“A Bitch For God”

“I challenge the idea that the people who got us in this ditch are the only ones who can get us out of it.”

Marianne Williamson has called herself “a bitch for God.” As presidential candidate, she is getting plenty of attention right now. She is well known among a certain crowd, as she has written numerous books that sold widely, including best-sellers, such as Healing the Soul of America that topped The New York Times nonfiction list for 39 weeks: “Seven reached the New York Times best-seller list, and four hit No. 1” (Cameron Joseph, Marianne Williamson Knows You Think She’s a Joke. But Her Campaign Isn’t.). I’ve known about her since the 1990s during my young adulthood. But for most Americans, she hasn’t been a household name. Yet many people are more familiar with her words, such as a quote often misattributed to Nelson Mandela: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Besides being on Oprah’s show in the past, she is well connected and, for those who know her, strongly supported. She has inspired many people, from famous stars to ordinary Americans, including in politics: “She has some surprising adherents in the Granite State, including former Rep. Paul Hodes who served as a co-chairman on President Obama’s 2008 campaign and is still a power broker in the state. He’s been a Williamson fan since her heyday in the ’90s — her quote “Who are we to stay small?” inspired him to run for Congress a decade-plus ago and hangs in his home to this day,” as reported by Cameron Joseph. That has been her career, inspiring people and she has a talent for it. It is the kind of mixing of religion, politics, and progressive vision we haven’t seen in a while, maybe not since Martin Luther King Jr.

I must admit it feels validating to hear her in the mainstream media, particularly in the early Democratic debates. She comes out of the same background as I do, something I explained in another post (Heretic For President!). She is part of a heretical tradition of thought that goes back to the earliest Christians. Today, we think of it as “New Age” or what in the liberal wing of Christianity is called New Thought. Basically, she believes God is Love — no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s the radical message of Jesus himself, too often diluted or rationalized away and yet still carrying a powerful punch when released from centuries of stale dogma.

Williamson was the minister of the second largest Unity church in the country, the denomination of Christianity I was raised in. She still does guest speaking at that church and other churches. Her primary career has been as a Christian minister, but the mainstream, both left and right, caricatures her as a New Ager, spiritual guru, or whatever; although I’ll give Slate some credit for sort of complimenting her, if backhanded (Shannon Palus, The Bizarre Charm of Marianne Williamson). “I do not understand why everyone is so dismissive of her,” said Marshall Kirkpatrick. “Are we really so out of touch with emotions, spirituality, etc that she seems insane?” If corporate media were to be fair, they’d have to admit she is a Christian minister who comes out of the American Evangelical tradition (Unity Church) and who upholds a theology that has its roots in the earliest Christianity by way of Valentinianism (A Course In Miracles). That is maybe too much historical knowledge for a society that suffers from permanent historical amnesia. She may be a heretic, but she is a heretic with credentials. I’ll call it the return of the repressed. It’s amusing.

Despite it all, Unity is slowly creeping into the mainstream. This has been going on for a long time. I remember when visiting non-Unity churches in decades past and I would sometimes come across the Unity publication The Daily Word even in mainstream churches. So, many people were reading New Thought theology without knowing it. More recently, the Unity Church showed up in a major subplot of the tv show The Path (Meyerism and Unity Church). Then there is the story of Carlton Pearson, as told in a segment on This American Life and in the Netflix movie Come Sunday. He attended Oral Roberts University and was mentored by Oral Roberts himself. As a popular fourth generation Pentecostal preacher, he came to a point of crisis in his faith. He no longer could believe God was a horrific and monstrous demiurge threatening people with eternal damnation. After much inner struggle, he converted to the view that there is no hell, was officially condemned as a heretic, lost his congregation, and then found his faith again in New Thought theology. He has since become the senior minister of a New Thought church and an affiliate minister of a Unity church. His story has inspired many.

Now here we are. We have a Unity minister as a presidential candidate. To me, it is mind-blowing. Unity Church powerfully shaped who I am. I can’t shake the blinding idealism of New Thought theology, in the way an ex-Catholic never quite gets over original sin or an ex-Baptist never loses that sense of fire-and-brimstone breathing down their neck. It is hard to explain being raised in that kind of light-and-love sincerity. I remember going to what was the Unity equivalent of a Bible camp, called Youth of Unity. I had never experienced so much positivity and goodwill in my life. Then I returned back to ‘normal’ life of high school and it shook me to the core. As wonderful as Unity was, it wasn’t the way life operated or so I was told. I was supposed to get real and accept the world the way it was. Like most others growing up in this society, cynicism fell upon me like a sledgehammer.

But Marianne Williamson embodies and exemplifies another way of being. She suggests there is another way and she walks her talk. She doesn’t care who attacks her. She won’t attack back. Instead, when she feels she is wrong, she admits and apologizes. Holy fuck! Someone aspiring to be president who isn’t afraid to apologize! Trump came to power on the arrogant, egomaniac and psychopathic claim that morality, compassion, and common human decency no longer matters. Williamson disagrees down to her soul that it does matter. How we act determines the kind of country we live in. And she is driven to make the world a better place or go down trying. When arguing her position, she doesn’t fall back on talking points. In response to a question about her strategy, she used air quotes as she spoke of her “strategy” — she said that her only strategy was to speak the truth she knows and to continue campaigning as long as people supported her vision of America (Marianne Williamson says she supports mandatory vaccines – but ‘when they are called for’). Her non-aggressive approach doesn’t come across as weakness for, when a principle is at stake, she doesn’t back down. And she isn’t afraid to call someone out on their bullshit, including the MSNBC interviewer Jo Ling Kent, but even then she does so with perfect politeness.

Her personality comes across as strong and confident, and not as a pretense and pose. I loved watching her in that interview. Before answering, she would often get this serious look on her face as if she were scrutinizing the true intentions behind the question and contemplating it as a philosophical issue. Such sincerity is potent, an antidote to cynicism. Trump would have a hard time combating her because she would never give him the kind of response he feeds on. No one is likely to throw Williamson off message because she lives her message. Walk and talk are perfectly aligned. I’m not sure how many people listening to her get where she is coming from. It’s something I’m extremely familiar with from years in the Unity Church. But most people rarely come across authenticity at this level. It’s not something we’ve come to expect in politics. The last time I heard a candidate this straight-shooting was when I went to a speech given by Ralph Nader when he was running for president in 2000, but even he didn’t come across with the same confidence in vision. Even Bernie Sanders, in his down-to-earth style, doesn’t come across as powerfully as this.

Marianne Williamson, in the Democratic debate said, “So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me please — you have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out … I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field and, sir, love will win.” Who says something like that in a national political debate, especially in a political party that has become infamous for its political insincerity from Clinton domination, and even more especially while facing president Donald Trump who came to power through hate, anger, and outrage. Such audacity to proclaim love in this era of cynicism. Listen to what she said in that debate (Tim Hains, Marianne Williamson: If You Think We’re Going To Beat Donald Trump By Having A Lot Of Plans, You’ve Got Another Thing Coming). She kicks ass! And it has won her a following, something the corporate media is trying to dismiss — oddly, one hit piece calls her positivity-spouting and humorous followers on Reddit “trolls” (Ben Collins, 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson’s reddit following).

Those in the mainstream are looking for reasons to attack her. For example, some misrepresent her as an anti-vaxxer (Jo Ling Kent, Marianne Williamson says she supports mandatory vaccines – but ‘when they are called for’). In explaining her actual position, she states in no uncertain terms that, “I understand that many vaccines are important and save lives. I recognize there are epidemics around the world that are stopped by vaccines. I also understand some of the skepticism that abounds today about drugs which are rushed to market by Big Pharma.” There is no way to fairly call her an anti-vaxxer. What she is mainly questioning is the anti-democratic role big biz plays in public policy and wants to ensure the best scientific evidence possible is available to promote the public good. She is a principled anti-corporatist and pro-democrat. As she put it in her own words, “I want you to rail against the chemical companies and their GMO’s — not support them. I want you to decry the military industrial complex — not assure them you’re their girl. I want you to support reinstating Glass-Steagall — not just wink at Wall Street while sipping its champagne” (An Open Letter To Hillary Clinton).

She supports mandatory vaccinations when they meet the criteria of the highest standards of the scientific method, if and only if the best evidence strongly supports a public health concern that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be remedied only through this drastic course of action. Otherwise, if the evidence is weak or still under debate, if big pharma is unduly influencing government decisions, then we are morally forced to defend democratic process and individual liberty, personal conscience, and bodily autonomy. It is the forever difficult but not impossible democratic balance between public good and private good. A mandatory vaccination is justified in many cases and maybe not in others. She is not promoting denialism. After all, she has vaccinated her own daughter. Science isn’t a dogmatic belief system that is forever settled. Instead, science is an ongoing process. To act like it is otherwise is anti-scientific.

The same problem comes up with attacks on her credibility because she is skeptical about GMOs. Do these people even bother to look into the science? I could write a long post about all the contrary evidence, especially the relationship between GMOs and increased pesticide use (as opposed to organic farming), but this isn’t the place to flesh out that debate. Let’s just honestly acknowledge it exists as a contested issue, a state of affairs that, of course, is reported on in the alternative media but also found in mainstream sources (a few examples: The UK’s Royal Society: a Case Study in How the Health Risks of GMOs Have Been Systematically Misrepresented by Steven Druker from Independent Science News, How GMOs Cut The Use Of Pesticides — And Perhaps Boosted It Again by Dan Charles from NPR, Largest-Ever Study Reveals Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops by Caroline Newman from University of Virginia, Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles by Robin Mesnage et al from BioMed Research International, etc).

If only from a viewpoint of the precautionary principle, whether about the GMOs themselves or the pesticides heavily used with GMOs, it’s perfectly rational that the vast majority of Americans (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents) are concerned about GMOs and strongly support having GMO foods labeled — 71-95%, depending on the question and the group asked (Chris Mooney, Stop Pretending That Liberals Are Just As Anti-Science As Conservatives). Not that American politics was ever constrained by nuance. That is precisely the problem. Williamson is arguing that we must understand diverse problems as being systemically related, such as health and the food system or such as the inseparable relationship between GMOs and pesticides. Yet nuance is deemed ‘loony’ because it challenges the dominant paradigm that is dominated by corporate agendas.

As a loony left-winger myself, here is how I put it: “Yeah, monocultural GMO crops immersed in deadly chemicals that destroy soil and deplete nutrients are going to save us, not traditional grazing land that existed for hundreds of millions of years. So, sure, we could go on producing massive yields of grains in a utopian fantasy beloved by technocrats and plutocrats that further disconnects us from the natural world and our evolutionary origins, an industrial food system dependent on turning the whole world into endless monocrops denatured of all other life, making entire regions into ecological deserts that push us further into mass extinction. Or we could return to traditional ways of farming and living with a more traditional diet largely of animal foods (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, etc) balanced with an equal amount of vegetables, the original hunter-gatherer diet” (Carcinogenic Grains). Tell me. Is my skepticism irrational? If so, how has the highly destructive ‘rationality’ of mass industrialization been working out for life on this planet, as we head toward the cliff of mass extinction and climate change?

In many different ways, Marianne Williamson is a potential threat to the Clinton Democrats. Republicans have sensed this and, as a way of fucking with Democrats, some of them have donated to her campaign (Cnaan Liphshiz, Republicans donate to Marianne Williamson’s campaign to keep her in the Democratic debates). It reminds me of how Democrats promoted Trump in the hope that would ensure a Democratic victory. It’s funny that Republicans are falling into the same trap of naivete. Williamson isn’t a mere unknown outlier. After the debate she participated in, her name was the most Googled and, even while the debate was happening, Google searches for her name spiked every time she spoke (Malachi Barrett, Marianne Williamson searches in Michigan explode after Democratic debate). Also, “Williamson has performed better in national polls than more established candidates like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; and Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii” writes Merle Ginsberg (Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson Is Running on Empathy); and she concludes that, “If anybody could play Jesus to Trump’s Antichrist, Williamson is, as our wayward president would put it, straight out of central casting.”

Williamson is no lightweight. In the debates, she is the only candidate that brought up the harmful US policy in Latin America — interestingly, the only article I came across mentioning this came from a conservative source (Christian Watson, Democratic debate showed conservatives could learn something from Marianne Williamson). And she is bold in her vision that comes across as quite left-wing (e.g., since 1997, she has supported reparations for African American slave descendants) while simultaneously invoking the American founding generation of revolutionaries. Here is how she puts it: “Franklin Roosevelt said that the primary role of the presidency is moral leadership. Americans are a decent people, but over the last 50 years, the concept of what it takes to live a good life—an ethical life—has been overtaken by corporatocracy. When I was a child, corporations were expected to have responsibility to the community, not just focus on fiduciary responsibilities to stockholders. Soulless economics has not brought us economic vibrancy. It’s destroyed our middle class and replaced a model of democracy with a model of aristocracy. We repudiated that in 1776—and need to repudiate it again.”

We used to call that a jeremiad, an American tradition if there ever was one (Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad). If that is ‘woo’, then give me more of it. This is ‘woo’ that could seriously shake up public and political debate and hopefully a whole lot more. Give me some of that old time religion.

Elizabeth Warren: “The Progressive” Foil

I watched some of the beginning of the first Democratic debate. It wasn’t subtle who was being promoted by the DNC elite and their corporate media lackeys. In the first debate, the first question was lobbed as a perfect set-up for Elizabeth Warren. Before some of the candidates even got a chance for a single question, the moderator had given Warren multiple opportunities to talk. Specifically, she got the most time to speak during the first 30 minutes when the largest number of viewers were watching. Also, not only did she get the first word in the debate, but as an additional gift she received the last word as well.

In case Joe Biden’s campaign falls through as it probably will, Warren is being offered as a back up plan to keep anyone too far left, even principled liberals, out of the nomination. She isn’t much of a back up plan, but Biden is looking pathetic as well at the moment (Jonathan Martin & Alexander Burns, Biden Comes Under Attack From All Sides in Democratic Debate). The DNC elite simply has little of value to offer. I’m wondering if it’s the same plan as last time. The Clinton democrats are still clinging to power and that means they are more focused on punching left than keeping Trump out of the presidency. The DNC is looking desperate in how unimpressive are their top preferred candidates. On an amusing note, Warren was blindsided during the debate by an accusation she didn’t even know about beforehand (Mairead McArdle, Warren Caught Off Guard by Ethics Complaint During Debate).

Scanning the news, much of the corporate media has already declared Warren as the victor of the first debate (Vox, BazaarBoston HeraldThe New York Times, The Independent, etc). In fact, they were promoting before the debate even began (Mike LaChance, Mainstream Media Already Has Headlines Written: Elizabeth Warren is Big Winner in First Debates). But a winner compared to which other candidates? Despite all the camera time given her, she didn’t come across as a strong candidate. She sounded like she was repeating rehearsed talking points, presumably because she was. At least two polls, from the Drudge Report and the Washington Examiner, put Tulsi Gabbard as the winner (Ellie Bufkin, Drudge poll shock: Tulsi Gabbard runaway winner of first Democratic debate; & Joaquin Flores, Paradigms Flip as Trump and Tulsi Emerge as the Winners of the Democratic Party Debate). Gabbard, unlike Warren, comes across as sincere — a straight shooter with actual principles. All Warren could offer was a rehashing of Sander’s platform that she opposed a few years ago during his last campaign, but even in that her delivery wasn’t compelling.

Elizabeth Warren is a Clinton Democrat rebranded as Bernie Lite. I know how this game is played. And I think I see the strategy they have in mind. They’re setting Warren up as “The Progressive” foil (e.g., NYT’s Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump Are Wrong About the Same Thing) so as to eliminate any strong progressive challenge to whatever other mainstream candidate the DNC actually wants to win. But if all else fails, she’ll be acceptable to the DNC as an alternative nominee. Since the ruling elite want to promote her for their agenda, I’m opposed to her. She is the false hope, the faux progressivism we are battling against, as Barack Obama was before. I don’t know if I’ll go for another Democrat or a third party candidate or simply abstain in protest, but I will never vote lesser evil and that is what Warren represents at this point, one of the many varieties of lesser evil in a system that inevitably leads to greater evil. I don’t care what any candidate says. Show me their record of consistently standing up for tough positions and fighting for what is right, even when it is difficult and costly.

In the end, Elizabeth Warren is in the Nancy Pelosi school of economics (“We’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.”) Sure, she wants a softer, more paternalistic corporatism to take off the edges of neoliberalism. That isn’t what we so desperately need. This is what makes her a Clinton Democrat and, like Hillary Clinton, Warren began her political involvement as a Republican — Alex Thompson writes that (‘Liz Was a Diehard Conservative’), “It was not until 1996—when Warren was 47 years old and a newly minted Harvard law professor—that she changed her registration from Republican to Democrat.” So, she only became a Democrat after the Clintons took control of the party and pushed hard right with corporate deregulation, racist tough-on-crime policy, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, etc. She is an economic conservative, a moderate one that promotes a classical liberal vision of a well regulated market but that is far from uncommon among fiscal conservatives (my fiscally conservative father, a former factory manager and business management professor, also supports increased regulation). Thompson continues:

“Some on the left have already pointed out the less-than-progressive stances in her 2003 book, The Two Income Trap, including the rejection of a “quasi-socialist safety net to rival the European model.” But a review of Warren’s early scholarship and interviews with more than 20 friends and colleagues from her high school years through her academic career reveal a longer conservative track record that has not been fully explored. Warren’s conservatism centered not on social issues like abortion or gay rights, friends say, but on economic policy, the dominant focus of her academic work and now her presidential candidacy.”

This right-leaning economics that seeks to defend capitalism by slightly moderating it, this is what distinguishes Warren from Sanders, as Thompson further explains: “The fact that Warren likely has spent more of her voting years outside the Democratic Party than in it distinguishes her from her 2020 primary opponents. She and Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, share many policy objectives and an inclination to rail against the powerful. The Vermont senator, however, largely decided what he believed 50 years ago and has been remarkably consistent ever since.” She can’t even blame her upbringing for her decades as a Republican: “Warren didn’t inherit the Republican Party from her parents or from her home state. Oklahoma was mostly a blue state while Warren was growing up there. Although partisan politics wasn’t much discussed at home, she speculated in a 2018 interview with the Intercept that her parents were New Deal Democrats. Yet Harry, one of Warren’s best friends in high school, distinctly remembers Warren being an “ice-cold Republican,” as she would sometimes tease her.” What makes this stand out is that she can’t blame her upbringing. She embraced right-wing Republicanism of her own accord, only to switch teams late in her career.

In her heart of hearts, she is a capitalist. More from Thompson: ““That’s her fundamental framework—she’s a believer in economics,” says Johnson, her UT-Austin colleague. “It’s just that she now shifts to protect consumers.” “Throughout the years we worked together, she’s always been focused on markets,” Westbrook adds. “Both of us believe very much in markets.”” She is and always will be a capitalist, political rhetoric aside. And worse still, she remains in line with American imperialism, the other side of the coin to American capitalism. Sonja Krieger (Elizabeth Warren Votes for Massive Increase of War Budget) makes a scathing criticism: “Once again, Senator Warren, a “progressive” Democrat, demonstrates that she is no different from the establishment of both capitalist parties. She, like the rest of the Republicans and Democrats, supports exorbitant budgets that mean more imperialist wars, more deaths of innocent people, and the continued neglect of the basic needs of American workers at home.” That was from a couple years ago, but still applies. More recently, Sarah Lazare wrote (Elizabeth Warren Can and Should Do Better on Foreign Policy):

“Yet none of these articles take a close look at Warren’s track record on war and militarism, despite the fact that the realm of foreign policy is where presidents have the most power to act without Congress (thanks in part to Obama’s unfortunate expansion of presidential powers to make war). It’s as though the United States existed in a vacuum, with only domestic matters to attend to; in reality, we are the biggest military empire in human history, with eight hundred military bases around the world and US commandos deployed to 75 percent of countries.

“Once Warren’s foreign policy record is scrutinized, her status as a progressive champion starts to wither. While Warren is not on the far right of Democratic politics on war and peace, she also is not a progressive — nor a leader — and has failed to use her powerful position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to challenge the status quo.

“While she’s voted for military de-escalation on some issues, including ending the Yemen War, she’s gone along with some of the most belligerent acts that have occurred under her watch, cheerleading Israel’s devastating 2014 war on Gaza and vocalizing her support for sanctions against Venezuela. Even judged according to the spectrum of today’s Democratic Party, which is skewed so far to the right on war and militarism it does not take much to distinguish oneself, Warren gets an unsatisfactory grade: not the last in her class, but far from first.”

To put that in context (Alexander Rubinstein, Elizabeth Warren and the Military Industrial ComplexElizabeth Warren and the Military Industrial Complex), “her apparent hostility towards defense contractors is new – in the past, her fiery rhetoric was mostly directed towards financial institutions. It’s also not reciprocated – the defense lobby has given glowing reviews of Warren as a Senator. […] “I have seen the senator and her team take a very active role in defense matters in Massachusetts,” Joseph Donovan, a former aide to then-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and now a defense lobbyist in the state, said. “I’ve been in roundtables that her office has organized with major defense contractors and small businesses.” […]

“After Warren was elected and reached out to defense firms like Raytheon and General Dynamics, the unnamed executive told Politico that “there’s certainly not an impression that she’s adversarial” to defense giants in the state. Raytheon, one of the biggest employers in Warren’s state, where it’s headquartered, “has a positive relationship with Sen. Warren, and we interact with her and her staff regularly,” Michael Doble, a spokesman for the company, said.”

So, in the context of far right-wing DNC positions on plutocratic corporatism and military imperialism, she is a moderate. She occasionally wants to reign in some of the worst abuses, even as she goes along with other areas that are equally as bad. There is no principled consistency that makes her a political leader and moral exemplar. More importantly, that puts her far to the right of the American public. Why would I support that morally depraved vision of America by voting for her? Just because she is not the worst of the worst? That isn’t good enough. Even on a safe Democratic issue such as environmentalism, she has spent her political career being silent and uninvolved (Benjamin Storrow, Elizabeth Warren on climate change: Who knows?; & Ben Adler, Is Elizabeth Warren Really a Leader on Global Warming?). So, what is one of her strengths? Like Joe Biden, Warren works well with Republicans (Elana Schor, Here’s how much Elizabeth Warren works with Republicans, compared to other 2020 Democrats), and her being a former Republican probably helps. Wait, is that a positive?

Bernie Sanders is more radically progressive not only on economics in his specifically targeting economic injustice and inequality. He is also even more radically progressive on foreign policy (Jonathan Wiggs, Where Is Elizabeth Warren’s Fire in the Realm of Foreign Policy?). Warren really is Bernie Lite. And she is rather a latecomer at that. Warren didn’t shift somewhat left until she was middle age, whereas Sanders has been strongly progressive for longer than Warren has been alive. She won’t even take a strong position on campaign financing, an issue that should be the most basic no-brainer for anyone who genuinely believes in democracy (Emily Jashinsky, Elizabeth Warren hates money in politics, keeps taking campaign donations from rich lobbyists and corporate executives; Christine Rosen, The Democrats’ ‘Dark Money’ Hypocrisy Audacity.). All in all, a vote for Warren is a vote for what exactly? Maybe some mild economic reforms to prop up a declining capitalist system, but nothing that is too antagnoistic to corporations and big money donors. That isn’t impressive.

* * *

Here is an example of the deceitfulness of corporate media, even when it is supposedly leftist media. In The Nation, Jet Heer wrote (Elizabeth Warren’s Ideas Dominated the Debate More Than Her Stage Presence):

“Yet a word count doesn’t fully measure Warren’s undeniable impact. The striking fact of the night was the degree to which Warren’s aggressive progressivism was accepted by almost all her rivals as a baseline for the party.”

What a blatant lie. The aggressive regressivism of corporate media is horrifying at times. Bernie Sanders is almost entirely erased from acknowledgement. Warren, with the help of corporate media, stole Stander’s thunder. And that is after the corporate media worked with the DNC to exclude Sanders from the nomination. They never give up with their games of power.

From the comments section:

Kathryn Levy says:

Most of the progressive ideas being debated last night would never have entered the mainstream dialogue without Bernie Sanders’ courageous candidacy in 2016. And he continues to move the needle by insisting on a true single payer health care plan (something that Elizabeth Warren has waffled on before last night), a groundbreaking K-12 education plan, a plan to eliminate all student debt, and numerous other policies that Warren barely mentions. I am used to the mainstream media erasing Sanders name from discussions. It’s sad to see that happening in The Nation.

Larry Gilman says:

I’m glad to see Sanders getting any credit at all here, but a subordinate clause in the last sentence is an odd place for him to get it.

That whole conversation last night, and the one we’ll hear tonight? Sanders shaped it. He broke that ice. He made these terms possible, even unavoidable. It’s plain history that in 2016 he stepped out on the national stage and unexpectedly changed what was possible, even obligatory, in Democratic presidential politics — Medicare for All, you name it — and this whole primary race, including the debate, reflects that history. E.g., Warren calls for banning private prisons now, and that’s truly welcome, but as recently as 2015 she wasn’t ready to cosponsor a bill with that exact aim, the Justice Is Not for Sale Act . . . Bernie’s bill.

Credit where due: Warren gets a lot right. But if we’re talking about who put left politics on the national stage in a whole new way, about whose ideas shaped that debate, Bernie should be way more than an afterthought.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/06/democratic-debate-winner-bernie-sanders

Caleb Melamed says:

It’s interesting to look back on the history of 2015- 2016. The originally-contemplated progressive champion was initially Warren, not Sanders. She had first dibs to be Clinton’s progressive opponent. She never went through with that challenge, partly, it is likely, because The New York Times (a bastion of pro-Clintonism throughout 2016) started writing negative articles about her. Sanders then became the only progressive Democratic presidential contender. With his democratic socialist orientation, he moved the yardstick of generally acceptable positions far more than Warren ever would have at that time.

* * *

With Warren getting so many debate questions, anybody want to believe the DNC hasn’t got this rigged?
by Monica Showalter, American Thinker

After nakedly rigging the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 for Hillary Clinton, Democrats have bent over backwards to try to persuade their electorate that they wouldn’t dream of doing the that this time.

They declared themselves “neutral” in this Twitter poll here. They handed out 20 slots for their 24 candidates in this week’s debates even though that many no-hopers mixed in with the possibles made for an unwieldy set-up in two ten-person tranches which also cost them more. “The critical imperative is making sure everyone feels their candidate got a fair shot,” Perez told Politico. Even Bernie Sanders has woke up after three years and smelled the coffee, given that he was the one who got the put-up job. Perez also had a slip of the tongue earlier this year and admitted the 2016 party process “was rigged” before backtracking. Rigged? Hey, no rigging this time.

Bzzzt! Fooled ya twice, hyuk, hyuk, hyuk!

Based on the number of questions Elizabeth Warren got, compared to those of her rivals, it was pretty clear we know whom the party is tilting toward. Warren was quick with lots of words crammed into tiny spaces in her answers and didn’t actually get the most actual airtime, (John Hinderaker at Power Line actually checked) but she did get the most questions, the most camera shots drawn to her. She also got lots of favorable press saying she actually won the whole debate, and well, I didn’t think she actually won — I thought she was babbly and didn’t project presidential gravitas, she was like an old lady at the dean’s office giving her prissy prescriptions. But all the lefty moderators couldn’t get enough of what she thought, and well, who do you think they took marching orders from? These are the same people who won’t let anyone onto their network unless they talk about impeaching President Trump. These are the same people Tucker Carlson exposed as being in unnatural collusion with the Democratic National Committee, something of no embarrassment to them, though it should be. We know who they’ve taken marching orders from in the past.

Elizabeth Warren embraced by debate moderators
by Dan Gainor, Fox News

NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start. […] Moderators let her dominate the early part of the debate, when most people were likely watching.

NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. “You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,” Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The networks did it again halfway through. At 10 p.m. EDT, after some embarrassing tech issues that let Warren mull a question for several minutes, the debate went full-on pro-Democrat. NBC brought in bigtime liberal MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. Once more they turned to Warren to set the agenda by asking her a gun control question;

“We are less than 50 miles from Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a school shooting last year and where there has been significant activism on gun violence ever since,” began Todd.

And, in case that wasn’t clear enough, the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the “final, final statement.” That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.

Democratic debate: Cory Booker gets most airtime, NBC hit with tech issues
by Rob Tornoe, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Booker ended Wednesday’s debate with the most airtime among all the candidates, overtaking Warren, who dominated the first hour. […] Despite holding a somewhat smaller presence in the second half, Warren was asked the first question of the debate, and offered the final closing statement. […]

Warren, the only candidate on the stage tonight polling in the top five, garnered the most camera time during the first 30 minutes of the debate. The senator from Massachusetts got the first question, and spoke twice before multiple candidates on the crowded stage had even talked once.

The amount of time Warren was getting prompted complaints from the family of at least one candidate sharing the stage.

The big debate story: Elizabeth Warren wasn’t the big story
by Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe

With Elizabeth Warren positioned in the middle, the stage was set for the Massachusetts senator to solidify the perception that she’s the Democrat who can beat former Vice President Joe Biden in the primary and then President Trump.

While Warren had a strong start, she didn’t dominate the debate, and at times, went strangely silent. Her disappearing act left room for others […]

But the big story of the night was that Warren wasn’t the big story of the night. She went into the night with the wind of a punditry in search of a contender whose name isn’t Biden behind her. Stories of her high school debating prowess were woven into the pre-debate build-up, the better to intimidate her rivals. She’s inching up in the polls, at least to the point of being able to surpass that cranky, old socialist named Bernie Sanders. Her dog, Bailey, is a hit on Twitter.

And she has a plan for everything. The first question she got was whether her plan for the economy is risky, given polling that shows most people think it’s doing well. She answered it with a question: “Who is this economy really working for?” That’s a theme that works well for her. When she was asked if she has a plan to deal with Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, she paused and said with great timing, “I do.” Her plan: For Congress to “reflect the will of the people.” Some might call that wishful thinking.

She had nothing to say about immigration, and held back when others were fighting for a chance to say something about anything. Staying above the fray works for now. But when this field winnows, Warren will have to mix it up with rivals who may bring more than plans to the debate stage.

* * *

Bernie: introduced S.2054, in 2015, to end private prisons
Warren: made a blog post, last week, about ending private prisons
Where is Warren’s detailed policy proposal to abolish the private prison industry? And why didn’t Warren cosponsor Bernie Sanders’ legislation in 2015?

Talk is cheap. Sanders has boots on the MFing ground doing work

Now that Biden is slipping, the DNC and MSM have begun the furious re-branding of Warren. Warren didn’t back Bernie or his policies in 2016 and threw her support to the centrist that was rigging the primary in the hopes she could get a career boost.

Bernie introduced the bill against private prisons back in September 2015, but Warren wouldn’t sign on to it. Here is what I got from @OpenSecretsDC but her name was not on it for donations.

Bernie has been rolling progressive policy proposals as well as Warren. He actually has released more detail plans than her and many of his plans have been filed as legislation in Congress (her plans have not). Yet the corporate media pretends he has no plans

And why didn’t the media cover it in 2015?

All these receipts coming back to haunt Warren. We just gotta keep asking why she’s just now coming around to these ideas when Bernie’s been trying to pass them for years.

Warren is desperately trying to steal Bernie’s thunder. #WhichWarren #Bernie2020

Bernie: addresses problems of all magnitudes for all citizens every day. Liz: goes to the immigration camps the day of the debate.

The evolution from Republican to Democratic Socialist is a long and uneven process of becoming.

Why doesn’t she do so now? After all, Bernie made a point of saying he considers her a friend. Is she saying she doesn’t return his friendship?

Why did Warren refuse to run in 2016, refuse to even endorse the only progressive candidate with the courage to run against Hillary and then give Hillary her super delegate vote?

Warren was busy kissing the rear end of Hillary Rodham Clinton to co-sponsor progressive legislations. Haven’t you heard? She’s a coward and opportunist.

Warren is using the usual neoliberal excuse for general election donation corruption of “refusing to unilaterally disarm.” This excuse was used to Obama and Hillary. We can infer that corporations will be very interested in vetoing all of her “plans.”

Inline image
Inline image

Carnivore Is Vegan

“I’ve watched enough harvests to know that cutting a wheat field amounts to more decapitated bunnies under the combine than you would believe.”
~ Barbara Kingsolver

“As I was thinking about the vegan conclusion, I remembered my childhood on the farm and where our food comes from and how it is produced. Specifically, I remembered riding on farm equipment and seeing mice, gophers, and pheasants in the field that were injured or killed every time we worked the fields. Therefore, I realized that animals of the field are killed in large numbers annually to produce food for humans.”
~ Stephen L. Davis

“When I inquired about the lives lost on a mechanized farm, I realized what costs we pay at the supermarket. One Oregon farmer told me that half of the cottontail rabbits went into his combine when he cut a wheat field, that virtually all of the small mammals, ground birds, and reptiles were killed when he harvested his crops. Because most of these animals have been seen as expendable, or not seen at all, few scientific studies have been done measuring agriculture’s effects on their populations.”
~ Ted Kerasote

What diet causes the most harm? If veganism means the avoidance of death, suffering and exploitation of animals, then carnivore is the most vegan diet around. Pastoralism as a food system and way of life kills the fewest animals, fewer than agriculture by far. For every life taken by a carnivore (e.g., a single pasture-raised chicken or cow), a vegan might kill hundreds or thousands (coyotes, deer, rodents, insects, etc). In both cases, the death count is known and so intentional. There is no avoidance of moral culpability. This isn’t about being clever but about what is genuinely least harmful and hence most environmentally sustainable. Rather than a pose of moral righteousness, our concern should be with what brings the greater overall good.

I did do a carnivore diet for a couple of months as an experiment, although I wasn’t strict about it. For a while now, I’ve been back on a diet that is ketogenic, paleo, and traditional foods. My food sourcing is important to me with an emphasis on locally produced, seasonally available, organic, and pasture-raised. This means I regularly shop at the nearby farmers market. So, despite not being carnivore at present, I am heavily biased toward animal foods with plenty of meat and eggs, along with some dairy. The plant foods I eat are also almost entirely from the farmers market, in particular the fermented veggies I enjoy. That translates as eating a greater proportion of plant foods when available in the warm time of the year and more animal foods in winter. Not only is this diet extremely healthy but also highly ethical and environmentally sustainable.

Raising animals on pasture avoids all of the problems associated with industrial agriculture and factory farming. It is actually a net gain for local ecosystems, the biosphere, and the human species. The health of the soil actually improves with pasture and atmospheric carbon is captured. Run-off, erosion, and pollution are eliminated. On top of that, pasture provides habitat for wildlife, as opposed to mass farming and monoculture that destroys habitat and displaces wildlife, not to mention poisons, starves and slaughters immense numbers of wildlife. If you’re pro-life in the broadest sense, the last thing in the world you’d want to be is vegan, as it is dependent on industrial agriculture and mass transportation.

Vegan arguments against harm to animals don’t apply to a pasture-raised or wild-hunted carnivore diet or any local meat-based diet combined with locally and seasonally available plant foods. (By the way, today was the beginning of wild mulberry season — delicious! I was knocked right out of ketosis and was glad for it. That is the reason plants evolved the highly addictive drug called sugar, so that we would eat their fruit and spread their seeds, not so that one day agriculture would make possible industrially-produced and health-destroying high fructose corn syrup.)

Veganism creates a similar disconnect as seen with right-wing “pro-lifers” who oppose abortion. As I’ve pointed out, countries that ban abortions don’t decrease the rate of abortions and sometimes increase them. The main change is whether abortions are legal and safe or illegal and unsafe. But anti-abortionists refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences of the policies they support. Similarly, vegans also refuse to accept responsibility for the deaths that their diet incurs. Whether one intentionally or unintentionally cause harm, the harm is equally real. This is how symbolic ideology that makes people feel good trumps practical concerns about what actually makes the world a better place.

“What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’

“All right. Well, what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.”
~ Lierre Keith

“There is no place left for the buffalo to roam. There’s only corn, wheat, and soy. About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year. Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal. They count, and they died for your dinner, along with all the animals that have dwindled past the point of genetic feasibility.”
~ Lierre Keith

There is no reason the world’s population couldn’t live according to the meat-based diet I and many others follow. Very little of the land available can be used for farming. But most of it can be used for grazing. Also, grazing animals for food can be done alongside keeping grazing land open for wild animals as well. Keep in mind that, in North America, there once were more buffalo roaming the continent than there are now cows and the vast herds of buffalo were what kept the prairies healthy. Even in countries that don’t have good farmland, animals can always be raised locally. There is no country in the world that lacks land for grazing. If not cows, then pigs, goats, camels, or whatever else.

Let me put this in perspective, 90% of land in North America can only be used for wildlife and livestock, not farming. In other places (Africa, India, Australia, etc), it’s even higher at 95% of land. So, are we going to try to feed the global population with just 5-10% of the arable land and ignore the rest? In ever more intensively farming, we are destroying what is left of the arable land. That is insanity! Industrial agriculture and factory farming makes no sense, except from a capitalist model of private profit and externalized/socialized costs. A local animal-based diet is the only way to feed the world’s population, maintain optimal health, avoid the greatest harm to animals, and ensure environmental sustainability.

Veganism didn’t exist prior to modern agriculture. Grazing animals, on the other hand, has been the mainstay of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no traditional diet that wasn’t centered on animal foods, the source of the most energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods. And when done low-carb as was typical of traditional societies, ketosis allows people to eat less food and go for longer periods of time without eating. Many people on animal-based diets do regular fasting, intermittent and/or extended. In ketosis, I easily skip meals or go several days without food and it doesn’t bother me. Since ketosis allows for smaller intake of food, that is an additional decreased impact on the environment.

The standard American diet (SAD) that is plant-based is neither healthy for the individual nor healthy for the environment. Keep in mind that almost all junk foods are vegan: potato chips, crackers, cookies, candy, pop, etc. This vegan junk food is mass farmed, mass produced, and mass shipped, not to mention mass subsidized. Even most healthier plant-based foods, including whole foods, that vegans rely upon are shipped from distant regions and countries with very little regulation for the health of environment and workers. Veganism contributes to pollution and the need for heavily-subsidized infrastructure.

What is ethical about this? Good intentions are not good enough. We can’t separate ourselves from the world we live in. It’s a fantasy that we can live apart from the natural cycle of life and death. Trying to force that fantasy upon the world, some might call that a nightmare. A diet is part of an ecosystem, all contained within a living biosphere. In pretending to be separate, we cause even more death and suffering. Mass extinction was always inherent to agriculture. “The end,” as Lierre Keith said, “was written into the beginning.” There is no avoiding this, as long as we continue down this path of exploitative civilization. We can embrace that ending, though, and seek a new beginning.

“Agriculture is the biggest mistake in human history,” as put by George Armelagos. And on the same note, Jared Diamond wrote that, “Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” So, are we doomed? Only if we choose to be. Agriculture as we know it can’t continue. Can it be done differently? Others have offered more optimistic answers.

If we hope to find another way before it’s too late, we must look for inspiration in the traditional food systems that still survive. And there most definitely is hope. We already know of ways to reverse the damage and rehabilitate the land. No doubt further understandings will be gained over time that will allow even greater results. But the key is that more animals, wild and domestic, will be needed to make possible this course of action. That is to say, in place of ecological deserts of monocultural farming, we need to return to the environmental norm of biodiversity.

“If we took 75% of the world’s trashed rangeland, we could restore it from agriculture back to functioning prairies — with their animal cohorts — in under fifteen years. We could further sequester all of the carbon that has been released since the beginning of the industrial age. So I find that a hopeful thing because, frankly, we just have to get out of the way. Nature will do the work for us. This planet wants to be grassland and forest. It does not want to be an agricultural mono-crop.”
~ Lierre Keith

“Viewing this global scene, as I have been doing for many years, I will stake my life on it that humanity’s best hope lies in one simple idea that no scientist can sensibly argue against – that management in this 21st century should be holistic and no longer reductionist. And Holistic Management of course includes recognizing that only livestock with Holistic Planned Grazing (or better process when developed) can address global desertification, annual burning of billions of hectares of grasslands and savannas, and regenerate the world’s dying soils and soil life essential to addressing climate change. […]

“Reductionist management, without using livestock managed on the land in a way that addresses global desertification and climate change, will inevitably lead to the doomsday predictions of Wallace-Wells. Billions of people dead and hundreds of cities destroyed and worse in the relatively near future no matter how many hopeful measures we might take.”
~ Allan Savory

* * *

Carnivore Is Vegan:
Bad Vegan Logic: Accidental Deaths vs Intentional Deaths – Carnivore is Vegan
A Carnivore Diet is More Vegan than a Vegan Diet – Carnivore is Vegan
Vegans Use Slave Cows to Make Fertilizer
Stir-Fry Genocide: Mushrooms Are Not Vegan

Millennial veganism
by Joanna Blythman

But are you truly vegan?
by Matthew Evans

Australia’s vegan lie revealed: How plant-based diets still result in hundreds of thousands of animal deaths a year
by Lauren Ferri

Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands
by Mike Archer

The Least Harm Principle May Require that Humans Consume a Diet Containing Large Herbivores, Not a Vegan Diet
by Stephen L. Davis

The Least-Harm Fallacy of Veganism
by Karin Lindquist

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability
Chapter 1: Why This Book?
by Lierre Keith

The Hidden Cost of Veganism – Lierre Keith #143
from ReWild Yourself

Lierre Keith & The Agripocalypse
by Lawrence Rosenberg

Any ‘planetary diet’ must also work for the poorest and most vulnerable
by Andrew Salter

Eating Local Meat is Actually More Sustainable than Veganism
from Heartland Fresh Family Farm

Why vegetarianism will not save the world
by Ian MacKenzie

If you care about the planet, eat more beef
by Danielle Smith

Report: Cut red-meat eating by 80 percent to save the planet?
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher

Can vegetarians save the planet? Why campaigns to ban meat send the wrong message on climate change
by Erin Biba

EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations are at odds with sustainable food production
by Sustainable Food Trust

Report urging less meat in global diet ‘lacks agricultural understanding’
from FarmingUK

War on burgers continues with false environmental impact claims
by Amanda Radke

Testimony before the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry U.S. Senate
by Frank Mitloehner

Sorry, But Giving Up on Meat Is Not Going to Save The Planet
by Frank M. Mitloehner

Don’t Blame Cows For Climate Change
by Sylvia Wright

Beef’s ‘Sustainability’ Involves More Than Greenhouse Gases
by Jesse Bussard

Is Agriculture Feeding the World or Destroying It? Dr. Frank Mitloehner Discusses Ag, Climate Change
from Farms.com

Environmental Hoofprint Matters — Frank Mitloehner, UC Davis
from Farm To Table Talk

Sustainable Dish Episode 83: The Truth About Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production with Frank Mitloehner
with Diana Rodgers

UN admits flaw in report on meat and climate change
by Alastair Jamieson

Can Dietary Changes Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
by Wyatt Bechtel

Scientist: Don’t blame cows for climate change
by Paul Armstrong

Climate change policy must distinguish (long-lived) carbon dioxide from (short-lived) methane–Oxford study
by Susan MacMillan

Alan Savory @ PV1 – The role of livestock in a new agriculture that can save city-based civilization
by Julia Winter

Effective Livestock Grazing And A Regenerative Future
by Allan Savory

Climate Change – Cause and Remedy
by Allan Savory

Climate Change Best Addressed Planting Trees, Or Regenerating Grasslands?
by Allan Savory

Fate Of City-Based Civilization In The Hands Of Farmers
by Allan Savory

How We Can Offer Hope For Our Grandchildren In A Floundering, Leaderless World
by Allan Savory

Hope For The Future – First Real Hope In Centuries.
by Allan Savory

Response To “Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming”
by Daniela Ibarra-Howell

Why Homo Sapiens Are A Keystone Predator In Rewilding Projects
by Caroline Grindrod

Red meat bounds down the carbon neutral path
by Shan GoodwinShan Goodwin

Can cows cause more climate change than cars?
by Frédéric Leroy

Climate, Food, Facts
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
by Jared Diamond

Was agriculture the greatest blunder in human history?
by Darren Curnoe

Could Veganism Cause Extinctions?
by Patrice Ayme

Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet
Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health.
Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis
Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health
The Agricultural Mind

We get what we pay for.

“Switzerland had the highest rate of return for empty wallets and Denmark for wallets with money in them. European countries overall, including Russia, got high marks for honesty.

“China had the lowest rate of return for empty wallets and Peru for wallets with money. I am disappointed that the United States is so far down on the list.”

I don’t feel disappointed about the US ranking. Or at least I don’t feel surprised. On many measures, the US often ranks around the middle. We are a middling country. Yes, above average, but middling. We lead the pack among the mediocre countries.

You see this with measures of culture of trust, democracy, freedom of press, health outcomes, education quality, etc. We tend to be far above the worst countries and well below the best (although specific US states often rank near the bottom in international comparisons). This has been the state of the nation for many decades now. It’s not exactly a new trend, this slipping down the international rankings.

But when older Americans were younger, the US was often the top ranking country in the world on numerous measures. Hence, the disappointment some Americans experience in remembering the country that once was. Sadly, that country hasn’t existed for a while now. We took American ‘greatness’ for granted and lost our sense of aspiration. Without the Soviet Union to compete against, Americans became morally and physically flabby.

Consider height. Americans used to be the tallest population on the planet. Now we share a ranking of 32nd with Israel, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Italy, French Polynesia, Grenada, and Tonga. Height is one of those indicators of the general health of a society and correlates with such things as inequality (and, by the way, high inequality in turn correlates with worse outcomes even for the wealthy, compared to the wealthy in low inequality countries). Trust also falls as inequality rises.

Still, we Americans on average are taller than 82 other countries. So, not bad. But still a major drop compared to the past. We are a declining society in many ways, specifically relative to other countries that are advancing. It’s a sign of the times. It’s also unsurprising that the United States is declining as a global superpower as well. A government’s power is built on the health of the population and the success of the society.

Anyone who dismisses the public good is naive. This is why the most effective social democracies that massively invest the in the public good now lead the world in nearly every ranking. The United States has chosen the opposite path, shifting wealth to the top for short term gains for a minority of the population, not to mention wasting our resources on military adventurism and imperial expansionism. We get what we pay for.

A ranking of countries by civic honesty

American People Keep Going Further Left

About a decade ago, I wrote a long piece analyzing all the polling data I could find across decades. It was obvious that the vast majority of Americans not only were quite far left but had been so for a long time and were going even further left over time. It wasn’t a new phenomenon. The leftward trend can be followed back into last century.

This shouldn’t be surprising when one looks at the politics of the early to mid-20th century. The politics were even more radical in my grandparents’ early life and it remained that way into my parents’ childhood. There was massive labor organizing with pitched battles. Communists were found everywhere, especially among the working class and minorities, including in the Deep South. The top tax rate was as high as it has ever been and the taxing the rich paid for numerous social programs, job programs, infrastructure rebuilding, etc. Everything from college education to housing was heavily subsidized.

Why don’t we know this? Because it has been written out of the history books used in both public and private schools — with the textbook industry being big business. Because the corporate media is the propaganda wing of plutocracy. And because the ruling elite in both parties have gone to immense effort to constantly push the Overton window to the right. It is only in our enforced ignorance through indoctrination from a young age that the American public is made to feel divided and impotent. The majority of Americans are told the public policies they support are too left-wing, too radical, too fringe. It is one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in world history.

Even now, the forces of corruption are pushing for lesser evilism one more time. Yet each time it pushes politics further right into ever greater evil. The corporate control of the government grows. And the main welfare system in our country is the socialism for the rich. We Americans haven’t yet fought back because we’ve been told we were part of a minority, that we don’t matter. But what if we Americans decided to fight for democracy once again? Then who would stop us? If they tried, it would be revolution. There is no time for democracy like the present. We should not accept anything less.

This is our country. This is our government. It’s time we take it back. That would make America great again, like it was in the radical era generations ago and in the revolutionary era upon which our country was founded. That is as American as it gets, the common people fighting against corrupt power. It’s an American tradition. Let’s honor that tradition. [Fill in your favorite quote from Thomas Jefferson writing about watering the tree of liberty, Abraham Lincoln speaking about justice and equality, Martin Luther King Jr. preaching about the arc of the moral universe, or whatever other great American figure you prefer.]

* * *

Surprise! The “Center” in US Politics Is Very Progressive
by Robert Reich, Common Dreams

On the economy,76 percent of Americans favor higher taxes on the super-rich, including over half of registered Republicans. Over 60 percent favor a wealth tax on fortunes of $50 million or more. Even Fox News polls confirm these trends.

What about health care? Well, 70 percent want Medicare for All, which most define as Medicare for anyone who wants it. Sixty percent of Republicans support allowing anyone under 65 to buy into Medicare.

Ninety-two percent want lower prescription drug pricesOver 70 percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada.

On family issues, more than 80 percent  of Americans want paid maternity leave. Seventy-nine percent of voters want more affordable child care, including 80 percent of Republicans.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of Americans support free college tuition for those who meet income requirements.

Sixty-two percent think climate change is man-made and needs addressing.

Eighty-four percent think money has too much influence in politics. In that poll, 77 percent support limits on campaign spending, and that includes 71 percent of Republicans.

AOC, Sanders, and Warren Are the Real Centrists Because They Speak for Most Americans
by Mehdi Hasan, The Inercept

The Green New Deal is extremely popular and has massive bipartisan support. A recent survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University found that a whopping 81 percent of voters said they either “strongly support” (40 percent) or “somewhat support” (41 percent) the Green New Deal, including 64 percent of Republicans (and even 57 percent of conservative Republicans).

What else do Ocasio-Cortez, Warren, and Sanders have in common with each other — and with the voters? They want to soak the rich. Ocasio-Cortez suggested a 70 percent marginal tax rate on incomes above $10 million — condemned by “centrist” Schultz as “un-American” but backed by a majority (51 percent) of Americans. Warren proposed a 2 percent wealth tax on assets above $50 million — slammed by “moderate” Bloomberg as Venezuelan-style socialism, but supported by 61 percent of voters, including 51 percent of Republicans. (As my colleague Jon Schwarz has demonstrated, “Americans have never, in living memory, been averse to higher taxes on the rich.”)

How about health care? The vast majority (70 percent) of voters, including a majority (52 percent) of Republicans, support a single-payer universal health care system, or Medicare for All. Six in 10 say it is “the responsibility of the federal government” to ensure that all Americans have access to health care coverage.

Debt-free and tuition-free college? A clear majority (60 percent) of the public, including a significant minority (41 percent) of Republicans, support free college “for those who meet income levels.”

A higher minimum wage? According to Pew, almost 6 in 10 (58 percent) Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to (the Sanders-recommended) $15 an hour.

Gun control? About six out of 10 (61 percent) Americans back stricter laws on gun control, according to Gallup, “the highest percentage to favor tougher firearms laws in two or more decades.” Almost all Americans (94 percent) back universal background checks on all gun sales — including almost three-quarters of National Rifle Association members.

Abortion? Support for a legal right to abortion, according to a June 2018 poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, is at an “all-time high.” Seven out of 10 Americans said they believed Roe v. Wade “should not be overturned,” including a majority (52 percent) of Republicans.

Legalizing marijuana? Two out of three Americans think marijuana should be made legal. According to a Gallup survey from October 2018, this marks “another new high in Gallup’s trend over nearly half a century.” And here’s the kicker: A majority (53 percent) of Republicans support legal marijuana too!

Mass incarceration? About nine out of 10 (91 percent) Americans say that the criminal justice system “has problems that need fixing.” About seven out of 10 (71 percent) say it is important “to reduce the prison population in America,” including a majority (52 percent) of Trump voters.

Immigration? “A record-high 75 percent of Americans,” including 65 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, told Gallup in 2018 that immigration is a “good thing for the U.S.” Six in 10 Americansoppose the construction of a wall on the southern border, while a massive 8 in 10 (81 percent) support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Ocasio-Cortez’s Socialism Can Work in the Midwest — With a Rebrand
by Eric Levitz, Intelligencer

Both Medicare for All and single-payer health care enjoy majority support in recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Data for Progress (DFP), a progressive think tank, used demographic information from Kaiser’s poll to estimate the level of support for Medicare for All in individual states. Its model suggests that, in a 2014 turnout environment — which is to say, one that assumes higher turnout for Republican constituencies — a majority of voters in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would all support a socialist takeover of the health-insurance industry (so long as you didn’t put the idea to them in those terms).

Now, it is true that support for Medicare for All is malleable when pollsters introduce counterarguments. But even if we stipulate that support for the policy is somewhat weaker than it appears, there is little doubt that any Democrat running on Medicare for All in a purple district will have a more mainstream position on health-care policy than the national Republican Party. Polls consistently find that an overwhelming majority of the American public — one that includes most Republican voters — supports higher federal spending on health care, and opposes cuts to Medicaid (just 12 percent of the public supports cutting that program). Every major GOP health-care plan introduced in the past decade runs counter to those preferences; the ones introduced in the last year would have slashed Medicaid spending by nearly $1 trillion.

The most radical economic policy on Ocasio-Cortez’s platform — a federal job guarantee — meanwhile, actually polls quite well in “flyover country.” In a survey commissioned by the Center for American Progress, a supermajority of voters agreed that “for anyone who is unemployed or underemployed, the government should guarantee them a job with a decent wage doing work that local communities need, such as rebuilding roads, bridges, and schools or working as teachers, home health-care aides, or child-care providers.”

Critically, support for this premise was almost exactly as strong among rural-dwelling demographic groups as it was among urban ones: According to DFP’s modeling, CAP’s proposal boasts roughly 69 percent support in urban zip codes, and 67 percent in rural ones.

There are a lot of reasonable, technocratic objections to the job guarantee as a policy. But polling suggests that there is majoritarian support for a massive public-jobs program of some kind — and that framing said program as “guaranteed jobs” might be politically effective.

Other items on Ocasio-Cortez’s platform poll similarly well. A bipartisan majority of voters have espoused support for “breaking up the big banks” in recent years, while nearly 70 percent of Americans want the government to take “aggressive action” on climate change, according to Reuters/Ipsos.

“Housing as a human right” might sound radical, but in substance, it’s anything but: The Department of Housing and Urban Development believesit could end homelessness with an additional $20 billion a year in funding; other experts put that price tag even lower. I don’t think the question, “Should the government raise taxes for the rich by $20 billion, if doing so would end all homelessness in the U.S.?” has been polled, but I would be surprised if it didn’t poll well, even in the Midwest.

Similarly, on the question of immigration enforcement, Ocasio-Cortez’s position is likely more palatable when rendered in concrete terms than in abstract ones. Many white Midwesterners might recoil at phrases like “abolish ICE” or “open borders.” But if one asks the question, “Should the government concentrate its immigration-enforcement resources on combating violent criminals and gang activity, instead of going after law-abiding day laborers?” I suspect you’d find more support for the democratic socialist point of view.

The palatability of Ocasio-Cortez’s policy platform reflects two important realities: Actually existing “democratic socialism” — which is to say, the brand championed by its most prominent proponents in elected office — is almost indistinguishable from left-liberalism; and left-liberal policies are already quite popular in the United States.

If all Americans voted for the party whose positions on economic policy best matched their own stated preferences, then the Republican Party would not be competitive in national elections. The GOP’s strength derives entirely from the considerable appeal of white identity politics with constituencies that happen to wield disproportionate power over our political system.

Success of Big Drug is Failure of Public Health

Pfizer has owns the rights to the drug Enbrel outside North America. Internal analysis at the company showed that there was a strong correlation to lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. It was an amazing 64% reduction. This is almost unheard of in Alzheimer’s research. At a company presentation, it was stated in no uncertain terms that, “Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease” (as quoted by Mark Terry).

Yet they didn’t follow up with more data analysis and clinical studies. Neither did they publicly release their findings. Pfizer can’t take all the blame, though. The company works with the Amgen in marketing Enbrel. This other drug company holds the patent and rights to market Enbrel in the United States and Canada. Both drug companies knew about the results and both remained silent. A company spokesman for Pfizer told the Washington Post that, “Science was the sole determining factor against moving forward.” I don’t doubt that is true for corporate science. But there sometimes is a vast difference between corporate science and non-profit science. This is indicated by another explanation that came out of Pfizer.

The WaPo reported that, the company “decided during its three years of internal reviews that Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue.” That is odd because, based on much research, we know there is more involved in Alzheimer’s than just the brain. The only proven clinical trial that has reversed Alheimer’s symptoms used a protocol that included many methods, including the ketogenic diet (see the clinical study and writings of Dr. Dale Bredesen).

The US FDA approved use of Enbrel is for the treatment of autoimmune diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, plaque psoriasis and ankylosing spondylitis. The effect it would have on Alzheimer’s is as an anti-inflammatory. This could be achieved in many ways, such as broadly reducing an overactive immunological response in the body, not only in the brain. The neurocognitive effect might be indirect and secondary to the process without the drug needing to cross the blood-brain barrier. It isn’t necessarily significant by which path, neurological or not, that it accomplishes this feat of inflammatory reduction. As reported in the WaPo:

Yet Alzheimer’s researchers believe inflammation outside the brain — called peripheral inflammation — influences inflammation within the brain.

“There is a lot of evidence suggesting that peripheral or systemic inflammation may be a driver of Alzheimer’s disease,’’ said Walker, the Johns Hopkins researcher. It is a fair hypothesis that fighting inflammation outside the brain with Enbrel will have a similar effect inside the brain, he said.

“I don’t believe Enbrel would need to cross the blood brain barrier to modulate the inflammatory/immune response within the brain,’’ Walker said.

“There is increasing evidence that peripheral inflammation can influence brain function,’’ said rheumatologist Christopher Edwards, of the University of Southampton in Britain.

I refuse to believe that the researchers at Enbrel didn’t know this basic scientific understanding and didn’t explain it to those making the decisions. Maybe that is why the scientists employed by Pfizer, in opposition to the management, were pushing for more research to be done.

Basically, it was a business decision and so it was irrelevant even if it was guaranteed to cure Alzheimer’s. In capitalism, there is no financial incentive in humanitarianism, at least not when its costly. As Enbrel was already patented for another medical use and its patent life was coming to an end, getting it patented for an entirely different health condition would have been difficult because of patent laws. It would have been a high-risk business investment with low probability of success and profit.

Since it wasn’t profitable for the company to pursue further research, it also wouldn’t have been profitable for the company to release the info so that others might pursue further research or else simply gain better understanding about the possibilities of different avenues of research. Promoting scientific debate and scientific knowledge is not part of capitalism (ditto for public health), other than as an unintentional side effect. No company will freely choose to disclose any information beyond what is necessary or else when deemed unrelated to any financial gain… that is unless required by law, in which case it wouldn’t be freely chosen.

If you want to hear defenses of the actions or rather inaction of Pfizer, some pieces have been written taking the other side of the debate: A Missed Alzheimer’s Opportunity? Not So Much by Derek Lowe, and 5 Reasons Pfizer Sat on a Potential New Alzheimer’s Drug by Cory Renauer. Pfizer also went to its own defense on social media: Pfizer takes to Twitter to refute ‘Washington Post’ story by Alison Kanski. I find the excuses unconvincing. It comes across more as apologia for capitalist realism.

Still, to be fair, there has been immense failure in Alzheimer’s research. A new drug treatment hasn’t been approved by the FDA in the past decade. But that is part of the problem with the corporate model of big drug. The only promising research in recent years is from methods other than pharmaceuticals. As far as capitalism goes, it doesn’t matter if Alzheimer’s can be treated and reversed with a multifactorial approach, by a combination of diet, nutrition, supplementation, exercise, detoxification, etc. There is no profit in this, since no company can patent it and so monopolize the market for decades. In that sense, it is pointless in blaming a corporation for acting like a corporation. This is the inevitable result of capitalism.

Following the obvious financial incentive, Pfizer has stopped Alzheimer’s research. This is problematic for public health, of course. Big biz, however, doesn’t give a flying fuck about public health. If we are seeking public health, then governments will have to massively invest in public funding of research and development as the United States did in the past. Instead, public funding has been drastically cut. This is expected in corporatocratic government where corporate interests determine public policy. It’s the nature of the beast. If we think it is morally wrong to let millions of people to suffer and die when there is no profit in helping them, then we will be forced by our collective conscience to demolish our present economic and political system and then replace it with something better.

But it goes beyond even this. The causes of inflammation are diverse. With industrialized capitalism, we are drowning in physiological and social stressors, from toxins to inequality, that constantly antagonize the body while disallowing the natural processes of healing. We need an entirely different model and paradigm to confront what is causing the worsening of health across the board: metabolic syndrome (obesity, diabetes, & heart disease), autoimmune disorders (Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, etc), mood disorders (depression, anxiety, etc), and personality disorders (BPD, NPD, etc); psychosis, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, drug addiction, and on and on. A common feature found in numerous health conditions is inflammation.

When the entire social order, from economic system to food system, is inflammatory and generally harmful to public health, what is the treatment? And even if we could find effective treatments, why would we settle for that rather than seeking cures and prevention? Why are we obsessed with symptoms, instead of going directly to the root cause of so many diseases?

* * *

Pfizer had clues its blockbuster drug could prevent Alzheimer’s. Why didn’t it tell the world?
by Christopher Rowland

A team of researchers inside Pfizer made a startling find in 2015: The company’s blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis therapy Enbrel, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug, appeared to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 64 percent.

The results were from an analysis of hundreds of thousands of insurance claims. Verifying that the drug would actually have that effect in people would require a costly clinical trial — and after several years of internal discussion, Pfizer opted against further investigation and chose not to make the data public, the company confirmed.

Researchers in the company’s division of inflammation and immunology urged Pfizer to conduct a clinical trial on thousands of patients, which they estimated would cost $80 million, to see if the signal contained in the data was real, according to an internal company document obtained by The Washington Post.

“Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease,’’ said the document, a PowerPoint slide show that was prepared for review by an internal Pfizer committee in February 2018.

The company told The Post that it decided during its three years of internal reviews that Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue. It deemed the likelihood of a successful clinical trial to be low. A synopsis of its statistical findings prepared for outside publication, it says, did not meet its “rigorous scientific standards.’’

Science was the sole determining factor against moving forward, company spokesman Ed Harnaga said.

Pfizer Did Not Pursue Possible Evidence of Enbrel Helping with Alzheimer’s Due to Low Chance of Clinical Success
by Mark Terry

Recently released documents indicate that Pfizer spent three years reviewing whether the science supported running a trial on Enbrel in Alzheimer’s. A PowerPoint slide from a February 2018 presentation stated, “Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

But the company told The Washington Post that during those three years, they felt that the drug didn’t show promise for Alzheimer’s because it doesn’t directly reach brain tissue. So, they believed that the clinical trial’s chances of success would be low. Pfizer spokesman Ed Harnaga told The Post that the only reason the company didn’t go forward was the science.

That may or may not be reasonable, but the company’s decision not to release or publish the data is taking more criticism, with many researchers arguing they should have made that data available to researchers.

“Of course they should. Why not?” Rudolph E. Tanzi, a top Alzheimer’s researcher with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

In fact, in an interview with Tanzi earlier this year, he noted that more and more research is focused on the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s, particularly as the amyloid-beta theory comes under fire. In Tanzi’s opinion, and there’s quite a bit of scientific research supporting it, amyloid and tangles trigger Alzheimer’s, but they’re not enough to cause dementia. But the amyloid and tangle-driven neuronal cell death eventually hits a point where the brain’s innate immune system reacts with significant levels of neuroinflammation. Tanzi told BioSpace, “Then, exponentially more cell death occurs, which leads to symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

So it seems possible that a powerful anti-inflammatory like Enbrel could have a dampening effect on the entire immune system, which might decrease Alzheimer’s risk. […]

It also seems contradictory that when so many biopharma companies are investing in artificial intelligence and data mining of real-world evidence (RWE) such as the Pfizer scientists utilized in 2015, that they would then ignore what they found.

Pfizer recognizes that it hid a drug that prevents Alzheimer’s
from The Mazatlan Post

This American media also explains in its exclusive that the role of brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease has been attracting the attention of academics after the failure of multiple experimental drugs that pointed to the accumulation of plaques in brain tissue.

“People who have chronic inflammation have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s”

Thus, they recall that in 2016 researchers from the universities of Dartmouth and Harvard published an insurance claims data study , similar to the internal findings of Pfizer (for those who refused to continue investigating the possible new use of their drug) that showed a potential benefit of Enbrel.

Enbrel “shows promise as a potential treatment” For Alzheimer’s, he pointed out.” In this study, it is said that Alzheimer’s is significantly more prevalent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a fact that was already known: people who have chronic inflammation have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Also, those who were taking the Pfizer drug had a decreased risk, “explains the SEN member, who points out that there is evidence in basic research.

However, Pascual Sanchez says that […] “Of course it is a piece of interesting information [published by the Washington Post], and of course it is a line that, taking into account that others have not worked, such as amyloid, we are very interested in it.” There is strong genetic evidence and targets are being developed based on modulation of inflammation. ”

“We urgently need the pharmaceutical laboratories to bet on Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, Pfizer has strategically abandoned the line of Neurology, and has probably been one of the reasons why not bet on it, “says Sanchez.

The expert says that Alzheimer’s disease is very complex and” from pharmaceutically no Much progress has been made. The pharmaceutical companies that have bet for now have not achieved benefits because they have not taken new drugs, but increasingly we know more and we do better clinical trials. I think there are more options for us to find something that works. And the more you invest, and the more people think about this, the more likely we are to achieve it, “he says.

“We need to do more trials and probably need more complex approaches to this disease, we are realizing that we will need several treatments or different simultaneous approaches to treat the disease, there are many factors that are involved, such as amyloid, TAU protein, inflammation or even p43, probably if we focus only on one factor we will not succeed, we must have a more global vision of the problem and also of the solutions”, concludes Pascual Sánchez.

Pfizer, pocketing a big tax cut from Trump, will end investment in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research
by Michael Hiltzik

No one would say that drug companies should engage in research as a philanthropic exercise, but within the context of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, Pfizer looks risk-averse. The second-biggest U.S. drug company by sales (after Johnson & Johnson), Pfizer in recent years seems to have devoted more effort to financial engineering than biomedical engineering. In 2015, for instance, it announced a $160-billion merger with Allergan, the maker of Botox. The deal was a so-called inversion, aimed transparently at cutting Pfizer’s tax bill in part by eliminating U.S. tax on $147 billion in profits it had stashed overseas.

Although the company denied that the deal was “simply… a tax transaction,” the truth emerged in 2016 when the deal was canceled; the only thing that had changed was that the U.S. Treasury had implemented new rules that all but eliminated the tax savings. So, bye-bye, Allergan.

Pfizer is expected to be among the prime beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut. The measure allows companies to pay a tax rate as low as 8% on foreign earnings they bring home, a big discount from the 21% top rate the law assesses on domestic earnings, itself a big cut from the previous rate of 35%. By some estimates, that could be worth more than $5 billion to Pfizer alone, not counting any gains from the lower tax rate.

As it happens, Pfizer signaled how it would apply the tax savings even before the final passage of the tax bill: The company announced a $10-billion share buyback on Dec. 18, four days before President Trump signed the tax cut into law. That buyback was on top of $6.4 billion left to be spent from a previous buyback plan, and was accompanied by a 6% increase in the company’s stock dividend, which will be worth roughly another half-billion dollars a year.

For comparison’s sake, Pfizer’s entire research and development budget averaged about $8 billion a year from 2014 through 2016.

Pfizer’s diversion of its tax break to shareholders parallels its behavior the last time American companies received a tax holiday on repatriated foreign earnings. That was in 2004, after corporations promised to apply their tax savings to hiring more workers and investing in their business. Instead, they laid off workers, bought back their shares, and pumped up their CEO compensation.

Pfizer brought home more than any other company in that amnesty, $35.5 billion, according to a 2007 investigation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. From 2004 through 2007, Levin reported, Pfizer bought back more than $27 billion in stock and reduced employment by 11,748 workers.

This time around, the company is again gifting its shareholders and laying off workers. Abandoning a challenging research field is a new wrinkle, however.

What’s most discouraging to patient advocates is the dearth of alternatives to big pharmaceutical companies in brain research. Pfizer’s withdrawal, especially if it prompts other big pharma companies to flee the field, places more of the burden on small biotech firms, academia, foundations and government. The news “reinforces the urgent need for additional federal investment in Alzheimer’s research,” a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America told me. But the Trump administration has placed funding for government research projects in almost all scientific fields on the chopping block.

Some experts recognize that the big drug companies may have been less than sturdy partners all along. “Many groups have been hoping for quick wins in the [central nervous system] space and we haven’t succeeded,” Beck of the Parkinson’s Foundation says, “so there’s some frustration from the viewpoint of management that we’re not getting the progress we need.”

He says his organization and others will still focus on the most promising pathway to a cure: Trying to understand the mechanisms of these diseases, which are still very murky. Only once those riddles are solved can drug research truly move ahead.

But as long as purely economic considerations drive drug R&D, the prospects for progress are dim. The Republicans who drafted the corporate tax cut promised that it would lead to more business investment and therefore economic growth. But as Pfizer demonstrates, all the incentives run in the opposite direction: More investment in shareholder welfare, less economic growth, and less attention to what corporations are supposed to exist for — improving people’s lives.

Profits before people: capitalists abandon Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research
by Joe Attard

Pfizer’s announcement is an especially striking testament to the horrors of capitalism when seen in context with the damage caused by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. For example, the global cost of Alzheimer’s and dementia (in terms of medical care, social care and hospices) is estimated at $605 billion: equivalent to 1 percent of the entire world’s gross domestic product. Meanwhile, the financial impact incurred for a UK citizen living with Parkinson’s disease (which affects mobility, and eventually communication) are £16,000 per year on average – factoring in assistance with cleaning, loss of income and benefits and so on. For the poorest Parkinson’s’ sufferers, professional help might be unaffordable, placing the duty of care on family members.

Pfizer pulling out of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research will shunt more of the burden of seeking treatments for these diseases on the public sector – via universities, for example. That is, as is becoming the norm, they leave the bill for research to be paid for by taxpayers, only to take over the patents for small change at a later stage. […]

The main driving force for Pfizer is cold, hard profit. Its R&D chief, Mikael Dolsten, recently told a J.P. Morgan healthcare conference that the company bases its R&D strategy on drugs with “multi-billion-dollar blockbuster potential.” These drug giants focus their attention on whatever nets the biggest windfalls with the least amount of effort, which can lead to an emphasis on manufacturing financial loopholes rather than medicines. In 2015, Pfizer acquired Allergan (the company that makes Botox) in a $160-billion merger: a move that eliminated U.S. tax on $147 billion in profits it had stashed overseas. In Britain, despite making sales of between £1.3bn and £1.8bn annually between 2001 and 2014, Pfizer paid almost no tax over the period because it announced major operating losses each year, except for a tiny profit of £9m in 2013. The company is also expected to benefit substantially from Donald Trump’s new corporate tax cut, to the tune of $5bn: 10 times more than the US government’s 2017 pledge to Alzheimer’s research, and more than half of Pfizer’s entire research and development budget from 2014 through 2016. Donald Trump has generously rewarded Pfizer’s shareholders, who have responded by slashing early development research on neurological diseases, firing hundreds of employees and continuing to inflate the cost of its products.

This should all come as no surprise. The whole medical industry has become thoroughly parasitical, making billions from ripping off state healthcare services, withholding essential medicines from Third World countries and lobbying governments to deregulate the healthcare market. Pfizer was itself hit with a record fine in 2016 after it charged the NHS £50m for an anti-epilepsy drug: up from £2m in 2013. For years Pfizer withheld fluconzale (a powerful anti-fungal agent that can be used to treat AIDS-related diseases like oral thrush and cryptococcal meningitis) from the developing world, while continuing to sell it to wealthy American and European patients. Only after provoking international outrage did it make the drug available to NGOs operating in developing countries with a greater than 1 percent prevalence of HIV/AIDS in 2001. The firm has also never been shy about using its financial clout to get its way in the political sphere, spending $25 million in 2010 alone on lobbying for healthcare deregulation in the USA. Big business and the state are connected to each other by a thousand threads. Despite Donald Trump’s promises during the primaries that he would reign in Big Pharma, his appointment of former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to replace Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary suggests otherwise.

In stark contrast to claims that free market competition fosters innovation, the private pharmaceutical industry reveals the stagnation, irrationality and base cruelty of capitalism in its state of senile decay. From Martin Shkreli’s jacking up the cost of Daraprim (a drug used in the treatment of AIDS-related conditions) from US$13.50 to US$750 per pill; to drug giants profiteering off AIDS epidemics in Africa and Asia; to Big Pharma taking public money (in the form of tendered contracts) from the NHS and stashing it in tax havens, the logic of capitalism ensures that healthy profits always take precedence over public health. Moreover, Pfizer’s actions demonstrate the sheer barbarism of allowing vast reserves of money, expertise and talent to be wasted or misdirected by private medical firms. Permitting research priorities to be dictated by market forces has resulted in pharmaceutical giants directing more attention towards lifestyle drugs targeted at the wealthy – designed to treat such tragic conditions as obesity, baldness, wrinkles and impotence. There is a multi-billion-dollar market for such products. Meanwhile, the difficult, expensive work of producing treatments for illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease is sacrificed to the bottom line.

* * *

Essentialism On the Decline

Before getting to the topic of essentialism, let me take an indirect approach. In reading about paleolithic diets and traditional foods, a recurring theme is inflammation, specifically as it relates to the health of the gut-brain network and immune system.

The paradigm change this signifies is that seemingly separate diseases with different diagnostic labels often have underlying commonalities. They share overlapping sets of causal and contributing factors, biological processes and symptoms. This is why simple dietary changes can have a profound effect on numerous health conditions. For some, the diseased state expresses as mood disorders and for others as autoimmune disorders and for still others something entirely else, but there are immense commonalities between them all. The differences have more to do with how dysbiosis and dysfunction happens to develop, where it takes hold in the body, and so what symptoms are experienced.

From a paleo diet perspective in treating both patients and her own multiple sclerosis, Terry Wahls gets at this point in a straightforward manner (p. 47): “In a very real sense, we all have the same disease because all disease begins with broken, incorrect biochemistry and disordered communication within and between our cells. […] Inside, the distinction between these autoimmune diseases is, frankly, fairly arbitrary”. In How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote (Kindle Locations 3834-3850):

“Inflammation has been a game-changer for our understanding of mental illness. For many years, scientists and clinicians held a classical view of mental illnesses like chronic stress, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Each ailment was believed to have a biological fingerprint that distinguished it from all others. Researchers would ask essentialist questions that assume each disorder is distinct: “How does depression impact your body? How does emotion influence pain? Why do anxiety and depression frequently co-occur?” 9

“More recently, the dividing lines between these illnesses have been evaporating. People who are diagnosed with the same-named disorder may have greatly diverse symptoms— variation is the norm. At the same time, different disorders overlap: they share symptoms, they cause atrophy in the same brain regions, their sufferers exhibit low emotional granularity, and some of the same medications are prescribed as effective.

“As a result of these findings, researchers are moving away from a classical view of different illnesses with distinct essences. They instead focus on a set of common ingredients that leave people vulnerable to these various disorders, such as genetic factors, insomnia, and damage to the interoceptive network or key hubs in the brain (chapter 6). If these areas become damaged, the brain is in big trouble: depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia, autism, dyslexia, chronic pain, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are all associated with hub damage. 10

“My view is that some major illnesses considered distinct and “mental” are all rooted in a chronically unbalanced body budget and unbridled inflammation. We categorize and name them as different disorders, based on context, much like we categorize and name the same bodily changes as different emotions. If I’m correct, then questions like, “Why do anxiety and depression frequently co-occur?” are no longer mysteries because, like emotions, these illnesses do not have firm boundaries in nature.”

What jumped out at me was the conventional view of disease as essentialist, and hence the related essentialism in biology and psychology.

[…]

Researchers have found that there are prospective causes to be studied. Consider proprionate, a substance discussed by Alanna Collen (10% Human, p. 83): “although propionate was an important compound in the body, it was also used as a preservative in bread products – the very foods many autistic children crave. To top it all off, clostridia species are known to produce propionate. In itself, propionate is not ‘bad’, but MacFabe began to wonder whether autistic children were getting an overdose.” This might explain why antibiotics helped many with autism, as it would have been knocking off the clostridia population that was boosting propionate. To emphasize this point, when rodents were injected with propionate, they exhibited the precise behaviors of autism and they too showed inflammation in the brain. The fact that autistics often have brain inflammation, an unhealthy condition, is strong evidence that autism shouldn’t be taken as mere neurodiversity (and, among autistics, the commonality of inflammation-related gut issues emphasizes this point).

There is no doubt that genetic determinism, like the belief in an eternal soul, can be comforting. We identify with our genes, as we inherit them and are born with them. But to speak of inflammation or propionate or whatever makes it seem like we are victims of externalities. And it means we aren’t isolated individuals to be blamed or to take credit for who we are. To return to Collen (pp. 88-89):

“In health, we like to think we are the products of our genes and experiences. Most of us credit our virtues to the hurdles we have jumped, the pits we have climbed out of, and the triumphs we have fought for. We see our underlying personalities as fixed entities – ‘I am just not a risk-taker’, or ‘I like things to be organised’ – as if these are a result of something intrinsic to us. Our achievements are down to determination, and our relationships reflect the strength of our characters. Or so we like to think.

“But what does it mean for free will and accomplishment, if we are not our own masters? What does it mean for human nature, and for our sense of self? The idea that Toxoplasma, or any other microbe inhabiting your body, might contribute to your feelings, decisions and actions, is quite bewildering. But if that’s not mind-bending enough for you, consider this: microbes are transmissible. Just as a cold virus or a bacterial throat infection can be passed from one person to another, so can the microbiota. The idea that the make-up of your microbial community might be influenced by the people you meet and the places you go lends new meaning to the idea of cultural mind-expansion. At its simplest, sharing food and toilets with other people could provide opportunity for microbial exchange, for better or worse. Whether it might be possible to pick up microbes that encourage entrepreneurship at a business school, or a thrill-seeking love of motorbiking at a race track, is anyone’s guess for now, but the idea of personality traits being passed from person to person truly is mind-expanding.”

This goes beyond the personal level, which lends a greater threat to the proposal. Our respective societies, communities, etc might be heavily influenced by environmental factors that we can’t see. A ton of research shows the tremendous impact of parasites, heavy metal toxins, food additives, farm chemicals, hormones, hormone mimics, hormone disruptors, etc. Entire regions might be shaped by even a single species of parasite, such as how higher rates of toxoplasmosis gondii in New England is directly correlated to higher rates of neuroticism (see What do we inherit? And from whom? & Uncomfortable Questions About Ideology).

Health From Generation To Generation

To emphasize this point, the testing of newborn babies in the United States shows that they’ve already accumulated on average more than 200 synthetic chemicals from within the womb; and then imagine all the further chemicals they get from the breast milk of their unhealthy mothers along with all kinds of crap in formulas and in their environments (e.g., carcinogenic fire retardants that they breathe 24/7). Lead toxicity has decreased since my own childhood and that is a good thing, but thousands of new toxins and other chemicals have replaced it. On top of that, the hormones, hormone mimics, and hormone disruptors add to dysbiosis and disease — some suggesting this is a cause of puberty’s greater variance than in past generations, either coming earlier or later depending on gender and other factors (maybe partly explaining the reversal and divergence of educational attainment for girls and boys). Added to this mix, this is the first generation of human guinea pigs to be heavily medicated from childhood, much of it medications that have been shown to permanently alter neurocognitive development.

A major factor in many modern diseases is inflammation. This has many causes from leaky gut to toxicity, the former related to diet and often contributing to the latter (in how the leaky gut allows molecules to more easily cross the gut lining and get into the bloodstream where they can freely travel throughout the body — causing autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, etc). But obesity is another main cause of inflammation. And one might note that, when the body is overloaded and not functioning optimally, excess toxins are stored in fat cells — which makes losing weight even more difficult as toxins are released back into the body, and if not flushed out causing one to feel sick and tired.

It’s not simply bad lifestyle choices. We are living in unnatural and often outright toxic conditions. Many of the symptoms that we categorize as diseases are the bodies attempt to make the best of a bad situation. All of this adds up to a dysfunctional level across society. Our healthcare system is already too expensive for most people to afford. And the largest part of public funding for healthcare is going to diabetes alone. But the saddest part is the severe decrease in quality of life, as the rate of mood and personality disorders skyrockets. It’s not just diet. For whatever reason (toxins? stress?), with greater urbanization has come greater levels of schizophrenia and psychosis. And autism, a rare condition in the past, has become highly prevalent (by the way, one of the proven effective treatments for autism is a paleo/keto diet; also effective for autoimmune conditions among much else).

It’s getting worse and worse, generation after generation. Imagine what this means in terms of epigenetics and transgenerational trauma, as nutritional deficits and microbiotic decimation accumulates, exacerbated by a society driven mad through inequality and instability, stress and anxiety. If not for nutrients added to our nutrient poor food and supplements added to our unhealthy diet, we’d already be dying out as a society and our civilization would’ve collapsed along with it (maybe similar to how some conjecture the Roman Empire weakened as lead toxicity increased in the population). Under these conditions, that children are our future may not be an affirmation of hope. Nor may these children be filled with gratitude once they’ve reached adulthood and come to realize what we did to them and the world we left them. On the other hand, we aren’t forced to embrace fatalism and cynicism. We already know what to do to turn around all of these problems. And we don’t lack the money or other resources to do what needs to be done. All that we are waiting for is public demand and political will, although that might first require our society reaching a point of existential crisis… we are getting close.

The stumbling block is that there is no profit in the ‘healthcare’ industry for advocating, promoting, incentivizing, and ensuring healthy diet and healthy conditions for a healthy population. Quite the opposite. If disease profiteering was made illegal, there would be trillions of dollars of lost profit every year. Disease is the reality of capitalist realism, a diseased economic system and social order. This collective state of sickliness has become the norm and vested interests will go to great lengths to defend the status quo. But for most who benefit from the dysfunctional and destructive system, they never have to give it much thought. When my mother brought my nephew to the doctor, she pointed out how he is constantly sick and constantly eating a poor diet. The doctor’s response was that this was ‘normal’ for kids (these days), which might be true but the doctor should be shocked and shamed by his own admission. As apathy takes hold and we lose a sense of hope, low standards fall ever lower.

Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis

Fasting, for example, increases the level of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine while temporarily reducing the brains release and use of them; plus, serotonin and its precursor tryptophan are made more available to the brain. So, it allows your reserves of neurotransmitters to rebuild to higher levels. That is partly why a ketogenic diet, along with the brains efficient use of ketones, shows improvements in behavior, learning, memory, acuity, focus, vigilance, and mood (such as sense of well-being and sometimes euphoria); with specific benefits, to take a couple of examples, in cerebral blood flow and prefrontal-cortex-related cognitive functions (mental flexibility and set shifting); while also promoting stress resistance, inflammation reduction, weight loss, and metabolism, and while decreasing free radical damage, blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels. Many of these are similar benefits as seen with strenuous exercise.

We know so much about this because the ketogenic diet is the only diet that has been specifically and primarily studied in terms of neurological diseases, going back to early 20th century research on epileptic seizures and autism, was shown effective for other conditions later in the century (e.g., V. A. Angelillo et al, Effects of low and high carbohydrate feedings in ambulatory patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic hypercapnia), and more recently with positive results seen in numerous other conditions (Dr. Terry Wahl’s work on multiple sclerosis, Dr. Dale Bredesen’s work on Alzheimer’s, etc). By the way, the direction of causality can also go the other way around, from brain to gut: “Studies also suggest that overwhelming systemic stress and inflammation—such as that induced via severe burn injury—can also produce characteristic acute changes in the gut microbiota within just one day of the sustained insult [15].” (Rasnik K. Singh et al, Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health). And see:

“Various afferent or efferent pathways are involved in the MGB axis. Antibiotics, environmental and infectious agents, intestinal neurotransmitters/neuromodulators, sensory vagal fibers, cytokines, essential metabolites, all convey information about the intestinal state to the CNS. Conversely, the HPA axis, the CNS regulatory areas of satiety and neuropeptides released from sensory nerve fibers affect the gut microbiota composition directly or through nutrient availability. Such interactions appear to influence the pathogenesis of a number of disorders in which inflammation is implicated such as mood disorder, autism-spectrum disorders (ASDs), attention-deficit hypersensitivity disorder (ADHD), multiple sclerosis (MS) and obesity.” (Anastasia I. Petra et al, Gut-Microbiota-Brain Axis and Its Effect on Neuropsychiatric Disorders With Suspected Immune Dysregulation) […]

For example, a ketogenic diet modulates the levels of the microbes Akkermansia muciniphila, Lactobacillus, and Desulfovibrio (Lucille M. Yanckello, Diet Alters Gut Microbiome and Improves Brain Functions). It is the microbes that mediate the influence on both epileptic seizures and autism, such that Akkermansia is decreased in the former and increased in the latter, that is to say the ketogenic diet helps the gut regain balance no matter which direction the imabalance is. In the case of epileptic seizures, Akkermansia spurs the growth of Parabacteroides which alters neurotransmission by elevating the GABA/glutamate ratio (there is glutamate again): “the hippocampus of the microbe-protected mice had increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which silences neurons, relative to glutamate, which activates them” (Carolyn Beans, Mouse microbiome findings offer insights into why a high-fat, low-carb diet helps epileptic children), but no such effect was found in germ-free mice, that is to say with no microbiome (similar results were found in human studies: Y. Zhang, Altered gut microbiome composition in children with refractory epilepsy after ketogenic diet). Besides reducing seizures, “GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms the body. Higher GABA to glutamate ratios has been shown to alleviate depression, reduce anxiety levels, lessen insomnia, reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, increase growth hormone, improve focus, and reduce systemic inflammation” (MTHFR Support, Can Eating A Ketogenic Diet Change Our Microbiome?). To throw out the other interesting mechanism, consider Desulfovibrio. Ketosis reduces its numbers and that is a good thing since it causes leakiness of the gut barrier, and what causes leakiness in one part of the body can cause it elsewhere as well such as the brain barrier. Autoimmune responses and inflammation can follow. This is why ketosis has been found beneficial for preventing and treating neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s (plus, ketones are a useful alternative fuel for Alzheimer’s since their brain cells begin starving to death for loss of the capacity to use glucose as a fuel).

All of this involves the factors that increase and reduce inflammation: “KD also increased the relative abundance of putatively beneficial gut microbiota (Akkermansia muciniphila and Lactobacillus), and reduced that of putatively pro-inflammatory taxa (Desulfovibrio and Turicibacter).” (David Ma et al, Ketogenic diet enhances neurovascular function with altered gut microbiome in young healthy mice). Besides the microbiome itself, this has immense impact on leakiness and autoimmune conditions, with this allowing inflammation to show up in numerous areas of the body, including the brain of course. Inflammation is found in conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. Even without knowing this mechanism, much earlier research has long established that ketosis reduces inflammation.

Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates

Stephen Ilardi made two very important points.

First, depression is a disease of civilization. He spoke of research done on a hunter-gatherer tribal people. What the researcher found was that depression was almost non-existent among them. They lived a hard life and often hard deaths, but they weren’t clinically depressed. Nor did they have many of the other diseases of civilization, all of which are related to inflammation in the body.

He points out that studies have shown that depression is related to inflammation in the brain, at least partly caused by an unhealthy ratio between Omega 6 fats and Omega 3 fats. Combined with the stresses and social isolation of modern society, clinical depression has become a massive problem.

Second, clinical depression is a growing problem. Each generation has higher rates of depression than the generation before. It correctly can be called an epidemic at this point and it increases as people age. The younger generations will as they age, if the pattern holds, have 50% or more experiencing clinical depression.

This gets at an issue I continually return to. Everything is getting worse for the young generation such as poverty, economic inequality, unemployment and homelessness. My generation is the first generation do worse than their parents in the 20th century. My generation as children had poverty rates not seen since the Great Depression and had the worst child suicide rates since such things were recorded. How bad does society have to get before even children become so desperate and hopeless that they kill themselves?

Most people in the older generations never personally experienced these kinds of conditions. Because of this, they have no tangible understanding, no sympathy. They can’t see how this is a systemic problem throughout society, a problem transcending individuals and even generations.

I’ve previously discussed this a bit in terms of capitalist realism (see here and here), but I’ve never gone into much detail about this before. The analysis behind the concept of capitalist realism is based on the collective inability to imagine alternatives and hence collective inability to perceive the problems of the present system. The individual is the product and the scapegoat of capitalist realism.

Diets and Systems

Chuck Pezeshki is a published professor of engineering in the field of design theory and high performance work teams. I can claim no specialty here, as I lack even a college degree. Still, Pezeshki and I have much in common — like  me: He prefers a systems view, as he summarizes his blog on his About page, “As we relate, so we think.” He states that, “My work exists at, and reaches far above the micro-neuroscience level, into larger systemic social organization.”

An area of focus we share is diet and health and we’ve come to similar conclusions. Like me, he sees a relationship between sugar, obesity, addiction, trauma, individuality, empathy issues, authoritarianism, etc (and inequality comes up as well; by the way, my favorite perspective on inequality in this context is Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder). And like me, he is informed by a low-carb and ketogenic approach that was initially motivated by weight loss. Maybe these commonalities are unsurprising, as we do have some common intellectual interests.

Much of his blog is about what he calls “structural memetics” involving value memes (v-memes). Even though I haven’t focused as much on value memes recently, Ken Wilber’s version of spiral dynamics shaped my thought to some extent (that kind of thing being what brought me to Pezeshki’s blog in the first place). As important, we are both familiar with Bruce K. Alexander’s research on addiction, although my familiarity comes from Johann Hari’s writings (I learned of the rat park research in Chasing the Scream). A more basic link in our views comes from each of us having read the science journalism of Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz, along with some influence from Dr. Jason Fung. He has also read Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a leading figure in this area who I know of through the work of others.

Related to diet, Pezeshki does bring up the issue of inflammation. As I originally came around to my present diet from a paleo viewpoint, I became familiar with the approach of functional medicine that puts inflammation as a central factor (Essentialism On the Decline). Inflammation is a bridge between the physiological and the psychological, the individual and the social. Where and how inflammation erupts within the individual determines how a disease condition or rather a confluence of symptoms gets labeled and treated, even if the fundamental cause originated elsewhere, maybe in the ‘external’ world (socioeconomic stress, transgenerational trauma, environmental toxins, parasites because of lack of public sanitation, etc. Inflammation is linked to leaky gut, leaky brain, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, mood disorders, ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, impulsivity, short-term thinking, addiction, aggression, etc — and such problems increase under high inequality.

There are specific examples to point to. Diabetes and mood disorders co-occur. There is the connection of depression and anhedonia, involving the reward circuit and pleasure, which in turn can be affected by inflammation. Also, inflammation can lead to changes in glutamate in depression, similar to the glutamate alterations in autism from diet and microbes, and that is significant considering that glutamate is not only a major neurotransmitter but also a common food additive. Dr. Roger McIntyre writes that, “MRI scans have shown that if you make someone immune activated, the hypervigilance center is activated, activity in the motoric region is reduced, and the person becomes withdrawn and hypervigilant. And that’s what depression is. What’s the classic presentation of depression? People are anxious, agitated, and experience a lack of spontaneous activity and increased emotional withdrawal” (Inflammation, Mood Disorders, and Disease Model Convergence). Inflammation is a serious condition and, in the modern world, quite pervasive. The implications of this are not to be dismissed.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing for years now. But this is the first time I’ve come across someone else making these same connections, at least to this extent and with such a large context. The only thing I would add or further emphasize is that, from a functional medicine perspective (common among paleo, low-carb, and keto advocates), the body itself is a system as part of the larger systems of society and the environment — it is a web of connections not only in which we are enmeshed but of which forms everything we are, that is to say we aren’t separate from it. Personal health is public health is environmental health, and think of that in relation to the world of hyperobjects overlapping with hypersubjectivity (as opposed to the isolating psychosis of hyper-individualism):

“We shouldn’t personally identify with our health problems and struggles. We aren’t alone nor isolated. The world is continuously affecting us, as we affect others. The world is built on relationships, not just between humans and other species but involving everything around us — what some describe as embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended (we are hypersubjects among hyperobjects). The world that we inhabit, that world inhabits us, our bodies and minds. There is no world “out there” for there is no possible way for us to be outside the world. Everything going on around us shapes who we are, how we think and feel, and what we do — most importantly, shapes us as members of a society and as parts of a living biosphere, a system of systems all the way down. The personal is always the public, the individual always the collective, the human always the more than human” (The World Around Us).

In its earliest meaning, diet meant a way of life, not merely an eating regimen. And for most of history, diet was rooted in cultural identity and communal experience. It reinforced a worldview and social order. This allows diet to be a perfect lens through which to study societal patterns and changes over time.

* * *

Relevant posts by Chuck Pezeshki:

Weight Loss — it’s in the V-Memes
Weight Loss — It’s in the v-Memes (II)
Weight Loss by the V-Memes — (III) What’s the v-Meme stack look like?
Weight Loss by the V-Memes (IV) or Channeling your Inner Australopithecine
Weight Loss by the v-Memes (V) – Cutting out Sugar — The Big Psycho-Social-Environmental Picture
The Case Against Sugar — a True Psychodynamic Meta-Review
Quickie Post — the Trans-Cultural Diabolical Power of Sugar
How Health Care Deprivation and the Consequences of Poor Diet is Feeding Contemporary Authoritarianism – The Trump ACA Debacle
Quickie Post — Understanding the Dynamics of Cancer Requires a Social Structure that can Create Cellular Dynamics
Finding a Cure for Cancer — or Why Physicists May Have the Upper Hand
Quickie Post –A Sober Utopia
Rat Park — Implications for High-Productivity Environments — Part I
Rat Park — Implications for High-Productivity Environments — Part II
Leadership for Creativity Isn’t all Child’s Play
Relational Disruption in Organizations
The Neurobiology of Education and Critical Thinking — How Do We Get There?
What Caused the Enlightenment? And What Threatens to Unravel It?

* * *

Relevant posts from my own blog:

It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!
The World Around Us
The Literal Metaphor of Sickness
Health From Generation To Generation
The Agricultural Mind
Spartan Diet
Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health
Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis
Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health.
The Creed of Ancel Keys
Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet
Eliminating Dietary Dissent
Cold War Silencing of Science
Essentialism On the Decline

There is also some discussion of diet in this post and the comments section:

Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age

And related to that:

Low-Carb Diets On The Rise

“It has become an overtly ideological fight, but maybe it always was. The politicization of diet goes back to the early formalized food laws that became widespread in the Axial Age and regained centrality in the Middle Ages, which for Europeans meant a revival of ancient Greek thought, specifically that of Galen. And it is utterly fascinating that pre-scientific Galenic dietary philosophy has since taken on scientific garb and gets peddled to this day, as a main current in conventional dietary thought (see Food and Faith in Christian Culture ed. by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden […]; I made this connection in realizing that Stephen Le, a biological anthropologist, was without awareness parroting Galenic thought in his book 100 Million Years of Food).”

* * *

Mental health, Psychopathy, Addiction, Inflammation, Diet, Nutrition, etc:

Dark triad traits and health outcomes: An exploratory study
by Jasna Hudek-Knezevic et al

Brain chemical is reward for psychopathic traits
by Ewen Callaway

Psychopaths’ brains wired to seek rewards, no matter the consequences
from Science Daily

Psychopathic traits modulate brain responses to drug cues in incarcerated offenders
by Lora M. Cope et al

Links Between Substance Abuse and Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)
from Promises Behavioral Health

Antisocial Personality Disorder and depression in relation to alcoholism: A community-based sample
by Laura C. Holdcraft et al

More inflammation but less brain-derived neurotrophic factor in antisocial personality disorder
by Tzu-Yun Wang et al

High Neuroticism and Low Conscientiousness Are Associated with Interleukin-6
by Sutin, Angelina

Aggressive and impulsive personality traits and inflammatory markers in cerebrospinal fluid and serum: Are they interconnected?
by S. Bromander et al

Inflammation Predicts Decision-Making Characterized by Impulsivity, Present Focus, and an Inability to Delay Gratification
by Jeffrey Gassen et al

Could Your Immune System Be Making You Impulsive?
by Emma Young

Impulsivity-related traits are associated with higher white blood cell counts
by Angelina R. Sutin et al

Dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are related to impulse control and anterior cingulate function in adolescents
by Valerie L. Darcey

Diabetes Risk and Impulsivity
by David Perlmutter

Experimentally-Induced Inflammation Predicts Present Focus
by Jeffrey Gassen et al

Penn Vet researchers link inflammation and mania
by Katherine Unger Baillie

Anger Disorders May Be Linked to Inflammation
by Bahar Gholipour

Markers of Inflammation in the Blood Linked to Aggressive Behaviors
from University of Chicago Medical Center

Anhedonia as a clinical correlate of inflammation in adolescents across psychiatric conditions
by R. D. Freed et al

From Stress to Anhedonia: Molecular Processes through Functional Circuits
by Colin H. Stanton et al

Mapping inflammation onto mood: Inflammatory mediators of anhedonia
by Walter Swardfager et al

Understanding anhedonia: What happens in the brain?
by Tim Newman

Depression, Anhedonia, Glutamate, and Inflammation
by Peter Forster et al

Depression and anhedonia caused by inflammation affecting the brain
from Bel Marra Health

Inflammation linked to weakened reward circuits in depression
from Emory Health Sciences

Depression in people with type 2 diabetes: current perspectives
by L. Darwish et al

The Link Between Chronic Inflammation and Mental Health
by Kayt Sukel

Emory team links inflammation to a third of all cases of depression
by Oliver Worsley

Brain Inflammation Linked to Depression
by Emily Downwar

The Brain on Fire: Depression and Inflammation
by Marwa Azab

Inflammation, Mood Disorders, and Disease Model Convergence
by Lauren LeBano

High-inflammation depression linked to reduced functional connectivity
by Alice Weatherston

Does Inflammation Cause More Depression or Aggression?
by Charles Raison

A probe in the connection between inflammation, cognition and suicide
by Ricardo Cáceda et al

What If We’re Wrong About Depression?
by Anna North

People with ‘rage’ disorder twice as likely to have parasitic infection
by Kevin Jiang

Rage Disorder Linked with Parasite Found in Cat Feces
by Christopher Wanjek

Maternal Inflammation Can Affect Fetal Brain Development
by Janice Wood

The effects of increased inflammatory markers during pregnancy
from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Inflammation in Pregnancy Tied to Greater Risk for Mental Illness in Child
by Traci Pedersen

Inflammation may wield sex-specific effects on developing brain
by Nicholette Zeliadt

Childhood obesity is linked to poverty and parenting style
from Concordia University

The Obesity–Impulsivity Axis: Potential Metabolic Interventions in Chronic Psychiatric Patients
by Adonis Sfera et al

The pernicious satisfaction of eating carbohydrates
by Philip Marais

Your Brain On Paleo
from Paleo Leap

The Role of Nutrition and the Gut-Brain Axis in Psychiatry: A Review of the Literature
by S. Mörkl et al

Emerging evidence linking the gut microbiome to neurologic disorders
by Jessica A. Griffiths and Sarkis K. Mazmanian

New Study Shows How Gut Bacteria Affect How You See the World
by David Perlmutter

The Surprising Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health
from LoveBug Probiotics

Nutritional Psychiatry: Is Food The Next Big Frontier In Mental Health Treatment?
by Stephanie Eckelkamp

Ketogenic Diets for Psychiatric Disorders: A New 2017 Review
by Georgia Ede

Low-Carbohydrate Diet Superior to Antipsychotic Medications
by Georgia Ede

Gut microbiome, SCFAs, mood disorders, ketogenic diet and seizures
by Jonathan Miller

Can the Ketogenic Diet Treat Depression and Anxiety, Even Schizophrenia?
by Rebekah Edwards

Quote

Exposé in “The Hill” Challenges Mueller & Media

There has always been a lot more going on with Russiagate.

I quickly figured that out in realizing that some of the most damning connections crossed party lines. There were political actors who have not only been directly tied to the Trump campaign but also directly tied to the Clinton Democrats. This included one individual, a key player in the DNC, involved in the Ukraine situation who had direct access to Hillary Clinton.

That is why I assumed the investigation would never go anywhere, as neither side really ever wanted to allow the public to find out what fully has been going on behind the scenes. So, the DNC has predictably backed off from a tougher position. They simply want to look good to the voting public while ensuring nothing too important gets revealed.

There are simply too many skeletons in too many closets.

* * *

“I could go up and down the line with the Times,the Washington Postand other print outlets. Every major news organization that covered Russiagate has covered the hell out of this part of the story. But the instant there’s a suggestion there’s another angle: crickets.

Russiagate is fast becoming a post-journalistic news phenomenon. We live in an information landscape so bifurcated, media companies don’t cover news, because they can stick with narratives. Kilimnik being a regular State Department informant crosses the MSNBC-approved line that he’s a Russian cutout who tried to leverage Donald Trump’s campaign manager. So it literally has no news value to many companies, even if it’s clearly a newsworthy item according to traditional measure.

“Incidentally, Solomon’s report being true wouldn’t necessarily exonerate either Kilimnik or Manafort. It may just mean a complication of the picture, along with uncomfortable questions for Robert Muller and embassy officials who dealt with Kilimnik. That’s what’s so maddening. We’ve gotten to the point where news editors and producers are more like film continuity editors — worried about maintaining literary consistency in coverage — than addressing newsworthy developments that might move us into gray areas.

“Our press sucks. There are third-world dictatorships where newspapers try harder than they do here. We used to at least pretend to cover the bases. Now, we’re a joke.”

via Exposé in “The Hill” Challenges Mueller & Media

Grassroots or Astroturf?

How does one tell a grassroots organization from astroturf?

That was the issue of last presidential election. It was proven how widespread astroturf had become. It wasn’t only the Russians. In the presidential campaign before that, Hillary Clinton had planned to use paid trolls. And we already have seen investigative reporting on the networks of groups being funded by powerful interests. When dealing with an individual or group, how does any of us really know who we are dealing with?

During the Soviet era, something like one in three citizens were either working for or informing to the KGB. That is what politics feels like right now in the United States. Dark money is flowing in such immense amounts, from the likes of the Mercer family and Koch brothers. It’s largely untraceable.

“There has been some good investigative reporting on it, published in scholarly books and in the alternative media. Dark Money by Jane Mayer is one example. Another one is Buzzfeed’s in-depth report on how the Koch brothers and Mercer family funneled money to Steve Bannon, Breitbart News, Project Veritas, etc. Both of these probably only scratched the surface of what goes on behind the scenes, as they are just two examples among many” (Skepticism and Conspiracy).

Other more well known examples involve climate change denialism. It is endless. One could spend one’s life attempting to uncover the corruption that rules our society and still never discover a fraction of it.

To make matters worse, over the past half century, almost all media has become concentrated into transnational corporations that are directly tied to the two-party stranglehold of corporatocracy. The tech industry and social media, of course, are also entangled with this maze of big biz and in many cases with big gov (the entire tech industry was built on government defense funding and Jeff Bezos was essentially born into the military-industrial complex).

Meddling foreign governments are the least of our worries.

I was reminded of this with the campaign season heating up. I came across a Facebook group, Democracy Rising. The first group rule is: “Unite the Democratic Party.” But I noticed that any Democratic candidate that isn’t a Clinton DNC elite is attacked viciously, including by the woman running the group, Betty Plumley.

There was one particular post that demonstrated this. Plumley invited responses by saying, “Lets discuss the negatives and positives of Bernie Sanders.” It has so far received 171 responses. Almost all of them were harshly critical, including by Plumley, not uniting of the Democratic Party in the slightest, except for a few commenters who dared to speak out (one guy said his comment was deleted when he simply stated that Sanders is better than Trump; other people said their similar comments were removed).

The group’s real purpose, if we are to go by the posts, is to divide the Democratic Party and to attack the political left, to conflate Sanders and Trump with false equivalency and once again advocate lesser evilism, or maybe simply to muddy the water with bad feelings and conflict. Whatever is the intention, that is what such groups achieve. And one begins to suspect that this result might very well be what is expected, not merely an unforeseen and unfortunate side effect of those lacking social skills and political acumen in fighting authoritarianism.

What concerned me is, when I checked out the names of first dozen or so commenters, almost none of them had any friends listed: “No friends to show”. Who are these ‘people’ on Facebook apparently with no visibly indicated human connections? Their timelines are public, but no friends. Some didn’t even have much or anything on their timelines nor even photos. And others joined Facebook sometime this past year.

This might be a real group. And these might be real people. But how would I know? I’m not trying to be paranoid, although it’s hard not to be these days. These are honest questions. How does a citizenry remain informed when surrounded by disinformation campaigns that are secretly funded and operated? And how can a population under these conditions ever hope to be genuinely free?

Enlightenment values of democracy and liberty are no match for modern authoritarianism, of plutocracy and corporatism and inverted totalitarianism. Most Americans are simply clueless. How do we fight what we can’t see? And for those of us who realize how dangerous it’s become, how do we promote a sense of crisis and urgency for a public that has fallen into apathy and cynicism?

Big Ag and Farm Subsidies

The local Iowa City farmer’s market has been going on this past month. It’s still early in the season and the variety of vegetables are limited, but the meat vendors have plenty of product. I like to shop local and so usually go every week. One of my favorite vendors is Rapid Creek Ranch. It’s a family farm and the owner has been in the business since childhood. I stopped by his table this past Saturday, bought a dozen eggs, and talked to him. He is passionate.

He keeps his cows on pasture. When he moves them to a new field, a few days later he brings in the chickens to eat the flies and scatter the manure. The chickens are transported on a bus that has been converted to a chicken coop. The yolks of the eggs are that deep orange that lets you know the quality, although he has told me that some farmers will create a false perception of nutrient-density by adding substances to the feed that will artificially deepen the color of the yolk.

I’ve been curious about the local farms, as I live in an area surrounded by farmland. It’s nice to know who is raising your food, what kind of people they are, and how they run their operations. This guy loves to explain the details of his farm and the business. His animals are mostly fed on the pasture, other than during the winter. And even in the winter, he says that he seeks the best quality non-GMO feed he can find.

That isn’t a cheap way of running a business, but it does create a quality product and avoids externalizing costs. Keeping animals on pasture improves the health of the soil and captures atmospheric carbon. This is the most sustainable method of farming, as it has been done for millennia. Most of the usable land can’t grow agricultural goods, but is perfect for ranching. And it allows wild animals to make use of the land as well, as compared to the mass slaughter of little critters that happens every time a tractor drives through a field during harvest time.

There are massive subsidies that make farming cheaper, but those doing traditional farming don’t benefit much, if any, from such funding. This rancher is not in the loop of big ag with its high yield GMO crops where nearly all the subsidies go. He pointed out that some large farmers get a million dollars or more on a yearly basis, far beyond what small family farmers can hope to make through their own hard work. I looked into the data and he is correct. Some of the recipients of this government largesse are already billionaires and more than a few are politicians who are members of committees that decide farm policies such as subsidies.

All of us, including small family farmers like this guy, are financially supporting the rich so that they can become even more wealthy. This subsidization of big ag is plutocratic socialism and corporate welfare. We are talking about many billions of dollars. This is our tax money, our hard-earned money.

Keep in mind that what is being subsidized is mostly the chemical-drenched GMO crops, the very food that is slowly killing Americans. I avoid the stuff when possible, which is why I prefer to buy pasture-raised animal foods. So, my diet isn’t being subsidized. I’m paying more for quality while also paying more so that most other people can eat cheap crap produced from environmentally-destructive agriculture and factory farming. There is no financial gain for doing the morally right thing, for doing what is healthy for you and your family, for your community and the earth. All the incentives push behavior in the opposite direction toward externalized costs and public harm.

This isn’t limited to animal foods either. These crops of wheat, corn, rice, and soy are also used to make breads, crackers, chips, veggie patties, fake meats, vegetable oils, and all kinds of other industrially-processed foods; along with ethanol. The same powers that be pushing this big ag agenda are also creating dietary guidelines telling us to eat more of this “plant-based” diet. Not only does all of this cost us in terms of tax-funded subsidies but also in water pollution, soil erosion, and worsening public health.

Why is our government promoting wasteful and destructive practices in this way? Well, big biz means big profits. It’s that simple. Whatever good intentions there may (or may not) have been originally, at this point it is simply about the alliance of big biz and big gov, what some call corporatocracy in being a ‘softer’ variety of fascism.

* * *

Agricultural Subsidies
by Chris Edwards, Downsizing the Federal Government

The federal government spends more than $20 billion a year on subsidies for farm businesses. About 39 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms receive subsidies, with the lion’s share of the handouts going to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice.1 […]

All of these subsidies ensure that farm incomes are much higher than the incomes of most Americans. Farm programs are welfare for the well-to-do, and they induce overproduction, inflate land prices, and harm the environment. They should be repealed, and farmers should support themselves in the marketplace.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs more than 60 direct and indirect aid programs for farmers. This section summarizes the major ones.

Most of the direct aid goes to producers of a handful of field crops, not to livestock producers or fruit and vegetable growers. In the three largest farm subsidy programs — insurance, ARC, and PLC — more than 70 percent of the handouts go to farmers of just three crops — corn, soybeans, and wheat.7 […]

Subsidies Redistribute Wealth Upward. Farm subsidies go mainly to high-earning households. The average income of all farm households was $117,918 in 2016, which was 42 percent higher than the $83,143 average of all U.S. households.26 The same year, the median income of farm households was $76,250, which was 29 percent higher than the U.S. median of $59,039.

Farming incomes are down somewhat in recent years as crop prices have dipped from unusually high levels between 2011 and 2013. But the ratio of average farm household income to the average income of all U.S. households has been trending upward since at least 1960.27

Those income measures are for all farm households, but Congress delivers the bulk of subsidies to the largest and wealthiest farm households. A recent analysis by AEI scholars found that 60 percent of subsidies from the three largest programs (insurance, ARC, and PLC) go to the largest 10 percent (by sales) of farms.28

The AEI scholars found that the largest farms were more intensely subsidized than smaller farms. Looking at the crop insurance program, for example, they found that the top 10 percent of farms received subsidies of $29 per acre, compared to an average of $12 per acre for all crop farmers.

The high-end concentration of farm payments has increased over time. A recent USDA study found that “in 1991, half of commodity program payments went to farms operated by households with incomes over $60,717 (in constant 2015 dollars); however, in 2015, half went to households with incomes over $146,126.”29 The study found similar increases in the high-end concentration of crop insurance subsidies and conservation subsidies.

Politicians often claim that farm aid helps alleviate rural poverty. But farm aid goes to farm owners, and they have relatively high incomes. Just 2 percent of farm households fall below the poverty line, compared to 14 percent of all U.S. households.30 Also, USDA data show that while less than one-third of farms with revenues of less than $100,000 received federal subsidies, three-quarters of farms above that threshold did.31

At the top end, many billionaires have received farm subsidies over the years. Looking at the period from 1995 to 2014, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 50 people on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans received farm subsidies.32 Today, the largest pot of subsidies is channeled through insurance companies, which hides the identities of recipients, as noted.33 However, the Government Accountability Office found that at least four recipients of crop insurance subsidies have a net worth of more than $1.5 billion.34

Why do taxpayers subsidize rich farmers?
by Tamar Haspel, The Washington Post

Late last year, the USDA released a report with some household income data — the first I’ve seen. The report doesn’t include all farm bill dollars, but for most of the programs it does include, about half the money went to farmers with household incomes over $150,000. That means billions of dollars, every year, go to households with income nearly three times higher than the median U.S. household income, which was $55,775 that year. […]

If we look just at commodity payments, which farmers get when either crop prices or farm income goes below a particular level, payouts in 2015 (the last year included in the report) were just over $5 billion — $2.5 billion of which went to $150,000-plus households. […]

I asked Clark what he’d tell the owners of the mom-and-pop grocery store, a couple making $75,000 a year (the median income of self-employed households). Do you expect them to be okay with using their tax dollars to subsidize a family making 10 times what they make?

“It’s an uncomfortable conversation,” he admitted — both between him and me, and among his membership.

Former USDA chief economist Joe Glauber acknowledges that farmers face huge challenges, and some deal with real hardship but pulls no punches about the argument over a means-test at an income level that is farcically unrealistic for most Americans. “There was nothing like the teeth-gnashing that went on when they reduced the [subsidy eligibility] cutoff from a million to 900,000,” he said of the political fight over the last farm bill. “But then you have a knockdown drag-out over whether you’ll give SNAP payments to someone earning $26,000 instead of $25,000. Give me a break.”

Overhauling the Farm Bill: The Real Beneficiaries of Subsidies
by Daniel Imhoff, The Atlantic

It’s one thing to support a family farmer. It’s quite another to subsidize the expansion of a mega-farm operation that puts family farmers out of business.

One problem is the lack of practical limits on how much a single farming operation can receive in subsidies. Thanks to numerous legal loopholes, lax enforcement, and loose definitions of what it means to be actively engaged in farming, essentially no caps currently exist. Farmers and landowners creatively form complex family partnerships with associated limited liability companies that find new ways to get on the subsidy gravy train. Lawyers and accountants exploit these loopholes, offering “payments limitations planning” services that stretch the legal definitions of “actively engaged in farming.”

Under the 2008 Farm Bill, direct payments were capped at $40,000 for an individual or twice that for a married couple where both spouses are actively engaged in the farming operation. (Counter-cyclical payments are capped at $65,000/$130,000.) However, the vague and largely unenforceable regulatory standard for “actively managing” farm operations foiled even these attempts to target subsidy payments to working farmers.

Mapping The U.S. Farm Subsidy $1M Club
by Adam Andrzejewski, Forbes

Since 2008, however, the top 10 farm subsidy recipients each received an average of $18.2 million – that’s $1.8 million annually, $150,000 per month, or $35,000 a week. With the median household income of $60,000 a year, these farmers received more than 30 times the average yearly income of U.S. families.

It was never the intent of Congress to create a new class of millionaires through federal farm subsidies. Yet, the subsidies continue to flow. Last year alone, a very fortunate 400 entities, including farmers, corporations, and agri-businesses, harvested between $1 million and $9.9 million each in federal farm subsidies. […]

For years, federal farm subsidies have been plagued with problems such as deficient accounting controls, policy corruption, and waste. For example, even billionaire businessman Glen Taylor – the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA team – received $116,502 in subsidies in 2017. Does Mr. Taylor, No. 350 on the Forbes 400 list, really need taxpayer funding for his egg and dairy farm in Iowa?

Consider these 10 fast facts regarding the harvesting of farm subsidies:

  1. Very expensive mistakes: The Dept. of Agriculture admitted to $3.7 billion in “improper payments” processed since 2004. Just in the past two years, $650 million in subsidy overpayments were shelled out to farmers. In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service reported that $1.1 billion was paid to 172,801 deceased farmers over a six-year period.
  2. Not the traditional family farm: The top five recipients reaped between $18.6 million and $23.8 million apiece since 2008. Additionally, subsidies of over $10 million apiece flowed to 18 individual farming entities.
  3. The rich got richer: Over $11 billion in farm subsidies flowed to just 6,618 lucky recipients who received at least $1 million since 2008.
  4. Subsidies flow to urban areas where there are no farms: Between years 2015 and 2017, more than $626 million flowed to recipients in America’s urban areas – cities with over a quarter million residents and no farms.
  5. City slicker farmers: Residents living in America’s five most populated cities received $18 million in farm subsidies. These cities included Chicago ($7.7 million), Houston ($5.8 million), New York City ($2.8 million), Los Angeles ($1.6 million), and Philadelphia ($309,000).
  6. Welfare to wealthy farmers: One out of every four dollars in farm subsidies went to someone who received $250,000 or more that year.
  7. The Beverly Hillbillies et al: Prosperous people living in the nation’s 150 most affluent ZIP Codes cleaned off nearly $5 million in farm subsidies last year. Residents living in these areas included 90210–Beverly Hills, CA ($15,488); 10022–New York City, NY ($83,169); and 96750–Hawaii County, Hawaii ($230,697).
  8. Uncle Sam’s teat: Two-thirds of all $1 million farm subsidy recipients are located outside of the “bread basket of the Midwest.” This area is defined as the states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Colorado.
  9. Uncle Sam’s farming cousins: Even government entities are harvesting the farm subsidy largess. The Montana Dept. of Natural Resources & Conservation received $15.8 million and the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources received $8.9 million since 2008. The state universities in Arkansas, Minnesota, and Arizona each received over $1 million in subsidies.
  10. Subsidies to not farm: Last year, taxpayers even forked over $1.8 billion to pay farmers not to farm their land. Through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), farmers received rental payments in exchange for not farming their land – and these contracts can last 10 to 15 years.
  11. Bonus! The nation’s food supply is not in jeopardy: The U.S. is the world’s largest food exporter and produced more food than the entire European Union combined last year.

Why hasn’t Congress reined in the largess and stopped farm subsidy abuses? Well, our auditors found 12 members of Congress collected up to $637,059 in subsidy payments last year alone.

In fact, members crafting the policies on the agriculture committees are, many times, large recipients of their subsidies. The list includes Reps Doug LaMalfa (CA-1) with $1.3 million, Vicky Hartzler (MO-4) with $20,420, Robert Gibbs (OH-18) with $7,660, and Sens Charles Grassley (IA) with $58,210, and Debra Fischer (NE) with $16,190 (payments between 2015-2017).

This summer, the U.S. House and Senate each passed respective versions of a new farm bill. Not surprisingly, loopholes allow non-farmers — such as congressmen and billionaires — to reap big benefits.

Farm Bill Shows Republicans at Their Worst
by H. Sterling Burnett, Inside Sources

From 1995 to 2014, the various subsidies and payouts for crop insurance—premium support and actual crop loss payouts—disaster relief, and income-support programs have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $322 billion, according to the Environmental Working Group.

For decades, U.S. farm policies have not simply provided a “safety net” protecting farmers from significant crop losses caused by drought or late-season snow storms. Instead, they have ensured the large, tremendously profitable agribusiness industry receives added support­­, just in case it fails to hit expected profit targets.

As Daren Bakst, research fellow in agriculture policy at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in a recent article, “If farmers have record production, they can get a government handout. If the weather is perfect for growing a crop, farmers can still receive a government handout. The reason is simple. The existing system provides handouts regardless of whether there’s any crop loss. If agricultural producers simply don’t reach revenue targets, they can get handouts.

The largest, fastest-growing subsidy for farmers is the crop insurance program. The federal crop insurance program is now expected to cost taxpayers as much as $88 billion from 2017 to 2026.

Under the federal crop insurance program, taxpayers subsidize farmers’ purchase of crop insurance through pre-approved private insurers. The federal government currently pays 62 percent of the cost of premiums, on average. When you buy a home, car, life, or business insurance, or when doctors and lawyers buy malpractice insurance, taxpayers don’t pay the monthly premiums. But when farmers buy crop insurance, taxpayers pay nearly two-thirds of the tab. It must be nice to have taxpayers cover this burden!

To add insult to taxpayers’ injury, the federal government even reimburses private crop insurance companies for their “administrative and operating” costs, amounting to 22–24 percent of total premiums. And because private crop insurance companies are guaranteed a 14 percent rate of return, when they suffer a loss, the taxpayers cover it.

The government also subsidizes water use by farmers by selling water to farmers at below-market rates, sometimes for as little as 10 percent of the full market cost. Because farmers are often charged a flat rate based on the amount of acreage served rather than the amount of water delivered, they have little incentive to conserve water—as long as someone else is paying for it.

Don’t be fooled into thinking small family farms are reaping most of the rewards of the farm bill. In fact, the largest 10 percent of farms receive 70–90 percent of farm subsidies. In 2015, just 210,000 of the country’s 2.1 million farms received 70 percent of the government commodity payments and 78 percent of federal crop insurance indemnities. Many of these farms make more than $1 million in annual income, and the vast majority of them top $250,000 in yearly revenue. By contrast, 80 percent of farmers, including most small family farms, receive little or nothing from the government each year.

Aside from the cost to taxpayers, farm subsidies also harm the environment. To reap greater profits, farmers respond to subsidies by increasing production. To increase production, farmers exploit land more intensely, increase inputs of fertilizers and pesticides, and/or expand crop production to marginal lands. Chemically laden water runoff also pollutes the nation’s waterways, which ends up costing taxpayers even more money. For instance, contaminated waterways in the Everglades, largely attributed to fertilizer usage stemming from sugar farming, has resulted in a massive restoration effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers $10.5 billion by 2035.

U.S. dairy subsidies equal 73 percent of producer returns, says new report
from RealAgriculture

Support, in its various forms, equaled 73 percent of U.S. dairy farmers’ market returns in 2015, according to a report published by a Canadian trade consulting firm on Thursday.

The 588-page study by Grey, Clark, Shih and Associates — commissioned by Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) — says the American government contributed around $22.2 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to the dairy sector in 2015. […]

Based solely on the USDA’s national average farm-gate price and national average costs of production, Clark says American dairy farmers lost money every year from 2005 to 2016.

The report figures support granted to U.S. dairy farmers in 2015 represented approximately C$0.35 per litre — almost three-quarters of producers’ revenue.

The calculations include government expenditures outside of dairy programs, such as subsidized irrigation water, nutrition programs and government loan programs. For example, the benefits of state and local irrigation programs are estimated at $2.1 billion. […]

The report follows similar analysis conducted by Grey, Clark, Shih and Associates in 1990, 1998, 2003, 2005 and 2010. In 2010, the firm found U.S. government support equaled 62 percent of American dairy farmer returns, totalling nearly $20 billion.

Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag
by Benjamin David Steele, Marmalade

Southern California saw further waves of Southerners. Besides earlier transplanted Southerners, this included the so-called Okies of the Dust Bowl looking for agricultural work and the post-war laborers looking for employment in the defense industry. A Southern-influenced culture became well-established in Southern California. This was a highly religious population that eventually would lead to the phenomenon of mega-churches, televangelists, and the culture wars. It also helped shape a particular kind of highly profitable big ag with much power and influence. Kathryn Olmsted, from Right Out of California, wrote that,

These growers were not angry at the New Deal because they hated big government. Unlike Eastern conservatives, Western businessmen were not libertarians who opposed most forms of government intervention in the economy. Agribusiness relied on the government to survive and prosper: it needed price supports for stability, government dams and canals for irrigation, and state university research for crop improvements. These business leaders not only acknowledged but demanded a large role for government in the economy.

By focusing on Western agribusiness, we can see that the New Right was no neoliberal revolt against the dead hand of government intervention. Instead, twentieth-century conservatism was a reaction to the changes in the ways that government was intervening in the economy— in short, a shift from helping big business to creating a level playing field for workers. Even Ronald Reagan, despite his mythical image as a cowboy identified with the frontier, was not really a small-government conservative but a corporate conservative. 110 Reagan’s revolution did not end government intervention in the economy: it only made the government more responsive to the Americans with the most wealth and power. (Kindle Locations 4621-4630)

This Californian political force is what shaped a new generation of right-wing Republicans. Richard Nixon was born and raised in the reactionary heart of Southern California. It was where the Southern Strategy was developed that Nixon would help push onto the national scene. Nixon set the stage for the likes of Ronald Reagan, which helped extend this new conservatism beyond the confines of big ag, as Reagan had become a corporate spokesperson before getting into politics.

The origins of this California big ag is important and unique. Unlike Midwestern farming, that of California more quickly concentrated land ownership and so concentrated wealth and power. Plus, it was highly dependent on infrastructure funded, built, and maintained by big government. It should be noted that big ag was among the major recipients of New Deal farm subsidies. Their complaints about the New Deal was that it gave farm laborers some basic rights, although the New Deal kept the deck stacked in big ag’s favor. Early 20th century Californian big ag is one of the clearest examples of overt fascism in US history.

The conservative elite in California responded to the New Deal similar to how the conservative elite in the South responded to Reconstruction. It led to a backlash where immense power was wielded at the state level. As Olmsted makes clear,

employers could use state and local governments to limit the reach of federal labor reforms. Carey McWilliams and Herbert Klein wrote in The Nation that California had moved from “sporadic vigilante activity to controlled fascism, from the clumsy violence of drunken farmers to the calculated maneuvers of an economic-militaristic machine.” No longer would employers need to rely on hired thugs to smash strikes. Instead, they could trust local prosecutors to brand union leaders as “criminal syndicalists” and then send them to prison. McWilliams and Klein suggested that this antiunion alliance between big business and the courts was similar to the state-business partnership in Hitler’s Germany. 104

But these growers and their supporters were not European-style fascists; they were the forerunners of a new, distinctly American movement. (Kindle Locations 4134-4141)

Still, it was fascism. In The Harvest Gypsies, John Steinbeck wrote that, “Fascistic methods are more numerous, more powerfully applied and more openly practiced in California than any other place in the United States.”

The development of big ag in California was different, at least initially. But everything across the country was moving toward greater concentration. It wasn’t just California. Organizations like the Farm Bureau in other parts of the country became central. As in California, it set farmers against labor, as organized labor in demanding basic rights came to be perceived as radical. Richard McIntyre, in his essay “Labor Militance and the New Deal” from When Government Helped, he writes that, “Groups representing farmers outside the South, such as the Farm Bureau, also supported Taft-Hartley because they saw strikes and secondary boycotts as limiting their ability to get crops to market. The split between labor and various kinds of farmers allowed capitalists to heal their divisions” (p. 133).

It was also a division among farmers themselves, as there had also been agricultural traditions of left-wing politics and populist reform. “From its beginning in Indiana the Farm Bureau made it clear that the organization was composed of respectable members of the farming community and that it was not a bunch of radicals or troublemakers” (Barbara J. Steinson, Rural Life in Indiana, 1800–1950). By respectable, this meant that the haves got more and the have-nots lost what little they had.

Even though big ag took a different route in regions like the Midwest, the end results were similar in the increasing concentration of land and wealth, which is to say the end of the small family farm. This was happening all over, such as in the South: “These ideals emphasized industrialized, commercial farming by ever-larger farms and excluded many smaller farms from receiving the full benefit of federal farm aid. The resulting programs, by design, contributed significantly to the contraction of the farm population and the concentration of farm assets in the Carolinas” (Elizabeth Kathleen Brake, Uncle Sam on the Family Farm). Those excluded from farm aid were the typical groups, minorities and poor whites.

This country was built on farming. It’s the best farmland in the world. That means vast wealth. Big ag lobbyists have a lot of pull in the federal government. That is why fascism in this country early on found its footing in this sector of the economy, rather than with industry. Over time, corporatism has come to dominate the entire economy, and the locus of power has shifted to the financial sector. Agriculture, like other markets, have become heavily tied to those who control the flow of money.