Published: Wednesday 28 November 2012
“Having long enjoyed the sweet life, the end was a bit bitter, for the dearly departed’s estate had been mercilessly plundered in recent years by unscrupulous money managers.”

Born in 1930 in Schiller Park, Ill., the deceased was 82 years old at the time of passing, which ironically was the day before Thanksgiving.

Having long enjoyed the sweet life, the end was a bit bitter, for the dearly departed's estate had been mercilessly plundered in recent years by unscrupulous money managers. This left 18,500 surviving family members in dire straits. Indeed, the family contends that the octogenarian's death was not due to natural causes, but to foul play — a case of corporate murder.

This is the drama behind the sudden death of Twinkies. Fondly remembered as "the cream puff of the proletariat" (and less fondly as a sugar-and-fat bomb that delivered a toothache in one bite and a heart attack in the next), this industrial concoction of 37 ingredients became, for better or worse, an icon of American food processing.

The father of the Twinkie was James Dewar, a baker at the old Continental Baking Co. who saw the goo-filled tube cake as a way to keep the factory's confection machinery busy after strawberry shortcake season ended. Yes, the Twinkie was actually conceived as "food" for idle machines. How fitting is that?

But us humans happily swallowed this extruded marvel of comestible engineering. As a teenager, I probably downed my weight in Twinkies each year — and my long years on this Earth might well be due to the heavy dose of preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals baked into every one of those cellophane-wrapped two-packs that I consumed.

The Twinkie was the best-seller of Hostess Brands, a conglomerate purveyor of some 30 nutritionally challenged (but moneymaking) brand-name food products, ranging from Wonder Bread to Ho Hos. In the past year, Hostess racked up $2.5 billion in sales — yet it suffered a staggering $1.1 billion in losses. Thus, on Nov. 21, Ripplewood Holdings, the private ...

Published: Monday 26 November 2012
Published: Friday 23 November 2012
This goes against the conventional wisdom, but there are two good reasons, one selfish and the other moral.

 

Here’s a peculiarly American paradox: We are the most affluent country in the history of the world, with an elaborate education system and expansive legal guarantees for free expression.

Yet many citizens are afraid of talking. Outside of the political/media circus in which people disagree theatrically, many people — right, left, and center — avoid thoughtful conversation with those who might disagree.

So, for anyone heading to a Thanksgiving gathering where there will be a variety of people, including some you know you disagree with, a bit of advice: Make sure you talk about religion and politics.

This goes against the conventional wisdom, but there are two good reasons, one selfish and the other moral.

The selfish reason: If we don’t talk about religion or politics, what else is there of interest to discuss? Let’s define “religion” broadly, as wrestling with ultimate questions of existence that are wrapped up in the query, “What does it mean to be a human being?” Let’s understand “politics” broadly, to mean the way we answer, “How should power and resources be distributed?” Those questions make life interesting.

Pushed down the wrong path, these conversations can make some people surly, but they can just as easily open up stimulating, honest exchanges. Here are two suggestions for fostering that engagement.

On religion: People will ask, “Do you believe in God?” Instead of taking that as an invitation to a verbal brawl, I respond, “What do you mean by God?” That invites a thoughtful exchange by asking others to expand on what they believe.

On politics: It’s difficult not to take disagreements about sexual behavior personally, but we can cultivate the ability to consider not just our own choices but the ...

Published: Friday 23 November 2012
Unsafe working conditions, poverty-level wages, a rise in already expensive health care premiums, and retaliation against workers’ organizing have encouraged many to join the strike instead of clocking in for the annual shopping holiday.

 

This Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year will also be the busiest day for labor organizing, as Walmart store associates and community supporters spend their Thanksgiving holidays on the picket lines.

Organizers announced that last week’s walkouts at Walmart locations in California, Texas, and Seattle were the first wave of an expected 1,000 protests across the country leading up to and on Black Friday. The public can expect strikes and protests in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C., as well as walkouts in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Minnesota, among other states.

Over the past year, groups including Warehouse Workers United, United Food & Commercial Workers, the National Guestworker Alliance, and OUR Walmart, a union-backed organization founded by Walmart workers, have come together to confront Walmart. Unsafe working conditions, poverty-level wages, a rise in already expensive health care premiums, and retaliation against workers’ organizing have encouraged many to join the strike instead of clocking in for the annual shopping holiday.

Worker discontent has been mounting since June, when guestworkers at a small seafood supplier for Walmart—immigrants in the U.S. on temporary work visas—walked off the job at their Louisiana plant and brought attention to labor abuses down the Walmart supply chain. Marches in California and Chicago for Walmart warehouse workers followed soon after.

One of the biggest concerns of workers and labor activists organizing actions for Black Friday is wealth inequality within the Walmart company. According to a report by the Huffington Post, a low-level Walmart employee averages $8 ...

Published: Thursday 22 November 2012
Published: Thursday 22 November 2012
While the rest of the national climate movement may have written off the South, the 100 or so locals and visitors who took a stand in East Texas this past weekend - including the 11 who were arrested - plan to continue.

 

“CLOSED. Happy Thanksgiving,” read a handwritten plywood sign propped against a makeshift tire barrier outside a work site for the Keystone XL pipeline in rural East Texas. For those who had come to protest and engage in civil disobedience against the pipeline’s construction, the message made clear that their visit was expected. It was still just the Monday before Thanksgiving, making for a surprisingly early break for a project that has been fast-tracked at practically every level of government. Such enthusiasm for a U.S. holiday hardly seemed right for TransCanada, the Calgary-based energy corporation building the pipeline.

Not that the activists’ presence was any kind of secret. Tar Sands Blockade, the campaign seeking to stop the pipeline connecting Alberta’s tar sands to Texas’s oil refineries and shipping ports, had announced the day’s mass action a week earlier. The only real surprises were the two locations that the campaign would be targeting, which the organizers kept hidden — even to fellow participants — right up until the last minute.

Their goal was to shut down construction for a day. The real imperative, however, was directing media attention to a pipeline that poses a significant danger to the health of the local community, as well as to the global climate.

Four activists came prepared to lock themselves to construction equipment, and despite the closure of the site by TransCanada, they went ahead as planned. Another ...

Published: Wednesday 21 November 2012
“Turkey production has increased almost seven-fold since then, but the birds now come from 150,000 fewer farms.”

Tomorrow, Americans will prepare and serve about 45 million turkeys. This bounty is worthy of our thanks, but the conditions in which most of these birds were raised are not. Today, the overwhelming majority of turkeys we eat are produced in ways that endanger our environment and the public’s health—and it does not have to be this way.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 96 percent of turkeys were raised in facilities that produced at least 30,000 birds per year. These industrial operations are a far cry from the average farm of 50 years ago, which raised just 225 birds annually. Turkey production has increased almost seven-fold since then, but the birds now come from 150,000 fewer farms.

Across the U.S., industrial farms generate manure—and lots of it. Last year, 248 million turkeys raised in the U.S. generated more than two million tons of waste. Animal agriculture overall generates about 1 billion tons of manure each year. Much of this is applied to crops as fertilizer, but often in quantities too high for the plants to absorb, so it simply runs off into nearby waterways.

The waste contains a range of pollutants, including excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. These elements create “dead zones” in downstream waters where a lack of oxygen destroys numerous species that are vital to healthy ecosystems that provide food and livelihoods for millions of people. In 2008, runoff ...

Published: Sunday 18 November 2012
“Specific dates have not been announced yet out of concern to minimize chances for Walmart to preemptively silence workers’ voices.”

“We are standing up to live better,” say Walmart’s retail workers, playfully twisting Walmart’s slogan of “live better” into a rallying cry for better conditions and treatment. In a taste of what the nation’s largest retailer can expect on Black Friday, frustrated Walmart workers have again started walking off their jobs to protest their employer’s attempts to silence outspoken workers.

Workers from both the retail and warehouse sectors of Walmart’s supply chain have called for nation-wide protests, strikes and actions on, and leading up to, next Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year. In the past week, wildcat strikes in Dallas, Seattle and the Bay Area saw dozens of retail workers — from multiple store — walk away from their shifts, suggesting that the Black Friday threats are to be taken seriously.

Dan Schlademan, Director of the Making Change at Walmart campaign, said in a nation-wide conference call organized for media on Thursday that Walmart can expect more than 1,000 different protests, including strikes and rallies at Walmart stores between now and Black Friday.

According to organizers working with the Walmart retail workers’ association, OUR Walmart, stores around the country — including, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. and others — can expect workers to go on strike. Specific dates have not been ...

Published: Wednesday 24 October 2012
“Imagine if Walmart workers across a wide swath of states refused to come to work on the company’s busiest day, forcing a shutdown of several branches of the retailer’s stores?”

 

One would think it would be easy to get a “no” from anyone who you asked would be willing to wake-up at 3 a.m. on a cold November day to fight through hectic traffic and elbow people for $2 toasters instead of stay home and sleep off their turkey coma on the day after Thanksgiving. But despite that fact, Walmart makes a killing, literally, off of “Black Friday” discounts that have led to the deaths of both workers and shoppers in their encouragement of a mad consumerist dash for cheap deals on cheap products.

Imagine if Walmart workers across a wide swath of states refused to come to work on the company’s busiest day, forcing a shutdown of several branches of the retailer’s stores? It would be a huge win for workers over corporate greed and savage consumerism.

If you hate corporate greed, Walmart is a great adversary. They have aggressive policies in place to stop workers from hitting the overtime pay mark (34 hours), paying many of their workers just above the bare minimum wage while the Walton family rakes in countless profits. In fact, the average yearly income of one of Walmart’s minimum-wage workers, $15,080, is the same amount the six Waltons who own the chain make in just 3 minutes of dividends. Those 6 people who own the retail chain have actually amassed more wealth than the bottom 41.5% of ...

Published: Friday 27 January 2012
“Despite persistent unemployment, flat wages and higher prices for necessities (food, health care, etc.), America nonetheless went on its usual post-Thanksgiving buying spree.”

In 1977, two Boeing 747s collided on an airstrip in the Canary Islands. According to accident investigators, those who survived the initial blast in one plane had time to escape before a fire consumed the wreckage. But eyewitnesses reported that many remained in their seat looking perfectly content — as if nothing was wrong.

Not surprisingly, dozens of these dazed victims were burned to death, and the episode became a reminder of the so-called normalcy bias — a cognitive phenomenon whereby many who are faced with imminent disaster instantly convince themselves that everything is normal and that they don't have to modify their behavior.

Unpleasant as this anecdote is to recount, it exemplifies the psychology at the root of one of America's most destructive traits: our obsession with materialism and consumerism. To extrapolate the metaphor, if our damaged economy, record-low savings rate and sky-high personal debt levels are that smoldering plane about to explode, then America's "shop till you drop" normalcy bias may be engineering yet another avoidable tragedy.

The most recent holiday binge exemplified the impending crisis. Despite persistent unemployment, flat wages and higher prices for necessities (food, health care, etc.), America nonetheless went on its usual post-Thanksgiving buying spree.

Published: Saturday 3 December 2011
John Ford signed up for a revolution, but he’s running a clinic.

In the early days of Occupy Boston, Ford, a 30-year-old bookstore owner from the white, blue-collar town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Alex Ingram, a 22-year-old African-American from Georgia who served in the Air Force as a linguist, would stay up late into the night in Occupy Boston’s library. Enveloped by Rousseau and Chomsky, they’d ponder big ideas about how to change the system. But tonight they’re grappling with a different set of issues: How do we deal with Henry, who’s drunk and pissed off again and recently threatened another Occupier with a hammer? What do we say to the furious young woman who’s on a manhunt for the guy who promised her forty bucks for sex and then ran off? And what the hell are we going to do about Phil?

Eviction, of course, is on everyone’s mind. Meetings are held every day to plot emergency evacuation plans. Occupy Boston’s lawyer was able to secure a restraining order that has helped prevent Mayor Thomas Menino from staging a Bloomberg-style raid. On December 1, a Suffolk Superior Court judge upheld that injunction, but it remains full of loopholes. If the camp is found to be in violation of fire and health codes, the city will have legal authority to clear camp. Fire inspectors frequent the site, documenting scores of violations with digital cameras, and Occupiers know this evidence won’t help them in court.

Menino has tolerated the encampment because, unlike some other Occupy sites, Boston hasn’t had any serious violent incidents or deadly overdoses. John, Alex and the Safety Committee ...

Published: Friday 2 December 2011
“He was 22, a corporal in the Marines from Preston, Iowa, a ‘city’ incorporated in 1890 with a present population of 949.”

He was 22, a corporal in the Marines from Preston, Iowa, a “city” incorporated in 1890 with a present population of 949.  He died in a hospital in Germany of “wounds received from an explosive device while on patrol in Helmand province [Afghanistan].”  Of him, his high school principal said, “He was a good kid.” He is survived by his parents.

He was 20, a private in the 10th Mountain Division from Boyne City, population 3,735 souls, which bills itself as “the fastest growing city in Northern Michigan.”  He died of “wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire” and is survived by his parents.

These were the last ...

Published: Tuesday 29 November 2011
“The morning showdown between police and protestors was a shining example of order.”

As the midnight deadline for the Occupy L.A. camp to clear out came and went, with protestors putting up tents as quickly as police took them down, the general consensus among both parties seemed to be one of resigned, if weary, determination. 

As the sun began to rise on First Street, following a prolonged night of markedly civil confrontation, the only discernable movement was the police line, which managed to carve out a space for Monday morning traffic after the long Thanksgiving weekend. Protestors generally heeded police calls to remain on the sidewalks. 

Hours earlier, overnight campers strummed guitars as the clock struck midnight, expecting to be evicted by the growing numbers of local law enforcement officers gathering nearby. Some donned gas masks or goggles, expecting the worst. What they got, instead, was an announcement from L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck, who said the midnight deadline marked the point at which the camp, now entering into its eighth week, became illegal. It was not, he said, a call to action for police to begin kicking folks out. 

Looking to avoid the kind of scenes that came out of clashes with police in Oakland earlier this month, which garnered headlines nationwide and have become a major liability for Mayor Jean Quan, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa assured reporters Monday that while the deadline would eventually be enforced, it would be “as peaceful a departure as possible.”

And if nothing else, the morning showdown between police and protestors was a shining example of order. Just before 4:00 am, officers began to shut down streets surrounding City Hall, later forming a line up and down the main corridor on First Street. After several tense minutes, protestors began to move onto the sidewalks.

LAPD Commander Andy Smith later commended protestors for their willingness to abide by police efforts to clear the streets. “We had to open up traffic so folks could ...

Published: Sunday 27 November 2011
48.8 million: People who lived in food insecure households last year.

Last year, 17.2 million households in the United States were food insecure, the highest level on record, as the Great Recession continued to wreak havoc on families across the country. Of those 17.2 million households, 3.9 million included children. On Thanksgiving Day, here’s a look at hunger in America, as millions of Americans struggle to get enough to eat in the wake of the economic crisis:

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Published: Sunday 27 November 2011
“Now we have the Pepper-Spray Shopper, an as-yet unidentified woman who allegedly sprayed open an avenue for herself amid crowds grasping for Black Friday bargains in an LA-area Walmart.”

 

First we had the Pepper-Spray Cop. Now we have the Pepper-Spray Shopper, an as-yet unidentified woman who allegedly sprayed open an avenue for herself amid crowds grasping for Black Friday bargains in an LA-area Walmart. Apparently, she needed an Xbox at half off.

As the Los Angeles Times described it:

20 customers, including children, were hurt in the 10:10 p.m. incident, officials said. Shoppers complained of minor skin and eye irritation and sore throats….

The woman used the spray in more than one area of the Walmart “to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store,” said ...

Published: Thursday 24 November 2011
With the holidays now upon us, the Worldwatch Institute offers 10 simple steps we all can take to help make this season less wasteful and more plentiful.

 

UN Food and Agriculture Organization statistics illustrate a dire global problem: We squander nearly one third of our food through food waste (on the consumption side) and food losses (on the production side). In developed countries, over 40% of losses come from companies and consumers throwing out perfectly good food. And on the production side, we lose enough food to feed at least 48 million people due to inefficiencies in harvesting, storage and delivery, according to the FAO. The WorldWatch Institute is addressing the problem through its Nourishing the Planet project. Here are some holiday tips from them.

Reducing Food Waste During the Holiday Season

10 simple steps we all can take to help make this season less wasteful and more plentiful

The holiday season is a time for gifts, decorations, and lots and lots of food. As a result, it’s also a time of spectacular amounts of waste. In the United States, we generate an extra 5 million tons of household waste each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, including three times as much food waste as at other times of the year. When our total food waste adds up to 34 million tons each year, that equals a lot of food. With the holidays now upon us, the Worldwatch Institute ...

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