women (assuming there is more than one person), prior to his career in politics. Tweeden’s acceptance of the Senator’s apology does not absolve Franken of his transgression. She even went further to say on Good Morning America: “I didn’t do this to have him step down. I think Al Franken does a lot of good things in the Senate. You know, I think that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide. I’m not calling for him to step down. That was never my intention.”

On an ironically related legislative note, I do agree with the sexual assault survivor who asked Sen. Franken to remove himself from the bill he co-sponsored in support of sexual assault victims. Franken is not a saint by any stretch (nor is any liberal or conservative Congress member before or after they went into politics). Here is something to consider: How many other male Senators have proposed legislation in support and empowerment of women?

Then there are the other leftists who minimize Tweeden’s painful experience, disparagingly referring to her as a former model, Fox Sports host, friend of Sean Hannity and guest on his show (hence she must have an ulterior motive)… it’s misogynistic and base… moreover, it is irrelevant. Even if there was some truth to the timing in which Tweeden shared her story, it is overshadowed by her courage in publicly articulating a very uncomfortable and traumatic interaction with Franken. Wrong is wrong, and there are degrees of wrong. Same is true for doing the right thing and the impact that it has… in the short-term and long-term.

Rebecca Traister, author, editor and feminist journalism who I respect, summed it up well on Real Time with Bill Maher (November 17th episode) with a holistic perspective on the culture of sexual assault and female denigration:

 
“The focus on what the punishment is going to be [for the sexual harassers] is also on some level an easier conversation to have because then we get to fight about it: ‘Should he resign?’ And then we all go to our partisan battle stations.

“[It’s easier] than actually looking at the more difficult conversation, which is about the whole culture: it’s about a culture that empowers white men to abuse their power in a million ways, from the villainous predators to the fact that there is a sense of humor that we all understand in this country, that if a woman is asleep it’s funny to grab her t*ts. And that a man [referring to Al Franken] can gain power and stature and a place in the public sphere by profiting from that comedy.

“That doesn’t make [Al Franken] the same as Harvey Weinstein, but it’s not about him. It’s about reckoning with the fact that we make that culture, we participate in that culture, it’s our good politicians, it’s our friends, it’s our husbands, and it’s ourselves. That is a harder conversation to have and it’s the one we should be having about this moment, not ‘Should he resign…’”

 

 
Referenced links:
http://www.kabc.com/2017/11/16/leeann-tweeden-on-senator-al-franken/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/11/17/im-a-feminist-i-study-rape-culture-and-i-dont-want-al-franken-to-resign/
https://www.thecut.com/2017/11/al-franken-accuser-leeann-tweeden-resign-comments.html
https://www.salon.com/2017/11/17/franken-fallout-sexual-assault-survivor-wants-his-name-removed-from-legislation/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/11/17/former-franken-female-staffers-speak-out-he-treated-us-with-the-utmost-respect/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMysyy0s5t4
http://deadline.com/2017/11/bill-maher-al-franken-real-time-harvey-weinstein-donald-trump-1202210878/

 

 

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Another White House Scandal; Another Divisive Distraction from Trump

Another divisive distraction

Top screenshot (Sept. 25th) from “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on MSNBC | Bottom screenshot (Sept. 25th) from “CBS This Morning”

 

Officials from Trump’s Administration have claimed that six current and former West Wing Advisors used private emails to discuss sensitive White House matters rather than use their government emails, or at the very least forward it to their WH email accounts. In an effort to distract the public and media outlets from another egregious and hypocritical impropriety in the White House, Trump took a calculated risk in attacking the NFL, its athletes and referees. The undercurrent of racism streaming through his public and social media invectives is palpable and predictable. It did not go unnoticed by Trevor Noah from The Daily Show, and late night talk show hosts Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers… or Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas… or Vietnam Veteran and Texas Sports Anchor Dale Hansen. There is also a misogynistic tone in Trump’s mocking of the NFL: he implies referees are making the violent game of football “too soft” by calling unnecessary penalties so they can impress their wives “sitting at home”.

In an exchange Monday on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Dr. Jason Johnson shared an interesting perspective on the predominantly white NFL team owners, who appeared to show solidarity with players on Sunday and Monday Night Football. He pointed out “That was just a bunch of rich guys arguing with each other… when Bob Kraft [New England Patriots owner; close friend and outspoken supporter of Donald Trump] takes a knee, or Jerry Jones [Dallas Cowboys owner/GM; friend of the Clintons and Donald Trump; Trump inaugural donor] takes a knee, they don’t care about police brutality [or domestic violence].” Prof. Johnson went on to say “Jerry Jones [signed a player who was arrested for brutally assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend and later found guilty on another DV case].” He also added “Most of these owners don’t care about these moral issues. They were protesting because they don’t like another rich guy telling them how to run their business.” However, “the players who have been doing this all along [Colin Kaepernick started the protest of injustices to African Americans and other non-whites last year during the national anthem]: they were the ones speaking up [and demonstrating] for justice.”

Meanwhile Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is desperately dealing with an unprecedented disaster from Hurricane Maria, which dismantled the island’s entire power grid, leaving over three million people without electricity. Puerto Rico has exhausted its limited resources and needs immediate U.S. assistance to tackle the numerous catastrophes, including massive flooding, widespread infrastructural damage, very limited cell phone access and minimal access to clean water, food and fuel. Since the hurricane hit the island on September 20th through this past weekend, Trump had not expressed support—either publicly or via Twitter—to the millions suffering in Puerto Rico and the families in the U.S. worried sick about their loved ones. Instead, Trump focused on creating a diversion to mitigate further damage to his public image. Even if the president had not intentionally attempted to redirect attention from another unraveling scandal, the latest vituperative diatribe is yet another demonstration of his shallow and unpresidential behavior. Moreover, Trump’s preference to spew insults at the NFL rather than champion a caring message for the devastated Americans in Puerto Rico is reprehensible.

 

 

 

Tough opposition talk within the GOP has no effect on the decline of democracy

mccain_trump_composite

Juxtaposition of Sen. John McCain (left) referring to the need for “free press” on ‘Meet the Press’ with Chuck Todd on Feb 19th; and President Trump (right) during CPAC speech on Feb 24th reiterating his claim that news media is the “enemy of the American people”.

 


Last Sunday, February 19th, on Meet the Press, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) defended the need for a “free and [often times] an adversarial press” in order to “preserve democracy”. And he raised concerns about President Trump’s bellicose dialogue with press coverage at the White House. Some liberals were impressed with the Republican Senator’s warning against the “consolidation of power” as a sign of dictatorship in reference to the president’s excoriation of the press, including a tweet in which he claimed “fake news media… is the enemy of the American people”. A few Democrats went further to say they “respect” McCain’s seemingly strong stance against President Trump. Many would agree politicians who are consistently fair, broadly just, and who follow through on tough talk deserve respect. McCain may be more respectable relative to fellow GOP Congressmen including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). However, ask American Indians and Native activists in his home state how much respect they have for the Arizona Senator: McCain may have voiced support for Native people, yet his contradictory actions have led to decisions and policies that undermine the protection of their sacred land.

 

Last August, McCain officially endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee. Reluctantly, McCain had expressed support for Trump as early as May 2016. This despite having been criticized numerous times, including Trump’s claim in July 2015 that “[McCain’s] not a war hero. Well, he’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”  McCain finally withdrew his endorsement of Trump only after a crude and vulgar 2005 tape from “Access Hollywood” was leaked to the media in October–in which Trump admits to groping women by their private parts and trying to have sex with a married woman. Progressives hope McCain would assert his supposed “maverick” influence and seniority in the Senate to rally Republican outcry against Trump’s despotic tendencies and his unpresidential behavior. It is a futile sentiment given the historical dichotomy of McCain’s rhetoric and his actions. The U.S. Senator was a “maverick” of sorts–not in a good way!–as a minority in Congress when he voted against establishing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national holiday in 1983. Even though his position eventually changed, McCain has a track record of blocking civil rights legislation.

 

In 2008 when John McCain was the Republican presidential nominee, one of his supporters at a townhall meeting in Minnesota said Barack Obama, then Democratic presidential nominee, is untrustworthy because “he’s an Arab“. McCain corrected the woman: “No ma’am. [Obama is] a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Problem is McCain did nothing to assuage rising Islamophobia, especially within his party: he missed an opportunity of telling his misinformed supporters that equating the entire Arab population and Muslim men to jihadist extremists is no different from saying all white male Christians are domestic terrorists (the latter would be statistically closer to the truth).

 

On Friday, February 24th, the White House made an unprecedented decision of denying several news outlets–called out by Trump as “enem[ies] of the American people”–access to an off-camera press briefing with White House press secretary, Sean Spicer.  Included on the banned list were CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Guardian, and the BBC along with a few others. Conservative media groups were welcomed such as Breitbart News, the Washington Times, and One America News Network, as were TV networks Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC. The Associated Press and Time magazine were allowed but boycotted. Is this the beginning of the president’s censorship of the press? Moreover, is this the inchoate workings of a dictatorial regime in the White House?

 

Tornadoes in the U.S., in Europe and elsewhere

tornadoes-hot-spots-around-the-world

Like the United States, Europe experiences its share of severe weather ranging from intense winter storms to violent thunderstorms accompanied by hail stones and even tornadoes. No continent remotely rivals North America when it comes to tornadoes. A vast majority of those tornadoes spawn within the 48 contiguous states of the U.S., mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), headquartered in Norman, Oklahoma, keeps a history of tornadoes reported in the U.S. since 1950. The SPC is also situated in an area that has a relatively high frequency of strong to violent twisters. This band of intense tornadic activity, covering South Central states and most of the Midwest is referred to by the media as Tornado Alley.

tornado_alley_intense_tornadoes

Based on data pulled from the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD), 5,478 tornadoes have been reported from 1950 to 2015 in 42 countries. [Although waterspouts–generally weaker vortices over water–are included in the ESWD definition of a tornado, only those confirmed and verified, on land, were selected from the database for this article.] That comes to an average of 83 tornadoes per year in Europe. In December 2016, a research paper titled Tornadoes in Europe: An underestimated threat became available online with the purpose of raising public awareness as to the underestimated and under-reported threat of these funnel-shaped maelstroms of dangerous winds. Tornadoes were under-reported in the U.S. as well during earlier decades when reports of severe weather were handled by individual offices at the U.S. Weather Bureau, and overseen by the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA). For example, from 1953 to 2004, the average number of yearly tornadoes was 908. The annual average of U.S. tornadoes, based on the most recent 10-year period from 2005 to 2014, is 1,201. If you look at a 20-year span of tornadoes reported from 1995 to 2014, the average is higher at 1,239. A 30-year period, from 1985 to 2014, accounts for an average of 1,141 tornadoes.

In a PowerPoint presentation shared with North Jersey Weather Observers in May 2011 and published on SlideShare titled Overview of U.S. Tornadoes, I provided some explanations accounting for the increase in the number of tornadoes reported since 1990. [It is outlined on slide 22.]

  • Population increase: More tornadoes are observed and reported.
  • Better technology: More tornadoes are detected by meteorologists.
  • Greater knowledge: Fewer tornadoes are mistaken for straight line wind damage; downbursts; and gustnadoes, short-lived whirling gust fronts.
  • Confirmation: Fewer tornadoes are double counted by separate eye witnesses, reporting the same twister.

There was also an increased effort to improve severe weather forecasting and to effectively communicate likely and imminent hazardous weather alerts to the public.  So in 1966, ESSA formed a specialized branch of the U.S. Weather Bureau to do just that. And it was given the name: National Severe Storms Forecast Center (NSSFC). Part of the scope of the NSSFC was to centralize and verify severe weather data from radar, and eye witness accounts (observed and videotaped) from storm chasers, the media and individuals. In 1970, the U.S. Weather Bureau changed its name to the National Weather Service (NWS), and the ESSA was rebranded as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Later that decade the roll out of Real-time operational forecasts and warnings, using Doppler radar, had become a game changer for the NSSFC. By the end of the 1980’s, the network of advanced Doppler radars, referred to as  NEXRAD (short for ‘Next Generation Weather Radar’), had significantly improved lead times in predicting severe weather events, including ice storms, tornadoes, and flash floods.  In 1995, the NSSFC was renamed the Storm Prediction Center. [For more history on SPC, go here.]

People living in the U.S. understand the destructive powers of tornadoes, especially in the Great Plains region and in Southeast states where many families have storm shelters and emergency kits for such events. Civil defense sirens, as part of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), are sounded in the vicinity of imminent danger when tornado warnings are issued, simultaneously with radio and TV broadcasts, and smartphone alerts. And schools have practice drills designed for tornado preparedness. It is also a significant advantage when a common language–English–is spoken in every state. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2011 almost 80% of U.S. residents, age 5 and older, spoke English “very well” or “well”. It is easier to communicate watches and warnings, and to inform the general public on the hazards and safety measures of tornadoes when one language is predominantly spoken. It also helps to reduce the risk of serious injuries and fatalities from tornadoes and other severe weather events with effective and timely alerts.

The researchers who published Tornadoes in Europe: An underestimated threat understand the need to educate the public on tornado preparedness; and the importance of advancing forecasting products and services. The analysis of the tornado data led them to outline the following conclusions:

  1. Increase awareness of the threat of tornadoes to Europe
  2. Encourage further discussion within and between different European countries to (a) improve monitoring and recording of tornado occurrence, (b) better understand the local environments associated with tornadoes, and (c) eventually lead to the development of forecasting and warning systems
  3. Stimulate the interest of the scientific community
  4. Influence decision-makers to develop tornado preparedness and response programs

In Europe, the logistics of consistent and proficient communication is considerably more challenging since multiple languages and dialects are spoken across 40 plus countries. Notwithstanding some hurdles, the annual number of confirmed and verified tornadoes has been steadily rising. This most likely reflects an increase in the general public’s awareness and due diligence in reporting tornadic activity. For example, despite a well under-reported yearly mean of 50 European tornadoes from 1953 to 2004, the annual average of tornadoes from 2005 to 2014 was 258.

In 2006, Europe confirmed and verified a maximum of 414 tornadoes. The U.S. tallied its most prodigious year of tornadoes in 2004 with 1,817. That is over four times the annual record of tornadoes reported in all of Europe. To put it in perspective: the greatest number of U.S. tornadoes in a single month occurred in April 2011 when 758 twisters left a devastating path of destruction throughout most of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. This single month record in the U.S. is greater than a recent 3-year total of 747 tornadoes that touched down in Europe from 2013 to 2015.

april-2011-tornado-reports-map

Although the United States has greater than four times as many tornadoes, Europe has more than twice the number of people living in the continent (742 million) compared with the U.S. population (323 million). There are other factors aside from population density and the likelihood of a tornado touching down: the preparedness of those in harm’s way, the lead time to respond accordingly, the time of day when it hits, the strength (damage potential) of the twister, and the duration and trajectory of the path in relation to people and property.

Tornadoes spawn outside of Europe and the United States. Canada reports as many as 100 tornadoes a year. Australia has up to 25 twisters reported annually. Tornadoes touch down in other countries, but not as frequent. Provided is a table with tornado stats by continent with annual average, percentage, square miles, average frequency per 100,000 square mile, and notes on the concentration of activity. The ‘Tornadoes per Year’ takes into account under-reporting, esp. in Europe where Earth scientists and meteorologists have estimated it to be closer to an average of 300.

annual-tornado-stats-from-around-the-world

 

Here is a pie chart representing the percentage of tornadoes around the world.

percentage-of-tornadoes-around-the-world

 

And here is a bar chart illustrating the annual average of tornadoes.

annual-average-of-tornadoes-around-the-world

No matter how the data is visually presented, it is clear to see the significant disparity of tornadoes in the United States versus Europe and elsewhere. However, there are regions in every continent, except for Antarctica, that are susceptible to tornadoes. Atmospheric scientists cannot prevent tornadoes from forming. However, meteorologists have a crucial role in predicting these powerful twisters, and in working with local agencies and the media to notify the public when there is a likelihood and presence of severe weather. The United States has mastered the art and science of forecasting tornadoes with a high degree of accuracy, educating the public of its dangers, and issuing warnings in a fast and effective way. It is a blueprint of success for European weather scientists as they endeavor to 1) improve forecasting and to 2) raise public awareness. Eventually, tornadoes will no longer be considered “an underestimated threat” in Europe.