Lester Ballard, the protagonist of Cormac McCarthy's novel "Child Of God," is easy to hate. He's violent, he's morally corrupt, and he's into necrophilia.
James Franco directed and co-wrote the new film adaption of the book. The movie is a character study of Lester Ballard, played by Scott Haze. Lester is living in isolation in rural Tennessee, and spirals into a dark, twisted, crime-riddled existence.
Franco says he relied on subtle comedy to help audiences stay with such a grim tale. Here, Franco and Haze describe what compels them about Lester Ballard's character, and Franco defends his own unique artistic progression.
"What I found out when I started adapting the book is that when you normally have a character like this, he is being tracked down by the detectives," says Franco. "Rarely do you have a character like this who is at the center of the film in such a prominent way. My goal was not to make Lester sympathetic—in no way do I condone his behavior—but it's within the realm of art."
Franco says that this film is designed to examine human behavior, not tell a moralistic tale.
"I'm using a monster to talk about more universal, human things," he says. "If I'm going to use a monster like this, I don't want to repel the audience. I want to shock them, but I want them to stay with us—I don't want them to kind of shut off emotionally from him. Comedy is such a powerful tool for bringing an audience onto the side of a character. If the audience can laugh with a character, you've won them over."
The film is heavily focused on Lester, which led Haze to carefully prepare for the role.
"Cormac's writing, it doesn't lend a lot of itself to the inner workings of what Lester is feeling," says Haze. "A lot of times when I was reading the novel, I tried to approach it in the sense of just thinking about, 'What is this man going through?' There are certain elements that I think that are really at play—of feeling really alone, wanting to connect, wanting to be loved, and wanting to have a family."
Haze says that Lester was ostracized by society, cast away, and wasn't shown love.
"I think in living that stuff out, those are human desires that I think every human has—to want to feel connected, to belong to a group, or to belong to a society," says Haze. "That is something I wanted to convey."
Franco himself is a little difficult to judge. He's an actor, writer, and director. He's a student, a teacher, and an artist. Tomorrow, he will probably be something else entirely.
"We live in a postmodern age, and form is so fluid," he says. "A lot of people are stuck in these old ideas where a creative person needs to stay with one thing. I see form matching content, so the goal is not to put feather in my cap each time I do something new. It's just to explore."
Check out a trailer for the film below.
A 72-hour ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants was meant to start over night, but lasted just a few hours.
It remains unclear as to who broke the suspension of hostilities first, but reports have emerged that an Israeli soldier was abducted, and 27 Palestinians were killed since the pause was put into effect.
Hundreds of thousands in Gaza are now displaced, and millions more are displaced because of regional turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt. And yet, David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, believes this is an opportune moment to put a stop to the suffering and end the violence.
Miliband served as British Foreign Secretary from 2007 to 2010. He recently co-wrote a piece with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleline Albright, touting a potential "humanitarian breakthrough" in Foreign Policy magazine. He explains why he believes a new United Nations negotiator, and his proposal for a humanitarian lifeline in Syria, could alter the direction of the conflict.
This week's Movie Date podcast is dedicated to two men named James: James Brown, who's depicted in the new biopic "Get On Up" and James Franco, who directs the new film, "Child of God." James Brown expert Robert Baird, of Stereophile, helps Rafer and Kristen take a closer look at the former. And the real James Franco, along with actor Scott Haze, talks with the Movie Date team about the latter.
Rounding things out are reviews of two of the most highly anticipated films of summer: "Sharknado 2: The Second One," which is currently airing on the SyFy Network, and "Guardians of the Galaxy," which is in theatres.
Are you a newsie? Do you know what's happening from Washington to Hollywood to Pyongyang? Be smarter than your pals. Prep your dinner party factoids. Gauge your knowledge about what happened this week, as heard on The Takeaway.
What do you see when cancer becomes a mirror for a lifetime of self-examination, self-scrutiny, and self-reflection?
“It's funny because when I was younger, I have a scar on my face from a car accident that I was in and, you know, I used to be so insecure about this scar," says Crystal Miller. "As I got older when I would talk about it, and people would be like, 'What scar?' They hadn't noticed it. And that's when I knew, it's all about how you feel about yourself, and for a lot of people those aren't the things they notice about you first. So I feel like if I feel sexy, if I feel beautiful, other people usually feel that way about you."
Crystal is 28-years-old and battling breast cancer at a time when she should be living her life like every other twenty-something in New York. She's one of the three women we're profiling for our series, Under Her Skin: Living With Breast Cancer, an intimate portrait of the lives of African-American women living with the disease.
We're a month in to our six month journey with these women, and the conversation has turned to body image—body image after chemotherapy, after surgery, after hair loss and radiation, and all of the things that come along with a diagnosis
“ I don't feel like this has made me feel any less feminine than I was before, but it was something that I was concerned about in the beginning," Crystal says in her July 29 audio diary. "And some of the ways I made sure that I felt this way was by looking at myself, looking at myself after surgery in the mirror and appreciating what I saw."
Anita Coleman is 54-years-old. Based in Los Angeles, Anita is a mother and grandmother, fighting breast cancer for the second time.
“For some strange reason as my hair grows back, it is totally really doing its own thing and nothing will hold it down," Anita says in her July 31 audio diary. "I mean I look like Alfalfa in one place, it would be on the verge of Pippi Longstocking if it kept growing that way my hairs would be sticking so no I will wear headbands hats wigs but if my hair does not grow in completely, I'll still be okay because I can work around that."
Confronting a body changed by the disease is something Anita has been through before. She underwent reconstruction after her first battle with breast cancer in 2001.
“The purpose of the reconstruction was to make me look like a woman, make me look whole again," says Anita. "But little did I know I was already whole and I have always been whole. But the journey had to take me to the place where I realize how whole I really was, because even after the reconstruction I had to conquer the look. And when I say conquer the look, I look fine on the outside to the human eye, but I know what I saw in the mirror I saw a lot of scars because I have had a lot of surgeries. My bikini line has a couple of frowns and ridges, but I'm okay with that because I had to learn I am still here."
But it's Lisa Echols in Memphis, Tennessee who has undergone the most drastic change.
“I had both breasts removed. With that there is no natural breast tissue, so it has affected my body. But the thing is, it has not affected me and how I live from this point on," Lisa says in her July 22 audio diary.
Lisa underwent a bilateral mastectomy at the end of June. She's decided to go ahead with reconstruction, a decision she say's her husband supports.
“You know you have a choice now about having a reconstructive surgery to give you this sense of identity as a woman," she says.
In The Takeaway's breast cancer Facebook group, where lots of women with breast cancer are sharing their stories, Jessie Miller from Frisco, Texas told us she found herself in a very different situation after undergoing a double mastectomy.
Two failed attempts at reconstruction left her in a dark place.
“By July of 2011 I was completely flat healing," says Miller. "I had a hard time for about a year after that to look at myself in the mirror and not just see the scars. That was pretty much all I saw."
But where she once saw scars, Jessie now sees a survivor.
“Breast cancer does not have to define who you are," she says. "In the end, it's just how you feel about yourself, and right now I feel so wonderful about where I am right now. I got through it and the image I see now of myself is not the scarred person that I was, but a beautiful survivor who can get through anything in their life."
“I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in August 2013, had bilateral nipple sparing mastectomy a month later, reconstruction surgery in April 2014," says Silke Pflueger from Los Gatos, California. She wrote to us in our Facebook group on July 17, 2014, and the story she shares is one of hope.
“I'm skinnier, I'm healthier and I'm happier than I ever was," says Pfleuger. "I've always worked out, but now I work out a lot and it shows and I feel great. Also, because I lost 30 pounds and because I have beautiful new boobs. My husband even called me one day on his way to work to tell me how beautiful I am, that's not something he's ever, ever done. He's a German and they don't do that. There will always be the fear that it will come back but I'm determined to enjoy every bit of my life in the meantime and I'm feeling good and I'm really looking good."
"I believe that if you strip off the skin, we're all the same up underneath."
Silke's mentality is one shared by Anita Coleman.
"You keep living. You get a little pouch you get love handles but you still are the same person, you're still that same beautiful being," she says in her latest audio diary. "And to find yourself knowing that you are beautiful regardless to what you look like. I want to be considered and remembered by the person I am, not how I look."
We thank Lisa, Anita, and Crystal, and all of our listeners who have been brave enough to share your thoughts and your fears with us.
All this week at The Takeaway, we've been looking at some of the 36 key Senate races heating up across the country. The midterm elections aren't until November, but the stakes are high.
Republicans are feeling confident that they can win back control of the Senate, which would put them in control of both houses of Congress. Would a united Congress mean greater cooperation, or more gridlock within a party that is increasingly divided?
Robert Bennett is a former United States Senator from Utah, and a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. He thinks that if power of the Senate turns over to Republicans this November, the gridlocked Congress we've become accustomed to might finally be in a position to take legislative action.
In yet another clash between the Republican leadership in the House and Tea Party representatives, a spending measure aimed at addressing the crisis along the southern border may be in turmoil.
The bill would have sent $659 million in resources to the border to strengthen security and speed up the deportation of Central American children, who have been entering the country in an attempt to flee violence in their homelands.
See Also: The True Origins of The Border Crisis
But before the bill got to the floor, rebellion from Tea Party members, led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, brought the vote to a crashing halt, now leaving the measure possibly dead in its tracks before the August recess.
Ruben Navarrate, a columnist for the Daily Beast and a CNN contributor, explains what happened in the House yesterday, and whether there's still hope for this bill.
1. Hope for a Breakthrough in the Middle East | 2. James Franco & Scott Haze on 'Child of God' | 3. Breaking The Gridlock in Congress | 4. Confronting a Body Changed By Cancer
On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency wrapped up two days of public hearings on its proposed climate rule that would curb carbon emissions from the nation's powers plants.
The comment sessions drew an audience more diverse than the usual make-up of energy executives, coal lobbyists, and environmental activists.
Among the crowd, and included as speakers, were a surprising number of faith leaders, Evangelicals and conservative Christians who were there not against, but in support of the Obama Administration's position on climate action.
Brandan Robertson is the Founder of The Revangelical Movement and a representative of the growing number of those in the religious right who also see environmentalism as a religious and civic priority.
"Many conservative Christians pegged the issues around climate change as something that only liberals did or something that was actually opposed to the Christian message," says Robertson. "This was mainly because conservative Evangelicals and Catholics tended to have a human-centered view that saw the Earth as an object that humans have been given to dominate and exploit for our own benefit. When it was all used up, Jesus would return, destroy the world, and take Christians to heaven. That is, of course, an oversimplification."
Robertson says that a new wave of conservative Christians and religious organizations have begun taking leadership roles, adding that the views of climate change denialists are inadequate, destructive, and even "unbiblical" in some senses.
"Throughout The Bible, there are clear passages that describe the sacredness of the Earth," says Robertson. "The Bible paints a picture at the end that says humanity will actually exist on our planet forever."
Nowadays, Robertson says that environmental conservation is more in line with the Christian faith, adding that statistics show that the new generation of younger Evangelicals are changing politically.
"For instance, on June 2nd when the EPA released a proposal to reduce carbon pollution, many conservative Christians saw that as a no-brainer," he says. "Yes, [President Obama's] proposal had a price tag of $150 billion, but the price tag that will cost if we don't get to work on these issues is far higher. As we look at Jesus and examine our Bibles, we're becoming increasingly less concerned with personal wealth and economic growth, and more concerned with caring for our whole planet. It seems to us like the more Christ-like thing to do."
Just when you thought it was safe to go back on Twitter, "Sharknado 2: The Second One" hit the small screen last night.
This made for TV movie is the sequel to the cult film and Twitter phenomenon "Sharknado." The first film had a record-setting number of tweets, and an increasing number of viewers have been catching up on reruns on the Syfy channel. The sequel takes us to NYC: Sharks in the subway, anyone?
Kristen Meinzer, culture producer for The Takeaway and co-host of The Movie Date Podcast, joins us to talk about the film, and the best and worst of the twittersphere during the premiere.
While The New York Times editorial board has enthusiastically endorsed legalizing marijuana across the country, not everyone is so sure.
Communities in neighboring states where the drug is now legal are voicing their concerns about increases in marijuana-related crimes, including trafficking, driving while under the influence, and possession.
In Sidney, Nebraska, marijuana is still very much illegal, despite its location bordering marijuana-friendly Colorado. Police chief B.J. Wilkinson says that marijuana-related crimes are on the rise in his community and costing the town and tax payers money.
What do you think? Vote in our poll below.
Political firebrand, musical innovator, Nigerian folk-hero, rebel, and global icon: Fela Kuti was a figure eminently of his time, and also someone who was entirely ahead of his time.
Born in 1938 to an upper-middle class family, he was the son of activist parents, and the influence of his mother, feminist activist Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was one that would shape his views his entire life.
However, it was only after he encountered the Black Power movement in 1960s Los Angeles that Fela began to fully develop his own complete identity and vocabulary as a political revolutionary and critic of the Nigerian government.
His time in the U.S. profoundly influenced his musical sensibility too, and inspired him to begin the experimentation that would eventually lead to the creation of Afrobeat.
The story of Fela Kuti's journey as a creative and ideological leader is the subject of director Alex Gibney's new documentary "Finding Fela," which opens in select theaters across the country in August.
Femi Kuti, the eldest son of Fela Kuti, was member of his father's band, but he went on to develop a musical identity of his own that earned him four Grammy nominations. He's featured in "Finding Fela" and he reflected on his father's life.
"The political part was very essential in the music all the time," says Femi. "He couldn't understand the love songs in Africa, with so much poverty and suffering."
Femi says that his father taught him to put the suffering of others before personal matters. Fela Kuti had a night club in the Nigerian capital of Lagos called The Shrine, which became a legend in Nigeria and around the world. On Friday nights, Fela would take to the stage to "abuse the government," as Femi put it, something that was very dangerous at times.
"I don't know if he personally feared for his life—he never showed that to anybody," says Femi. "But definitely everybody around him, including his kids and also my mother, were afraid that he would be killed. Everybody spoke to him, but he always shrugged it off his shoulders and said that wasn't going to stop him from speaking the truth."
Femi says that his father lived life as if he had a death wish.
"He did things that we never understood why—he always provoked the authorities," says Femi. "Everybody knew if you called their names, they were going to come and retaliate."
According to Femi, his father was not angry with Nigeria, but frustrated and upset by the lack of support from the government for education, infrastructure, healthcare, and more.
"What he was talking about then in '70s, Nigeria is still facing critical issues on these topics," he says. "He was just crying out loud all the time, saying, 'We need to get things straight.'"
In addition to political activism, Fela Kuti was an iconic musician. He created a new form of music—Afrobeat—which combined traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music, jazz, highlife, and funk.
"His mother called him and told him that if he wanted to be successful as a musician, he had to form his own kind of music, and this is how the Afrobeat started," says Femi. "James Brown was very big, and I think my father just saw James Brown as, should I use the word, oppressive. Oppressive in the sense—not negatively—but he had to come up with something better than James Brown. This was a challenge of the beginning of his career. He had to come up with something that his people would love him for. And this was Afrobeat."
Fela Kuti died from AIDS, like so many tens of millions. But during his life, he denied that HIV could cause AIDS, or that AIDS was dangerous.
"You have to understand the effect of colonialism on people like my father," says Femi. "If Europe talks about AIDS or that AIDS is killing Africa, than people like him would have to fight back. There was not enough proof during my father's era that AIDS was caused by sex. I think the way AIDS was marketed—the propaganda against AIDS was not well put together by the U.N."
However, through his music, his nightclub, and his discussions, Femi believes his father was able to effect real change in Nigeria.
"If Nigerians are outspoken today, this is because of my father," he says. "Throughout the '70s and part of the '80s, everybody was too afraid to talk—you never had any human rights activists talking. Today, the youths speak openly now, and they are very critical of the governments in Nigeria and Africa, but this is due to my father giving them this voice, this power, this 'have no fear.'"
This week, The Takeaway's partner The New York Times launched "High Time: An Editorial Series on Marijuana Legalization."
The special op-ed feature includes articles by members of the Editorial Board that examine the issue of marijuana legalization as a question of state's rights and criminal justice.
Though it's a measured, in-depth take, it's causing almost as much of a stir as columnist Maureen Dowd's account of trying a pot candy bar in Denver, which ran in the paper back in June.
Once the marijuana reached her blood stream, Dowd felt "a scary shudder" course through her body that left her "panting and paranoid."
"I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me," she wrote. The experience led her to conclude that in the hands of a novice like herself, marijuana can have frightening effects.
The opinion page's recent take is less testimonial-driven, if equally impassioned. Upcoming installments will examine regulation issues, and more.
While The New York Times is advocating for legalization, many questions remain. Could there be unforeseen consequences to legalization? And how complicated would the process be? Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor for The New York Times, explains the ins and outs of these issues, and why the paper is taking a stand.
What do you think? Vote in our poll below.
As Operation Protective Edge continues into its fourth week, Israel stands firmly behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country's Defense Forces.
One recent poll found that more than 90 percent of Jewish Israelis believe Operation Protective Edge is justified, with just four percent believing the country has used excessive force against Gaza.
But yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took a hard line with Israel, condemning an attack on a U.N. school that killed at least 16.
“Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” the secretary-general told reporters during an official visit to San Jose, Costa Rica.
And while some in the international community have called for a cease-fire, Arab leaders have remained mostly silent, leaving Hamas isolated in the region.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, says that Hamas is stuck in the past and can't see towards the future, while others contend that oppression of the Palestinians pre-dates Hamas, and misses the heart of the conflict.
The violence rages on in Israel and Palestine this week. Just yesterday, 17 people were killed and 160 wounded in an Israeli airstrike that hit a fruit and vegetable stand near Gaza City. In a separate attack yesterday, a United Nations school in Gaza filled with civilians was hit by Israeli artillery, killing an additional 16 people.
More than 1,300 Palestinians and 58 Israelis have now died in the conflict.
Amid the escalating humanitarian crisis, we hear from a woman who was born and raised in a refugee camp in Gaza.
Ghada Ageel is a visiting professor of political science at the University of Alberta, but before she had the opportunity to study and leave the region, her home was the Khan Younis Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. She is a third generation Palestinian refugee—her parents and grandparents have also lived in refugee camps in Gaza.
Ghada describes what her life was like growing up as a refugee in Gaza.
1. Growing Up in a Palestinian Refugee Camp | 2. Gaza: No Peace & No Way Out | 3. Sharknado: The Making of a Cult Classic | 4. Police Chief: Marijuana-Related Crimes on the Rise | 5. Is It Practical to Legalize Marijuana in America? | 6. Fela Kuti: Firebrand, Innovator, and Rebel
In recent weeks, The Takeaway's coverage of the mideast has highlighted the perspective of diplomats, historians, journalists, and policy analysts.
But as the daughter of a Palestinian father and a pro-Israel Jewish mother, Claire Hajaj's expertise on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is more personal.
On her mother's side, the shadow of Russian pogroms and Auschwitz's death camps fell over family history. Her father's family was in Jaffa when Zionist paramilitary groups arrived with tanks and mortars.
They eventually fled the region, losing their family home.
Her new novel, "Ishmael's Oranges," is based on the story of her parents, who met and fell in love at at British university in the summer of 1967 as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians raged on.
"They met in the U.K. during the summer of love in 1967—by then we'd already had the Suez crisis, we'd already had the Six-Day War, and the memory of '48 was still incredibly fresh," Claire says. "But for these two people, they didn't see the conflict in each other. They just saw two people who understood each other fundamentally in ways that other people didn't."
Claire says that both her father and mother's families were shocked and confused by their relationship at first, even though both families were not very religious.
"For the Muslims, Muhammad himself had a Jewish wife, so it wasn't completely unheard of that Muslim might marry a Jew," says Claire. "For them, I think they eventually came to think after the initial shock, 'Well, maybe she will be absorbed into our society and the children will, by default, be Muslim—they will be Palestinian because their father is.' For my mother's side, I think it was more difficult."
Claire says that her father had stayed in Israel after 1948, and adopted many aspects of Israeli culture—he had an Israeli passport and even spoke Hebrew.
"He probably was about as Jewish as a Palestinian could be," says Claire.
Though her parents did unite in love, both still had deep-seated stances on this conflict, something that reached into Claire's own world.
"For as long as I can remember, I've been on the front line of seeing these two communities tearing themselves apart," she says. "I have the curse, if you like, of being able to empathize with both perspectives. That's a very, very confusing place to be."
Claire says that in many ways, both narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are incredibly similar.
"We have two people who are both obsessed with a story of loss, a story of conflict, of hate, of being drive out of homes, of having families scattered to the winds, of trying to rebuild their lives, and of looking back in pain and fear," she says. "This is the story of the Palestinians and the story of the Jews. I've heard both stories bitterly, angrily told to me throughout my childhood. How on Earth is a person supposed to choose between these stories?"
Claire says she cannot choose.
When Claire was five-years-old, her mother explained the divide within her family, and the huge issues that separated her mother and father.
"Since then, I have asked myself who is right and who is wrong and what does justice mean—what would be the right thing to do?" she says. "I'm not sure that now I have an answer."
Claire says that finding resolution and peace should not focus on righting all of the wrongs of the past and starting over from the beginning.
"That is simply not a possibility," says Claire. "I would prefer, rather than to talk about justice or about what we can do now not to make sure that our ancestors get justice, that our children have peace, freedom, and security."
Though Claire would like both parties to find a middle ground, her own parents could not resolve their differences in the end. They divorced after 25 years.
"Their identities certainly played a role—they were two people who drifted further apart in their political identities the longer they were married rather than closer together," she says. "Maybe that was inevitable, given the horrendous attrition that has surrounded both societies from '67 to today. Obviously there were personal reasons too—the end of a marriage is never, ever simple."
While her parents' marriage did not work out, Claire says she does believe there is still hope for the Israelis and Palestinians, something that she is trying to convey in her new book.
"It's a cliché to say, but there is always hope," she says. "If there is hope for these two peoples, it exists in the will of two societies to live in peace."
The last member of the U.S. crew that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II has died. Theodore Van Kirk was 93-years-old.
As a 24-year-old, Van Kirk was the navigator of the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress that dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
The bomb killed 140,000, and history tells us that the decision to drop the bomb was a game changer, ending the war and starting a big debate about the future use of nuclear bombs.
Suzanne Dietz, Van Kirk's biographer who chronicled his military life in the book, "My True Course," says Van Kirk saw the mission as simply part of his service in World War II.
"He believed it was the right thing to do—he had no regrets," says Dietz. "He believed it helped to shorten the war and it helped to save lives."
According to Dietz, the U.S. Surgeon General had ordered 470,000 body bags for the planned land invasion of Kyushu, which was known to be fraught with danger.
"It was not only saving American lives, but it saved Japanese lives," Dietz says.
If the Kyushu land invasion had gone forward, American POWs would have been executed, another reason why Van Kirk had no regrets about dropping the bomb.
"It was something that he did as part of serving in World War II," says Dietz. "He was a father, a contributor to society, working for DuPont for over 30 years. I don't think it was a focus of his life, but it was obviously part of who he was."
When Japan surrendered in 1945, Van Kirk returned to the country to meet with scientists and survey the damage. While he was there, he met a Japanese soldier who, upon returning from war, was devastated to find his home destroyed.
"It made him think: What if he were to come home and find his home in that kind of condition?" says Dietz. "It gave him empathy for who he looked at as the enemy."
This week, European Union officials announced its first round of broad sanctions against Russia since the crisis in Ukraine began. Hours later, President Obama matched his European allies, promising a new round of sanctions to punish the Kremlin for its recent actions in eastern Ukraine.
"Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress," President Obama declared on the White House lawn. "And it doesn't have to come to this. It didn't have to come to this. It does not have to be this way. This is a choice that Russia—and President Putin in particular—has made."
Starting August 1st, the E.U. will severely restrict Russian state bank access to European Union markets, and will enforce an embargo on new arms sales to Russia. The sanctions will also limit Russian access to certain oil technology. As for the United States, President Obama announced more restrictions for Russian banks and plans to match the E.U.'s block on oil technology.
President Obama insisted that the development was not the ghost of a past conflict.
“It's not a new Cold War," the president said Tuesday while speaking to reporters. "What it is is a very specific issue related to Russia's unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path."
Even though the pressure is mounting from both Europe and the United States, it's possible sanctions may not go far enough. Ambassador Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from January 2012 to February 2014, says there's more work to be done to curb Russia's bad behavior.
"I think it's the threat of new sanctions that change actors' behaviors," says Ambassador McFaul. "Once the sanctions are implemented, the target usually doubles down and blames those doing sanctions. I think that will happen with Putin, of course."
Though Ambassador McFaul feels that sanctions can help alter the behavior of international players, he does concede that producing such a result takes time.
"It has to effect the economy, it has to effect individuals—both the citizens at large and specific economic interest groups," he says. "And that, judging from other historical experiences, takes years to have that feedback effect. Unfortunately, I think that's what we're in for with Russia."
According to McFaul, the pain of sanctions could be felt both ways.
"It's asymmetric—Russia is just as dependent on Europe, as Europe is dependent on Russian energy supplies," he says. "When it comes to the financial sector, Russia is much weaker than the rest of Europe and the United States. They rely on the dollar and access to capital markets; it's not symmetric. I don't know what's coming next, but most certainly the rhetoric out of every major capital in Europe has changed literally in just the last 48 hours."
As Pieter Feith, a senior Dutch diplomat and former Special Representative for the European Union, explains, the E.U.'s energy dependence on Russia prevented European officials from taking a strong stance.
However, in the weeks following the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, he says E.U. officials started to change their minds. Dutch officials have reported that it's been increasingly difficult to access the site of the passenger jet because the conflict in eastern Ukraine have severely hindered attempts to reach and secure the site.
"Over the past weeks and months, we have witnessed a continued violation of norms and principles by the Russian government," says Feith. "I agree that initially the reaction by European governments was somewhat lackluster. But now they have galvanized, and the sanctions that have been agreed to now are significant. I think everybody agrees—including our captains of industry—there will be no more business as usual for a long time to come. This may also effect our own interests, but we think this is necessary."
Feith says that it is absolutely vital that Putin understands that he must comply with international standards and stop interfering in Ukraine. The Dutch are hurt and angry, says Feith, who says that the people of the Netherlands view the downing of MH17 as a national tragedy.
But what if the majority of passengers on that plane were American? Would the world be seeing a much different response?
"For the Dutch people, this is our own 9/11," says Feith. "If this had happened to the United States, the reaction would have been more forceful. But then again, your economic dependencies and your relationship in terms of trade and investments are less significant than for us in Europe. Secondly, the United States is a sovereign state, a sovereign government, and a single decision-making authority. We are working in a European Union where we try to reach consensus."
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." That saying has become something of a motto for the National Rifle Association. But according to a new report by Mother Jones magazine, a bad guy with a gun might be the NRA's top lawyer.
In a shocking discovery, Mother Jones found that the general counsel for the NRA, Robert Dowlut, was convicted in the 1960s of second degree murder, and spent years in prison for shooting and killing an acquaintance.
Eventually, his case was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court due to the flawed police investigation.
Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones and went through more than 2,000 pages of court documents and testimony to write this story. He says that unearthing Dowlut's past can help shed light on some of the decisions he's made in his current role with the NRA.
The Takeaway reached out to the NRA and Robert Dowlut for a comment, but have not yet heard back.
Online dating can feel like a shot in the dark, but for those in the business of selling match-making services online, there's no much mystery to it. It's all about data and algorithmic calculations—not about kismet.
But this week, online dating giant OKCupid came under some fire for taking the "scientific approach" to match-making to the next level when it revealed that it had conducted experiments on the site's users.
It's not the first time OKCupid has done research on the behavior of its members. In the past, the site's team has used its trove of data to identify things like whether smiling or making a flirty face in a profile picture gets the most response, or how much skin to show in a photo, and even what brand and make of camera to use for the most attention-getting headshot.
What makes the online dating company's latest research a little different, however, is that it actually involved manipulating the information users received about potential matches.
Christian Rudder, co-founder of OKCupid and author of the forthcoming book "Dataclysm," weighs in on his site's recent experiments.
As the 2014 midterm election approaches, we're taking a closer look at key Senate races across the country that could result in a shift of power in Congress.
We continue our game of Texas Hold'em —Senate elections style—and take a look at how the battle for the United Sates Senate might go. Today the deck is stacked with races with open seats, where incumbents are retiring, leaving the door wide-open for a new candidate.
Joining us at the card table again today is Ken Rudin, host of the Political Junkie Podcast and the former political editor for NPR.
1. Can the West Curb Russia's Bad Behavior? | 2. Lessons From My Jewish Mother & Palestinian Father | 3. Last Surviving Hiroshima Bomber Dies | 4. The 2014 Midterms: The Open Races to Watch
After six weeks of negotiations, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL), have finally reached an agreement on how reform the veteran healthcare system.
Their comprehensive reform bill includes $5 billion dollars in emergency spending, and calls for the VA to hire new employees, conduct regular audits on the quality care, and more.
“This bill makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lines for healthcare," Senator Sanders told reporters on Monday. A key part of the proposal lets veterans bypass the VA system in the case of a backlog and instead seek out treatment from non-VA Medicare-eligible providers.
Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War veteran who serves on the Board of Directors of Veterans for Common Sense, weighs in on the changes.
Democrats have held the majority in the United States Senate for almost eight years now, but as the November 2014 midterm elections approach, Republicans are feeling confident they can take it back.
This week at The Takeaway, we're taking a closer look at some of the 36 races heating up across the country.
We sat down for a game of Texas Hold'em —Senate elections style—with Ken Rudin, the host of the Political Junkie podcast and the former political editor for NPR.
Then we take a closer look at the race in North Carolina between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis. Despite early reports, Senator Kay Hagan is holding on to a solid lead.
Why, during an election year when Republicans appear to have the upper hand, is Tillis struggling? According to Dante Chinni, director of the American Communities Project at American University, Tillis is up against a deeply divided Republican electorate. You can also read his recent post about the North Carolina race here.
Search online for images of e-waste, and you'll find mountains of old TVs and laptops, floppy discs and flip phones. But musician and computer programmer Colten Jackson is getting some use out stuff most of us call trash.
With six hard drives and an old keyboard number pad, Jackson put together his first e-waste instrument: The hard drive guitar. It's all part of a project called the Electric Waste Orchestra.
While not technically an orchestra, the group meets regularly and holds a summer camp where kids build their own instruments entirely out of e-waste.
Today on The Takeaway, Jackson explains how he decided to turn trash into tunes.
"I'm kind of doing the reverse of what hard drives are meant for," says Jackson. "When they're in your computer, your computer sends electricity to the motor to make it spin—that's how it reads and writes data. Once I've cracked them open and tear all the circuitry off of it, it's just a nice silver disc attached to a motor. When you spin the motor by hand, it generates electricity, and each hard drive is hooked up to a different pitch."
The faster Jackson spins a disc, the louder the note gets. Multiple discs can be played at once, and one the disc stops spinning the sound stops as well. The keyboard number pad also lets Jackson control the pitch of the notes.
"I picked e-waste because it was something that I had for free," Jackson says about his beginnings. "It's something that I imagine a lot of people have for free—there's stockpiles of these computer parts anywhere with an IT department, a community help desk, or even people that went through a lot of computers themselves might have a stack of hard drives somewhere."
Jackson says that computer programming, repurposing, and making music can serve as a collaborative project for individuals and communities.
"We got to run it as a small summer camp at the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab," says Jackson. "We got some kids taring into computer parts, which I really love seeing—it gives opportunity to tear into these pieces that are usually black boxes. People are often afraid to open their computers because it's usually a bad idea if you don't know what you're doing. When you're using old computer parts, it doesn't matter if you break it—that's the point, you're breaking it first so you can make something new out of it."
In Gaza, the weekend's pause in hostilities was replaced by one of the heaviest nights of bombardment. A fuel tank supplying the area's only power station has been hit, with reports that power to the 1.8 million people in the Gaza Strip has now been cut.
In a televised address late Monday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his citizens to prepare for a long fight in Gaza.
“Israeli citizens cannot live with the threat from rockets and from death tunnels—death from above and from below,” the prime minister said.
On Tuesday, one senior PLO official called for a 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire—something that has since been rejected by Hamas. It once again underlines the deep divisions within the Palestinian leadership, with various factions pulling in contrary directions.
What's not in dispute is the one direction Hamas seems determined to pursue—the sophisticated network of tunnels built by Hamas, a key Israeli target that is used by Hamas supporters to transport weapons and launch attacks on Israel.
Jodi Rudoren, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for our partner The New York Times, recently got a tour of these tunnels and weighs in from Jerusalem.
"We've heard about the labyrinthian network under Gaza, with lots of offshoots and shafts, and this was not like that," says Rudoren of the tunnel she visited. "This tunnel is quite a bit underground—about 46 feet down—and you have to duck to get into it, but a medium-sized person can stand. It's very, I think, professionally built, with concrete walls and a curved concrete top."
In the tunnels, as shown in the photo above, an iron rod runs along one side of the tunnel to provide electricity. Rudoren says that the metal lattice on the bottom of the tunnel is used as a carriage track to cart out sand. The Israelis have said these elements indicate an unfinished tunnel.
"There are different kinds of tunnels—there are smuggling tunnels, and there are storage and rocket manufacturing tunnels within Gaza," she says. "The ones that lead into Israeli territory are something that people have known about for a little while, and have become an increasing focus of this war."
Rudoren says that Israelis fear these tunnels because they allow militants to come into Israel to carry out attacks on soldiers or civilians.
"The real fear is they'll come to some kibbutz and spray the dining hall with machine gun fire," says Rudoren. "In one case, they found some tranquilizers and plastic handcuffs so the fear is that they tried to kidnap people."
Last night near the border, Rudoren says there was an attack by Hamas on an Israeli military post.
"They killed five Israeli soldiers, and were trying to actually take a body of one of the soldiers back through the tunnel," she says. "Soldiers at the watchtower shot at them and killed or injured one of them, and they did all get back into the tunnel but without an Israeli body."
Rudoren says that the tunnels are a valuable tool in this conflict, stirring fear in the hearts Israelis.
"For years, the primary tool from Gaza was rocket fire, and the primary impact in Israel was not really death, but this constant running into bomb-shelters and this destruction of life," she says. "They don't seem to have an answer to the tunnel threat, and it's totally freaking people out."
The deadliest Ebola outbreak on record continues to spread in West Africa, crossing country borders and claiming the lives of nearly 700 people. As local and international doctors work overtime to stem the virus, reports have emerged of other dangers facing health officials in the region.
Yesterday, Ken Isaac, Vice President of Programs and Government Relations at Samaritan's Purse, discussed the violence his staff encountered in northern Liberia trying to bury someone who had died from the Ebola virus.
“We were met with a road block, the men in the ambulance were attacked, they were beaten, they were cut with machetes," said Isaac.
So what fuels this complete distrust and sense of contempt for the people trying to do good in the region? Adia Benton is an assistant professor of Anthropology at Brown University. She's worked in Sierra Leone with the ministry of health working on the issue of infectious diseases, and she explains why are people so distrustful of the government.
The conflict in Syria is producing some gruesome images and harrowing statistics.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that 1,600 people had been killed in just 10 days this month. In all, more than 170,000 people have been killed in the three-year civil war, about one third of the casualties have been civilians.
As fighting raged on, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a public appearance at a mosque in Damascus, where he attended prayers to mark the start of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that draws to a close the monthlong fast of Ramadan.
It was his first public appearance since being sworn in for his third term in the office.
Lara Setrakian, co-founder and executive editor of Syria Deeply joins The Takeaway for an update on the crisis in Syria.
Muslims from around the globe are celebrating the end of Ramadan and the holiday known as Eid-ul-Fitr this week. Through 30 days of fasting, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are encouraged to spend time in prayer and reflection.
As Muslims around the world celebrate the end of Ramadan, we bring you these voices of reflection from around the country.
To share your Ramadan reflections, leave a comment below.
1. An Inside Look at Gaza's Tunnels | 2. Democrats & Republicans Showdown as 2014 Midterm Elections Heat Up | 3. Electronic Waste Orchestra Turns Trash into Tunes | 4. Mistrust Fuels Deadly Ebola Outbreak | 5. Listeners Respond: Ramadan Reflections
Healthcare workers in some parts of West Africa are now taking on two battles—the fight to control the growing threat of the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 670 people in four countries since March, and now armed youths who are threatening doctors who they believe are spreading the disease, not containing it.
One of the latest victims to test positive for the Ebola virus was an American doctor, Dr. Kent Brantly, who was infected with the disease while treating patients in Liberia—he is receiving treatment, but his condition is deteriorating. News of Dr. Brantley's condition comes just days after one of Liberia's most high-profile doctors died from Ebola.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 100 health workers have been infected with the virus and half of them have died. The Liberian government is now ordering border closures and quarantines as the outbreak continues to spread.
"I talked with a team this morning; his condition is deteriorating," says Isaacs. "We are gravely worried for him. He is in a very serious condition, and he needs to be evacuated out and we are not able to do that. We are not able to give him the adequate medical attention that he needs in Liberia. It is a blow to the organization, and of course to he and his family."
Isaacs says that the organization is currently still classifying Dr. Brantly as stable, but he says his condition is deteriorating as the disease continues to run through him.
Other healthcare workers from around the world are also experiencing challenges combating the disease in West Africa.
"Ebola is probably one of the most contagious and deadly diseases in the world," says Isaacs. "Extraordinary precautions are taken every step of the way. Protocols of barrier protection, disinfection, scrubbing down, and dressing in and dressing out, and still accidents happen some way or another. All of the healthcare workers that are treating Ebola patients face these risks."
Isaacs says that it is "alarming" that Liberian healthcare workers are not well versed in the dangers of the Ebola virus, and do not know what measures to take to prevent being infected. On Friday, eight out of the 12 new Ebola patients that came to the ELWA Hospital in Liberia's capital city were government healthcare workers.
"They do not know what the disease is, they don't know how to handle it, they don't understand it, and they don't know how to prevent themselves from getting it," says Isaacs. "This is creating a formula for an absolute catastrophe across West Africa."
The Ebola virus is spread by the exchange of bodily fluids—even touching another person's sweat or being too close to someone when they sneeze can transmit the virus.
"When it spreads, unfortunately it's deadly," says Isaacs.
Facing a deadly virus is an enormous challenge in and of itself, but Isaac says that the Samaritan's Purse team also has other obstacles. Yesterday, the Liberian Ministry of Health asked the Samaritan's Purse burial team to go to a community to bury an infected body.
"We were accompanied by the Ministry of Health in an ambulance," says Isaacs. "When we got out in close to the village—it was about an hour and a half from where the critical management center is—we were met with a roadblock. The men in the ambulance were attacked, they were beaten, cut with machetes, and their car was burned."
Isaacs says that his own staff was not hurt and able to get away, but the team was not able to reach the infected body. Another community does not support the expansion of a quarantine center at ELWA Hospital, and rioted in front of the facility and threatened to burn it down.
"The population doesn't understand the disease, and they don't have the basic knowledge to allow healthcare to come in," he says. "This feeds into a growing catastrophe in West Africa. It's an indicator that the healthcare delivery systems of these countries are totally overwhelmed and that this disease is out of control."
Secretary of State John Kerry has fallen short on his diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Gaza. Now, he's looking to salvage talks for a temporary cease fire, and is keeping the door open to future negotiations for a longer term solution.
The United Nations has called for an immediate halt in the fighting, but after what was a relatively calm weekend, fighting resumed again today, just as Muslims in Gaza are celebrating the end of Ramadan.
Nick Schifrin is the Jerusalem correspondent for Al Jazeera America, and currently covering the conflict in Gaza. He weighs in on the fighting, and how Sec. Kerry's proposal is being received.
Some Israelis have expressed deep skepticism about America and its ability to act as an honest peace broker. But surely America is Israel's best friend? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a particularly divisive issue for the American public, and the way most Americans understand the United States's relationship with Israel has changed a great deal since the country's founding in 1948.
As John B. Judis, author of "Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict," explains, while few American Jews supported the Zionist cause through the 1930s, that changed with the discovery of Hitler's Final Solution in 1944. By the time the United Nations voted to support an independent Israel four years later, Israel found a bastion of support in the American Jewish community.
While the community's enthusiasm faded in the assimilationist ethos of the 1950s, by the late 1960s, Judis says, Israel's protection became a central cause of American Jewish life. The Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 cemented American Jewish support for Israel through the 1990s.
Today, Judis sees a shift in the attitudes of American Jews toward Israel, particularly among the young. He discusses that shift and the complicated relationship between American Jews and Israel.
When Sam Levin was 16-years-old, he decided to take charge of his own education. Working with administrators at his public high school, he launched the "Independent Project," a semester-long, student-led program that eliminated the traditional role of teachers.
So instead of textbook homework assignments, the usual line-up of pop quizzes, and final exams, each semester students design their own curriculum and carry out their own independent projects.
Sam Levin, the program's founder, and Zoe Borden, a recent graduate, explain the Independent Project.
This week, The Takeaway is looking at how the deck is set for this year's battle for the U.S. Senate. It's a game of Senate Hold 'Em and Fold 'Em—we'll look at the Republicans' chances of taking the Senate, and the Democratic fight to hang on.
In Kentucky, a different kind of political candidate will launch his campaign for the Senate next week. His name is Gil Fulbright, and he offers something no other candidate in the race can: Complete and utter honesty.
“Listening to my constituents, legislating, these are things I don't do," says Fulbright in his campaign ad. "What I do is spend about 70 percent of my time raising funds for re-election. I'd do anything to stay in office. My name's Gil Fulbright but hell. I'll change my name to Phil Gulbright or Bill Fullbright or Phillip Mamouf-Wifarts.”
He may have is very own campaign bus, but Gil won’t be featured on the ballot come November, and he’s not even a real person. He’s a satirical character, a product of the bi-partisan organization Represent.Us, designed to highlight the corrupting influence of big money in politics.
And in fact, the Kentucky Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate contest ever.
Josh Silver is the Director of Represent.Us and a veteran election and media reform advocate. He explains why the group came up with candidate Gil Fulbright, and how it might impact the real Kentucky Senate race.
Watch Gil's campaign video below.
It's the last week before Congress heads home for August recess, and we may actually see a break from the usual congressional gridlock when it comes to veterans affairs. House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise over the weekend to help the embattled veteran healthcare system.
No word on the exact details yet, but the bill is expected to release billions in emergency funds to deal with the long wait times that have mired the Department of Veterans Affairs' in controversy.
Jeremy Peters, reporter for our partner The New York Times, weighs in on the proposal.
1. America: Israel's Best Friend? | 2. Deadly Ebola Virus Reaches U.S. Physicians | 3. You've Been Warned: The Price of Chocolate is Rising | 4. Congress Reaches Deal on Veterans Bill | 5. A Different Kind of Senate Candidate: On That Only Wants Your Money
Earlier this year, The Takeaway reported that shortages of limes, avocados, and pork have sent prices of margaritas, guacamole, and bacon sky high.
And now it looks as if the unthinkable is happening: Mars and Hershey have announced that they will be boosting the price of chocolate products price by seven and eight percent, respectively. Grim news.
What’s driving the increase? And more importantly: How do we cope?
"One is there have been poor yields from major cocoa producers going back now several years," Pashman. "Sixty-eight percent of the world's cocoa comes from Africa, and a lot of the trees there are getting old and sick, and reforming the industry there has been very difficult. It's actually one of the few agribusiness industries where a huge amount of the crop actually still comes from very small, local farmers."
In addition supply problems, Pashman says that there has been a greater demand world wide for higher cocoa content in chocolate products.
"People love their cocoa," says Pashman. "I do have a couple tips for folks who maybe want to stretch their chocolate dollar a little bit farther. In an upcoming episode of The Sporkful, I talk to a guy who makes chocolate in Hawaii. He identifies two different types of chocolate eaters: Melters and chompers."
A melter, as the name suggests, is someone who patiently holds a piece of chocolate in their mouth until it melts away, while a chomper chews a pieces of chocolate relatively quickly. Pashman says that the former can save money, and allow the eater to savor the chocolate.
"You may be able to eat less chocolate if you let it melt in your mouth because it would take so long and you would get so much flavor from it," he says.