addiction, the disease myth, & the crappy childhood justification. a recipe for profit via mass incarceration.

Over and over again, in several different facilities and by several different so-called professionals, I have been told that the root of my addiction and history of substance abuse is a subconscious need to numb away certain unpleasant feelings. “What unpleasant feelings,” I ask. “You tell me,” is the inevitable, textbook reply. The proverbial seed is planted. Addicts can be very sneaky and self-serving when it comes to getting their fix and justifying their use. Add a counselor or a therapist to the equation, who basically provides not only a justification for their use, but one which paints the addict as a victim simply trying to cope with all the terrible injustices they’ve suffered in life and now you’ve removed the social stigma once associated with being an addict and redefined addiction as a “disease” which the afflicted are merely trying to self-medicate.

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Addiction IS a scourge on our society and it should be stigmatized. The truth of the matter is that most people try alcohol and other drugs simply out of curiosity, boredom, peer-pressure or a hedonistic desire to be high. When those charged with treating these individuals first strategy is to identify possibly non-existent abuse or trauma, to psycho-analyze their childhoods and family situations, they have firstly made an excuse for the addicts’ use, secondly absolved the addict of any wrong-doing, and thirdly they cultivate an unnatural, improper and wildly counter-productive tolerance and empathy for addicts in our society.

pull quote1          If you have ever had the pleasure of being a guest at an OASAS treatment facility then you know what a cake-walk it is, especially when compared with jail or prison. Our courts are back-logged with non-violent drug offenders. Often the first course of correction is some level of substance abuse treatment. Offenders are administered a standardized assessment, known as the RIASI (Research Institute on Addictions Self-Inventory) to determine whether they have a substance abuse problem or whether whatever the incident that resulted in their arrest was isolated and therefore not indicative of an addiction problem. Most of us have some knowledge of how poorly one-size-fits-all tests and treatment programs work in the real world don’t we? The RIASI assessment is no better. The Baldwin Research Institute, Inc. obtained a copy of the RIASI assessment and administered it to nine of its employees and none of them passed. Not a single one of those tested were drug or alcohol users, yet this is the tool used by courts and corrections personnel and institutions to mandate an individual to a substance abuse treatment program. In essence, the way our society deals with drug-related offenders is to blame the criminal behavior on the addiction, and then to blame the addiction on some type of trauma or suffering. Often the effects of any trauma are blatantly exaggerated, or the trauma never even occurred and was totally fabricated by the addict as a mechanism to gain forgiveness and pity. There is no personal accountability in this formula. Addicts are dealt with much more favorably when they are perceived as victims and believe me, they know this, and will exploit it. addict abuse

Not surprisingly, within these OASAS facilities it is often recommended that prescription drugs be administered to minimize the unpleasant physical effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal. For opiate users, medications such as Methadone and Suboxone are often integral components of a long-term sobriety-maintenance program, in spite of the facts that there is a high risk for the abuse of these medications, they are just as addictive as the substances they are meant to replace, and they can also produce the same withdrawal symptoms when stopped abruptly. Detoxification should always be medically supervised, but intervention should only be taken in life-threatening circumstances. Suffering through withdrawal sickness without drug relief could possibly be the best deterrent of relapse. Another benefit is that once the sickness has passed, the individual has actually kicked as opposed to being pharmaceutically detoxed with a potentially equally crippling, equally addictive replacement substance.

At a typical OASAS facility, a “client” can usually expect a comfortable semi- private or even a fully private room. Their day usually begins with a USDA approved hot breakfast which must include vegan and kosher options as well as choices for those with medically related dietary restrictions, usually followed by morning affirmations. The rest of the day is a series of “therapeutic” individual and group counseling sessions and may also include options to participate in guided meditation, yoga, nature walks, music or art therapy and acupuncture. Breaks are taken for lunch and dinner of course. It is a very structured schedule which could be a beneficial aspect were the clients not being indoctrinated all day to believe that their addictions are a disease, it’s not their fault, and their use was a subconscious, perhaps even an understandable response to the suffering they’ve endured in life. They merely need to acquire new coping mechanisms to deal with their feelings. Not everyone fits in this category of substance abuse secondary to PTSD. There is very little in these treatment programs to address the overwhelming volume of cases in which the user uses because they love being high because it feels so good.

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET TOUGH ON ADDICTS? WHEN ARE WE GOING STOP EXCUSING AND ENABLING ADDICTION?enabler pull

Our system of treating drug/alcohol offenders is completely ass-backwards. It actually rewards the offender by prescribing “treatment” as opposed to “punishment.” As an addict myself, I can assure you that I have no fear of being placed in an OASAS treatment program. As a matter of fact, the last residential treatment program I attended was more like a very relaxing break from the miserable existence which I created for myself. It didn’t make me forget how good it feels to be high. I left fully knowing that I would use again. An offender, especially if their only regret is getting caught, if their punishment is to enter a 28-day treatment program, is really not going to be too dissuaded from further use by that sentence. The numbers of people in OASAS treatment programs who were mandated there by court or otherwise only as an alternative to imprisonment is staggering. These people are simply choosing the lesser of two evils and generally have little or no real desire to remain sober. Many of them return to some form of substance abuse by or before the time their legal matters are resolved. Much of the costs associated with treating uninsured, unwilling participants comes directly or indirectly out of the public coffer.

The reported rates of the success of treatment programs are typically based on clients’ completion of a treatment program, or on the results of short term follow ups, factors which scientifically prove nothing. Whether or not an individual successfully completes a treatment program is not a reliable or even useful indicator of the probability of continued sobriety, and any type of follow-ups are often based on self-reporting which assumes that the client is being truthful regarding their sobriety. The recidivism rates are far more telling and provide a much more candid and genuine assessment of the (lack of) efficacy of the current paradigm.

The mass incarceration of drug users and minor offenders is not a practical or viable solution either. First and foremost, incarceration does not even ensure the sobriety of the individual for the duration of their sentence. It does however, ensure that the individual will face an extra layer of hardship post-release, when trying to get a job, stop-mass-incarceration-nowfind housing, or get accepted into certain higher education or vocational programs particularly if financial aid is needed. Depending on the length of the sentence and the age at which an individual is incarcerated, they may be years behind their peers when it comes to basic life skills. If there are predisposing circumstances to relapse and other self-destructive behaviors these effects of having a criminal background certainly qualify. Collectively, the effects create conditions which increase the likelihood of an individual becoming dependent on some degree of public assistance. Unless you live in a cave, you are aware of the fact that as drug use prolongs there is a tendency for criminal activity to escalate in frequency, severity or both. The worst addicts will not hesitate to commit armed home invasions or worse. Doctors, pharmacists, and EMT’s are at an especially high risk of being victims of drug-related crimes. Elderly folks can also be susceptible if they are thought to have prescribed narcotics. This epidemic is everyone’s problem and likewise everyone’s business. The first thing we need to do is abandon the political correctness and stop enabling addicts, particularly in the criminal justice system.

We almost came close to getting it right when drug court programs were created as an alternative to imprisonment but the problem of having thousands of working age citizens in the population with conviction records remains unmitigated. A person’s status as a convicted criminal and the barrier to success that it so often becomes drives recidivism and relapse, which is great for the private prison corporations so they exercise tremendous influence and funnel millions of dollars into policymakers pockets to maintain the exploitive status quo. There is a current movement amongst some people (mostly liberal-minded) to redefine and treat the drug epidemic as a public (mental) health crisis as opposed to a criminal/law enforcement crisis . I agree with this somewhat but drugs are illegal so the best deterrent is in fact some form of treatment but it needs to be more punishing than typical rehabs. For those offenders with money, there are literally Club Med spa style facilities where they can relax and unwind with Wi-Fi, pools, tennis courts, cigarettes, fresh ground gourmet coffee and God knows what other perks. My solution is quite simple. Offenders must go to a state or federally-run facility which like prisons should never be privatized. Once any type of correctional facility becomes privatized then there is an obvious financial incentive to lobby for stricter laws and harsher sentences. These institutions need to radically deviate from the current model. Court mandated treatment centers (and others perhaps) need to be more militarily regimented and the offenders must be made to perform some type of service work that benefits the community, preferably in a manual labor capacity (with medical and physical limitations being taken into consideration of course). It must be as unpleasant as possible without being inhumane. Upon successful completion of a program, and after a pre-determined period of probation style supervision the offenders should be eligible to have their records expunged. They should not have the consequences of having to disclose their conviction on a job application, or have their voting rights revoked or infringed upon or be discriminated in any other way due to their past offenses. When you laden the path to successful reintegration with obstacles such as unemployment, homelessness and discrimination you essentially set them on the path to utter failure and recidivism.

“Do you really want a meth-head or a drunk in charge of administering your meds and wiping your ass?”

That being said however, the first strategy should be to prevent substance abuse to begin with through education, employment opportunities, vocational training and quite frankly, shame. Historically, and recently much more blatantly, popular culture has glamorized, popularized, romanticized and normalized illicit drugs and alcohol. As a society we need to reattach the stigma we once associated with drugs and alcohol. We need people to view alcoholism and drug use as extremely undesirable habits while at the same time, giving those who do succumb at least one chance to earn the opportunity to scrub themselves clean. It must be earned by doing unpleasant work and living uncomfortably but also receiving counseling on subjects such as parenting skills, educational or vocational pursuits, job seeking and whatever other life skills they might require to set them on a less precarious path to success and maintained sobriety. What will the state of our union be in 20 or so years when our population is comprised of millions of unemployed, poverty-stricken, government dependent ex-offenders who contribute little or nothing to society? What will it be like with millions of tweakers and dopers doing their jobs wasted, jobs like nurse, police officer, teacher, banker, bus driver or elder care provider? Do you really want a meth-head or a drunk in charge of administering your meds or wiping your ass? Like smoking cigarettes and watching kiddie porn, drug and alcohol use has to be declared scumbag-ish by high society, by celebrities/people with strong influence especially on youths and what is considered “cool,” and what is considered foul and unattractive, and by all other so-called respectable people. It needs to become taboo again. Addiction should be regarded more as a weakness, as derelict, self-serving behavior which demonstrates little regard for physical and mental hygiene, little regard for others, as a self-induced affliction caused by poor decision making. This perception would hopefully avert many young people from ever trying drugs or alcohol. Those who do experiment despite the stigma, and are convicted of a drug or alcohol related offense however, should not actually literally be shunned by society for the remainder of their lives. They cannot be coddled and absolved of the responsibility for their choices either though. They must be dealt with firmly in a manner which will be so unpleasant that most will not risk recidivism. With that in mind though, the key to successful rehabilitation and reintegration will be the effectively merciful chance to have their convictions expunged; the chance to start over with a clean slate. That single, virtually cost-free incentive will be a complete game changer for a substantial portion of offenders. In an already anorexic job market, not being passed over because of a drug conviction could for many, be the difference between a gainfully-employed productive future, or one plagued by poverty and feelings of hopelessness-catalysts for relapse and further criminal behavior.

The savings realized as a result of fewer and shorter incarcerations and a reduction of subsequent post-release government dependency should be used in efforts to identify and prosecute the career drug distributors. The real life kingpins are usually not addicts themselves and they do deserve the harshest prison sentences. The doctors who operate pill-mill style pain management clinics need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and made examples out of as well. These white collar professionals are no less vile than their illicit drug dealing counterparts. They are all profiting by poisoning entire communities of people, many of whom once introduced to drugs will forever suffer with addiction and the related difficulties and hardships thereof. They ruin lives. They don’t care about the grieving mother whose child suffered a fatal overdose. They do not worry about elderly people being assaulted in armed home invasions by crazed crystal meth or heroin addicts. They feel no responsibility for the young girl whose addiction is so powerful that she will sell her body for her next fix.

Those whose offenses qualify them for treatment as opposed to jail are typically much more a danger to themselves alone rather than anyone else and should therefore be dealt with differently.

I fully believe that a boot camp style sentence which includes manual labor in the form of community services, along with proper counseling and post-release supervision and assistance in career planning and other life skills coupled with the opportunity to expunge a conviction would be much more effective in deterring would-be repeat offenders. Because of the profit potential of mass incarceration, the system as it stands was designed to maximize recidivism. The private prison management corporations will of course spend millions and millions on lobbying to enact new laws and longer sentences. The law enforcement and corrections employees’ unions, even before privatization has spent fortunes lobbying for the same things to ensure a continued and increased demand for officers. Unless the profit factor is removed from the equation, there will always be some very rich and powerful people who will spend money to make even more by locking people up. It would be detrimental to their bottom line to provide inmates with any services or programs which might decrease recidivism rates. In other words, like every other for-profit business, private prison corporations want to maximize customer retention! Recidivism is akin to repeat customers, plain and simple. Also like every other business, they understand it can be worthwhile to invest money in attracting new customers. Instead of ad campaigns though, they influence judges, prosecutors and politicians to pass more and more complicated laws and incarcerate more people for lengthier periods.  

If we de-incentivize mass incarceration, stop being soft on addicts, stop treating them as helpless victims, hold them accountable for their choices and their recovery but still give low level offenders an opportunity to be spared from the lifelong repercussions of a criminal conviction, and provide effective post-release supportive services for those who need it, we would simultaneously reduce substance abuse, generational poverty (which is exacerbated by parental incarceration), and government dependency. The fact that of all industrialized nations, we have the highest rate of incarceration should bring us all shame. It is proof that the privatization experiment is a huge  failure, has devastating social consequences and does nothing but line the pockets of corrupt politicians, judges and corporate wardens along with their investors, and results in far-reaching, intergenerational human collateral damage. America’s ever-worsening drug problem a testament to the complete and utter failure of our existing treatment model and has made it painfully obvious that incarcerating millions of non-violent drug offenders does exponentially more harm than good.   If the reforms I speak of were actually implemented then we would watch the slums of concentrated poverty we created actually begin to shrink. By no longer enabling addicts and radically reducing our incarceration rates and thusly the number of individuals stymied by a criminal past, we would eventually reap all kinds of priceless benefits. Substance abuse and incarceration directly contribute to broken families, unemployment, educational deficiencies, poverty, economic inequality, increased chronic illnesses, decreased life expectancies, the spread of communicable disease, and a host of other plagues. We can’t prolong  action any longer because our misguided, failing policies, even if abandoned today, already caused the damaging conditions that will affect so many of today’s children and youths who are right now growing up with addicted or imprisoned parents. It’s long overdue for Americans to make fixing America our highest priority or within twenty years from now we will be a nation whose majority is either addicted, imprisoned, impoverished or some combination thereof, and that’s a long way from where we came.

My Mom, the Phoenix

 

As a young girl, I became aware very early on that I was extolled for my intelligence not just often, but unusually often, way more than other, “average” kids were. Grown adults would regularly remark on how bright I was and when doing so it was clear to me that they were truly and genuinely impressed with me. I was a child prodigy! I was a very polite and well-behaved child also though. All of my teachers throughout elementary school adored me, and they lavished me with attention and praise at every opportunity. So taken with me were they, that they recommended I actually skip fourth grade entirely which I not only did, but I seamlessly transitioned into the fifth grade a year younger than my peers and proceeded to out-perform all of them. I quickly rose to the top of my class. In fact, they told my mom that they would have skipped me through another grade had it not been against school policy.

My parents, my mother especially, she wore my achievement of that like a badge of honor and rightfully so, as my older brother was equally above average intelligence, and likewise was skipped, he through third grade. Not one, but both of her children were not just academic rock stars, but extremely thoughtful, considerate and mild-mannered as well (and, at least as children, pretty darn good-looking, if I don’t say so myself). My mom was a very social person and it was not out of character for her to initiate a conversation with a stranger who was behind her in line at the macilleria (the butcher shop), and would always take the opportunity to brag on her brilliant bambinos. If I was present, and I usually was, I would blush, and feel a little embarrassed because I was also taught to be modest, and humble. To hear my mother go on about how great her children were seemed to counter her teachings of modesty and humility but I still appreciated that she was praising me, not complaining about me or degrading me. She earned the right to share that with anyone who would listen because my mother, with only an eighth grade education herself and a sketchy one at that, was largely, if not completely responsible for my love of and capacity for learning. My mom went above and beyond other moms, when it came to making sure that I was interested in, and participating in learning as much as I could.

It was my mom who would sit, Indian-style with me on the floor and engage me in educational television such as Sesame Street. She even managed to drag my brother downtown to the PBS studio and get him on an episode of Sesame Street which she did not but she did succeed in getting him on an episode of Romper Room (much to my envy as I had never been, and still never have been on television). She would buy us workbooks and even create flash cards and work sheets and then help us tackle them. Both my brother and I were reading and writing before we entered kindergarten, even though neither of us attended nursery or pre-school. She also used to babysit other neighborhood children and she taught them to read and write also, and did so with the same dedication that she put into the teaching of her own children. In fact, by the time I was 7 or 8, I was assisting her myself in teaching her younger charges reading, writing and arithmetic. Unbeknownst to me at the time, not only had my mom only attended school through the eighth grade, but the reason she did not make it further is that she suffered a developmental disability. Her disability was a direct result of malnourishment which she suffered at the hands of her own parents-two otherwise normal people. “The effects of going hungry in childhood may be more lasting than previously thought. Researchers studying people raised on Barbados who suffered severe starvation as infants found these adults were more anxious, less sociable, less interested in new experiences and more hostile than those who were well-nourished throughout childhood, according to a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry” (Time: Szalavitz, Maia. “How Childhood Hunger Can Change Adult Personality.” Time 11 Apr. 2013: n. page. Print.)

They were not anyone you would have suspected of committing child abuse, yet they did. She just, during very developmental years, was deprived of adequate nutrition needed to facilitate “normal” functioning. Not only would she herself never be a scholar, but she struggled with spelling words that were beyond a sixth or seventh-grader’s vocabulary. Balancing the checkbook sometimes would baffle her. She simply could not grasp certain ideas and concepts. It was not long before my brother and I literally outsmarted her.

Naturally by the time I reached junior high school I was beginning to learn advanced grammar, basic algebra, and even Spanish. My mother could no longer help me with most of my homework, and she had nothing more she could teach me academically that I didn’t already know. It was fine though, because I didn’t need her help anymore. She had already accomplished the most important things of all that a parent can achieve; she taught me to love learning and how to learn effectively, to work hard and strive to distinguish myself from others, and to be respectful and humble. I did not see it that way at that time, however. The more I learned, the dumber she seemed. I could not grasp how she could misspell so many common, elementary words. I would mock her for not understanding long division and multiplication. Not only did I belittle her to her face but I made fun of her to my friends as well. My friends began to notice that they too, had a better grasp of spelling and grammar than she did and they would make cruel remarks about her also, but only to me, not to her face. I had seemingly overnight gone from having great respect and admiration for my mom to being embarrassed and ashamed of her. There were even times when I felt the need to forewarn a new friend of my mother’s ignorance prior to having that friend over. I had turned into a snotty, surly, self-superior bully toward my mother.

I don’t remember exactly when I learned the actual cause of her disability. I can confidently say that it wasn’t until I was at least 14 or 15 years old. My mom all of a sudden one day took out a big manila envelope and removed its contents and handed them to me. They were all black and white, photocopied news clippings. The first thing I noticed was a photograph of a small child whose head had been shaved and I remember not being able to tell for sure whether the child was a boy or a girl. It was in fact a girl, and I noticed that one of her eyes was sort of not in sync with the other. She was not cross eyed but something wasn’t quite right, it was more like a “lazy eye,” though not too severely so. It was at that moment when I realized that child was my mom.

I began reading the article, and then the next one, and then the one after that. They varied in origin from major New York City newspapers, to rural, international but English-written outlets. They were all dated on or around January 11, 1950. I began to read a real-life horror story, over and over again. “A man and his wife, both 29, yesterday were accused of starving to death their three year old son. A daughter, police charged, narrowly escaped death-for the second time in her four years. The mother said she tried to feed them but they wouldn’t take food so she gave it a cat, police said” (Daytona Beach Journal). According to the article my mother had previously been hospitalized, at age two for malnutrition and remained hospital for at least six months. The World Food Programme states “Malnutrition at an early age leads to reduced physical and mental development during childhood” (www.wfp.org).

My mother had been just four at the time. She had three siblings-an older sister, Nicoletta, an older brother, Guy, and a younger brother, Michael. The articles detailed how, although older Nicoletta and younger Michael were perfectly taken care of and well, my mom and her brother Guy were cruelly, systematically, starved and neglected and kept locked in a back bedroom. When the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children finally intervened they immediately removed the two children and brought them to Metropolitan Hospital in New York City. Sadly, only hours after their arrival, little Guy perished from starvation. My mom on the other hand, although her weight was less than half of what it should be at age four survived. But she did not come through it unscathed. All of her organs were affected, some more profoundly than others. She ultimately only grew to become five feet tall, she was legally blind in one eye, suffered from nervous disorders, developed hoarding tendencies-particularly of food items, and mild to moderate irreparable brain damage. She was permanently afflicted. Her mother was completely unknowing to the situation. There was just something completely wrong with her. “Poverty is both a cause and an outcome of poor human development. Better child nutrition improves cognition and schooling as discussed.” (Cesar, Victoria G., et al) I had no idea my mother had been deprived in this way.

Her disability was a direct result of malnourishment which she suffered at the hands of her own parents-two otherwise normal people. “The effects of going hungry in childhood may be more lasting than previously thought. Researchers studying people raised on Barbados who suffered severe starvation as infants found these adults were more anxious, less sociable, less interested in new experiences and more hostile than those who were well-nourished throughout childhood, according to a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry” (Time Magazine).

They were not anyone you would have suspected of committing child abuse, yet they did. During very early developmental years, my mom was deprived of vital nutrition needed to facilitate “normal” functioning. According to the World Health Organization, “Malnutrition is estimated to contribute to more than one third of all child deaths.” According to study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, in which they studied specific extreme cases of child torture including starvation, their findings were that “the child’s entire household either participate or was aware of the child’s abuse.” This was indeed the case with my mom’s household. “Scielzo was quoted as saying his wife wasn’t feeding the two children but he couldn’t do anything about it” (Daytona Morning Journal).

I cannot describe the horror and guilt that I not only felt at that particular moment, but continue to feel, even (especially) as I share this. After absorbing the horror of it, the unbelievable-ness of any parent starving a child intentionally, I eventually made the connection of how the abuse she suffered had affected her physically, mentally, emotionally and developmentally. Instantly all of the horror I felt became directed toward me, myself. How could I have been so cruel, so disrespectful, so selfish, arrogant, and unappreciative, along with too many other adjectives to recall? Though finally, after quite some time, I came to at least understand why she seemed to me to have been so learning-impaired, and I was able to appreciate not just having an explanation for my mother’s so-called shortcomings, but I also began to ponder, what, she could have been, how amazing she could have been, what her potential would have been had she not suffered through that. Finally I realized that she did reach her potential, and it was a tremendous potential to fulfill because she taught me how to learn in the first place and in doing so she made sure that I could learn everything that she could not. She did all of that in spite of her own disadvantages and all of her suffering, and especially despite how rotten I would be to her at times. Not a day goes by that I do not think of her in silent gratitude, wishing I could have just one more chance to thank her.

References

Szalavitz, Maia. “How Childhood Hunger Can Change Adult Personality.” Time 11
Apr. 2013: n. pag. Print.

Cesar, Victora G. “Maternal and child under nutrition: consequences for adult
health and human capital.” Lancet 9609.January (2008): 340-57. Print.

“Malnutrition.” World Health Organization. WHO, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
<http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/topics/child/malnutrition/
     en/
>.

AP. “Man and Wife Accused of Starving Son; Daughter Is Saved.” Daytona Beach
Morning Journal [Daytona] 11 Jan. 1951: 1+. Print.

“Child Torture as a Form of Child Abuse.” Journal of Child and Adolescent
Trauma 10 (2014): 7:37-49. Print.
. “The effects of going hungry in childhood may be more lasting than previously thought. Researchers studying people raised on Barbados who suffered severe starvation as infants found these adults were more anxious, less sociable, less interested in new experiences and more hostile than those who were well-nourished throughout childhood, according to a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry” (Time Magazine).

Think Twice Before You Take in a Moron Who Likely Has Droopy Balls.

ImageTimes have been tough, financially, for my husband and I and our family. We are both on the cusp of forty and fairly recently married and live in an economically crippled upstate NY county. We barely have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. It seems to be going around.  My uncle’s home was being foreclosed on and he had to move himself and all his belongings into my dad’s home in the late winter of 2011. After just a couple of months, I was approached by my father about allowing his brother to stay here in our spare bedroom. My uncle would have no money to pay rent, but according to Dad, “He’ll do anything you need just tell him what to do and he’ll do it.” (Lie.) In fairness however, my Dad did provide us with a stipend for putting him up. (Soon enough I’d learn that Kenny Snot Beard who collected cans around town would have made a better housemate, I could have learned to look past the snot, maybe even embraced the snot). Unk, as we refer to him is sixty-something-but-not-quite-SSI-eligible years old, has never been married, no children, and just a very odd, socially challenged, lazy, lazy unknowing man.  He is short, weak and not fat but flabby with no muscle tone at all. And pasty, I imagine. Yes, I’m sure under those Carhart clothes two sizes too big, no doubt intended to give the illusion of bulk but which actually only contributes to his slovenly look, yes I am sure he is as pasty as the Dough Boy himself. Doughy. If I had to describe his physique in one word it would be doughy.  The result, I am certain of his adversity to any and all things which require any physical exertion other than lifting a fork into his hamburger hole. Being lazy was a lifelong pursuit as it turns out, my Grandma used to tell a story about how as a toddler he didnt want to walk, instead he would sit up and ass-crawl, inching torward his destination on his butt cheeks. She explained away this behavior as a result of her having dropped him on his head when he was a baby.

My dad and I are a special brand of neurotic and obsessive-compulsive.  My husband is an exclusive brand of a cocktail of mental health issues to which he alone holds the patent. He  is also hyper-masculine. But he is my mental case and I love him. My uncle, well, he is just plain dim-witted. I think. I can’t tell if he truly is or if he just pretends to be to avoid responsibility. You have never seen a grown, 60-something year old man, employ such sneaky, boyish tactics to either get what he wants, or to get away with doing nothing at all.  He steals food and desserts when no one is looking and hides donuts in his truck and under his bed.  He is the type of person who eats as fast as he can, as though he is in some kind of race, so that he can grab seconds and if possible, thirds before everyone else has eaten a first serving.  Mind you, he is not buying the groceries. Nor is he cooking the food. Nor is he helping to clean the mess. Except for his own dish and silverware that he ate with. If he can get away with it though, he will sneak that too, into the sink hoping I won’t notice and just wash it along with everything else. How shitty can you be? Knowing how similar I am to my father, we have the same thresholds and tolerance for bullshit, ignorance, laziness and stupidity, I should have questioned more deeply why, why dad wanted him out of his place. Foolishly I did not.

It was winter still, when he moved in but it was early 2012 and it was cold. Unk don’t like the cold. Our primary source of heat was a wood-burning stove and from time to time, my husband would have to go harvest logs and bring them to the house and split them in the backyard so that we could all stay warm. While John doesn’t mind this type of work, Unk we learned, found it abhorrent and would use whatever mechanisms he had at his disposal to weasel out of giving a hand. Well, not at first. Initially he apparently fancied himself a guest who ought not have to lift a finger to help out with anything. He would plop down on the couch in front of the TV, palming a tuna sandwich into his tuna hole and put his booted feet up on my coffee table.  Now, John’s never been one to pull any punches. He is an ex-convict and former boxing champ and on top of that he is Puerto Rican. After a few times of shit like that he told him in a not-so-nice way what a piece of shit he was being by laying up in our house all day enjoying the warmth, stuffing his face, fantasizing that he has himself de facto wife while we did all the household work.  He half-assedly attempted to help a couple of times after that but all he really did was stand around, maybe move a log a foot away from where it had been for no apparent reason.  Then he’d go inside supposedly to get a tool, or a pair of gloves and without fail shove a donut in his donut hole whilst he was in there, ultimately spending 90% of the time indoors and 10% outdoors scratching his balls. Which are probably pasty white with sparse grey hairs. And droopy, I’m sure they must be dreadfully droopy. Anything lonely and sad eventually droops, right?

Unk did have a little money stashed away though, from insurance benefits he received upon my grandma’s death. Benefits which rightfully ought to have been divided amongst himself, my dad and the three Evil Red-Haired Crones, (my aunts) but which he kept quiet about and squirreled away all for himself.  Not surprisingly it was when Gram’s passed that he stopped paying his mortgage. Or rather, he could no longer use her money to pay his bills. But (forgot to mention he is a shopping addict) he could not curtail his obsession for purchasing anything and everything from the most ridiculous, useless nonsense, to the biggest, most expensive, top-of-the-line tool or machinery that he would never ever even use. He had at least 5 or 6 of every wrench in every size, standard and metric, closed and open-ended, flashlights that cost $50 – 5 of those in each size, but meanwhile a monkey would know better how to use those wrenches. He had a myriad of knives. The knives were disturbing. Hunting and utilitarian knives are one thing, but in addition to those he had Rambo-looking throat-slitter knives and dozens of them. A Japanese-style sword, yup, he has one of those as well. He had a huge collection of and subscriptions to all kinds of knife and gun aficionado magazines. He had an entire library of videos that demonstrate lethal self-defense techniques for small guys, all still shrink wrapped. He bought them because he lives in a fantasy world and in that world he is a ninja warrior. In reality he wouldn’t say “shit” if he had a mouth full of it. All of it, the tools, magazines, weapons were nothing but props he placed on the stage in the theatre of his own life to convince no one other than himself that he was something besides a lazy waste of skin and hair. My uncle is Walter Mitty. He has a secret life. He even has several Superman figurines which he has had for as long as I can remember and it only recently ocurred to me that, this crazier than a shit house rat ignoramous actually fantasizes about being a super hero. It’s true and just for a visual, the photo above actually could be him before he went grey.

Oh, so back to his cash stash. It was not alot. Maybe a thousand and change. Mind you though, he had over a year before he would be eligible to collect social security benefits. Once that money was gone he’d have nothing left to live on until October of 2013. Sometimes he would pick up my dad’s beer cans and return them and pocket $10 or $15, but other than that he had no income, just that little bit of savings to live on.  He never learned how to be broke though, that bastard. He is the kind of guy who has it ingrained in his head that if it is not the very best money can buy than it is no good. He is that way with food too. I think I mentioned how much he loves to eat. Every morning he’d make himself (and himself only, never once did he offer to make any extra) mutilated eggs and four to six pieces of toast. Again, he’s not buying the groceries. John and I stuck to a food budget and we enjoy good food but not fussy about brands. I buy the cheapest bread I can and that’s what we eat. Unk started from time to time buying expensive bread and $6 packages of Thomas’ bagels to shove in his bagel hole. He always made sure he had canned Coca Cola, also. He wouldn’t compromise on account of being broke and buy the store brand bagels, or a less expensive soda, or even switch to a more economical 2 liter bottle supply of Coca Cola. Nope. Whatever was getting shoved down his Coca Cola chute had to be the best. Entemann’s cakes, Hostess snacks, Ritz crackers, Sabrett hot dogs, Ronzoni pasta. C’mon…This he would pretty much be buying for himself as he never invited either of us to help ourselves to any of it, even though we were feeding him and every night I’d cook a nice homemade meal for the three of us. He never even offered $10 towards groceries. What a schmuck.

The house guest from hell incarnate. He has this utterly disgusting habit of randomly spitting. Not like a big loogey or anything, a more subtle but perhaps more disturbing kind of spit. You know when you have a crumb on your lip, or if you bite a teeny bit of your fingernail off and just kind of propel it off your lip? Like a “Phfff” sound but a little louder.  That is what he does but he does it wherever he is with zero regard for where it lands. Sitting on the couch, standing in the kitchen, in the car, it’s just nauseating. He does this at least 25 times an hour. I have counted. I can hear him doing it in the next room and then I obssess over where it landed and what would I have to go disinfect. Who does that? He would leave his scummy bar of soap on my shower shelf-right on it-no soap dish! I have a hard enough time knowing that he is lathering his dreadfully droopy balls in my shower and inevitably shedding coarse grey pubes which will get caught in the drain and I’ll have to get the biggest wad of toilet paper and look away as I cleaned his old man junk hairs out of the tub.  Arm-length rubber gloves, Lysol, goggles and a rubber apron are my bestest friends! They jump in the fox hole with me and we do the dirty. He drools toothpaste saliva all over the faucet of the sink and lets it crust up on it and spits used blue Listerine (another thing he never deprived himself of the whole time he was poor and homeless was his special choice of hygiene items.) into the basin of the sink, often splattering it onto the counter top-clearly visible-my sink is white-and lets that too, just dry up into a film. Because hey the maid will get it, right?  Dial soap, Pert shampoo, blue Listerine, expensive Gilette razors, Crest toothpaste (which he discards with a good week or more’s worth of paste left in it. Too lazy to SQUEEZE!).

When you are from my generation and upbringing, you were taught not to disrespect your elders, not to talk to them like children so I just tolerate it without saying a word. I began to feel like the proverbial door mat but the truth is no one can take advantage of you unless you let them. Last night he spilled Coca Cola all over the table and sopped it up with half a roll of paper towels (I am very conservative and reuse paper towels as many times as possible-I save them to wipe oil and grease out of pots and pans to get another use and to avoid that greasy shit going down my drain) and never thought to use a wet cloth and some 409, instead just let it dry up all sticky. Worse yet was I sat down at the table and got an ass and vag full of ice cold Coca Cola because Shit-for-Brains didn’t bother to wipe the puddle out of the chair. I finally had the nerve to say something to him, not rudely but nonetheless and the bastard didn’t even apologize, not even an “Ooops, my bad.” It’s true that you can pick your friends but not your family. Worse than an ordinary shitty house guest is the shitty, long-term familial house guest who pretends to be oblivious to his own idiocy, his lack of reciprocity, his violation of privacy. He has never thanked any of us. He has never expressed or demonstrated with any type of gesture even a modicum of gratitude. Now he has finally begun receiving SSI benefits and he is happy as a clam with his $25 pairs of Carhart long john bottoms, his $40/ 3- packs of Thinsulate hunting socks (no, he doesn’t hunt, he barely goes outside), his lunch out and about just about every day. Meanwhile, our house has been foreclosed on, our car has been repossessed and we are halfway down Skid Row. When things began to get shitty, like heating bath water on the stove because there’s no fuel oil shitty, Unk ran for the hills, back to Dad’s. Now we have all moved back also and we are all living in Dad’s house. Now there’s four, the merrier the more. It’s funny, Unk might be the idiot but he probably laughs all the way to the bank.

Every word of that is true.

Bars? None.

prisonThere is a basketball game on and I can tell his team is losing because of the stream of vulgarities being hissed at the television. Thwaap! Johnny is a spitter, and this time the flat screen is the victim. All day he has been in his room, watching and betting sports games, playing on his PS3, and fiddling around on Facebook. I’ve asked him several times to tend to the chickens as we lost two last night due to neglect. This he still has not done and I’m quite sure that the rooster and possibly the remaining hens have all died today as well. They have been left in the freezing cold with only a frozen dish of water. I haven’t heard the usually vociferous cock crow all day. He litters the room with garbage, discarding food wrappers, soda cans, paper plates, etcetera on the floor. In the night when he has to urinate, he just goes in a bottle. Bottles of amber piss line a wall. He can be terribly disrespectful to anyone including elders. He sleeps away the day and is up half the night with no regard for those attempting to sleep. He is defiant, reckless, lazy and entitled. Johnny is not my bitterly spoiled teenaged son. He is my institutionalized, 40 year old husband.

Institutionalization is a largely unaddressed epidemic in a country which boasts the highest number of incarcerated people, both per capita and overall. It is a perplexing and frightening distinction. Not a surprising one however, when you consider the nature and structure of our judicial and correctional systems. This trend is exacerbated by the continuing privatization of the prison system and the influence of the lobby for the private prisons corporations. These lobbies spend over $45 million dollars a year in political donations, and the industry is rewarded with over $51 billion in revenue. I’ll let you do the math.  Every year, thousands of prisoners will be released into a society in which they are unable to function adequately. They will be anywhere from hindered to crippled by a lack of coping and social skills, limited education or vocational training, the inability to function autonomously, and any combination of these and myriad other obstacles which will be catalysts for other debilitating conditions. These may include depression, anger-management issues, unemployment, poverty, homelessness, other mental illnesses as well as possible physical illness, violent and criminal tendencies, and possible reincarceration or sadly suicide or death.

Our cat had kittens last year. These four sweet-faced darlings were systematically tortured by Johnny. They were held under water, thrown from heights, strangled and more. Our dog suffered similar ordeals at his hands. He did not kill any of the animals, he said that the suffering would discipline them and toughen them. This backwards logic evidences his imprisonment mentality. He has punched through doors and drywall. He has used furniture which was hand crafted by my father as firewood, burned to ashes in our wood stove, family treasures of sentimental value which can never be replaced. Johnny has put cigarettes out on our floor and urinated on the carpet. Although he can be a hard and able worker, he does not pursue employment and has not lasted at any job over the last three years for more than a few weeks, with several months of pure loafing in between. He has never maintained a checking account, paid monthly bills, or really taken any responsibility or initiative on his own behalf, save for hustling for some dope to keep himself fixed. His entire life he has been cared for, provided for, and supported by family members or institutions. Mentally and emotionally his maturity was stunted around age 17. That is exactly how he acts, like a snotty, irresponsible, entitled, pissed off teenager.

prison2

Although a system of corrections is a justifiable and necessary aspect of any civilized society, the focus has deviated from rehabilitation to maintaining a maximum capacity of persons in confinement. Little is offered by way of education, substance abuse/mental health treatment, and behavior modification. There is a lack of effort being exerted into preparing prisoners for re-integration into society and as a result many will be re-incarcerated at some point. In order to get along in prison, inmates must adapt to an environment much different than that of the free world. They must learn how to live in extreme confinement for sometimes very long periods of time. As a result, they often become socially withdrawn, introverted and even hostile.  Prisoners must adapt to a routine which they have no control over, one they have no power to modify. Once released, many are lost without the rules and structure they had become accustomed too. They will find it extremely difficult to become autonomous, to take any initiative for themselves and make decisions on their own. Prison is a haven for communicable diseases and many contract diseases while locked up.  There is always a threat of physical and/or sexual abuse which can cause one to develop a “strike first” mentality which often leads to violent tendencies that will persist even after release. Since their most basic needs are being met while imprisoned, many are just lost and helpless to care for themselves once returning to society. Many will rely upon welfare services to provide for them, further burdening taxpayers. None of the emotional or psychological issues which caused the behavior which resulted in their incarceration will have been addressed and they will be re-integrated into civilization often worse off and more of a threat than they had been to begin with.

Johnny thinks he has a wonderful life, and why wouldn’t he? He has a wife who cooks for him and serves him meals in bed, as per his demands. One who picks his dirty smelly clothing up off the floor and washes them, folds them and puts them away for him. She goes to work while he goofs off all day. He has no bills, no responsibilities. He is housed by his father-in-law who also pays all of the household expenses and even furnishes him with spending money.  He simply throws a tantrum if he does not get his way. He has never owned anything of value in his entire life and therefore everything is value-less to him. He thinks nothing of stealing or destroying the property of others’. He has put his fist through doors, smashed windows, and destroyed items of value. He did not pay for it so he does not see any responsibility in caring for it nor any consequence in ruining it. Johnny has helped himself to items such as tools, jewelry and collectibles which he has pawned. In prison, he learned how to be a bully to get what he wants. He wanted a carefree lifestyle, and that is what he has achieved for himself, largely through threats of physical violence, even murder, and regularly employs tactics of emotional terrorism. He demands to be treated a certain way, with respect, yet he does very little to earn it. Everyone walks on eggshells around him, so as not to awaken the beast of wrath within him. No one dare to disturb his sleep or compromise his comfort in any way, lest they become the target of his threats, intimidation and ridicule. His survival mechanism in prison was to manipulate and dominate everyone around him in order to secure his own needs and wants and that behavior, sadly, has persisted since his release. Locked up as a teenager and on and off since then, having spent a total of eleven years in prison, years during which a free person would learn to be a mature, productive and civilized human, his reality was so different that he truly became a product of his environment and it seems to be irreversible. What will happen in twenty or so years when the hundreds of thousands of youth who are incarcerated now, are released lacking basic survival skills and coping mechanisms, with minimal education and little likelihood of any long term, steady employment and independence? Johnny is a cripple and he doesn’t even know it. In fact, he is crippling those around him as well. He believes he deserves as good a life as everyone else, yet he lacks the understanding that it must be worked for. He fully believes it should be handed to him, and if it is not, he will take it.

Why is more attention not being paid to the detrimental effects caused by the prison-industrial complex? While the U.S. comprises only 5% of the worlds population, we house 25% of the worlds prisoners, over 2.2 million people. That is a huge disparity! Guilty of a crime or not, human beings should not be treated like a commodity because when they are they are processed as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to maximize profits. Whether there is empathy for these individuals or not, for the sake of a civilized and progressive society this must be addressed, and quickly. Yesterday. Sooner or later these individuals will be returned to free society and if they are not equipped to manage and take care of themselves they will become the burden of everyone else. “Our nation’s reliance on mass incarceration has bankrupted government budgets, torn families and communities apart, disproportionately impacted people of color, and provided no benefit to public safety,” warns David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. Privatization serves only the corporations who are building and operating the prisons and they want nothing more than to keep them full to max capacity. That is why they spend so much money lobbying congress for stiffer laws and lengthier sentences. This is nothing short of human trafficking and if we continue to turn a blind eye to it, it will change our society in a profoundly negative way. This is the reason more and more of our civil liberties are being infringed and encroached upon. The more laws they can create the more that will be broken and the more people-commodities they will have to fill their cells and consequently, their coffers. If you want to preserve the health and well-being of our communities for yourself, your children and grandchildren, then please click the links below to learn more, sign a petition, and become a voice in this most important dialogue. Thank you.

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/08/03/627471/private-prisons-spend-45-million-on-lobbying-rake-in-51-billion-for-immigrant-detention-alone/

http://forcechange.com/39319/prisoners-are-not-profits-end-prison-privatization-in-the-united-states/

https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/new-aclu-report-documents-destructive-impact-prison-privatization

Recommended reading:  http://www.amazon.com/Prison-Profiteers-Makes-Money-Incarceration/dp/1595584544

My Garden Failures; Don’t be Doomed to Repeat My Mistakes

I had a garden again this year, but it was my first real garden.  By real, I mean it was 30′ x 50′, not a few tiny raised beds with just a couple of tomato and cucumber plants.  I raised everything from seed.  Tomatoes, cukes, peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots, onions, sunflowers, corn, pole beans, butternut squash, chives, basil, dill, scallions, marigolds, cosmos, chilis, bell peppers, potatoes, even cantaloupes!  But I fucked up somewhat.  I could have made things easier on myself and less frustrating.  I also could have planned better to extend my harvest and preserve more of my bounty for winter enjoyment.  Learn from my mistakes!!

1.  Space is everything!!!  This cannot be overstated.  Give each plant adequate space.  Remember, you are going have to get around each plant to weed, water and harvest!  If you can’t get around and in between plants, these chores become exactly that-chores, when they ought to be rewarding and satisfying experiences.  Instead it becomes dreadfully back-breaking.  In an attempt to grow more and more of each plant varieties I foolishly thought I could squeeze them in tighter than what is recommended, and the result was my garden looking much like an overgrown vacant lot.  I could not get water directly where it was needed without a lot of bending, crawling on the ground and cursing & swearing.  It also caused a big problem with the plants that needed staking-the vines from each plant got tangled up with its neighbors and it was very trying to untangle them without damaging the plants. I did not even fully succeed, and wound up with a lot of fruit weighing the plants down to the ground, making them more susceptible to insects, excessive dampness and rot.

2.  Think practical.  Don’t take on more than you can manage.  Better to get a good, healthy but smaller yield than to put in a lot of effort to try to get more than you are able to keep up with.  Gardening is hard work.

3.  Companion planting.  Read up on this, it is important.  Certain plants are beneficial to one another and others are detrimental to one another.  Centuries of trial and error have proven that certain plants do well along side each other while others harm one another.

4. Plastic mulch.  I messed this up big time.  This was probably my biggest failure.  DO NOT spread a giant sheet of plastic out, cut holes and plant plants into the holes.  Rather, cut a 3′ x 3′ square of plastic (or whatever size is appropriate for the specific plant- 3×3 would be for a tomato plant for instance) and dedicate it to one single plant.  Make the hole for the plant large enough so that you can find it when you have to water it, especially bushy or viney plants like tomatoes, cukes and cantaloupe.  Leave a good 18 inches of pathway between each square of plastic.

5.  Use rows!   Especially for stuff like carrots, onions, spinach and lettuce.  Space plants adequately and keep nice and neat!  It just looks so much better, and makes thinning easier.  Thinning is very important especially with plants like carrots, radishes, spinach and lettuces.  It can be heartbreaking to sacrifice your seedlings, but you will fare better in the long run.  If you wait for just the right time, you can probably use the sacrificial plants in salad-baby carrots, baby spinach leaves, so all is not necessarily lost.  You can always at the very least add them to your compost.  I keep pigs and chickens as well so literally nothing gets wasted.  (Except me after a long hot afternoon weeding!)

6. Provide a climbing medium.  Viney stuff like peas and certain tomatoes, cukes, beans-they need to climb!  Facilitate that!  Give them a stake or a pole or a trellis or plant near a fence-you and your plants will be much happier!  Do this early on!!! This is a nightmare of a task f you let the plants get too big and then try to do it.  Place the stakes when you plant the seed or seedling and use something soft to tie them-old pantyhose work well, or old cotton tees cut into strips.  Also, you must do this periodically as the plant grows taller and bushier-so be sure to use a tall enough stake, a few inches taller than the expected height of the full grown plant.

7. Be diligent about weeding.  I cannot stress this enough.  If you let it get ahead of you it will remain ahead of you and just become overwhelming very quickly.  Pull weeds from the roots while still small.  Stay on top of it or else they WILL take over!  It is most beneficial to pull weeds BEFORE they produce seeds.  Alternatively, you can mulch around your plants to minimize weeds but you still have your pathways to weed, unless you mulch that too.  I don’t really recommend establishing permanent walkways (like with gravel or rock) because you want to rotate your plants the following year, so you may require a completely different configuration, especially if you have large plantings like corn and pumpkins or squash.

8.  Water!!! Be prepared to do it every day!! The weather does not always cooperate so you have to commit to devoting the time necessary to thoroughly watering all your plants every day.  If just a couple of days are missed, you may do irreparable damage!

9.  Educate yourself on what your plants like, and on your particular soil.  Do a pH test and a nutrients test.  For veggies you should strive for a neutral to slightly acidic (7.0-6.5) pH, and you should have moderate levels of each of the three major nutrients- nitrogen, potash and phosphorus.  Take a scoop of dirt from all different areas and mix them all together to get a composite sample, rather than just testing one particular spot, which may be depleted of one or another nutrient depending on what has previously grown there.  A composite will give you a better overall snapshot of your soil health.  Learn what each type of plant you want to grow needs for good growth and fertilize accordingly.  For instance, potatoes do not like a lot of nitrogen but corn requires tons of it. There is no one-size-fits-all fertilizing solution unless you specifically plant plants with the same nutritional requirements.  There are natural ways to boost nutrient content as well.  Peas and other legumes actually add nitrogen to the soil, so next year, my corn will go where my peas were this year.  There are many books and info on the net with regards to this.

10.  If you plan to grow a lot-more than you can keep up with eating-learn about food preservation.  Remember, unless you plant an early, main, and late variety tomato, if your zone even allows you to do that-then all your maters are gonna come at once.  I love tomatoes probably more than the next guy but I can still only eat so many of them.  If you get hooked on gardening like most people do the first time they get a taste of the fruits of their labor, you will most likely do it every season and may grow more and more.  It’s worth it to learn and invest in canning.  Do it safely though or you could wind up with botulism-infected product.

REPEAL THE MONSANTO PROTECTION ACT

Stop the Monsanto Protection Act; click here to take action.

“One of the most outrageous special interest provisions in years.” That’s what Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) calls the Monsanto Protection Act, which became law in March.1

Now we have an opportunity to stop it. Senator Merkley has proposed an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill that would repeal the Monsanto Protection Act – but it will take serious grassroots pressure to even make sure the amendment comes up for a vote.

Senator Merkley was blocked from offering the amendment for a vote on Thursday, but we have another opportunity when the Senate returns from next week’s recess, so we need to keep the pressure on.

Tell the Senate: Repeal the Monsanto Protection Act. Click here to automatically sign the petition.

Cynically dubbed the “Farmer Assurance Provision,” the Monsanto Protection Act allows Monsanto and other companies to ignore existing food safety rules, and continue selling genetically modified seeds even if a court has blocked them from doing so.

Even worse is how this shameful giveaway became law. It was inserted anonymously, and without review into the must-pass budget bill to avoid government shutdown in March.

CNN said that “the law passed without most of Congress even knowing about it.”2 Jon Stewart put it a different way: “The laws of the most powerful nation on earth are written with the same level of accountability as internet comments.”3

Even from our dysfunctional Congress, this was stunning. Tell the Senate: Repeal the Monsanto Protection Act. Click here to automatically sign the petition.

Our system of ensuring the safety of genetically modified foods is already insufficient, and wrought with industry influence. The FDA and USDA routinely approve foods without sufficient review, and often rely on shoddy industry-generated studies to determine the safety of GMO foods.

The courts provide a vital check to allow us to challenge approvals that were conducted too hastily – as when federal courts found the USDA’s 2009 approval of Monsanto’s GMO sugar beets to have been based on an insufficient review.

But the Monsanto Protection Act strips the courts of the power to halt seed sales, and actually compels the USDA to approve products whose approval the courts have challenged. It’s so outrageous, the USDA says the provision might not be enforceable.4

Now our legislators have an opportunity to undo this appalling act of putting special interests like Monsanto ahead of our health and the safety of our food. Urge the Senate to take action now:
http://act.credoaction.com/go/675?t=5&akid=7995.2574129.NOyl6g.

Thanks for fighting industry influence in our food.

Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager CREDO Action from Working Assets

Automatically add your name:

Sign the petition ►

The Girl Behind the Veil

niqab

I did not know the girl behind the veil.  I could barely see her eyes. Yet, I could feel her humiliation, her disgrace, her self-loathing.  It stabbed at my heart to see her being treated as an outcast.  These strangers treated her with contempt, simply because of her dress.  A compulsion came over me. I needed to experience this persecution for myself so that I could better understand, so that I would never forget that an individual should be judged by their actions and values, not by their outward appearance.

It didn’t take long for me to understand the scrutiny the girl endures on a daily basis.  It began with a notice in my mailbox.  The parcel needed to be picked up at the post office.  The notice, however, gave no explanation as to why this was so.  I assumed it was simply to large to fit in my mailbox.  Upon arriving at the post office and presenting the notice, I was looked at, to put it mildly, curiously by the clerk.  It is, after all, a very small town.  The kind you’d miss if you sneeze.  The clerk handed me a slip and asked me to sign as he went to retrieve my parcel.  He returned with a small, Mylar package, not much bigger than a legal-sized envelope.  It would have easily fit in my mailbox.  It was covered though, in Arabic writing, and the postmark was from Egypt.  I wondered right then if I had been put on a terrorist watch list, or at least whether Homeland Security had been notified.

I got home and eagerly tore open the package.  I thought the garment was just beautiful.  It was an authentic Muslim niqab.  After some fiddling in front of my bedroom mirror, I finally figured out the proper way to wear it.  Gazing upon myself, I couldn’t help but think that if everyone walked around this way, humanity would be forced to use more meaningful criteria than looks, stereotypes, and religious preferences upon which to base their opinions.  I went to my closet and selected along-sleeved, ankle-length black wool dress and modest black flat slides.  I was ready to put my friends and neighbors to the test.

They did not disappoint.  Or rather they did, gravely.  Some stared so hard it seemed that their eyes were piercing my very soul.  Others just completely averted their eyes, seeming to know that upon eye contact they’d be unable to mask their disgust and hatred.  I could read their thoughts which were written all over their faces.  “Who was this stranger anyway?  What business did she have shopping amongst us good, patriotic Americans?  They don’t even sell halal food here.”  I purchased my merchandise and rushed home before they could organize a posse.

In the days that followed, I overheard bits and pieces of the gossip and speculations of the locals.  It was as though Yeti himself had been spotted.  It was truly disheartening.  After all, some of these same people had brought comfort, kind words, and casseroles into my home when my Mom was dying.  I was disappointed.  The girl with the veil was no different than I, or any of the other townsfolk.  She has dreams and feelings and beliefs and aspirations.  She bleeds when cut just like you and I.  But I was forever changed just by only briefly experiencing what she has no choice but to contend with.  That is the sad part.  That I could experience such prejudice by literally walking in her shoes.  And it was no where near a mile.