By Sami Yusuf
By Sami Yusuf
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration is responsible for an unprecedented assault on the enjoyment of basic human rights by Egyptian citizens, as arbitrary laws violating the fundamental principles of human rights and civil liberties are developed and enforced in the name of national security.
Highly publicized cases such as the farcical Al Jazeera trial and the mass death sentence handed to 683 people are simply the tip of the iceberg, as state-sanctioned assaults on freedom of expression and association become the norm. University campuses have been declared military zones, in which martial law applies: recent attacks by the security forces have seen the arrest of some 200 students, and the death of Omar Sharif, a student in Alexandria, on October 21st. The lack of freedom of expression online has been repeatedly criticized by states at the United Nations. Non-governmental organisations have until November 10th to register as…
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Blinded by Ignorance – this is where it Leads the U.S.*
By Jack Moore
Two US Naval supply ships have collided in the Gulf of Aden at the beginning of a replenishment operation.
USNS Amerlia Earhart and USNS Walter S. Diehl crashed into one another with only minor damage caused to each vessel, according to the US Navy.
No crew members were injured in the incident and the ships are now continuing with their assigned missions in the Gulf.
The US Navy said that it would conduct an investigation into the cause of the collision.
Despite a decline in attacks in recent years, the Gulf of Aden still remains an area which witnesses hijackings by Somali pirates, forcing an international naval coalition to maintain a presence in the region.
NATO, US and the European Union all have missions in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean to prevent Somali piracy halting humanitarian aid and maritime trade.
Librarians Gagged and Threatened with Prison under the Patriot Act*
Using the broad powers granted under the USA PATRIOT Act, the FBI demanded that 4 librarians produce private information about library patrons’ reading habits, then used an endless gag order to force them to remain silent about the request for the rest of their lives under penalty of prison time.
In July 2005, two FBI agents came to the office of the Library Connection, located in Windsor, Connecticut. The Library Connection is a nonprofit co-op of library databases that arranges record-sharing between 27 different libraries. It facilitates book rental tracking and other services.
The FBI handed Library Connection’s executive director George Christian a document which demanded that he produce “any and all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person or entity” that had used library computers between 4:00 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on February 15, 2005, in any of the 27 libraries whose computer systems were managed by the Library Connection.
The FBI was demanding that the library hand over private data on library patrons en masse “to protect against international terrorism.”
The document that Mr. Christian was given was a so-called National Security Letter (NSL), a type of administrative subpoena for personal information — self-written by the FBI without any probable cause or judicial oversight. The legal framework for these powerful NSLs was established by Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001.
What’s more, Mr. Christian was placed under a perpetual gag order. The NSL prohibited the recipient “from disclosing to any person that the F.B.I. has sought or obtained access to information or records under these provisions.” The gag order was broad enough that it was a crime to discuss the matter to any other person — for life. The USA PATRIOT Act allows for this suppression of speech, and issues a punishment of up to 5 years in prison for anyone caught violating the endless gag order.
When Mr. Christian received the NSL, he was unsure about whether or not he could even consult a lawyer or his board of directors. Technically, the gag order did indeed prevent any such discussion.
The only reason we know about this case today is because Mr. Christian and 3 other library board members fought back in court. The other librarians involved were Barbara Bailey, president of the Library Connection; Peter Chase, vice president of the Library Connection; and Jan Nocek, secretary of the Library Connection.
The ACLU took up their cause and challenged the validity of the gag order in court. The librarians became known as the Connecticut Four, but could not be individually identified for many months. In suing U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, they could only be named “John Doe” and were required to remain in silence about the case under threat of prison time. The case was known as Doe v. Gonzales.
The lawsuit stated that the Library Connection “strictly guards the confidentiality and privacy of its library and Internet records, and believes it should not be forced to disclose such records without a showing of compelling need and approval by a judge.”
“I was shocked by the restraints the gag order imposed on me,” Mr. Christian later told the New York Times.
The four librarians under the gag order were not allowed to communicate with each other by phone or email, and were not even allowed to tell their own families about the case.
In fact, the librarians were even barred from attending the court hearings on the very precedent-setting lawsuit with which they were involved. In an interview with Democracy Now, Mr. Christian described the miniscule amount of participation he and the other plaintiffs were allowed in the case:
When we first sued the Attorney General, I told our attorneys I’d like to be in the courtroom. After all, I’m the plaintiff. And they said no. They had talked to the judge. That would not be allowed, because then our identity could be guessed. But the judge did allow us to go to a courtroom in Hartford, sixty miles away, where we were locked in a room with a security guard and able to watch our case on a monitor. But as the plaintiffs, we were not allowed in the courtroom.
…The release of our identity would be considered a national security threat, because, they reasoned then, whoever they were interested in would realize that the FBI was closing in, although, with twenty-six libraries, I doubt they could really make that a case. We did get to attend the appellate court, along with Nick Merrill. We didn’t know at that time whether Nick was a male or a female. We were instructed to enter the courtroom in New York independently, to enter the building independently, not to sit with each other, not to have eye contact, not to have eye contact with our attorneys. But at least we could participate in the audience and watch our case being argued.
“Our presence in the courtroom was declared a threat to national security,” Mr. Chase related.
The gag served to legally prevent Mr. Christian from personally testifying before Congress about the effects of the USA PATRIOT Act before the law’s reauthorization in March of 2006. It passed through Congress easily and was signed once again by President George W. Bush.
Appellate judges were clearly disturbed by the breadth of the NSL gag provisions. One appellate judge wrote,
“A ban on speech and a shroud of secrecy in perpetuity are antithetical to democratic concepts and do not fit comfortably with the fundamental rights guaranteed American citizens… Unending secrecy of actions taken by government officials may also serve as a cover for possible official misconduct and/or incompetence.”
Sensing a potential legal defeat, the government took the steps necessary to preserve its powers. Only a few weeks after the USA PATRIOT Act was renewed, the FBI abandoned the Library Connection case and voluntarily lifted the librarians’ gag order. This eliminated the possibility that the NSL provisions could be struck down in court, protecting the USA PATRIOT Act from further judicial scrutiny. In May 2006, the four librarians broke their silence at last.
“As a librarian, I believe it is my duty and responsibility to speak out about any infringement to the intellectual freedom of library patrons,” said Mr. Chase. “But until today, my own government prevented me from fulfilling that duty.”
“By withdrawing the gag order before the court had made a decision, they withdrew the case from scrutiny,” Mr. Chase said.
“Imagine the government came to you with an order demanding that you compromise your professional and personal principles. Imagine then being permanently gagged from speaking to your friends, your family or your colleagues about this wrenching experience… Under the Patriot Act, the FBI demanded internet and library records without showing any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to a court of law. We were barred from speaking to anyone about the matter and we were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers.”
“The fact that the government can and is eavesdropping on patrons in libraries has a chilling effect,” said Mr. Christian, “because they really don’t know if Big Brother is looking over their shoulder.”
“While the government’s real motives in this case have been questionable from the beginning,” said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU, “their decision to back down is a victory not just for librarians but for all Americans who value their privacy.”
The result could only be considered a partial victory, however. While the librarians had regained their freedom to speak, they no longer had legal standing to challenge the NSL provisions, meaning that the sweeping power to subpoena and gag American citizens would remain unchecked in the hands of the government — and continue to be used at an alarming rate; tens of thousands of NSLs and gag orders are issued per year in the name of fighting the so-called War on Terror.
Bark and no Bite for Head of European Commission Helping Corporations Escape Taxation!?*
The unelected big and powerful will aim to brush this under the carpet, but like many others revelations, the web of one world governance weakens more with growing, and founded suspicions… Or will this be another opportunity for the Four Horsemen to hold all the reigns while ordinary Europeans suffer under so-called austerity measures?
Can the global economic collapse by design withstand the pressure of the real world?
By Paul Ames
No one who follows Europe’s economy was surprised to hear that Luxembourg helps multinational companies dodge taxes any more than celebrity gossip fans were surprised to see Kim Kardashian has a shapely backside.
Nevertheless, the sudden, very public revelation of the shape and size of it — we’re talking about Luxembourg’s tax-break scheme, here — has sent shockwaves across Europe’s financial and political establishment.
Leaked documents published this month have laid bare the complex accounting mechanisms used by more than 300 companies to funnel profits through the tiny country in order to shave billions off their tax bills.
Pepsi, IKEA, Deutsche Bank and FedEx were just some of the corporate colossus’s named in the “LuxLeaks” reports.
Many were clients of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a leading international accounting firm that has said the leaked information was “stolen” and “outdated.”
Nothing the multinationals were doing was illegal. Everything was in accordance with the laws of Luxembourg.
The country’s financial authorities helped corporations create networks for shifting profits from country to country until they vanished from the view of tax collectors outside the diminutive nation.
In some cases, companies were paying less than 1% tax on their profits, the arrangements sealed with so-called “comfort letters” from the authorities.
The LuxLeaks storm broke just five days after Juncker took office, providing an immediate distraction from his avowed priority, raising $375 billion to boost Europe’s stagnant growth.
The revelations will almost certainly harm his plans to rebuild faith in the EU, whose support among voters has been sapped by years of economic crisis.
Juncker says he won’t interfere as the EU’s antitrust authorities press ahead with investigations into the tax practices of Luxembourg and other EU countries.
Claiming the problem lies not with Luxembourg but rather discrepancies in the international tax system, Juncker has tasked the EU staff to draft new rules to ensure fiscal authorities across Europe automatically share information about their tax-break rulings.
Prompted by a public outcry over the LuxLeaks revelations, G-20 leaders committed to share tax information at their summit in Australia last weekend, although not until 2018.
“Real pressure is building for some kind of new global framework of rules for taxing multinational companies,” says John Christensen, director of the pressure group Tax Justice Network.
“Within Europe, there is a lot of pressure across the system, public pressure especially from the small business community which is saying this is anti-competitive, and demanding change,” he said by phone from his base in England.
More from GlobalPost: Putin’s awkward weekend at the G-20, as explained by ‘Mean Girls’ GIFs
The LuxLeaks revelations have been a boon to Juncker opponents.
Far-right and euro-sceptic members in the European Parliament teamed up on Tuesday to secure the 10 percent of votes needed to introduce a motion of no confidence calling for Juncker’s dismissal.
He is expected to survive. The mainstream center-right and Socialist parties that voted him into office are likely to stand by him during the vote, expected next week.
Parties in government across Europe are aware that the sudden removal of the EU’s top official would seriously undermine the bloc’s credibility.
But there is growing pressure for Juncker to recuse himself from the EU head office’s efforts to reign in tax avoidance. Having him in charge is like putting “Dracula in charge of a blood bank,” one Australian campaigner said during the G-20.
Even mainstream political parties that supported Juncker’s appointment are critical.
“It is indeed a shame, with regard to austerity, that Greece and other member states have been asked to implement very harsh measures on social expenditures while at the same time multinational enterprises are eluding taxes thanks to the cooperation of European national governments,” Gianni Pittella, who heads the Socialist faction in the European Parliament, said in a statement.
“Juncker has to demonstrate his willingness to become the trigger for a genuine revolution against fiscal dumping,” he added.
Of course not all the outrage expressed by European politicians rings true.
Moreover, Luxembourg is far from alone in using fiscal loopholes to attract investors.
Juncker has pointed out that most EU countries have schemes similar to Luxembourg’s even if others don’t go so far.
EU antitrust investigators are already looking into tax deals between the Netherlands and Starbucks and Ireland and Apple, as well as Luxembourg’s arrangements with Amazon and Fiat. More probes are expected to follow.
Dutch tax rules in particular are facing scrutiny, and not just as a bolthole for American multinationals.
The Netherlands received almost a quarter of all Russian foreign direct investment in the first three months of this year, around $4 billion, according to Russian central bank figures. Dutch-based investors are also the second-biggest group of foreign stockholders in Russia, behind those from fellow EU member Cyprus.
Much of the investment is believed to be recycled Russian money.
British euro-skeptics howling for Juncker’s skin are silent about corporate tax breaks in mainland Britain, not to mention the fiscal practices of UK offshore territories such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey and Bermuda.
Little Luxembourg, however, gets a lot of attention. The authorities there were hugely successful transforming the country into a financial center in the 1980s, when the iron and steel industry that had long been its economic mainstay was in deep decline.
Today, the country’s 550,000 inhabitants rival those of Qatar and Kuwait as the world’s richest, with income per head more than double that of neighboring Germany’s.
Now the country is facing intense pressure to revise its tax policies and Juncker will have to play poacher-turned-gamekeeper if he’s to have any hope of restoring his moral authority among the many people who have seen their own tax bills soar during the economic crisis.
Ukraine’s Man Behind the February Coup and Massacre*
By Eric Zuesse
Dmitriy Yarosh is the founder and head of one of Ukraine’s two racist-fascist, or nazi, parties, Right Sector. [He was (until August 7)] officially the #2 Ukrainian national-security official, working directly under Andreiy Paribuiy, who heads Ukraine’s other nazi party (the party that used to call itself Ukraine’s “Social Nationalist Party,” after Hitler’s National Socialist Party, but which the CIA renamed “Svoboda,” meaning “Freedom,” so as to make it more acceptable to Americans).
However, Yarosh has turned out to be Ukraine’s actual leader, despite his not being officially at the top. His nominal boss, Paribuiy, had been appointed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was chosen on February 4th (18 days prior to the coup) to be Ukraine’s new leader, by Victoria Nuland, who was appointed by Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who were appointed by Barack Obama (the actual ruler of the new Ukraine).
As Yarosh said this past March in an interview with Newsweek, he has “been training paramilitary troops for almost 25 years,” and his “divisions are constantly growing all over Ukraine, but over 10,000 people for sure.”
More recently, in October, a pro-Government Ukrainian site interviewed Yarosh and he mentioned specifically a “DUC,” or Volunteer Ukrainian Corps of fighters. He was then asked
“How many soldiers in DUC?” and he answered, “About seven thousand men.”
These would be his real military force, by far the biggest private army in Ukraine. So, in his private files are everyone’s individual background and skill-level as a “paramilitary,” or far-right mercenary, and they all respect and obey him as the top man. He is the indispensable person in this new Ukraine.
Yarosh’s teams carry out the most violent operations for the CIA in Ukraine (including the coup). Since these are the people who actually specialize in this sort of political operation, Yarosh basically commands the country. Ukraine is now run on fear, and everyone fears Dmitriy Yarosh. Even Ukraine’s other leaders fear him. He is sometimes shockingly public with his threats against even the nation’s President. Yarosh is the only person who can afford to be.
Here you see Yarosh’s people do the coup in Kiev in February. Here you see them do the massacre in Odessa in May. Notice how similar these two operations are. Yarosh’s mind is actually on display in those operations. Yarosh is the person who gave the teams their instructions, and his followers carried these instructions out.
Here, in a news report, titled “Nazi NATO, but No War Crimes Tribunal? Why?” you can see photos, and can click onto youtube videos, of Dmitry Yarosh’s people executing his carefully planned atrocities (some in broad daylight), during the May 2nd massacre, and (via the links within a linked-to news report), also executing the February 22nd coup. You’ll additionally see there other such operations, carried out by Yarosh’s teams.
Yarosh hires only proud far-right mercenaries, who are paid by him from U.S. Government agencies (for example, see this), and from U.S. oligarchs such as George Soros (via his International Renaissance Fund) and Pierre Omidyar — people whose enormous wealth is matched by their intense hatred of Russians — and are also paid directly and indirectly by Ukrainian oligarchs, especially by the one who (along with Arsen Avakov) actually masterminded the May 2nd massacre of Russian-oriented Ukrainians: that’s the Obama White House’s friend, the Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoysky. (Kolomoysky offered $5,000 for every confirmed corpse produced at the May 2nd massacre.)
The May 2nd massacre was done specifically in order to get the residents in Ukraine’s pro-Russian southeast to fear this new Government so much as to refuse to be ruled by it. (Who wants to be ruled by people who are determined to kill you?) Until the massacre, those people didn’t want full independence from the new Government; but, after it, they did. It’s the reason for the massacre — to get them to demand fullindependence. Their refusal to be ruled by these people who had massacred so barbarically in Odessa people who were like themselves, made practically everyone in the southeast into “separatists.” This new Kiev Government could then call them “terrorists,” and (with acceptance from suckers in the U.S. and Europe) go to war to eliminate them — to make a free-fire zone of the entire area in which the people who had voted for the overthrown leader live. And that’s what it has been since: a free-fire zone, in which the UN and the West passively accept, when they do not outright endorse, their extermination.
Obama needed to eliminate the people in the areas of Ukraine who had voted around 90% for the man he overthrew on February 22nd. (That’s the area of the extermination.) Otherwise, Obama’s coup wouldn’t possess staying-power as a ‘democracy’; it wouldn’t survive future nationwide Ukrainian elections if these areas of almost exclusively pro-Russian voters weren’t ruthlessly destroyed. Those Ukrainian voters thus needed to be eliminated. They were doomed by Obama’s coup-plan, and their doom was Obama’s follow-through on his coup.
But, actually, both Right Sector and “Svoboda” had shared control over the ‘democratic’ “Maidan” demonstrations against the previous President, even prior to the coup that overthrew him. That person, Ukraine’s final President to be elected in a nationwide vote, Viktor Yanukovych, did not know that the U.S. would go so nazi as that. The U.S. had hired both of these nazi groups, from the get-go. As TIME reported, on 4 February 2014 (ironically on the very same day when Victoria Nuland chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk to lead the post-coup Government), “Yarosh and another militant faction [Paribuiy’s “Svoboda”], began a parallel set of negotiations over the weekend. On Monday, they claimed to be in direct talks with Ukraine’s police forces to secure the release of jailed protesters, including members of Pravy Sektor [the Ukrainian name for Right Sector]. Mainstream opposition leaders said they had not authorized any such talks. [They were just America’s suckers among the Maidan demonstrators, the people who thought that this was really about ‘joining Western democracy.’] At the same time, Yarosh has demanded a seat at the negotiating table with the President [Yanukovych]. Once again, he was flatly denied. His ideology, it seems, is just too toxic to let him in the room.” But it wasn’t “too toxic” for Obama to place Yarosh into control over the new Ukraine. (Of course, once the deed was done, this was the last time when one heard in the U.S. about the reality of whom these men were. The myth about ‘American democracy’ needed to be sustained, and so the U.S. ‘news’ media stopped covering that news, and instead focused only on pumping the U.S. Administration’s allegations against Russia, which is Obama’s real target here.)
Dmitriy Yarosh is the indispensable person for such a crucial political task as the elimination of Yanukovych’s voters — and that’s the reason why Yarosh now essentially rules Ukraine.
He says that the reason they need to be slaughtered is that they are “separatists” and “terrorists.” But Yarosh himself had fought alongside Chechen Moslems in Russia for Chechnia’s independence from Russia. He said that their battle is heroic. Bottom line on Yarosh is that what Jews were to Hitler, ethnic Russians, and all of Russia, are to him, and to the entire movement that he represents, which were Ukraine’s Hitler-supporting organizations during World War II. This anti-Russian form of nazism doesn’t go only back to the German Nazi Party; it’s indigenous to northwestern Ukraine, which is why Ukraine has two native nazi parties, not merely one.
Here are Yarosh’s people, marching.
Here they are as an elite battalion slaughtering people in the extermination-zone.
And here is Yarosh himself, the top person in Ukraine’s far-right, being interviewed on Ukrainian TV; in this, you meet Dmitriy Yarosh personally:
As you can see there, he’s quite a charming fellow. Perhaps even more so than Barack Obama. (Republicans don’t have anyone who is even nearly so charming as Yarosh.)
U.S. politicians are lucky that Yarosh doesn’t speak English, and wasn’t born in America. He’d probably win the Republican Presidential nomination (though with rhetoric that’s even milder than what he sports in Ukraine), and go on to win the U.S. Presidency, if he were an American, rather than merely being paid by U.S. taxpayers (and by some of America’s and Ukraine’s oligarchs), such as he is now.
In today’s world, charming people can be like Adolf Hitler, or Benito Mussolini, or Emperor Hirohito, none of whom was charming. After all, America is now on the fascists’ side ideologically, except that it’s for rule by U.S. oligarchs, not by German, Italian, or Japanese ones. It’s for America’s oligarchy to be the masters of other nations’ oligarchies, rather than for other nations’ oligarchies to be the masters of ours. The shoe’s on the other foot, now, that’s all. Fascism, even nazism, finally won.
The era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ideology (which was opposed to all oligarchies) has been replaced by the era of Ronald Reagan’s ideology (favoring oligarchy, “Svoboda,” or “the free market,” and thus favoring the international dominance of America’s oligarchs). Oligarchy has become the American way now, and we even call this ‘democracy.’
Hitler, the admirer of “the Big Lie,” would get a big chuckle out of such a posthumous ideological victory. Especially since the people whom Obama placed into power in Ukraine are Hitler’s passionate followers in their wanting to subordinate or else destroy all Russians, which had likewise been an aspiration of Adolf Hitler.
Obama, however, is more tactful. Here’s what he said, on 28 May 2014, to the graduating cadets at West Point:
“The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed [he simply can’t spell ‘past’] and it will be true for the century to come. … America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership.”
It’s supremacism, but for a different group of oligarchs, that’s all — America’s.
The Young Today are Quite Blatantly Going – Gone Crazy*
By Ron Taffel, PhD
Constant distraction creates an insecure attachment with kids, which can lead to addiction and mental health issues.
Over the past decade or two, seasoned therapists who treat young people have been seeing some increasingly worrisome trends. Although solid statistics are hard to come by, one indication of a surge in troubled young adults comes from the reports of college mental health services.
A 2010 survey by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles of almost 202,000 incoming college freshmen at 279 colleges and universities showed a shocking decline in self-reported mental and emotional well-being—at its lowest level since 1985, when HERI began conducting the surveys.
In this recent survey, the percentage of students who rated their emotional health “above average” fell from 64% in 1985 to 52%. According to the June 2013 APA Monitor, 95% of surveyed college counseling-center directors said that the number of students with “significant psychological problems is a growing concern,” citing anxiety, depression, and relationship issues as the main problems.
Another 2013 survey, the American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment, reported that 51% of 123,078 responders in 153 US colleges had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” during the previous year, 31.3% had experienced depression so severe it was difficult to function, and 7.4% had seriously considered suicide.
I regularly speak with tens of thousands of child professionals, parents, educators, and kids across the country, and as chair of a large non-profit psychotherapy training and treatment agency, I compare notes with the directors of other centers as well. These extensive dialogues, though not as formal a means of data collection as the surveys above, allow me to see trends emerging just under the radar—the current one being a wave of intense anxiety and affective disorders sweeping through agencies and schools across the country, reaching deep down into elementary and even preschool. Of course, teens and young adults have always been vulnerable to the onset of serious mental illness, but these days they seem to suffer from a new kind of emotional fragility. It’s as if at a core level, their fundamental security, the very ground of their psychic being, is increasingly shaky and unreliable.
Many of these clients come into therapy initially giving few hints of standing on the edge of a deep chasm with the wind at their backs. But as treatment proceeds, we begin to hear about a range of troubling behavioral patterns that are now pretty standard: anxiety-fueled ruminations once considered to be in the realm of psychotic process, binge drinking as a regular social pastime several nights a week, even more over-the-top and exotic substance use on weekends (ketamine, molly, Xanax bars, increased-THC marijuana), random and unprotected hook-ups that may well include near asphyxiation-induced orgasms. We hear reports of ubiquitous cutting and growing numbers of young men who not only cut themselves, but fiercely and compulsively punch themselves. Almost all describe chronic sleep–wake reversals, up until 4 or 5 a.m. most nights. And while they may be foodies of sorts, they forget regular meals, engaging in catch-as-catch-can eating while in the midst of all-nighters watching every episode of every season of Breaking Bad, one after another.
Many of these young people have been doping and drinking heavily since eighth grade, so by “late and later adolescence,” as I call it, their young brains have already been pickled in alcohol and assorted chemicals. And yet these young people function just well enough to maintain a precarious balance in life. They may be holding their own (barely) in school, working just competently enough at a job not to get fired, staying out of jail, while maintaining a somewhat wobbly equilibrium in life.
Until, that is, there’s a crisis of some sort. For example, the parents of a 19-year-old woman I was seeing called to tell me that she was in a hospital, nearly comatose. After she’d downed a dozen shots in one night, her blood-alcohol level was registering above 0.30, the point of unconsciousness. In another case, a young man who’d seemed troubled yet relatively stable, began to have such severe panic attacks after the loss of a close friend that he couldn’t leave home—which immediately morphed into not going to school, 18 hours a day of ESPN, and suicidal ideation. Quickly, what had seemed like a quotidian case of needing to nudge somebody into adulthood became an all-stops-out, life-or-death emergency. These clients, and hundreds like them, who seem mentally “whole,” even if unhappy, as the surveys suggest, have little internal sense of self, barely containing the unmoored chaos reigning inside—until it bursts from its frail container.
So what’s going on with these troubled teens and young adults?
Increasingly I’ve come to the conclusion that a root cause of their unsettled and precarious emotional state is a new kind of pseudo-connection in their relationship with mostly loving and well-meaning parents, one that has become a disturbingly pervasive fact of childrearing today.
The Death of Parental Hierarchy
For the past several decades, therapists have been seeing growing numbers of kids across the economic spectrum who were “out of control,” treating their parents with a mix of indifference and contempt. Initially, in line with family systems thinking, therapists blamed the problem on lapsed parental hierarchy, and the sovereign remedy was to re-establish authority in the home—put mom and dad in charge again. Only, as so many therapists, teachers, and parents were telling me by the early ’90s, there wasn’t much adult authority anymore, no matter how hard individual parents struggled to exert it. The self-contained family unit that had once held real power over kids’ lives had been co-opted by a voracious pop-and-peer kid culture—what I call “the second family”—that, in essence, had supplanted most meaningful adult authority in kids’ lives. Indeed, many of the teens I saw, and those seen by countless other therapists, had less and less contact with their “first families” at home, the hopelessly ineffectual people who’d actually birthed and tried to instil discipline and respect in them.
This trend wasn’t a result of parents’ not caring enough or not being competent enough to wield a little power over their kids’ lives: it came from an attenuation of the social contexts that had sustained and reinforced family authority. For better and worse, intact families were being broken by divorce, and tightly knit communities—in which everyone knew the neighborhood children—were fragmenting. At the same time, as many researchers have documented, the complex influence of traditional support systems, like extended kin networks, churches and synagogues, and community organizations, was waning. Into this void rushed the technologically burgeoning forces of pop culture and peer group, a massive external locus of influence, which even today continues to seep into our homes and consciousness, usurping much of traditional family authority.
By the early ’90s, I was aware of another increasingly potent solvent of family ties: the nonstop distraction of work and culture, which further fragmented parents’ attention into tiny shards. Even when parents were physically with their children, they were often too busy to be genuinely with them. By this time, the techie innovations that would transform our world were well on their way to becoming the ubiquitous gadgets we now can’t seem to live without. But today, a growing body of research suggests that this technology and the information overload it dumps on us undermine not only our ability and desire to interact directly with real human beings, but also our capacity to focus for long on much of anything—even our children.
In 2012, In Technology reported that one-third of American mothers had mobile devices and averaged 6.1 hours per day on their smartphones, with 89% of these mothers saying their devices were always within arm’s reach. It’s the inevitability of interrupted attention that jumps out. As one mother recently told me, between texting, tweeting, online chatting, checking Facebook, and sharing Instagram photos, she was always running from stimulus to stimulus. When another devoted young mother described the time she was spending nursing her baby, no sweet image of blissful attunement emerged. Instead, she admitted to thinking things like Thank god, time to nurse her so I can sit for a while. I can text Annie while I do this and, hey, I might as well make my credit-card payment. Wait, is that my phone ringing? Should I take the call? No, I shouldn’t; this is my time with my baby. But it might be important. Oh, I forgot I’ve got to get ready for that meeting tomorrow and put those sales objectives together. Wait, the baby’s squirming. Okay, calm down, calm down. Ah, finally, she looks so peaceful and beautiful. Where’s my camera? I have to post this image!
So we see in our offices a generation of late teens and young adults who’ve grown up getting this kind of agitated, fragmented, distracted attention from their parents. No wonder over the past decade or so, attachment seems largely to have replaced hierarchy as the buzzword of choice in psychotherapy circles. But the insidious effect of jagged consciousness on attachment from well-meaning parents is still insufficiently recognized. I’m not saying that technology lures parents away from kids: rather, I’m highlighting a redefining of connection in which hyper-aroused parents can’t stop shifting focus. If love is, as has been suggested, focused interest, how can chronic distraction translate into secure attachment? Perhaps that’s why so many of the kids and parents we see in therapy resort to intense drama to get through to each other.
Recently, a study published in the journal Pediatrics by Jenny Radesky demonstrated with surreptitiously observed caregivers and children in fast-food restaurants how device-distracted the adults were. The caregivers, usually parents, were spending much of the meal absorbed in their smartphones, ignoring their children, who were making repeated and escalating bids for attention. A baby in a stroller, for example, made faces and smiled at her mother, who was absorbed by a YouTube video and didn’t respond. Three little boys escalated their attempts to get their father’s attention by singing silly songs, giggling, and slamming into each other, to which the father responded with increasing irritation, telling them repeatedly and more loudly to stop it, and immediately returning to his cell phone. Just last night, in fact, my daughter’s friends reported that on their obstetrics residencies they’d noticed fathers glued to cell phones—during delivery!
You might be wondering, Isn’t this supposed to be the age of helicopter parenting? Aren’t parents too involved in their children’s lives? Well, yes—but this is another powerful way that connection has been altered, another shade of pseudo-attachment. Helicopter parenting doesn’t equate with connection. It means that overinvolved parents who keep their kids on a bullet-train of activity can’t help but repeatedly push them away from the anchoring of soothing, reliable attachment—always on to the next activity. For example, I consulted with a high-school senior who thought he’d finally made the break from mom and dad after his acceptance into a state school on an athletic scholarship. But he was wrong. Wanting to make sure he didn’t slip up and lose the scholarship, they continued pushing on every homework assignment that needed to be tackled, every final exam on the docket, and every after-school activity.
Is it surprising that in treatment he suddenly revealed going through bouts of suicidal thinking, buried beneath flash rages in which he’d suddenly throw objects at family members or open the car door and threaten to leap out onto the parkway? Again, this is the kind of dramatic burst of impulsivity I increasingly hear. After talking to mom and dad, it became clear that they all loved each other, but moments of attachment were almost always cut short by sudden redirection to the next tasks that needed to be accomplished.
It wasn’t much different when I interviewed 20 middle-school kids in a charter school. My job was to bring their message back to teachers and parents, and an eighth-grader articulated it bluntly:
“Tell them to stop moving us from one thing on the conveyor belt to another. Isn’t there anything else they want to do with us?”
If, as the research shows, restful downtime is necessary for kids’ brains to synthesize new information, slow comfort time may also be necessary to internalize secure attachment—and this sort of time is equally endangered.
Certainly, we’re living in an era of pervasive psychological information, in which every parent is provided an inexhaustible waterfall of advice, much of it state of the art. But I wonder about the impact of all this advice on parenting. The same unstoppable flow of child-rearing information that lifts our knowledge base often confuses mothers and fathers, right out of their truly felt responses, creating another shade of pseudo-attachment between parent and child.
There are more than 86,000 parenting titles currently listed on Amazon.com, countless Internet sites and blogs authored by parenting professionals, teaser headlines every time we open our browsers, along with endless TV advice and reality shows. Parenting research has grown exponentially, as has the number of theories and perspectives. All this knowledge is to be commended, but in terms of secure attachment, it’s also a kind of trap, instilling the idea that every move a parent makes has the power to destroy a child’s chances in life before he or she even reaches toddlerhood. Naturally, wanting to do what’s best for their kids, many parents are sitting ducks for this flood-tide of information, too often turning them into insecure child-rearing advice junkies, who, paradoxically, spend so much time worrying about sorting out the right move that they often don’t have the conviction to be fully present in the moment.
Rather than experiencing and expressing a full-bodied emotional connection to their own child—whether in love or anger or disappointment—parents sometimes seem to be acting out an in vivochild-rearing manual. For decades with diverse audiences, when I’ve asked the simple question “What makes for good consequences when a child misbehaves?” the response has become an ever increasing list of abstract shoulds, including “Consequences should be natural . . . immediately follow the event . . . fit the crime . . . teach values . . . impart empathy . . . match a child’s learning style,” and so on. While such ideas certainly make sense, it’s as if these bloodless responses were taken from a textbook on enlightened criminology, rather than coming from the heart and mind of an emotionally committed parent struggling to instil discipline in a beloved, but undeniably wayward, son or daughter.
Today, the continual pressure to do parenting right makes parents super-conscious about not only any sign of pathology in their kids, but themselves as parents. Never before have parents tried so relentlessly to think through every step of the child-rearing experience, from the first detection of pregnancy until well into their child’s young adulthood. Mothers-to-be now routinely join online groups of other newly pregnant women and submerge themselves in a sea of how-tos and debates about what constitutes correct preparation for motherhood and infant care. Here’s a fairly typical stream of consciousness from the mom of an elementary-school child I met with: I shouldn’t have yelled at him, but he was about to break that plate, and he’s got to learn that he can’t have everything. How long is it okay for me to let him wail like that? He’s got to learn the meaning of ‘no,’ doesn’t he? Didn’t that article say disappointment helps with resilience? So maybe I shouldn’t comfort him. Is that too Tiger Mom-ish? Okay, breathe along with him at the same pace. It helps the baby’s amygdala relax. . . or something.
Of course, as a parent, this resonates with me. Recently, my wife and I were sitting in a waiting area for several hours. A captive audience, we were entertained—if that’s the word—by TV shows featuring several parenting experts offering different views on issues such as eating disorders, nutrition, Asperger’s, and after-school activities. Even at this point in our lives, my wife and I—both therapists and a relatively confident, middle-aged couple—could still be reduced to jangling insecurity about our own parenting skills by this high-def show detailing all the ways we might have failed or, at the very least, done a lot better.
These days, I’m regularly startled by the sophistication of mothers and fathers in every part of the country—urban, suburban, and rural—about childhood psychiatric diagnoses and their hawkeyed vigilance for signs of same in their own children. Despite the incredible good that early detection has done, I now have the impression that many parents are not really seeing their child directly. Instead, they’re looking at their child, on the alert for pathology, for a sign or symptom.
When, 20 years ago, I began asking parents about specific issues, like sensory defensiveness or low-tone upper bodies or temperament, they used to stare at me blankly, not knowing what I was talking about. Now, they regularly cite behaviors that worry them and ask, “Do you think my child is on the autism spectrum? Is this normal anxiety, or is my 5-year-old showing the signs of OCD or PTSD? I know it’s only elementary school, but do you think she could be bipolar?”
While diagnostic sophistication saves countless lives, I’ve been writing for years about how mothers and fathers are held hostage by fears about their kids and how this affects their ability to establish hierarchy. But now I’m equally concerned about its impact on secure attachment. There’s something different in a child’s being seen and held by parental love, rather than inspected for a potential disorder. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many more teens and young adults I work with these days come in with intense anxiety and ruminative symptoms. Preoccupied, worried mothers and fathers can’t help but transmit their overanxious concern through vigilant attachment.
Claire, a 15-year-old girl I saw, was riddled with disordered eating severe enough that every calorie for the next three meals completely occupied her mind. She also suffered through sudden ruminative spiraling about her parents’ safety if she didn’t do her bedtime rituals correctly. This led to anxiety attacks so severe she needed several emergency-room visits. Exposure therapy had helped a little, but what turned the tide was when I encouraged her divorced parents to try to stop subtly inspecting her mental well-being. They were on the lookout for the sleeper-effect of separation, especially prevalent among girls, that they’d been warned about so often. Tipping off this unhealthy shade of attachment, Claire said to me, “When I get up in either house, they stare at me as they say ‘good morning,’ looking me over. I always feel like I’m under a microscope. And then I don’t want to be near them!”
As we move slowly beyond the great recession, today’s young people are the first American generation in a long while expected to be less well-off than their parents. So we have a paradoxical situation, in which the pressure to produce successful kids has never been more relentless or harder to achieve, especially with mass culture suggesting that if kids do fail, it must be because mom and dad failed in some way. Thus, it’s easy to understand how parental focus can shift from the child to the child-as-product, underlining a kind of premeditated parenting with calculated ends in mind. If you’d asked any of our own parents why they said goodnight or read us a bedtime story or grounded us for the weekend, they’d have been hard pressed for an answer beyond “that’s what everyone does” or “because I’m the parent.” Certainly, they wouldn’t have had a psychological agenda in mind, much less a strategy to “build strong attachment bonds” or “improve emotional adjustment in life.”
It’s striking to consider the attachment implications when parental behavior isn’t really about what it seems to be about, but is in service of a whole other agenda. Yet this is exactly what I hear from diverse groups with statements like “I give my child a hug when he does something well because kudos build self-esteem” or “When she bumped herself, once I realized she wasn’t really hurt, I let her cry because she needs to develop grit” or “We’re strict about keeping schedules because rituals instill emotional security.”
To try to raise a child “by the book,” or according to the dictates of thousands of experts (like me) gabbling away, is like trying to determine a good diet by following food fads. After all, butter was once very, very bad; now it’s good—sort of. Both are enterprises doomed to fail, or at least to create unintended consequences. So we have earnest, committed, caring parents trying their best to follow an almost infinite number of often contradictory prescriptions to produce a perfect commodity with greater market potential. What could possibly be wrong with that?
A lot! The usurpation of parenting instincts has serious attachment consequences. For one thing, as brain imaging one day will show, kids can tell the difference between authentic, three-dimensional connection and a two-dimensional parental processing that passes for the real thing. It’s not easy to describe this subtle kind of relational shift, but I believe that the problems so many young adults bring into therapy are related to the contextually driven dilution of parental connection into something not quite fully there—a parental attachment facsimile.
This pseudo-connection has deep implications for the clients we see. We live in a culture immersed in emotional dysregulation—a kind of nonstop, excessively stimulating too-muchness. This is all fine, as long as you have the ego strength and stability to absorb hyper-stimulation without being undone by it. But, as we’re learning, people need secure attachment, along with the luck of a good genetic and temperament draw, to develop a sturdy sense of self. And this is exactly where the long-term erosion of effective parental hierarchy, and now the diminution of unself-conscious parenting, create many new shades of pseudo-attachment. By the time teens and young adults reach us, they’ve spent years seeking out intense attachments in the “second family” of the peer group and pop culture; yet for all the relational good that happens between kids every day, these are often dysregulated bonds, fraught with techno-driven highs and instant-feedback lows.
Given the subtle but pervasive pseudo-attachment between teens and their parents, my goal is to help them differentiate and at the same time become closer, or—to use a decidedly nonclinical term—more three-dimensional. That means along with limits, I strongly focus on creating points of connection, encouraging things frowned upon in the glory days of family hierarchy: mutual caretaking, greater companionship, sharing of confidences, and becoming partners in fun and relaxation. As a central part of that, I try to allow myself to be a fuller, more spontaneous person in the consulting room than I’d ever have imagined myself to be earlier in my career.
When Johnny first came to my office, he was a 20-year-old college student on academic probation despite being strikingly smart. Like many young adults, he’d had an extremely wild adolescence, partying most nights and barely attending school. He experienced intense moods and bursts of anger, brimming with character assaults that often left his overwhelmed single mother, Maggie, feeling psychologically shredded when she wasn’t intensely frustrated with him. While Johnny had a capacity for kindness and empathy, his volatility and continued school failure were wreaking havoc with his future.
Maggie, a small-town girl from a straight-laced family, had become a successful mid-level administrator in a male-dominated field, and believed in “enlightened” parenting. Despite previous therapists encouraging her to put limits on Johnny, she continued to think that, yes, limits were good, but Johnny was fragile and needed shoring up with praise. In sessions with her, I tried to help her cut down on the disconnected, forced kudos, but it had no impact. So in a joint meeting with Johnny and Maggie that had been going nowhere, I hesitantly began to share stories about how other families, including my own, were also rigidly self-conscious with their kids.
“Even given all my experience, I can’t believe how hard it’s been to break out of parenting roles and be more unself-consciously honest,” I said.
“If you’re like me, you’ll have to work at it for years to unlearn old, bad habits.”
Slightly emboldened, Maggie turned to her son and said with tears in her eyes,
“I’m afraid not only of your anger, but of how fragile you sometimes seem. That’s why I back off. That’s why I’m always making such a fuss over you.”
At this, however, Johnny flew into a rage, called her a “stupendously stupid bitch,” and stormed out of the room.
Nothing changed for weeks. Between her own screaming complaints for him to do better in school, which Johnny simply ignored, Maggie continued to swoon with calculated affection, only increasing Johnny’s contempt, as well as their disconnection. Meeting with him, I addressed his anger in direct and personal terms.
“I love talking to you,” I said.
“But I shudder to think about being on the receiving end of one of your diatribes. I know you don’t expect to hear this from a therapist, but you simply need to be nicer to your mother!”
Johnny erupted, “That’s what mothers are for! I’m supposed to walk all over her! Besides, as I keep telling her, she’s a phony!”
“Yes,” I replied.
“She’s phony because she’s misguided about parenting. Even so, your mother is trying to do the right thing and deserves better from you.”
Johnny looked at me with scorn. And I wondered how, after so many years of sophisticated clinical training, I could have found myself deliberately and so directly trying to induce guilt in a young client.
But Johnny was right about Maggie’s overdone, self-conscious displays of support, regardless of his behavior. Thus, I began to focus on what genuine emotion might lurk beneath all the hovering earnestness. I wanted to get at Maggie’s mostly hidden outrage at Johnny’s behavior to jolt her into more spontaneous ways of connecting.
“The way he speaks to you bothers me,” I said,
“It’s like a punch to the solar-plexus. Maggie, you’re allowed to get angry when he’s mean. What keeps you from saying, ‘You’re being incredibly cruel right now’ and just leave the room?”
“No, I can’t do that,” Maggie responded.
“I can’t let him know that he gets to me. I’ve read in a lot of places he needs to see I can take it. I need to be a role-model of strength.”
“That’s one of those parenting myths that gets in the way,” I said.
“I’ve fallen for it myself. Sometimes, to connect, we just need to find how to tell our kids the truth.”
Maggie was listening now, but still unconvinced. I realized that her relationship with her son was so decidedly two-dimensional that besides her good-parenting strategies, she didn’t have many ways to talk with him. So I suggested to her,
“Instead of constantly doling out praise, I’d love to see you spend time with him doing absolutely nothing. Just get comfortable.”
One night, despite Johnny’s moving to the other end of the sofa, Maggie sat with him watching TV, saying little at all. Unexpectedly, after doing nothing together, he kissed her goodnight. Maggie was a bit stunned. Like other parents of teens and young adults, she’d resigned herself to inexplicable shifts in closeness and distance, although they left her Googling whether this might indicate a bipolar disorder. Johnny was similar to many of the mercurial kids I see. He alternated harsh outbursts with times when he tried to reconnect by draping himself like a baby chimp around his mother, often seconds after raking her over the coals.
I asked Maggie how she felt when he came over to give her a hug soon after an eruption.
“Frankly, I feel disgusted,” she said.
Finally sensing an opening, I moved.
“So be a real person. I know it sounds impossible for a ‘good’ parent, but if he’s spoken to you brutally, turn him away if he wants to hug you. Besides, let’s face it, given how resentful he just made you feel, it’d be a phony connection anyway.”
That week, after Johnny had vented his anger at her over some trivial incident, Maggie was finally able to look him in the eye and forcefully say without screaming,
“Get away from me. That was incredibly nasty.”
Afterward, she shook with anger, as well as fear that she’d lost him forever. So she was totally taken aback when she received the following text sent from the next room:
“Sorry. I’ll cook dinner tonight.”
From that point, the disconnected focus on teaching, praising, and taking whatever Johnny dished out began to shift, as did her own frustrated outbursts. After he completed the first term paper in his long, uphill academic struggle, Maggie said nothing encouraging or praiseworthy, but simply suggested,
“Hey, would you like to go out for lunch?”
At the local diner where the two went, they didn’t say much. But a few days later, Johnny emailed her an essay he’d written about the astonishingly wild life he’d led in high school—way beneath her radar—along with the unexpressed loss he felt over his father’s sudden death. Maggie then sent back a couple of stories detailing her own defiance when she was growing up, adding in her ambivalent feelings about Johnny’s dad and the way he sometimes treated her in the midst of his depressive episodes. These were the kind of personal truths and meaningful exchanges about shared trauma they’d never been able to have before, despite my best efforts individually and in sessions together.
Meanwhile, the more Maggie responded directly to Johnny’s actions without flailing or focusing on building his self-esteem or following the good-parenting rulebook, the fewer outbursts they had at home. At the same time, the relationship between Johnny and me opened up. We’d get into heated arguments about our different values, a major one being how he treated women as commodities to be used and then immediately discarded.
“I really can’t stand how you are with women,” I told him.
“If you ever decide to sleep with one because you actually like her, instead of just because ‘she’s there,’ I’ll respect you more.”
“Fuck you,” he graciously responded.
“Say what you want,” I continued, “but I remember the exact moment this happened for me—when I knew I wanted to sleep with a girl only because I liked her.”
“Tell me about it!” he said, relishing the sudden role reversal. And I did, in detail, quite aware that I was venturing out on a personal limb and grateful not to have a supervisor to report this to.
As the temperature at home warmed up a bit and his harsh moods softened in our sessions, I pushed Johnny toward greater self-care, toward becoming mindful of how his body was affected by the college world of fast food, nonexistent sleep, and excessive drinking. Slowly, he learned to think through to how anxious and self-critical binge drinking made him feel. He started recognizing his substance threshold points—when he’d get out of control—and began talking about this openly with Maggie, whose own wild past was an effective, genuine way to connect with him.
Although in the orthodoxies of modern parenting, reversals in the caretaking hierarchy are verboten, I encouraged Maggie to expect not only better behavior, but more empathy and genuine attention from her child. So one day she said to him,
“It’s time you visit me at work. I want you to understand me in my world.”
She was asking for respectful acknowledgement from him, instead of only the other way around. The following week, out of the blue, Johnny invited her to see his favorite music group with him. And this mother–son duo had a great time together, at a rap concert no less!
As therapists, we can’t expect parents to embrace a more genuine, three-dimensional way of responding to their children unless we’re willing to do so ourselves. That means a willingness to be both tough and tender with kids in sessions, as I was with Johnny, who finally met a girl he really cared about, one who fearlessly stood up to him. He worried, however, that she’d leave him once she discovered his tendency to be furiously overcritical. He cried as he confessed this worry to me and I told him earnestly, almost in a whisper,
“She’ll learn to see past your moods and love you, just the way everyone who gets to know you has, including me—if you let her.”
Johnny did; they became serious and began living together. And he became decidedly more focused on school, even graduating with honors and landing a steady job in this difficult economy.
Maggie has moved on to become a financial advisor, a field where flexibility and brutal candor are necessities. Johnny occasionally heats up in patches of moodiness with his girlfriend, and he and Maggie still go up in ephemeral flames. But it’s now Johnny who works to keep both relationships from getting close to the point of rupture.
Like most of us, regardless of the outcome, I can’t be sure what difference my therapeutic efforts actually make. But I am sure that in a world in which it’s harder and harder for all of us to respond to each other in person, clinicians everywhere privately improvise ways to have more of an emotional impact on the distracted and dysregulated young people who come to our offices. What we need to keep reminding ourselves of is that the technical side of treatment accounts for only part of whatever positive effect we may ultimately have. It’s truly ironic that in our sometimes narrow fascination with theory and clinical methodology, we can find ourselves mirroring the subtly disconnected state of modern childrearing. For ultimately, the force that fuels connection and change comes from the kind of vital human presence that creates three-dimensional relationships and secure attachments in our consulting rooms.
We need to learn how to do this more effectively, not so much by the seat of our pants. Admittedly, it’s a challenging paradox to teach ourselves what characterizes genuine connection in treatment without becoming self-conscious in the process. But kids and parents need real, three-dimensional therapists, just as surely as they yearn for three-dimensional connections at home. And who we are in a relationship, regardless of our training or preferred theory or pet method, is at the heart of what we offer the troubled kids and confused parents who seek our involvement and guidance at the most difficult times in their lives.