Rejecting the notion that denouncing the Trump administration’s immigrant detention centers as “concentration camps” does harm to the memory of the Holocaust, 200 Jewish people demonstrated at a facility in New Jersey Sunday evening and demanded the release of the thousands of immigrants in U.S. custody.
Grassroots group Never Again Action called for all detention centers to be closed and for the U.S. government to protect asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants—instead of sending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into communities where the agency has arrested hundreds so far this year in raids.
The group reported that 36 participants were arrested for blocking the road to the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
“I have to do whatever is in my power to disrupt ICE, to close these camps, to provide permanent protection, and to ensure that ‘never again’ means never again,” said Rebecca Oliver, a demonstrator who was arrested.
Holding signs reading, “Never again for anyone” and “Jews demand freedom for immigrants,” the demonstrators stressed the need to recognize the parallels between the Trump administration’s arrests of undocumented immigrants and detention of asylum seekers and the treatment of Jewish people and other marginalized groups by the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 40s.
“I’m a Jewish Latina. The military camps where my people are being held today are concentration camps; just like the camps my people were held in 75 years ago were concentration camps,” said Tae Phoenix, another protester. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re here.”
“As Jews, we were taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again. We refuse to wait and see what happens here now.”
—Never Again Action
The demonstration came a week after conservatives attacked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for labeling the administration’s detention centers—where legal advocates recently found hundreds of children living without access to soap, personal hygiene necessities, and sufficient food—”concentration camps.”
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum rejected Ocasio-Cortez’s statement, saying the museum “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary.”
In its statement of purpose ahead of the protest in Elizabeth, Never Again Action did not mention the museum’s stance, though the group made clear its disagreement.
“As Jews, we were taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” the group said. “We refuse to wait and see what happens here now.”
Similar actions are planned for Tuesday in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.
“ICE isn’t just at the border—they’re in every community,” the group said in a video calling for others to join their campaign. “Since politicians won’t shut down ICE, we will. It’s going to take all of us.”
"We are calling on our people to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE!" Yesterday was just the beginning.
Immigrant rights organizations applauded young Jewish activists from across the country for standing up against the Trump administration’s violations of human rights and attempts to turn away from the reality of prison camps in the present-day United States.
“We are inspired by the Jewish community who today sent a bold statement of solidarity rooted in their past struggles,” said Movimiento Cosecha, a grassroots campaign for the protection of undocumented immigrants. “As families continue to be separated, as children continue to be caged, and as thousands of immigrants are forced to make a life-threatening journey crossing borders out of desperation, every American should be called to stand up and take action.”
“These times will not be defined by the actions of our enemies but rather the actions of those who feel compelled to do something and demand that immigrants be treated with dignity and respect,” the group added.
Ocasio-Cortez also amplified Never Again Action and thanked the protesters for their “profound solidarity.”
“Thank you, Never Again Action, for your courage, compassion, and selflessness in pursuit of justice,” tweeted the congresswoman.
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MSNBC’s top host began the segment after it was introduced by Chris Hayes, agreeing with her colleague that it’s surprising that more news outlets aren’t giving this story more “wall to wall” coverage, given its immense significance. She recapped Assange’s various legal struggles up until this point, then accurately described Assange’s new Espionage Act charges for publishing secret documents.
“And these new charges are not about stealing classified information or outsmarting computer systems in order to illegally obtain classified information,” Maddow said. “It’s not about that. These new charges are trying to prosecute Assange for publishing that stolen, secret material which was obtained by somebody else. And that is a whole different kettle of fish then what he was initially charged with.”
“By charging Assange for publishing that stuff that was taken by Manning, by issuing these charges today, the Justice Department has just done something you might have otherwise thought was impossible,” Maddow added after explaining the unprecedented nature of this case. “The Justice Department today, the Trump administration today, just put every journalistic institution in this country on Julian Assange’s side of the ledger. On his side of the fight. Which, I know, is unimaginable. But that is because the government is now trying to assert this brand new right to criminally prosecute people for publishing secret stuff, and newspapers and magazines and investigative journalists and all sorts of different entities publish secret stuff all the time. That is the bread and butter of what we do.”
Maddow carefully explained to her audience that these new charges have nothing at all to do with the 2016 election or any of the Russiagate nonsense the MSNBC pundit has been devoting her life to, correctly calling what the Trump administration is doing with Assange “a novel legal effort to punch a huge hole in the First Amendment.” She tied this in with Trump’s common references to the mass media as the “enemy of the people”, finally taking mainstream liberalism into a direct confrontation with Trump’s actual war on the press instead of nonsense about his tweeting mean things about Jim Acosta. She rightly highlighted the dangers of allowing a president with a thick authoritarian streak the ability to prosecute journalists he doesn’t like, and discussed the possibility that the UK may not comply with this new agenda in extradition proceedings.
“I think these 17 espionage charges against the WikiLeaks guy are a huge deal and a very dark development,” Maddow concluded. “Chris Hayes this evening called it a ‘four-alarm development’, and I absolutely share that.”
“And, you know, I know you,” Maddow continued, pointing to the camera. “Given everything else that we know about the WikiLeaks guy, I can feel through the television right now your mixed feelings about what I am saying. I can feel what may be, perhaps, a certain lack of concern about Julian Assange’s ultimate fate, given his own gleeful and extensive personal role in trying to help a hostile foreign government interference in our election in order to install their chosen president with WikiLeaks’ help. Okay? I know. Okay, I feel ya. I got it. But, it is a recurring theme in history, heck, it is a recurring theme in the Bible, that they always pick the least sympathetic figures to try this stuff on first. Despite anyone’s feelings about this spectacularly unsympathetic character at the center of this international drama, you are going to see every journalistic institution in this country, every First Amendment supporter in this country, left, right and center, swallow their feelings about this particular human and denounce what the Trump administration is trying to do here. Because it would fundamentally change the United States of America.”
Wow. Make no mistake, this is a hugely significant development. This isn’t just some columnist for the New York Times or the Guardian, this is Rachel effing Maddow, the Queen Mother of all tinfoil pussycat-wearing Russiagate insanity. This same pundit was just a couple of months ago not just smearing but outright lying about Assange, deceitfully telling her audience that the new legal rings closing around Assange were about his 2016 publications then instructing viewers not to Google anything about it because they’ll get computer viruses. Now that she’s recognized that this could actually hurt her and her network directly, she’s finally feeding her audience a different narrative out of sheer enlightened self-interest.
The fact that such a hugely influential figure in mainstream liberal media is now pushing back against Assange’s prosecution, and doing so in a way that her mainstream liberal anti-Trump audience can relate to, cannot be over-appreciated. Maddow’s credulous audience would eat live kittens if she told them to, so the way she’s pushing back against a dangerous legal precedent in a language they can understand will make a difference in the way American liberals think about Assange’s predicament. It won’t make them like him, it won’t make them value the things he’s done, but it will get them to finally begin resisting something that badly needs to be resisted. And that’s huge.
The danger has always been that this fatal blow to journalism would be meted out with total compliance and support from a population hammered into docility by the ongoing narrative war which has been waged on Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ reputations with the help of the mass media. There was a very real danger that thought leaders like Maddow were going to choose their feelings over reasoning when the foot finally fell and the charges that criminalize journalism as “espionage” were finally put into play. I don’t think anyone would have been surprised if she’d applied that giant intellect of hers into making it possible to ignore it without upsetting her audience and try and figure it out later when it was too late and the legal precedent was set. It would have been so easy to keep feeding into the dominant “Assange is bad so everything bad that happens to him is good” sentiment, but she didn’t. She directly contradicted it.
She actually chose to do the right thing. I’m gobsmacked, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that my hope for humanity sparked up a little today.
If the resting smug-faced apex of liberal psychosis is getting this one right, then many more will surely follow. And indeed, many already are. In addition to Hayes’ coverage of the story, MSNBC’s Ari Melber also did a segment harshly criticizing the implications of Trump administration’s new charges. We’re seeing multiple segments from CNN about the grave dangers of the legal precedent that is being set with the superseding indictment, as well as urgent warnings about the new charges from major publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian.
The Espionage indictment of Assange for publishing is an extremely dangerous, frontal attack on the free press. Bad, bad, bad.
A typical comment under Maddow’s YouTube share of this segment reads “This is very strange. Very alarming! There we go again. The GOP is preparing the country for a Dictatorship.” And okay, that’s not exactly what is happening (this has been a bipartisan push and it’s not just preparations, we’re in full swing), but whatever, now this viewer can actually see the monster’s outlines. Finally, the Maddow crowd which has been fruitlessly expending all their energy so far on punching at Russian shadows will actually be attacking a real thing.
And I’m quietly excited about that. I’m eager to see what happens to the #Resistance if it actually starts #Resisting something. It doesn’t matter that this is only happening because mainstream liberal media outlets realized that they might be next on the chopping block; it matters that it’s happening, period.
For years mainstream liberals have been fixating on the fake Russiagate psyop and rending their garments about Trump’s rude tweets while commentators like me desperately implored them to pay attention to the actual dangerous agendas that this administration is actually advancing. They’ve been in a holding pattern of adamantly refusing to do that, and now, because it’s threatening them personally, we’re suddenly seeing a sharp deviation from that holding pattern.
As Bill Murray said at the end of Groundhog Day, something is different. Anything different is good.
The Department of Justice just declared war––not on Wikileaks, but on journalism itself. This is no longer about Julian Assange: This case will decide the future of media. https://t.co/a5WHmTCDpg
Peace activist Medea Benjamin said Wednesday that the current political moment “is a time where we have to build up an anti-war movement again.”
Benjamin, a co-founder of the women-led advocacy organization CODEPINK, said her call is a response to the Trump administration manufacturing a crisis to push the U.S. into war with Iran.
The current situation, she toldDemocracy Now! Wednesday has echoes of the lead-up to the war in Iraq because “lies” and “misinterpretations” are put out by the White House and echoed by corporate media.
In the interview, Benjamin expressed concerns about “many measures just in the last year or two to move towards a war with Iran.”
They include the U.S. “pulling out of the nuclear deal, designating the Iran Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, trying to get the Iranian oil exports down to zero, [and] creating chaos in the Iranian economy.”
Also driving her fear is John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, whom she said: “has been calling for an attack on Iran since before he ever got into the administration.”
An engaged citizenry is necessary to push lawmakers to act as a counter-force to the push for war, Benjamin said.
“We have to be pushing our members of Congress to speak out forcefully against what the Trump administration is now doing,” she said, “and to say this is a totally manufactured crisis and the U.S. people will not stand for another war in the Middle East.”
Benjamin added that activists must also demand that lawmakers stop any efforts to attack Venezuela.
Watch the interview below:
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#ArmMeWith: Teachers Lead Opposition to Trump’s Plan to Give Educators Guns
Teachers from all over the U.S. have begun a social media campaign using the #ArmMeWith hashtag, suggesting ways the government could support educators other than arming them with guns. (Photo: @Miss_Johnston5/Twitter)
As students lead the nation in fighting for stricter gun control legislation, teachers across the country are speaking out against an alternative measure President Donald Trump has suggested to prevent school shootings like the one that took place last week in Parkland, Florida: arming teachers and training them to use firearms.
With the #ArmMeWith social media campaign, educators are calling for the government to provide them with school supplies, books, and other resources instead of spending an estimated $1 billion to train teachers to act as armed guards—while also being responsible for educating the nation’s children.
#ArmMeWith support, so that I can educate ALL of my students, no matter their level, and help them achieve their goals. Do NOT arm me with a gun. I need SUPPORT from society, our community, & our politicians to help every child achieve goals. Guns have no place in education. pic.twitter.com/tv0QtS8x9Y
Teachers, we must as a nation and profession, refuse to be armed. This is not a professional development that we are willing to participate in. #ArmMeWith ample funding and small class sizes, counselors and trauma therapists, behavior interventionists, healthy foods! #IRefuseGunspic.twitter.com/aeRUFWbEzm
The president has proposed arming 20 percent of teachers—about 700,000 people. When asked about the practicality and wisdom of the plan on Thursday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters, “When you have a horrific situation like you had last week and other school shootings we’ve seen, these horrible tragedies, what we think and don’t think is practical can change.”
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) pushed back against the notion that the onus to protect students’ lives should be on their teachers, rather than on legislators, who many Americans believe should pass legislation that would prevent school shootings.
“Anyone who suggests this has no real understanding of what goes on in schools, or worse doesn’t care, and is more focused on the needs of gun manufacturers and the NRA than of children,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teacher, toldPolitico.
“You’re asking the teacher to have the presence of mind to not only do what her instincts compel her to do, but then find her loaded handgun and get in position… and be a good enough shot—in the middle of all of this—so that she can be the marksperson who then maims or kills the intruder with the rifle,” Weingarten continued. “That may work on a movie, but in real life that is not a situation that most people will—even those who have been trained—will be able to do.”
The Violence Policy Center noted that supplying teachers with weapons would likely do little to prevent the loss of life during a shooting—as guns are rarely able to stop a crime that’s already underway.
“Highly trained police officers, whose only job is law enforcement, all too often fail to use firearms successfully,” said the group in a statement. “Trained law enforcement officials have only an average 20 percent hit ratio in armed confrontations, meaning that only 20 percent of shots fired hit the intended target.”
Trump critics on social media also spoke out against the proposal.
This whole arming teachers more guns not less conversation is so f*cking transparent. #Trump spoke to the NRA, and this is what they’re pushing. More guns = more profits. It’s irrational and idiotic. Throwing gas on a fire is not how you put out a fire.
While President Trump promised to “drain the swamp” when he was on the campaign trail, a new report from a non-profit, nonpartisan research group shows that after one year of the Trump administration, lobbying is at records levels in Washington.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported that in 2017, “the number of registered lobbyists along with federal lobbying expenditures went up, reversing annual declines in both registrations and spending that began a decade ago.” This increase occurred for the first time since 2007.
The report noted that the money spent on federal lobbying increased by 6 percent, rising from $3.15 billion to $3.34 billion, and marking the largest increase in one year since former President George W. Bush’s last year in office.
In contrast, spending on lobbying had declined five of the past six years, and up until 2017, the report claimed that “the number of registered lobbyists had dropped each of the past 10 years, from a record 14,827 in 2007 to a 20-year low of 11,169 in 2016.” The number then increased last year:
Last year, 11,444 registered lobbyists appeared in quarterly reports filed with Congress. Those reports include basic information on spending, issues and entities lobbied, usually with vague language and broad strokes.
A fourth-quarter report by Kevin Kayes of QGA Public Affairs, for instance, said the firm was paid $37,500 by U.S. Steel to lobby on ‘trade law enforcement.’ The audience was ‘U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives.’
Based on the report—typical for most filings—the members of Congress who were lobbied by the firm is obscured from public scrutiny.
The Center for Responsive Politics also found that thousands of lobbyists who were supposed to report their activities failed to do so until after the filing deadlines had passed—and they faced no consequences.
In 2017, there were a number of companies that significantly increased the amount they spent on lobbying—many of which were tech companies. The report noted that Facebook spent $11 million, Amazon spent $13 million—about $2 million more than it spent in 2016—and Google spent $18 million on lobbying.
While lobbying expenditures went down under the Obama administration, it should be noted that the results were nowhere near what Obama promised when he was on the campaign trail.
“No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years,” Obama promised. “And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.”
However, Politifact reported that the administration “granted waivers to several former lobbyists, allowing them to serve. The administration also allows recusals, where former lobbyists simply recuse themselves from discussions concerning whatever interest it is for which they used to lobby.”
President Trump was also critical of the corruption in Washington while he was on the campaign trail. He told CBS’ Face The Nation in June 2016 “he would ‘have no problem’ banning lobbyists and big donors from working in his administration.”
While it appears that Trump has changed his tune—in the same way that Obama retreated on his promises—a comment made about Trump in 2015 is notable today. When one Twitter user wrote, “The Donald owes NOTHING to lobbyists. He could restore our Republic,” Trump retweeted the statement and wrote, “True.”
For almost two centuries, the Interior Department has been charged with managing public lands and waters in the best interests of the American people. Emphasis on people. Somehow, President Trump’s Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke missed the memo—repeatedly.
Instead of looking out for American taxpayers, Zinke is advocating for the best interests of a group he finds more profitable (and at this point, more friendly towards him): oil, gas and coal companies.
And now, Zinke has released a plan to allow oil drilling off the Arctic and Atlantic coasts, something that hasn’t happened in 30 years. Just last year, activists like you stopped this from happening. If we did it once, we can do it again. Take action to protect our coasts from more dangerous oil drilling!
Three days before oral arguments are scheduled in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Bureau of Land Management safety measures to regulate fracking operations on public lands, the U.S. Department of Interior is moving ahead with its plan to rescind the 2015 rule.
The rule, which was the product of nearly five years of agency work, expert input, public comments and hearings, never went into effect after it was challenged immediately by oil and gas industry trade associations. After a district court judge set aside the rule in 2016, BLM and citizen groups appealed to the 10th Circuit in late 2016.
The Trump administration, however, reversed course in March 2017 and announced that it would propose repealing the rule. Today, the administration formalized that reversal with a proposal to be published Tuesday for public notice and comment.
“This is another cynical move by the Trump administration that sacrifices our public lands and public safety as a favor to the oil and gas industry,” said Michael Freeman, the attorney for Earthjustice who is representing environmental groups who support the safety rules in the legal action.
Despite a request by the administration to stay the appeal, the 10th Circuit scheduled oral argument for July 27.
“The timing of this proposal is obviously linked to this week’s oral argument. It is part of the administration’s effort to circumvent the law by asking to stay this appeal while leaving the lower court ruling in effect. We oppose that request, and we’ll see the agency in court Thursday morning,” Freeman said.
The rule calls for drillers to disclose what chemicals are used in fracking fluids and to perform tests on the integrity of the wells before drilling can begin. It was the first time the rules had been updated since the 1980s.
In its proposal to rescind the rule, the Interior Department said, “BLM believes that the 2015 final rule unnecessarily burdens industry with compliance costs and information requirements that are duplicative of regulatory programs of many states and some tribes.”
BLM staff members in New Mexico have reported, however, that they do not perform onsite inspections of hydraulic fracturing operations because “the work is too dangerous” under existing rules.
Water protectors celebrated a “very significant victory” on Wednesday as a federal judge deemed safety evaluations of the Dakota Access Pipeline insufficient and ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to “reconsider” its analysis of the risks the crude oil pipeline poses to the environment and the public.
“The federal courts have stepped in where our political systems have failed to protect the rights of Native communities.”
—Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice
In a 91-page ruling (pdf), U.S. District Judge James Boasberg declared that the Corps “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”
While acknowleging the ruling—which resulted from a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe—as a partial victory because the judge did not order the oil flow stopped, Native American tribes and activists across the country deemed it a substantial win nonetheless.
“The previous administration painstakingly considered the impacts of this pipeline, and President Trump hastily dismissed these careful environmental considerations in favor of political and personal interests,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II in a statement. “We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence and will ask the court to shut down pipeline operations immediately.”
Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice, said the ruling should not be downplayed as merely exposing “minor, paperwork transgressions.”
“This decision marks an important turning point,” Hasselman said. “Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Trump administration—prompting a well-deserved global outcry. The federal courts have stepped in where our political systems have failed to protect the rights of Native communities.”
The judge’s ruling on Wednesday represents the “first legal victory” for those looking to cease the oil flow before more damage is done.
“We’ve been saying the Environmental Analysis was not in line with the law, and that based on treaty rights, this project should never have been built,” Joye Braun, Cheyenne River Lakota community organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement. “While we wish the flow of oil would be stopped until the hearings are completed, we trust that through prayer and continued vigilance we will stop the flow of oil and make Energy Transfer Partners and this administration keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Our annual GMO Awareness Week is upon us, and in this interview, Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) details the current state of the opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
We first met about six years ago, when we collaborated to create the direct ballot initiative to label GMOs in California.
A lot has happened since then, including the passing of what’s colloquially known as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, ironically misnamed “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” — this despite a full 90 percent of consumers supporting mandatory labeling.
The Trump administration has also selected or appointed notorious cheerleaders for GMOs and factory farms to his cabinet — Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA, Sonny Perdue as USDA Secretary, and Rick Perry as Energy Secretary.
Meanwhile, his Tea Party allies in Congress have called for the abolition of the entire National Organic Program!1
On the upside, in 2016 we saw, for the first time in nearly 20 years, a decrease in the amount of genetically engineered (GE) crops grown around the world, in terms of acreage.
As noted by Cummins, “This represents the fact that this technology is failing, in the sense of superweeds and superpests are popping up all over the world.” In the U.S., three-quarters of farmers growing GE crops like soybeans, corn or canola are having problems with these herbicide- and pesticide-resistant pests.
Market Rejection of GMOs Has Grown
Even more importantly, consumers around the world have become aware of the many problems associated with GE crops and the toxic herbicides and pesticides used on them, and do not want any of it on their plates.
In other words, the market has started rejecting GMOs, and that’s what we’ve been fighting for all along. Nothing can or will change unless consumers apply pressure in the form of refusing to buy GMOs.
In the European Union (EU), which is the biggest agriculture market in the world, few if any GMOs are found on supermarket shelves.
In the U.S. — despite industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars to manipulate market preference — about 40 percent of Americans still believe GE foods and GE ingredients are dangerous. Another 20 percent are unsure whether GMOs are dangerous or not.
“This combination of consumer rejection and, basically, Mother Nature’s resistance, has caused a drop-off,” Cummins says. “I think this is the beginning of the end of at least this generation, the first generation, of GMO crops.Now, industry is saying, ‘Don’t worry about the fact that we’re using more and more toxic pesticides and herbicides … Don’t worry about these pests spreading across the fields. We’ve got a new generation of GMO crops where we can just do gene editing.
We don’t have to pull some DNA from a foreign species and haphazardly splice it into a corn or a soybean crop.’
But the bottom line is that this gene-splicing and this so-called new gene editing are unnatural processes that disrupt the genetic structure, the natural workings of living organisms. These aren’t going to work either.”
Organics and Grass-fed Are Increasing in Popularity
Worldwide, we’re also seeing strong growth in organics and grass fed farming and ranching. In the U.S., the organic sector grew 11.5 percent in 2016. Grass fed grew about 50 percent. In France, organics grew by 20 percent.
“This is because people understand this public health crisis has now spread worldwide, and this environmental crisis and its relationship to the climate crisis are all due to an out-of-control, industrial, chemical-intensive GMO agriculture. People are turning away,” Cummins says.
In the U.S., we now also have a brand new grass fed certification by the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which is the highest certification you can get for dairy, beef and poultry, including chickens, sheep and goats.
In short, we’re seeing a massive demand for healthier foods. A lot more people now know about the drawbacks of factory farmed beef and dairy, for example, and are aware that when herbivores are grazed naturally, without hormones, antibiotics and other drugs, you end up with a far healthier product.
“What’s been driving the growth of the grass fed beef and dairy industry are health concerns,” Cummins says. “But also, people have become aware over the years that the factory farm system … is not right. You don’t have to be an ethical vegan to have feeling for animals.
Animals are sentient beings … Industry says if you want cheap food, you’ve got to go with factory farms. But I think more and more consumers are saying, ‘I don’t want cheap food if it means it’s going to harm my health and the environment, and if you have to be that cruel to animals.’
I think we’re seeing the beginning of the end of the factory farm model, which actually has only existed [for] 40 years or so. Most animals used to be raised naturally …
It’s this wonderful coming together in the United States of the American Grassfed Association, merging in the dairy sector with dairy farmers who are already organic, to produce a higher quality 100 percent grass fed dairy.
In the beef industry, there has been a tremendous growth in the demand for 100 percent grass fed, grass finished beef. Unfortunately, most other grass fed beef in the United States is still coming from overseas, from countries like Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil …
We still don’t have the infrastructure in the United States that we had 50 years ago with processing plants in every region of the country and so on, but we’re catching up.”
Challenges Involved in Organic Grass-fed Beef Production
Indeed, the lack of processing plants is really slowing down the reversal of the system. While American farmers have the capacity to provide an ample supply of grass-fed cattle, the problem is there aren’t enough processing plants to accommodate a massive increase.
In all, the U.S. has about 500,000 ranchers raising livestock, but there are only three or four major buyers. Ranchers may raise the animals on pasture and treat them well, but after a year and a half or so, they must be sold.
The cattle are sold at auction, and the buyers, such as JBS (a Brazilian firm that has bought out a large part of the beef industry in the U.S.), Cargill and Tyson Foods, will offer you the lowest possible price, regardless of how much you spent on the cattle’s health and wellbeing.
This cartel-like system effectively prevents farmers from recouping what they’ve invested, and slows down the pace at which a farmer can possibly make positive changes that require greater expenses.
Once sold, the animals are transported to gigantic feedlots — basically animal factories — where they’re placed in tiny pens. GMO grains and drugs are routinely used to fatten the animals up as quickly as possible. However, in doing so, the animals’ health and wellbeing suffer. For example, E. coli 0157H, a virulent pathogen, can thrive in the animals’ intestines under these conditions.
“The reason why it’s illegal for journalists or concerned citizens to go in and film in these giant feedlots is because the industry … don’t want you to see the filth and the cruelty involved,” Cummins says.
Factory Farmed Meat Is No Bargain
Next, the animals are sent off to mega slaughterhouses, of which there are only a few dozen in the entire country. As in the feedlots, these are hellish places where photographs and video taping is often illegal. As noted by Cummins:
“The workers are immigrant workers typically, who don’t have citizenship papers. Why is this? Because U.S. citizens will not take this kind of job. They would not work under these conditions … They have terrible health problems, terrible psychological problems. They’re underpaid and overworked.
What comes out on the other end is meat that might appear to be cheap … but it’s not cheap in terms of what it does to your health … It clogs up your veins. You’re ingesting pesticide and hormone residues. You end up supersizing yourself … Yeah, you’ve got your cheap burger. You’ve got your cheap steak. But you have damaged your health. That’s going to be very costly over time.
You also contributed to massive supply chain damage to the environment. The GMO corn and soybeans that make up the bulk of the feed in the feedlots, they have been sprayed with a horrendous amount of chemicals. These factory farms are the No. 1 contributors to water pollution … You’re part of a long chain of animal cruelty, exploitation of workers, destruction of the environment …
This paradigm is going to end. But we need more awareness [among] consumers, and we need more ranchers to be able to directly come into contact with consumers who want to buy their products so they can cut out the cartel middlemen …”
Via Organica Paves Way for Organic Chicken and Egg Production
Mercola.com and OCA are both founding members of an international network called Regeneration International, which is seeking to replace, among other things, the outdated factory farm system with a natural humane system, whereby herbivores are raised on perennial grasses under a system of holistic management.
The same problems exist in poultry and pig farming, yet innovative farmers like Cummins and many others have proven there are far better ways of raising chickens and pigs on a larger scale as well.
Cummins’ farm, Via Organica, located in the high desert of Central Mexico, uses a system based on the traditional raising of poultry. In the first phase of the project, they installed a couple of thousand laying hens, which live outside all day in a 2.5-acre paddock filled with 400 olive trees and other crops. While the trees offer protection against predators from above, chicken poop acts as a natural fertilizer for the trees, making additional fertilizer use unnecessary.
By eating the insects, they also eliminate pests that might otherwise pose a threat to the trees and other crops. “If you’re a small farmer, it’s very difficult to make a living off just your eggs. But if you’ve got another cash crop in the paddock where the chickens roam, you’re going to be bringing in twice as much money over time,” Cummins says.
The chickens roam free all day, pecking in the dirt for worms, insects and other foraged foods. At sunset, they come into the chicken house, which is where they roost and lay their eggs. The feed provided in the chicken coop, given as a supplement to their foraged diet, is grown by local farmers using traditional, non-GMO seeds and regenerative methods.
“We have a special plow developed in Australia that’s now spreading all across the world,” Cummins explains. “It’s called a Keyline plow. It doesn’t disturb the earth the way that traditional plows do. It creates an environment in your field to where when it rains, there’s a built-in filtration of the rain into the soil. It turns the soil into a sponge …
There are no chemical fertilizers. We work with the farmers to be able to have natural compost … [I]f you look at our eggs, one thing you notice is the yolk is bright orange. They taste really good. If you do a nutritional analysis of these eggs and compare them to the factory farmed eggs in the grocery store, there’s a world of difference. If animals can live outside or live in a natural environment and exercise their natural behaviors, it ends up being a superior product.”
Why Vegetarianism May Not Be the Most Environmentally Conscious Choice
Quite a few people have embraced veganism or vegetarianism as a way of bowing out of the factory farm system that abuses animals for per-pound profit. Cummins was a vegetarian for 40 years for this reason.
“I was a vegetarian between 1970 and 2010 … until I had some ranchers in New Mexico explain to me this whole system of holistic management and rotational grazing, 100 percent grass fed … [T]hey said, ‘Hey, you’re an environmentalist, right? You’re an animal welfare proponent, right? … You’re not any of those things. You’re a hypocrite, Ronnie.’
Because conscious consuming of a moderate level of meat and animal products — where the animals have been raised humanely, where they’ve been raised naturally, where the end product, the food, is good for your health — is [also] good for the environment. Yes, that last instant of their life, when they’re sacrificed for our food, that’s not a good moment [for these animals]. But we’re all going to have a bad moment at the end of our lives. We’re going to physically die.
When we’re in the ground, guess what’s going to happen? The little animals eventually are going to eat us. It’s all part of this great chain of being. It’s natural. There are vegans starting to understand, like David Bronner [CEO of Dr. Bronner’s] … David’s been a vegan for many years, but he’s coined this term — instead of vegetarian — “regenetarian.”
Why Become a Regenetarian?
A regenetarian is a person who never, ever eats factory farmed meat or dairy products, just like a vegan. A regenetarian will however consume grass fed beef, grass fed dairy and other grass fed animal products.
“We’re talking about fish here, too. Most of the fish in the world are now coming from these factory farm fish operations — horrible industrial trawlers in the oceans that are ripping up everything and killing everything in sight … A conscious consumer who wants to preserve their health, but also knows that we want to preserve the health of the planet — we want regular rainfall. We want climate to be normal again — we have to become regenetarians,” Cummins says.
“I never eat meat or animal products in a restaurant unless that restaurant has on the menu, and has a convincing story, that this is grass fed or genuinely pastured. As soon as enough people start doing that, this system is going to change.”
The average American spends a mere 10 percent of their income on food, which is ridiculously low when you consider what the highest quality, most nutritious food would cost. You cannot expect to get the highest quality at this rock-bottom price. At that level, all you’re getting is cheap corn-based meals. As Cummins says, it would be reasonable to spend twice as much on food.
To pay for it, you may have to consider cutting down on other wasteful spending, such as the trend of treating clothing as single-use, disposable items. Organic foods cost more, and must cost more, because doing it right and not cutting corners costs money. It’s the cost-saving measures that have resulted in hormone-laced milk and pesticide-ridden produce. It’s cost-saving measures that have turned beef into a metabolic wrecker. Cheap food is cheap for a reason.
Current State of GMO Movement in the US
Last August, the so-called “DARK Act” was passed. And while many have placed their hopes on President Trump making sweeping changes, we’re not likely to see any difference under Trump when it comes to GMO labeling. As before, the U.S. Congress doesn’t seem to care that 90 percent of Americans want to know whether their food has been genetically engineered or not, or contains GMO ingredients.
To summarize last year’s events, on July 1, 2016, Vermont’s state law for mandatory GMO labeling took effect, forcing major food companies to start labeling their wares. Alas, the food industry basically bought Congress, sweeping a 100-year tradition of states’ rights to implement food safety rules at the state level under the carpet. That’s what the DARK Act did. It revoked states’ right to impose mandatory labeling of GMOs, and with that, the Vermont law was made null and void.
In its place, the federal law replaced clear GMO labeling with quick response (QR) codes which, when scanned with your smartphone will bring you to the company’s website, where you may or may not find information about the presence of GE ingredients.
“The only difference under Trump, looks like that we’re not even going to have these QR codes, which were ridiculous anyway,” Cummins says. Where does this leave us as consumers? I think there’s a growing recognition among conscious consumers in this country that right now, we can’t count on Congress.
We can’t count on regulatory agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or the United States Environmental Protection Agency, or the Federal Trade Commission.
These people are in the pockets of the 1 percent. They do what their financial backers tell them to do. We’re left with our power in the marketplace. That is, they can’t pass a law that tells you what to do when you pull out your wallet. We still have free choice to choose organic or grass fed foods or non-GMO foods in the marketplace …
At the rate we’re going now, most food in the United States will be organic within three decades. It’s taken us three decades to get to the 5 to 10 percent range. Most of the food will be organic and grass fed within 30 years. However, when you look at our public health crisis and our climate crisis and all these other things that the economic crisis in rural areas, we can’t wait 30 years.”
The consumer revolution platform now is an ambitious one — double organic sales in the next four years. At current rates of growth, we could expect it to increase by about 50 percent. Instead, we need to quadruple sales of organic and grass fed. As noted by Cummins, by speeding up the rate at which we reach the tipping point where 15 percent of our food supply is organic or grass fed, the acceleration will multiply exponentially thereafter.
“That’s our answer to the gridlock in Washington, to the failure of federal government,” he says. “Let’s get active in the local and state level where we have more power, [and] intensify our impact in the marketplace where no one can tell us what to do. We’re going to bring about our revolution in health and nutrition in the marketplace if they won’t let us do it with public policy.”
It’s time to launch a #ConsumerRevolution boycott that is larger and more powerful than ever. And at the same time, we apparently have no choice but to launch a #PoliticalRevolution, especially at the local and state level, that will “throw the bums out” from Main Street to Washington D.C. — those politicians and the army of lobbyists and PR gunslingers who continue to represent the corporate and financial elite, the “1 percent,” instead of the rest of us.
In order to carry out this “Resist and Regenerate” strategy, the OCA and its closest allies have come up with an Action platform called Consumer Revolution/Political Revolution 2017-2020, which includes the following.
#Consumer Revolution 2017-2020
Overarching goal: Force corporations that sell consumer products, including food, clothing, drugs and personal care products, to respond to consumer demand for truthfully labeled products that have a positive impact on human health and are produced using regenerative processes and practices that not only prevent harm to human health and the environment, but also measurably improve soils and combat global warming.
1.Move toward making organic, 100 percent grass fed and regenerative food and farming the norm, not just the 5 percent alternative in the marketplace, by doubling sales of organic to $80 billion by 2020, and by increasing sales of U.S. grass fed meat and dairy, and organic and pastured poultry and pork by at least 400 percent by 2020.
Achieve a 50 percent reduction in sales of GMO food and animal feed by 2020, with the aim of driving GMO animal feed off the market.
2.Force major food brands and companies that fraudulently label their products as “natural,” “organic” or “GMO-free” to remove misleading labels and/or transition their products and production methods to organic and/or regenerative practices.
3.Increase market share for clothing made from organic cotton, wool and other natural fibers through a high-profile “Care What You Wear” campaign that encourages consumers to boycott GMO cotton and synthetic fibers.
Overarching goal: Reform the current political process to create a democracy that works for all people, not just wealthy corporations and the 1 percent, by uniting the food, climate, economic and social justice, natural health and peace movements in a coordinated effort to support candidates, elected public officials and policies at the local, state and federal levels, that support our common goals.
1.Lobby candidates and elected public officials to support OCA’s #ConsumerRevolution platform
3.Organize local grassroots meet-ups and coalitions to run candidates, for local and state offices, who support our issues
4.Oppose any candidates or policies that promote racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism and all forms of discrimination, whenever and wherever they arise
5.Oppose any laws or illegal attempts to disenfranchise voters
6.Support the decriminalization of drug use, including the legalization of marijuana, and oppose the war on drugs
7.Promote candidates and policies that advance regenerative food, farming and land use, in addition to fossil fuel emissions reduction and renewable energy
Biodynamics — The Highest Organic Standard
Biodynamic farming, which originated with Rudolf Steiner in the early 1920s, is also starting to gain recognition, and might even change or modify the organic standard. There are actually two different types of organic certification in the U.S.
There’s the USDA Organic label standards, which are decent but still allow producers to meet only minimum requirements, and then there are the biodynamic standards, which have always been the highest in terms of organic certification. The biodynamic organic certification is indicated with a Demeter sign.2 “What you need to realize is this is absolutely grade A+ organic,” Cummins says.
Many didn’t understand the implications of 100 percent grass fed until very recently. Fortunately, we’re now starting to see a merger of the Biodynamic Demeter certification and the AGA’s grass-fed certification. Many farmers, even those certified organic by the USDA, are now stepping it up to the next level by implementing biodynamic or regenerative methods, which in terms of cattle and other herbivores is the 100 percent grass fed way of doing things.
“I think biodynamic and regenerative are the wave of the future. We need to still seek out organic products, but more and more conscious consumers are realizing that if you’re buying a bottle of wine, look for the organic label on it, because that means it doesn’t have any added sulfides.
It means that the farmer was really conscientious in the way they raised those grapes. But look for the biodynamic label as well. In OCA … we’re really happy to be working with the next stage of organics, which is biodynamic and grass fed.”
Routing Out GMOs by Expanding the Net
Over the past two decades, the majority of the anti-GMO movement was focused on GMOs found in processed foods and a small number of whole GE foods.
Yet that’s only 20 percent of the GMOs in the human food chain. Twice as much (40 percent) goes into the making of animal feed for factory farms. The only way to change that trend is by not buying factory farmed animal products, be it poultry (including eggs), pork or beef.
Another 40 percent of GMOs grown are used to make ethanol, “which is this crazed idea that it’s environmentally sound … to produce an additive for gasoline from GMO corn,” Cummins says. In essence, Monsanto makes money every time you drive your car, unless you’re buying premium gas, which doesn’t have ethanol in it. So, the less gas you use, the less money Monsanto makes. Cutting off your contributions to Monsanto is yet another reason for buying an electric vehicle.
Most also forget (or failed to understand in the first place) that 95 percent of non-organic cotton clothing is made from Monsanto’s GE cotton. You may be boycotting Monsanto’s food, but if you buy clothes without thinking about what it’s made from, you’re still feeding the beast. In short, we have to significantly widen the net and consider all the different ways GE crops sneak their way into our lives.
“My T-shirt’s organic. My jeans are organic. My underwear is organic. My socks are organic. I’m trying to consciously fight against Monsanto with everything I do, not just what I eat,” Cummins says. “We’ve got to expand into the full realm of GMOs. Even more importantly, we need to stop talking about GMOs as if it’s some abstract technology that poses this kind of really-hard-to-understand danger, gene splicing, disruption of the genome and all that …
There is no GMO crop that isn’t sprayed with large amounts of poisonous chemicals … Or else it’s impregnated with a poison, like the Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) toxin in the plant that expresses itself in every cell of the plant. When we’re talking about pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, we’re talking about GMO plants. There’s no way to fight against GMOs unless we fight at the same time against chemical-intensive, energy-intensive agriculture and factory farms.”
Many Legislative Changes Are Needed
We also need to continue fighting for legislative changes that help and support organic farmers. The reason France was able to grow the organic sector by 20 percent last year, compared to 11.5 percent in the U.S. was because the French government started paying farmers who quit using pesticides and use compost instead of chemical fertilizers.
In a nutshell, France decided to pay farmers to do the right thing, whereas the U.S. rewards farmers who agree to do the wrong thing. France also passed a law that at least 40 percent of food for schools must be organic and purchased from local farmers.
“I mean what kind of rules do we have regarding [this]? We have the worst school lunch programs in the entire industrialized world. Our food stamp program for poor people is basically junk food that the companies would have disposed of, but they get a tax break for giving us their factory-farmed cheese and milk, and so on.
We do need to change policies as well as the marketplace. But looking at the federal government, our best way to influence public policy is to get involved at the local level — city council, county board, state legislature, our school boards. We have some power there.”
Become Active in Local Government and Expand Alliances
OCA is also calling for people of different stripes to start working together more — people in the local food movement, the slow food movement, the natural health movement, the environmental movement, the animal welfare movement, even church and spiritual movements. If you’re involved in any of these, consider setting up joint meetings with other groups to discuss what you’re doing, how and where your concerns intersect and how you may help each other.
To volunteer to set up or attend a Regenerative House Party or Community Meet-up in your local area this spring with other organic consumers or natural health activists, contact OCA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big corporations are trying to stamp out organic, grass fed, natural health, alternative therapies, environmental protections — you name it. As long as we remain divided, they can conquer. By banding together, by connecting the dots between all of our crucial issues, we will prevail.
“If the food movement united with these other movements, they couldn’t have passed the DARK Act even at the federal level. But because it was just the 30, 40 million people who were most conscientious about what they buy, that wasn’t enough to scare the hell out of the politicians to do the right thing,” Cummins says.
“If we’re going to get involved politically, and I do think we have to, let’s get involved where it makes a difference right now, which is the local level. Let’s understand that what we do in the marketplace, whether it’s the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, these people are not determining your food choices. These people are not forcing you to consume dangerous Big Pharma drugs.
Get educated. Take control of your health. Take control of your diet. Meet up with the people in your local community who feel the same way. We can have, down the road, the kind of democracy that people have dreamed about for hundreds of years. We’ve never had it but it doesn’t mean that we can’t get it down the road.”
Take Control of Your Health by Making Wiser Choices
For the first time in two decades, the average lifespan in the U.S. has decreased, and the U.S. is the only country in the developed world where this is happening. I for one am convinced our emphasis on factory farmed foods play a major role in this decline. Moreover, if we persist with this industrial farming model, we will eventually run out of topsoil and potable water, and that day is approaching at a rapid clip. Some estimates suggest we have less than 60 years of topsoil left if we keep going as we have been.3
We’re causing potentially irreparable environmental damage. If we destroy this infrastructure for future generations, how can they possibly grow food? This is a serious issue and I’m glad so many of you are beginning to appreciate the enormity of the problem — and are embracing the solutions. As Cummins says, your greatest power lies in your choice of spending.
By avoiding food not grown in accordance with regenerative measures, non-organic cotton clothing, and ethanol-infused fuel, you help cut off the lifeblood of corporations that are destroying your children and grandchildren’s chance of a healthy future. When it comes to food, choose organic produce, ideally biodynamic certified organics, and look for the AGA’s grass fed certification for animal products.
The goal of the AGA is to promote the grass fed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education. Their website also allows you to search for AGA approved producers certified according to strict standards that include being raised on a diet of 100 percent forage; raised on pasture and never confined to a feedlot; never treated with antibiotics or hormones; born and raised on American family farms.
Also, seriously consider making a generous donation to the OCA. Your previous support has been instrumental in catalyzing major changes in the organic and health world. And, please remember that I will match your contributions dollar for dollar.