The Killing Floor

 

So You Say You Want to Know Where Your Food Comes From?

 

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and ALEXANDER COCKBURN

 

The other day we were forced to listen to an NPR interview, by Terry 
Gross, presumably, with some fellow talking about his garden, about which he had 
evidently written a silly-sounding book. After firing off some well-honed clichés 
about the importance of the garden in making us consider the role of culture
 in man’s relationship to nature, the interviewee said ponderously that
 these days most people don’t know where food comes from. He and Gross,
or a Gross soundalike, chewed that one over industriously for several minutes.

Why would you
 want to know where food comes from? Ignorance is probably preferable, if not
 morally desirable. Better to think that New York strip or T-bone was put together 
in a lab, which is the way we’re headed anyway. Why be curious about where
 your broccoli comes from? In the old days a lot of it came from the Pajaro Valley
 just south of Santa Cruz on California’s central coast. The fellows picking 
it were undocumented workers, mostly from Michoacan, earning $6 an hour. Then 
the growers figured it was more profitable to relocate the broccoli down in 
Mexico, pay the pickers $6 a day, ship the veg up to the border, relabel 
it as natural-born American and ship it east. One trouble with this is that
 the broccoli or spinach is often laced with raw sewage. Uncomposted shit isn’t
 good for you.

Potatoes? We read an account not so long ago of the chemical conditions in which Idaho russets 
are raised, where the application of pesticides is so intense that when something
 screws up in the irrigation systems, they dare not send out maintenance 
workers right away because the air is too toxic.

Who would have
thought that eating broccoli or spinach was a high-risk event, an X-treme sport
 right there in your own kitchen or dining room? The big food chains such as 
Safeway are trying to figure out an inspection system that will spot toxic veg 
before it gets onto the shelf. Trouble is, the political economy of capitalist
 agriculture is structurally tilted toward the likelihood that your spinach will 
be shit-enhanced. It’s become part of the price for cheap food. The alternative 
is a different system of land ownership and farm production that would give 
you a better class of spinach at a higher price for the farmer. No chance of
that in the foreseeable in this country. Food will just get more dangerous, because the conditions 
in which veg is grown or cows are raised and killed become more noxious. The 
latest scare is a ferocious strain of E. coli (mostly benign), labelled E. coli 
O157:H7, which first became notorious in the Jack in the Box food deaths back
in 1993. It’s a strain that has apparently flourished because of the intensive 
fattening methods of the modern feedlot.

People are
probably a little too fussy about what they eat, though not always quite to the degree of Mrs. Deborah Wilkes, aged 44, of Pinellas County, FL, who forced her husband of six years, Eric,
 aged 31, to disrobe when he came home from his work (surveying), but not for
 the purpose of amorous diversion. He had to proceed directly to the shower, 
then re-attire in clean garments. She also forbade Eric use of the domestic 
phone or computer on the grounds that he might contaminate them. When visiting 
his parents for Christmas she would insist they sat with hands safely folded,
 then leave before the germ-laden perils of Christmas dinner.

Something snapped 
in Eric recently, and he choked and stabbed Deborah until she was good and dead. 
He tried to make it look like a burglary, but messed up. The cops didn’t 
take long to figure it out, and he’s now sitting in the Pinellas County 
jail, charged with first-degree murder. In the beginning, Deborah’s concern 
about cleanliness wasn’t so severe, Eric’s mother Barbara Wilkes told 
the Tampa Tribune. “He thought that was neat about her because she
was tidy, he wanted the perfect wife, and this was the perfect wife for him.”
 Some expert testimony about obsessive-compulsive disorder will get
the charges reduced.

Maybe every child should be taken on a tour of a slaughterhouse, 
as a reality check. In Holland they have pig “facilities,” let’s
 call them condos, where an elevator takes the doomed creatures from the sixth floor down to the basement, where they’re killed and processed.
 There could be a viewing window, just like the one through which the Oklahoma
families and some journalists watched Timothy  put to death.

Back in the 
19th century, a trip to the killing floor at the Cincinnati or Chicago stockyards
 was a standard item on the itinerary of cultured folk exploring America’s 
hinterland. In the 1850s and 1860s (the Chicago stockyards were completed in
1865) these two cities perfected the production-line slaughter of living creatures 
for the first time in the history of the world. At one end of the trail lay 
the prairies, the open range, the boisterous pastoral of the cattle drive, where 
the cowboys sometimes spared a longhorn. There’s a marvelous book by J.
Frank Dobie called The Longhorns that tells of Reed Anthony, a cowboy
 working for Andy Adams, telling “how he and other Confederate soldiers
 guarding a herd of Texas steers saved the life of one because he would always
 walk out and stand attentive to the notes of ‘Rock of Ages’ sung by 
his herders.” Thus spared were two or ten or a hundred or a thousand from 
among the millions and millions of creatures that plodded to rail heads like
 Abilene, and thence eastward, or to slaughterhouses nearer at hand, and then
 bought up by government agents to be sent to the reservations to feed Indians 
who no longer had buffalo to hunt.

William Cronon 
has a good chapter on the stockyards in his book on Chicago, Nature’s
 Metropolis. “In a world of farms and small towns, the ties between 
field, pasture, butcher shop and dinner table were everywhere apparent, constant reminders of the relationships that sustained one’s own life. In a world
 of ranches, packing plants and refrigerator cars, most such connections vanished 
from easy view. In the packers’ world, it was easy not to remember that
eating is a moral act inextricably bound to killing. Such was the second nature 
that a corporate order had imposed on the American landscape. Forgetfulness 
was among the least noticed and most important of its by-products.”

A version of this essay appeared in the June 2001 print edition of CounterPunch. 

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Private Cops vs. the Public Good

 

 

The Other Police State

by DAVID ROSEN

On November 20th, the Center for Corporate Policy, a Washington, DC, good-government group, issued a revealing study, “Spooky Business: A New Report on Corporate Espionage Against Non-profits.”  Written by Gary Ruskin, it confirms one’s worst suspicions about the ever-expanding two-headed U.S. security state.

One “head” of this apparatus consists of the formal law-enforcement, security juggernaut.  It includes the vast network of federal, state and local entities that are duly, “legally,” constituted to maintain law and order.  It maintains state power.

The second “head” consists of a parallel “police” force, local and national corporate entities that use legal — and often questionable — practices to undermine democracy, most notably a citizen’s right to object to what s/he perceives as an unjust business practice.  It maintains corporate power.

Together, the public-state and private-corporate security system is gaining ever-greater control over the lives of ordinary Americans.  They constitute the postmodern, 21st century policing apparatus.

The revolving-door thesis acknowledges the link between government employees and private corporations.  Pres. Eisenhower warned against it in his legendary 1961 Farewell Address in which he publically identified the military-industrial complex.  In the last half-century, the revolving door has become an unquestioned, acceptable career path for upwardly mobile bureaucrats.  So, few were surprised when Timothy Geithner, former Sec. of the Treasury and head of the New York Fed, and one of those who orchestrated the banking plunder known as the Great Recession, took a job as president and managing director of Warburg Pincus, a leading private equity firm.

“Spooky Business” shows that many leading U.S. corporations are retaining the services of former federal security personnel to wage campaigns to subvert Constitutionally protected citizen rights.  It details the practices of Bank of America, BP, Brown & Williamson, Burger King, the Chamber of Commerce, Chevron Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Kraft, McDonald’s, Monsanto, Shell and Wal-Mart.  Going further, it argues that to pull this off, these companies hire former employees of the CIA, FBI, NSA, Secret Service, the military and local law-enforcement.  As Ruskin shows, these “security officials” are linked to infiltration, espionage, surveillance and other tactics that are intended to undermine ostensible threats posed by nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.

The two-headed security apparatus is nothing new in America.  It traces its roots to the post-Civil War era, a period of industrialization, immigration and urbanization.  Then, especially in both big cities and the recently settled West, the formal state was weak, law enforcement still being development.  Thus, many private companies turned to private security efforts to resolve differences.

The tension – and increasing integration – of the state and the corporation has shaped the U.S. since the Civil War.  The interlinking of public and private policing is the gravest threat to American democracy. The security state flourished during the anti-Communist, McCarthy ’50 and again against anti-war and black activists during the ‘60s.  It is now being implemented as the war against “terrorism.”

* * *

The decades following the Civil War were an era of modernization.  Many among the respectable classes shared the perception that the country’s moral life was degenerating.  Social ills were mounting, painfully evident in the growing number of the urban poor, in the increase in beggars and prostitutes on city streets as well as an increase in saloons, gambling dens, dance halls and dime museums throughout the country.

Making matters worse, these upstanding citizens felt that police corruption was widespread, helping to turn vice – drink, gambling and prostitution — into a profitable business.  In response, “good government” reformers embraced two strategies to confront what they saw as the crime threat.  One involved establishing a network of private prevention societies; the second saw greater reliance on private police services.

Prevention groups first emerged in England in the early-19th century and got started in the U.S. in 1866 with the founding of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).  By the late-19th century, a host of these groups operated in New York and other cities.  Elbridge Gerry established the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) in 1866; Anthony Comstock, with the backing of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), founded the NYSSV (or SSV) in 1873; Howard Crosby founded the Society for the Prevention of Crime (SPC) in 1877 to fight “white slavery,” prostitution; and in 1884, the Rev. Benjamin DeCosta established the White Cross Society promoting purity (i.e., sexual abstinence) until marriage.  In 1892, Rev. Charles Parkhurst established the New York City Vigilance League to fight vice.

During this period, the New York state legislation, along with others throughout the country, empowered prevention societies with law enforcement authority.  New York initially gave the SPCC the power to issue warrants, followed by the power to conduct arrests and engage in vigilante-like raids on private amusement resorts.  These societies, in effect, privatized law enforcement.

A second front in the development of private policing involves the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  Allan Pinkerton founded the company in 1850 and, during the Civil War, he helped foil an assassination attempt against Pres. Lincoln and served as head of the Union Intelligence Service, the forerunner of the Secret Service.  In the decades after the War, Pinkerton became the nation’s leading private police agency.

A recent biography by Beau Riffenburgh, “Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland” (Viking, 2013), sheds light on how the agency used undercover detectives to crush worker protests, undermine unions and defeat more violent groups.  McParland served as an undercover detective amidst the bitter Pennsylvania coalfield battles of the mid-1870s.  He garnered national media attention as the lead witness in a sensational trial against the Molly Maguires, nine of whom were convicted.  Riffenburgh’s account reads, at times, like a potboiler.

McParland’s success against the Molly Maguires moved him up the Pinkerton ladder.  Over a four-decade career at the company, he eventually came to run it’s Western division in Denver.  In 1894, he played a major role in the break up of the Cripple Creek, CO, miners’ strike, and he supervised the 1896 campaign against the Wild Bunch, a gang of bank and train robbers led by “Butch” Cassidy.  His last great effort, investigating the assassination of a former Idaho governor from 1906-1907, pitted him against “Big Bill” Haywood, Clarence Darrow and the mineworkers union.  It ended in McParland’s utter failure as all those accused—and against whom he testified—were acquitted.

Riffenburgh details many of the questionable—if not illegal—practices McParland and other detectives employed: undercover infiltration, covert surveillance, bribery of witnesses, deception of authorities, planting false evidence, giving false confessions, serving as agent provocateurs, destabilizing unions and using vigilantes to beat back any threat to their corporate client’s interests.  Their principle clients were the railroads and coal companies.  Nothing was unacceptable.  And, given the findings of the Center for Corporate Policy study, little has changed over the last century-plus.

* * *

Private security is big business in the U.S.  According to estimates in the “Spooky Business” report, the private security business is a $50 billion enterprise involving nearly 2,000 companies.  According to Inc., among the nation’s leading private security firms (and their annual revenue in $/millions) are: Universal Service of America ($718.1/m), Accuvant ($420.2/m), Defense Direct ($394.9/m) and LifeLock ($276.4/m).

“Spooky Business” details a dozen or so cases in which leading corporations employed private security firms to engage in dubious, if not illegal, activities against a variety of nonprofit organizations.  These groups’ focuses range from the environment, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety pesticide reform and nursing home reform to gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control.

Most illustrative, the study details the campaign backed by Dow Chemical and a number of public relations firms, including Ketchum and Dezenhall Resources, against Greenpeace.  These companies retained the now-defunct private security firm, Beckett, Brown, International (BBI), to conduct the campaign that included electronic surveillance, hacking, wire taping, infiltration, theft of confidential material and even the search of Greenpeace’s trash.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread surveillance conducted by the NSA confirm many people’s worst fears: once-lauded principles of American democracy are in jeopardy.  We are all being constantly tracked, monitored and surveilled.  The state security system is using an ever-growing variety of techniques in this effort.

“Spooky Business” extends the NSA revelations from the federal government to private corporations.  It details how some companies use the security apparatus, including questionable espionage tactics, against anyone who challenges their authority.  The study extends the analysis made by Heidi Boghosian, the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, in “Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance.”  Orwell’s 21st century security system is really watching you.

David Rosen regularly contributes to AlterNet, Brooklyn Rail, Filmmaker and Huffington Post.  Check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com; he can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net

 

 

21 Ways Canada’s Single-Payer System Beats Obamacare

 


Canadian style single-payer healthcare is simple, affordable,
comprehensive and universal—dream on, America.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Matthew Benoit

This article originally appeared on The Nader Page, and is reposted here with their permission.

Dear America:

Costly complexity is baked into Obamacare. No health insurance system is without problems but Canadian style single-payer full Medicare for all is simple, affordable, comprehensive and universal.

In the early 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson enrolled 20 million elderly Americans into Medicare in six months. There were no websites. They did it with index cards!

Below please find 21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare.

Repeal Obamacare and replace it with the much more efficient single-payer, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital.

Love, Canada

Number 21:
In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out.

In the United States, under Obamacare, 31 million Americans will still be uninsured by 2023 and millions more will remain underinsured.

Number 20:
In Canada, the health system is designed to put people, not profits, first.

In the United States, Obamacare will do little to curb insurance industry profits and will actually enhance insurance industry profits.

Number 19:
In Canada, coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guaranty of quality.

In the United States, under Obamacare, much still depends on your job or income. Lose your job or lose your income, and you might lose your existing health insurance or have to settle for lesser coverage.

Number 18:
In Canada, health care coverage stays with you for your entire life.

In the United States, under Obamacare, for tens of millions of Americans, health care coverage stays with you for as long as you can afford your share.

Number 17:
In Canada, you can freely choose your doctors and hospitals and keep them. There are no lists of “in-network” vendors and no extra hidden charges for going “out of network.”

In the United States, under Obamacare, the in-network list of places where you can get treated is shrinking – thus restricting freedom of choice – and if you want to go out of network, you pay for it.

Number 16:
In Canada, the health care system is funded by income, sales and corporate taxes that, combined, are much lower than what Americans pay in premiums.

In the United States, under Obamacare, for thousands of Americans, it’s pay or die – if you can’t pay, you die. That’s why many thousands will still die every year under Obamacare from lack of health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.

Number 15:
In Canada, there are no complex hospital or doctor bills. In fact, usually you don’t even see a bill.

In the United States, under Obamacare, hospital and doctor bills will still be terribly complex, making it impossible to discover the many costly overcharges.

Number 14:
In Canada, costs are controlled. Canada pays 10 percent of its GDP for its health care system, covering everyone.

In the United States, under Obamacare, costs continue to skyrocket. The U.S. currently pays 18 percent of its GDP and still doesn’t cover tens of millions of people.

Number 13:
In Canada, it is unheard of for anyone to go bankrupt due to health care costs.

In the United States, under Obamacare, health care driven bankruptcy will continue to plague Americans.

Number 12:
In Canada, simplicity leads to major savings in administrative costs and overhead.

In the United States, under Obamacare, complexity will lead to ratcheting up administrative costs and overhead.

Number 11:
In Canada, when you go to a doctor or hospital the first thing they ask you is: “What’s wrong?”

In the United States, the first thing they ask you is: “What kind of insurance do you have?”

Number 10:
In Canada, the government negotiates drug prices so they are more affordable.

In the United States, under Obamacare, Congress made it specifically illegal for the government to negotiate drug prices for volume purchases, so they remain unaffordable.

Number 9:
In Canada, the government health care funds are not profitably diverted to the top one percent.

In the United States, under Obamacare, health care funds will continue to flow to the top. In 2012, CEOs at six of the largest insurance companies in the U.S. received a total of $83.3 million in pay, plus benefits.

Number 8:
In Canada, there are no necessary co-pays or deductibles.

In the United States, under Obamacare, the deductibles and co-pays will continue to be unaffordable for many millions of Americans.

Number 7:
In Canada, the health care system contributes to social solidarity and national pride.

In the United States, Obamacare is divisive, with rich and poor in different systems and tens of millions left out or with sorely limited benefits.

Number 6:
In Canada, delays in health care are not due to the cost of insurance.

In the United States, under Obamacare, patients without health insurance or who are underinsured will continue to delay or forgo care and put their lives at risk.

Number 5:
In Canada, nobody dies due to lack of health insurance.

In the United States, under Obamacare, many thousands will continue to die every year due to lack of health insurance.

Number 4:
In Canada, an increasing majority supports their health care system, which costs half as much, per person, as in the United States. And in Canada, everyone is covered.

In the United States, a majority – many for different reasons – oppose Obamacare.

Number 3:
In Canada, the tax payments to fund the health care system are progressive – the lowest 20 percent pays 6 percent of income into the system while the highest 20 percent pays 8 percent.

In the United States, under Obamacare, the poor pay a larger share of their income for health care than the affluent.

Number 2:
In Canada, the administration of the system is simple. You get a health care card when you are born. And you swipe it when you go to a doctor or hospital. End of story.

In the United States, Obamacare’s 2,500 pages plus regulations (the Canadian Medicare Bill was 13 pages) is so complex that then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said before passage “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Number 1:
In Canada, the majority of citizens love their health care system.

In the United States, the majority of citizens, physicians, and nurses prefer the Canadian type system – single-payer, free choice of doctor and hospital , everybody in, nobody out.

For more information see Single Payer Action.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. He was born in Winsted, Connecticut on February 27, 1934. In 1955 Ralph Nader received an AB magna cum laude from Princeton University, and in 1958 he received a LLB with distinction from Harvard University.

Why Are Big Retailers Trying to Kill Thanksgiving?

The inexorable creep of Black Friday, demonstrated in a handy chart.

| Wed Nov. 27, 2013 3:00 AM GM

  Note: Some opening times may vary by region. Chart by AJ Vicens

In case you haven’t noticed, Black Friday isn’t just on Friday anymore. The retail industry’s high-density mass of starry lights, Santa dioramas, and door-buster shopping deals really ought to be renamed the Black Hole—it just keeps sucking up everything around it. That holiday known as Thanksgiving? Pretty much gone. Especially if you work for one of the nation’s largest retailers.

In 2006, Bart Reed, Best Buy Co.’s consumer marketing director, told the Charleston Gazette that the company had decided not to open its stores any earlier than 5 a.m. on Black Friday because it wanted to give its employees a “work-life balance.” Then, five years later, Best Buy moved its Black Friday opening back to Thursday at midnight. This year, for the first time, it will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Best Buy is far from alone in its cold-hearted greed. The chart above shows how America’s biggest retailers have competed in recent years to appeal to crazed shoppers at the expense of their employees—not to mention the one holiday where we’re supposed to contemplate being grateful for what we’ve got, rather than just coveting more stuff.

The undisputed leader in the assault on Thanksgiving is cleary Kmart, which has opened its doors on Turkey Day for the past 22 years. Yet this sad legacy hasn’t stopped Kmart from finding ways to make its workers even more miserable. For Thanksgiving 2010, Kmart closed at the arguably reasonable hour of 9 p.m. In 2011, it closed at 4 p.m. and then reopened four hours later, before closing at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. That must not have been crazy enough, since this year Kmart will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and stay open for 40 hours straight, not closing until 11 p.m. on Black Friday.

That sounds pretty bad, until you consider that for years many Walmart stores have been open 24 hours a day, including Thanksgiving. This year Walmart will roll out its Black Friday specials at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, when it will presumably need to bulk up its stores with more associates who’d normally be eating turkey with their families. At least some 24-hour Walmarts used to close on Thanksgiving Day: “Local Wal-Marts open at 5 a.m. [on Black Friday], with 24-hour stores closing for Thanksgiving and reopening then,” reads a 2006 story from California’s Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

At least one mega-retailer has resisted the Black Hole: Costco. The unionized big box chain will remain closed on Thanksgiving and open on Friday at its regular hour of 10:00 a.m. The company wants it workers to be able to spend time with their families, Costco CFO Richard Galanti told me. “It’s pretty straightforward: It’s a major holiday with family and friends, our employees work hard, and it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Black Friday used to open at 6 a.m., then at 3 a.m., then at 12:01 a.m.—when does it stop?”

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Josh Harkinson is a staff reporter at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. Email him with tips at jharkinson (at) motherjones (dot) com. RSS |

We Are In A Class War

Popular Resistance Newsletter

 

 

The struggle of working Americans takes center stage as Black Friday protests cover the country. The struggle for wages that do not leave families impoverished is one that affects us all and highlights the unfair economy created by a class war waged by the wealthy for decades. The ‘Walmartization’ of the US economy has created a downward spiral in wages and destroyed small businesses and communities while heightening the wealth divide that is at the root of so many problems.

The people are fighting back and the elites recognize it. There is fear in the investor class as they see people organizing and mobilizing. Corporations are now investing more time and money in preparation to protect themselves from investor actions and legal challenges. The actions of corporations and governments against the people are a sign of their fear, and a sign of our unrealized strength.

Noam Chomsky writes in his new book, Occupy: Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity, that the “business class” is always engaged in class warfare. They continually act to protect their interests, wealth and power. The class war manifests itself in every aspect of our lives from the attack on our public institutions and civil liberties to climate change and the global race to the bottom and racially unfair police enforcement and mass incarceration.

Active Fronts of Struggle in the Class War

Wealth divide Beware Rich YOur Days are numberedThere are many active fronts of struggle. In last week’s report we emphasized the bold and creative protests against climate change, extreme energy extraction and toxicity in our environment. This week we focus on another critical front, worker rights and wages; and highlight the necessity for persistence, solidarity and transformation.

Henry Giroux recently spoke with Bill Moyers about his book Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism. Giroux said, “The real changes are going to come in creating movements that are longstanding, that are organized, that basically take questions of governance and policy seriously and begin to spread out and become international.”

An area in which this is happening to a great extent is in global trade. The World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet in Bali, Indonesia on December 3. Ever since the Seattle protests in 1999, the WTO has been unable to move forward on their agenda. This week WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo announced they were unable to move forward once again.

We are on the cusp of a new era of fair trade instead of rigged corporate trade. Our tasks are to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is reaching completion and the new Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TAFTA) from being signed into law and then go on the offense to demand a trade process that is inclusive, democratic and transparent.  Protests were held every day last week in Salt Lake City where the TPP negotiators were meeting and 250 showed up to protest the TPP in Beverly Hills at a high dollar fundraiser featuring President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and Minority Leader Pelosi.

1TPPLA1We can keep building momentum on Tuesday, December 3, a day of international protests against toxic trade agreements and for a new era of trade that puts people and the planet before profits. The Flush the TPP campaign signed on to the December 3 day of action and protests will be held in cities from Hawaii to New York. We will deliver a petition to the Office of the US Trade Representative in Washington, DC. telling them to stop their bullying.  Sign that petition here and join us if you can.

The TPP is an example of a phenomenal corporate power grab that will accelerate the global race to the bottom in wages and worker safety as well as in protection of the environment and human rights and public health. Walmart is one of the corporations that is really pushing the TPP so that it can move its factories into countries like Vietnam where the minimum wage is $0.36 per hour. Stopping the TPP would be a victory against Walmart and all transnational corporations.

Workers and Communities Unite Against Walmart

Photo Credit: OUR Walmart

Photo Credit: OUR Walmart

Why are the Black Friday mass protests against Walmart important? We can think of no other corporation that has caused as much damage to the working class, communities and the overall economy as Walmart. The six Walton heirs have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. Walmart is the largest private employer in the world and has extensive supply lines.

The Walton family wealth has come at a tremendous price for the rest of us. They’ve gained this wealth by squashing worker rights, lowering wages and draining our local tax dollars, and they show no signs of changing course. After the disastrous collapse of the factory in Bangladesh which killed over 1,000 workers, many companies signed on to a new accord to prevent it from happening again. Walmart, along with GAP, refuses to sign the accord.

Walmart’s low price guarantee has effectively made them into a monopoly that forces their suppliers to fire workers and move overseas to drive down costs. Walmart is such a behemoth that it has no competitor in the world. And despite massive profits, each Walmart employee requires around $2,000.00 per year in public assistance for health care and food stamps. That doesn’t include taxpayer investment in infrastructure for Walmart stores and corporate tax breaks. This year, Walmart went so far as to request food donations for their own poverty-wage employees’ Thanksgiving meals.

In addition, as Walmarts have popped up across the country, they have left a path of destruction to small businesses and have ravaged communities. Local businesses simply can’t compete with Walmart’s prices. And Walmart sucks local dollars out of state to the corporate headquarters in Arkansas. There is a very high cost to Walmart’s’ low prices. Local politicians who do not stop Walmart from coming to their city are doing a public disservice.

1walmarOver the past few years, Walmart workers have been fighting back through the organization OUR Walmart and their For Respect Campaign. They’ve staged strikes at stores and warehouses, rallies at the Walmart headquarters and this year they escalated to road blockades and mass arrests. Workers are speaking out and telling their stories. This Black Friday, protests at 1500 stores have been organized and community members are standing in solidarity with the workers. Here are tools that protesters can use to educate and increase the pressure by “rebranding” Walmart with the truth.

Walmart could easily provide a living wage. A recent study by Demos shows it would even be in their best interest to do so because it would stimulate the whole economy. And there are signs that Walmart is feeling the heat. The CEO, Michael Duke, announced this week that he will step down. And Walmart hired a public relations firm to smear Walmart protesters. Our sense is that this effort will backfire as it shows the desperation of this Goliath that will fall to mobilized Davids.We hope that you will support the Walmart workers and press for real transformation. Imagine what a better place the world would be if Walmart began to pay workers at a living wage and had to compensate communities for the damage it has done.

NY Air Port workers protestIn fact, Walmart is not the only corporation that mistreats its workers; it’s just the largest one. Here is a list of ten American companies that pay the least. In addition to Walmart employees, other workers are fighting for a living wage. Fast food workers and those who make supplies for the fast food restaurants have also been holding strikes and rallies. Airport workers from Seattle to Minneapolis to New York are organizing for higher pay and winning in the case of Seattle.

The situation in Seattle is particularly noteworthy. Seattle just elected its first socialist at-large council member, Kshama Sawant.  Sawant recently urged local workers to resist Boeing’s “economic terrorism” and threaten to take over the factories rather than make concessions to the company that has been squeezing the workers and the city. Boeing workers voted overwhelmingly to reject a contract that would hurt younger workers even though it puts hard won pay and benefits at risk. Sawant urged them to go further and take over the factories.

Persistence and Solidarity are Key Ingredients

Graduate student employees at the University of California - Davis hold a "grade-out" to protest ballooning class sizes on May 1. (Photo courtesy of UC Student Workers Union—Davis)

Graduate student employees at the University of California – Davis hold a “grade-out” to protest ballooning class sizes on May 1. (Photo courtesy of UC Student Workers Union—Davis)

Younger workers are in a tough position and it is great to see solidarity rising up. Graduate students in California showed solidarity this month by pledging to strike alongside campus workers. And after an eight year campaign that was supported by students, graduate students at New York University won a significant concession: they will vote in December on forming a union. Their goals are better pay and working conditions.

Other workers who need our solidarity are postal workers. The Postal Service is under a severe and unnecessary attack. In this video, Carl Gibson describes an idea that helps the Postal Service at the expense of large financial institutions by sending their pre-paid junk mail back to them.

Persistence and solidarity are key ingredients to social transformation. On December 2, the people of Bhopal will mark the 29th anniversary since the Dow Chemical disaster that has killed 25,000 so far and continues to cause harm. Though their struggle is ongoing, they have had some important victories for clean water, pensions for widows, environmental monitoring and more. They are asking for people to join them by holding actions at Dow Chemical offices.

1mariIn other news, the School of the Americas Watch held its yearly vigil at Fort Benning last weekend. They welcomed newcomers and held a Peoples Movement Assembly for the first time to discuss new strategies and nonviolent direct action tactics. And the Free Marissa Now Campaign just announced a major victory. Marissa Alexander was released from jail the night before Thanksgiving pending her next trial in March.

Mountain top removal activists are protesting in the West Virginia state capital. They are in Day 3 of “The Coal Dust Vigil,” highlighting how coal dust is killing people and making others ill in their community. And, in Connecticut, there have been spectacular protests against UBS bank for their financing of mountain top removal — banner drops, sit-ins, lock-downs and blockades. In California, this amazing teen is in her third week of a tree sit.

A Cultural Transformation

We are in a war that reaches into every aspect of our lives. Giroux describes it as “a war on the mind. The war on what it means to be able to dissent, the war on the possibility of alternative visions.” He goes on to say that we are in “A war on the possibility of an education that enables people to think critically, a war on cultural apparatuses that entertain by simply engaging in this spectacle of violence….”

Border patrol protest 2In addition to building a global movement, Giroux calls for a cultural transformation. We need to find places where people can connect to talk about the world they want to create and then strategize about how to make it a reality. We need to move outside of the constraints inherent in our current economic structure and use our collective wisdom and power to build new systems based on values that lift up communities and heal the planet.

Many are asking us what they can do. Connect with people in your community. One person suggested forming a Popular Resistance meet-up and others are joining struggles for workers, the environment, youth, to end war, end police abuse and so much more. When you get involved, you will find that your frustration at the mis-direction of our country lessens because you will see that you are not alone. Many are working for the transformation we know we need with persistence and in solidarity.

Poverty in America Is Mainstream

The Great Divide

The Great Divide is a series about inequality.

Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making.

They include the notion that poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans, that the poor are impoverished for years at a time, that most of those in poverty live in inner cities, that too much welfare assistance is provided and that poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough. Although pervasive, each assumption is flat-out wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line).

Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.

In addition, half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time.

Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans. For most of us, the question is not whether we will experience poverty, but when.

But while poverty strikes a majority of the population, the average time most people spend in poverty is relatively short. The standard image of the poor has been that of an entrenched underclass, impoverished for years at a time. While this captures a small and important slice of poverty, it is also a highly misleading picture of its more widespread and dynamic nature.

Most of us have been poor, at least for awhile.

The typical pattern is for an individual to experience poverty for a year or two, get above the poverty line for an extended period of time, and then perhaps encounter another spell at some later point. Events like losing a job, having work hours cut back, experiencing a family split or developing a serious medical problem all have the potential to throw households into poverty.

Just as poverty is widely dispersed with respect to time, it is also widely dispersed with respect to place. Only approximately 10 percent of those in poverty live in extremely poor urban neighborhoods. Households in poverty can be found throughout a variety of urban and suburban landscapes, as well as in small towns and communities across rural America. This dispersion of poverty has been increasing over the past 20 years, particularly within suburban areas.

Along with the image of inner-city poverty, there is also a widespread perception that most individuals in poverty are nonwhite. This is another myth: According to the latest Census Bureau numbers, two-thirds of those below the poverty line identified themselves as white — a number that has held rather steady over the past several decades.

What about the generous assistance we provide to the poor? Contrary to political rhetoric, the American social safety net is extremely weak and filled with gaping holes. Furthermore, it has become even weaker over the past 40 years because of various welfare reform and budget cutting measures.

We currently expend among the fewest resources within the industrialized countries in terms of pulling families out of poverty and protecting them from falling into it. And the United States is one of the few developed nations that does not provide universal health care, affordable child care, or reasonably priced low-income housing. As a result, our poverty rate is approximately twice the European average.

Whether we examine childhood poverty, poverty among working-age adults, poverty within single-parent families or overall rates of poverty, the story is much the same — the United States has exceedingly high levels of impoverishment. The many who find themselves in poverty are often shocked at how little assistance the government actually provides to help them through tough times.

Finally, the common explanation for poverty has emphasized a lack of motivation, the failure to work hard enough and poor decision making in life.

Yet my research and that of others has consistently found that the behaviors and attitudes of those in poverty basically mirror those of mainstream America. Likewise, a vast majority of the poor have worked extensively and will do so again. Poverty is ultimately a result of failings at economic and political levels rather than individual shortcomings.

The solutions to poverty are to be found in what is important for the health of any family — having a job that pays a decent wage, having the support of good health and child care and having access to a first-rate education. Yet these policies will become a reality only when we begin to truly understand that poverty is an issue of us, rather than an issue of them.


Mark R. Rank is a professor of social welfare at Washington University and a co-author of the forthcoming book “Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes our Fortunes.”

A version of this article appears in print on 11/03/2013, on page SR12 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Poverty in America Is Mainstream.

The NSA’s Porn-Surveillance Program: Not Safe for Democracy

400+ The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf  /

Let’s think through the troubling implications of the latest surveillance-state news. “The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches,” Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim report.

NSA apologists would have us believe that only terrorists have cause to be worried. A surveillance-state spokesperson told the Huffington Post, “without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence.”

As the story notes, however, the targets are not necessarily terrorists. The term the NSA uses for them is “radicalizes,” and if you’re thinking of fiery orators urging people to strap on dynamite vests, know that the NSA chart accompanying the story includes one target who is a “well known media celebrity,” and whose offense is arguing that “the U.S. perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.” It makes one wonder if the NSA believes it would be justified in targeting any 9/11 truther. The chart* shows another target whose “writings appear on numerous jihadi websites” (it doesn’t specify whether the writings were produced for those websites or merely posted there), and whose offending argument is that “the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks upon itself.” That could be a crude description of what the Reverend Jeremiah Wright or Ron Paul thinks about 9/11.

The article quotes another defender of the program as follows:

Stewart Baker, a one-time general counsel for the NSA and a top Homeland Security official in the Bush administration, said that the idea of using potentially embarrassing information to undermine targets is a sound one. “If people are engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans and we can discredit them, we ought to,” said Baker. “On the whole, it’s fairer and maybe more humane” than bombing a target, he said, describing the tactic as “dropping the truth on them.”

Any system can be abused, Baker allowed, but he said fears of the policy drifting to domestic political opponents don’t justify rejecting it. “On that ground you could question almost any tactic we use in a war, and at some point you have to say we’re counting on our officials to know the difference,” he said.

That is a stunning quote. If the history of the FBI and NSA teach us anything, it is that officials cannot be counted on to know the difference between legitimate surveillance and abuses of power. Constant checks on the judgment of insiders is vital. As well, the characterization of targets as people “engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans” isn’t necessarily accurate. The chart appears to set forth targeting criteria that go well beyond people trying to recruit killers of Americans.

“The NSA is using its considerable resources to repeat J Edgar Hoover’s tactics,” Marcy Wheeler writes. “But it also shows that it is deploying such efforts against men who may not be the bogeymen NSA’s apologists make them out to be.” Here’s what I see:

1) The NSA is conducting surveillance on the porn habits of individuals, which means that the NSA is developing expertise in discrediting people with their online behavior. It’s that same expertise that led to serious surveillance abuses in the past.

2) The people targeted aren’t necessarily terrorists. They aren’t necessarily terrorist recruiters either, even though NSA defenders talk as if they’re the only targets.

3) It’s unclear exactly what makes one a target, which is troubling, especially since the chart in the story includes rhetoric that would be protected by the First Amendment. Do we trust the NSA to decide what makes someone a radicalized? It isn’t clear what, if anything, would stop the NSA from targeting someone illegitimately.

4) One target is identified as a “U.S. person,” so that clearly isn’t off-limits.

5) Apart from the propriety of this program, there is a question of its effectiveness. The NSA is responsible for intercepting intelligence that tips us off to the next Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Is it really an effective use of time and resources to monitor the pornography habits of “radicalizes” in a bid to discredit them by proving them hypocrites? I wonder what the NSA would point to as successful cases, if they revealed such things, and whether the benefits outweighed the costs.

In my estimation, it is folly to empower a secretive, unaccountable national-security bureaucracy to discredit people with their private sexual habits, because that is exactly the sort of program that humans seem unable to run without perpetrating abuses. NSA defenders talk as if past abuses of very similar programs are irrelevant. “I think we can describe them as historical rather than current scandals,” Baker said. What he didn’t explain is why history won’t repeat itself. Human nature hasn’t changed. The tendency of secretive national security bureaucracies to expand the sorts of people it targets and violate civil liberties hasn’t changed. Jameel Jaffer is right: “The NSA has used its power that way in the past and it would be naïve to think it couldn’t use its power that way in the future.” The sketchy information we have suggests that the NSA does not have narrowly defined criteria for what makes legitimate targets, and it is unclear how abuses would be flagged.

The need for reform is clear.

__

*As an aside, I wonder why this chart was shared with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Art Makes You Smart

Gray Matter

Alain Pilon

FOR many education advocates, the arts are a panacea: They supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools. Most of the supporting evidence, though, does little more than establish correlations between exposure to the arts and certain outcomes. Research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent.

A few years ago, however, we had a rare opportunity to explore such relationships when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Crystal Bridges, which opened in November 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. It is impressive, with 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of more than $800 million.

Thanks to a generous private gift, the museum has a program that allows school groups to visit at no cost to students or schools.

Before the opening, we were contacted by the museum’s education department. They recognized that the opening of a major museum in an area that had never had one before was an unusual event that ought to be studied. But they also had a problem. Because the school tours were being offered free, in an area where most children had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions, demand for visits far exceeded available slots. In the first year alone, the museum received applications from 525 school groups requesting tours for more than 38,000 students.

As social scientists, we knew exactly how to solve this problem. We partnered with the museum and conducted a lottery to fill the available slots. By randomly assigning school tours, we were able to allocate spots fairly. Doing so also created a natural experiment to study the effects of museum visits on students, the results of which we published in the journals Education Next and Educational Researcher.

Over the course of the following year, nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participated in our study, roughly half of whom had been selected by lottery to visit the museum. Applicant groups who won the lottery constituted our treatment group, while those who did not win an immediate tour served as our control group.

Several weeks after the students in the treatment group visited the museum, we administered surveys to all of the students. The surveys included multiple items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions. We also asked them to write an essay in response to a work of art that was unfamiliar to them.

These essays were then coded using a critical-thinking-skills assessment program developed by researchers working with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Further, we directly measured whether students are more likely to return to Crystal Bridges as a result of going on a school tour. Students who participated in the study were given a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at the museum. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the group to which students belonged. Students in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to attend the exhibit than students in the control group.

Moreover, most of the benefits we observed are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.

Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes. How important is the structure of the tour? The size of the group? The type of art presented?

Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.

Brian Kisida is a senior research associate and Jay P. Greene is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Daniel H. Bowen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute of Rice University.

How Europeans hurt the American diet

The destructive legacy of the first Thanksgiving

 

Colonists’ food and policies hurt Native peoples’ health. Now Native communities are taking their food ways back

 

 

 

Every November, media outlets try to get to the bottom of the unsolved mystery that is the menu of 1621’s first Thanksgiving. Speculation about the meal abounds: It’s known that William Bradford ordered four men to go on a “fowling mission,” but we can only make guesses about the species they brought to the table.  Smithsonian reports that the Pilgrims may have picked off a few of the passenger pigeons that filled New England’s skies, and History.com lists swans, ducks and geese as likely protein choices for the colonists’ feast, alongside the fish and shellfish they may have harvested.

The gastronomical stars of the first Thanksgiving were the crops harvested that autumn. In “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War,” Nathaniel Philbrick describes the meal as a harvest festival turned “overwhelmingly Native celebration” after the arrival of Massasoit and a hundred Pokanokets, who provided five freshly killed deer.

The cheerful story of fellowship between Pilgrims and Indians is one of the historical tales that elementary school teachers work into lesson plans before any others, laid down like a festive placemat onto which kindergartners’ understanding of the American cooperative spirit can be set. The story goes that the helpful Indians showed the disoriented colonists how to plant crops, preventing starvation in the brand-new Plymouth colony. According to Philbrick, after bringing the Mayflower to shore during an exploring expedition, Myles Standish and his men found approximately 14 bushels of buried flint corn. “If their European grains refused to grow in this new environment, their very survival might depend on having planted a significant amount of American corn,” Philbrick writes. “They decided they had no choice but to take the corn.” The stolen corn — found buried with skeletons and sundry items — became part of the Pilgrims’ first planting.

Over the next several centuries, the settlers made the foreign crops their own. Today, the flint corn the Pilgrims brought to the first Thanksgiving is known to many as “ornamental corn,” its dietary importance having been eclipsed by higher-yield varieties. According to GMO Compass, in 2010, 86 percent of the total cultivation area of corn in the U.S. was genetically modified.



This Thanksgiving Day is also the last day of Native American Heritage Month, and gatherings nationwide will memorialize a meal that prefaced the destruction of indigenous food systems in North America by those struggling newcomers. While many American tables will be decorated with the “Indian corn” that comes out of its holiday storage space to provide a festive touch, across the country, a growing number of Native people are working to “decolonize” their diets.

There’s ample historical reason for this, as the introduction of European food to Native populations has compromised those populations’ health. Swine and apple trees allowed early European settlers to transpose familiar agrarian scenes onto New World landscapes, but the European diet didn’t agree with the residents of North America. In colonial New England in 1634, William Wood observed that when the Massachusett people changed “their bare Indian commons for the plenty of England’s fuller diet, it is so contrary to their stomachs that death or a desperate sickness immediately accrues, which makes so few of them desirous to see England.”

As the Euro-American population grew, vast tracts of land were needed to raise livestock and grow crops. These land interests disrupted indigenous cultivation and gathering places, and Native peoples were ushered onto reservations, sometimes far from their homelands, preventing acquisition of traditional foods. The federal government’s assimilation policies included a push toward farming, but these lands were often barren, education in agricultural methods was lacking, and the government failed to provide adequate financial support. To stave off starvation, during the mid-1800s, the government offered rations, including beef, salt pork, wheat flour and refined sugar. North American indigenous foods were excluded from the program in order to facilitate the assimilation process.

Today, the USDA provides food to low-income reservation households through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Participants can choose the contents of their monthly package: Available “commodity foods” include frozen and canned meats, canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, cereal, cheese, evaporated milk, wheat flour, crackers, beans and peanut butter. Fortunately, on most reservations, fresh fruits and vegetables are available to those who want them.

The reliance on government provisions led to widespread health problems in Indian Country.  The Department of Health and Human Services reports that American Indian and Alaska Natives are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites of a similar age to have diabetes. Blocks of commodity cheese took up residence in many reservation kitchens, and many indigenous North American bodies suffered as a result. According to a 2010 article in BMC Evolutionary Biologylactase persistence (the ability of adult humans to digest the milk sugar lactose) “is common in people of European ancestry as well as some African, Middle Eastern and Southern Asian groups, but is rare or absent elsewhere in the world,” with 65 percent of people worldwide unable to digest lactose after weaning. In 1977, researchers found that lactase deficiency was present in 66 percent of their American Indian subjects and correlated with the degree of Indian ancestry, leading them to conclude that lactase deficiency is a common trait in the American Indian adult population. The associated gut distress can lead to vitamin malabsorption and can even contribute to malnutrition.

Since the time of contact with Europeans, indigenous communities in North America have worked to continue the food practices that have been embedded in tribal knowledge systems for thousands of years. My nation, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, is located in the Pacific Northwest, where ongoing ancestral food acquisition activities include traditional deer and elk hunting, salmon fishing, huckleberry picking, and digging of camas and other roots. First foods ceremonies celebrate the appearance of first roots, first salmon and first berries, showing appreciation for the plants’ and animals’ return. In recent years, Columbia River First Salmon Ceremonies — and overall tribal fishing of the river — have sometimes suffered from a scarcity of salmon, resulting in large part from river damming that flooded ancestral fishing sites.

Many American Indians have left their ancestral homes, a trend due largely to a federal relocation program that encouraged reservation Indians to move to cities. For those who have lost access to their ancestral hunting, fishing or gathering places, online communities have facilitated an indigenous eating resurgence. At Decolonize Your Diet and the Facebook page that accompanies it, authors Luz Calvo and Catrióna Rueda Esquibel focus on traditional Mesoamerican cuisine and sustainability. Recent recipes include Huaraches de Nopales and Xocolatamal.

The Decolonizing Diet Project, a research initiative of the Northern Michigan University Center for Native American Studies, maintains a blog and group site for the sharing of food lists, meal plans and other information. The “Week of Indigenous Eating,” established in 2011 to support the Decolonizing Diet project, takes place during the first week of November. Posts on the blog and Facebook page encourage participants to eat only pre-contact Western Hemisphere foods that week, excluding wheat, barley, rye, dairy products, beef, chicken, pork and many of the other foods brought here by settlers longing for the flavors of home.

Efforts to focus on indigenous eating — whether for a week, the duration of a study, or a lifetime — seek to remove or minimize the foods of colonization. “The Store Outside Your Door,” a project of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, encourages people to use the food resources around them. Other websites and online communities provide tips for grocery store foraging. A recent Decolonize Your Diet recipe for GMO-free corn tortillas provides a high-quality organic yellow dent corn source, and on Facebook pages, people share recipes, information and advice.

Although sophisticated North American trade routes carried the “three sisters” of corn, beans and squash far from the Mesoamerican soils where they were likely first sown together, many species, such as buffalo and salmon, have always been integral sources of sustenance for the people who shared the land with them. Despite the threats to these species and their habitats, many Native community members are working in the spirit of grateful reciprocity, whether planning a First Foods ceremony or posting a recipe for fish and cattails. In tribal communities, this spirit of Thanksgiving predates the 1621 feast by thousands of years, and as we continue to adapt to cultural change, we also need to preserve our own food traditions for our children and grandchildren.

 

Elissa Washuta’s first book, “My Body Is a Book of Rules,” is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. She is currently working on her second book, “Starvation Mode,” a memoir about diet obsession, her Native American and Pennsylvania Coal Region lineage, the inheritance of famine, and a lifetime of tiny, slow-detonating prescription bombs. She is also a lecturer and academic counselor in the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington.

No Thanks to Thanksgiving

 

 


 

Instead, we should atone for the genocide that was incited — and condoned — by the very men we idolize as our ‘heroic’ founding fathers.

 

One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.

In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits — which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.

That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.

But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin — the genocide of indigenous people — is of special importance today. It’s now routine — even among conservative commentators — to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.

One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of U.S. myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.

Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it’s also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.

Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.

The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians’ land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving “wild beasts” from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves, “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.”

Thomas Jefferson — president #3 and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the “merciless Indian Savages” — was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn’t stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, “[W]e shall destroy all of them.”

As the genocide was winding down in the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt (president #26) defended the expansion of whites across the continent as an inevitable process “due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway.”

Roosevelt also once said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis? Here’s how “respectable” politicians, pundits, and professors play the game: When invoking a grand and glorious aspect of our past, then history is all-important. We are told how crucial it is for people to know history, and there is much hand wringing about the younger generations’ lack of knowledge about, and respect for, that history.

In the United States, we hear constantly about the deep wisdom of the founding fathers, the adventurous spirit of the early explorers, the gritty determination of those who “settled” the country — and about how crucial it is for children to learn these things.

But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable — such as the genocide of indigenous people as the foundational act in the creation of the United States — suddenly the value of history drops precipitously and one is asked, “Why do you insist on dwelling on the past?”

This is the mark of a well-disciplined intellectual class — one that can extol the importance of knowing history for contemporary citizenship and, at the same time, argue that we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about history.

This off-and-on engagement with history isn’t of mere academic interest; as the dominant imperial power of the moment, U.S. elites have a clear stake in the contemporary propaganda value of that history. Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures — such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq — as another benevolent action.

Any attempt to complicate this story guarantees hostility from mainstream culture. After raising the barbarism of America’s much-revered founding fathers in a lecture, I was once accused of trying to “humble our proud nation” and “undermine young people’s faith in our country.”

Yes, of course — that is exactly what I would hope to achieve. We should practice the virtue of humility and avoid the excessive pride that can, when combined with great power, lead to great abuses of power.

History does matter, which is why people in power put so much energy into controlling it. The United States is hardly the only society that has created such mythology. While some historians in Great Britain continue to talk about the benefits that the empire brought to India, political movements in India want to make the mythology of Hindutva into historical fact.

Abuses of history go on in the former empire and the former colony. History can be one of the many ways we create and impose hierarchy, or it can be part of a process of liberation. The truth won’t set us free, but the telling of truth at least opens the possibility of freedom.

As Americans sit down on Thanksgiving Day to gorge themselves on the bounty of empire, many will worry about the expansive effects of overeating on their waistlines. We would be better to think about the constricting effects of the day’s mythology on our minds.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and a board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. His latest books are Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue, and We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out. He can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu. Read his articles online here or join his email list here. Twitter: @jensenrobertw.

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