Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The War on Drugs Is a Failure: UN Commission

Photo: M.A. Cabrera Luengo.


Citing Failed War on Drugs, World Leaders Call for Widespread Decriminalization
Global commission condemns "harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies"
By Deirdre Fulton / September 9, 2014

In the face of a failed War on Drugs, a global commission composed mostly of former world leaders recommended on Tuesday that governments decriminalize and regulate the use of currently illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and psychedelics.

"The international drug regime is broken," reads the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and former high commissioner for human rights at the UN Louise Arbour; and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, as well as the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Portugal. "[O]verwhelming evidence points to not just the failure of the regime to attain its stated goals but also the horrific unintended consequences of punitive and prohibitionist laws and policies."

Punitive drug law enforcement has done nothing to decrease global drug use, the Commission says in "Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work" (pdf). Instead, such policies have fueled crime, maximized health risks, undermined human rights, and fostered discrimination — all while wasting tens of billions of dollars.

In place of these "harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies," the commission recommends that world governments:

  • Shift their focus from enforcement to prevention and harm reduction;
  • Ensure equitable and affordable access to "essential medicines" like opiate-based pain medications;
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession;
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers and couriers;
  • Look for alternatives to militarized anti-drug efforts when going after organized crime groups;
  • "Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances;"
  • Use the upcoming major review of drug policies by the UN General Assembly, scheduled for 2016, as an opportunity to open debate on true reform.

Implementing such reforms "is necessary because global drug prohibition, the dominant paradigm in the last 40 years, has not only failed in achieving its original stated objectives, which was to reduce drug consumption and improve health worldwide, but it has, in fact, generated a lot of harm, including an AIDS and hepatitis epidemic among people who use drugs and social violence and infiltration of democracies with narco-traffickers and the birth of a few narco-states in the world," commission member Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in an interview with The World Today's Eleanor Hall.

He continued:

We're promoting a model similar to let's say what exists with tobacco. That is, put government in control: in control of who produces the drug, of the quality of the drug, on how and where it is sold, to whom it is sold — for example, forbid it to people less than let's say 18 years old or whatever.

Take back control of that market and therefore reduce, not only the violence, but also reduce the health and social harms that the current international regime has generated.

Experts called the report groundbreaking. In a statement, Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said, “The import of the Commission’s report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations. The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle."

In its report, the Commission acknowledges that reshaping the global discussion on drugs will be a challenge:

The obstacles to drug policy reform are both daunting and diverse. Powerful and established drug control bureaucracies, both national and international, staunchly defend status quo policies. They seldom question whether their involvement and tactics in enforcing drug policy are doing more harm than good. Meanwhile, there is often a tendency to sensationalize each new “drug scare” in the media. And politicians regularly subscribe to the appealing rhetoric of “zero tolerance” and creating “drug free” societies rather than pursuing an informed approach based on evidence of what works. Popular associations of illicit drugs with ethnic and racial minorities stir fear and inspire harsh legislation. And enlightened reform advocates are routinely attacked as “soft on crime” or even “pro-drug.”

But the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session — and the time between now and then — is seen as an opportunity to overthrow that status quo. Several Latin American leaders, including Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemala's Otto Perez Molina, have already called for a paradigm shift on international drug policy.

"2016 will be the beginning of years, perhaps decades, of debate on new drug conventions," Arbour said at the New York press conference marking the report's release. The conversation was already beginning on Tuesday, under the Twitter hashtag #ControlDrugs.

Source / Common Dreams

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Chomsky: The Owl of Minerva and Human History

Global warming has had a particularly strong impact on the Arctic, yet the effects on the region’s ice have been anything but steady or predictable. Some glaciers are spitting out icebergs and draining the Greenland ice sheet at an alarming pace; others are barely moving; a few are growing thicker.
(Photo: NASA/Jefferson Beck and Maria-José Viñas/Flickr CC 2.0)


Noam Chomsky: Are We Approaching the End of Human History?
By Noam Chomsky / September 9, 2014

It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven UN sanctions on Iraq, condemned as “genocidal” by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck’s devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts.

One dreadful consequence of the US-UK invasion is depicted in a New York Times “visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria”: the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today’s sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

Much of the Tigris-Euphrates area is in the hands of ISIS and its self-proclaimed Islamic State, a grim caricature of the extremist form of radical Islam that has its home in Saudi Arabia. Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and one of the best-informed analysts of ISIS, describes it as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn’t believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Cockburn also points out the contradiction in the Western reaction to the emergence of ISIS: efforts to stem its advance in Iraq along with others to undermine the group’s major opponent in Syria, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. Meanwhile a major barrier to the spread of the ISIS plague to Lebanon is Hezbollah, a hated enemy of the US and its Israeli ally. And to complicate the situation further, the US and Iran now share a justified concern about the rise of the Islamic State, as do others in this highly conflicted region.

Egypt has plunged into some of its darkest days under a military dictatorship that continues to receive US support. Egypt’s fate was not written in the stars. For centuries, alternative paths have been quite feasible, and not infrequently, a heavy imperial hand has barred the way.

After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.

Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power.

The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.

The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.

The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.

A day before it ran a summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.

Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.

Sad species. Poor Owl.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Power Systems, Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published soon by Haymarket Books, which is also reissuing twelve of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His website is www.chomsky.info.

Source / In These Times

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Obama: Remember, He Does This Every Day Now


Obama NSA Defense FAIL: The al-Mihdar Red Herring
By Juan Cole / Jan. 17, 2014

In his speech on the National Security Agency domestic surveillance program on Friday, Obama offered an explanation of its origins:

The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdhar – made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but could not see that it was coming from an individual already in the United States. The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists, so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible.

This is, of course, a steaming crock of crap. The fact is that Khalid al-Mihdar was under surveillance and so was his contact in Yemen. The US even had videotape of al-Mihdar at an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur shortly before he went to San Diego. And US intelligence knew that al-Mihdar was in the United States.

The problem? The various intelligence agencies were each looking to make their own bust and refused to properly share information with one another.

They don’t need to spy on all of our smartphone information and track 310 million people’s telephone calls and whereabouts! They need to talk with each other there in Washington! And in fact there is a joint FBI/ CIA facility in the DC area now where files can be accessed by officers with the right clearances across agencies.



Obama’s anecdote simply does not support the case for holding phone metadata, either in the government or by private telcos. And since I don’t think Obama is ignorant or lacking in smarts, I think he and whoever crafted that reference to 9/11 into his violent assault on the Fourth Amendment were doing so in a calculated and wholly dishonest fashion.

Obama was from 2007 frank that he admired Ronald Reagan. What you’re a little afraid of is that he may harbor some sneaking admiration for Tricky Dick Nixon.

Jim Gilmore writes at PBS:

In September 2002, agents and officials from the CIA and FBI testified before a joint congressional panel about how their security agencies failed to fully share information about suspected terrorists and their activities in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

As much as anyone working in counterterrorism, John O’Neill knew about this communication breakdown. In fact, just two months before Sept. 11, in a speech to Spanish police on interagency cooperation, he had asked his audience, “How much more successful could we all be if we really knew what our agencies really knew?” O’Neill’s last major FBI investigation — the attack on the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000 — was a case study of just how bad inter-agency communication had become.

-The Critical Meeting in Malaysia

The story of this intelligence failure begins with a 1999 CIA breakthrough — the interception of communications from an Al Qaeda logistics center in Yemen about a meeting of operatives that would take place in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The names of two of the participants were mentioned: Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.

The CIA tracked Almidhar on his way to Malaysia. An agent told FRONTLINE that during a passport check at a stopover, the CIA even got access to his Saudi Arabian passport and learned Almidhar had been issued a multiple-entry visa to the U.S.

Once in Kuala Lumpur, the Al Qaeda operatives were photographed — at the CIA’s request — by Malaysian authorities at a series of meetings. Reportedly, no sound recordings were made, but intelligence sources now believe the meetings were held to plan future Al Qaeda attacks. Among the men captured in the surveillance photos were:

Almidhar and Alhazmi (later hijackers of American Flight 77 which flew into the Pentagon on Sept. 11);
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (a Sept. 11 co-conspirator and Mohamed Atta’s roommate. It would not be until after Sept. 11 that bin al-Shibh would be identified in the Malaysia surveillance photos);
Tawfiq bin-Atash — AKA “Khallad” (a suspected intermediary between bin Laden and plotters of the October 2000 USS Cole attack).

The CIA maintains that it did notify the FBI by e-mail of the Malaysia meetings soon after they occurred — and that it did mention Almidhar had a U.S. visa. The FBI, however, states they have no record of this notification.

The CIA admits that it did not inform the bureau that after the Malaysia meetings ended, it tracked Almidhar and Alhazmi to Los Angeles. The CIA further admits that it failed to warn the INS or the State Department, and as a result, the men’s names were not added to a terrorist watch list.

h/t for the tweet that inspired this post to @ZoeSCarpenter

Source / Informed Comment

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Friday, January 10, 2014

America's Firm Grounding in Neo-Nazi Facism


The Malthusian Obsession: Eugenics, American-Style
By Jeffrey St. Clair / January 10, 2014

In 1952, Charlie Follett, a wayward orphan, was a resident of the Sonoma County State Boys Home. One day when he was 14-years old, he was taken to the hospital, told to disrobe and sit on a table. The orderly didn’t explain what was about to happen to him.

“First, they shot me with some kind of medicine. It was supposed to deaden the nerves,” Charlie Follett told the Sacramento Bee, describing his forced vasectomy. “Then the next thing I heard was snip, snip. Then when they did the other side, it seemed like they were pulling my whole insides out.”

Follett was a minor, unaware of what was happening to him or why, unable to resist or even challenge it. The state had simply decided that this teenager (and thousands of others like him) was a derelict, unworthy of the right to reproduce.

Follett was one of at least 20,000 people sterilized against their will by the state of California from 1909 to 1963, in a eugenics program explicitly geared toward ridding the state of “enfeebled” and “defective” people.

California’s eugenics program proved so efficient that in the 1930s, Nazi scientists asked California eugenicists for advice on how to run their own sterilization regime. “Germany used California’s program as its chief example that this was a working, successful policy,” says Christina Cogdell, author of Eugenic Design. ”They modeled their law on California’s law.”

But California wasn’t alone. The state of Virginia forcibly sterilized 8,300 people. North Carolina sterilized 7,600 people against their will, the last in 1974. My home state of Indiana has a wretched record, with 2,500 forced sterilizations, nearly equally divided between young women and men, with most occurring between 1938 and 1953. Oregon, which had a population about half the size of Indiana, performed 2300 sterilizations, with 60 percent of them conducted on patients entombed in the barbarous state mental hospital. The sterilizations were approved by the state-sanctioned Oregon Eugenics Board. Incredibly, this board wasn’t disbanded until 1975, though the state’s eugenics program persisted until 1983.

A grim chapter of history, you say. But the era of sterilization hasn’t ended yet. It has simply migrated from state hospitals and health departments to the courts and medical offices. Take the case of Kathy Looney, a Louisiana woman convicted in 2000 of abusing three of her eight children. She was given a savage choice: either undergo medical sterilization or face lengthy jail time. Ultimately, she agreed to the sterilization and the judge issued a 10-year suspended sentence and placed Ms. Looney on five years of probation.

“I don’t want to have to lock you up to keep you from having any more children,” barked District Judge Carl V. Sharp. “So some kind of medical procedure is needed to make sure you don’t.”

In this context, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a revealing comparison by Drs. Andre N. Sofair and Lauris C. Kaldjian of German and U.S. sterilization policies from 1930 to 1945. During the years when Americans were being involuntarily sterilized as part of a multi-state eugenics program dating back to 1907, what did the leading medical journals here have to say on the topic in their editorials?

The authors reviewed the relevant periodicals only from the 1930s. Even in this narrow time frame, against the backdrop of Nazi eugenic programs, the facts are instructive. The American Journal of Medicine, the Annals of Internal Medicine and the American Journal of Psychiatry had nothing to say. The American Journal of Public Health ran one anonymous editorial on mental health that Sofair and Kaldjian described as “relevant,” probably because it suggested that rising rates of hospitalization for the mentally infirm didn’t necessarily mean that Americans’ mental IQs were falling, a belief that was exploited by the advocates of eugenic sterilization.

A special committee convened by the American Neurological Association endorsed the widely held view that mentally “defective” people were a drain on national resources. The committee took a positive view of “feeblemindedness,” on the grounds that it breeds “servile, useful people who do the dirty work of the race.” The committee reviewed the Germany sterilization law of 1933, and praised it for precision and scientific grounding.

The editorial record of the New England Journal in the early 1930s was dreadful. Editorials lamented the supposed increase in the rate of American feeblemindedness as dangerous, and the economic burden of supporting the mentally feeble as “appalling.” In 1934, The Journal’s editor, Morris Fishbein, wrote that “Germany is perhaps the most progressive nation in restricting fecundity among the unfit,” and argued that the “individual must give way to the greater good.”

While researching our book Whiteout, I came across a remarkable federal court opinion on sterilizations of the poor. In 1974, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell wrote that “over the last few years, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 low-income persons have been sterilized annually in federally-funded programs.”

Gesell pointed out that though Congress had decreed that family planning programs function on a voluntary basis, “an indefinite number of poor people have been improperly coerced into accepting a sterilization operation under the threat that various federally funded benefits would be withdrawn. … Patients receiving Medicaid assistance at childbirth are evidently the most frequent targets of this pressure.”

Starting in the early 1990s, poor women were allowed Medicaid funding to have Norplant inserted into their arms; then, when they complained of pain and other unwelcome side effects, they were told no funding was available to have the Norplant rods taken out. Here, therefore, was a new species of involuntary sterilization, implemented under the approving gaze of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who later imposed their cruel Malthusian obsession on the destitute women of Haiti.

In the coming age of austerity, as poverty, homelessness and huger take deep root across the Republic, the eugenic impulse is almost certain to reemerge, probably dressed in the old progressive guise of social improvement and economic benevolence.

[Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand 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.]

Source / Counterpunch

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The First Step to Solving a Problem Is Recognizing That There Is One ....


Source / The New Civil Rights Movement

Thanks to Jerry Withers / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, November 1, 2013

A Little Much-Needed Truth About "Class Warfare"


The Logic of Stupid Poor People
By Tressie McMillan Cottom / October 29, 2013

We hates us some poor people. First, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags.


To be fair, this isn’t about Eroll Louis. His is a belief held by many people, including lots of black people, poor people, formerly poor people, etc. It is, I suspect, an honest expression of incredulity. If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars?

One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.

My family is a classic black American migration family. We have rural Southern roots, moved north and almost all have returned. I grew up watching my great-grandmother, and later my grandmother and mother, use our minimal resources to help other people make ends meet. We were those good poors, the kind who live mostly within our means. We had a little luck when a male relative got extra military pay when they came home a paraplegic or used the VA to buy a Jim Walter house (pdf). If you were really blessed when a relative died with a paid up insurance policy you might be gifted a lump sum to buy the land that Jim Walters used as collateral to secure your home lease. That’s how generational wealth happens where I’m from: lose a leg, a part of your spine, die right and maybe you can lease-to-own a modular home.

We had a little of that kind of rural black wealth so we were often in a position to help folks less fortunate. But perhaps the greatest resource we had was a bit more education. We were big readers and we encouraged the girl children, especially, to go to some kind of college. Consequently, my grandmother and mother had a particular set of social resources that helped us navigate mostly white bureaucracies to our benefit. We could, as my grandfather would say, talk like white folks. We loaned that privilege out to folks a lot.

I remember my mother taking a next door neighbor down to the social service agency. The elderly woman had been denied benefits to care for the granddaughter she was raising. The woman had been denied in the genteel bureaucratic way — lots of waiting, forms, and deadlines she could not quite navigate. I watched my mother put on her best Diana Ross “Mahogany” outfit: a camel colored cape with matching slacks and knee high boots. I was miffed, as only an only child could be, about sharing my mother’s time with the neighbor girl. I must have said something about why we had to do this. Vivian fixed me with a stare as she was slipping on her pearl earrings and told me that people who can do, must do. It took half a day but something about my mother’s performance of respectable black person — her Queen’s English, her Mahogany outfit, her straight bob and pearl earrings — got done what the elderly lady next door had not been able to get done in over a year. I learned, watching my mother, that there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging. It meant dressing well and speaking well. It might not work. It likely wouldn't work but on the off chance that it would, you had to try. It was unfair but, as Vivian also always said, “life isn’t fair little girl.”

I internalized that lesson and I think it has worked out for me, if unevenly. A woman at Belk’s once refused to show me the Dooney and Burke purse I was interested in buying. Vivian once made a salesgirl cry after she ignored us in an empty store. I have walked away from many of hotly desired purchases, like the impractical off-white winter coat I desperately wanted, after some bigot at the counter insulted me and my mother. But, I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind. It’s a mixed bag. Of course, the trick is you can never know the counterfactual of your life. There is no evidence of access denied. Who knows what I was not granted for not enacting the right status behaviors or symbols at the right time for an agreeable authority? Respectability rewards are a crap-shoot but we do what we can within the limits of the constraints imposed by a complex set of structural and social interactions designed to limit access to status, wealth, and power.

I do not know how much my mother spent on her camel colored cape or knee-high boots but I know that whatever she paid it returned in hard-to-measure dividends. How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don’t know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield.

Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It’s the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain’t fair.

In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership. I cannot know exactly how often my presentation of acceptable has helped me but I have enough feedback to know it is not inconsequential. One manager at the apartment complex where I worked while in college told me, repeatedly, that she knew I was “Okay” because my little Nissan was clean. That I had worn a Jones of New York suit to the interview really sealed the deal. She could call the suit by name because she asked me about the label in the interview. Another hiring manager at my first professional job looked me up and down in the waiting room, cataloging my outfit, and later told me that she had decided I was too classy to be on the call center floor. I was hired as a trainer instead. The difference meant no shift work, greater prestige, better pay and a baseline salary for all my future employment.

I have about a half dozen other stories like this. What is remarkable is not that this happened. There is empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men. What is remarkable is that these gatekeepers told me the story. They wanted me to know how I had properly signaled that I was not a typical black or a typical woman, two identities that in combination are almost always conflated with being poor.

I sat in on an interview for a new administrative assistant once. My regional vice president was doing the hiring. A long line of mostly black and brown women applied because we were a cosmetology school. Trade schools at the margins of skilled labor in a gendered field are necessarily classed and raced. I found one candidate particularly charming. She was trying to get out of a salon because 10 hours on her feet cutting hair would average out to an hourly rate below minimum wage. A desk job with 40 set hours and medical benefits represented mobility for her. When she left my VP turned to me and said, “did you see that tank top she had on under her blouse?! OMG, you wear a silk shell, not a tank top!” Both of the women were black.

The VP had constructed her job as senior management. She drove a brand new BMW because she, “should treat herself” and liked to tell us that ours was an image business. A girl wearing a cotton tank top as a shell was incompatible with BMW-driving VPs in the image business. Gatekeeping is a complex job of managing boundaries that do not just define others but that also define ourselves. Status symbols — silk shells, designer shoes, luxury handbags — become keys to unlock these gates. If I need a job that will save my lower back and move my baby from medicaid to an HMO, how much should I spend signaling to people like my former VP that I will not compromise her status by opening the door to me? That candidate maybe could not afford a proper shell. I will never know. But I do know that had she gone hungry for two days to pay for it or missed wages for a trip to the store to buy it, she may have been rewarded a job that could have lifted her above minimum wage. Shells aren’t designer handbags, perhaps. But a cosmetology school in a strip mall isn’t a job at Bank of America, either.

At the heart of these incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars. There is a regular news story of a lunch lady who, unbeknownst to all who knew her, died rich and leaves it all to a cat or a charity or some such. Books about the modest lives of the rich like to tell us how they drive Buicks instead of BMWs. What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.

Source / tressiemc

Thanks to Alan Brodrick / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, October 25, 2013

To Retain Your Perspective, Throw Away Your Television

Source / YouTube

Thanks to Telebob / Fluxed Up World

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Russell Brand Rants On the Corporate Establishment



Source / Common Dreams

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We Still Seek the Cure Even When the Cause Is Under Our Noses

Protestor at the March Against Monsanto in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 12, 2013.


Source / March Against Monsanto Facebook Page

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Front-Line Battle for Environmental Justice on Kauai, Hawaii

Protestors in Kauai display anti-GMO, anti-pesticide, and, more generally, anti-industrial-agriculture protest signs as they march to stop the poisoning of their land and livelihoods. Photo credit: March Against Monsanto.


Chemical Corporations Tremble at Kauai's Unwavering Determination
By Andrea Brower / October 12, 2013

Over forty people lined up at 10 pm on Monday evening to get a seat in Kauai's small council chambers the following day at 8:30 am. They stood, laid and danced in line, through dark tropical downpours, for over 10 hours just to witness one of many ongoing council meetings. This has become the state of our lives over the past months. Public hearings lasting past 1 am, historical mobilizations of thousands taking to the streets, nights where sleep has been replaced by research, writing and sign-making.

Little Kauai's struggle against the largest chemical-seed corporations in the world is inspiring much attention. Nearly every corn seed in the industrial food system touches Hawaii somewhere; the most isolated islands in the world have become a main hub of research and development for the multinational companies that dominate the agricultural input market. Six corporations control 70 percent of the global pesticide (including herbicide and insecticide) market and essentially the entire market for genetically modified seeds. Four of them -- Pioneer DuPont, Dow, Syngenta and BASF -- occupy 15,000 acres on Kauai. Kauai has a population of 64,000 mostly working-class residents. A true David versus Goliath story that is just beginning to fully unfold.

Some recent media commentators have asked "why now?" about Hawaii's growing movement against the agrochemical-GMO industry, suggesting the influence of a relatively paltry sum of non-local funding, a few friendly politicians, and Facebook. All things that perhaps have been tools in the movement, but surely not an explanation for its presence, popular resonance and firm determination.

To understand the "why" of our local struggle, it firstly needs to be situated in a larger global movement that is responding to a radically unjust, anti-democratic and ecologically destructive food and agricultural system. On Kauai, the movement is partly about the local manifestations of that food system -- the poisoning of land and people for the development of new technologies that the world does not want, and does not need. It is a response to resident grievances over breathing in pesticide-laden dust on a daily basis for the past 15 years; parent and teacher anger after dozens of students were poisoned a second and third time; local physician concerns that they are noticing higher rates of illnesses and rare birth defects; the frustration of Native Hawaiian taro farmers watching rivers go dry as chemical companies divert and dump water; beekeeper fears that they will be next to loose organic certification due to pesticide contamination, or experience hive die-off from the known bee-killers.

Some of the same commentators have mistakenly labeled our struggle an "anti-GMO" movement, reducing our activism to mere opposition to a technology. More accurately, on Kauai we are responding to the specific impacts of the agrochemical-GMO industry on our island -- clearly an issue of environmental justice. Within the global movement that we are a part of, there are people who do not believe we should be influencing life at the fundamental level that GMO technology does. There are also a lot of people in the movement who are not strictly opposed to the science of genetic engineering itself. In regards to GMOs, what is being opposed is the direction and control of that science, and the resulting social and ecological devastation of how it is being used.

We are beginning to expose what happens at "Ground Zero" of the chemical-GMO industry's R&D operations. Kauai may soon pass a bill that would give us the right to know what pesticides are being used in massive amounts right up next to schools, hospitals and residences. Kauai County Bill 2491 would also establish buffer-zones around these sensitive areas, mandate a health and environmental impact study, and if passed in its full form, put a temporary halt on expansion of the industry.

As Kauai's pesticide "Right to Know" bill moves forward, the chemical companies are revealing just how afraid they are of us gaining even the most basic information about their operations. Arrows to derail, distract, depress and divide us are being shot from every direction, and from some of the deepest pockets on the planet. Above all, the chem-seed corporations are attempting to exterminate our belief that we are capable of making change. They tell us that justice is illegal, that we must choose between jobs and health, that we will be inept at regulating them (wouldn't they like to think!), that we can't possibly feed ourselves from our best agricultural lands, and that without them the world will go hungry. They try to push us to retreat back to our individual lives, convinced that collective action for social change has become impossible, and that there simply is no alternative to the food system they are designing.

Too often we concede our imaginations to the status quo; the dominant logics of the day train us to do so. We talk as if all the deals have already been made. We say we tried in the 60's, but nothing ever changes. We decide that the best we can do is buy organic or fair-trade, crossing our fingers that our "dollar vote" will transform the entire food system. We attempt to just "opt-out" of the system, hoping that the billions of others will somehow find their way "out" too (even though we know ours is rife with contradictions). We sing "don't worry, just be happy," and pop a Prozac.

But what is happening on Kauai is inspiring the eyes of the world and terrifying the chemical companies because we have not, and will not, surrender our belief in the possibility of big, meaningful social change. When they tell us that "there is no alternative" to their malignant existence, we are calling their bluff.

We are on the verge of forcing insidiously powerful corporations to disclose what kinds of toxic experiments they are conducting on our land and people. And this is just the very tip of what is happening on Kauai, and what is increasingly happening around the world. As we build new solidarities, connect the dots of destruction in our food system, and situate these in the broader economic-political context, we are having new conversations and thinking in ways that push the boundaries of what is considered possible. We are beginning to talk seriously about our fundamental human rights to clean air, water and soil; about the colonial legacy of concentrated land ownership; about the privatization of the resources needed to grow food; about the injustices of an economic system where competitive profit accumulation is the only defining logic; and about the possibility of new ways, often based in old knowledge and wisdom.

Though the chemical companies may be devastating our lands and waters, they have not devastated our imaginations. Whether or not we pass a bill, we are growing the momentum, intelligence and creativity of a movement that will continue to take bigger and bolder steps. The food movement, locally and globally, is rising, and it isn't going away. And we will win, because the world we are fighting for is what the vast majority of people want, and we are simply reminding people how to believe that it is in fact possible to make that world.

[Andrea Brower is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Auckland. She has been very active in alternative food and global social justice movements, and spent several years co-directing the non-profit Malama Kauai in Hawaii, where she is originally from.]

Source / Huffington Post

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Changing the World, One City at a Time



Source / Vimeo

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