In the past few years, foraging—collecting edibles in the wild—has become more popular as people have rediscovered the joy of connecting with nature and enjoying its bounty. Done properly, foraging can be a fun activity, and benefit nature too. I’m not talking about commercial foraging (which can have drawbacks), but a more fun and personal approach to the concept of eating wild food.
Personally I actually like to use the term wildcrafting, instead of foraging. The difference is subtle but important: Wildcrafting is not about taking from nature, but working with it and even helping the environment.
Wikipedia has an excellent definition for wildcrafting:
Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or "wild" habitat, for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants wherever they may be found, and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas. Ethical considerations are often involved, such as protecting endangered species.
Here are 10 reasons to start (or continue) foraging/wildcrafting.
1. Knowledge is power.
By learning about plants and their uses (culinary, medicinal and so on), you also learn to value what nature has to offer and the need to protect it for the future generations. Going foraging is also a fun activity to do with kids, they learn a lot of new things in the process. Knowing what wild plants are edible, medicinal or poisonous is also a key survival skill, and this knowledge might be called upon if you ever find yourself in a survival situation.
2. Removing invasive plants.
Locally, over 90 percent of what can be foraged are actually non-native and invasive plants. By removing them, you actually help the native environment survive. As you gain experience and appreciation for local native plants, you can also choose to grow them in your garden for food, medicine or habitat for wildlife and birds, instead of foraging them.
3. Many weeds are superfoods.
Most people don’t realize it, but many so-called weeds can be considered superfoods. Good examples are edible plants like stinging nettles, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, purslane or chickweed. Wild edibles are also a great source of truly organic and non-GMO food. So think twice before you throw away the weeds from your garden or lawn.
4. Educating others.
As you get more education on the subject of edible or medicinal plants, you also learn which plants are protected or endangered and which have a negative impact on the environment. You can do your part to help nature by educating others on the subject. You may even decide to work with local native nurseries to help endangered species and propagate them.
5. Saving money.
Wildcrafting can provide you with healthy organic food, and it can also save you money. My local health food store sells a dandelion bunch for $1.99, yet dandelion is plentiful and invasive where I live.
6. Continuing a great tradition.
Herbalists and wild harvesters continue a tradition of understanding and caring for the environment that has been passed around for countless generations. The more people know about planting, tending and using their local plants, the more respect will exist for those plants. Wildcrafters or herbalists have no interest in harming the environment and are more interested in helping it. Urban expansion, pollution, destruction of native environment for corporate agriculture and lack of respect are the main reasons for habitat destruction.
7. Connecting to nature is healthy.
Taking a walk in nature is healthy, both physically and spiritually. Growing evidence indicates that greater contact with our natural world can help alleviate mood swings, depression, anxiety and other mental conditions.
8. Discovering local flavors.
Foraging can make you discover interesting and truly local flavors. Personally, I found many fascinating new culinary plants, some of them even sold at the local ethnic market, and I had no idea until I researched them.
9. You can forage anywhere.
You can forage anywhere, even in urban areas. Growing up in Europe, it was still quite common to see people picking up hazelnuts, mushrooms, walnuts, nettles and other goodies in urban green spaces. In the U.S., most city parks have specific regulations against picking plants, but you’ll often find tons of unused fruit trees in people’s yards. Most homeowners will gladly let you pick some of their fruit if you ask politely first. I don’t recall the last time I had to pay for organic lemons!
10. Becoming a valuable member of your community.
Knowing about edible plants or their medicinal uses makes you an important individual. A lot of people don’t care about local plants because they don’t see how valuable they are. Through your example or by teaching others, you can instill respect in nature’s offerings. As I get older, I’m convinced that the knowledge of plants and their uses is a key way to help protect our environment.
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As strange as it may sound, the sound symbolism of a name has become an unnamed central issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. As a cognitive linguist, my job is to study the issue and, at the very least, to name it.
Perhaps the best-known discussion of naming occurs in Juliet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Here is Juliet, proclaiming that all that divides her from Romeo are their family names.
Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.
Shakespeare here was writing about love, not profit or politics. Donald Trump’s father changed the family name from Drumpf to Trump. It was a name change worth billions. Herr Drumpf understood the power of naming, as has his son, who renames his rivals: Lyin’ Ted, Little Mario, Crooked Hillary.
Trump has made his fortune by marketing and selling his name. He slaps his name in large bold letters on Trump Tower, Trump Airlines, Trump Steaks, and so on. He has even managed to get his name on property he doesn't own!
The name Trump is his brand, his product; he sells his name. When he seeks financial backing for a project, he insists that he be paid very well for the use of his name, even if his name is used just to get investors or bank loans. The condition is that he gets paid for the use of his name, even if the project fails and goes into bankruptcy. Time and again, his companies have gone bankrupt; but though others — builders, employees, investors — lose money, Trump is always paid for the use of his name.
What it is about the name “Trump” that sells, and would it sell if it were changed a bit?
There is a subfield of cognitive linguistics that studies sound symbolism, where there is pattern in a language linking sound structure of a group of words to what is called an ‘embodied conceptual schema’ that characterizes a significant part of word meaning, though by no means all word meaning. To give you a feel for sound symbolism, consider words ending in –ip: drip, clip, snip, rip, dip, sip, whip. There is a pattern here: the meanings all involve a short path to a sudden stop. This is what the mouth is doing; there is short path of breath to a sudden stop. The pattern is called an “image schema.” It provides structure to a meaning, without filling out the whole meaning. Moreover, the pattern does not cover all –ip words or all short paths to a sudden stop. It is simply a pattern that fits a significant number of important cases.
The –ip sound is called a rhyme, which occurs at the end of a syllable. Sound symbolism also occurs at the beginning, or “onset”, of a syllable. Consider words beginning in cl-: clap, cling, clasp, clump, clench, cleat, cloak, closed, club, cluster, … . The pattern involves things coming together: either the part of the hand in clench, the two parts of a clasp, the two hands as in clap, the members of a club, the trees or plants in a clump or cluster, the cloak what comers together with the shoulders it is attached to. When the blades of scissors come together in a short path to a sudden stop, there is a cl+ip, as in clip. English has dozens of such sound-symbolic patterns, as observed by Richard Rhodes and John Lawler in their classic paper “Athematic Metaphor” (Chicago Linguistics Society, 1981).
This brings us to tr- words. When you say tr- in English, your tongue starts out with the tip just in back of the teeth and pressed along the top of the mouth to pronounce an r. Then a vowel follows and the mouth is forcefully opened, moving with the vowel in one direction or another. In short, there is forceful press and a forceful release. Not surprisingly, English has a very common sound-symbolic pattern in which the initial cluster, the onset tr- expresses Force, with a forceful tension followed by a forceful motion.
There are many kinds of forces involved in many kinds of forceful actions and experiences. As a result the tr- words span a wide range of meanings in which an initial force is part of the meaning of the word. Start with tr+ip, trip — a verb expressing a force resulting in a short path to a sudden end: you can trip on something that exerts force on you sending you moving to a quick sudden stop, or you can trip someone else sending them moving to a quick sudden stop.
Then there is try, in which someone exerts force to achieve some purpose. Trap can be a forceful action by one or more people to retain someone, or can refer to a mechanism that exerts force to restrain someone. A truss holds an injured body part in place by force. And to trim or truncate something is to forcefully cut it shorter. To forcefully start something is to trigger it. A tremor is a forceful movement of the earth, as in an earth quake. A trench is a long hole dug with force. A trumpet is a musical instrument that takes force to play and as a result of the force makes a loud sound.
Then there are machines that exert force to move things: a truck, a tractor, a train, a trolley, a tram, and forms of transit. Motion across some area usually requires force to carry out the notion. Trans- means across and in the right word, it can express forceful motion across or forceful change, as in transmit, transfer, transpose, and transfigure.
The forceful motion of a train moves along a track, while heavy steps on wet ground can leave tracks. The forceful motion of people over a landscape creates a trail that others can move along. Forceful motion on a landscape over a distance can be a trek. Forceful walking is treading, with the past tense trod. And the tires of a wheeled vehicle need tread to forcefully grip the road. To forcefully step repeatedly on something to destroy it is to trample it. And an object to jump up and down on forcefully and repeatedly for the sake of exercise or play is a trampoline. The successful use of force to achieve something significant is a triumph. A problem that can be solved by forceful action is tractable. A trend is an event sequence understood as exerting a force in itself to continue motion in the same direction in the future.
Some forceful events exert harm, for example, a trauma, a tragedy. The very thought of them can exert the force to make you tremble. A trial is an event you undergo that can seriously harm you and that takes forceful action or resilience on your part to avoid that harm. A tribulation is a harmful effect you undergo when you experience a trying experience.
You can sense the force of the tr- sound in a word if you try to rename an object or experience. There is a reason why a tractor is not called a yiss! Or why a trauma or a tragedy is not called a “wug.” In studying sound symbolism, you need a sense of your own reaction to the sound of word and what would happen under a renaming.
Now we move to the sound symbolism of –ump words. In the pronunciation of –ump, the u is a schwa, a mid-vowel, neither high nor low, front nor back, a giving up of breath, as in “uh.” The nasal m is pronounced by opening the nasal tract allowing air to move up and around the nasal tract and then down to the mouth to stop at p. There is release of low energy “uh” tracing a rise in the nasal tract ‘m’ and then a lowering and stopping of the breath at p.
It is a sound pattern that expresses entities of low or no energy having a 3-dimensional shape that can be traced over time as a rise and then a fall. We can see this sound symbolism in bump, lump, hump, rump, plump, and stump, which in each case has a 3-D shape that can be traced by a rise and then a fall. A clump (say, of trees) is a group brought together (cl-) with that shape. A pump is an instrument for blowing up stretchable objects into that shape. A jump in place is a rise and then fall. When you dump something, it goes downward (d-) and what is dumped has the -ump shape. A frump is a low energy person with such an appearance. A grump is someone who makes a growling sound and has that appearance. To slump is to take on such a shape, and a baseball player goes into a slump when his hitting becomes ineffective and his batting average falls. A chump is an ineffective person who is a “fall guy” in interacting with an aggressive effective person who can take advantage of him. And a thump is the sound made by a low energy fall against a solid resonant object.
This bring us to tr+ump — Trump as a name. It has a causal structure: a causal force (the tr-) followed by a person or object (the -ump) that the force acts on and affects. The person or object either already is an -ump or is made into an
-ump by the force. As a person’s name, tr- followed by -ump symbolizes a person who acts with force on existing chumps or creates them by his exertion of force. In short, it names someone who has the power to take advantage of others. In business, it names a person who can profit by taking advantage of others. Similarly, in the game of bridge, trump is a card of a suit that will always win the trick, that is, it has power over a competing card of lesser strength.
That is why he can sell his name in a business deal, market his name by plastering it on everything he owns — the Trump Tower, his airplane, his steaks, wine, suits, ties, with signs in bold letters. He even has managed to get his name on buildings he does NOT own.
Tr+ump is a perfect last name for a presidential candidate who offers himself as the ultimate authority, able to turn others into chumps in politics. It is the perfect name for the ultimate Strict Father and authoritarian ruler — the ultimate authoritarian who makes those ruled into chumps.
The point here is that Shakespeare was wrong. A rose by any other name need not smell just as sweet. Tr+ump is a great name if you want to vote for a powerful person who can take advantage of others — make chumps out of people you don’t like: liberals, Mexicans, Muslims, the Chinese, blacks, and people who can't take care of themselves, namely, the poor.
If you are among the tens of millions of Americans who wholly or mostly idealize strict father morality, someone named TR+UMP sounds like your man.
But what if he didn't have that name? Would you be voting just for the name, not the real person?
It has been observed that he often acts like a spoiled child. In fact, he was a spoiled child. When his father tried to teach him personal responsibility by making him take on a paper route in Manhattan, he kept out the rain by getting the family chauffer to drive him around in the family Cadillac on his paper route!
In financing building, he got loans on his father’s collateral housing empire that would not rent to African-Americans or Latinos. He got tax breaks through his father’s influence with city officials, who depended on his father’s political donations. When things don't go his way, he just makes up lies and depends on then power of his name to get him through.
And he renames is opponents: Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary.
Suppose he were renamed.
If there is any a putative strict father cannot be, it is childish and spoiled — and weak. Some children at a young age have trouble pronouncing T+R. The R turns to W after a T, as in Twump, and the T may weaken to Th, as in Thwump. Suppose we change the U to I, to indicate smallness. That would be Thwimp: Little Donnie Thwimp. The –ie on Donnie is called a “diminutive,” it makes someone or something sound smaller. Thwimpie is a possibility.
Imagine a national renaming campaign, starting now. Imagine those with photoshop skills might change the name on the image of his Tower to Twimp Towie. Changing the letter on his plane to Twimp, and have it falling toward the ocean. Photoshop campaign signs to Thwimp / Punts. Imagine running Twitter campaigns with #Thwimpie.
The fact is that Little Donnie Thwimp is something a strict father authoritarian cannot be named because it is a weak childish name!
Little Donnie dreams of being the ultimate strongman, like Putin, and to cover his weakness, he tells lies, he tells BIG LIES, REALLY BIG LIES! But the bigger the lie, the greater the weakness. He is weak on foreign policy. He is weak on economics. He is especially weak on history. He is really weak on his taxes and has to hide them. And he is dangerously weak on the facts about the use of nuclear weapons!
Twimpie’s weakness is revealed in his exaggerations: What he likes is “terrific.” What he dislikes is a “disaster.” All or Nothing. Weak on careful, subtle reason.
Would voters who want a strong authoritarian vote for someone named Thwimp? Or Thwimpie? Or Little Donnie?
Do the Thwimp polls. Let's find out.
Democratic candidates need not engage in the renaming. Let the ordinary people who understand the lies and the weaknesses do the renaming on social media.
But isn't this just fun and whimsical? Shouldn't everyone be focused on fear — the fear that he might just get elected. The fear is real and justified. But the problem with justified fear-mongering is that it gives power to the person you're afraid of. By all means discuss why the fear is justified. But take the power away. Rename and rebrand: Twimpie.
If people vote for someone on the basis of the sound symbolism of his name, change the name. Let them try to say they want to elect a Thwimp with a straight face.
What’s the point of a Thwimpie campaign? The candidate is not going to change his name, and reporters are not going to do serious investigative reporting using only the candidate’s new name.
The point is simple: The President of the United States and the Leader of the Free World should not be chosen on the basis of the sound symbolism of his name.
The sound symbolism is unconscious. This paper brings it to consciousness. Offering an alternative with very different sound symbolism is crucial if Americans are to become aware that the sound of the name can be working on them unconsciously and against their better judgment.
Sound symbolism is an issue in this presidential campaign — as weird as that sounds. The issue can only be brought up with a discussion of what the sound symbolism is and what a very different sound symbolism might be.
The issue may sound laughable. But it is quite serious. It needs to be brought to attention, and to be reported on.
And it should raise ratings. Because while being serious news, sound symbolism is not just informative; it is fun. Fun in the news raises ratings.
Fear also sells in the media. Shouldn't you be afraid that someone has a chance of being elected president based on the sound of his name?
This is a real fear, as well as fun.
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A 21-year-old man, who was beaten by police after they responded to a 911 call requesting medical assistance for him, died in a Baltimore area hospital on Wednesday, reports the Guardian.
Tawon Boyd was pronounced dead after doctors failed to revive him following his encounter with the police where he was allegedly punched multiple times and choked by an officer.
According to initial reports from the Baltimore County Police Department, officers responded to a 911 emergency call from Boyd’s girlfriend Deona Styron, but an attorney for Boyd’s family states that the victim is the one who placed the call.
Attorney Latoya Francis-Williams claims Boyd made the call requesting an ambulance because he was feeling disoriented and wanted to be taken to the hospital.
“They really were supposed to be there to get him to the nearest healthcare facility,” Francis-Williams said in a statement.
Responding officers stated that Boyd appeared “confused and paranoid” and asked them to enter his house to see who was inside after telling them that his girlfriend, “got him intoxicated and is secretly recording him while someone else is in the home.”
While police were on the scene, Boyd tried to climb into two different police cruisers before running to a neighbor’s house where he banged on the door and pleaded with them to call the police.
According to Boyd’s attorney, the police attempted to restrain Boyd, describing it as an “attack.”
“He is literally attacked. And by attacked, I mean the witness [Styron] is describing that he struck many times and struck to the ground,” Francis-Williams explained. “Officer Bowman is the one that when he arrived, really started wailing on Mr. Boyd, meaning Mr. Boyd was on the ground in a prone position and Bowman sat on him, almost straddled his back, and put his left arm under Boyd’s neck and pulled his head up in a choking fashion.”
In the police report, they describe Boyd being struck by twice in the head by an officer with a closed fist.
The police report states, “officers were able to get him under control by using our body weight to keep him on the ground. Officer Bowman controlled Suspect Boyd’s head and arms by holding him down with his arms while I held Suspect Boyd down by leaning on his buttocks/thigh area with my knees and using my arms.”
“According to the witness, Mr Boyd was screaming ‘stop stop, I can’t breathe.’ That could have been from the choking but at the same time, Officer Bowman is punching and striking Mr Boyd in the face and in the neck area,” Francis-Williams said of her conversation with Boyd’s girlfriend who witnessed the incident. “The witness described that after a little she’s screaming stop and Mr Boyd is kind of foaming at the mouth or spitting and his body goes limp.”
The incident report states the arresting officer asked the paramedics to check for Boyd’s pulse and that he did have a heartbeat before being transported to a local hospital.
While no autopsy report has been released, the report notes that Boyd ended up in intensive care.
There was “swelling on the brain and fluid on the brain because the doctors attempted to drain that,” claimed attorney Francis-Williams, adding, “My understanding is his kidneys end up failing and at some point, his heart stops.”
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After Jimmy Fallon welcomed presidential candidate Donald Trump onto his show with open arms, the notoriously affable host opened himself up to a great deal of criticism, none more scathing than from fellow late-night comedian Samantha Bee. The segment, worth watching in its entirety, provoked some ire of its own.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, in lampooning Bee’s view, joked, “When the histories of the Trump era are written from exile in Justin Trudeau’s Canada, they will record that it was none other than Jimmy Fallon who brought down the republic.”
Douthat’s article mimicked a similar piece of commentary in Politico, where Justin Gest asked, “Is it racist to associate immigration with the greater globalization of commerce that has altered the economic prospects of outmoded people? Is it racist to be frustrated that members of ethnic minorities are rendered new advantages unavailable to white people, such as affirmative action policies and ethnicity-specific advocacy?” The answer to these questions and more is, of course, yes.
According to both Douthat and Gest, that answer makes me part of the problem. Which is not racism, staunch opponents of political correctness will tell us, but the use of the word. Tasked with explaining why exactly the accurate identification of these views is unproductive, commentators begin to sound remarkably similar to the bleeding-heart liberals they denounce. They tell us, in so many words, that the characterization is triggering. That it makes white Americans feel vulnerable and under attack, as though their “space” were unsafe. That we fail to recognize the depths of their suffocating, ever-present and seemingly all-encompassing emotional fragility.
The difference, of course, is that the condemnation of immoral views is meaningfully distinct from the assignation of immorality to amoral traits like race. Gest’s piece ends on a bit of clever wordplay. “Silencing and demonizing Trump’s supporters as racists simplistically shuns them into the ideological silos that segregate our society.”
It’s funny, you see, because black children once had to be accompanied by armed federal agents in order to safely set foot in all-white, publicly funded schools. But the comparison is absurd. Pluralism and tolerance are not the same thing as blanket inclusivity; they are inherently alienating to intolerant people who hate pluralism. And tolerance certainly isn’t the same thing as the normalization of intolerant, hateful and thus, yes, deplorable beliefs. It is, in fact, directly at odds with said normalization.
Douthat’s position, however, doesn’t just draw a false equivalence between ideological and racist, sexist or transphobic forms of intolerance. He selectively prizes ideological tolerance above all else. The increased cultural presence of minorities and “bluestocking” women and trans people, by virtue of making conservative audiences uncomfortable, is thus too political, symptomatic of liberalism’s encroachment upon all corners of the public sphere.
But if diversity is political, homogeneity is necessarily equally so. When he describes pop culture as unnecessarily alienating, what he really means it that because it makes others feel welcome, it is inherently alienating to people like him: straight, white, socially conservative cis men.
Douthat’s inescapably white-centric view of late-night television similarly infects his political analysis. He highlights Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remark as a symptom of liberal delusion in a culture purportedly dominated by their views. (Never mind that the same media enriched and glorified Trump long after he defined himself as a political figure in 2011 via a series of explicitly racist campaigns meant to question the legitimacy of the nation’s first African-American president, a fact that Bee describes as the inspiration of Monday’s segment.) Douthat argues that liberals lack an understanding of “the harsh realities of political disagreement in a sprawling, 300-plus million person republic,” pushing candidates like Hillary Clinton to extremes. Hence the infamous “basket of deplorables” remark.
Clinton’s statement, though bad optics, was in many respects reasonable and measured. She took special care to separate Trump voters into two separate camps: those who are drawn to white nationalism because these ideals are central to their political beliefs, irrespective of their material wealth and social standing, and those who are drawn to racist demagoguery as an outlet for their economic anxiety, which represents a very real government failure.
Her condemnation of the former was a statement to people of color, who form a significant proportion of her coalition, and who are invisible as a political force in Douthat’s eyes, about her unwillingness to make political concessions to those whose political views are motivated by white supremacy. But her dedication to help and serve the latter group was also a testament to progressive values of inclusion, compassion for the less fortunate. It revealed a very clear understanding of the messy process of growing that coalition, part of which (unless you’re Donald Trump) occasionally involves drawing hard lines.
Douthat’s condemnation of this framework raises further disturbing questions. When, if ever, are we allowed to hold white people responsible for racist views and votes? Gest’s piece, which contrasts their “sincere expressions about how their societies are being transformed” with racist ones, suggests the two are mutually exclusive, and that the answer is never. Douthat, too, not only excuses Fallon, a person of tremendous power and privilege, for normalizing racism because he simply doesn’t do politics, he also suggests it was his moral duty. He doesn’t merely relieve Fallon of a moral obligation to condemn bigotry; he argues Fallon had a moral obligation not to.
And in doing so, Douthat himself plays an active role in normalizing racism by setting standards so unbelievable low that nonracist views become fringe. Which only serves to further victimize people of color for whom, I must say, it’s been quite a year.
At times such as this, we also need our comic relief. I loved watching Jimmy Fallon eat buffalo wings with Priyanka Chopra and play Hungry Hungry Hippos with the U.S. Gymnastics squad and blush with embarrassment with Nicole Kidman. That was my escape. Fallon has undoubtedly interviewed racists before Trump. He’ll undoubtedly interview racists again.
But this was the first time I turned on my television to see him mussing up the hair of a person whose political movement threatens my safety, my comfort, my very citizenship in the country I call home. The point isn’t merely that it’s political. It’s that it’s bigoted and selfish and cruel. So while we take a moment to express compassion for the white Americans who’ve turned to Trump because they feel their country is slipping away from them, who feel they must turn to extremism to save it, remember that the rest of us have lost something, too.
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One of the most memorable essays I’ve ever read came attached to one of the most surprising and unexpected books I’ve ever read. That book was “Brother to a Dragonfly,” a personal memoir by Will D. Campbell, a white Baptist preacher from southern Mississippi who variously described himself as an “outlaw,” a “renegade” or a “bootlegger” within the world of white Southern Protestant theology. Campbell, who died in 2013 at age 88, was an important figure in American cultural and religious history, especially considering that almost no one has heard of him. In particular, he was a hero in the fight against white supremacy, who grasped early on perhaps its most pernicious and insidious quality: White supremacy cripples and kills white people.
I’m going to insist on the importance of that fact, which is not to diminish the fact that in a host of more obvious ways, white supremacy has killed black people by the thousands, perhaps the millions, and continues to do so. If this were a contest to see who has suffered most from racism, I think the winner is clear. But it’s not. It’s America, a nation tormented by the racial violence of its past and its present, not all of which has been tangible or physical in nature. There’s a standard pseudo-Marxist sociological argument that racism is difficult to combat because whites benefit from it and stand to lose out, in relative terms, if a society becomes less racist or non-racist. That has a certain crude economic logic to it, no doubt. But what in the name of God do we mean by “benefit”?
I’ve written about this previously: Look around you at America — at white America in particular, and at the angriest and most race-obsessed corners of white America, where people are most likely to support a certain orange presidential candidate who yells a lot. Look at the epidemic rates of obesity, of heart disease, of adult-onset diabetes and opioid addiction and suicide, which has reached truly alarming levels among middle-aged, lower-income white men and is a far more common cause of firearms death than murder. Are these happy people, in a happy place? If they are voting for Donald Trump because he represents the values of white supremacy — which, I agree, in large part they are — what possible benefit do they derive from that system?
If you’re already sorry that this column will end up being partly about Trump, so am I. That hateful ogre is the Alpha and Omega of all political discourse in America in 2016, and the swamp into which all rivers flow. I do not claim to know whether Trump’s cruel joke of a presidential campaign will conclude with the cruelest joke of all, his election. But I don’t have a good feeling; do you? No one can now claim that President Trump is unimaginable, and no one can reasonably claim that it’s not what we deserve. We have hypnotized ourselves into idiocy, and — surprise! — now we are idiots. If white supremacy has poisoned America — if it has poisoned white people in particular, turning them dark and hateful — it has nurtured Trump. To turn Nietzsche’s maxim inside out, what kills us makes him stronger.
I have talked and written far too much about Donald Trump, not that I’m alone in that. It’s far more worthwhile right now to talk about Will Campbell, and about his longtime friend Jimmy Carter, who wrote that essay I mentioned earlier as the foreword to the 25th-anniversary edition of “Brother to a Dragonfly.” Those people can still help us, whereas Trump can only destroy. He is incapable of helping anyone.
To a significant extent, Campbell represented the road not taken in the white South — and not just in the South. Honestly, we have a tendency to pin our sins on the South that is not entirely fair. He represented an alternate mode of consciousness for American white people, one that did not require an Ivy League education or a Northeast Corridor address or an appetite for $6 cups of coffee. Why that mode of consciousness did not win out — why so many whites in the Trump era have defaulted backward to the discredited and destructive ideas of yesteryear — is a difficult and troubling question.
In his later years, Campbell was known for ministering to a wide variety of “unchurched” people who had lost touch with organized religion but still considered themselves Christians, from Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to the inmates at Tennessee state prisons. He held unauthorized marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples decades before that was legal in any state, and reportedly presided over divorces as well. He once held a funeral for an entire town: Golden Pond, Kentucky, whose residents had been evicted by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
But Campbell’s only real brush with fame came as a young man, when he advocated for racial integration as the newly appointed chaplain at the University of Mississippi — in 1956, when virtually every white minister of virtually every Southern denomination found some way to apologize for Jim Crow. That stance cost him his job, of course, but also opened his eyes to new possibilities, and a new calling. Campbell was present at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, when it was desegregated by federal troops in 1957. He was present at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. If Campbell was by many standards an activist or a radical, whose circle of friends and acquaintances included the Trappist monk and philosopher Thomas Merton, the French anarchist Jacques Ellul, comedian Dick Gregory and cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer, he would likely have steered away from those words.
His life’s work was about reconciliation, a complicated word with a long history in theology, moral philosophy and law. On several occasions Campbell reportedly facilitated private meetings between former Black Panthers and former Klansmen, perhaps on the premise that members of groups so vilified by mainstream society might find something to talk about. Around the time I first read Campbell’s book, I had a long conversation with the journalist and onetime presidential press secretary Bill Moyers, who himself holds a divinity degree from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Moyers often talks about the long-term consequences of the era when the white South “closed the wagons around itself,” and “drove the truth-tellers out of the pulpits, out of the newsrooms and out of the classrooms.” I asked if he meant people like Campbell. Moyers seemed surprised that a Yankee knew the name, but agreed at once: “Absolutely. Him most of all.”
I recently moved and can’t find my copy of “Brother to a Dragonfly,” which doesn’t seem to be available on the Internet in any form, legal or otherwise (a relative rarity these days). So I can only paraphrase Carter’s foreword, in which he writes about growing up in a white family in rural Georgia in the 1930s and ’40s, under the universal assumption that whites and blacks were different in some unspecified way, and certainly not equal in terms of capacity or opportunity or possibility. Like most white people in that environment, the future president did not question that assumption, and certainly did not understand that it was a necessary ideological component in a system of oppression.
Most people yearn to believe they are doing the right thing, and invent arguments to support that premise. The manifest cruelty and unfairness of Jim Crow segregation could only be justified by a widely held belief that people of different races were, well, different, and needed to be kept apart in disparate conditions for a whole range of reasons, not all of which were spoken aloud in public. That was the system we now call white supremacy, which sometimes meant lynching black men in the town square for real or imagined offenses against the social order, and sometimes — more often, actually — meant benevolent assurances that separate schools and neighborhoods and restaurants and drinking fountains would allow black people, in the fullness of time, to work their way toward civilization.
In the context of the white South in that era, Carter writes, people like Will Campbell — who repeatedly told white people that they were lying to themselves about their own history, about slavery and the Civil War, and about the supposedly contented condition of “the Negro” — were confusing and irritating. But when the Civil Rights movement came along, Carter said he experienced a gradual awakening, and a realization that Campbell and the other “truth-tellers” of the white South had been right all along. If many whites experienced that era as bewildering and chaotic, Jimmy Carter says he experienced it as a personal and spiritual boon, in which “the burden of white supremacy” was lifted from him.
Let’s think about that, because it’s an extraordinary statement. Of course I am supposed to pause here and say that the emotional or spiritual lives of white people are not the focal point of history, and that it’s vastly more important that the Civil Rights movement represented an enormous step forward for American society, and an explosion of pride and self-awareness among African-Americans whose ripples were felt around the world. That’s all true. But the idea Jimmy Carter proposes in that essay, and that Will Campbell lived by, is nonetheless radical or revolutionary. It is that white people do not suffer when white supremacy is ended or ameliorated. In fact, they are made better, happier and more complete people, potential partners in all the dialogue and drama of the human race, instead of poisoned robots in thrall to a transparently false and evil ideology.
It’s no mystery to historians or sociologists or psychologists that systems of oppression damage the oppressor as well as the oppressed: You can find examples ranging from Anglo-Irish society to Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” to apartheid South Africa. But we’re not good at history here in America, or good at reading. We have to go by the empirical evidence in front of us, which suggests that a large proportion of white Americans have been severely damaged by the legacy of white supremacy, and now suffer from a kind of dementia disorder. They seek to blame people of other races or people from other countries for problems that are either self-inflicted or the work of their capitalist overlords. And in the name of reclaiming a lost golden age, they are rushing to sign their own death warrant.
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- Behold the GOP’s Not-So-Secret Plan to Dismantle Government Services: Defund, Degrade and then Privatize
- Trump and the Exploitation of Right Rage: It’s Not the Economy, Stupid, That’s Attracting Angry White Men to Him
- The Media Continually Legitimizes the Republican Party, Despite Its Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Nativism, Gun Addiction, All Now Salted by Incipient Fascism
If you're stressed, eating good fat might be just the same as eating bad fat.
Avocados, nuts, coconut oil, salmon, eggs—we know now that these “healthy fats” can improve our cholesterol levels, work wonders for our skin, strengthen our hair and nails, and help us shed excess weight. However, if we're stressed out when we eat them, all those benefits will go out the window, according to a new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Stress changes the way we metabolize and process food, as the study’s lead author Jan Kiecolt-Glaser recently told The Huffington Post. Kiecold-Glaser is a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University and directs the university’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine at Wexner Medical Center.
She and her team embarked on this study as a follow up to a parent study that assessed high-fat diets and depression in cancer survivors. For the current study the participants consisted of 38 breast cancer survivors and 20 others, all women who were 53 years old on average.
The study asked participants to eat the exact same biscuits-and-gravy breakfast—with one difference. Some of the breakfasts were cooked with saturated fats, and others were cooked with monounsaturated sunflower oil (a “healthy fat”). Then they took blood tests to assess the womens' health. When the women weren’t stressed, the saturated fat eaters’ blood tests were worse, as might be expected. However, if something stressful had happened the day before a woman ate her "healthy fat" breakfast, the healthier fat didn’t make a positive difference in her blood tests.
The researchers were looking in particular at markers of inflammation in the blood tests, as well as markers that could predict a greater likelihood of plaque forming in the arteries. They drew blood several times during each woman's visit and controlled for blood levels before the meals, physical fitness (abdominal fat and exercise frequency) and age difference.
As Kiecolt-Glaser told Ohio State University’s newspaper, “It’s more evidence that stress matters.”Click here for reuse options! Related Stories
Deputy City Marshal Derrick Stafford is being charged with murder after his body cam videos captured the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis, but he’s claiming it was all self-defense.
Stafford opened fire on a car being driven by the little boy’s father, Christopher Few. According to prosecutors from Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, Few was backing his car away from the deputies at the time and they were at a safe distance from the vehicle, KACT reports.
“Perhaps most important, it shows Few with his hands in the air pleading for the officers to stop firing. They did not,” prosecutors wrote in the court filing.
Because the body cam video lacks audio for 27 seconds, Stafford’s attorney is arguing no one truly knows if Stafford fired his weapon before or after Few raised his hands inside the car. He also argued that the deputies didn’t know the boy was in the car with his father and that he ignored their commands, giving them the opportunity to shoot.
Stafford along with deputy marshal Norris Greenhouse Jr. claim Few’s “aggressive actions” of driving forward and then backward toward the officers necessitated deadly force.
“At this point, Stafford, out of fear for his life and that of his fellow officers, began shooting at the vehicle to prevent any further actions by Few which would put the officers in imminent danger,” they wrote.
State District Court Judge William Bennett will hear court arguments next week and decide whether he’ll stop the indictment.Click here for reuse options! Related Stories
Behold the GOP’s Not-So-Secret Plan to Dismantle Government Services: Defund, Degrade and then Privatize
One side effect of the three-ring circus this presidential campaign has become is the distraction it provides so that other damaging agendas can be advanced with little or no attention. Take for example, the Republican Party’s long-standing efforts to dismantle America’s internationally modest, but still crucially important welfare state, which helps keep tens of millions of Americans out of poverty. Social Security and Medicare have both been top targets via various schemes over the years, and this budget cycle is no exception, regardless of what noises Donald Trump may make.
The need for Social Security staff services has increased as baby boomers begin to retire. Instead, these services have been cut back since 2011. And in late July, as theAmerican Federation of Government Employees noted, “the House Appropriations Committee cut President Obama’s proposed budget for the Social Security Administration (SSA) by $1.2 billion. If they get their way, SSA will be forced to operate on $263 million less than it does now — even though it’s already struggling to meet public demand.”
These congressional cuts would even force workers to take a two-week furlough. Crippling Social Security’s ability to function just when it’s needed most is the epitome of what Republican public policy has become. It’s part of a familiar right-wing strategy to degrade the quality of government services, then use that degradation to argue for privatization.
Not only does Social Security lift tens of millions of retirees out of poverty, but in 2014 3.2 million American kids directly received Social Security benefits, mostly in the form of survivor benefits. Another 10 million disabled workers were covered as well. But it’s not just these many millions of people who benefit: Retirement security for grandparents means more money for parents to invest in their children’s future. Security for orphans and disabled workers have similar spillover benefits as well. So attacks on Social Security really are a threat to Americans of all ages, now as well as in the future.
Those attacks are already well under way, thanks to the austerity measures imposed since the Tea Party first arrived in Washington with the GOP congressional wave of 2010. (The money comes directly from workers — not from the overall Federal budget — but Congress controls the spending.) During the current budget cycle, the attacks are getting worse, even as baby boomer retirements continue to swell the rolls. This erodes confidence in the system, thereby weakening it for even further attacks, privatization and dismantlement — the true conservative dream.
In a June report for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kathleen Romig wrote, “The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) core operating budget has shrunk by 10 percent since 2010 after adjusting for inflation, even as the demands on SSA have reached all-time highs …. Budget cutting — due mostly to the 2011 Budget Control Act’s (BCA) tight appropriations caps, as further reduced by sequestration — has lowered SSA’s operating budget from an already low 0.9 percent of overall Social Security spending [far less than any private system] to just 0.7 percent, forcing the agency to do more with significantly less,” a situation summarized in the following figure:
The cuts have hampered SSA’s ability to perform its essential services,” Romig wrote,“such as determining eligibility in a timely manner for retirement, survivor and disability benefits, paying benefits accurately and on time, responding to questions from the public, and updating benefits promptly when circumstances change.”
Among the impacts already felt, Romig listed:
- A hiring freeze in 2011, leading to “a deterioration in SSA phone service that the agency has only partially reversed,” with average hold times of over 15 minutes on SSA’s 800 number, and nearly 10 percent of callers getting busy signals.
- Cuts to SSA field offices, “where people can apply for benefits, replace lost Social Security cards or report name changes.” Since 2010, 64 field offices and 533 mobile offices have been closed, with hours reduced at the remaining offices. “Before the budget cuts, more than 90 percent of applicants could schedule an appointment within three weeks; by 2015, fewer than half could.”
- Disability Insurance applications and rejections rose dramatically during the Great Recession, but SSA lacked the resources to cope with with appeals. Between 2011 and 2016, the average wait for a hearing rose from 360 to 540 days, with more than 1 million applicants waiting, “an all-time high.”
- Understaffing has delayed critical behind-the-scenes work needed to pay benefits accurately and on time (awarding widows’ benefits, adjusting benefits for early retirees and disabled workers with earnings, etc.). Wait times now average four months for these tasks.
Unless you’re one of the people affected — and there are millions of them — all these might seem like minor inconveniences, but the underlying aim is to destroy the system: death by a thousand cuts … or in this case, by millions upon millions of them.
As Social Security Works recently wrote:
The majority of Americans visit SSA’s field offices at critical and, often, stressful moments in their lives. Many are preparing for the important, life-altering decision of applying for retirement or disability benefits. Some are contending with the death of a working spouse. And others, faced with poverty, are applying for SSI. At these moments in their lives, Americans depend on in-person service from staff members who have a detailed understanding of Social Security, and who can offer knowledgeable, personalized and compassionate assistance.
It’s not as if delaying any of these vital services actually saves money in the long run. To the contrary, “Failing to invest in customer service is penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Romig says, going on to quote Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue (a Bush appointee) telling the Senate in 2012:
At some point, we will have to handle every claim that comes to us, every change of address, every direct deposit change, every workers’ compensation change, every request for new or replacement Social Security cards. The longer it takes us to get to this work, the more it costs to do.
Now Republicans in Congress just want to make matters worse, with cuts that will require 10 furlough days — which equates to a two-week shutdown of Social Security. “Government doesn’t work,” they’re saying, “Watch, we’ll show you how to make sure!” The amount of money involved is trivial — about 7 cents for every $100 of benefits paid. And it all comes out of money that recipients have paid into the system themselves.
Bear in mind, this is what the “responsible Republicans” in Washington are doing — more of what they’ve been doing since the 2010 midterms gave them control of the House. Trump, of course, has nothing to say about it. Yet this is the epitome of what he repeatedly rails against — the way elite politicians treat hardworking Americans with disdain. The fact that it’s happening in the middle of a campaign when Trump is supposedly repudiating GOP austerity and fighting for the working class only sharpens the irony.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Back in May, Joshua Green reported for Bloombergon Trump’s courting of the GOP establishment. The meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan was well worth recalling:
According to a source in the room, Trump criticized Ryan’s proposed entitlement cuts as unfair and politically foolish. “From a moral standpoint, I believe in it,” Trump told Ryan. “But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’”
So there it is, as clear as day: Trump will be happy to sign off on Ryan’s agenda aftergetting elected. He just knows damn well it’s not what the American people want. The core of the agenda is first cuts, and then privatization. But slashing services in the meantime is key to souring the public on fighting against what’s coming next.
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It’s been about a week since Monsanto and Bayer confirmed their intention to say “I do”—ample time for media, lawmakers, consumer and farmer advocacy groups, and of course the happy couple themselves, to weigh in on the pros and cons.
Reactions poured in from all the usual suspects.
Groups like the Farmers Union, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and others didn’t mince words when it came to condemning the deal. (Organic Consumers Association tagged it a “Marriage Made in Hell” back in May, pre-announcement, when the two mega-corporations were still doing their mating dance).
Predictably, the corporate heads of state last week promoted the proposed $66-billion deal as an altruistic plan to improve “the lives of growers and people around the world.” Last week, they told Senate Judiciary Committee members that the merger “is needed to meet a rising food demand.”
Is anyone out there still buying the line that Monsanto and Bayer are in the business of feeding the world? When the evidence says otherwise?
Even if that claim weren’t ludicrous, who thinks it’s a good idea to entrust the job of “feeding the world” to the likes of Bayer, a company that, as part of the I.G. Farben cartel in the 1940s, produced the poison gas for the Nazi concentration camps, and more recently sold HIV-infected drugs to parents of haemophiliacs in foreign countries, causing thousands of children to die of AIDS?
The sordid, unethical, greedy, monopolizing and downright criminal histories of both Monsanto and Bayer have been well documented. Allowing them to merge into the world’s largest seed and pesticide company poses what two former Justice Department officials call "a five-alarm threat to our food supply and to farmers around the world."
In a press release, Pesticide Action Network senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman said:
Just six corporations already dominate worldwide seed and pesticide markets. Additional consolidation will increase prices and further limit choices for farmers, while allowing Monsanto and friends to continue pushing a model of agriculture that has given us superweeds, superbugs and health-harming pesticides. Instead, we need to invest in agroecological, resilient and productive farming.
Without question, this deal, which strengthens the ties between Big Pharma, Big Food and Big Biotech, will hurt farmers and consumers, not to mention an ecosystem already on the brink.
But for those of us committed to ridding the world of toxic pesticides and hideous factory farms, to restoring biodiversity, to cleaning up our waterways, to revitalizing local economies, to helping small farmers thrive, to reclaiming and regenerating the world’s soils so they can do their job—produce nutrient-dense food while drawing down and sequestering carbon—the marriage of Bayer and Monsanto doesn’t change much.
As we wrote when the deal was announced, Monsanto will probably pack up its headquarters and head overseas. The much-maligned Monsanto name will be retired.
But a corporate criminal by any other name—or size—is still a corporate criminal.
Merger or no merger, our job remains the same: to expose the crimes and end the toxic tyranny of a failed agricultural experiment. #MillionsAgainstMonsanto will simply morph into #BillionsAgainstBayer.
Feed the world? Or feed the lobbyists?
Bayer and Monsanto had plenty of time to perfect their spin on the merger before the big announcement. Yet even some of the most conservative media outlets saw through it. A Bloomberg headline read: “Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year.” From the article:
Two friends making dyes from coal-tar started Bayer in 1863, and it developed into a chemical and drug company famous for introducing heroin as a cough remedy in 1896, then aspirin in 1899. The company was a Nazi contractor during World War II and used forced labor. Today, the firm based in Leverkusen, Germany, makes drugs and has a crop science unit, which makes weed and bug killers. Its goal is to dominate the chemical and drug markets for people, plants and animals.
Monsanto, founded in 1901, originally made food additives like saccharin before expanding into industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products. It’s famous for making some controversial and highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, now banned and commonly known as PCBs, and the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. It commercialized Roundup herbicide in the 1970s and began developing genetically modified corn and soybean seeds in the 1980s. In 2000, a new Monsanto emerged from a series of corporate mergers.
A skeptical Wall Street Journal reporter suggested that the merger, one of three in the works in the ag industry, is a sign of trouble: “The dominance of genetically modified crops is under threat,” wrote Jacob Bunge on September 14. Bunge interviewed Ohio farmer Joe Logan who told him, "The price we are paying for biotech seed now, we’re not able to capture the returns." This spring, Mr. Logan loaded up his planter with soybean seeds costing $85 a bag, nearly five times what he paid two decades ago. Next spring, he says, he plans to sow many of his corn and soybean fields with non-biotech seeds to save money.
Nasdaq took the merger announcement as an opportunity to highlight numbers published by OpenSecrets.org showing that Monsanto and Bayer are not only the two largest agrichemical corporations in the world, they’re also two of the biggest spenders when it comes to lobbying.
Together, according to OpenSecrets, Bayer and Monsanto have spent about $120 million on lobbying in the last decade. Monsanto’s spending has been largely focused on the agricultural industry, while Bayer has spent heavily in the pharmaceutical arena.
Both Monsanto and Bayer forked over millions to keep labels off of foods that contain GMOs, according to OpenSecrets:
A big issue for both companies has been labeling of genetically modified foods, which both companies oppose. That put them in support of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 1599), which was signed into law this summer. The law permits corporations to identify products made with genetically modified organisms in ways that critics argue will be hard for consumers to interpret, while superseding state laws that are sometimes tougher, like the one in Vermont.
To be clear, the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling” was just an intentionally misleading description of a bill intended to protect corporations from having to reveal the GMO ingredients in their products.
A criminal by any other name
Last week, the International Criminal Court in The Hague made a big announcement of its own. For the first time in history, the ICC will “prioritize crimes that result in the ‘destruction of the environment,’ ‘exploitation of natural resources’ and the ‘illegal dispossession’ of land,” according to a report in the Guardian.
The announcement came within the same two-week period as three new reports on the sad state of our ecosystem, all of which implicate industrial agriculture:
Researchers at the University of Virginia University of Virginia reported that widespread adoption of GMO crops has decreased the use of insecticides, but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides as weeds become more resistant, leading to “serious environmental damage.”
Mother Jones magazine reported that “A Massive Sinkhole Just Dumped Radioactive Waste Into Florida Water. The cause? A fertilizer company deep in the heart of phosphate country.”
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that when it comes to global warming, “even the records themselves are breaking records now” after reporting that Earth just experienced its hottest August on record. What’s that got to do with Bayer and Monsanto? Industrial, chemical, degenerative agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Organic regenerative agriculture, by contrast, holds the greatest promise for drawing down and sequestering excess carbon from the atmosphere.
Whether or not regulators approve the Bayer-Monsanto merger, these companies will continue their rampage against nature. Governments and courts have a lousy track record when it comes to holding these, and other, corporations accountable for the damage they’ve inflicted, over decades, on human health and the environment.
The ICC has signaled that this may change. In the meantime, frustrated with the lack of action and fed up with paying the price for making corporations like Bayer and Monsanto filthy rich, the grassroots are fighting back.
On October 15-16, a panel of distinguished international judges will hear testimony from 30 witnesses and scientific and legal experts from five continents who have been injured by Monsanto’s products. This grassroots-led international citizens’ tribunal and People’s Assembly (October 14-16) will culminate in November with the release of advisory opinions prepared by the judges. The tribunal’s work, which includes making the case for corporations to be prosecuted for ecocide, is made all the more relevant by the ICC’s announcement.
The International Monsanto Tribunal is named for Monsanto, the perfect poster child. But the advisory opinions, which will form the basis for future legal action, will be applicable to all agrichemical companies—including Bayer.
In the meantime, we encourage citizens around the world who cannot participate in the official tribunal and People’s Assembly, to show solidarity by organizing their own World Food Day March Against Monsanto.
Monsanto. Bayer. The name doesn’t matter, and though size does matter when it comes to throwing weight around, the crimes perpetrated by the companies remain the same. It’s time to stop them.Click here for reuse options! Related Stories
In the weeks leading up to this year’s festival of Eid ul Azha, a spate of attacks on Indians, almost all Muslim, dotted a political landscape already littered with incidents of lynching and bloodletting that have become more and more commonplace.
The first such incident that shook India out of her stupor took place on September 28, 2015, when Mohammad Akhlaq, a Muslim, was beaten to death after mob hysteria was stoked over his family storing beef. Since then, incidents across India reveal that, under the present political dispensation, "cow vigilante groups" have been empowered to take the law into their own hands by attacking, molesting, lynching and killing.
The attacks have taken place in states like Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh that are not ruled by the supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Attacks have also torn through Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkand and Punjab, which are dominated by the ruling dispensation. The list is long and gory. In one public lynching in Latehar, Jharkhand this March, two Muslim men—a young teenager and his uncle—were left hanging from trees.
Among the most recent is the beating death of 29-year-old Mohammad Ayub, who was carrying a calf along with Salim Shaikh in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. A vigilante mob set upon them, and while the police watched, beat the young man so mercilessly died two days later on Sept. 16, 2016. Under the law, he was committing an illegal act, as several states in India have enacted rules that ban the slaughter of cows and their progeny (excluding bulls and bullocks in some cases, but not others). But in a country that claims to be a modern and civilized state, the world’s largest democracy, did Mohammad Ayub deserve to be surrendered to the lynch mob?
It is interesting how the police in Gujarat dealt with the "crimes" that were committed. They registered two First Information Reports (FIRs). Despite the fact that there had been severe violence against the two men, the first FIR was under the Cow Protection Act, invoking the law to penalize the offenders for transporting calves with the intent to slaughter them. Only the second one fell under section 307 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with an “attempt to murder” charge and relates to the actions of the mob.
Significantly, while the police named the assailants (Janak Ramesh Mistry, Ajay Sagar Rabari and Bharat Nagj Rabari) in the first FIR that had been filed against the Muslim men for offenses under the Cow Protection law, and also noted the registration numbers of the vehicles they were driving, they were careful to omit the names of the accused in the second criminal complaint that mentions attempt to murder as the offense. This is a clear-cut ruse to weaken the case. This maneuver lies at the crux of the current spate of attacks, as Indian law enforcement personnel are influenced, swayed or pressurized by the ideology of the dominant political dispensation, which has legitimized these attacks in the name of protection of the "holy cow."
Days before that incident, in Gujarat—a state ruled by Narendra Modi for 13 years before his rise to prime minister—twin gang rapes were perpetrated by squads of men to avenge the "possession of beef."
Another incident took place on the eve of the Eid Ul Azhar Festival in Haryana, a state ruled by the BJP, where the chief minister recently made a controversial statement that "rapes and murders were trivial issues." The police were ordered by the Haryana Cow Service Commission, whose mission is to look after the welfare of cattle, to set up a 24-hour helpline so people can report incidents of cow slaughter. Cow slaughter is illegal in Haryana; in 2015, that state government passed a law that punishes the slaughter of cows with up to 10 years in prison. Over 20 Indian states forbid either cow slaughter or beef eating or both. As a result, access to beef, which is consumed by a large numbers of Indians, including Dalits, many Hindus, Muslims and Christians, is difficult in many states.
Economically and culturally, this cow vigilantism is affecting both Dalits and Muslims. Dalits, the sect of Indians once called India's untouchables, are often responsible for disposing of the carcasses of cows, selling their hides to tanners and their meat to butchers. They do it because upper-caste Hindus are loath to take on that task—they consider the work impure. Until July 11, 2016 when Dalits in Una in Gujarat were flogged mercilessly for performing their legitimate task of carrying cow carcasses to skin the animal, resistance to this vigilantism was scattered. That changed after Gujarat’s Dalits took to the streets, abandoned cow carcasses all over the state, even dumping them at the offices of the district administration, protesting vociferously and successfully. This was a unique resistance and protest as reflected in the battle cry, "If the cow is your mother, you bury her."
Gujarat’s Dalits and Muslims also forged an alliance. At seven percent and 10.5 percent of the state’s population, their numbers may not be enough to shake the BJP government out of its stupor. It is clear, however, that having Dalits in their corner is much more critical than the country’s Muslims; Narendra Modi was rattled enough by the repeated protests in the state, including mobilization from July 21 to 29 that included a rally at Ahmedabad and a march covering 81 kilometers that was likened to Martin Luther King Jr.'s Washington March. As a result, he broke his preferred silence on August 6, close to a month after the incident and several months after Muslim lives had been lost to public lynchings. To date, Muslims have been lynched to death and raped, Dalits beaten and flogged.
Muslims in 2014 and now, do not enter much into the BJP’s electoral calculations. Dalits on the other hand, seriously do. Not only did the ruling party win a substantial section of the seats reserved for the Dalits across India, but as the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, the RSS is and has been working overtime to appropriate Dalits, an exercise that includes the sanitization of the doyen intellectual and leader, Dr B.R. Ambedkar.
These dynamics of caste, religion, food and cultural rights reflect a harsh reality of Indian politics and where it stands today. The nuts-and-bolts number narrative behind the cow vigilante hate and lynch campaign tells a cold and cynical tale. What were the laws before 2014 and how have they been amended since? Since the days of the debates before the Constituent Assembly between 1947 and 1950, when the doyens of the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi and the leader of Dalits and man who drafted the Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, battled issues of religion and culture, the ghost of cow protection has been hovering over and above Indian law and jurisprudence. Unambiguous in his analysis that the issue of cow protection and beef-eating was a cultural or religious more being imposed on India’s majority population, Ambedkar had written extensively on the question. He was unable to triumph over Gandhi and many other leaders, however, and a loose mention under the Directive Principles of State Policy (Article 48) has been used to impose this value.
Until 2014, however, the 20-odd states that had enacted Cow Protection laws, with the sole exception of Gujarat, had been careful to limit the ban to the slaughter of the cow and prevent bull and bullock slaughter only until the "productive" age of 14 years. Since the present Modi regime rode to power in a triumph of the majoritarian vote in May 2014, states under its rule have amended earlier laws to criminalize the transport, possession and consumption of beef. A slew of Supreme Court judgements from 1958 onwards saw a consistent and rational jurisprudence evolve. These court verdicts interpreted the laws in these states to say that, while cow slaughter can be banned, the ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks should only be maintained until the animal reaches 14 years (the definition of "useful"). That changed in 2005 when a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by then chief justice Lahoti ruled, in effect, that bulls and bullocks are "useful till they die."
The harsher Ban Beef law enacted after 2014 was challenged in Maharashtra (Bombay High Court) almost immediately. On May 6, 2016, the Court struck down Sections 5D and 9B of the amended law and, in effect, allowed consumption, import and transport of beef, ruling that these new additions to the law impinged on the right to privacy, which is part of personal liberty and the right to a meaningful life with free choice. The Court did not go further in view of the 2005 Supreme Court judgement. The appeals now lie in India’s highest court.
In the hysterically framed present political debate, the sheer economics of the issue are simply not being sensibly debated. A blanket ban on slaughter means the farmer will have to pay for their upkeep which, at current prices, would amount to around 100 rupees a day or 36,500 a year. Can farmers in the grip of an acute agrarian crisis afford this expense? Today farmers, mainly Hindus, sell unproductive cattle to contractors. Who and how will these cattle, once they are past productive use, be managed? Will the government give them a cattle subsidy? According to the cattle census, already there are 5.3 million stray cattle abandoned by their owners.
The strident campaign against cow slaughter will have an adverse impact on the leather industry, which employs close to 2.5 million people, mostly Dalits. Raw material supply to the industry will be affected. Figures provided by the Council for Leather Exports show that 2.5 million people, the majority of them scheduled castes, are employed in the industry. An estimated eight lakh Dalits earn a living through flaying the skin of dead cattle. This activity is allowed and is squarely within the law.
The current cow hysteria, earlier whipped up by Narendra Modi himself during the run-up to the campaign that brought him to the prime minister’s chair, is falsely premised. It is not cows but the meat of buffaloes and unproductive cattle that is mainly used for consumption and exports. In fact, as far as the cow is concerned, the 2012 cattle census shows that “the Female Cattle (Cows) Population has increased by 6.52 percent over the previous census (2007) and the total number of female cattle in 2012 is 122.9 million numbers.” This hardly points to rampant slaughter of cows.
How Many Indians Actually Eat Beef?
The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) estimated in 2011-12 that 52 million people in the country eat beef or buffalo meat. Earlier, the National Commission on Cattle, set up by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government in 2002 to promote a ban on cow slaughter, also reluctantly admitted in a report that “extreme poverty and customary practices in the coastal areas and among some sections of scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and other backward castes also make them beef eaters.” There is clearly a class and caste dimension to beef and buffalo eating. Imposition of an unacceptable food code directly affect the nutrition of the poor.
Through this murderous mayhem, however, India retained its top spot as the world’s largest exporter of beef, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which classifies even buffalo meat as beef), and has extended its lead over the next highest exporter, Brazil. According to the data, India exported 2.4 million tons of beef and veal in FY2015, compared to 2 million tons by Brazil and 1.5 million by Australia. These three countries account for 58.7 percent of all the beef exports in the world. India itself accounts for 23.5 percent of global beef exports. This is up from a 20.8 percent share last year, before the Modi government rode to power.
And to top it all, 95 percent of the beef traders—including the companies that rake in the profits through exporting the meat, are ‘Hindus.’ Ironically many Hindu businessmen are the largest beef suppliers of India. Out of the six largest meat suppliers in India, four are Hindus, though the companies are given suitable ‘Muslim’ names. And the BJP political party that has given much legitimacy to the Cow Vigilante Groups that have been on a lynching spree across India has received 25 million rupees in donations from companies exporting buffalo meat, according to contribution reports for financial years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 submitted to the Election Commission of India.
Cultural and Moral Hegemony and Majoritarianism
It is here that the present laissez faire vigilantism is rooted. Dr. Ambedkar’s scathing criticism of the caste system and the Brahminical order contained an analysis of the grounds for untouchability practiced against Dalits, one of which was consumption of the meat of dead cattle. He held that the demand for a ban on cow slaughter was a way of introducing Hindutva of the upper castes into what was to be a secular Constitution. Renowned historian D.N. Jha, no favorite of the present political dispensation, has long argued with incontrovertible historical evidence that even caste Hindus, during Vedic times, consumed beef.
In the book The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? Ambedkar grapples with erudition on the subject. Ambedkar writes:
What is the cause of the nausea which the Hindus have against beef-eating? Were the Hindus always opposed to beef-eating? If not, why did they develop such a nausea against it? Were the Untouchables given to beef-eating from the very start? Why did they not give up beef-eating when it was abandoned by the Hindus? Were the Untouchables always Untouchables? If there was a time when the Untouchables were not Untouchables even though they ate beef why should beef-eating give rise to Untouchability at a later-stage? If the Hindus were eating beef, when did they give it up? If Untouchability is a reflex of the nausea of the Hindus against beef-eating, how long after the Hindus had given up beef-eating did Untouchability come into being?
The clue to the worship of the cow is to be found in the struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism and the means adopted by Brahmanism to establish its supremacy over Buddhism.
Ambedkar discusses at length when and at what stage Hinduism began being associated with the love of the cow and cow protection.
Beef-Eating as the Root of Untouchability
The Census Returns [of 1910] show that the meat of the dead cow forms the chief item of food consumed by communities which are generally classified as untouchable communities. No Hindu community, however low, will touch cow’s flesh. On the other hand, there is no community which is really an Untouchable community which has not something to do with the dead cow. Some eat her flesh, some remove the skin, some manufacture articles out of her skin and bones.
From the survey of the Census Commissioner, it is well established that Untouchables eat beef. The question however is: Has beef-eating any relation to the origin of Untouchability? Or is it merely an incident in the economic life of the Untouchables?
Can we say that the Broken Men to be treated as Untouchables because they ate beef? There need be no hesitation in returning an affirmative answer to this question. No other answer is consistent with facts as we know them.
In the first place, we have the fact that the Untouchables or the main communities which compose them eat the dead cow and those who eat the dead cow are tainted with untouchability and no others. The co-relation between untouchability and the use of the dead cow is so great and so close that the thesis that it is the root of untouchability seems to be incontrovertible.
There is so much more. But Indian textbooks and school education do not really allow for a free and legitimate consumption of Ambedkar.Click here for reuse options! Related Stories
Another day, another millennial think-piece about how members of this cohort—roughly defined as being born between 1983 and 2001—are destroying the foundation of modern society.
First, we ruined the diamond industry (because, you know, crippling student debt), then we ruined sex (because we’re not having it enough or we’re having it too frequently), and now, it looks like we’re ruining…everyone else's expectations.
So says the newest overgeneralized article from the Washington Post, inspiringly titled, “We expect millennials to do great things. Maybe we shouldn’t.”
Interestingly enough, after years of criticism over our “laziness” and “narcissism” and “special snowflake syndrome,” I was under the impression no one expected anything from millennials, but alas, here we are.September 22, 2016
Instead, it seems somewhere between criticizing millennials as the “boomerang generation” for moving back in with our parents, and marveling at the incredible success of certain Silicon Valley millennials, the tune was changed and the powers that be decided that maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to succeed in life.
But not anymore. This, according to a new report published by the Economic Innovation Group that decided we’re disappointing everyone by not starting enough small businesses.
“Millennials are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation on record, and that has huge implications for our economy going forward,” John Lettieri, co-founder and senior director for policy and strategy at EIG, told the Washington Post.
According to Lettieri, the problem is that millennials think the path to career success is to stay with a single company. According to the Post, “it’s widely acknowledged that moving from job to job at different companies tends to be an easier way to move up the corporate ladder today than staying with one company.”
But while EIG’s poll—which has a sample size of only 1,200 millennials—found that a plurality of those surveyed said the best way to advance their career is to stay with one company, it’s unclear why making a sound economic decision to stay with a single company for the time being is somehow diametrically opposed to possessing the elusive entrepreneurial spirit. After all, moving from company to company isn’t the same as starting a business either, and we’re all still in our 20s and 30s, so can you please chill and let us figure it out ourselves?
Furthermore, it’s not as if the dream of owning one's own business is lost on millennials. A June 2016 study (also by EY and EIG) found the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well among millennials.
“Sixty-two percent of millennials have considered starting their own businesses,” the study found. “And 72 percent think startups are ‘essential for new innovation and jobs.’” And 55 percent said millennials are more entrepreneurial than other generations; this optimism comes even as millennials, compared with Gen Xers, are “more educated, make less money and are more likely to be unemployed."
"Compared with Gen Xers, millennials are more educated, make less money and are more likely to be unemployed." Wonder why they're cynical.— a good millennial (@kevinmccauley) September 22, 2016
Still, despite our own generation’s declaration of support for innovation, the June study also claimed millennials are the least entrepreneurial generation, pointing to the one-job fallacy. But considering a 2015 survey found that 53 percent of millennials have had three or more jobs and 33 percent said they plan on leaving their current job after a year, it seems all this survey boils down to is smart economic decisions made under particular circumstances, not some huge crisis regarding the risk-taking potential of an entire generation. And considering the vast majority of millennials’ formative years took place during a period of economic uncertainty, it’s unsurprising that many are shell-shocked from past economic hardship.
Millennials are relatively broke and burdened by debt. This kind of economic stress affects all major life decisions. It’s that simple.— Jason Emory Parker (@jaspar) September 22, 2016
We already quelled the outcry over millennials being (perceived as) lazy, and dispelled the theory that we all think we’re “special snowflakes” (thanks for that label, by the way). Maybe it’s time to put the "kids these days” beat to bed once and for all.
To recap: Millennials already work very hard, will work harder when boomers fuck off, and Hispanic millennials love America.— a good millennial (@kevinmccauley) September 22, 2016 Click here for reuse options! Related Stories
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For years now, the professional class of abortion foes has been working to polish the Prolife brand, claiming that they are not mere fetal fetishists but actually protectors of women, who are being exploited by profit-hungry abortion doctors. They bolster their pro-woman positioning with false claims that abortion causes cancer (it doesn’t), or sterility (it doesn’t), or death (it’s a hundred times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term), or that women regret their abortions and suffer depression (as with any major life decision, some do; but most experience relief).
Even ignoring the disinformation, just beneath the thin layer of chivalry lies a toxic stew of religion, sexism, and judgmental certitude. Religious right politicians seeking to regulate abortion out of existence with bogus safety laws may have memorized their lines, but rank-and-file believers keep saying what they really think.
The Comment Thread Conundrum
Like most writers, I send articles to a variety of outlets, but I also cross-post to my own website, where religious conservatives and abortion foes not infrequently send me an unedited earful. (Do the people ranting or even making threats not realize that I have editorial control at my own site?) I don’t always publish such comments, but I do keep them, in part because they so clearly illustrate the dark underbelly of religious conservatism and its obsession with controlling sex and reproduction.
Consider a few of the recent tidbits:
- “These clinics are greedy and if a woman leaves there is no profit for them. Most of these women could meet a mother that desperately wants a child and would provide their baby with a great life, but these women are too self-absorbed to care about that. These women don’t want anyone knowing they were pregnant and gave their baby up, they would rather murder their child to save face.”
- “Sorry but nothing justifies abortion that’s why god condemns premarital sex in the first place because of its consequences if everybody obeyed gods rules instead of doing what they want there would not be any unwanted pregnancies or children being born out of wedlock or any other things I doubt that the majority of abortions are of women use birth control and the birth control failed that’s why the bible says that are going to see good as something bad and the bad as something good that’s why the world is so messed up today because the wicked one is misleading the entire earth.”
- “You are nothing but a wicked woman who loves to murder babies. You are a Satanist, a Devil worshipper. I pray for you to trust in Jesus and be saved, Valerie. I pity you because you will one day face a HOLY GOD named the LORD JESUS CHRIST who created those babies and those children who you advocate for the mass murder of. To support abortion, aka, baby slaughter, baby murder, is to be complicit in it. God can forgive you if you will trust in His eternal Son the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood atonement alone, Valerie.”
- “Abortion should be illegal and the participants charged with murder and punished.”
- “Shooting an abortionist is as “wrong” as shooting a sniper on the roof of a school, you do what you have to do to save the lives of children, both born and unborn.”
Once Set in Motion...
Prolife™ leaders may cringe and seek to distance themselves from comments like these, or from the prayer circles and rosaries and gauntlet of hell-threats outside of abortion clinics—or worse, from stochastic terrorism like the murders at Colorado’s Planned Parenthood. But ordinary Evangelicals and conservative Catholics really can’t be blamed for their difficulty in getting the branding right.
Many have been taught from childhood that every fetus is a teeny weeny baby, and that God values each from the moment of conception. Scientifically or statistically this may be implausible, but it’s black and white, beyond question like other points of theology. Some abortion opponents—most—retain an intuitive sense that the difference between an embryo and a child is morally consequential. But others simply follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion: An abortion provider is a sniper on a school roof. A woman aborting a pregnancy might as well be drowning her preschooler in a bathtub. The only possible explanation is that those who disagree lack morals or are in the thrall of Satan.
The Fruit of the Proflife Spirit
One of the New Testament writers made the mistake of saying that Christians would be known by their “fruit,” meaning their actions and the consequences of those actions. If this is the case, the motives and morality of ProLifeTM Christians are laid bare not only by their own ugly words and behavior but by the fruit of their relentless, obsessive campaign to obstruct abortion access while simultaneously denying prospective parents the information and contraceptives needed to time their pregnancies. Pro-woman? Guess again.
- Over 200 women in the U.S.—and over 200,000 globally—dead each year from an unsought pregnancy.
- Millions more with permanent changes to health or mental health.
- Pregnant teens and young women forced to drop out of school, floundering for years or decades instead of flourishing.
- Fragile families locked into deeper poverty by mistimed and unwanted fertility.
Underlying all of this is the foundational assumption that women don’t know what is best for them and their families, can’t know what is best, can’t be trusted as autonomous moral agents—which is why God put men in charge. Women were made for childbearing. The Bible says so!
Not Gender Justice, Not Social Justice
If there’s one thing that can be said for the ancient texts gathered in the Bible, it is that many of them have a strong social justice message. Prolife leaders, recognizing this, often claim that they are advocating justice for the most vulnerable members of society, which includes children and racial minorities as well as women. They relentlessly link abortion with genocide or with the misguided eugenics push of the early 20th Century, proclaiming for example that Black babies are in particular danger of being aborted. (Poor Black women do abort somewhat more than white women but also carry more pregnancies forward because of a higher rate of pregnancy.)
In reality, families living at the hardscrabble edges of life are those most negatively affected by the Religious Right’s obstruction of family planning services.
I was in Singapore when my husband and I discovered that my first trimester pregnancy was infected with Toxoplasmosis. The consequences can be much like Zika, so we decided to abort and start over; and we received supportive, competent abortion care from a Singaporean doctor trained in Canada. Had timely care not been available in Singapore, we could have gone wherever we needed. Our privileged reality is inconceivable for most couples or women facing an ill-timed or unhealthy pregnancy.
Abortions have always been more available to upper and middle class couples than families struggling to get by. Knowing that they can’t control women of means, the Religious Right has doubled down on poor women who rely on public healthcare services, denying them insurance coverage and forcing on them long distance travel and childcare costs that [abortion foes hope will] become insurmountable barriers. In the Pacific Northwest, poor women in need of abortion turn to complete strangers for financial support via a program known as the CAIR Project, one of several “underground railroads” providing housing, transportation and funding for women in need.
Nationally, advocates for poor women and families are fighting through the coordinated campaign All* Above All to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which for 40 years has stripped abortion coverage out of Medicaid. Women of color—long denied the full right to manage their own fertility and disproportionately impacted by this restriction—are taking the lead.
Pro-Woman, Pro-Family, Pro-Child
Not all women and men want children, but for all of us decisions about parenthood are among the most important and life-shaping choices we will ever make.
As parents, we all want to stack the odds in favor of our children flourishing. Those who can, seek prenatal and pediatric care, and provide nutritious food, and read stories, and help with homework, and get up bleary-eyed and go to work, and sock away a little financial buffer. Even men and women whose lives are destitute or desperate, or who are plagued with illness or mental illness, want what is best for their kids.
Religious rhetoric aside, we all know that parenting begins before conception, not at some magical moment when a sperm penetrates an egg. We know that the timing and circumstances of birth can shape the course of a child’s life. Mindful of our own limits, most of us try to time and limit our pregnancies, and we sometimes end them, so that we can bring our kids into the world under the best possible conditions available to us, with enough bounty to thrive.
Real pro-life passion is more than just lipstick on a pig in a clerical collar. It means thinking about what makes life so precious to all of us, regardless of our religion or circumstances. It means doing what we can to create genuine reproductive empowerment so that perhaps, someday, all children will come into loving families who are ready to welcome them with open arms.Click here for reuse options! Related Stories
Recently, sorting through a pile of old children’s books, I came across a volume, That Makes Me Mad!, which brought back memories. Written by Steve Kroll, a long-dead friend, it focused on the eternally frustrating everyday adventures of Nina, a little girl whose life regularly meets commonplace roadblocks, at which point she always says... well, you can guess from the title! Vivid parental memories of another age instantly flooded back—of my daughter (now reading such books to her own son) sitting beside me at age five and hitting that repeated line with such mind-blowing, ear-crushing gusto that you knew it spoke to the everyday frustrations of her life, to what made her mad.
Three decades later, in an almost unimaginably different America, on picking up that book I suddenly realized that, whenever I follow the news online, on TV, or—and forgive me for this but I’m 72 and still trapped in another era—on paper, I have a similarly Nina-esque urge. Only the line I’ve come up with for it is (with a tip of the hat to Steve Kroll) “You must be kidding!”
Here are a few recent examples from the world of American-style war and peace. Consider these as random illustrations, given that, in the age of Trump, just about everything that happens is out-of-this-world absurd and would serve perfectly well. If you’re in the mood, feel free to shout out that line with me as we go.
Nuking the Planet: I’m sure you remember Barack Obama, the guy who entered the Oval Office pledging to work toward “a nuclear-free world.” You know, the president who traveled to Prague in 2009 to say stirringly: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons... To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.” That same year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize largely for what he might still do, particularly in the nuclear realm. Of course, that was all so 2009!
Almost two terms in the Oval Office later, our peace president, the only one who has ever called for nuclear “abolition”—and whose administration has retired fewer weapons in our nuclear arsenal than any other in the post-Cold War era—is now presiding over the early stages of a trillion-dollar modernization of that very arsenal. (And that trillion-dollar price tag comes, of course, before the inevitable cost overruns even begin.) It includes full-scale work on the creation of a “precision-guided” nuclear weapon with a “dial-back” lower yield option. Such a weapon would potentially bring nukes to the battlefield in a first-use way, something the U.S. is proudly pioneering.
And that brings me to the September 6th front-page story in the New York Times that caught my eye. Think of it as the icing on the Obama era nuclear cake. Its headline: “Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons.” Admittedly, if made, such a vow could be reversed by any future president. Still, reportedly for fear that a pledge not to initiate a nuclear war would “undermine allies and embolden Russia and China... while Russia is running practice bombing runs over Europe and China is expanding its reach in the South China Sea,” the president has backed down on issuing such a vow. In translation: the only country that has ever used such weaponry will remain on the record as ready and willing to do so again without nuclear provocation, an act that, it is now believed in Washington, would create a calmer planet.
You must be kidding!
Plain Old Bombing: Recall that in October 2001, when the Bush administration launched its invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. was bombing no other largely Islamic country. In fact, it was bombing no other country at all. Afghanistan was quickly “liberated,” the Taliban crushed, al-Qaeda put to flight, and that was that, or so it then seemed.
On September 8th, almost 15 years later, the Washington Post reported that, over a single weekend and in a “flurry” of activity, the U.S. had dropped bombs on, or fired missiles at, six largely Islamic countries: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. (And it might have been seven if the CIA hadn’t grown a little rusty when it comes to the drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands that it's launched repeatedly throughout these years.) In the same spirit, the president who swore he would end the U.S. war in Iraq and, by the time he left office, do the same in Afghanistan, is now overseeing American bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria which are loosing close to 25,000 weapons a year on those countries. Only recently, in order to facilitate the further prosecution of the longest war in our history, the president who announced that his country had ended its “combat mission” in Afghanistan in 2014, has once again deployed the U.S. military in a combat role and has done the same with the U.S. Air Force. For that, B-52s (of Vietnam infamy) were returned to action there, as well as in Iraq and Syria, after a decade of retirement. In the Pentagon, military figures are now talking about “generational” war in Afghanistan—well into the 2020s.
Meanwhile, President Obama has personally helped pioneer a new form of warfare that will not long remain a largely American possession. It involves missile-armed drones, high-tech weapons that promise a world of no-casualty-conflict (for the American military and the CIA), and adds up to a permanent global killing machine for taking out terror leaders, “lieutenants,” and “militants.” Well beyond official American war zones, U.S. drones regularly cross borders, infringing on national sovereignty throughout the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, to assassinate anyone the president and his colleagues decide needs to die, American citizen or otherwise (plus, of course, anyone who happens to be in the vicinity). With its White House “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings, the drone program, promising “surgical” hunting-and-killing action, has blurred the line between war and peace, while being normalized in these years. A president is now not just commander-in-chief but assassin-in-chief, a role that no imaginable future president is likely to reject. Assassination, previously an illegal act, has become the heart and soul of Washington’s way of life and of a way of war that only seems to spread conflict further.
You must be kidding!
The Well-Oiled Machinery of Privatized War: And speaking of drones, as the New York Times reported on September 5th, the U.S. drone program does have one problem: a lack of pilots. It has ramped up quickly in these years and, in the process, the pressures on its pilots and other personnel have only grown, including post-traumatic stress over killing civilians thousands of miles away via computer screen. As a result, the Air Force has been losing those pilots fast. Fortunately, a solution is on the horizon. That service has begun filling its pilot gap by going the route of the rest of the military in these years—turning to private contractors for help. Such pilots and other personnel are, however, paid higher salaries and cost more money. The contractors, in turn, have been hiring the only available personnel around, the ones trained by... yep, you guessed it, the Air Force. The result may be an even greater drain on Air Force drone pilots eager for increased pay for grim work and... well, I think you can see just how the well-oiled machinery of privatized war is likely to work here and who’s going to pay for it.
You must be kidding!
Selling Arms As If There Were No Tomorrow: In a recent report for the Center for International Policy, arms expert William Hartung offered a stunning figure on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “Since taking office in January 2009," he wrote, "the Obama administration has offered over $115 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia in 42 separate deals, more than any U.S. administration in the history of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. The majority of this equipment is still in the pipeline, and could tie the United States to the Saudi military for years to come.” Think about that for a moment: $115 billion for everything from small arms to tanks, combat aircraft, cluster bombs, and air-to-ground missiles (weaponry now being used to slaughter civilians in neighboring Yemen).
Of course, how else can the U.S. keep its near monopoly on the global arms trade and ensure that two sets of products—Hollywood movies and U.S. weaponry—will dominate the world’s business in things that go boom in the night? It’s a record to be proud of, especially since putting every advanced weapon imaginable in the hands of the Saudis will obviously help bring peace to a roiled region of the planet. (And if you arm the Saudis, you better do no less for the Israelis, hence the mind-boggling $38 billion in military aid the Obama administration recently signed on to for the next decade, the most Washington has ever offered any country, ensuring that arms will be flying into the Middle East, literally and figuratively, for years to come.)
Blessed indeed are the peacemakers—and of course you know that by “peacemaker” I mean the classic revolver that “won the West.”
Put another way...
You must be kidding!
The Race for the Generals: I mean, who's got the biggest...
...list of retired generals and admirals? Does it surprise you that there are at least 198 retired commanders floating around in their golden parachutes, many undoubtedly still embedded in the military-industrial complex on corporate boards and the like, eager to enroll in the Trump and Clinton campaigns? Trump went first, releasing an “open letter” signed by 88 generals and admirals who were bravely standing up to reverse the “hollowing out of our military” and to “secure our borders, to defeat our Islamic supremacist adversaries, and restore law and order domestically.” (Partial translation: pour yet more money into our military as The Donald has promised to do.) They included such household names as Major General Joe Arbuckle, Rear Admiral James H. Flatley III, and Brigadier General Mark D. Scraba—or, hey!, one guy you might even remember: Lieutenant General William (“Jerry”) Boykin, the evangelical crusader who made the news in 2003 by claiming of a former Somali opponent, “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."
Somehow, those 88 Trumpian military types assumedly crawled out of “the rubble” under which, as The Donald informed us recently, the Obama administration has left the American high command. His crew, however, is undoubtedly not the “embarrassment” he refers to when talking about American generalship in these years.
Meanwhile, the Clintonites struck back with a list of 95, “including a number of 4-star generals,” many directly from under that rubble, and within the week had added 15 more to hit 110. Meanwhile, members of the intelligence community and the rest of the national security state, former presidential advisers and other officials, drum-beating neocons, and strategists of every sort from America’s disastrous wars of the last 15 years hustled to line up behind Hillary or The Donald.
If nothing else, all of it was a reminder of the bloated size and ever-increasing centrality of the post-9/11 national security state and the military-industrial complex that goes with it. The question is: Does it inspire you with confidence in our candidates, or leave you saying...
You must be kidding!
Conflicts of Interest and Access to the Oval Office: Let’s put aside a possible preemptive $25,000 bribe to Florida’s attorney general from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to prevent an investigation of a scam operation, Trump "University." If that “donation” to a political action committee does turn out to have been a bribe, no one should be surprised, given that The Donald has long been a walking Ponzi scheme. Thanks to a recent superb investigative report by Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek, consider instead what it might mean for him to enter the Oval Office when it comes to conflicts of interest and the “national security” of the country. Eichenwald concludes that Trump would be “the most conflicted president in American history,” since the Trump Organization has “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians, and even criminals” in both allied and enemy countries. Almost any foreign policy decision he might make could hurt or enrich his own businesses. There would, in essence, be no way to divest himself and his family from the international Trump branding machine. (Think Trump U. writ large.) And you hardly need ask yourself whether The Donald would “act in the interests of the United States or his wallet,” given his prior single-minded pursuit of self-enrichment.
So much for conflicts of interest, what about access? That, of course, brings up the Clintons, who, between 2001 and the moment Hillary announced her candidacy for president, managed to take in $153 million dollars (yes, that is not a misprint) for a combined 729 speeches at an average fee of $210,795. That includes Hillary’s 20-minute speech to eBay's Women's Initiative Network Summit in March 2015 for a reported $315,000 just a month before she made her announcement. It’s obviously not Hillary’s (or Bill’s) golden words that corporate executives truly care about and are willing to pay the big bucks for, but the hope of accessibility to both a past and a possible future president. After all, in the world of business, no one ever thinks they’re paying good money for nothing.
Do I need to say more than...
You must be kidding!
Of course, I could go on. I could bring up a Congress seemingly incapable of passing a bill to fund a government effort to prevent the Zika virus from spreading wildly in parts of this country. (You must be kidding!) I could discuss how the media fell face first into an SUV—NBC Nightly News, which I watch, used the video of Hillary Clinton stumbling and almost falling into that van, by my rough count, 15 times over four nights—and what it tells us about news “coverage” these days. (You must be kidding!) I could start in on the constant polls that flood our lives by confessing that I’m an addict and plan on joining Pollers Anonymous on November 9th, and then consider what it means to have such polls, and polls of polls, inundate us daily, teaching us about favorable/unfavorable splits, and offering endlessly varying snapshots of how we might or might not vote and which of us might or might not do it day so long before we ever hit a voting booth. (You must be kidding!) Or I could bring up the way, after five years of assiduous “research,” Donald Trump grudgingly acknowledged that Barack Obama was born in the United States and then essentially blamed the birther movement on Hillary Clinton. (You must be kidding!)
I could, in other words, continue welcoming you into an increasingly bizarre American landscape of war and peace (without a Tolstoy in sight).
Still, enough is enough, don’t you think? So let me stop here and, just for the hell of it, join me one last time in chanting: You must be kidding!
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On January 13, 2015, around 70 of Portland’s 460 Taxi cabs protested fair taxi laws by parking in Pioneer square. Organizers want city leaders to make ride-sharing companies play by the same rules as cabs and Town cars. Photo by Aaron Parecki.
“Before the internet, renting a surfboard, a power tool or a parking space from someone else was feasible, but was usually more trouble than it was worth,” noted The Economist in a 2013 story about the rise of the socalled Sharing Economy. But not so any longer, the piece continues, noting that the sudden and widespread availability of online platforms that link “peers” to one another has made any such trouble disappear, unleashing undreamed of convenience and a new galaxy of consumer options. Today, it seems like this interpretation of the Sharing Economy is everywhere, as journalists, pundits and politicians have lined up to praise its “innovative” promise. Yet is there something more sinister lurking behind the communitarian facade that so often accompanies descriptions of the peer-to-peer online sector? To consider this question, we connected with Tom Slee, author of the new book What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy.
David Hugill: Let me begin with a basic question. What is the Sharing Economy?
Tom Slee: It’s a new wave of Internet platforms that are designed to facilitate exchanges between individuals. Early on, it involved things things like tool-sharing programs. Why does everybody need to have a hand drill? You never really use it. It just sits there on the shelf. Why not share it with others? The Sharing Economy came about as a means of using Internet platforms to solve problems like this one, initially with a lot of egalitarian talk, a lot of community focused talk. The idea was that the Internet could facilitate person-to-person exchanges without having to go through the big corporations. Today, it is primarily a way of using Internet platforms to facilitate transactions in the service economy, for example by connecting people with car rides, through Uber or Lyft, with places to stay, through AirBnB, with personal loans, through Lending Club, with places to work, through WeWork, and all those kinds of things. As the money in the Sharing Economy has grown, so has the driving ideology behind it, and now it’s become basically a deregulation movement, with companies like Uber and Airbnb building business models that demand deregulation of their industries in cities around the world.
DH: So you are dubious about the claim that these enterprises are mostly about progressive forms of community building. In fact, you’ve written quite critically about the way in which proponents of the Sharing Economy have adopted — even co-opted — the communitarian language of social movements to describe their work. Can you elaborate?
TS: I think co-opt is the right word. In fact, the only hesitancy I have about using that word is that I think some proponents of the Sharing Economy literally believe the things they are saying. In many ways, this is a product of what has been called the California Ideology, which is a strange combination of beliefs that have traditionally been both left and right wing, a kind of anti-authoritarianism that has become a full fledged techno-libertarianism. There is this belief that there is no contradiction between having sustainable, small scale exchanges and globe-straddling corporations that will administer them. If there is one thing that motivated me to do this work, it is seeing progressive language used to promote something completely antithetical. Sharing Economy boosters use the language of non-commercial exchange, but what’s mostly happening is that they are promoting the extension of a harsh free-market economics into places that it previously couldn’t reach. So co-opt is absolutely the right word.
DH: *In your book, you hint at the way that Sharing Economy corporations — especially Uber and AirBnB — use the language of “livable” cities to describe the implications of the services they provide. Rhetorically at least, their ideas harken back to Jane Jacobs and other liberal urbanists that valued lively, populated, salubrious and co-operative urban spaces. I get the sense that you share my incredulity about their claims. Is that right?
TS: I think AirBnB has been the been the biggest in terms of this. They’ve talked about the “shareable city,” or, the “open city,” where you can find a home wherever you go and so on. They celebrate the small scale, individuals having people stay in their houses and maybe fixing bikes on the side or something. In this way, they promote a kind of Jacobsian vision of the city, if you like. I just don’t know if the AirBnB folks believe their own messages anymore. If they do, they must be isolated. In the last few weeks, I have been working with a journalist who writes for Fusion and is doing some research on AirBnB’s impact in Reykjavik. Here you have a city of a 120,000 people and a total of 22 apartments available for long term rent. Essentially none, in other words. At the same time, two-and-a-half thousand apartments have been turned over to AirBnB listings. So AirBnB might say “come and live like a local,” but actual locals can’t even live like locals anymore.
I think AirBnB has been the been the biggest in terms of this. They’ve talked about the “shareable city,” or, the “open city,” where you can find a home wherever you go and so on. They celebrate the small scale, individuals having people stay in their houses and maybe fixing bikes on the side or something. In this way, they promote a kind of Jacobsian vision of the city, if you like. I just don’t know if the AirBnB folks believe their own messages anymore. If they do, they must be isolated. In the last few weeks, I have been working with a journalist who writes for Fusion and is doing some research on AirBnB’s impact in Reykjavik. Here you have a city of a 120,000 people and a total of 22 apartments available for long term rent. Essentially none, in other words. At the same time, two-and-a-half thousand apartments have been turned over to AirBnB listings. So AirBnB might say “come and live like a local,” but actual locals can’t even live like locals anymore.
AirBnB is very effective at promoting their narrative. They regularly put out these studies on the benefits that their service provides to the cities where they operate. They say “we bring a lot of money to this city.” They compare the full number of AirBnB bookings to what it would be like if all those people had decided to stay at home and they say “look, here’s all the money we’ve brought in.” Then they take the power consumption of people staying in hotels and compare it to people staying in AirBnbs and say “see, we saved you all this energy.” But you could also do it the other way around. You could say, look, “we took all this money away because people weren’t staying in hotels.” Or “we added environmental problems” if you compare their impact to what it would have been if people had stayed at home. That’s why I say that if, they still believe their own rhetoric at this point, I have no idea how they square the circle.
DH: I don’t know if you’ve had the misfortune of reading Zipcar founder Robin Chase’s book, *Peers Inc., which is a Sharing Economy manifesto of sorts. In any case, it really pushes this idea that Sharing Economy enterprises are topplers of entrenched power, that they are the builders of horizontal networks that supersede and overwhelm centralized forms of power. There may be an element of truth in this, but what interests me is how hard it is to square this claim to decentralization with the new forms of stratification that these businesses have created. I mean how can a “movement” that has created so many new billionaires be about anti-hierarchical decentralization? Isn’t there a perverse irony at the core of these claims?*
TS: It is remarkable, isn’t it? You have the image of the network as very decentralized, but the end result has been that the internet in many of its manifestations is a winner-take-all environment. The Sharing Economy has become an environment where the biggest players are as big as ever and to some extent you have a long tail of people making a few bucks. What we have is what some political scientists have called the “missing middle.” I don’t think AirBnB is a threat to Marriott or other big hotel chains. It is a threat to bed-and-breakfasts and small independent hotels. What we’ve seen is that these new platforms don’t end up challenging the biggest companies but independent operators who get stuck in the middle and have a hard time making it.
DH: So is this claim that Internet platforms are providing new opportunities for people to connect in a decentralized way simply a ruse, or are there Internet innovations that are capable of providing genuinely progressive opportunities to move beyond concentrated forms of corporate power?
TS: You can go back to the ’90s and you’ll find that a lot of the early Internet culture movements — Indymedia, things like that — were very big on the potential of disintermediated communication forms to remove hierarchies, get rid of gatekeepers in publishing and so on. But my feeling is that they got completely outflanked by the big platforms. You don’t have to worry about publishers stopping you from getting your message out, but you do have to deal with Amazon. There are still groups of people who still very firmly believe that the Internet has some inherent counter-cultural value to it, but I see that as a moment in time that has come and gone.
DH: It does seem like the counter-cultural possibilities of the Internet are less abundant than they were even a few years ago. Are there particular technological shifts that have accelerated the corporatization of the online world?
TS: I think there are a couple of things. One is the rise of cloud computing and the platforms built upon it. We don’t have networked architectures any longer. Instead, everything is going through the same set of servers. Yes, you might have a network of friends on Facebook, but all that information is on Facebook’s servers. So we’ve seen that kind of evolution of different platforms. I also think that the rise of mobile technology — including apps — has created a much more segregated experience. It takes away what Jonathan Zittrain calls the “generative” nature of the technology. The phone is essentially, if not purely, a consumption device. It’s not a device you can do stuff with; it’s not a general purpose computer in the same way.
In addition to those two changes, I think that, by 2006 or 2007, a lot of people who could no longer get jobs on Wall Street were coming across to Silicon Valley instead. I think that changed the culture as well. There was a time when banks could offer the smartest computer science and math students a big bag of money to come and work on ever more complex financial instruments, but as the 2008 crash approached and then happened, that opportunity went away. Now it’s the Silicon Valley giants and the startups called “unicorns” (companies with over $1B in venture capital) that can offer the biggest bags of money. And money, as they say, changes everything.
DH: One of the things that’s really interesting in your book is the way you challenge the idea the Sharing Economy is mostly about giving people a little extra money on the side. a describes itself as a platform that allows people to make a supplementary income, maybe to pay for the cost of playing golf or some other activity. AirBnB describes itself as a platform that allows people to offset the cost of urban living by renting out part of their space. But your research suggests we should be wary about taking these clams at face value.
TS: For AirBnB, this kind of arrangement might represent half their business, but the other half is business people running multiple properties, doing it on a professional basis. I know somebody that went to one of these AirBnB events in Paris where they get all the hosts together. These events are all about training hosts to make more money. How do you do that? How do you professionalize? Maybe you get a cleaning service. Maybe you get a key handling service. They are going down that route of professionalization very quickly. Uber is an interesting case because they kind of came at it sideways. Two years ago, Uber was not talking about people working for four hours a week. They were saying you can make $90,000 driving for Uber. People were talking about the end of the poorly paid taxi driver. But that vision turned out to be a mirage. Now they are saying, “we don’t have to worry about things like decent pay because it is just a bit of extra money.” I think they’ve found that that is more effective public message. You know, don’t worry, it’s not a real job.
DH: There is a way in which champions of the Sharing Economy — whether they are actual Silicon Valley leaders or simply the provincial lieutenants tapped to do their bidding — describe the transformations that they promote as inevitable. They tell policy makers and others that the types of exchanges associated with their platforms are here for good and that policy makers better adapt to the new reality or risk being reduced to backwater status. Do you see this sense of personal destiny as part of the California Ideology that you described earlier?
TS: Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was very involved in the design of their new logo, which represents the coming together of bits and atoms. The merging of physical and digital worlds. Could you paint yourself in bigger, more spectacular colours? No. For them, it’s very useful to conflate the march of technology with the march of their businesses. But while technology does advance, individual businesses can come and go very quickly. A few years ago Groupon was the future of shopping. And then, boom! What’s Groupon? I think governments run the risk of closing down future innovations by being too friendly to the first big kid on the block.
DH: So we have these platforms that describe themselves as revolutionary, transformative, etc., and there is certainly a lot of truth to that. But insofar as they are pursuing a relatively straightforward deregulatory agenda, are they not, in many ways, simply recapitulating a well-established form of right wing politics?
TS: Sure, I think they are. I think it comes from a peculiarly American worldview as well. I don’t think you would have seen the same kind of development if things had started elsewhere. There is a Sharing Economy conference in Paris called OUIshare which happens every year and it has been through a few crises of conscience over this because it wasn’t the original vision that they started with. To generalize, I think we can say that Americans are more likely to see the government as a thing to be got out of the way. They simply don’t see it as having a useful role. Whereas, I think most of the Left elsewhere has a much more complex relationship with government. I mean, of course there is the Snowden revelations, there is a lot of surveillance stuff, and there are a lot of coercive problems with the state. But at the same time the state can be a bulwark against the ravages of free market capitalism, so we have a more tortured relationship with it, I think. Most defenders of the Sharing Economy don’t seem to be at all troubled by internal conflict on these questions.
This article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Canadian Dimension (Basic Income).
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