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10 Things most Americans don't know about America

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Imagine you have a brother and he's an alcoholic. He has his moments, but you keep your distance from him. You don't mind him for the occasional family gathering or holiday. You still love him. But you don't want to be around him. This is how I lovingly describe my current relationship with the United States. The United States is my alcoholic brother. And although I will always love him, I don't want to be near him at the moment.

I know that's harsh, but I really feel my home country is not in a good place these days. That's not a socio-economic statement (although that's on the decline as well), but rather a cultural one.

I realize it's going to be impossible to write sentences like the ones above without coming across as a raging prick, so let me try to soften the blow to my American readers with an analogy:

You know when you move out of your parents' house and live on your own, how you start hanging out with your friends' families and you realize that actually, your family was a little screwed up? Stuff you always assumed was normal your entire childhood, it turns out was pretty weird and may have actually fucked you up a little bit. You know, dad thinking it was funny to wear a Santa Claus hat in his underwear every Christmas or the fact that you and your sister slept in the same bed until you were 22, or that your mother routinely cried over a bottle of wine while listening to Elton John.

The point is we don't really get perspective on what's close to us until we spend time away from it. Just like you didn't realize the weird quirks and nuances of your family until you left and spent time with others, the same is true for country and culture. You often don't see what's messed up about your country and culture until you step outside of it.

And so even though this article is going to come across as fairly scathing, I want my American readers to know: some of the stuff we do, some of the stuff that we always assumed was normal, it's kind of screwed up. And that's OK. Because that's true with every culture. It's just easier to spot it in others (i.e., the French) so we don't always notice it in ourselves.

So as you read this article, know that I'm saying everything with tough love, the same tough love with which I'd sit down and lecture an alcoholic family member. It doesn't mean I don't love you. It doesn't mean there aren't some awesome things about you (BRO, THAT'S AWESOME!!!). And it doesn't mean I'm some saint either, because god knows I'm pretty screwed up (I'm American, after all). There are just a few things you need to hear. And as a friend, I'm going to tell them to you.

And to my foreign readers, get your necks ready, because this is going to be a nod-a-thon.

A Little "What The Hell Does This Guy Know?" Background:

I've lived in different parts of the US, both the deep south and the northeast. I have visited most of the US's 50 states. I've spent the past three years living almost entirely outside of the United States. I've lived in multiple countries in Europe, Asia and South America. I've visited over 40 countries in all and have spent far more time with non-Americans than with Americans during this period. I speak multiple languages. I'm not a tourist. I don't stay in resorts and rarely stay in hostels. I rent apartments and try to integrate myself into each country I visit as much as possible. So there.

(Note: I realize these are generalizations and I realize there are always exceptions. I get it. You don't have to post 55 comments telling me that you and your best friend are exceptions. If you really get that offended from some guy's blog post, you may want to double-check your life priorities.)

OK, we're ready now. 10 things Americans don't know about America.

Cow

Syngenta charged over covering up animal deaths from GM corn

In a riveting victory against genetically modified creations, a major biotech company known as Syngenta has been criminally charged for denying knowledge that its GM Bt corn actually kills livestock. What's more is not only did the company deny this fact, but they did so in a civil court case that ended back in 2007. The charges were finally issued after a long legal struggle against the mega corp initiated by a German farmer named Gottfried Gloeckner whose dairy cattle died after eating the Bt toxin and coming down with a 'mysterious' illness.

Syngenta and Animal Deaths

Grown on his own farm from 1997 to 2002, the cows on the farm were all being fed exclusively on Syngenta's Bt 176 corn by the year 2000. It was around this time that the mysterious illnesses began to emerge among the cattle population. Syngenta paid Gloeckner 40,000 euros in an effort to silence the farmer, however a civil lawsuit was brought upon the company. Amazingly, 2 cows ate genetically modified maize (now banned in Poland over serious concerns) and died. During the civil lawsuit, however, Syngenta refused to admit that its GM corn was responsible. In fact, they went as far as to claim having no knowledge whatsoever of harm.

The case was dismissed and Gloeckner, the farmer who launched the suit, was left thousands of euros in debt. And that's not all; Gloeckner continued to lose many cows as a result of Syngenta's modified Bt corn. After halting the use of GM feed in 2002, Gloeckner attempted a full investigation with the Robert Koch Institute and Syngenta involved. The data of this investigation is still unavailable to the public, and only examined one cow. In 2009, however, the Gloeckner teamed up with a German action group known as Bündnis Aktion Gen-Klage and to ultimately bring Syngenta to the criminal court.

Using the testimony of another farmer whose cows died after eating Syngenta product, Gloeckner and the team have charged the biotech giant for the death of over 65 cows, withholding knowledge of the death-link, and holding the corporation liable for not registering the cattle deaths. The team is even charging Hans-Theo Jahmann, the German head of Syngenta , personally over the withholding of knowledge.

The charges bring to light just how far large biotechnology companies will go to conceal evidence linking their genetically modified products to serious harm. Monsanto, for example, has even threatened to sue the entire state of Vermont if they attempt to label its genetically modified ingredients. Why are they so afraid of the consumer knowing what they are putting in their mouths?

Blackbox

Mystery of Florida Navy vet who passed out and was only able to speak Swedish when he woke up and remembers nothing of his previous life

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Former Life; Michael Boatwright served in the U.S. Navy from 1971 to 1973 (left) and was carrying old photographs on him when he was discovered in a Palm Springs motel room in February
Michael Boatwright was discovered unconscious in a Motel 6 room in February, but when he awoke could not remember anything about himself, recognize even his own reflection, nor how to speak English.

Even though his driver's license says he was born in Florida and served in the U.S. Navy from 1971 to 1973, Boatwright has no memory of his life to date and now answers only to Johan and converses in Swedish to doctors with the help of an interpreter.

Now, medical professionals in Palm Springs, California have appealed for help in solving the mystery of Boatwright, the only clues to his former life being a duffel bag, five tennis rackets, two cellphones, little cash, old photographs and his identification.

His current persona of Johan Ek, clashes with the Social Security card, passport and veteran's medical card he was carrying in February and following mental and physical health exams, Boatwright was diagnosed on March 13th with transient global amnesia.

Doctors at Desert Regional Medical Center have theorized that his total memory loss was triggered by some kind of emotional or physical trauma - what exactly that was though, they admit to drawing a blank on.

'He's kind of a blank slate,' said Lisa Hunt-Vasquez, the social worker assigned to track down relatives and help piece his life back together.

Attention

Global threat to food supply as water wells dry up, warns top environment expert

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© Ali al-Saadi/AFP
Iraq is among the countries in the Middle East facing severe water shortages.
Lester Brown says grain harvests are already shrinking as US, India and China come close to 'peak water'

Wells are drying up and underwater tables falling so fast in the Middle East and parts of India, China and the US that food supplies are seriously threatened, one of the world's leading resource analysts has warned.

In a major new essay Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, claims that 18 countries, together containing half the world's people, are now overpumping their underground water tables to the point - known as "peak water" - where they are not replenishing and where harvests are getting smaller each year.

The situation is most serious in the Middle East. According to Brown: "Among the countries whose water supply has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. By 2016 Saudi Arabia projects it will be importing some 15m tonnes of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its population of 30 million people. It is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest.

"The world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them."

Alarm Clock

9-year-old girl sets fire in store, happily skips away


Che Guevara

Justice for Trayvon Martin: Protesters take to the streets across U.S.

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Protesters have taken to the streets in the US as black community leaders demanded that the authorities pursue a federal civil rights case against George Zimmerman, who shot dead Trayvon Martin but was acquitted of the teenager's murder.

In Los Angeles, police fired non-lethal - bean bag - baton rounds after demonstrators threw rocks and batteries at officers. One person was arrested but police emphasised that most of the protesters were peaceful. Streets were closed off in the city, as well as in San Francisco, where people marched to condemn Zimmerman's acquittal.

In New York, hundreds of protesters marched into Times Square on Sunday night after starting out in Union Square, zigzagging through the streets to avoid police lines. Marchers carried signs and chanted "Justice for Trayvon Martin!" and "No justice, no peace!" as tourists looked on. Beyoncé called for a moment of silence for Trayvon during a concert in Nashville, Tennessee, while rapper Young Jeezy released a song in Trayvon's memory. Protests have been relatively small in scale so far, easing fears that violent unrest would follow the widespread outrage over the verdict.

Comment: Maybe everyone should wear black hoodies in solidarity? Apartheid in America 2013. God, if JFK had just lived long enough to implement his reforms...

Rapper Young Jeezy released It's A Cold World [A Tribute to Trayvon Martin], saying:
I am in no way shape, form, or fashion am trying to capitalize off of the latest series of events. These are my true feelings and my form of expression about it.



Snakes in Suits

Zimmerman wants to go to law school to help others like him - friends

George Zimmerman
© Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/MCT
George Zimmerman
New York - After his acquittal on murder charges for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman may go to law school to help people wrongly accused of crimes like himself, close friends told Reuters on Sunday.

The 29-year old was found not guilty late Saturday for shooting the unarmed black teenager in a case that sparked a national debate on race and gun laws. One of his first calls was to defense witness John Donnelly and his wife Leanne Benjamin.

They got to know Zimmerman in 2004 when he and a black friend opened up an insurance office in a Florida building where Benjamin worked. They grew close and the couple spent time with him during the trial.

Over dinner with Zimmerman recently, Benjamin said he told them he would like to go to law school.

"I'd like to help other people like me," she quoted him as telling them.

Zimmerman, an insurance investigator, attended community college and was a credit shy of an associate's degree in criminal justice but was kicked out of school because he posed a danger to the campus, according to family sources.

"Everybody said he was a cop-wannabe but he's interested in law," Benjamin said. "He sees it as a potential path forward to help other people like himself."

Zimmerman's defense attorney Mark O'Mara agreed.

"He wanted to be a cop for awhile, but he's talked about going to law school," O'Mara told Reuters on Sunday.

"He has a real interest in the law and ... prosecuting appropriately - not like what he got - is something he's very interested in. I will not be surprised if he ends up in criminal law," O'Mara said. "His dad was a judge, and he wants to be a prosecutor or a lawyer."

Experience shows that re-building life after a major trial may prove difficult, even for those acquitted of headline-making crimes.

Casey Anthony, the young Orlando mother acquitted in 2011 of killing her 3-year-old daughter Caylee, remains hidden and unemployed while her lawyers fight civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages from her.

Former NFL star O.J. Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of killing his wife and an acquaintance, but his life fell apart. He lost a $33 million wrongful death civil suit in 1997, moved to Florida where he was arrested and eventually sent to prison in 2008 for up to 33 years for robbery and kidnapping.

Stormtrooper

Los Angeles Trayvon Martin protests: Protesters claim police fired rubber bullets in order to disperse the crowd

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© Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Robyn Beck
Police officers hold a line against protestors on the 10 Freeway after demonstrators angry at the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of black teen Trayvon Martin walk onto the 10 Freeway stopping highway traffic, in Los Angeles, California July 14, 2013.
Demonstrators protesting George Zimmerman's not guilty verdict in the slaying of Florida teen Trayvon Martin reportedly shut down part of a freeway in Los Angeles Sunday night.

According to CBS Los Angeles, about 200 protesters stood on the southbound 10 Freeway in Crenshaw to block traffic. Protesters told NBC LA that the police fired rubber bullets in order to disperse the crowd and ended up arresting at least one person on suspicion of throwing rocks and bottles at an officer.

Ruth Fowler, an LA-based author and HuffPost blogger, was among one of the protestors on the freeway. In an email to The Huffington Post, Fowler described the scene as peaceful and happy.

"We were supported by cars who beeped their support, as did the local community who waved, gave us water, shielded us from the police with their cars, and were in complete solidarity with us," Fowler said.

The demonstration on the 10 freeway lasted from 6:20 p.m. to 6:44 p.m., officials told the Los Angeles Times, and the freeway has since reopened.
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© Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Robyn Beck

Info

Zimmerman found not guilty: New Yorkers take to the streets

Demonstrators Moved North From Union Square Causing Gridlock In Manhattan


  • New York - Strong reaction has erupted in New York and across the country after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

    A six-member, all-woman jury in Sanford, Fla., deliberated for more than 15 hours over two days before reaching their decision. They had been given the chance to convict Zimmerman of manslaughter but did not do so, despite asking for a clarification of the charge earlier in the evening.

    After hearing the verdict, Judge Debra Nelson told Zimmerman he was free to go. However on Sunday the U.S. Justice Department did say that it would consider Civil Rights charges against Zimmerman.

    As CBS 2's Tracee Carrasco reported, protest rallies was planned for Sunday in Union Square, among other places, as people from both sides spoke out.

    The protest in Union Square started shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday, by 7:30 p.m. that rally had ended but another began around 9 p.m. in Times Square. The Times Square protest caused traffic on 7th Ave to shut down between 42nd and 47th Street, but shortly before 10 p.m. some demonstrators had started making their way towards Harlem, while others began to return to Union Square.

    By 11 p.m. the crowd was moving north along Park Ave and had made its way into the area around 79th and Park. By the time the march reached the Upper East Side several protestors had been arrested. At 11:30 p.m. the march was moving north and had made it as high as 107th street near 2nd Ave.

    Another protest was also planned for 7 p.m. Monday at Hunts Point Plaza in the Bronx.

    People also took to Union Square Saturday night to protest the not guilty verdict, and by Sunday afternoon hundreds had gathered in Newark, NJ to peacefully protest Zimmerman's acquittal as well, the Associated Press reported.

    Organizers say the outdoor protest staged Sunday afternoon drew a diverse crowd unhappy with a Florida jury's decision to clear the former neighborhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

    Stormtrooper

    Police ignore Taser heart attack risk and keep firing at suspects' chests

     A Visibly Angry Police Officer
    © Shutterstock
    "Stock Photo: Toronto-June 26: A Visibly Angry Police Officer Looking For Suspects After One Of The Police Car Was Torched During The G20 Protest On June 26, 2010 In Toronto, Canada".
    British police have fired Tasers hundreds of times at suspects' chests despite explicit warnings from the weapon's manufacturer not to do so because of the dangers of causing a cardiac arrest, the Guardian can reveal.

    Following the death last Wednesday of a man in Manchester after police hit him with a Taser shot, figures obtained from 18 out of 45 UK forces show that out of a total of 884 Taser discharges since 2009 - the year when Taser International first started warning the weapon's users not to aim for the chest - 57% of all shots (518) have hit the chest area.

    There is evidence that shots to the chest can induce cardiac arrest. Dr Douglas Zipes, an eminent US cardiologist and emeritus professor at Indiana University, who last year published a study that explored the dangers of chest shots, told the Guardian: "My admonition [to UK police] would be avoid the chest at all costs if you can."

    He said the proportion of shots landing on the chest was huge, adding: "I think the information is overwhelming to support how a Taser shot to the chest can produce cardiac arrest."

    The manufacturer's warning in its training materials is clear. It states: "When possible, avoid targeting the frontal chest area near the heart to reduce the risk of potential serious injury or death.