I think I Have Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, I heard about it on TV!

Have you ever noticed how Big Pharma in the United States has things exactly backwards? Instead of developing new pills that people need like non-addictive painkillers and antibiotics for resistant infections, it develops new diseases.

 

Who remembers Restless Legs Syndrome? It sounded ridiculous but Big Pharma made a lot of money with drugs to treat it. Who remembers Shift Work Sleep Disorder and Non-24-hour Sleep Wake Disorder? Sleep disorders are lucrative for Big Pharma because everyone sleeps--or watches TV when they can't.

 

Whenever a reporter writes about such highly-advertised rare diseases they get veritable hate mail. "How dare you imply that Can't-Wake-Up-in-the-Morning disease doesn’t exist? I have suffered for years!" they scream as they threaten us and our editors and claim we are trying to take their drugs away. "I have adult ADHD no one can tell me I don't!"

 

Okay, we tell them--we are sure you have whatever you have. The point we are making is information about diseases should not come from companies who stand to make money from the diseases growing. There should not be symptom quizzes to encourage your suspicion that you have the advertised disease created by the people who make money on it.

 

You should not be telling a doctor the disease you have and the drug you need--it should be the other way around. Which is the party who went to medical school? Ads for proton therapy even encourage patients to tell their doctor what kind of radiation they need. What?

 

Direct to consumer advertising in the United States has galvanized a lot of people who, for one reason or another, like to have a health problem or condition. For example, problems with money, jobs, family, marriage, mood, self-esteem and body image used to be called "life." Now, they are called "depression" and almost a quarter of the U.S. population is treated for it.

The very fact that a drug is advertised on TV means it is an expensive brand name drug. When people decide they need it rather than a cheaper drug or no drug at all-- hello?--everyone's health care costs go up. Also, the real risks of new drugs advertised on TV are not known because they have not been widely used yet. Many of the drugs withdrawn from the market for safety reasons were highly advertised, blockbuster drugs until they were in wide use.

 

This fall, North Chicago-based AbbVie rolled out another disease people may have never heard of but might have. The disease is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) and its symptoms include frequent diarrhea, gas and bloating and stomach pain according to the website Identify EPI. AbbVie's drug, Creon can treat EPI but it also "may increase your chance of having a rare bowel disorder called fibrosing colonopathy" and may cause "frequent or abnormal bowel movements; bloating." Sounds like you'll have problems  with or without the drug-- but with the drug Big Pharma will make money.

Don't be embarrassed to tell your doctor about your "poop" say awareness ads for EPI. Seems like Big Pharma should be embarrassed for selling diseases to move its medicines.

 

My cartoon-filled book, Born with a Junk Food Deficiency, explores more sales tactics of Big Pharma and the food industry. It makes a great holiday gift for health-conscious people on your list.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

I believe one of the litmus tests by which a society can be judged is the ways it treats its young people, for this opens a window projecting how that society operates generally.

Adultism, as defined by John Bell includes “behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.” Within an adultist society, adults construct the rules, with little or no input from youth, which they force young people to follow.

Even the terminology our society employs to refer to youth betrays a hierarchical power dynamic. For example, we refer to young people as “kids,” a term originally applying to young goats. By referring to youth as farm animals provides adults cover in controlling and maintaining unlimited power over human beings. (We must treat and respect animals more than we do as well.) Even the term “child” implies an imbalance of power. When people refer to an individual of any age as “the child of,” we automatically place that individual in a diminutive form.

Of course, parents and other adults have the inherent responsibility of protecting young people from harming themselves and being harmed by others, and of teaching them how to live and function in society within our ever changing global community. In Freudian terms, we must develop a balance between the individual’s unrestrained instinctual drives and restraints (repression) on these drives in the service of maintaining society (civilization), and to sustain the life of the individual.

We as a society, nonetheless, must set a line demarcating protection from control, teaching from oppression, minimal and fundamental repression from what Herbert Marcuse terms “surplus repression” (that which goes over and beyond what is necessary for the protection of the individual and the smooth functioning of society, and enters into the realm of domination, control, and oppression).

Reading and watching The Hunger Games series of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins released in 2008 and recently made into a sequence of movies, I was quite fascinated by what I interpreted as a commentary on our oppressive (surplus-repressive) society. The author presents the story through the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, which takes place in Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation where the former countries of North America once existed. The Capitol (as it is named), a technologically advanced metropolis, exerts total political control over the entire nation. The Hunger Games denotes an annual event in which one young woman and one young man aged 12-18 from each of the twelve districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised brutal and deadly battle. Of the 24 “contestants,” only one will survive, though in the initial installment of the series, two contestants contest this rule, and they begin to forge a crack in the wall of domination.

One of the primary ways oppression in any and all of its varieties operates is when the dominant group, in this case adults, pit members of minoritized groups, in this case youth, against one another through competition for gold stars and grades, for supposedly scarce resources, for attention, love, and affection, for financial and career success, and, in the metaphor of The Hunger Games, for life itself.

In terms of education, however, philosopher and author Alfie Kohn calls for a radical rethinking of the competitive structure on which our educational system is based, away from what he calls the “I win, therefore, you lose” viewpoint. Kohn refers to competition as a “disease,” an “addiction,” a “poison” on which we are raised, something trained and not born into us. He argues that students and workers can enjoy, learn, and produce more with other people rather than against them, and he advocates for cooperative education.

In addition, those of any age who bully often do so, though sometimes unconsciously, to reinforce dominant group scripts established and forced onto minoritized individuals and groups to memorize when they enter the stage called “life.” When youth bully other youth, very often those who bully “pass down” the bullying they receive from others, often from adults. Youth killing other youth, as depicted in The Hunger Games, epitomizes the most extreme form of bullying.

Teräshjo and Salmivalli argue that those who bully fulfill the social “function” of establishing and reinforcing social norms. They found that students often justify bullying behaviors by blaming the targets of their attacks, and emphasizing that they somehow deserve the peer aggression or that they in some ways deviate from the established social norms. This I contend is a form of ruthless socialization.

Social rank theory, as used by Hawker and Boulton, proposes that aggressive individuals actually hold a higher rank, power, or status within a social group. Therefore, aggressive behavior, and bullying in particular, may provide those who engage in aggressive behaviors a sense of belonging. Hawker and Boulton contend that peer victimization serves a number of functions. First, it establishes and maintains a social hierarchy within a given group (an “in-group”), and second, it maintains distinctions between members of the in-group, from members of other groups (“out-groups”).

Adultism also operates as a continuum from subtle to extreme, from adults ignoring or neglecting young people, to statements like “Children should be seen and not heard,” “You’re too young to do that,” and “Just grow up,” to “You’re stupid,” and “You’re ugly,” to “When you are living in my house, you follow my rules,” to circumscribed or qualified love, to corporal punishment, and eviction by family from one’s home, to sexual and other violent assaultive acts, to murder. As a society, we deprive youth of their basic civil and human rights only somewhat less than we deprive these rights from convicted prison inmates.

What if, however, youth joined together to defeat adultist oppression – the surplus repression establishing and maintaining adult privilege and control over youth? More generally, what if all minoritized groups joined together to challenge dominant group privilege and oppression in all its forms?

In actually, youth and other groups of our vast society are, indeed, standing up, speaking out, and joining in coalition to contest the barriers built throughout time and space. This is true in The Hunger Games as it is outside of science fiction tropes.

As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the downfall of the once virtually impenetrable Berlin Wall, we must join together to take down the “freedom” of people to deprive other people of their freedoms. In other words, we need to dismantle the walls constructed by individuals, institutions, and societies that stand only for the purpose of maintaining power and control over others.

We can begin by considering our real motives next time we attempt to restrict or punish a young person.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on  Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

At a chemical plant called Point Pleasant in a town named Apple Grove in a state John Denver labeled almost heaven, a man known as Freel Tackett helped negotiate three collective bargaining agreements that provided raises and decent benefits for workers and retirees.

Heaven ended in 2007 for Tackett and other retired Point Pleasant workers. That’s when the corporation that now owns the plant betrayed them by refusing to continue paying the full cost of retiree health benefits. These days, it’s almost hell for retirees. For seven years they’ve lived under a dark shadow, as if Point Pleasant’s most infamous denizen, the monster Mothman, immortalized in the book and movie The Mothman Prophesies, had returned.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union told the U.S. Supreme Court last week that these workers had labored a lifetime to earn retiree health benefits. The court should forbid the company from rescinding earned benefits, the USW argued. The corporation, M&G Polymers, asked the court to validate its reneging on its pledge to workers because, it contended, the collective bargaining agreement is insufficiently specific. M&G insisted that vagueness gives it carte blanche to shift costs to workers.

M&G Polymers is Point Pleasant's new Mothman

“I think a lot of corporations these days are doing the same thing,” Tackett said.  “I am just hoping the Supreme Court will prohibit it,” added Tackett, who is one of three named plaintiffs representing the class of 492 Point Pleasant plant retirees and spouses. Workers at the West Virginia plant are members of the USW.

Tackett talked about the appeal as he prepared to go to a funeral for a friend from his days in the plant. That man will never know the ultimate outcome of the case that the retirees won at both the trial and appeals levels. The man’s widow is struggling financially and told Tackett she thinks she will be forced to sell her home to cover the cost of her husband’s unpaid medical bills. Tackett urged her to try to hold out for the high court’s decision.

Tackett told her that if the justices rule for the retirees, then M&G Polymers will likely have to reimburse her the nearly $20,000 that her husband and other retirees paid to maintain their company health insurance until the trial court ordered M&G Polymers to resume paying the full premiums.

“We have several people who passed away,” as they awaited the outcome, Tackett said. “We have several people who passed away,” as they awaited the outcome, Tackett said. “We just don’t know how many of them died as a result of not going to the doctor when needed or not getting medication they needed" because they couldn't afford the insurance, he said.

Court records show that as of Dec. 14, 2011, only 96 of the retirees were still paying the costs imposed by M&G Polymers to cover themselves and their spouses. Some retirees quit the company plan because they found less expensive insurance elsewhere. Others, the court records show, went without coverage.

The fees M&G charged retirees rose dramatically each year. For those old enough to receive Medicare, the initial cost was $144.44 a month. But for younger retirees, it was $856.22 a month. By 2011, those charges rose to $452.01 a month for the Medicare eligible and $957.92 a month for the others.

“It is a huge amount of money when you are on a fixed income,” Tackett said, “I had to spend a big part of my pension on health insurance.”

Tackett started working at the plant when Goodyear owned it. He negotiated contracts and served for four years as president of the local union in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before Goodyear sold the plant to Shell in 1992. Shell sold it to M&G in 2000.

Throughout that time, Tackett said, he believed that language in the collective bargaining agreement guaranteed the company would pay the total cost of health benefits for workers who were eligible for full pensions when they retired. The lawsuit quotes the collective bargaining agreements as saying that workers earning a full pension “will receive a full Company contribution toward the cost of [health care] benefits.”

And the collective bargaining agreement says that if a retiree dies before his or her spouse, then the spouse remains entitled to health benefits until death or remarriage.

The agreement never says the retiree loses the benefit after so many years or must pay a portion of the costs. It also doesn’t say benefits earned by retirees over their work lives end with the expiration of any given collective bargaining agreement.

Even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to agree with the retirees on that point, saying during the arguments, “It is a reasonable assumption, call it a presumption if you like, that any promise to pay those benefits continues after the termination of the union contract.”

The fact that the collective bargaining agreement never specifically says the benefits must be paid in full by the company for the retiree’s lifetime is not unusual. A law firm with no financial interest in the outcome of the case reviewed collective bargaining agreements providing health insurance for retirees and reported to the Supreme Court that only 26 percent contained at least one clause suggesting that the benefit must be paid for life, while 14 percent contained ambiguous language and 16 percent were silent on the issue.

Previous owners of the plant never questioned the obligation and paid the benefits in full until the retiree and spouse died. In addition, M&G’s demands of Shell show that it knew the obligation was not limited.

When Goodyear sold the plant to Shell, it retained responsibility for the workers who retired during its ownership. Shell did not want to do that. So M&G hired actuaries to calculate the cost of the benefits that would be owed to the workers who retired in the eight years Shell owned the plant. That would include costs for Tackett who retired in 1996.

Shell allowed M&G to subtract that amount from the price of the Point Pleasant plant. As a result, Shell paid M&G the costs for those retirees. Now M&G is trying to get paid a second time by demanding those Point Pleasant retirees pay part of their premiums. 

Tackett, who lives in Bidwell, Ohio, started work at the plant in 1966. That, coincidentally, is the year that Mothman began terrifying local residents.

As Mothman did, M&G has stricken hundreds of families in this rural West Virginia region with fear. They’re scared they won’t be able to afford health insurance they believed they’d earned. A decision by the Supreme Court affirming the lower courts’ rulings would relieve retirees like 78-year-old Tackett and restore justice in Point Pleasant. 

Looking for answers
Bad as the newly-elected legislators may (likely) be, a certain segment of the population better brace for what will likely be the Dickens’ “worst of times” in the years to come. 

The millions of kids and adults who find themselves on the far end of the economic spectrum—living at, under or near the poverty line—will undoubtedly learn what hard times are in ways we haven’t seen before. Most at risk, millions of children and youth experiencing homelessness.

The National Center on Family Homelessness just released their report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, citing an all-time high surge of homeless children: 1 in every 30 children lack a place to live in…America.

As someone who’s been around the poverty arena for 3 decades, I viewed the 2014 election results with justified horror. My memories include the “beloved” (by some) Ronald Reagan’s reign, thinking it can’t get worse, followed by the constant deterioration during the Bush years,  with Clinton’s dismantling of the flimsy safety net for families, aka welfare “reform,” in the middle. No, Obama’s terms have been no picnic either. I’m bipartisan pissed. 

Rather than point to massive policy changes needed, let me point out the one thing that helps, the “something” that gets scant media attention but exists everywhere, that will not only help the most vulnerable survive these next troubled years but will also nurture a grassroots movement capable of restoring some semblance of humanity to our hurting world: compassion.

compassion [kuh m-pash-uh n] 1.a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. 

Throughout my travels across the U.S., now beginning my 10th year, I’ve witnessed countless instances where compassion has bridged unimaginable gaps between both those homeless and not. Even within the ranks of homeless families and individuals, compassion regularly occurs. Compassion keeps humanity alive. It can be accomplished in small, even negligible seeming ways (here’s a starter list). It can be as simple as a smile or as vital as giving food to the hungry person on the street.

Attempts to stifle compassion won’t work, as blatantly illustrated in my former hometown of Ft. Lauderdale where officials seem to have a vendetta against not only people enduring homelessness but also the 90-year-old do-gooder taking a stand against their cruelty. Too many unsung champions still exhibit kindness and love. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s simple reminder is worth pondering, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

My prescription for these next years leading up to the drudgery of the next round of elections (when voters better come out in droves) is simple. Practice compassion. It’s contagious. It can be done with little to no money. It establishes and promotes kindness. It pisses off those who want to control society by dividing the ultra-rich from the peons—people like you and me that think all people should have a meal, a place to sleep and the basics to stay alive and thrive. 

I’m asking you to be part of the “compassion epidemic” that will defy attempts to destroy humanity. My HEAR US website has a page to get you started. You can take this simple action aimed at reformulating how our nation defines homelessness.

Now get away from your computer and get your hands dirty in a sink of pots and pans at your local soup kitchen. Oh wait. Congressman Paul Ryan already washed them.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

“Go f-ck yourself,” Jon Stewart said in a moment of perceptible anger.

This wasn’t the usual, lighthearted barb during a satirical segment, nor a playful expression of ire diluted by audience laughter. It was sincere and seemingly raw, uttered during an interview with Jon Dekel and directed toward those Jews who have called him anti-Semitic, self-hating, or a kapo for critiquing Israel on The Daily Show.

The verbal barb didn’t come out of left field during Dekel’s interview, conducted in advance of the release of Stewart’s movie, Rosewater. It came near the end of a series of focused questions posed to Stewart on the topic of attacks he’s withstood from the American Jewish community. Attacks he’s suffered for treating Israel honestly on his show, for having the temerity to highlight its misdeeds.

They are the same attacks I have felt repeatedly, both for my own critiques of Israel and for my reconciliation with a Palestinian family after an encounter with terrorism. They are the same attacks an increasing number of committed Jews are feeling – Jews invested in Israel who are willing to speak out about Israel’s misdeeds. Of course, anyone who critiques Israel these days is subject to such attacks, from Steven Salaita to Conflict Kitchen.

However, as a Jew, Stewart passionately focused on those attacks which have been made against him by fellow Jews. In doing so, he crafted a rebuttal so on-point that I felt as though he were speaking not just for me, but for the countless other Jews who have critiqued Israel and paid a price for doing so.

Responding to the idea that ‘pro-Israel’ Jewish institutions and hawkish Jews now gauge one’s Jewishness by a political metric – a willingness to fervently back Israel’s government – Stewart first offered a measured insight:

It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are … You can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

Stewart’s analysis is spot on. As I’ve written in the past, the conflation of Israel with all Jews, itself an anti-Semitic trope, has become a staple for ‘pro-Israel’ discourse. Israel is viewed as the ‘Jew’ amongst the nations by such people, which means that anyone who critiques or condemns Israel’s actions are, by definition, attacking the Jewish people. Within the Jewish community, that means anyone – even someone like myself, a Jewish educator and author – can not only be smeared as anti-Semitic, but castigated as a Jew worthy of being exiled from the community.

On this topic I get pretty emotional sometimes. Stewart eventually did as well when Dekel confronted him with the idea that he’s not only less Jewish because of his critiques of Israel, but an outright enemy of the Jewish people. Witness Stewart’s emotions crescendo as he opens up:

How are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that [other Jews] can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.

I always want to say to people when they come at me like [I'm an enemy]: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

How dare they, indeed.

Such people who are otherwise often rational individuals, sometimes even deeply liberal or progressive, become deeply hateful and irrational when it comes to Israel. And it’s an irrationality borne out of fear. Fear developed by a history of trauma. Fear borne in the Holocaust’s wake. Fear for the existential survival of Israel – the metaphorical lifeline for some American and diaspora Jews who constantly wait for the rug to be pulled from underneath them.

On this point, Stewart had his most poignant thought:

I think [their irrationality] comes from abuse. The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor.

This is precisely why I challenge Israel’s occupation, its settlement expansions, and those Jewish organizations which stand idly and silently by as the country devolves into a one-state entity.

I refuse to stand silently by as the once-oppressed, my people, become oppressors.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Brittany M. Powell, originally published in The Bold Italic

In 2012, after struggling with a significant loss of income from my photography business following the 2008 economic decline, my debt skyrocketed, and I made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy. This inspired my interest in investigating how debt affects our identities and how we relate to the world. Debt is publicly enforced and highly stigmatized but is almost always privately experienced. It is in many ways an abstract form without material weight or structure, yet it has a heavy physicality and is a burden in a person's everyday life.

The Debt Project is a photographic and multimedia exploration into the role that debt plays in our personal identities and social structures. I began the projectby asking subjects to sit for a formal portrait in their homes, surrounded by their belongings, in a way that's reminiscent of the early Flemish portrait-painting tradition, and answer a series of questions on camera about their debt. I also asked them to handwrite the amount of debt they are in and tell the story behind it.

So far, I have shot thirty-two people in the Bay Area, New York City, Portland, and the Detroit metro areas.My goal is to photograph ninety-nine people across the US in order to bring people together to talk about and recontextualize an abstract, often shamed condition. It is my hope that by having a platform to discuss this issue, it will encourage the viewer and participants to question and reframe our perceptions of debt and how we contribute to its power and role in society today. Below is a compilation of the Bay Area participants and their stories.

I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund completion costs of the project. Please feel free to donate if you like the project.Or if you are interested in participating in this project, please contact me at Brittany@brittanympowell.com

To see more of Brittany M. Powell's photos, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

Subscribe to Tikkun's special Winter 2015 issue on Jubilee and Debt Abolition here.

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on  Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Eli Zaretsky

This election is a call to progressives to strengthen their own identity, as separate from the identity of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. The worst outcome of the debacle of the Obama presidency is that it will be used to discredit the Left. In fact, the only way the country can begin to move from the terrible course it is now on is if progressives develop an independent voice, free from both Obama and the Clintons. The beginning of a path toward an independent Left is to remind ourselves why we supported Obama in 2008 and to face the fact that his disappointing performance since then is his responsibility, not ours.

Few things are more telling about the vacuity of the American public sphere today than the liberal mantra that leftists and progressives were naïve to get their hopes up in 2008. On the contrary our realization that the country was moving in a very bad direction and needed a radical turn in a new direction led to the enthusiasm for Obama and the initial hopes for his presidency. We have to look into the hopes we felt at that moment and own them as part of our identity. Three aspects of 2008 are particularly important.

First, we were right to look to the presidency, though obviously we vastly overestimated Obama as a person. The American presidency is a unique institution, which has evolved precisely to meet the kinds of crises that 2008 represented. To see this, we have to see how conservative the American Constitution is. The Supreme Court was devised to protect property rights, especially after John Marshall's reign. The Court has always been a force for extreme conservatism, with the exception of the Warren Court, which was essentially the product of the New Deal. The second branch of government, Congress, has also always been as we see it today: a "club of millionaires," special interests, narrow thinkers, opportunists, businessmen, sharpies, confidence men, and lawyers. By contrast, from Jefferson on, the presidency evolved into a special kind of democratic institution, one that gave the country the opportunity to bet on an individual periodically - to say, in effect, lead us somewhere new. It was for this reason that Hannah Arendt could offer the US as a real alternative to the European revolutionary tradition; in a sense it contained the possibility of permanent revolution. Sometimes the institution lent itself to right wing populism, as with Andrew Jackson, but mostly the great presidents were forces for progress. Obama failed, but that does not mean that we were wrong to hope that a first-rate individual would fill the office. This brings me to my second point, the role of the Left in American history.

The American radical tradition is one of the glories of the world. In its diversity and breadth,it includes abolitionism, trade unionism, socialist feminism, gay radicals and, of course, the African-American freedom struggle. It is one reason that Leftists, facing the disasters of the twentieth century, can persist. The American Left will always be a minority, but a very special one, one that comes to the fore in moments of crisis and helps define the long-term meaning of structural reforms, like health care and financial reform. It was the current incarnation of the American Left - the antiwar Left of the Democratic Party - that gave the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, and it did so because Hillary Clinton continued to defend her support for the Iraq intervention. We did that not only (though partly) for the symbolic value of electing the first Black President, but also because Obama (or at least Axelrod) explained that the problems did not start with Bush; they started with Clinton and Reagan and that we need not just a new policy but a new mindset. Obama's failure to honor the words with which he defeated Hillary Clinton is the basic cause of his failed Presidency.

Finally, we were right to turn to the African-American freedom struggle in our search for a usable past and present. Since this is a country founded for centuries on slavery, a country for which the term genocide can be considered (the slave population having gone from eleven million to six million in the course of a colonial century), for such reasons African-Americans have played a unique role in American politics. While the African-American community has produced many conservative figures, Booker T. Washington most preeminently, every African-American politician that achieved national leadership, in the sense of having followers and supporters from both races, has been on the Left. I am thinking of people like Frederick Douglass, WEB Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. When Obama ran in 2008 he signaled that his candidacy should be looked at in this context by the very shrewd tactic of describing his background as that of "community organizer," instead of what he really was:a Harvard lawyer and second-level Chicago politician. Community organizer is a buzzword for the collective unconscious, one that took us back to the Sixties, and even the Thirties. Obama's failure to keep faith with this tradition does not mean that we were wrong to look to it.

These points need to be kept in our minds as we move forward into a new presidential election. To be sure, no one will make the same mistake about Hillary Clinton that we made about Obama. She is running far to the right, and anyone can see that. But the hopes that inspired us in 2008 should still guide us. We need to be far more tempered in our hopes for what the presidency can accomplish, but more importantly we have to see that the country needs a Left more than ever.

Eli Zaretsky is the author of Why America Needs a Left

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Review--Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

It is often joked that even paranoids have real enemies and a case in point is the alarming new documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.  It may be paranoid to suggest that environmental groups ignore the leading cause of deforestation, methane and ocean degradation --animal agriculture--for financial gain. But why won't Emily Meredith, spokesperson for the industry group, Animal Agriculture Alliance, deny donating to such environmental groups? Twice saying she cannot answer the questions as she looks at an off camera adviser?

 

It may be paranoid to allege that activists who challenge the cattle industry risk their lives, yet activist nun Sister Dorothy Stang was shot six times outside the town of Anapu, Brazil for doing exactly that. A rancher in Brazil’s Amazon was sentenced to 30 years in prison for ordering the killing.

 

Directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, Cowspiracy connotes other popular movies like Bowling for Columbine, Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth with its blend of entertaining statistics and "gotcha" style interviews.

 

And some organizations are definitely "got." When asked about the role of animal agriculture in environmental degradation, Ann Notthoff, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emits a drawn-out creepy laugh and says she doesn’t know anything about "cow parts." When asked about the sustainability of any fishing given the huge numbers of unintended species that become "bykill," Dr. Geoff Shester with Oceana gives director Kip Andersen a lesson in capitalism. The ocean is a "conveyer belt" and fish are constantly replenishing he says. As long as we catch and eat the "interest" and not the "principle," there is no problem.

 

A spokesman for Amazon Watch cannot answer what the "leading cause" of deforestation is and hems and haws for excruciating seconds on camera. A spokesman for the Surfrider Foundation acknowledges that animal agriculture might be an environmental problem somewhere but not in California. And director of the Sierra Club Bruce Hamilton's answer when asked by Andersen about animal agriculture--"What about it?"--is so disingenuous, it becomes the lead-in to the entire movie. Few if any of the environmental groups even cite animal agriculture on their web sites, says Andersen.

 

Andersen's interview of California Water Resources Control Board officials was more nuanced. They admit, somewhat sheepishly, that animal agriculture is the top water user in the state but say it is not their "area" and that you can't change human "behavior." Andersen tells the officials he doesn't buy it--telling people to take "shorter showers" and make other water lifestyle changes, is also asking people to change their behavior.

 

Early in the movie, Andersen says he had been made a passionate environmentalist after watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and pledged to bicycle everywhere and take short showers. But then Andersen discovered that animal agriculture was the leading and often undisclosed source of resource degradation and pollution, accounting for a third of the earth's fresh water usage, most rain forest destruction and the ocean's growing dead zones. He discovers eating one hamburger uses as much water as two months of showers. Cowspiracy was born.

 

Environmental organizations that ignore agriculture are not the only groups coming off badly in the movie. Grass-fed beef operations are "even more unsustainable than factory farms," because they require three times more resources says the movie after a visit to one such farm. The farming couple who say they "love animals" which is why they are in the "meat business" (and whose child hugs the pigs while saying "they are going to be bacon") reveal grass-fed operations as nothing more than feel-good exercises for their operators.

 

One spokesperson in Cowspiracy compares animal agriculture to the alcoholic in a family who no one wants to talk about even as the harm spills over into the family, society and onto the highway. Ironically, two representatives of animal agriculture who are interviewed in the film are in less denial than the environmental and grass-fed cattle groups who are shown. There is not enough land available to do "this type of dairying" a dairy manager, surrounded by cows, admits on camera. A dairy CEO makes a similar concession. The world cannot be fed with animal based products, he says.

 

Despite the film's name, Cowspiracy addresses industrial fishing and shows disturbing scenes of fish and shark butchery. It shows a very-much-alive dairy cow loaded by several workers onto a front loader, no doubt a "downer," and the bloody teats of another cow. On a free-range duck operation, the farmer allows Anderson to film the slaughter of two ducks, tame enough to lie on a table awaiting their deaths. The farmer says he was taught to slaughter animals by his father who trained him as a boy to kill his own pet rabbits which, he says, had "names." "After a while you just learn it is something you have to do," he tells the camera crew.

 

Cowspiracy leaves little doubt about the scourge of animal agriculture in the US and the world and includes interviews with Michael Pollan, Dr. Richard Oppenlander, Dr. Will Tuttle, Will Potter, representatives from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a former board member of Greenpeace.  Less clear is the reason for environment groups' silence about animal agriculture or "cowspiracy." Could it be the same thing that propels animal agriculture itself--money?

 

 

Visit Cowspiracy for more information about the film.

 

 

 

 

It’s the redding of America. Republicans spilled Democratic candidate blood across the country last week.

Scarlet covers the map. Republicans took governorships in traditionally blue states. They won U.S. Senate seats in purple states. And they secured majorities in both houses of legislatures in 29 states of all hues, the highest number since 1920.

That means in January, GOP politicians will represent even greater numbers of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens, Libertarians. They don’t solely represent climate-science-denying, immigrant-hating, Ebola-scare-mongering tea partiers. They represent everyone residing in their districts. And those people must speak up about what they want because it’s sure as hell not what Republicans have promised to do.

Republicans could easily – though wrongly – perceive their big victory as a mandate. But exit polls show something quite different: Voters don’t like Republicans any better than Democrats. What they mainly think is that the economy stinks. And they want Washington to fix it. Though the recession is officially over and employment up, they’re not feeling it on Main Street. They held their noses at the ballot box and gave Republicans responsibility for doing something about it.

Voters told exit pollster after exit pollster the same thing: Though they pulled the lever for Republicans, they don’t like them. Fifty-four percent of voters told National Election Pool tabulators that they had “an unfavorable opinion” of Republicans. That’s the same percentage that had an unfavorable opinion of Democrats.

That’s no mandate. That’s a pox on both parties. 

What voters want is economic revival. Repeatedly, they named the economy and jobs as their priorities. In the National Election Pool survey, 78 percent of voters said they were worried about the economy over the next year.  In the Hart Research poll, 54 percent said their income was declining, and 68 percent said “raising wages and salaries is good because it improves people’s standard of living and boosts the economy.”

Though they picked the GOP, voters harbor no hope that Republicans will improve the nation’s financial standing. Sixty-two percent of those polled by Hart said they believed Republicans in Congress have no clear plan to strengthen the economy or create jobs.

And voters are right. Republicans aren’t talking about jobs. Instead, they want to cut taxes for corporations, slash federal programs for the poor and elderly and kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This would hobble the economy, not heal it.

If Republicans repealed the ACA, they’d be reaching into workers’ pockets and pulling out money. That’s because the 10 million who got insurance through the law would have to buy it on their own instead – if they could afford to do that, which, of course, they couldn’t do before the ACA. In addition, since the ACA, the price of health care has risen at historically low rates. Without the ACA, those charges would spike again, costing everyone with insurance more.  

It’s not what voters want. Fifty-nine percent told the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies that their vote had nothing to do with the ACA, and half of voters said they wanted the law retained or fixed, but not repealed.

They’re not interested in cutting taxes for the rich and corporations either. Just the opposite. Two-thirds told Hart pollsters that they support increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for job training, education and deficit reduction.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, isn’t listening. He said last week that lowering corporate tax rates and the federal debt were his top priorities.  Absolving corporations of their responsibility to pay for the public services that enable them to reap huge profits while simultaneously slashing public programs that provide equal opportunity for all citizens to succeed is austerity economics. It has failed miserably in Europe. Replicating it in the United States would impose the same economy-blighting results on Americans.

That’s not what voters want from a redder America. They want economic renewal.

Like Boehner in the House, reds in the Senate are setting off in the wrong direction. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is expected to take over the Senate budget committee and demand cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Gutting programs that this country has pledged to its elderly would defy the wishes of voters and damage the economy. Less money in the hands of senior citizens means less money spent, which, in turn, means less economic revving.

Voters strongly oppose any attempt to balance the budget on grandma’s arthritic back. In fact, 61 percent told the Hart pollsters said they want Social Security benefits increased. Also, 76 percent opposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare and cutting Medicaid.

The exit poll results should serve as a bright red light to Republicans. Stop. Quit pushing failed economic ideas that Americans despise.

For decades, both parties boosted the economy with infrastructure spending. The condition of the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, pipelines, locks and dams all improved, as did employment, commerce and the nation’s finances. It worked.

But then Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Senate and presumptive majority leader beginning in January, vowed to make President Obama a one-term president by blocking all legislation, no matter how good it would be for America. He obstructed all infrastructure spending proposals.

The 72 percent of Americans who support investment in infrastructure need to call their red representatives. Tell them to invest in America. Do something that works. Something Americans want. And stop trying to take money out of workers’ wallets.

Tell them that if they insist on trying to mangle cherished programs like Social Security, then in the next election voters will wash that red right off of that map. 

It’s the redding of America. Republicans spilled Democratic candidate blood across the country last week.

Scarlet covers the map. Republicans took governorships in traditionally blue states. They won U.S. Senate seats in purple states. And they secured majorities in both houses of legislatures in 29 states of all hues, the highest number since 1920.

That means in January, GOP politicians will represent even greater numbers of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens, Libertarians. They don’t solely represent climate-science-denying, immigrant-hating, Ebola-scare-mongering tea partiers. They represent everyone residing in their districts. And those people must speak up about what they want because it’s sure as hell not what Republicans have promised to do.

Republicans could easily – though wrongly – perceive their big victory as a mandate. But exit polls show something quite different: Voters don’t like Republicans any better than Democrats. What they mainly think is that the economy stinks. And they want Washington to fix it. Though the recession is officially over and employment up, they’re not feeling it on Main Street. They held their noses at the ballot box and gave Republicans responsibility for doing something about it.

Voters told exit pollster after exit pollster the same thing: Though they pulled the lever for Republicans, they don’t like them. Fifty-four percent of voters told National Election Pool tabulators that they had “an unfavorable opinion” of Republicans. That’s the same percentage that had an unfavorable opinion of Democrats.

That’s no mandate. That’s a pox on both parties. 

What voters want is economic revival. Repeatedly, they named the economy and jobs as their priorities. In the National Election Pool survey, 78 percent of voters said they were worried about the economy over the next year.  In the Hart Research poll, 54 percent said their income was declining, and 68 percent said “raising wages and salaries is good because it improves people’s standard of living and boosts the economy.”

Though they picked the GOP, voters harbor no hope that Republicans will improve the nation’s financial standing. Sixty-two percent of those polled by Hart said they believed Republicans in Congress have no clear plan to strengthen the economy or create jobs.

And voters are right. Republicans aren’t talking about jobs. Instead, they want to cut taxes for corporations, slash federal programs for the poor and elderly and kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This would hobble the economy, not heal it.

If Republicans repealed the ACA, they’d be reaching into workers’ pockets and pulling out money. That’s because the 10 million who got insurance through the law would have to buy it on their own instead – if they could afford to do that, which, of course, they couldn’t do before the ACA. In addition, since the ACA, the price of health care has risen at historically low rates. Without the ACA, those charges would spike again, costing everyone with insurance more.  

It’s not what voters want. Fifty-nine percent told the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies that their vote had nothing to do with the ACA, and half of voters said they wanted the law retained or fixed, but not repealed.

They’re not interested in cutting taxes for the rich and corporations either. Just the opposite. Two-thirds told Hart pollsters that they support increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for job training, education and deficit reduction.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, isn’t listening. He said last week that lowering corporate tax rates and the federal debt were his top priorities.  Absolving corporations of their responsibility to pay for the public services that enable them to reap huge profits while simultaneously slashing public programs that provide equal opportunity for all citizens to succeed is austerity economics. It has failed miserably in Europe. Replicating it in the United States would impose the same economy-blighting results on Americans.

That’s not what voters want from a redder America. They want economic renewal.

Like Boehner in the House, reds in the Senate are setting off in the wrong direction. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is expected to take over the Senate budget committee and demand cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Gutting programs that this country has pledged to its elderly would defy the wishes of voters and damage the economy. Less money in the hands of senior citizens means less money spent, which, in turn, means less economic revving.

Voters strongly oppose any attempt to balance the budget on grandma’s arthritic back. In fact, 61 percent told the Hart pollsters said they want Social Security benefits increased. Also, 76 percent opposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare and cutting Medicaid.

The exit poll results should serve as a bright red light to Republicans. Stop. Quit pushing failed economic ideas that Americans despise.

For decades, both parties boosted the economy with infrastructure spending. The condition of the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, pipelines, locks and dams all improved, as did employment, commerce and the nation’s finances. It worked.

But then Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Senate and presumptive majority leader beginning in January, vowed to make President Obama a one-term president by blocking all legislation, no matter how good it would be for America. He obstructed all infrastructure spending proposals.

The 72 percent of Americans who support investment in infrastructure need to call their red representatives. Tell them to invest in America. Do something that works. Something Americans want. And stop trying to take money out of workers’ wallets.

Tell them that if they insist on trying to mangle cherished programs like Social Security, then in the next election voters will wash that red right off of that map.