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#NPRreads: Wealthier Grays And The Intersection Of Race And Guns

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you four reads.

From Edith Chapin, NPR's acting executive editor:

While the U.S. economy is considerably brighter than it was a few years ago, the hangover of the recession still throbs for many Americans. This story resonated with me, as I expected the impact would have been the opposite on older people. As people are living longer, the prospect that fewer people might be in a financial squeeze is encouraging. It bodes better for quality of life and perhaps some financial resources that can be left for the next generations as a foundation for younger people's financial planning.

The counter-intuitive part got my attention right away with the following explanation:

"Supported by income from Social Security, pensions and investments, as well as an increasing number of paychecks from delaying retirement, older people not only weathered the economic downturn that began in 2007 but made significant gains, a New York Times analysis of government data has found."

"As a result, America's middle class is graying.

"People on the leading edge of the baby boom and those born during World War II — the 25 million Americans now between the ages of 65 and 74 — have emerged as particularly well positioned in the nation's economic timeline. While there are plenty of individual exceptions, as a group they are better off financially than past generations and may well enjoy a more successful old age than future ones, even those merely a decade younger."

From Wright Bryan, social media editor, NPR.org:

We all know cats rule the Internet. We don't know why, but they do. So I got a chuckle out of this throwaway piece on The Daily Dot about InstaCats, a browser extension that sprinkles random photos of cats throughout the text of those exceedingly long, over-serious articles we're all reading these days. The Dot frames it this way:

"Given how short the Internet's attention span is, we spend a surprising amount of time scrolling through near-endless wastelands of text. It's often a chore staying focused on that text when you know there's a much better Internet out there to explore. The solution to the tedium, of course, is to bring the best part of the web into that ceaseless wall of words."

But wait! Then it hit me. This is not some silly flash-in-the-pan ploy dreamed up by those wacky people who live out there on the Internet. This is a time-tested strategy proven in paper and print by none other than The New Yorker. Filled with meandering rivers of text, The New Yorker keeps readers going by breaking up its pages with seemingly random and amusing cartoons. InstaCats, you're smarter than you look!

From Carrie Johnson, NPR Justice Correspondent:

The U.S. has been housing prison inmates and other detainees in extreme isolation for decades now. But new scientific research and some devastating personal examples — such as the recent suicide of a man locked up for years on New York's Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime — are reigniting a conversation about the effects of solitary confinement.

So it is particularly timely that human rights worker Ian Kysel, who also teaches at Georgetown University, introduces a wider audience to his research on juveniles and solitary. In a new opinion piece published by The Washington Post, Kysel writes:

"This treatment can be devastating for anyone. But it is particularly dangerous for children and teens, whose brains and bodies are still developing and who are therefore at particular risk of physical and psychological harm. Dozens of young people told me about losing control while in solitary, about harming themselves and even attempting suicide."

Kysel has interviewed dozens of young people who spent time in extreme isolation, often as a result of jail or prison officials' desire to protect them from adult inmates. But, he says, the solitary confinement exacted a deep psychological toll:

"One teen in New York, Luz, told me she tried to hang herself on her very first day in solitary confinement: 'I just felt I wanted to die, like there was no way out.' "

Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch have been campaigning for years to limit the practice of extreme isolation inside jails and prisons. Lately, social conservatives have begun to join the debate. Just this week, in a Supreme Court decision about jury challenges and a death-row inmate, Justice Anthony Kennedy went out of his way to address his personal reservations about long-term solitary confinement.

"Years on end of near total isolation exacts a terrible price," Kennedy wrote.

From Domenico Montanaro, NPR.org's politics editor:

Putting situations such as the Charleston, S.C., shooting that left nine dead at a historically black church in context is not an easy thing to do. It is fraught with a two-pronged political controversy — the intersection of race and gun violence. It's hard to think of two issues that send conversations in social media careening further out of control. David Remnick, the New Yorker editor, leaned into it with his thought-provoking essay, painting the context of the shooting against the backdrop of an America grappling with race during the tenure of its first black president. Remnick writes:

"[T]he words attributed to the shooter are both a throwback and thoroughly contemporary: one recognizes the rhetoric of extreme reaction and racism heard so often in the era of Barack Obama. His language echoed the barely veiled epithets hurled at Obama in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns ("We want our country back!") and the raw sewage that spewed onto Obama's Twitter feed (@POTUS) the moment he cheerfully signed on last month."

And Remnick notes of Obama's response:

"[F]or all of his Presidential restraint, you could read the sadness, the anger, and the caution in his face as he stood at the podium; you could hear it in what he had to say."

This is a president Remnick knows well. He has interviewed him several times and wrote a seminal biography of him, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. And he notes just how little this president likes talking about race:

"After one interview in the Oval Office, he admitted to me that he was hesitant to answer some of my questions about race more fully or with less caution, for just as a stray word from him about, say, monetary policy could affect the financial markets, so, too, could a harsh or intemperate word about race affect the political temper of the country."

The first black president has delicately — and necessarily politically — walked a line on race. "Obama hates to talk about this. He allows himself so little latitude. Maybe that will change when he is an ex-President focused on his memoirs," Remnick writes.

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