The last time most people heard the name "Van Jones," it was as a political football. He got burned on the national scene, and he's learned a few lessons: play your cards close to the vest and keep moving forward. While his name's been less heard, Jones is still making his case in inner cities, Appalachia and think tanks.
In an interview before a speech to students at Howard University, Jones showed how much he's walled off his time, alluding to it only indirectly: "I'm glad I had 6 months in the White House. Now I'm working on the same issues in other ways."
He spends little time in the past and bounds over questions regarding his departure. Earlier this summer, though, the past seemed to repeat itself in a way that couldn't be ignored. The events surrounding the hasty termination of another black administration employee at the hands of a conservative media campaign begged Jones' analysis. The following is from his NY Times op-ed.
"Our situations aren't exactly the same. Ms. Sherrod's comments, in which she, a black woman, appeared to admit to racial discrimination against a white couple, were taken far out of context, while I truly did use a vulgarity." Jones is referring to himself using an expletive to describe Republicans
"Life inside the Beltway has become a combination of speed chess and Mortal Kombat: one wrong move can mean political death. In the era of YouTube, Twitter and 24-hour cable news, nobody is safe."
Nobody is safe. And Jones knows that in a way that few do. Even a year later, Glenn Beck continues drawing squiggly lines between Van Jones and the "New Black Panther Party" (Jones has retaliated with the L word). But amazingly, Jones hasn't tried to burrow deep below the chalk radar. Between his visiting fellow stint at Princeton University and his senior fellowship for the Center for American Progress, he could remain largely hidden under a stack of policy papers.
Instead, Van Jones, has started to beat the drum again, a little more measured this time: "We've got to find a way to get past the food fight. On TV you have people screaming at each other. When you have a really tough problem people should get more quiet--listen harder rather than screaming louder."
Author of the best-selling "The Green Collar Economy," Jones is still trying to convince America that "we are going into a period where the economy is melting down and the glaciers are melting down too." He promotes environmentally friendly jobs as the best way to employ the unemployed while tackling global warming. This two pronged approach, preaching environmentalism for the poor, can be an uphill battle.
But that is Jones's strength. Part of the reason he garnered a White House appointment rests in his deft, nearly poetic ability to deliver this message.
Following Jones to his address to Howard University's incoming freshman, he acknowledged the shortcomings of our current climate nomenclature; "Let's call it global weirding," then went on to lampoon our industrial stasis; "For 100 years we've been stuck on the post whale-oil solution." Finally, he invoked a slight of magical realism to describe the origin of our fuel supply..."That black goo that comes out of the ground is death--it is the blood and bones of our biological ancestors and we've been running our society on it. You pull death out of the ground and burn it...without ceremony. Then you've got death in the air and death on the oceans."
All his prose is in service of stretching out the corners of the environmental tent to include those who typically have been left out. He makes a special effort to engage two groups in particular: urban youth and Appalachian families. Thought not often seen at the movies together, both tend to suffer from economic hardship and environment-based illness (the highest levels of obesity, asthma and cancer). And to each their own rhetoric.
A Howard freshman hears: "If you are a young person standing in front of somebody's house, I'd rather you be on top of their house putting up a solar panel. I'd rather you put down the handgun and be able to pick up a caulking gun."
Inner-city youth seem like Jones' natural audience. He first entered the environmental debate through an Oakland-based campaign called "Green Jobs not Jails."
But Jones takes special pride in his ability to talk over the pink, bristled head of Glenn Beck, directly to his audience. At every speaking engagement, even at Howard, Jones mentions his plan for Appalachia and the heartland. "Under sane climate policy a rural farmer could get three paychecks. This is an agenda for a red state--three paychecks to bring back rural America...the first check is from deploying wind turbines. You get paid to watch those spin. The second is from growing an energy crop--hopefully an advanced energy crop, not necessarily corn. The third check comes from sequestered carbon in the soil that you can trade on the carbon markets."
Different solutions to the same problem. Which is how Jones views his own personal and political evolution as well: "Quite famously I've had a very colorful past as an activist. I've tried on lots of hats and ideas. The great thing about being an American is that you have the right to think whatever you want and you have the right to change your mind...My answers have changed as I've gotten older but my questions have stayed the same."
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
Does Adam Sandler have an expiration date? Does his particular brand of slapstick—humor that's infused with a wan self-deprecation, that manages to be simultaneously silly and sociopathic, that once found Sandler punching Bob Barker in the face while informing him that "the price is wrong, bitch"—hold up? Is Sandler's own price now, finally, wrong?
Recent events would suggest yes. Late last week, in the course of filming Sandler's newest project, the made-for-Netflix Western spoof The Ridiculous 6, a Native-American cultural advisor and several performers and extras walked off the set in protest. (Sample characters: Beaver Breath, No Bra, Sits-on-Face. Sample line: "Say honey: how about after this, we go someplace and I put my peepee in your teepee?") As Allison Young, a Navajo actress who quit after being asked to do a scene "requiring her to fall down drunk, surrounded by jeering white men who rouse her by dousing her with more alcohol" told the Indian Country Media Network, “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’”
“People skills” are almost always assumed to be a good thing. Search employment ads and you will find them listed as a qualification for a startling array of jobs, including Applebee’s host, weight-loss specialist, CEO, shoe salesperson, and (no joke) animal-care coordinator. The notion that people smarts might help you succeed got a boost a quarter century ago, when the phrase emotional intelligence, or EI, entered the mainstream. Coined in a 1990 study, the term was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book . Since then, scores of researchers have shown how being in touch with feelings—both your own and other people’s—gives you an edge: compared with people who have average EI, those with high EI do better at work, have fewer health problems,and report greater life satisfaction.
Take a walk along West Florissant Avenue, in Ferguson, Missouri. Head south of the burned-out Quik Trip and the famous McDonalds, south of the intersection with Chambers, south almost to the city limit, to the corner of Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant. There, last August, Emerson Electric announced third-quarter sales of $6.3 billion. Just over half a mile to the northeast, four days later, Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. The 12 shots fired by Officer Wilson were probably audible in the company lunchroom.
Outwardly, at least, the City of Ferguson would appear to occupy an enviable position. It is home to a Fortune 500 firm. It has successfully revitalized a commercial corridor through its downtown. It hosts an office park filled with corporate tenants. Its coffers should be overflowing with tax dollars.
Orr:Wait a minute. There’s a royal wedding—and nobody dies a horrible death? A man is beheaded—and we can all agree that it was for the best? What the hell show am I watching? I came here for Game of Thrones, baby, not Wizards of Waverly Place.
I kid, of course. Given David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s tendency to take George R. R. Martin’s material and render it even more bloody than it already was, I’m actually mildly relieved that they didn’t throw in a random homicide just to spice up the nuptials of Margaery and young Tommen, First of His Name.
In Baltimore, where 25-year-old Freddie Gray died shortly after being taken into police custody, an investigation may uncover homicidal misconduct by law enforcement, as happened in the North Charleston, South Carolina, killing of Walter Scott. Or the facts may confound the darkest suspicions of protestors, as when the Department of Justice released its report on the killing of Michael Brown.
What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked.
Police say that intentionally banging a suspect around in the back of a van isn't common practice. But the range of slang terms to describe the practice suggests it's more common that anyone would hope—and a roster of cases show that Freddie Gray is hardly the first person whose serious injuries allegedly occurred while in police transit. Citizens have accused police of using aggressive driving to rough suspects up for decades in jurisdictions across the country. Though experts don't think it's a widespread practice, rough rides have injured many people, frayed relationships, and cost taxpayers, including Baltimore's, millions of dollars in damages.
“Aspartame is the number-one reason consumers are dropping diet soda,” Seth Kaufman, a vice president at Pepsi, said.
That might be consumers' reason, but it's not a scientific one. As Julia Belluz points out at Vox, the European Food Safety Authority recently conducted a risk assessment on aspartame and "ruled out a potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer." Aspartame is not proven to cause bladder cancer, or brain cancer, or behavior problems, or any other diet-soda old-wives tales.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.