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6 tick-borne illnesses that will haunt your dreams tonight

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If you live in an area with a few trees and shrubs, you’re likely cohabitating with a network of bloodsucking, disease-ridden arachnids. That’s right, ticks are your next-door neighbors … except the diseases they carry aren’t neighborly at all.

On Wednesday, we were hit with a double whammy on these nasty little buggers. A committee submitted a report to Congress found that tick-borne illnesses are spreading to more people and present “a serious and growing threat to public health.” Take Lyme disease, an illness that’s caused by bacteria carried by blacklegged (AKA deer) ticks. The report found that over the past 25 years, the disease has increased by more than 300 percent in Northeastern states.

Here’s that second whammy: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the kinds of diseases ticks carry are growing in number as well. The CDC says 2017 was a “record year” for ticks and the freaky bugs they carry.

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In the U.S., there are currently 18 tick-borne illnesses recognized by the CDC, but researchers uncover more regularly that aren’t yet recognized by the agency. “The continued spread of ticks, the discovery of new tick-borne pathogens, and the spreading outbreak of human disease is a near certainty,” the committee report gloomily concludes.

Before we get into which new diseases you should be biting your nails over this year, there’s a big question worth answering: What’s to blame for this Great Tick-ward Expansion?

The answer is multi-faceted, but climate change plays a role. Warmer winters mean more ticks survive the cold season and can travel farther by hitching rides on deer, whose range expands in milder weather. Also at fault: exploding deer populations and human populations expanding into wooded areas. Here’s what new or rising illnesses you should be on the lookout for:


Ladies and gentlemen, meet the tick that can make you allergic to meat. Alas, this is not a prank. Lone star ticks, which were first discovered in the Southeast, have army-crawled their way into the Northeast, and their bite can trigger a serious allergy to red meat in humans. Not to mention, they hunt in packs like a gang of aggressive vampires. The cure to the allergy? Stop eating red meat, lol.

Heartland virus

Lone star ticks also carry a recently discovered illness called Heartland virus, which has a 12 percent mortality rate and causes symptoms like fever, diarrhea, and myalgia (muscle pain). Also no cure. Cheers, guys.

B. Miyamotoi

Blacklegged ticks have it all: They carry Lyme in addition to a host of other diseases, including a newly discovered infection called B. miyamotoi. Symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, fatigue, and more flu-like effects. The only real difference between B. miyamotoi and Lyme is that the former doesn’t come with a tell-tale rash. “The better to trick you with, my deer,” says a blacklegged tick, probably, rubbing two of its eight creepy feet together.

Powassan virus

The Powassan virus is a rare illness that causes fevers, confusion, and memory problems. It’s carried by blacklegged ticks as well as some mosquitos and groundhog ticks. Surprised to discover groundhog ticks exist? Same and I’m a real tick aficionado.

Bourbon virus

Pour yourself a stiff drink, because ticks might carry something called Bourbon virus, now (researchers don’t know if it’s ticks for sure, yet, let alone which ones carry it). The first reported case was in Bourbon County, Kansas, in 2014, and the poor guy who had it died. There have been a few other cases since, but that’s pretty much all we know so far.

Bonus tick

S.F.T.S.! It’s not a new acronym the youngsters are using. It’s a syndrome that causes fever and messes with your blood, and it’s carried by a tick called the Asian longhorned tick. Not to be confused with the Asian longhorned beetle, which has its own set of problems — you know what they say! The longer the horn the longer the problem (they don’t really say that).

An Asian longhorned tick infestation was first found in New Jersey in 2017, but the ticks have now spread to seven states in total. None of the ticks found in America so far are diseased, but, in other countries like Asia, the longhorned tick carries S.F.T.S, which kills 15 percent of infected people. Have fun trying to sleep tonight.

Does any of this mean you shouldn’t step outside anymore? Hell no! We can’t just hand the great outdoors over to the ticks. That means they win. And doctors, by the by, agree with me. I’m sure as heck not gonna let a bunch of hungry sesame seeds scare me out of living my life, and neither should you. For more information about how to avoid getting bitten by these mean bloodsuckers go here.

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6 tick-borne illnesses that will haunt your dreams tonight

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How anti-clean energy campaigns create a mirage of public support

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Javier Torres Jimenez was surprised to find his South Seattle grocery store, Mi Ranchito, on a list of Latino businesses opposing a carbon fee in Washington state.

Jimenez was recently approached by a representative from No on 1631, a campaign backed by oil companies trying to quash the country’s first fee on carbon emissions. But he said didn’t know anything about the measure when he signed a form allowing his business to appear on marketing materials for the “No” campaign. He thought the paper the representative handed him had something to do Initiative 1634 — an effort to block future soda taxes in Washington.

Over the weekend, a flyer urging voters to join “more than a hundred Latino businesses and vote No on 1631” went out to Spanish-speaking communities across Washington state. Mi Ranchito and other Latino businesses were listed as opponents of the carbon fee.

Jimenez speaks at a press conference at Mi Ranchito.Kate Yoder / Grist

“I didn’t know until yesterday that my [business’] name was all over the place,” said Jimenez, who actually supports Initiative 1631, at a press conference on Tuesday. Earlier that day, a representative from the No campaign reportedly called him and told him not to hold the news conference and “not to believe anything he was being told,” according to the Seattle Times.

“In my time as attorney general, I do not recall a situation that comes close to this,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told me at the press conference. He’s calling on the state’s Public Disclosure Commission to investigate if any campaign rules were violated.

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Owners of at least a dozen businesses say they had no idea they were on the list.

Oliver Mogollan, owner of a tire shop in Bothell, Washington, posted his reaction online.“What is this?” he says of the flyer in a Facebook video. “I don’t even know. I never agreed to anything of this.”

“I’ve never in my life in Washington seen a targeted mailer like this that has exploited our community,” said Peter Bloch Garcia, executive director of the Latino Community Fund, at the press conference. “Partly because most campaigns don’t target our community, but even so.”

A flyer listing Latino-owned businesses sent out by the No on 1631 campaign.Yes on 1631

The No campaign responded that everything is above board. “Mr. Jimenez — like each and every business listed on our flyer — signed a form joining our coalition,” spokesperson Dana Bieber said in a statement to the Seattle Times. “We are appalled the Yes campaign has chosen to harass and vilify businesses and individuals who have spoken out against I-1631.”

The practice of fabricating grassroots support for a cause — called “astroturfing” — has been around for a while. The fossil fuel industry has been guilty of it before. In fact, a similar instance was uncovered just last week in Oregon.

Eva Liu, owner of Kings Omelets in Portland, had penned a statement that she thought was opposing grocery and beverage taxes: “If you make it more expensive for people to live here, they’re going to have less money to enjoy our food scene.”

To her surprise, that statement appeared in the Multnomah County Voter’s Pamphlet as an argument against the Portland Clean Energy Initiative. The opposition’s political action committee, Keep Portland Affordable, has raised over $1 million to try and block the measure, with donations from Amazon, Walmart, and other companies, according to the Oregon Secretary of State website. The PAC argues that consumers, rather than businesses, will end up paying the tax.

Liu actually supports the clean energy initiative, which would put a 1 percent tax on big retailers’ sales to raise $30 million a year for clean energy. Proponents say the opposition misled Liu and at least one other Asian-American business owner into endorsements.

“The forms that they signed, they did not fully understand,” said Khanh Pham, immigrant organizer with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, an organization on the Portland Clean Energy Initiative steering committee. “Immigrants speaking English as a second language are particularly vulnerable to being misled by language that can trick even native English speakers.”

“It was made very clear what the measure is and what support was being requested,” Keep Portland Affordable PAC told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “If Ms. Liu, or other supporters, change their positions on the measure, we will of course abide by any of their requests.”

Portland Clean Energy Initiative backers filed a formal complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. Pham said that Keep Portland Affordable is trying to “create this semblance of local opposition that doesn’t exist.”

The tactics used in the Washington and Portland anti-clean energy campaigns echo other campaigns backed by the fossil-fuel industry that attempted to create a mirage of public support.

Back in 2009, Congress was considering the Waxman-Markey bill, which would have established a national cap-and-trade program. A lobbying group for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity forged letters opposing the bill and sent them to members of Congress. One fake letter was supposedly signed by a representative of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit that works with the Latino community in Charlottesville; another by a local NAACP chapter.

This practice of astroturfing might happen more often that we think. “I would assume the best of it we never see,” said Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Center, in an interview with Grist earlier this year. “That’s what it’s intended to be: invisible.”

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How anti-clean energy campaigns create a mirage of public support

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Should big corporations pay for clean energy? Portland voters will decide.

A new ballot initiative in Portland would raise $30 million a year for clean energy through a tax on giant retailers. Sound unusual? It is.

The campaign for the Portland Clean Energy Fund is led by groups representing communities of color and grassroots environmental organizations. The local branches of the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the NAACP are all involved, too.

“It’s groundbreaking,” says Jenny Lee, advocacy director at the Coalition of Communities of Color, another organization spearheading the measure. “It’s the first environmental or climate initiative, as far as we know, that’s been led by organizations of color in Oregon.”

The campaign officially qualified for the November ballot on Friday after gathering 60,000 signatures from Portland voters (it only needed 34,000.) Lee says the volume of signatures speaks to the public enthusiasm for the measure, which would place a 1 percent charge on mega-retailers on revenue from Portland sales, excluding groceries and medicine.

So who would be paying up? We’re talking Wells Fargo, Apple, Comcast, and Banana Republic — companies that make over $1 billion in revenue a year and over $500,000 in Portland alone.

Between 40 and 60 percent of the money in the fund would be directed toward renewable energy and energy efficiency projects — half of which must be specifically intended to benefit low-income residents and communities of color. The fund devotes 20-25 percent to clean-energy jobs training that prioritizes women, people of color, and people with disabilities; 10-15 percent to greenhouse gas sequestration programs; and 5 percent to a flexible “future innovation” fund.

It’s the latest instance of social justice advocates and grassroots organizers calling for climate action in the Northwest. In Washington state, a wide coalition introduced a “carbon fee” that’s almost certainly headed to the ballot this November. If passed, it would become the first state law that looks anything like a carbon tax.

This recent wave of ballot initiatives followed some legislative letdowns in the region. Right after a carbon-tax proposal fizzled out in the Washington Senate in March, Oregon lawmakers set aside their plans for a cap-and-trade program. “Maybe Blue States Won’t Take Serious Action on Climate Change,” ran a headline in The Atlantic at the time. The article called into question the narrative we keep hearing — you know, the one about progressive cities and states fighting for climate action when the federal government refuses to.

While elected officials are one way to change policy, ballot initiatives are another — and they’re beginning to look like a hallmark of the Northwest’s climate justice movement.

“We knew that we couldn’t count on our legislators, both at the state and city level,” says Khanh Pham, manager of immigrant organizing at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, who served on the steering committee for the Portland Clean Energy Fund.

Initially, Pham says, her group wanted to take the measure to city council — an easier, more familiar way to pass city legislation. But without strong support from their local elected officials, they decided to try and put something on the ballot instead.

She says the Portland Clean Energy Fund would be complementary to other climate policies, such as a statewide carbon price. It’s meant to address the hidden carbon emissions in the products we buy.

“When I buy clothing that comes from China or Vietnam, or food from Peru, there’s a lot of carbon emissions that are baked into those supply chains from these global retailers that are unaccounted for,” Pham says.

Reverend E.D. Mondainé, president of the NAACP Portland Branch and chief petitioner of the Portland Clean Energy Fund.Rick Rappaport / Portland Clean Energy Fund

It’s challenging to raise revenue in Oregon, especially to meet the needs of vulnerable communities, says Tony DeFalco, Verde executive director and one of the initiative’s organizers.

In 2016, Oregon voters shot down Measure 97, an attempt to place a 2.5 percent tax on corporations with more than $25 million a year in Oregon sales. DeFalco says the new initiative wasn’t inspired by that attempt. Measure 97 did, however, suggest that Portland has some appetite for a tax on corporations: 60 percent of the city voted for the measure, which would have spent the money on education, health care, and senior services.

Still, the groups behind the measure know they’re up against a challenge. There’s already a PAC, Keep Portland Affordable, that’s fighting the new initiative.

“We knew that we needed to be organizing in communities beyond our own to win this,” Pham says. “It’s been really eye-opening to see the power that a coalition like ours can build — a green-brown coalition.”

Portland is 78 percent white, making it the whitest big city in America. But communities of color have always been in Portland, says Lee, and her group is seeking to make them more visible. This ballot initiative is one such effort, she says:

“It’s a very clear statement that we are here, we are leading on policy, and we are also building political power.”

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Should big corporations pay for clean energy? Portland voters will decide.

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White People, Please Stop Asking People of Color Dumb Questions

Mother Jones

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Scaachi Koul‘s writing has it all—a gut-busting sense of humor, clear-eyed honesty, and striking introspection that she jokes is a symptom of narcissism.

In her debut book, a collection of essays titled One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Koul, a culture writer for BuzzFeed, applies her sharp wit to tricky issues of race, culture and identity: what it means to be “lighter” than other Indians on a family trip to India, for example, and how she balances her life with her conservative South Asian parents’ expectations. I called Koul and we had entirely too much fun talking about women’s words, finding boldness, and pubic hair, of course.

Mother Jones: Part of what you talk about in the book is existing in spaces where you feel unwelcome in. It seems like you manage to be really outspoken in those spaces—where do you find that sort of boldness?

Scaachi Koul: I have the unfortunate inability to be quiet, and it did not serve me very well when I was a kid. I used to get in trouble all the time for…actually, the same stuff I get in trouble for as an adult. In my later life, it’s been beneficial, but when I was younger I didn’t know how to control it or what to do with it. I’m not sure it’s so much about finding boldness as it is about retaining control at this point, because being mouthy has never been my problem. That’s very easy for me. But now I think a lot about when it’s worth it and what I’m doing it for. When you’re a kid, it’s really obnoxious because you’re just being a dick all the time. I think that’s probably the same case with being bold or bossy or mouthy. Those things are great to have, but if they are uncontrolled and wild, it can hurt you in the long term.

MJ: It must be kind of gratifying to be able to turn your obnoxious qualities from childhood into a way to make money as an adult.

SK: Yeah, why not, right? Listen, I would also like to buy a boat. So why not try to make a profit?

MJ: What made you decide to write the book?

SK: It’s a delicate balance of narcissism and self-interest and money and the hope that you can write something and other people understand it. I write for the internet all the time, but there is something very different about writing a book that you’re asking people to buy. It feels like a different beast. But you hope that you write this thing that appeals to people in this really meaningful way. I grew up on the internet, but the things that formed my understanding of the world and made me feel less isolated were books. That’s the altruistic answer, and then the other version is, “Oh, I’m obsessed with myself.”

MJ: I feel like I’ve been reading more and more books that are memoirs or essay collections from really incredible women—I don’t know if more are being produced or if it’s just what I’ve been hungry for, so it’s what I’ve been feeding myself. Have you been reading that sort of thing, or have you been feeling intimidated or empowered by those works?

SK: While I was writing the book I avoided other memoirs, because I don’t want to get distracted or pick up somebody else’s voice. So for the year that I was working on it really heavily, I didn’t read anything else, and that was actually around the time that Lena Dunham and Jessica Valenti’s books had come out. I know that right now it feels like there’s so many memoirs by young women in particular. I don’t know if it’s that there’s more—I think there’s just been a shift on the way we talk about them, and I think the internet has shaped that. I also find that for every dude who’s really dismissive of what I’ve written, there are five women who are like, “No, I get it. Don’t worry about it. It makes sense to me.”

MJ: The book is really vulnerable in places. Did you grapple with a lot of anxiety while you were writing it?

SK: I had some anxieties about my family reading it. For one, I don’t really want my parents to read about my weird, gross body. My brother read it and he immediately was like, “This is gross. There’s so much about your vagina in here.” I’m like, “Yeah, tough. Deal with it.”

MJ: Men have been writing like that for a long time.

SK: Exactly. I have had to listen to you talk about your penis for 30 years. Get over it.

MJ: I saw your tweet about your parents having read the book.

SK: My mom read it and she was appropriately sad and confused. We didn’t talk details or anything. She said she liked it, but she was clearly quite bummed out about portions of it. My dad hasn’t read it, because he knows that it’ll give him a heart attack, and I don’t think his body can take it. So he’s making a wise decision. I abide by that policy of writing about your family as if they’re all dead. So with the exception of changing some names, that’s pretty much how I handle things, in that I can’t control your perception of what you think happened. I only have my version. I’m sure there’s stuff in there that they disagree with, but I don’t think there’s anything in there that’s libelous. I don’t think they’re going to sue me.

MJ: You also write quite a bit about existing as a woman on the internet. Any advice for outspoken ladies who want to use Twitter without losing their minds?

SK: It’s so tricky. I don’t know of a social-media entity that’s really invested in how women and girls are treated. I can only speak to media Twitter, which is a very specific section of the internet. But for the women that I talk to who are in media and who use Twitter, I always hear from them that they have this anxiety about going private because they feel like it’s antithetical to the point of it. I don’t understand that at all. If you feel like you don’t want to play, don’t play. Go private. Don’t use it. You don’t need to really use it at any great capacity if you just want to tweet your work and go home, that’s fine. I like the format. I think it’s fun sometimes. But I also recognize that it can be deeply unfun, and I had a year of really not understanding why I was using it at all. I could not see any benefit. I was exclusively getting yelled at and I didn’t feel like my work was getting promoted in any way. It was just like people had access to me in this really awful way.

I have friends who do not really use the internet beyond like Google and recipes or sometimes they read the news on it and I guess they have Netflix. And that to me is so weird. Because I use it for everything. And they go to the bank. That’s crazy to me. They go to the bank? Adorable.

MJ: That’s quaint.

SK: It doesn’t make any sense. But you should have people like that in your life, because when you go to them and you’re like, “Oh my God. I just found out that there’s like some text thread going on about one bad tweet that I sent,” they look at you like you have landed from another planet. They will bring you a perspective that will give you some comfort. Which doesn’t mean that the abuse you’re dealing with isn’t real. And it doesn’t mean it’s not serious, but at the same time it can give you some comfort, because there are people everywhere who are not using the internet like we are using it.

MJ: I also really appreciate your style of clapping back at trolls.

SK: That’s something else that like sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s really not. There are days where they say things and it cuts you to the quick and you don’t have anything funny or witty or cute to say in response. It took me a while to remember that I didn’t actually have to answer all of them. Sometimes when I have responded to them, I have felt myself starting to unravel. I’ve had friends send me notes being like, “Hey, you sound crazy.” This was like funny or whatever, but you sound insane.” And then I have to go back and I’ll read it again and be like, “Yeah, this is nuts.” Get off the internet. Leave your phone at home and go outside and go do something in the tangible world, where nobody knows what your Twitter handle is.

MJ: It’s a good friend that will tell you when you’re being crazy on Twitter, though.

SK: You need those people who tell you to like shut your pie hole.

MJ: Let’s talk about the things you wish you didn’t have to say to white people.

SK: Oh, god. I could write a second book about the things I wish I didn’t have to explain to white people. I wish I didn’t have to explain why they have to pronounce my name correctly or spell it correctly. I’m very tired of explaining that making jokes about my name sounding like Sriracha isn’t funny because it actually doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not funny. I don’t get it. I would really love to stop explaining why it’s obnoxious when they ask me where I’m from and I say, “Calgary” and they say, “No, where are you really from?” I would love to not have to explain where Kashmir is because they will press me and ask me again, and I’ll say that’s where my family’s from and that’s also not satisfying. I would love to stop explaining why I don’t really enjoy Indian weddings. I would like to not have to tell people that I don’t know how to thread eyebrows. They think all brown girls know how. By the way, I’ve never even gotten my eyebrows threaded. My mother went straight to waxing because my brows are formidable. There was no like, “Oh, we’ll use this gentle threading process.” No, no, no. We’ve got to use chemicals.

MJ: Your niece has such a major presence in the book. What do you hope she’ll gain from it if she reads it when she’s older?

SK: I signed it for her, assuming she will read it when she’s like 65. Her mother said she would give it to her when she’s 16, which is probably a better, more realistic age. But that’s only in 10 years. I hope she gets some context about our family that she won’t otherwise have. It feels so weird. I feel like I gave her my diary and I was like, “Good luck.” I don’t know how eager my 17-year-old niece will be to read about like my pussy hair, but I guess she should have that option.

MJ: I mean, presumably she’ll have some too.

SK: To be honest she’s seven and I’m already talking about my pubic hair with her, so at this point I don’t think it’s going to be that much of a shock. She asked when it came out if it was about her and I was like, “Yeah, pretty much.”

MJ: Smart kid.

SK: Well, she, like her aunt is a narcissist, so we’ve just got to make sure everything’s about us. I hope it gives her some understanding of a portion of her. I’m very curious about what her life is going to look like. I worry a lot about her growing up to be self-loathing the way I was. I was really self-loathing about being brown when I was a kid. I really resented it. And I hope that she doesn’t feel like that about herself as she gets older. My parents are there and they sort of pull her into this version of her identity. I hope she doesn’t hate that. And if she does, then hopefully the book will help reverse some of it or give her something to like.


White People, Please Stop Asking People of Color Dumb Questions

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I Underwent Genital Mutilation as a Child—Right Here in the United States

Mother Jones

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Last week, an Indian American doctor was arrested in Michigan, charged with performing female genital cutting on two seven-year-old girls. As the story hit the local press and then the New York Times, and as it was shared by George Takei and Nicholas Kristof, my phone kept blowing up with breathless messages and links from childhood friends across the country.

“This story isn’t going away,” said one friend over the phone. We both grew up in the same controversial, secretive South Asian Muslim sect as the doctor, a 44-year-old emergency room physician named Jumana Nagarwala who was born in Washington, DC. “This time, the community can’t just pretend it’s not happening.” Just today, two more followers of the sect were arrested in connection with the case.

Our sect is known as the Dawoodi Bohras, a Shiite branch of Islam based in Gujarat, India, with an estimated 1.2 million followers around the world and thriving outposts across America. Some Bohras and others say the sect has veered toward a cult of personality and away from Islamic principles; it’s ruled by a well-heeled clergy of “totalitarian kings” with unusually wide-reaching control over their followers. (The Bohra clergy did not respond to Mother Jones‘ request for comment.)

Federal officials believe Nagarwala may have been clandestinely cutting girls since at least 2005. It’s the first case of its kind in the United States, where female genital cutting is a criminal sexual act and has been illegal since 1996. The practice is widely seen as an attempt to curb women’s sexuality by making sex less enjoyable, even painful.

Nagarwala admits she performed a procedure on the two seven-year-old girls, but says she didn’t cut them—she merely wiped away a mucous membrane and gave the gauze to the parents, who would bury it in keeping with Bohra tradition. She told investigators she’s not aware of anyone in her community who practices cutting.

As little girls, nearly all my female Bohra friends and I underwent khatna, the sect’s term for this practice. None of us remember being “wiped.” We were cut. Some of us bled and ached for days, and some walked away with lifelong physical damage. In interviews with investigators, one of the girls Nagarwala performed on said the procedure hurt so badly that she screamed in pain and “could barely walk afterward.” She drew a picture of the room where it happened, and marked an “X” to show where she bled on an exam table. Medical examinations show that both girls’ genitals have been altered.

While news coverage and the federal case focus on Nagarwala, khatna has been a mandatory religious practice inflicted on Bohra girls all over the world for generations, often in knowing violation of local laws. Bohras are the only Muslims in India who enforce female genital cutting; it’s not a common practice among South Asians or Muslims worldwide, and it’s not mentioned in the Koran. Privately, many Bohras have been praying for the clergy to end this practice for years, even decades. More than one mother I know wept when she learned she was bearing a girl, dreading what she might have to do to her child.

“Maybe this is the case that finally scares them into stopping it,” another friend messaged me. Her khatna happened during a family vacation in India. Mine took place in the bedroom of a family acquaintance in New Jersey in the late ’80s.

I buried the memory until I was 13, when my freshman year social-studies teacher put on a video about female genital mutilation in Africa. As I watched a young girl, dark-skinned like me, being prepared by village elders for her mutilation, I suddenly flashed back to a dim, chilly house my mother took me to when I was about seven. Two Indian aunties I had never seen before held me down on a mattress and pulled down my underwear as I squirmed to get free. One of them held a small pair of silver scissors, like the ones my dad used to keep his beard trimmed. Then, the sudden sensation of a tight, mean little pinch between my legs.

The memory exploded in my head in the dark, quiet classroom, and suddenly, a recurring nightmare I’d had for years made sense. In those dreams, the lower half of my body was made of kid’s construction toys, and pieces kept breaking off as I frantically tried to keep myself together. I began sobbing at my desk. The teacher kindly told me to catch my breath in the hallway; she thought I was upset over the images I was seeing in the video. Later, at lunch, my white girlfriends talked about being relieved that sort of thing doesn’t happen in America.

But it does. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that half a million girls in the United States were affected by or at risk for mutilation in 2012. I know of dozens of Bohra women whose parents had them cut in America over the last 30 years, from New York City to Houston to Chicago. Others were taken out of country to have the procedure done, a practice called “vacation cutting” that’s now also illegal in the United States.

We’re the first generation of Bohras born in America. Our parents began settling here after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which brought a wave of South Asian engineers, doctors, and other professionals to America. In our teens and 20s, my friends and I who underwent khatna assured each other the practice would die out as Bohras assimilated. We’re now in our 30s, and it hasn’t stopped. Some women our age and younger are still arranging or considering khatna for their own daughters.

“Nothing is going to change,” sighed the friend who called me to discuss the Nagarwala case. She spoke with a bitterness I could almost taste in my own mouth. “They’ll use this one doctor as a scapegoat, let her take the heat, and pretend it never happened.”

In 2015, the Australian Supreme Court handed down the first-ever conviction for a Bohra engaged in khatna. Many Bohras opposed to the practice hoped this was finally khatna‘s death knell. The Bohra clergy takes pains to maintain good relations with political leaders around the world; a guilty verdict in an affluent, English-speaking country seemed disastrous, especially in an increasing atmosphere of global Islamophobia.

Instead, the head cleric, Mufaddal Saifuddin, 70, seemed to double down on the practice during a cryptic sermon delivered last year in Mumbai. Congregations in the United States and elsewhere were sent letters instructing them to follow local laws, but some reading between the lines heard different instructions: Go underground, and don’t get caught. The parents in the Michigan case traveled with their daughters from Minnesota in February; community members tell me it’s become harder—but not impossible—to find Bohras willing to perform the procedure.

The task of getting a young girl’s khatna done falls on adult female relatives; men often don’t know it’s happening, or even that the practice exists at all. Girls are told to keep the procedure a secret after it’s performed, and they usually do. “For the longest time, I didn’t even know other people had this done, too,” one friend from the community told me. “I thought it was something my mom only did to me, and I didn’t know why.”

In the vacuum of secrecy, and with very little official guidance from Bohra leadership, there are wide variations in how khatna is performed. The seven-year-old girls in the Michigan case were allegedly cut by a licensed medical professional in an unnamed medical clinic. (Nagarwala’s employer, Henry Ford Hospital, says it did not happen on their grounds.) In other cases, the cutting is performed by laypeople with no medical training in unhygienic conditions.

There’s also little consensus about how the actual procedure is supposed to work; it’s often up to the interpretation of whoever is wielding the blade. In some cases, like mine, a “pinch of skin” from the clitoral hood is cut away, leaving no lasting physical trauma. Sometimes the entire clitoris is removed, or surrounding tissue is also damaged. Last year, writer Mariya Karimjee went on This American Life to tell the story of her cutting, which was performed in Pakistan and left her unable to have sex without unendurable pain.

Bohras even disagree on why khatna is performed. The prevailing view is that it keeps girls and women from becoming sexually promiscuous. Others say it has something to do with “removing bad germs” and liken it to male circumcision, which is widely (though not universally) believed to have hygienic benefits. The World Health Organization says female genital mutilation has no known health benefits and “violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

Despite the prevalence of khatna among generations of Bohra women around the world, there has been almost no public conversation about it until just a few years ago. Speaking out about any of the numerous issues the clergy has come under scrutiny for—khatna, multiple lawsuits over alleged abuses of power, “big brother”-style surveillance of everyday Bohras—is seen as unacceptable. Dissidents can face excommunication and social boycott. The threat extends to family members, whose businesses often depend on Bohra financing, or who may not be allowed to marry within the community or be buried in a Bohra cemetery unless the rebellious relative is quieted.

I’m already estranged from my family because of disagreements over Bohra customs. Like a few of my friends, I’ve tried to bring up khatna to my parents, mostly my mother, with little progress. As in many rigid orthodoxies, the burden of social policing in the Bohra community falls largely on women, who have the most to lose from rocking the boat and who are often suffering from unacknowledged personal trauma of their own.

That’s why it’s remarkable that so many Bohra women have started speaking up over the last few years, from the explosive This American Life story to a documentary film, interviews with major news outlets in India and the United States, and a Change.org petition calling on the Bohra clergy to end the practice that’s been signed by 150,000 supporters. In 2015, five young women started a Bohra anti-FGM group called Sahiyo (Gujarati for “friends”) and conducted the first large-scale, global research study on the practice of khatna among Dawoodi Bohras. Nearly 400 Bohra women took the online survey, mostly from India and the United States and between the ages of 18 and 45. Eighty percent said they would like the practice of khatna to end.

None of this has moved the clergy to unequivocally end it.

One of the girls in the Nagarwala case in Michigan was temporarily taken away from her parents, an act that’s sure to cause additional trauma. Nagarwala could be sentenced anywhere from five years to life in prison for the assortment of charges she faces, though she’s just one of an untold number of khatna practitioners around the country. Bohras opposed to the practice now find themselves rooting against those who are arguably fellow victims.

“It’s feels sick to be happy about all this punishment,” said one of my friends the other night. “But I just don’t know how else to make them listen.”

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I Underwent Genital Mutilation as a Child—Right Here in the United States

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The Pay Gap Costs Women $840 Billion Every Year

Mother Jones

Each year, Equal Pay Day is a grim reminder that working women still don’t earn as much as their male counterparts. In fact, the persistent wage gap means that, on average, women lose a combined $840 billion every year, according to a new report from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Using Census Bureau data from all 50 states and D.C., the report concluded that the average woman takes home 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. And the gap is even worse for women of color: black women earn only 63 cents for each dollar picked up by a white male, while Latina women take home a mere 54 cents. Meanwhile, white women bring home 75 cents per dollar earned by a man, and Asian women earn 85 cents, though some Asian subgroups earn considerably less.

Wyoming, where women earn just 64.4 cents for every dollar brought home by a man, is the worst place in the country to earn a paycheck as a woman. New York and Delaware, where women earn 88.7 and 88.5 cents, respectively, are the two states leading the path to wage equity. The map below, created by the National Women’s Law Center, breaks down the gender wage disparities across the country.

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The annual losses amount to almost $10,500 for each working woman, according to the National Partnership report. And with over 15 million homes headed by women, the pay gap is hard on families. The money lost from the gap could pay for 1.5 years of food for every working woman and her family, 11 months of rent, or 15 months of child care.

“This analysis shows just how damaging that lost income can be for women and their families, as well as the economy and the businesses that depend on women’s purchasing power,” says National Partnership’s President Debra L. Ness. “Entire communities, states and our country suffer because lawmakers have not done nearly enough to end wage discrimination or advance the fair and family friendly workplace policies that would help erase the wage gap.”

During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump famously championed President Trump’s support of women’s equal paychecks: “He will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this, too, right alongside of him.” Despite Ivanka’s inclusion of women’s equality in the workplace as a key message of her platform, the Trump administration has not actually adopted any of her pledges. Instead, last month President Trump reduced paycheck transparency and rescinded other Obama-era workplace protections enshrined in the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, imperiling women’s overall ability to track the widening gap between men and women’s paychecks.

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The Pay Gap Costs Women $840 Billion Every Year

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The "Pristine" Films That Got Snubbed by the Oscars

Mother Jones

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Jackie Chan flicks are no longer the only place where you’ve seen an Asian or Asian American actor play a meaty role onscreen in the US: On TV, they’ve appeared in trail-blazing shows like Fresh Off the Boat, Master of None, and The Mindy Project. Director Jon M. Chu wants to assemble an all-Asian cast for a film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians, making it one of the first films from an American studio to do so in years.

But the demographic still remains one of the most invisible groups in the media. In 2014, more than half of films and TV shows had no speaking or named roles for Asian characters, according to a recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. Controversies over the whitewashing of Asian characters took center stage last year, with several prominent actors and producers speaking out. For instance, the creators of Ghost in the Shell, a film adapted from a Japanese manga and anime film, faced backlash after casting Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, as the lead Japanese character.

Melissa Powers and Matthew Eng, both 23 year-old NYU graduates, decided they’d had enough of the whitewashing. Last year, they began producing Asian Oscar Bait, a podcast entirely devoted to Asian stories that, they argue, deserve to be on everyone’s television. The podcast has gotten a few nods from indie publications and it caught my eye for the specificity of its approach: In each episode, Powers and Eng take a story about Asians or Asian Americans and pitch it as a film, suggesting actors, directors, and even writers who could possibly take on the work.

The podcast retells lesser known stories in history, such as Fred Korematsu vs. United States, a Supreme Court case in which a Japanese man, Fred Korematsu refused to go to an internment camp in 1942. Another episode, “The Donut King,” digs into the story of Bun Tek “Ted” Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee who made a fortune selling donuts in California, until he lost everything—a “Wolf of Wall Street meets Krispy Kreme” kind of tale, says Powers. The podcast is a response to the notion that there aren’t enough Asian directors or actors in Hollywood, she says. “Our tagline is: There are no excuses.”

I spoke with the Eng and Powers to get their take on Asian representation at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Mother Jones: What got you interested in Asian representation and diversity?

Melissa Powers: I am Singaporean American, but I grew up in China. I never realized there was a lack of Asian representation in media until I came to the US for university. One moment in particular stuck out me: I was watching Tomb Raider 2, which is a very mediocre film, but there’s a scene where Gerald Butler interrogates a family of Chinese fishermen and speaks to them in Chinese. Obviously his accent is terrible, but I just replayed that scene over and over because I was like, “Oh my God, someone is speaking Chinese in a big Hollywood film.” I just watched it for hours. That really showed me how starved I was for Asian representation, without actually realizing it at the time.

Matthew Eng: I’m half-Chinese—my dad grew up in America and is Chinese—and I don’t look Chinese at all, but it’s a part of my background, undeniably so. While I was in a screenwriting course and producing my own screenplays for class, I began to notice this inclination to create characters who were always white. That’s not an accurate representation of the world I grew up in or the types of stories I think should be told, but it was something I tended to do anyway.

Going off of that, I became more attuned to the film industry and the entertainment world. I began to notice that whenever an Asian actor would appear in a film, they would only be playing roles that could only be played by Asian actors, and those roles weren’t necessarily the meatiest parts of the films or TV show.

MJ: You tackle the Oscars in one of your episodes. How was representation this year when it comes to Asians?

MP: Atrocious! Ai-Ling Lee is the first Asian woman to be nominated for sound editing for La La Land, which is cool, but at the same time, Dev Patel is one of the very few Asian people ever to be nominated for an acting role in Lion. It’s very distressing. But hopefully it won’t be worse than last year’s Oscars with Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen making fun of those poor Chinese kids.

If you consider Iranian people to be Asian, which I do, though not everyone does, Asghar Farhadi is nominated for best foreign language film for The Salesman. He won’t come into the US because of the Muslim ban, and I think he says he plans not to. I think his absence will be felt and I hope people will acknowledge that.

ME: Dev Patel is fairly good in Lion, but I think there’s a lot of other Asian actors who I would have liked to see get nominated. It really fucking boggles me that Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden was not nominated in any technical categories, when that film could not be any more pristine a piece of filmmaking. The actress, Kim Min-Hee, is totally phenomenal. In an ideal world, her performance would be an Oscar contender.

I also talk about Andrew Ahn’s independent film Spa Night a lot, which is a story about an Asian man’s queer sexuality. It’s something I’ve never seen portrayed before with that remarkable detail and attention. But it’s not going to be on the radar of Oscar voters.

Melissa and Matthew with their producer, Caroline Pinto. Asian Oscar Bait

MJ: So what Asian films should have been at the Oscars this year?

MP: We’re both in agreement that The Handmaiden should have been there. But in the future, I’d like to see the Academy’s be more generous towards genre films like sci-fi and horror, because I think those genres tend to be places where people of color get to do more in the role.

ME: The Handmaiden is my number one egregious absence from the Academy. But there’s another film that came out last year called Dheepan by Jacques Audiard. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but completely disappeared when it came to the States. It’s about a Sri Lankan couple who are refugees, and find this young French girl and pose as a family to get into France. It really reflects the times, and the performance by this first-time actress, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, is just beyond words for me. If an American director made this story, it would have received a modicum of attention. There’s amazing cinematic craftsmanship that’s going on in all corners of the world, and you just have to look beyond your backyard.

MJ: If you could make one of your episodes into a film, which episode would that be, and why? And how likely would that story get an Oscar nomination?

MP: I think the Fred Korematsu story would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nom. However, the one I’d be more interested in seeing is the Mazher Mahmood story. His name is going to be familiar to most Brits—he was a tabloid journalist involved in a ton of scandalous stories for News of the World, and is currently in jail for tampering with evidence.

He’s the kind of anti-hero that enthralls Hollywood critics and audiences. Think of Wolf of Wall Street—you have drugs, celebrities, and this razor sharp focus with being number one. At the same time, his story has more than a traditional rise and fall narrative. Mahmood has a strange relationship with his own background (British Pakistani) that no one seems to address. Even though he grew up amongst South Asians, he consistently used his minority status to put other people of color at ease and weasel stories from them, usually putting them in jail in the process. There was an incident where he collected buses of illegal immigrants under the guise of giving them jobs, and instead drove them straight to a detention center. As an Asian person, it really amazes me that he could betray “us” like that.

We don’t really see this kind of betrayal onscreen. In fact, we rarely see Asian antiheroes onscreen. This would easily score Best Actor, Best Screenplay (Mahmood has a book so possibly Best Adapted Screenplay), and potentially Best Director. This would require a minority screenwriter and director, to navigate how Mahmood used and abused the fact that he was an Asian man. And I’m just saying, Riz Ahmed needs that Oscar vehicle.

ME: I would definitely love to see Merle Oberon’s story, chronicled in our second episode, as the basis of a film. It’s such a fascinating, eye-opening, and totally dramatic story of lifelong deception, but it also intersects with the golden age of Hollywood history, making it the type of film the Academy loves to honor any chance it gets. Oberon concealed her half-Indian origins in order to attain cinematic stardom in the 1930s, concocting an entire back story that involved a false upbringing in Tasmania and forcing her Indian mother to pose as her live-in maid in order to ward off any suspicions from her famous friends and consorts. Insane, right?

That being said, I’m not sure it would score any nominations beyond Best Actress for whoever plays Oberon (and, I don’t know, possibly a costume nomination) because the Academy has an annoying tendency of under-rewarding films that could traditionally be described as a “women’s picture,” meaning any movie that puts a woman at its forefront.

Even so, I would love to see this movie made and, preferably, with an actual Indian actress playing Oberon. If this actress were nominated, she would become only the second Asian performer to ever receive a Best Actress nomination. The only other Asian nominee in this category happens to be Oberon herself, for 1935’s Dark Angel, which means that yes, the only Asian woman ever nominated for Best Actress in Oscars’ nearly ninety year history didn’t even want people to know she was Asian! You truly can’t make this stuff up.


The "Pristine" Films That Got Snubbed by the Oscars

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

Mother Jones

Do photo ID laws reduce minority turnout? Previous studies have suggested that the answer is yes, but the effect is fairly small. However, in the Washington Post last week, three scholars wrote about a new study they conducted, which offers “a more definitive assessment” than previous studies. Their conclusion: states with strict photo ID laws produce a far lower turnout among minorities than other states.

It’s taken me a while to comment on this because I had to read the report a few times to make sure I understood everything. In the end, I found several reasons to be skeptical of their conclusion.

First off, they found much stronger effects in primaries than in general elections. Now, maybe this really is the case, and I can certainly invent plausible stories about why it might be so. But it still seems odd.

Second, in a draft version of their study, they say this:

Importantly, we see no effects for Asian Americans, the one minority group that is, by at least some standards, not socioeconomically disadvantaged. The effects of these laws seem to be concentrated toward the bottom end of the racial hierarchy.

In later drafts, their numbers have been updated and it turns out that Asian Americans are affected by voter ID laws—which makes their important finding disappear. But if this was an important verification in one draft, it ought to be an important discrepancy in the final draft. However, it’s not mentioned.

Third, hardly any of their findings are statistically significant. I’m not a big stickler for 95 percent significance always and everywhere, especially for something like this, where there’s one messy set of real-life data and you have to draw conclusions from it one way or another. If the results are significant at 85 or 90 percent, that’s still strongly suggestive. Nonetheless, that’s all it is.

Fourth, the effect size on African Americans is considerably less than it is for Hispanics and Asian Americans. Maybe this is just because blacks are more politically organized, and therefore more likely to overcome the deterrent effects of photo ID laws. Maybe.

So far, none of these are deal breakers. They made me a little tentative about accepting the authors’ results, but that’s all. But then we get this:

Here’s what’s going on. On the left, you see their main results, based on a model they constructed. It shows very large effects: in states with strict photo ID laws, turnout decreases 8 percentage points among Hispanics, 2 percent among African Americans, and 5 percent among Asians.

On the right, you see the results from a second test. It compares turnout in states before and after they enacted strict photo ID laws, and it shows much smaller effects: about 2 percentage points for all minorities. This strikes me as a better test, since it eliminates lots of confounding variables that crop up when you compare one set of states to a different set. But the authors go to considerable lengths to downplay these results, for reasons that I don’t find very persuasive. Yes, their sample size is smaller, and yes, things can change from year to year. But their sample sizes aren’t that small, and the differences in a single state over the course of two years is probably smaller than the differences between states in the same year.

Maybe I’m totally off base here. I don’t have the raw data or the chops to analyze it. Still, if I had to bet money, I’d bet that the second test is more reliable, and the real effect of photo ID laws is a decreased turnout of about 2 percentage points among minorities. That’s plenty to affect a close election, and the motivation for these laws is plainly partisan and racial. They should be done away with everywhere.

That said, I continue to suspect that the effect is fairly modest.

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

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How Do American Kids Do In Math? Pretty Well, It Turns Out.

Mother Jones

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Earlier this evening I promised more on the TIMSS math test, and now I’m here to deliver. I could pretty easily just copy the full ranking table and consider it a job well done, but there’s a problem with that: a bunch of Asian tigers are always at the top, light years ahead of everyone else. There’s not much point in comparing ourselves to them. Do we really care that we do worse than countries that goad their kids into studying math until their eyes fall out? Likewise, there are lots of poor countries clustered near the bottom. There’s not much point in comparing ourselves to them either. It might make us feel good, but do we really care that we beat out Malaysia and Oman?

Really, what we want to know is how we compare to peer countries. We also want to know if we’re improving over time. So without further ado, here’s the answer for 8th graders:

Basically, this isn’t bad. We do pretty well among our peers, and our scores have been improving steadily for the past two decades. The full report is here, and it has lots of interesting tidbits.

It’s worth noting that there are two big international math tests: TIMSS and PISA. The United States usually does fairly well on TIMSS and not so well on PISA, which claims to be more about concepts and actual problem solving. If your ideological preference is to show that American kids are doing fine, you’ll focus on TIMSS. If your ideological preference is to show that American education is a cesspool and needs massive reform, you’ll focus on PISA. Take your pick.

One other note. If you really want a takeaway from the latest TIMSS test, it’s the same as the takeaway from every other test ever administered to America schoolkids: we do a terrible job of educating black children. The single biggest thing we could do to improve education in this country is to cut out the half measures and focus serious money and resources on poor, black school districts. But I guess the white working class wouldn’t be very happy about that.

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How Do American Kids Do In Math? Pretty Well, It Turns Out.

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Economic Anxiety Really Is (Part of) the Reason White Men Are So Pissed Off

Mother Jones

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I don’t have any special news hook for this chart, but it’s been in the back of my mind for a while. Roughly speaking, it’s an answer to why white men are so angry about the economy even though they generally earn more than any other gender or ethnic group.

It’s all about progress. Women may earn 79 percent of what men earn, but over the past 40 years their incomes have increased rapidly. Black and Hispanic men haven’t done quite as well, but they’ve still made progress—and most people are relatively happy as long as things are getting better over time. The only group that has stagnated for four straight decades is white men. That’s plenty all by itself to make them angry, but it’s even worse when they watch literally everyone else doing better at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong: the “angry white guy” syndrome has plenty of sexist and racist overtones too. After all, white men used to be at the top of the gender/race heap, and now they aren’t. They don’t get to feel superior to women or blacks or Hispanics anymore, and their incomes have gone nowhere for four decades. Rightly or wrongly, you’d be mad too if this described you.

POSTSCRIPT: One reason I haven’t posted this before is because the data is hard to get. It’s easy for most groups—the Census data works fine—but for Hispanics the Census data is heavily skewed by the very low incomes of illegal immigrants, who have increased over time. As a proxy for income gains among Hispanic men who were born in America (to match the demographics of the other groups) I’ve used Pew’s estimate of the income difference between 1st and 2nd generation Hispanics. Obviously this is far from ideal, but I’m not aware of a clean source of comparable data for all this.

ALSO: Asian men and women have also seen substantial income gains over the past 40 years, but the Census figures for Asians don’t go back that far. That’s why they aren’t included in the chart.

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Economic Anxiety Really Is (Part of) the Reason White Men Are So Pissed Off

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